The local news is a buzz tonight following the press release that local MP Russell Northe is taking some time away from his demanding career for his mental health. Three cheers for him. His honesty to share is to be applauded as Mental Health still carries an unnecessary stigma.
I've had my share of sick-days in the last 20 years where I was too afraid to say what was really up; that my mind was a mess and I needed a home-day and a GP visit. Instead I fabricated a lost voice, tummy bug or other issues.
Now, I have always had a strong work ethic and am not one to chuck-a-sickie. I'm rarely sick and would rather be distracted and busy working than alone at home when off-colour.
I tell my cafe staff I'd rather an honest call that they just can't make it in to work than a tall tale.
We all need a doona-day from time to time. Others may need longer than a day, therapy and medication to manage mind matters.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar II twelve years ago. Anxiety, hypermania and depression have been a big part of my world. At my worst mild psychosis and panic attacks were disabling along with a numbness that sucked the life out of anything that would normally bring me joy. I wrote a letter to my husband when our eldest daughter was 4 months old, asking him to tell her I was dead. I was going to drive up the coast and sleep in my car and be invisible. I felt like I was letting her down by staying. I knew I loved her but I felt numb.
This would surprise many as I'm a bouncy happy person. A bouncy happy person with a mental illness. A chemical imbalance in my brain. Even during this time those closest to me still saw me smiling, laughing and doting on my child. But inside I was hollow. It was a facade; I was doing what I knew was expected and going through the motions.
Thankfully I turned the car around after realising that other 'good mums' have left their kids in the same broken frame of mind as I was in and I didn't want to be that mum. My heart ached for the mums who were sick like me. I needed help and fast. My husband and I went to his GP who told us our whole family was sick and he cared for us through the next fragile weeks seeing us daily to support my mental health recovery.
I bought books to read to my tiny girl that told her how much she was loved. I didn't feel it but I was still saying it as I turned each page. Slowly the emotion returned as my mind had time to heal and be nurtured by medication and vital patience and support.
I'm blessed to have had a very stable 10 years with a good GP, healthy insight into my strengths and triggers. I've spent time medicated over the years and sometimes not. Currently I am and this combination of meds found by my GP, in consultation with psychiatrist and pharmacologist has been the best yet.
During my last rough patch I was breastfeeding and in the past I had been made to wean my eldest to take other meds not considered safe for bubs. My current doctor did her research to find my child and I a safe option that also supported my desire to continue breastfeeding which was very important to me at the time.
Do I like taking pills, nope. My friend with type 1 diabetes hates her insulin pump but like my mental health prescription, it enables her to live a healthy life. It would be ridiculous to suggest she stops using it; indeed it would be fatal.
Bipolar II has been a gift. I thank it for my impulsiveness, my can-do attitude, my creativity than comes from the highs and the insight gained during the lows.
Medication enables me to have the normal ebbs and flows while giving me a safety bubble not to spike into hypermania or drop into a disabling depression. For me it's reduced panic attacks, given me sleep that otherwise eluded me and quietened my racing thoughts to a quiet purr.
In my DNA I inherited this condition along with my blue eyes and freckled nose.
I've been told before to get-over-it my depression and that taking medication for mental health is a 'crutch'.
Do you just get-over a broken leg? No you treat it, rest it and let your body heal. You be careful with the leg after the cast comes off and work to build back the muscle strength you've lost. You don't just get-over-it.
If you have a week where your mind is messy and your body feels like you're walking through a waist deep mud pit. Maybe your mind races with irrational thoughts that prevent you from sleeping. You're fragile, numb, angry or all of these at once. You treat it, rest it and let your body heal. When you get back to life you take it easy and work build back the mental resilience you've lost.
Russell Northe is brave and bold for making public his battle with mental health. May he have the support from professionals, the patience and understanding from those closest to him and the open arms of his community to welcome him back on his return.
I'm not a health professional but if there is any advice I have for those with mental illness it's these 5 tips.
1. Take your meds as prescribed.
2. Get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. As simple as drinking your coffee on the back step with the sun in your face and take a few deep breaths.
3. Stay connected to people. It's tempting to withdraw but try to keep in touch.
4. Nurture your spirit. Meditate, pray or whatever is your thing. Healing happens from the inside out.
5. Move - exercise. Walk the dog, take a yoga class, do laps around the clothesline, go to a gym or hire a Personal Trainer.