Category Archives: Medical

Letter to a Friend About Mental Illness

Dear Friend,

You’ve often said to me that nobody is normal and we all have our problems. I completely agree – and I appreciate your efforts of trying to make me feel acceptable – but I think that perhaps you don’t really understand.

It’s true that everyone has their issues; we’ve all experienced traumas; we’re all broken. What we share in common are our human natures and the whole range of human emotions. What we are less likely to share in common – diagnosed or not – is mental illness.

Someone who is sad may say they’re depressed when they have no clue what real depression is like. It is not sadness – it’s worse.

Someone who is particular might say they’re OCD about something when they have no real understanding of the brutality of the disorder. In its most destructive form, OCD is oppressive and relentless.

You lack motivation? Sure, everyone does but do you know that tight grip of depression that feels like 20kgs of weight strapped to your feet? You can’t move, no matter how hard you try.

Someone who is feeling stressed from having too much on their plate may not truly know what real sensory overwhelm feels like – that state where your anxious mind meets a barrage of overbearing stimulants. The result is internal chaos.

You say you feel anxious. Everyone experiences anxiety – true – but not everyone understands the extreme stress response that comes in the form of a panic attack. It is truly awful and can be extremely hard to prevent, even after all your best efforts.

Someone whose brain has checked out for the day due to busyness, may not know what real dissociation feels like – that state in which you lose all sense of yourself. In fact, you don’t even know you’ve ‘left’ and so have no idea when you’ll be ‘back’.

Someone who feels lonely for a spell maybe doesn’t understand the feelings of abandonment and despair that you have to deal with as a person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

These examples are just a few of the ‘not so ordinary’ issues I – and many others – have to deal with, on a regular basis.Whilst BPD, depression and anxiety don’t define who I am, they follow me everywhere. They are more than mere labels, simply because I have to live with them day in and day out. Relief is hard to get.

BPD, depression and anxiety – like all mental illnesses – are serious and can’t be equated with all manner of human nature and human experience. (Did you know that the most common reason why people engage in self-harm or attempt suicide is to escape unbearable emotional pain?)

So sure, no one is normal. Normal doesn’t exist. But one person’s ‘not normal’ is different to another person’s ‘not normal’. And mental illness is the most debilitating ‘not normal’ out there.

So now that you understand the difference between the things we share in common as humans and a few of the symptoms of mental illness, dear friend, please stop comparing me to everyone else and telling me that my suffering is no different.

Perhaps you will never fully understand, and that’s okay, but I’d really appreciate it if you continue to try and as you try, be careful not to dismiss the gravity of mental illness.

Love Jodie x

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7 thoughts on “Letter to a Friend About Mental Illness”

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing this Jodie and allowing us a bit of an insight into what you are dealing with day in day out. You’re an amazing woman dealing with so much, and thankfully held by an amazing God.
    Big hugs xx

  2. Beautifully written and thoughtfully explained, Jodie.
    Mental illness is such a widely used term. It’s great that it has become much more acceptable to discuss openly, but the downside is that terms like Depression and OCD can be used flippantly, or without real insight into the deep, chronic suffering they cause in some people. I’m guilty of this at times, unfortunately.
    I hope I haven’t crossed any lines and really appreciate you sharing posts like this. xx

  3. YES! Everyone has hard days, or even hard years, but having a longterm mental illness is something else entirely. Good on you for writing about this. People who have never experienced it are trying to be helpful but what they say can increase our feelings of pain.

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The night of the alien

Once upon a time, in a hospital far away, there existed a 13-year-old girl whose life was surrounded by a sphere of mystery and desperation.

The girl’s name was Jodie. The girl was me.

I can’t remember all the details of my history, which is annoying. I’m guessing my memory is patchy because I had intense experiences, permeated by high levels of emotion.

I’ll try to recollect one especially peculiar scene for you…

This scene unfolded during a time when I was debilitated in hospital. My abnormal body had produced an abscess where a jejunostomy tube had been removed from my gut wall. Why did an abscess form? The answer is unknown.

I was lying, supine (as I often did) on my plastic mattress bed, watching TV. It was an average night on the teenager ward at Princess Margaret Hospital. I was reasonably happy because the dressing around my gut ‘hole’ had been fashioned by a skilled nurse. The dressing was secure, so stomach acid wasn’t burning my skin, as it so often did during this particular admission. It was a pretty ordinary hospital stay.

Then average changed and the ordinary got real weird. (Not that I wasn’t already familiar with all sorts of weird…)

Stomach acid began to seep under the expert dressing and sizzle away at my epidermis. The ostomy pouch secured over the hole (for drainage) puffed up with gas. I sensed impending doom.

When weird things happened to my body, as they did on semi-regular occasions, I felt astonished. But this time, I said, ‘Woaaaaah, check this out!’ to my mum who was sitting nearby.

We knew something was quite wrong when the pain started. Mum rushed off for a nurse.

The nurse, who tailed my mum back, loved grotesque human secretions. (Nurses are generally curious, fascinated creatures.) She took the ostomy pouch off. A foreign, disgusting smell filled the air.

What happened next was almost like the alien chest-bursting scene in the movie, Alien (or the rip-off version in Spaceballs). Funny thing was, I didn’t order the daily special.

What erupted out of my gut wasn’t an archetypal alien… But it was green, it was slimy and it was definitely disgusting. My adrenaline level soared. I stared at my tummy, grimacing, as if it were someone else’s bodily dysfunction that I was observing. It bubbled as it exited, like a creature moving of its own accord. The mass discharge happened in a matter of seconds.

Straight after the alien had slimed out of my gut hole, all covered in mucous like a baby – it burst.

The first thing the nurse said was, ‘Coooool!’ All I could say was, ‘FAR OUT!’ My body had produced this. It was surreal to see the abscess on the outside of me, after it had been causing so much trouble inside me.

What followed was a decent clean up effort and animated talk between medical staff. The best thing, after this episode was that I was free, for now, of physical pain. Finally, I had my jejunum back. Now, hydrochloric acid wouldn’t leak out, over my skin and torture me.

I may not have slept so well since The Night of the Alien.

 

 

 

 

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