My Sliding Doors Encounter With Our Public Mental Health System

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Have you ever had a moment when your answer to a question determined whether your life imploded?

I have.

It came five days into parenthood. I was lying on the floor in my maternity hospital room crying because I was trying to outrun a jaguar chasing me towards a cliff. Things were starting to go very wrong in my brain.

In the following months, when my mind warped and writhed in the grip of psychosis and later catatonic depression, and when what started out as postnatal psychosis turned out to be a first episode of bipolar 1 disorder, I could not imagine things being worse.

But they could have been.

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Accepted: Crumbs To Canary Wharf

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It started on the paper bag that the breakfast toast came in. First, I shook out the crumbs to give me an even writing surface. I had no other paper. I was inside the SCU (Special Care Unit), in a psychiatric hospital in August 2006, emerging from my first psychotic episode. And as the medication slowed my boiling brain, a miniscule part of me, took in my environment and thought:

‘I am one step away from a padded cell. Unbelievable. But while I am here, I will record as much as I can, because not many people experience this.’

So, I made my words tiny to fit as much detail as I could onto the toast bag.

Over a year later I wrote an account of my psychotic episode based on that bag and some diary entries. My supervisor for my Master of Arts in Writing Editing and Publishing read it.

‘This is really good writing. You should consider expanding it into a memoir.’

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Wedding Breakfast Spoiled

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I had plans for this post to be much softer than the last. No politics or indignation…

I started with excellent intentions. I slept in, made banana pancakes for breakfast, a big plunger of coffee, got the paper, and planned to read about the royal wedding preparations, the politics of which I am not particularly invested in.

So, I opened The Weekend Australian. I never got to the royal wedding preparations on page three.

On the front page the following words tore at my eyeballs:

‘Killer grandfather had acute depression’

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My First Time

Postnatal Mental Illness

I was laden with milk, my arms filled with the incredible warm softness of my five-day old baby. Snuffling, and startling into starfish arms every now and then. Pink velvet skin, translucent enough in places to see the faint network of blood vessels sustaining a life that a week ago had been completely reliant on me. My first entry into a psychiatric hospital was like many people’s first-time admissions. I felt I didn’t belong there.

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What Does Someone With A Mental Illness Look Like?

So I wake up one morning in a room with nothing in it but a bed and bars on the window, and I spend the day trying desperately to explain my way out of that room with no success. By the following morning the anti-psychotic medication has started to work and I realise I was wrong. These past days my reality has been completely different to the truth. There are no mirrors, so I can’t see what I look like. But I know I can’t possibly feel like this and still look like me. So, I ask my husband to take a picture of me so that I can see what it looks like to be this sick.

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