My lived experience of mental illness

With World Mental Health Week upon us the stories of many Ambassadors who have a lived experience of mental illness and who share their experience to assist others receive help, to give hope and to enhance awareness of mental illness and reduce the stigma that affects all those affected by mental illness.

Reading about Ambassador stories makes me proud that they have the courage to share their experience but also allows me to reflect upon my own life living with mental illness and the obstacles that I have overcome to be well down a road of recovery. When I look back on my experience I recognise how from a young age I was affected by depression, however it was not until my marriage made a turn for the worse and eventually ended that my mental illness spiralled out of control and dominated my life and who I was.  Since that time I have faced many barriers, the road has been long and the impact upon my life has been massive.  There were times when I gave up, when I was extremely sick, when treatments and drugs did not work or had repercussions upon my life.  I definitely reached a point in my life where I did not think I would get well and I did not want to live.

I have been writing about my life and my experience living with mental illness for awhile now and I believe my storey has made a difference to the lives of others.  I do not have the answers on how to get well but I can give people hope, I can give support and I can create a better world where we can live free from the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

I do not need to rewrite my storey here, you can read about that in other posts in your own time, but I will share is the moments that I believe made a difference to my mental health and helped me start a road to recovery.

I have for many years seen the same GP who not only knows my history of mental illness and treatments but he is also well respected in the local community and with that comes the connections to some of the best professionals in mental health.  I was lucky to have health insurance that allowed me to be a patient at a private psychiatric hospital where I saw the same psychiatrist.  Consistency in my treatment is one of the biggest factors that has contributed to my recovery.  Together my together their mental health experience to develop a plan for the betterment of my health and long term recovery.

I honestly believe that having health insurance changed my health considerably.  Insurance gave me access to mental health professionals that without health insurance most can not afford.  This insurance has allowed me to be admitted to a private psychiatric hospital where I was able to undergo extensive treatment combining medication, ECT, counselling and programs.  Psychiatric hospitals are not the dark, miserable places that they are made out to be, people aren’t tied to beds, the halls are not dark and dingy and the staff are not evil.  I did not enjoy being a patient but I did feel comfortable and the time in hospital allowed me to rest, escape every day life so I could concentrate on treatment and to receive the best of care.  The problem is that most people do not have the luxury of private treatment as I did and the difference between the public and private health systems are remarkable.  There are such disparities between treatment options, medications, and care.  For those who have severe mental illnesses access to quality care is a big issue and is the difference in some cases between life and death.

Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) administers electric shocks to the right side of your brain through electrodes placed on your skull.  You are given a anaesthetic for a short period of time while the treatment is given when you wake you feel a little tired but mostly physically there are no after affects.  I received a series of three lots of ECT over a six month period, each series involves about six sessions of ECT.  From my experience ECT did not provide any immediate results and most people will say the same thing.  During my final series of ECT I started to show signs of confusion, memory loss and amnesia so ECT was ceased. The amnesia became significant which has resulted I nearly 12 months where I have still have trouble remembering what happened during that period.  At the time it was extremely scary and confusing.  That was my last ECT, however despite the severe amnesia which is very rare following ECT treatment I believe it did have an affect on my mental health and it did contribute to my recovery.

It wasn’t just medications that helped me towards recovery.  It was the combination of medications, the dosages and the types of drugs that I was prescribed that made a difference to my health.  The thing is that without seeing a psychiatrist at a private psychiatric hospital I would not have been prescribed some of the medications that I continue to take to remain healthy.  There are some drugs that GPs cannot prescribe and that the experience of a psychiatrist can only prescribe and treat you.  This is wrong and it discriminates against the disadvantaged in our community, the people who need this treatment the most!

As a private patient I was entitled to participate in a number of mental health programs provided by mental health professionals.  The group programs that I attended over a six month period provide me skills to undertake day to day living, manage stress, mindfulness and learn to live with severe depression.  Along with this it gave me the opportunity to be around others who were experience mental illness and being able to discuss our illness provided an open environment that I felt comfortable in and believe provided me with the skills and knowledge to assist in my recovery.

I was in a relationship for a couple of years with the ‘fireman’ and that was at the detriment of my mental health.  The problem was at the time I could see what he was doing to me.  I was focussed on not being alone.  At my most vulnerable he entered into a relationship with me and strung me a long for years making me believe that he loved me and that he wanted a future with me.  After several years of stress, tears and added mental health issues I woke up to who he really was and what he was continually doing to my life.  I ended it believe I would never find anyone again and that I would always be alone and severely depressed.  It made it extremely difficult to want to continue living.  Like I had for many years I seemed to battle on.  In 2011 I met my soul mate and I found what it was to be supported, to have someone care for your welfare and love you conditionally.  It was not just this but it was his determination to get me well and he went to all measures and all costs to get me the best and continual treatment to get me healthy.  Not everyone has the luxury of having a loving partner who will do anything in very hard times to get their partner healthy.  It took a long time, a lot of money, hardship but not once did this test his commitment to nor our relationship.  The endless devotion, commitment and love that he has provided to me, his determination to get me healthy is something I never thought I would find and I will be internally grateful for.

If you are reading this looking for the cure that helped me get well, there is not one.  It was a contribution of a lot of factors, treatment and people who helped me.  I wish I could pin point the point in my life when I reached the road to recovery but it is not completely obvious to me, I have been on the road to recovery for over a year now and I have been able to say a few things for the first time in my life.  I can say I am healthy, I feel at peace and I see the world in a way that I have never seen it before.


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