Back in the day, that would have been a hard thing for me to admit. If I’m being completely honest, it still doesn’t feel easy to say. Why’s that? Because I grew up in a time where mental illness was stigmatised. These days, it’s interesting to see that it’s become glamourised. How did that happen?! You blink, and everything changes. Suddenly, someone feels sad or stressed, and they instantly self diagnose with depression… What the f*ck?!
I was ten years old when my mum became ill. It still seems crazy to me that I was one of the first to notice what was going on. That’s right, the kid knew what was going on before the adults did! It took an extra year before they figured out what was going on and she was diagnosed with mental illness.
Now, to this day I still cannot tell you exactly what she was diagnosed with, it was a mixture of illnesses really. But I guess the easiest to explain is depression, as it’s the most well known.
While I was in high school, dealing with the usual high school shit, dealing with my mother going in and out of hospital, I received a hell of a lot of judgement. Because guess what? My mum is mentally ill. If she was physically ill, it would have been easier for everyone to understand. But at that age, how could I expect any more of them?
However, it still made me angry. I understood what was going on, so why couldn’t they? Why couldn’t they be more understanding and supportive? Because mental illness was still misunderstood in general and frowned upon. There were even a few parents that wouldn’t allow their kids to come over to my house anymore, that’s how bad it was.
I grew up very angry as a teenager. Majority of the time it was just my Dad and my two older brothers living in the house, while Mum was quite often in hospital. I was downright angry, lost, confused, anxious and quite often sad. I was a teenage girl growing up without her mother, and without the support she needed. There was a lot expected of me, it was my job to look after my mother. MY job to look after MY MOTHER. Now what sounds wrong about that statement?
My mum was ill, none of what happened was her fault. If someone with a stomach bug vomited, you wouldn’t blame them for something that they couldn’t help, would you? It took me a long time, and many sessions with a psychologist, to understand this. But what about the other adults? Why did they expect me to look after my mentally ill mother, and forget to support me or my brothers who were all teenage children? Because, again, all of this was misunderstood. The adults in my life did the best they could with what knowledge they had. That also took me a long time to understand. It also took me a long time to stop blaming myself. That was, by far, the toughest part.
So after all that, all that pain and heartache, how did mental illness become glamourised? How did it somehow become cool to boast about the self diagnosis you came up with when you cried last night? Is that depression? Not even close.
It took just 15 short years for me to see mental illness go from stigmatised, to glamourised. Well let me explain something, mental illness is not beautiful, it’s a bitch. It’s debilitating and paralysing for the person, and it’s terrifying for the people around them. In raising awareness, it’s important to know the difference between mental illness, and normal emotions. It’s clinical, it can’t be self diagnosed or self treated.
“Depression is a clinical illness. It’s been scientifically proven and documented that depression has a literal, physical effect on your brain. No ifs, ands or buts.”
There is a lot of confusion on where the line is drawn between sadness and depression, between stress and an anxiety disorder. But once you’ve seen it or experienced it, the line is obvious.
Suicide is in the top ten causes of death in Australia, and almost impossible to understand. I myself used to be guilty of seeing it as a selfish act. But it’s not, it’s an effect of an illness, and a serious one at that. One that affects way too many people. I’d say most of us know of someone who has died by suicide.
My hope is that some day everyone will start to see it for what it really is. Not beautiful, not cool, not a choice and not situational or fleeting. And most of all, see that it is just as important as our physical health. Stop stigmatising it, stop glamourising it. Just see it for what it is… Misunderstood, unavoidable, debilitating, terrifying. Even just as valid as cancer, and just as dangerous.
My mum is mentally ill. Take it from someone who knows.