13 Reasons Why & Mental Health

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
– David Foster Wallace

13_Reasons_Why_Character_Poster_Alex_StandallOn Friday, season 2 of 13 Reasons Why hit Netflix. This is a show that people seemed to either love or hate. Hate because it was too in their face and “glorified” suicide. I don’t think it does at all. It is very in your face and blunt, which is what we need as a society to wake up to ourselves, but let’s not kid ourselves that this show is going to be responsible for a string of suicides. We all knew how to slit our wrists before this showed aired last year. The point of this show is to be more observant of how you treat others and to look out for your friends. Reach out if they look like they need help. I rewatched 13 Reasons Why from the beginning and I’m currently half way through the second season (how great is binge watching?) and it got me thinking of my own battle with mental illness and the problem with social media. A couple of days ago I logged on and was faced with a giant pop up window from Facebook asking me if I’m ok. The only way to get out of this window was to click the button below which provided me with a list of services and phone numbers I could use. It made me laugh that people on Facebook don’t give a shit about what happens to you, people will go as far as to tell you not to write your problems on Facebook and how it’s personal and should stay that way, but Facebook felt I needed help over my last post which wasn’t even the worst I’ve ever written. I was bitching about Centrelink and used the phrase “suicidal ideation”. All of this got me thinking about writing about mental health issues but the biggest problem I’m facing is I fear the backlash from this post. There’s always backlash. How much should I share? How much is acceptable and who determines what is acceptable? But how are we going to get over the stigma if we aren’t allowed to open up and talk about it? I don’t know why I’m really writing this other than to make a point that many of us go through it undetected. Many people think depression is “you’re just a bit sad, have you tried not being sad?” or “you need to get some sunlight”. It’s not a chemical imbalance for everybody. Pills don’t work for everybody.

I’ve been battling depression, insomnia, anxiety and body dysmorphia since I was a teenager. Just before New Years I decided I was going to kill myself. I obviously didn’t since I’m writing this but I went to my GP and asked for a psych referral and why I needed one. My first visit with the psychologist she asked me why I didn’t go through with it and my answer was simply “I didn’t have enough pills”. It wasn’t that I had a change of heart, I just didn’t have enough to do it that night. I actually googled how much I’d need I was that set on doing it. I was a box short. My “rational” thinking for why I don’t do it now is quite morbid and I’m not going into that. Since then though I haven’t gone to the doctor to get any more pain killers which I actually need just so I don’t have the temptation lying around the house because the thoughts are still there, just some days they aren’t so loud.

Over the years I’ve met people who think depression is just a made up term by doctors for people who are “too weak” and can’t handle life but now it’s 2018 and not much has changed. Either people think you’re weak or they don’t want you talking about it. Either way you should just keep your problems to yourself because nobody wants to hear about them. That is until you kill yourself and these same people can stand there and say you should have come to them for help.

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The problem I find with Facebook is that everyone loves to share the RUOK? Day posts and the suicide hotline posts so they can feel like a supporter for 30 seconds and everyone likes their post and they get a virtual pat on the back. But where are these people when someone clearly is having problems? They’re nowhere to be found. The problem with these posts is that they always seem to have the focus on the person reaching out to others for help. The whole point of RUOK? Day is for YOU to ask someone else how they’re doing. There’s even a section on their website all about it – https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask. Not to share a generic post to your Facebook wall. A person with depression, especially when they are at their darkest, doesn’t feel like they have anyone they can talk too. They feel like a burden or abandoned depending on how their friends treat them during that time. Why would they ask you for help if they don’t feel like you’re there for them in the first place? The first time I made any sort of a remark about depression was back around February on Facebook and I was met with a joke. It wasn’t even a good joke. I’d made a completely serious question of “Do depression and suicidal tendencies come under the same category?” I was trying to fill in disability paperwork and I didn’t know if they were separate illnesses. With how many people like to openly talk about being depressed on Facebook I figured someone might have an answer. That was my first mistake. Thankfully someone who was studying psychology private messaged me to give me an adult answer. Not everyone depressed is suicidal. That was when I decided I’d had enough of Facebook and deleted my account. It’s fake. Nobody really cares about anything. Nobody knows how to communicate anymore. People feel like they don’t have to speak to you because they saw you make a status update so they think they know what’s happening in your life. It’s just a great way to feel like you have a heap of friends or pretend your life is perfect. Nobody even notices when you leave Facebook. How to feel like you made no impact at all on people!

For all the years I’ve dealt with depression it’s been in the last two years that I have found out it actually goes further than that. That’s just when my suicidal ideation – which is the fancy doctor term for it – kicked in. I’ve had friends over the last 10 years all convinced I’m some undiagnosed ADHD kid because I can’t concentrate on anything and for other reasons. All of my primary school reports say the same thing – that it looks like I’m 100% paying attention but really I’m somewhere else. Turns out that’s also a sign of depression because you’re so anxious about what’s waiting for you when you get home you can’t concentrate at school, which makes me wonder how many kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD each year.

In under three years I’ve seen two psychologists that have come to the same conclusion: I’ve had depression since I was a little kid. I was bullied at school and at home. Home life had it’s own box of issues with domestic violence and emotional/mental abuse lasting 17 years but relatives would let me know constantly I was fat as well. Then it was all about how I didn’t stand up straight because I allegedly made a conscious decision to slouch at the age of 8 (this was when I was misdiagnosed as having scoliosis which isn’t a self inflicted disease). I overheard a family friend one night say “She’d be pretty if it wasn’t for her back”. This is why I don’t accept compliments for those who have ever wondered. They are always followed by “if”. By year 11 and 12 I had a borderline eating disorder and was self harming. I was bullied relentlessly because of my spine. I honestly believed I looked like the elephant man from the constant narration of my appearance. I was quite obviously hideous, everyone kept saying so. The next three years my depression and anxiety escalated so much I ended up sociophobic and all I did was stay locked in my room or cry. My anxiety was so bad I wouldn’t even walk to the letterbox and back if I saw a neighbor outside. I only started to overcome that after the death of my mum. It was thanks to her that I loved music and getting into the local punk scene was the first time in my life where I felt comfortable around people and could be myself and enjoyed going out. I loved taking photos of all the bands. It took a while for it to sink in that these people saw me as a friend and not just the girl who takes photos but in the last two years I just feel like a stranger in the room. Someone felt the need to start some rumours and with a string of health issues at the time I’ve just never bounced back. I’ve tried. Last year was the hardest dealing with my back problems and thanks to an injury at a gig not 2 weeks after I had seen the spine specialist I now have arthritis in my neck which fucked everything up. To be blunt: he ruined my life. I’ll never know if these anti-inflammatories would have helped me get on with life because the arthritis killed my ability to do anything. Doctors have told me there’s nothing that can be done. I had to cut back on gigs I shot per month because I couldn’t physically do it, I had to give up my studio space as well that I had barely a year. I was so excited to get that space and had so many plans for it and I never even got to use it properly because of how much pain my neck would have me in. That is how I ended up on codeine. This is how I ended up in my current headspace. Do you have any idea how hard it is to give up the one thing that gives you any joy or purpose in life? It was the one thing that kept me sane and it’s gone and suddenly so were the people I talked too. People were starting to act strangely around me and I wasn’t sure if it was something I was doing or if they just didn’t want to be near me. When people ask you how you are they don’t really want to hear anything other than “fine” and my life is far from being fine but I say it just to get the small talk over with. If you dare to say life is crap they just look awkward and walk away. I try to limit how crap I have to feel in any given situation.

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My psychologist asked me if I pull away from people and maybe I do, but I don’t see anybody else trying either. Why is it again on the depressed person to have to reach out to people? I tried to talk to a friend about suicide and was met with total silence and a topic change. You’re left feeling like an attention seeker when you really just want to be able to talk about what’s going on inside your head. What god are friends if you can’t have a serious conversation once and a while? It makes me feel weird talking to my psychologist about it for that very reason but at the same time I feel like she shouldn’t be the only person I can talk to about this. Who do I talk too once my sessions are over? My last session she stopped me to ask if I’d been hurting myself, so clearly I’m nowhere near ready to stop sessions yet. But that’s the other stigma of mental health issues, if you haven’t actually attempted suicide are you even that serious about it? Obviously you just want attention, but what attention am I getting if nobody is around to hear it?

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This is why I love 13 Reasons Why as a show. It perfectly depicts how the most trivial of things to some people can set off an avalanche for another. A few small things start going wrong and I fall apart. It feels like the entire universe is against you every day. Nobody anywhere at school or at home sees the pain you are going through. You’re invisible (or the world’s greatest actress) and it’s a daily event. There’s no escaping it. My final two years in high school were spent being bullied every single day and I was self harming, thinking about killing myself and thinking about how I could kill my school bullies. I admit if my parents owned a gun I probably would have used it. This is why I used the Columbine school shooting as inspiration for my “Wrath” photograph for my 7 Deadly Sins series because it was something I could relate too. This is probably the one and only time I’ve put something of myself into my artwork. I even saw the school councellor one day who didn’t take anything seriously and rang my mum as soon as I left the office. I got yelled out when I got home for trying to get out of class. Over the years not much has changed, I’ve just watched friends come and go when all they’ve noticed is “you talk less” or if I can’t focus on only them anymore. I can understand that it’s hard for some people to deal with the topic of depression and suicide but do you really think ditching the person is the best answer to this? How is that really going to help a person who clearly needs help and is on the edge already? So all these years later, somehow I’ve managed to trust psychologists more but no I won’t ask friends for help. Why would I? People love to tell me how strong I am but what choice do I have? It’s not like anyone is around to help. Despite how many people try to talk about it on social media there are more people who don’t want to hear it. A person shouldn’t have to pay someone to care about them and listen to them, especially when those sessions are limited. Medicare only covers 12 sessions a year and not everyone can afford $160 per visit. I honestly believe people have forgotten how to be decent human beings to other people. If someone needs to talk they’re not necessarily after advice, then just need to get it off their chest. They need to know somebody cares about them. If you care just sit and listen. If its hard for you to hear, think about how much harder it is for the person trying to reach out and share their problems.

I won’t be sharing a whole bunch of links or hotlines on here because let’s be honest, we’ve all seen them multiple times a week on social media. We know how to look up a phone number.

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