Category Archives: Health

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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The Spoon Theory

I’d love for all of us to stop judging others on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not. Here’s why: we all carry a unique and limited number of ‘spoons’ to use each day. Let me explain.

The Spoon Theory is a genius analogy coined by Christine Miserandino.

The theory is especially relevant to me because I have a gut condition called Chronic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction. This illness, along with depression, anxiety, a moderate pulmonary stenosis and an underactive thyroid, affects how much I can and can’t do on a daily basis.

The Spoon Theory is a fascinating, simple concept about the limit of physical resources a sick person has. By physical resources, I mean energy stores, muscular strength, the quality of sleep I’m able to get, and bodily malfunctions.

Anyone who sets out to understand the Spoon Theory will benefit from knowing about it, not just those with an illness or those who live with chronically ill people.

 

Time to read

I’ve shared the above two links, hoping you’ll read them now, before continuing with this post. Even if you consider yourself healthy and ‘normal’, please still look at them.

 

More than just a body

As well as the physical capacity of a person, the Spoon Theory can also be applied to a person’s mental and emotional reserves. It certainly applies to all three aspects for me, as I struggle daily to maintain homeostasis within my whole being.

In this age when depression is more widely and openly discussed, and there is greater public awareness about mental health issues, I think this is an important point to remember.

 

Spoon supply

Each day, week, month, brings with it a varied amount of spoon supplies. Life is ever changing and for me, there are rarely a reliable number of spoons at my disposal each day.

If I’ve had more sleep, I have more spoons to use. If my body is being less symptomatic, I have greater concentration and more energy. If my son has been well behaved, I have more mental space to be mindful and keep my depression in check (resulting in a lower likelihood of depressive ‘slumps’). This can also apply to people who are quite well.

So many elements in life use up one’s spoon stores – not just illness. Relationship issues, children, work and many other things take away from each person’s supply. Sometimes those ‘other things’ deplete a person’s spoon supply so much that it leaves them with no spoons to use for him- or her- self at the end of a day.

 

Effects of The Spoon Theory

Maybe, given my medical condition, I aspire to achieve too much, but I’m determined to experience as much as a motivated healthy person in this life. I’m ambitious in spirit but poor physical and mental health has always limited what dreams I can realistically accomplish.

Because of the Spoon Theory, I’m a lot more okay with my limited capacity than I used to be. Discovering the theory brought some freedom into my life. I was able to lower the lofty height of ‘the bar’ I’d always set for myself.

My loved ones have all read about the Spoon Theory and it’s really helped them to manage their expectations of me. This has resulted in a happier, more relaxed Jodie. The funny thing is, when I’m feeling so well supported, I can generally give more back.

 

Got a spoon?

And that’s why I’d love us to stop judging others based on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not.

Everyone has their own number of spoons. Everyone has their own capacities and weaknesses to face, and strengths to deal with life’s challenges.

Why don’t we start thinking about whether we have a spare spoon we can lend to someone (sick or healthy) who doesn’t have as many as they need?

Being given a spoon is one of the greatest gifts anyone could bestow upon me. Thank you to everyone who has ever given me one of their spoons. I’ll always be grateful.

 

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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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