I’ll start by introducing myself: I am Liz, I’m the ZHUCHI, and I have a mental illness. My mental illness is Major Depressive Disorder, with PTSD features.
I've had it for as long as I can remember but was only formally diagnosed in 2007. How do I know I had it for as long as I can remember? Well the answer is relatively simple: It was only when I started to be treated that I realised how sick I had been. With an impressive treatment artillery (– medication, supplements, dietary changes, life changes, therapy, behavioural changes), I was able to conclude that living in a constant state of fear, panic and despair about ALL things was not acceptable, or usual, or “as good as it gets”. It was, in fact, quite a sickly state of affairs to be in, and I was both delighted and appalled when I came up for air for the first time in my life. My delight can be easily explained, my dismay was at how the years of struggle could have been avoided if I had been diagnosed earlier. But I wasn’t.
And neither are many, many other people. And I suppose this is one of the reasons for my mission. If I realised my half life was a treatable condition, then I would have gone for help – believe me. But I genuinely thought this was life on life’s terms. If talking frankly about my own head malarky results in just ONE person going and getting a second opinion to their own, then this blog has achieved its goal.
I have worked in mental health services for almost 12 years. I have worked directly with clinicians and with acutely ill people in psychiatric hospital. I am not clinically trained, my role was to advocate for and support individuals at their request. I have seen children, adolescents, adults and pensioners all horribly unwell with their mental illness. I’ve had the great privilege to spend time with many people who could be forgiven for throwing in the towel; people who against all odds grip tenaciously to life; people who live with merciless and destructive psychological illnesses; who are frequently isolated from reality and have often lost their loved ones and friendships as a result of their illness.
Not only are they incredibly sick but many are alone. And while I am not suggesting there is any better or failsafe method, these people are hospitalised, usually against their will, and their discharge is entirely contingent on the decisions made by others. At this stage, not only has the person lost their mind but they have lost most of the civil and human rights most of us take for granted day to day.
I believe that people with mental illness are incredibly, incredibly strong. I would even risk an outcry by saying I believe them to be the strongest people I have ever encountered. To keep showing up to life each day knowing my thoughts and perceptions, observations and intuitions are more than likely false, would take monumental courage and tenacity. To know there is no cure for my illness, only medication that may or may not reduce my symptoms. To know that in most cases my medication is guaranteed to do at least one of the following: make me lose my primal appetites, gain weight, get bad skin, become foggy and increase my candidacy for heart disease, diabetes, the shakes, twitches, blood poisoning. To know that I have lost my social networks to my disease. To know that other people deem my reality insane. To know that people are more likely to be SCARED of me than compassionate towards me. To know all of this and still meet life face on is something that people with mental illness do. Every day. And this AMAZES me. Could you do that?
I see campaigns around other illnesses all the time. Many are sponsored by someone or something so popular it is hard not to pay attention. Fashion Targets Breast Cancer (FTBC) is one example of this. Its symbol was designed by Ralph Lauren, and pals Kate Moss, Kylie, Elle MacPherson, Twiggy and Jerry Hall have all donned logo emblazoned t-shirts and taken a trot down the catwalk to raise awareness. Everyone digs deep, everyone gets on board. And fair play. They are all really important issues. They are sexy and on trend issues.
But what happens for those who are really sick with mental illness? The guy who’s schizophrenia is so bad he cannot live out of hospital for more than a few weeks and he is better acquainted with the Nurse Unit Manager than his kids who he hasn’t seen for decades. What about the fact his life expectancy is reduced by 20 years due to the nature of his illness?
Do we ever see Jerry Hall do a photo shoot for that?
What about the lady who started to demonstrate such strange psychological symptoms while pregnant with her first child, that she now lives with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and has been counselled not to have another child because of the risks to her mental health (UK research states that suicide resulting from post-natal psychological problems is one of the biggest causes of death in brand new mothers)?
Has a cohort of stars come together to champion awareness about the injustices of her disease?
No. They haven’t.
And it’s funny really because if the World Health Organisation is to be believed mental illness is hot on all of our heels – including Jerry Hall’s (WHO forecast that by 2030, neuropsychiatric illnesses (mental illnesses and illnesses of the brain) will be the second biggest cause of disease burden after heart disease in the developed world).
Awareness campaigns are designed to educate people in simple terms about a specific issue and we are a long way from having created a global awareness campaign that pulls at the heart strings and gets people thinking compassionately and with knowledge about mental illness. Advertising, Marketing and PR are yet to come up with icons, logos, ads, catch lines and willing celebrities that will beat the mental illness drum. But statistically speaking they SHOULD. Statistically speaking it should be a bandwagon they are leaping all over – with every model, actor and race car driver in tow.
Mental illness isn’t sexy. There’s no one we can fly up the flagpole and say “THEY are one of US! Aren’t they magnificent?! Now give us your money and we’ll give you a t-shirt.”
Mental illness is scary. The news tells us so.
Mental illness is eccentric. Films, literature and the famously mad tell us so.
Mental illness is judged. They brought it on themselves from all the drugs they smoked and late nights they had and what would you expect with a mother and father like that?
So why ZHUCHI and my great mission? Well, ZHUCHI is in the business of educating people - from the clinicians who treat mental illness through to the people who live with it. The truth is mental illness is misunderstood. And stigma comes from this ignorance. Ignorance is contested by education. From education comes understanding. From understanding comes compassion.
And from compassion comes the desire to take action and pay long overdue respect.
Zoey McGill says…
Hi Liz, Chris referred me to your site and I’m glad he did as I don’t think I ever would of found your blog doing a normal search. I’ve really enjoyed reading about you and what you are on a mission to achieve in your first 2 blogs and am looking forward to reading the others.
Just a suggestion and not sure if its possible but a ‘like’ button or similar would be good, so visitors who may not be sure how to comment can let you know they’ve read and liked a blog? Zoey x
on October 18, 2013
Olivia Leberux says…
I really appreciate this blog. I feel like I can completely relate to this. Keep up doing this great work it helps a great deal of us feeling like there are others like ourselves out there.
on May 24, 2013
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