On being mentally ill

On being mentally ill
The ill woman Vasily Polenov

I wrote this piece in 2022 during a period of intense mental illness. I have been unable to find it a home for various reasons but it feels important to share. In writing the following I wanted to capture the difficulty of accessing crisis care in Kamberri/Canberra and to give insight into my experience living with mental illness.

This piece contains references to suicide so please take care while reading or give it a miss if you need to.

In December I resign from my full-time job. 

I want to give more time to my writing practice and to establishing a creative career.

In January, I start a new job. It’s part-time: two days a week. I also increase my hours at my second, casual job. I try to pick up some freelance writing and apply for a grant to write my next book.

In February, within the space of one week, my partner meets someone new and moves out. 

We are just taking a step back, she says. While we figure out what this means. 

I agree.

I can tell a mental breakdown is coming. I am not sleeping and I am not eating. 

I book an appointment with my GP. I ask to go back on medication but to try something different from last time. That one made me gain weight. 

I get a prescription for something new and fill it immediately.

I worry about how I will pay for everything on my own. Majority of my income is casual. 

I can’t go to work. I can’t not go to work. 

Within a week, my brain starts telling me to kill myself. You can’t deal with this, it whispers. This is too much for you. If you died, it would be a relief. You need to not exist. 

I book an appointment with my psychologist. It’s a three week wait.

My partner organises a date with the new person she met. It’s the same date as our first date. 

I hope to go to sleep and never wake up but I still can’t sleep.

I keep showing up at work.

I am unfocused and I worry about the impression I am making at my new job. I focus on my grant application. I will not let the situation take this opportunity from me.

My partner and I haven’t separated. We see each other once a week. 

We are trying to work through what has happened, but I am struggling to facilitate these conversations. I find a couple’s counsellor that specialises in queer relationships. 

The wait time is over two months. 

Walk out in front of that truck, my brain says. It would be so easy.

Or perhaps you should crash your car? Steer it into that tree.

I go back to my GP. I try to explain how I feel and get a new mental health plan. I fill out an assessment. My results aren’t as bad as the last time, my doctor says. 

I feel much worse than last time.

I finally manage to tell some friends. You can call me any time, they say. Day or night. 

I know I won’t. My brain won’t let me. I am a burden. I am interrupting the lives of other people.

One friend sends me a grocery order because I haven’t been eating. I cry for two hours sitting with the grocery bags. The kindness crushes me.

Suicide is a kindness, my brain says. It’s a form of self care. 

I go back to my GP. I don’t think my new meds are working, I say. I still feel suicidal. The doctor thinks we shouldn’t change the dosage, we should continue as is. 

I go home.

My partner goes on another date with their new person. 

I nearly crash my car. 

Everyone thinks I should leave my partner but I don’t. We have been together for nearly nine years. 

Love seeps from me.

At work I am losing control. I am always on the precipice of tears. 

I see my psychologist. We talk about distraction techniques. About breathing and trying not to be alone.

I message my partner constantly. I need to find out what happened, what is happening. I am compulsive, unstoppable. I am horrible, unbearable. I hate myself. 

Why can't I let this go? Why can’t I walk away? I can’t find the answer.

I need to make it to couple’s counselling.

I manage to submit my grant.

I go back to my GP. This time they agree to double my dosage. They never make eye contact with me.

I keep going to work.

The distraction techniques aren’t working. Nothing is working. What is wrong with me that none of these things work?

My partner is still seeing this new person. We have no idea what we are doing. There are no boundaries. No understanding.

I can’t be helped.

I try to talk to my mum. It’s too hard.

I go to a free clinic and do an hour long intake. I tell them what happened. I say that I think about killing myself all the time. My medication isn’t working. I need a new GP.

The next day they send me suggestions for services I could follow up with. There is no recommendation for a new GP. 

I fill out an online form for counselling with one of the services because I don’t know what else to do. 

A few days later they call. We can’t help you, they say. We are resourced to support people with moderate mental health issues. You are a person in crisis. 

I understand, I say. I start to cry. The person on the phone says, if you are in crisis call 000 or go straight to hospital. 

I cancel an appointment with my psychologist. I am so anxious about money. An article I write is terrible. I feel so ashamed.

At work I am agitated and rude. I regularly start crying and have to leave the room. Any room. Every room.

I do an online test. Depression: Severe. Anxiety: Severe. You have symptoms suggesting a possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Print this out and talk to your GP.

I don’t feel comfortable going back to my GP. I need a new GP.

The free mental health service checked in to see if their suggestions were helpful. Can they close my case? I say no, they weren’t helpful. I desperately need a new GP. 

They call me back with the details of a GP who specialises in mental health. I call to make an appointment. The wait time is five weeks.

I google how not to commit suicide. A website tells me to make a crisis plan and a crisis kit. Things that can help take my mind of suicide. Photos of my family, my friends, my cat. Craft things to take my mind off suicidal thoughts.

I think about making a crisis plan and kit. I look at my cat. I want to kill myself.

Why does all this information make me feel worse?

I find myself in the kitchen, cutting my wrist. I somehow stop and sit down at the table. It is the hardest thing I have ever done.

I open my laptop and look at a website for mental health crisis care. I think about calling. 

I don’t call and cry for an hour instead. I join a Zoom meeting I am meant to be on because I can't think of an excuse not to. 

My partner’s mother calls me the next day. She has been trying to help. 

Have you got a plan to kill yourself? she asks. 

I decide to tell her the truth and she hangs up to call the mental health crisis team. They are going to send someone to my house for an assessment. 

I feel resentful.

I wait at home but it turns out the crisis team can’t actually come today so I go to work that night because it seems safer than being home alone.  

The next day I wait at home again for the crisis team. 

When they arrive, we sit down and I say I think about killing myself all the time. I don’t think my medication is working. I’m still not sleeping. I can’t eat. I don’t know what else to do. I keep trying to get help. Nothing is working.

They go outside to call a psychiatrist and later drop off a script. I go to a late night chemist to fill it. I finally have new medication. It’s been ten weeks since this began. 

On the weekend, I am alone and I still feel unsafe. It is too soon for the new medication to take effect and I think about killing myself. I feel scared.

I ask my partner’s mother to take me to hospital. 

Before I go I make piles of clothes and toiletries so that when I get admitted it will be easy for my mum to bring me what I need. I don’t tell her I am going until I am there. I don’t want her to worry.

I wait five hours before I see a doctor. People look at me wondering what is wrong. My body appears intact. I look fine. 

A doctor comes and says I am fifth in line for a mental health assessment.

I spend six hours trying to sleep in a chair because there are no beds. I am quite calm now. I’m not crying. I am in a safe place and I am going to get help. 

Twelve hours after I arrive the mental health assessor comes to see me. 

I say I think about killing myself all the time. I have come close to acting on it multiple times. I do not feel safe. 

I explain what happened with my partner, that I am anxious about my financial situation, that I now live alone. I explained that this isn’t the first time I have felt this way. I tried to walk out in front of a tram three years ago.

The mental health assessor tells me this is my first time here. I am not a known person to them. They will not be admitting me. I can either go home now or spend two days in Emergency. I won’t have a bed, just the chair. 

I start shutting down. 

I realise I won’t be getting help. I will be going home, back to where I started. 

When you go home try going for a walk, the mental health assessor says. Try meditating. Maybe you should leave your partner.

I wouldn’t be here if any of that was working. This was a last resort. 

I go home. 

I ask my partner to come over but she is doing self care.

I put the piles of clothes and toiletries I had prepared away.

I go back to work because I desperately need the money. 

I take a call from the home assessment team. They are checking in to see how I am. I tell them I am at work.

I finally see my new GP. The appointment goes for an hour. I say I think about killing myself all the time, sometimes I nearly do it. I am afraid. 

The doctor looks at me, they listen. I finally feel heard. I am actually going to get help. 

A week after starting my new medication my thoughts start to shift. I still want to die but it’s a general feeling, not a specific, vivid one. 

Now that my mind isn’t so busy, all I feel is pain. I feel worse than I ever have. 

Suicide is no longer an option. There is no comfort. All I can do is cry and scream and feel so sick I vomit.

I miss a call from the home assessment team. I don’t call them back. 

After another week, things start to get easier. My new GP suggests a new psychologist. The wait list is two months. I can save up some money in that time.

My partner and I go to couple’s counselling. She decides to leave me in our second session and I have a panic attack. 

The home assessment team never call me again.

I have another appointment with my new GP. We introduce a second medication. 

Within another week I stop crying. I am sleeping a little better. Sometimes, I can eat without feeling sick. 

I ask my partner, my ex-partner, to come and collect the last of her things from our house. 

It’s been over three months since she first left. It is a heart breaking day. I cry but after a while, I am able to stop. I can regulate myself more.

The following week I spend a lot of time alone. I am quiet and withdrawn. I am devastated but more functional. I write in my journal. I do tarot. I talk to my friends. I get an email to say that my grant application has been successful. I have funding to work on my new book.

I miss my partner so much. Her laugh, her conversation. I am getting more used to her absence.

I keep going to work.

I keep writing.

I start to feel like one day I might be okay.

I will be okay. 

If you need support give Beyond Blue or Lifeline a call.