Being open and honest about the darkest part of our thoughts and the battle against our own minds is one of of the hardest things to do, but one of the most freeing. For you and for the people you encounter. I had 3 beautiful people do the most courageous thing, and talk openly about their mental health, good and bad. The goal here is for people to listen, to understand, be educated, to resonate and not feel alone.
@chumzilla on Instagram
Chum and I have been close friends for about 5 years now, but the nature of mental health is such that neither of us knew that the other had bipolar until about 6 months ago. Men talking about mental health is so powerful because I think silence is a massive contributing factor as to why suicide is 3x higher in men, and I really appreciate Chum’s openness.
How old were you when it started? I’m pretty sure I’ve had this my whole life. My first memory is a time where I was alone in a kitchen sitting in a high chair with my bottle out of reach on the table. It was a Fred Flintstone baby bottle. I wanted help because I couldn’t reach it but no one was around. I yelled and yelled but no one came. It seemed like an eternity but it was probably only a few minutes. Knowing what I know now, it was probably my first panic attack. I felt alone and helpless. My first thoughts of suicide happened when I was just 10 years old. I remember that vividly. I’m 35 now and they still linger.
What does mental health look like for you? I want to assume most people say it’s the color black, but that’s actually a very comforting color for me because it’s definitive and neutral. To me it’s kind of like a foggy red, like a tint. It looks shaky and out of focus, like when you first wake up in the morning and can’t see too well.
Have you faced stigma? Growing up I did from the few who knew. But for the most part no. My mother never fully understood it and still doesn’t. I was never really open about my illness until recently and even more so in the past year. If I have faced stigma, I’ve either ignored to the point where I don’t know it even happened or no one has had the guts to say anything.
Have you missed out on anything because of your mental health? So many things to a point where I can’t even begin to list these things off. I’ve put myself in such a box so many times where I’m lost in my own head, my own world to the point where I didn’t even know I was doing it and missing out on simple things. It can come across as selfish or something else, but it’s really a bizarre and unhealthy form of protection and self preservation. It makes zero sense.
What about things that you’ve gained because of your mental health? Patience and understanding. Especially with other people who might be going through similar things.
What are some lessons it has taught you? It’s really not the end all and be all and it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t make or break me unless I let it. If I don’t make the best of things now, while they’re here, it’s never going to be better. You need to own it and not let it own you. It’s hard to do that a lot of the time but you find out how strong you really are when you do it. Also, don’t be afraid to seek help because it is there and there are a lot of people from all walks of life going through similar things. You might have to really look for it, but the help is there.
What are things that make it worse and things that help? Certain situations, people, memories, places with memories attached, you name it and it can be a trigger. Depending on the importance of what those are determines how I handle it. If it’s a person who is just always overbearing and trying to drag me down, I just don’t deal with them. If it’s a place that’s not work or home, I just don’t go there. At least until I feel I have the energy to confront that demon by just being there. I avoid most situations I feel would make me uncomfortable and trigger things. The downside is that it can turn into agoraphobia, which it has in my case. In that case I had to force myself to just get back out there, let myself have these panic attacks but remind myself that it’s ok. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing group of friends and coworkers who have been helping me a lot, whether they know it or not. Being around people who genuinely care and enjoy your company, whether they know you’re losing your shit or not, has been a huge help for me.
What was your family / close friends reactions? My mom didn’t understand. Still doesn’t for the most part. She understands the depression aspect, some of the anxiety part, but none of the suicidal and agoraphobia parts. She’s been good and as understanding as possible. My friends have been great and very supportive. I had an especially rough year in 2016 and kind of disappeared. I’ve been back in the fold recently and it’s been with open arms and kind words. Not everyone knows everything that happened, but they’ve let it be known they’re there for me and I’m there for them.
Who is your support network? Mostly my close friends. A small handful of people that go through or have gone through similar things. Most of these friends only common connection is myself. That’s not on purpose. There’s an even smaller group within those few people that know everything. I’m very open about a lot of things, but there’s only a few people I’ve fully opened up to and I truly love them. They’ve been my rocks for a long time and I’m always theirs when they need me.
How do you see it impacting your future, positive or negative? Right now, especially what I learned this past year when I got help, I see it having a positive impact on my future. I’ve been taking this thing and it’s energy and putting it into my art. Channeling it into something positive. I’ve been helping people going through similar things and I want to continue doing that. I can take this experience and use it to help others either through just being there and helping them or through my art. Just understanding and relating can a huge help for someone. It was a huge help for me.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is struggling? It’s easy to let it control you. Don’t let it. It’s a hard fight, especially in the beginning. Don’t let anyone force you to get help until you’re ready because you won’t be as receptive to it. But don’t put it off until it’s too late. Don’t end up in the hospital connected to tubes. It took me a solid week, at least, of waking up every single literally wanting to die before I checked myself into a crisis unit before I followed through with anything. No matter how low you are or how helpless you feel, it’s not worth it. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You could win the lottery. You could find your new passion. You could meet the love of your life. There’s always a silver lining.
@chuckandrebecca on Instagram
Bec was one of my best friends in high school, and her Instagram was a massive inspiration for me to go vegan. It’s crazy to think we were both withdrawing at the same time 10 years ago because we both had anxiety, but personally I felt like a freak and was embarrassed. If only I had’ve realised my best friend was going through the same thing! So that’s our goal, to talk about it, to normalise it and to help so tomorrow’s 15 year old’s don’t have to go through it alone.
How old were you when it started? I have honestly always struggled with anxiety, from as early on in my life that I can remember I have always felt anxious and lost in this great big world.
What does mental health look like for you? Mental health to me looks like a day to day battle, we all have our own demons we are personally trying to tame while dealing with everything else in the outside world, bills, work, family, friends everything!
Have you faced stigma? I’m honest, I let people know about my struggles. In my teenage years I hid it away but as I have gotten older I have realised that I’m not alone and if I’m honest with my friends, family and surroundings they will understand why I am the way I am.
Have you missed out on anything because of your mental health? A lot of things! I’m so much better now but I remember a couple years ago I would always make plans with my friends and pull out last minute, and from doing this I have lost friends. My ex boyfriend and I were meant to move overseas together and I pulled out a week before our flights. That one really kicks me in the teeth still to this day.
What about things that you’ve gained because of your mental health? I feel as if I have gained real true friends. The people who are close in my life understand my battles and are true to me, I would be so lost without them, last year I had a lot go on and today because of that I am stronger and wiser. I have gained confidence in knowing that it’s okay to not be okay.
What are some lessons it has taught you? That every day is a new day. Everyone has something going on and that’s okay, in the end just breathe and remember in 5 years time this problem won’t even matter any more, something I wish I could tell my younger self.
What are things that make it worse and things that help? I struggle with trust issues, so if I don’t feel safe and secure with someone, that makes me panic and makes it worse. Something that honestly helps was changing my diet and lifestyle to a vegan lifestyle. I feel so much happier in my own skin living this lifestyle. I stress about the future and the environment and knowing that I am doing the best that I can to reduce my own carbon footprint and not hurt any living thing makes me feel better 🙂
What was your family / close friends reactions? I think before I could tell my friends they already knew that I struggled with mental health, it was quite obvious looking at me (shaking away, pulling out of events last minute, not eating, and cleaning OCD) so I never really had to tell them, as for my family my father struggles quite badly with mental health constantly in and out of hospital, regular visits to the mental health nurse and doctors. My whole life I watched him struggle that sometimes I think my own mental health was a learnt behaviour from him. So my family I feel as if they also knew my struggles and have supported me from day dot.
How do you see it impacting your future, positive or negative? I really do not see what the future brings, some days I’m so so down that I feel like I could end it all in a second others I’m so happy to be here and to think of meeting the love of my life, getting married, having my first child etc. But then in the same breath I panic about money to buy my future house, to spend it on a wedding etc. if I surround myself with the ones that love me and calm me down I believe the future can bring good things (just gotta find me that Mr right, haha).
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is struggling? YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Speak up, tell someone what you feel and do not bottle it up inside, everyone will still love you and honestly will think so highly of you to speak up about it! Make an appointment with your doctor, just go in there and say it all, cry it out! Even if you don’t know what you are sad about, you will start to learn what’s toxic in your life and you need to remove yourself from it, it’s so so hard saying goodbye and leaving toxic relationships but in the end you have to do what’s right for you and just know you will be okay 💜
@__madisongk on Insragram
Madi and I have known each other for years. She was in a relationship with one of my brothers, and although they’re not together anymore, it’s like she’s still part of the family. She’s the first person I can remember knowing who’s mental health was similar to mine, and her talking about it to me was a revelation. It made me realise how important it actually is, to know you’re not the only one and that you *can* do it is invaluable. To be honest, seeing her do it when I didn’t think I could anymore hasn’t just inspired me, it’s saved my life.
How old were you when it started? I was 4 when I had my first bout of mental health issues. Not that I can remember this too much but I was involved in a car accident at the age of 4 and was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after this. I don’t remember this affecting my life too much apart from the fact that after this happened I would never sleep in my own bed, I literally had to either be in mum and dad’s bed or on their floor. This was the case until I was the age of 12 and im sure this would of affected their relationship a lot. Sometimes I feel as though it was part of their divorce and I have a lot of guilt for this. After the accident, depression and anxiety hit me hard again at the age of about 14 and I’ve been dealing with it since then.
What does mental health look like for you? Mental health looks like a massive rollercoaster for me. Some days I’m really good and then some days I’m terrible. Some days I suffer severe anxiety and have no idea why and other days I can pin point exactly what is going on. I constantly look to my family for any sort of reassurance and always want someone else to make me happy, this is why so many relationships have failed for me. My bipolar is what makes me individual but it doesn’t define me, I don’t choose to be depressed and I certainly don’t choose to be ‘high’.
Have you faced stigma? I don’t think I have faced stigma too much although I did find it hard growing up with mental illness as I grew up in a very small town and felt as though is wasn’t as accepted as it could have been, but this hasn’t affected me in other parts of my life.
Have you missed out on anything because of your mental health? I haven’t ‘missed out’ on anything, I never did as a child. I feel like I may have not taken opportunities that I should of taken because I may have been too scared but I never missed out on anything.
What about things that you’ve gained because of your mental health? I’ve gained some beautiful friendships through my stays in hospital. I’ve also gained the strength and passion to stand up for anyone who suffers and has suffered through mental health issues. I have gained so much strength that I never thought I had.
What are some lessons it has taught you? Mental illness has taught me empathy, to show this to others no matter what because behind closed doors we never know what someone has gone through. It has taught me to appreciate my family and friends so much more, because coming from someone who has suffered mental illness and suicidal thoughts, sometimes even your friends and family cant pull you out of that suicidal phase but my god do they try. They are so special.
What are things that make it worse and things that help? I see a psychologist and take a hell of a lot of medication and that’s what gets me through. As much as I hate taking the medication I would be a complete loony without it. I suffer a little social anxiety and sometimes struggle around other people, I also have this fear of not getting enough sleep. So if I don’t sleep enough the next day I am quite anxious.
What was your family / close friends reactions? I have the most beautiful family who have always supported me no matter what so they didn’t need to have a reaction, it was always accepted and supported.
Who is your support network? My mum is my closest support, I would be completely lost without her. I also have a few close friends and family that I can always count on.
How do you see it impacting your future, positive or negative? I see it impacting my future positively because I really want to work in mental health and help others like me. I think having gone through this tough time makes me a really good option for those youth who are suffering.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is struggling? Seek help – please. I have been at the end of the tunnel, I’ve attempted suicide and if I can do it, so can you. We are all In this together and I promise you will feel peace at some stage, so please talk to to someone. Even if it’s me and I have never met you XXOO
If you’re struggling with mental health, please book in to see a good GP ASAP and be brutally honest with them. Be open, and know that you are actually so strong even if you feel so weak right now.
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, PLEASE call one of these numbers. I have before and they can save your life ❤️
LIFELINE AUS: 13 11 14
SAMARITANS UK: 116 123
SUICIDE PREVENTION US: 800 273 8255