Welcome to MENTAL

A collection of stories ON mental health experiences

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“You are loved.”

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I grew up in the 1990s with two parents involved in the New Zealand music scene. My Dad was a full-time musician who was on the sickness benefit due to suffering from severe schizophrenia (possibly drug induced) in his youth and he was often heavily medicated.

My mother played guitar, flute and sung and also helped make ends meet by working as an accountant where she could.

We lived in small town New Zealand, in a fairly run down old bach. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t matter.

My Dad drove a bright green 1970s Morris Minor and had long hair. A lot of the other kids used to say that he was weird/unusual when he used to pick me up from school.

Granted he was pretty unusual and also often drunk a bottle of wine or two a day (a bit of a problem by today’s standards), looking back on it I now realise he must have used alcohol to manage his severe anxiety.

At the time there wasn’t a word for ‘anxiety’, just the schizophrenia, for which he took his ‘mental’ pills every day.

My Dad didn’t have a lot of friends. He did have a few from time to time, but being a small town; if he had a falling out with someone, which he often did, everyone knew about it.

They used to fight a lot. Sometimes he would make up things in his head that he thought Mum had done or perhaps one of their friends had done. Things only loosely based on a very little bit of evidence would be enough to attack her over.

On occasion the attacks were physical, usually things such as slamming her finger in a drawer and breaking it or shoving her around. He would never punch her face or hit her, that I witnessed – but there was always a lot of yelling and fighting. He did sometimes have fights with friends and punch them in the face, or get into a fight after drinking. The funny thing is that when my father is himself, he’s not a violent man.

He was a pacifist during the Vietnam War and refused to fight even though he was drafted. He’s generally a sensitive guy who doesn’t condone violence. But for some reason, whether this is part of being schizophrenic or part of general anger management issues, there was so often another person who took over. And that guy didn’t like anything or anyone.

My Mum’s Mother suffered from what we believe was an undiagnosed personality disorder and possibly depression. She played her children off against each other and as a result my Mother never felt proper maternal love from her mother. This made her feel helpless and confused in her role as a mother and wife. She suffered control issues because of my Father’s behaviour which she felt isolated her from a lot of her friends – so as soon as I was at school she got a high-flying corporate job and threw herself into work.

She would be up and gone at 4am and she wouldn’t come home until 9pm. I would barely see her. Dad would drink or smoke and be passed out by the time she got back. He wasn’t exactly neglectful but I would often make my own dinners and/or entertain myself.

This carried on until eventually they separated when she’d had enough. It wasn’t a very straight forward separation but I think it began when I was 11 or 12 and by the time I was 13 she had a new partner and I had step-siblings.

By this point I had been playing the ‘Peace-Maker’ for so long between my parents that it had really affected my outlook on life. I was severely depressed and drawn to drugs and alcohol as a means of escape – a behaviour that still lingers in me to this day.

I felt abnormal and like I just didn’t fit in. I went to see doctors who would prescribe antidepressants, and counsellors who would question what was going on at home but never question how I was using drugs and alcohol so destructively (mainly because I wouldn’t tell them).

In many ways my friends became my family, which I am thankful for. I left home a year later to move into a bigger town and began playing in heavy metal and rock bands. All of the next few years were a blur of various parties, boyfriends, alcohol and drug experimentation, dealing and selling drugs until at age 17 I lost my best friend to suicide, and found out my boyfriend was cheating on me on the same day. My world stopped.

At this point I would probably have considered myself seriously depressed. I blamed myself for basically everything that had happened to me at this point.

I knew that inherently things were not my fault.  But I kept asking myself ‘What if?’

What if? I had not had an argument with my friend a month ago? Would she still have done what she did?

At this point I realised I definitely had an anxiety disorder. I began to seek help for myself in the form of cognitive behaviour therapy and medication.

I quickly became addicted to the medication and was unable to get off it easily. During this point I enrolled to study my music degree and joined a heavy metal band where I met some of my best friends still to this day. The next few years were another blur of drugs and alcohol. I threw myself into my degree and band work, not resting or allowing free time for myself to recover or think about anything.

I met the love of my life and things escalated. All in all we were together for 10 years, both playing in relatively successful bands. I threw myself into work and the band and so did he. We never stopped to communicate or to help each other through. There was a lot of time spent apart while we worked on our individual dreams.

I was working nights, mornings and general crazy shifts as an Audio engineer. It was a job that I both loved and hated – as I was almost always the only female and always made to feel that I didn’t belong. These feelings also made home life difficult because I couldn’t switch off the ‘defensive’ mode I had to adopt at work in order to be respected. I basically felt like I had to be a bitch in order to be respected by some of the guys I worked with over the years. There were also a lot of really great, awesome and respectful guys and a few girls who I met through this work, some of whom I am still best friends with to this day.

I was often expected to do shifts longer than 12 hours, and back to back shifts. I often had to travel for work, and didn’t put much time and energy into self care or caring for my home life because of this. The longest shift I ever worked was 27 hours straight which also involved 2 lots of driving between Hamilton and Auckland.

Because of the nature of my work and the sexism I encountered being one of only a few females in my field, I began to basically lose my mind. I became super defensive and hypersensitive to criticism, even that which may have been general in nature.

I was always tired, could never get into a decent sleeping pattern and could never look after myself because my hours of work were too insane and demanding. I was also always financially destitute.

I could never afford to turn down work because it was unreliable. If I turned work down one week, there could be nothing the following week.  I had to constantly be a ‘yes’ person and also try to maintain some kind of personal sanity.

Meanwhile my partner and I fell into a trap of being reactionary and having too many arguments, which created negative behaviour patterns that we both found it difficult to undo.

I couldn’t be or provide what he needed to have a happy relationship and he couldn’t do that for me either.

I masked my feelings and drowned all of my sorrows with alcohol and working on projects.

I tried a couple of times to get out of the industry and to help myself, usually through doctors and medication, which I either became addicted to or ran out of or took in combination with marijuana and alcohol for a stronger effect.

I was fired from a band I was in because I got too drunk, played badly at a few important shows and had difficulty regulating my emotions in band discussions (and all discussions around that time in general). I became severely depressed and incredibly resentful of others’ success. I began to have thoughts of self harm on an almost daily basis. I thought I was useless, I was no one, I would never be anything important and I felt unsupported.

And then the ‘What if?’ came again.

‘What if?’ I had said this?

‘What if?’ I had done that differently?

Somehow I must make this my own fault, at all costs.

It cannot be circumstantial, I must have caused this.

Anxiety.

I ended up in a downward spiral which I had been on before and I had to get away from, which saw me making a temporary move from Melbourne where we were based, back to New Zealand.

I had a job offer here for a job that would mean no more shift work, no more destructive lifestyle, and experience in an industry I was wanting to get into. As well as that, I had opportunities to tour and play here with an old band, which I had thought was my life priority at the time.  

In retrospect that was wrong, my life priority ought to have been me and my own happiness, so that’s what I am focussing on now -  trying my best to rebuild my life without destructive thoughts.

I still blame myself for everything, I work too hard and too much to try and be perfect.

But after recently starting on antidepressants I am ready to accept happiness into my life again and to try and become a better person.

I think that creative people are often hypersensitive and have a tendency towards self-blame. This can lead to addiction, which combined with the pressures of the music and events industry to live a 24/7 lifestyle – it can break even the strongest of people, when generally speaking those drawn to the industry are sensitive, creative types and not the strongest people to begin with.

The media romanticises suicide and those who kill themselves with drugs and pharmaceutical overdoses in an effort just to sleep or relax or escape – this is a great tragedy and one that often glorifies escapism or self-abuse.

There is nothing you can glorify about depression.

It is a horrible place to be that turns people selfish and toxic and angry. If that’s the place you’re at, no one else can help you get out of it, even if they want to. It’s not some big romantic scenario where someone who feels unloved commits suicide and you could’ve stopped them – they were loved and they still committed suicide because that wasn’t enough to stop them. Ultimately they did not love themselves, or they suffered from regret or self-blaming tendencies that were delusional.  

I think mental illness in society should be treated how we treat physical illness, particularly in the case of depression and addictions.

Not much is ever done to address the impact of mental illness and domestic violence in the home on children and young people. It’s important to break the cycle and realise that, while you might not get off to a headstart – you are not doomed by your DNA or defined by your early experiences, you’re not even necessarily doomed or defined by your experiences as an adult.

 

You can change, for the better.

You are loved.

You are forgiven.

And with the right help, anything is possible for you.

Don’t give up.  

 

“I am the dog running running as fast as I can, depression snapping at my tail.”

“Either way, your experience is valid.”