What watching ET taught me about fear

Tonight I decided to introduce my kids to a movie classic – ET.  I had vague memories of a very cute Drew Barrymore playing with the Extra Terrestrial and thought my space-Leggo mad kids would love the movie too.

Less than 10 minutes into the movie, all three kids were hiding under the quilt… terrified by the sight of the weird, bald little alien.  I kept reassuring them it would get better, but when ET seemingly died 45 minutes later and all three kids had tears rolling down their faces, I was kicking myself for my choice of movie.

ET Movie

Who knew the lessons ET can teach?

At the end, my eight year old turned off the TV, turned to me and said: “Mum, you’re banned from making us watch any more movie ‘classics’ made before 2007! I’m never watching that movie ever ever again!”

His strong words reminded me of some I’d spoken myself eight years ago after his birth, when I had gone through an awful experience in a public hospital’s psychiatric ward.  I swore never to go back to that place – and for a long time I couldn’t even drive past it without feeling physically sick.

And yet, things change. Things that seem scary somehow suddenly no longer hold the same fear.  As the years tick by, the anger and fear are still there – but somehow less vivid.  And the bitterness begins to fade.

Two days ago, I walked back through the doors of that psychiatric ward.  This time, I didn’t arrive in the back of a police divvy van.  I wasn’t held down by police and injected with tranquilizers.  I wasn’t leaving behind my precious week-old baby. And I wasn’t declared mentally insane and kept behind locked doors.

This time, I drove to the hospital on my lunch-break and walked through the front doors by choice.  I put one foot in front of the of the other until I arrived at the reception desk.  I took a few deep breaths, smoothed down my jacket and tried to look as sane as possible as I asked for the Head of Nursing, who had promised to take me on a tour.

My husband couldn’t quite understand why I went back.  He said nothing could force him back there.  And I understood why.

The best way I can explain my need to go back there is that I wanted to face the thing that frightened me most.  I’m not a brave person normally (to be honest I found some scenes in ET a little scary myself).  But I wanted to see if visiting that psychiatric ward all these years later would help me see things differently.

As a mum, I help my kids to face their fears.  I talk them through it… trying to show them that what they’re most scared of (in this case, being attacked by a alien on the TV) is actually not all that scary.

I thought it was time to listen to my own mum-advice for once.

Mariska xx

Stay tuned for my next post – seeing if psychiatric wards have changed in the past eight years.

 

 

 

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Am I brave enough to face the past?

I’ve never thought of myself as brave person.  I’m the type  who ducks and covers my face when someone throws me a football (or a set of keys).  I’m not fond of putting myself in dangerous situations… you’ll never find me posting a photo on Facebook of myself sky-diving and I shudder at the thought of getting surprise hot-air balloon ride tickets for my birthday.

I’m all for exploring new countries – but my idea of a fun holiday does not include bungee jumping, white-water rafting or eating snails, scorpians or other unidentified objects.

But something’s happened this week that has made me muster up all my bravery.

I’ve spoken before about the most horrific time of my life… being taken from my home in a police divvy-van eight days after the birth of my first baby and being locked up in the high-dependency unit of Maroondah Hospital’s psychiatric ward .

Many of you reading this will have endured similar things: the mistreatment at the hands of “carers”, the scariness of being in a mixed ward with mentally unstable men, the loneliness… desperately trying to get people to understand you, but being met with looks of fear or annoyance.

Which is why when the Head of Nursing at Maroondah’s psychiatric ward invited me this week to meet her in a fortnight for a tour of their new facilities, I found myself feeling the opposite of brave.

When I asked my ever-supportive husband if he’d come with me, he flatly refused.  I can’t say I blame him.  Instead of enjoying the first six weeks of our first baby’s life, we both endured a type of hell-on-earth which we wouldn’t wish on anyone.

While his wife was declared insane and committed to a locked ward, my husband juggled his shock of what had happened with the needs of a tiny newborn.  While most new mums struggle to get out of the house at all, my husband bundled up our baby son and brought him into a psych ward so I could have 30 precious minutes cuddling him.

When I finally came home, we were both so traumatised that we couldn’t stand to hear what the other had been through.  It took six months of counselling to finally accept what had happened and move on.  Still, for the past 8 years, my stomach has still felt sick whenever I’ve driven past the building where the psych ward is located.

So, why would I even consider going back?

Because I’ve now realised that unforgiveness and bitterness was only hurting one person… me.  I’ve made a conscious decision to forgive the staff in that ward for the way they treated me.

And to be honest, I’m also a tad curious.  The head nurse told me that things have improved “out of sight” since I was a patient there.  The ward now has a separate mood-disorders wing for women.  And she gushed in her email about the array of activities that patients can now take part in.

Part of me is skeptical that things have improved.  But I need to know that they have – because I couldn’t live with myself if others are still living in the hell-hole that I escaped.  When I left that ward, I promised to be the voice for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves.

And so, in two weeks, I’ll walk alone into the building that is the place where I lived through the most horrible moments of my life.  I’ll put one foot in front of the other – and I’ll smile and be courteous to the staff.  But I won’t be looking at the fancy new ward or plethora of activities to see if things have improved.  I’ll look into the eyes of the patients.

Mariska xx

Have you ever had to be brave – to face something or someone in your past?  Has the experience made you stronger?  Any tips for how to muster up bravery in situations like this?

What a cup of tea taught me about bitterness

I have to admit it – I love a nice hot cup of tea.  There’s something about being forced to stand quietly, waiting for the kettle to boil that seems to calm my spirit.  And don’t get me started on the lovely feeling of a warm cuppa nestled in my hands.

When I have time – and have someone to share a cuppa with – I love to get out one of my favourite loose leaf teas and use my favourite red teapot.  The English have it right – a cup of tea and a good chat can fix almost anything.

picture of red teapot and cup

My favourite red teapot – a gift from my hubby.

I was standing by the kettle just now, fixing myself a cup of tea (sadly, a cup-for-one with a teabag), when something struck me.  It doesn’t take much to turn a cup of boiling water into a cup of tea.  Within seconds of dunking a teabag, the water has been infused with the colour and flavour of the tea – turning it from clear to murky brown.

Watching my cuppa change colour just now has got me thinking.   I wonder how much the bitterness I’ve been feeling about having to live life with a mental illness has been tainting my life?

It’s not fun having a mental illness.  It’s not fun dealing with the side-effects of various medications.  And I’ll be the first to admit that somewhere, deep inside me, I still hold some bitterness about the cards life has dealt me.   Sure, I can now see a bigger purpose for my life – complete with my bipolar diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean I don’t still sometimes struggle with accepting it.

Most of my friends and family will say that it’s perfectly ok to feel bitter about being diagnosed with a mental illness. The only trouble is, it’s been almost twenty years now since my original diagnosis.  And these feelings of bitterness have a nasty habit of acting like a tea bag: infusing me and my life with anger and regret.

The effects may not always be obvious… but this bitterness got a nasty habit of bubbling to the surface when I’m feeling at my lowest and want something to strike out at.  It’s not something that I want my kids to see in me.

And so, I’m left with a choice.

Do I allow this ‘bag’ of bitterness to continue to colour my life?  Or do I make a conscious effort to finally accept my diagnosis – acknowledging that it will have an ongoing impact on my life and that I will most likely need to continue taking medication for the rest of my life to keep it under control?

It’s a difficult choice.

And yet – looking at the effect tonight that one small teabag had on my big cup full of crystal clear water, I’m determined to not let my diagnosis taint the rest of my life.  Sure it’s almost certainly always going to be part of me – but it’s not going to affect who I am – or the life I was created to live.

Mariska xx

Do you feel bitter or angry because of your mental illness or something else in your life? Have you had to take steps to deal with your bitterness? I’m sure other mums would love to hear about and learn from your experience. 

 

Mental illness and faith

Today I came across a blog that made me sad.

Being in contact with many women like me who have bipolar disorder, there isn’t much that can shock me anymore.  Suicide attempts, psychotic episodes, cries for help in the depths of depression – our online community shares the ups and downs of life with a mental illness.

Yet, this blog – titled “Is there a link between religion and mental illness?”– was the saddest thing I have read yet.

In it, the author used a range of handpicked statistics to argue that there is a correlation between religion – and in particular Christianity – and mental illness.

What followed was a flood of responses on Twitter – both attacking and supporting the author. Knowing I am a Christian, one of my Twitter followers asked me to comment.

I never want to attack another author for their opinion, but what I will say in response is this:

She is partially right.

Religion, including Christianity, has sometimes got it wrong in regards to mental illness. It is the hidden disability in many of our churches. We have wheelchair friendly ramps and toilets, but often don’t know how to reach out to those with a mental illness.

Like in many other organisations, people in churches may feel embarrassed and like they have to hide their struggle with mental illness from others.  While we feel comfortable requesting prayer for other forms of illness, it is sometimes embarrassing to let others know we are struggling with depression, anxiety, hearing voices or mania.

But at the core of Christianity is Jesus.

A man who ignored social norms and reached out to those who were stigmatised.  In his day, they were people with Leprosy, tax collectors and women.

Jesus’ message was in direct contrast to what religious leaders of the day were teaching.  It was not a message of judgement – it was one of forgiveness, grace and hope.  His followers set up the first hospitals and soup kitchens for the poor and outcast – actions which caught the attention of all around them. Of the  25 biggest charities in Australia today, 23 are Christian organisations.

Some, like this author, argue that feeling constantly feeling guilty for ‘sinning’ is causing people to become – or stay – mentally unwell.  I admit that I have struggled with feelings of guilt after doing the wrong thing.  I wouldn’t be human if I hadn’t. But knowing that I am loved anyway and forgiven – the slate wiped clean – gives me freedom.

When I was at my lowest point, sitting alone in the high-dependency unit of a public hospital psychiatric ward, my faith was the only thing that sustained me.  Everything else: my career, my health, my appearance and even my sanity, had fallen away.  To get through this time, I clung to God’s promise that He had a plan for my life, that He would give me hope and a future.  It was my faith that enabled me to forgive others for what had been done for me – rather than becoming angry and bitter.

My intention here isn’t to push my faith onto anyone else.

It’s simply to encourage those who believe some mental illness is the result of guilt caused by Christianity to go beyond the Church and all its failings.

Instead of encouraging people to abandon their faith, find out more about the person at the core of Christianity.  And join me in challenging churches to model his behavior – and become a place of acceptance and refuge for those of us who struggle with mental illness.

Mariska xx

Mariska is the founder of Bipolar Mums and has a passion for speaking about the hidden disability in Australian churches: mental illness.  She inspires churches to reach out to and support those in their community who are struggling with a mental illness.

 

 

 

What Lindy Chamberlain taught me about bitterness

Getting out of bed at 5.30am to attend a breakfast one hour’s drive away in the City isn’t my idea of a great morning.  I’m not a morning person at the best of times.  But yesterday I did just that and was rewarded with a morning I’ll never forget.

I’ll be the first to admit that – at times – I have struggled with bitterness.  For a while there, after my diagnosis and again after I spent time in a psychiatric hospital after the birth of my first baby, I felt let down by my own body and angry at my ill-treatment at the hands of medical staff.

Which is why I found the speaker for this year’s Melbourne Prayer Breakfast, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, so gripping.

015703-lindy-and-azaria

If anyone has a reason to be bitter, it’s Lindy Chamberlain (as she’s commonly known).  Accused and convicted of murdering her nine-week-old baby daughter Azaria (pictured above with her) while camping at Uluru – then known as Ayers Rock – in 1980, Lindy maintained that she saw a dingo leave the tent where Azaria was sleeping.

After serving three years in prison with hard labour, Lindy’s conviction was overturned after the discovery of new evidence, and she was acquitted of all charges.

Standing up on the stage, in front of 1000 people, Lindy looked more like someone’s friendly mother-in-law than someone who had been to hell and back.  She started her speech by saying that she wasn’t going to talk about Azaria – or the dingo: “What happened to me is not as important as what I learned from what happened to me,” she explained.

Sitting there, listening to this woman talk about being forced to clean toilet blocks with a toothbrush, and being hated by her fellow prisoners, I couldn’t help but feel anything but deep empathy for her.  Prison didn’t sound to dissimilar from the high-dependency unit of a public psychiatric ward.

And yet, Lindy’s message was one of hope.

She challenged me (and I’m guessing everyone else in the room) to not let tragedy, or illness, or circumstances in life prevent us from living life to our full potential.

“It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s what we choose to do with it that matters,” she said – her voice cracking as she wiped away tears. While she could have become bitter and turned her back on her religion, Lindy said that she has learnt through this all that “God is not the author of hardship and pain but will guide us through it.”

I walked away from that breakfast feeling inspired. If Lindy Chamberlain can go through what she did and not be a bitter woman, then I’m going to try and follow in her footsteps.

Yes, I have bipolar disorder.  Yes, that makes life more difficult than if I didn’t have it.  But what I have learned through this illness is valuable – both to me and to others.  Those of us who have endured hardship and suffering can be “wounded healers” – sharing our own journey with others – to encourage them in their own struggles.

If we allow bitterness consume us, to corrode our self-confidence and steal our joy – then we lose the opportunity to turn a bad situation into something good.

Have you found that your experience of mental illness has enabled you to reach out to others in similar circumstances?  Has helping others helped you?  Would love to hear your comments below.

 

 

When you can’t say it with words

Tonight, browsing the internet, I came across a wonderful blog, with incredible images drawn by someone with bipolar disorder.

Somehow, with a simple image or two and very few words, the blog’s author managed to conjure up some of the emotions that many of us go through.

And so, in the spirit of her blog – I’m going to say no more and simply show you some of her pictures.  If you’d like to see more, I’d encourage you to take the time to visit her blog.

Thank you to http://bipolarcodex.wordpress.com/ for sharing these photos with us.

Unforgiveness: Don’t let it corrode you

Many of us have been through hard times.   And it’s only natural when we’re hurt to want to revisit the source of that hurt, time and time again.

After I was subject to humiliating treatment by carers in a public psychiatric ward, I found it hard to forgive.  I came out of hospital with all sorts of plans for how I would get revenge – wanting to sue the hospital or let the media know what went on inside the walls of the locked ward of that hospital.

My family convinced me this wasn’t appropriate – that that the staff were only doing their (very hard) job.  But I felt let down by the medical profession, and angry that carers and nurses could have treated me so brutally.

Eventually, I stopped ranting and raving about their behaviour toward me and other patients.  But to be honest, it was only years later that I found it within myself to forgive them.

Those carers will never know that I’ve forgiven them.  But I knew that I needed to forgive them anyway.

We all know bitter people.  They’re the ones that no one really enjoys being around because they wallow in self-pity and seem to constantly go on about every little thing that has ever happened to them.

Like a cancerous cell or a dangerous mould spore, bitterness thrives in the dark recesses of our hearts and feeds on every new thought or spite or hatred that comes our way.  And like an ulcer aggravated by worry, or a heart condition made worse by stress, it can be physically and emotionally debilitating.

I admit that I struggled with feelings of bitterness about what had happened to me in the psychiatric ward.  I felt that the horror of my experience somehow ‘exempt’ me from the need to forgive.

But something within me knew that I needed to forgive.  Unforgiveness eats away at us until it spills out and corrodes everything around. And so, I dropped thoughts of revenge and I forgave.

While forgiving didn’t take away my pain entirely, it kept me from being sucked down into the downward spiral of resentment.

Once you are able to let go of wrongs that have been done to you, it changes everything.  It will change your relationships, your attitudes and your whole approach to living.

Forgiving isn’t a sign of weakness.  It’s a sign of strength.

Have you ever struggled with feelings of bitterness?  Have you ever had to forgive people in the medical profession, or friends and family, for the way they have treated you while you were unwell?