Recognition


I recognized him instantly, the young man seated at his desk. “Excuse me,” I stammered, “would you mind if I sketched you?” I was at the Correspondence School in William street, Sydney, to meet my teachers and attend classes for the day. These wonderful people would prepare lessons for me, in between my surgeries. The art teacher had suggested I approach his colleague to have some practice. He smiled as he turned around, which was quickly replaced with a look of horror. He had been in the clinic with me when I was fourteen. The last time I had seen him, he was catatonic, one of the patients in the long-term unit. He had been in for nearly a year, on a trajectory of hopeful recovery and devastating lows. He had been my friend, and I his. Now we were out in the world, he a twenty-five year old teacher, and I at sixteen, housed in a body brace. He pleaded with his eyes, not to let slip that we knew each other. The room was crowded, and conversation of a sensitive nature would be overheard. I told him with my eyes that I wouldn’t reveal his past. I sketched his profile as though he were a stranger. He formally bid me goodbye, and I went on my way.

The same thing happened at a department store in the city. A girl I was in hospital with served me at the counter. Her blue eyes sparkled and she smiled before her visage turned to horror. I had wanted to embrace her, and squeal, “you survived!” She had been molested by her Uncle, and her parents had disbelieved her. She had tried to take her life, and ended up in the hospital with me. She was funny, warm, kind and had run away to live with her older sister, before being dragged back. We were forbidden from seeing each other, and I had fretted over her fate. Once again, I promised not to let slip that we knew each other, without saying a word. I only had to look into her pleading eyes.

It happened time and again, my meeting people who had once been close friends. You can’t help but form an incredibly intimate bond with people whom you live with 24/7. On the outside, these people treated you like a stranger, and you were asked to treat them the same. Nobody knew of their prior admittance, nor battles, save for a few family members. It was a given that if people knew their history, it would ruin any chance of employment, let alone promotion. No wonder I had seen executives of well-known companies rescind into the shadows after having complete breakdowns. What a burden it is, to keep up appearances.

I shared the clinic with teachers, models, musicians, nurses, rock stars, people on the board of major hospitals, chefs, actors and many more aside. They became my family, and trusted me with their secrets. There was a disconnect when they went out into the world to regain their place in their industry. It was an unnerving dissonance that didn’t sit well. I instinctively knew that it wasn’t healthy. These were the days before social media, where a famous person could hide their struggles inside the walls of a private clinic.

This year has seen many stressors heaped on me in a short period of time. When one has seen hundreds of people rescind mid-way through their lives, and have heard them table their backstories, one has a tendency to be attentive to the health of one’s own mind. There have been weeks when my brain has been seized by anxiety so severe that I would spend days reading over the same sentence, or forgetting why I went into the kitchen. Depression so crippling that I would want to crawl back into bed within an hour of waking. Social media can help us to feel connected, but it can also make us feel dejected. Witnessing everyone’s highlight reels, seeing people having fun whilst we sit on the periphery of it all can be devastating.

A famous photographer was in the clinic at the same time as I, and I held her sick bowl and pressed cold face cloths to her forehead as she suffered withdrawals. She introduced me to Carrie Fisher’s writing, giving me a copy of ‘Postcards from the Edge.’ She also gifted me a diary, urging me to put anything that made me want to live in its pages. I included quotes, photos, song lyrics and my own musings, and I still treasure this thick diary with its art nouveau cover. She was a truth-seeker and was one of the rare few who didn’t give a flying fig who knew about her admittance, nor fragility.

As for myself, I feel like an Autumn leaf, blowing this way and that. It is time to have trauma counselling. Back when I was a teen, nobody I knew was diagnosed with PTSD, nor anxiety. It wasn’t seen as imperative that trauma counselling begin straight away, to reduce the severity of symptoms going forward. I have rung the centre that was organizing specialized counselling many times, as well as emailing. The trouble is, services are stretched to breaking point. The willingness to assist is there, but the sheer volume of people needing help is overwhelming. I am going to call into this place soon, and talk to somebody about starting this specialized counselling. Receiving what you need is a battle, and you have to believe that you are worth the fight. I know I am worth the fight, and I am also fighting for my daughter, so I can be the best mum to her that I possibly can. We adults need to lead our young to know that articulating our struggles and being honest with our emotions is healthy. They need to see us reaching out to one another, and advocating for services. Contact the health minister and local MP’s and persist until they respond to the call for more services. We are at crisis point in Australia.

I look forward to the day when people who have sought help for their mental health can embrace upon meeting outside of their initial contact. They can introduce their friend to their colleagues and share where they are up to now. The silence and shame and the hiding parts of ourselves is toxic. The older I get, the more I see of our fragility as a species. I know  that the parts of my body that were fused and reinforced with titanium are the strongest parts of me. The cracked and damaged parts are the strongest. It is the neck and shoulders, hips and discs in my spine that once were healthy, that are complaining. The same is true for the mind. The brain that can be pliable and work toward a glorious future, can also become stuck on replaying trauma, like a reel of film. It is exhausting to keep a smile plastered on, to disregard the damaged psyche underneath and to play pretend. It is time to stop. It is time to advocate and it is time for shame to be quashed.

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Youth Mental Health


I read the following piece with sorrow in my heart, and a mind churning out memories.

I was once a troubled teen, the result of mismanagement and abuse. I was put in the care of a private adult clinic at fourteen years of age. I was the youngest person in there, and it was without a school, teacher nor any tools to deal with a young, frightened and damaged psyche. As a result of this horrendous oversight, I was preyed upon by more than one violent adult, the end result being that I was abducted and thrown off a building.

Meetings were convened in the aftermath, and much hand wringing and reflection was had. All I asked (demanded) was that no child should be put in an adult facility in future. I advocated and I campaigned. As a result, rules of conduct and considerations to minors were tightened. At least, I was assured that they had. I breathed a sigh of relief, with the assurance that some good had come of my experience. I believed young people would be together, healing from the depression and pain which had sought to destroy them.

At a time when we require swift access to mental health services to keep our young alive and allow them to heal, we are instead given headlines such as this:

The full story can be found here.

What the hell! There should be more units opened for children, not less! I find it unfathomable that the Health Minister had no idea that this was going to occur. It shows a lack of cohesive and inclusive services and certainly a lack of communication. It takes time for a young person to open up to a mental health professional, and requires funding to ensure they have consistent support. They need to be with other children and teens, and have access to schooling, or other activities. It seems that time and funding are both in short supply. I feel for the professionals at the coal-face, and can’t imagine how difficult their job must be. The indisputable fact of the matter is that kids should never, ever be put in clinics or wards with adults, ever. You are dealing with one of the most vulnerable sections of society, and we have to ensure an environment conducive to healing.

I for one demand that funding be made available as a matter of urgency, to cater to the needs of our young. I would very much like this generation to not have to survive what I endured. It is preferable that it isn’t allowed to happen in the first place. I survived despite  my treatment, and not as a result of receiving adequate help. That is a miracle in itself.

To make your feelings known, please contact the Health Minister, Brad Hazzard.

 

 

Dismantling of Mental Health Services in Australia


It is with dismay and disbelief that the following came up on my news feed yesterday.

Headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing early intervention services to 12-25 year old’s. The centres are located in major cities, as well as regional and rural areas of Australia. They don’t look like a mental health facility, and therein lies their beauty. The service is free or has a low cost attached. There is an online and phone service. They also have a program that works with school communities. I could go on…

I know a young man who accessed their services after a near-fatal suicide attempt at seventeen. He was a sensitive, whose family had been through a great degree of trauma. He now works with Headspace, giving talks. The team are accessible to young people; they are not clinicians in a drab setting, who seem out of touch. Headspace work with those who suffer eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, bullying, schooling issues, depression and other mental illness.

This is extremely personal for me. I was a youth before Headspace was created. I had attempted suicide for the first time just after my thirteenth birthday. It was so serious that I was in Intensive Care for a while. More attempts followed, and I was diagnosed as having reactive depression; a response to deep trauma and strife in my personal life. I would oscillate between pure joy through to deep sadness on a weekly basis. Kids like me only had the hospital psychiatrist to chat to, and mine were all elderly males. The rooms were grey and dark, and they managed to get limited information out of the young, as the vibe was so grim and threatening. Twenty plus years ago, you saw the staff doctor after a suicide attempt, and then were dismissed- in my case- with Valium. There wasn’t a centre to call nor drop into. There wasn’t a service to confide abuse or bullying to.  Certainly, schools were under no obligation to recommend a centre nor assist a struggling youth.

I was put in a private clinic at fourteen (long story), and I was the youngest person there. DOCS had wanted me to go to a centre for adolescents so I could attend school and start my healing from having lived a dark dream. Instead, I was sent to a place brimming with adults. There were drug dealers and perverts; dangerous individuals, whom I had to fend off on a daily basis. There were even those there by arrangement of their lawyers, in order to beat criminal charges. I had people sneaking into my room at night. I developed a raging eating disorder after patients twice my age schooled me in the dark art of weight control. Suicides occurred, and I learnt more about the evil this world holds than a child should know. I was raped and eventually, almost had my life taken. I live with the ramifications of this year on a daily basis.

You bet I am angry. I have been extremely vocal over the years on this subject. Youth should never be in places designed for adults. Two decades ago, this clinic cost $500 a day, just to secure a bed. Free services were non-existent or scant throughout Australia. The young are made to grow up quicker, and the pressure brought to bear is harsher than ever now. We need to roll out more services, rather than tear them apart! Please stand with me in being vocal regarding the need for more funding for youth mental health in Australia.

I look back on my hellish adolescence and shudder. I survived and am now a contented mum and woman. I want this generation to be able to access support designated for their age group. They deserve to reach adulthood with adequate support.