An Open Letter Regarding Mental Illness

MH2
Dear everyone,

I am writing this letter because mental health, or mental ill-health, is something I have quite a lot of experience dealing with. It would be good to use my experience to help others who might be going through the same kind of stuff. A lot of people who live, work, interact with people who are mentally ill don’t know what to say that might help. For that reason, it’s often the elephant in the room. People don’t want to upset the person with the illness or make things worse. Which is understandable. I get it; I really do. But, sometimes, it’s the most unhelpful response. So, these are my thoughts. They are things that do and don’t help me. Everyone is different, but these are my experiences, based on my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD …

The most important thing to say is never, ever try to minimise what we are going through. All your, “Ahh, there are those worse off than you,” and, “Sure, you just need to make up your mind to get better, and you will,” speeches are the most unhelpful you can give. Don’t tell us, “Just get over it, you’ve been wallowing for long enough now. It’s time to move on.” You don’t simply move on from mental illness. You don’t just get over it. The amount of times my dad told me to do just that. Even though he constantly battled depression and anxiety, frequently giving in to it. If only it were as easy as just moving on. I suspect there would be very little mental illness in the world.

For me, the most important thing people can say is that they care about and support me. To tell me they are here for me if I ever want to talk, and that they love me whatever my illness makes me say and do. I appreciate this isn’t an easy thing to do. There are times, I’m not an easy person to like, let alone love. It takes a lot of patience to watch someone relive the same nightmares every night for years. It’s hard to understand how things don’t improve. Or, even harder to understand how they do improve, and then revert to a place that seems worse than they originally were. But, please remember, if it’s frustrating and heartbreaking for you to watch, imagine what it’s like to experience it first hand. You won’t understand, unless you’ve been there, but understanding isn’t necessary. You just have to listen and let them know they aren’t alone.

It’s important to remember we are speaking about mental illness. I know it’s been said many times before, but it is an illness. Physical or mental, if you’re ill, it isn’t your fault. Don’t judge mentally ill people. Don’t be afraid of them. You can’t catch their illness. Spend time with them. We are people who deal with an illness in the same way that someone with angina carries their spray around to help them out if things get bad.

I think it’s important you aren’t afraid to discuss difficult subjects. I know it’s easier to ignore the things that scare you. But, ignorance can have terrible consequences. Please, never be afraid to discuss subjects such as self harm and suicidal ideations. When people are experiencing these, I guarantee they are feeling incredibly alone. So, let them know you’re there. Hold their hand. Ask them if they have any plans to end their life. You may be surprised how big a difference getting them to open up and talk about their plans can make.

So, what helps? Patience. Support. Love. Friendship. Time. Being unafraid. Understanding. What hinders? Ignorance. Judgement. Unwillingness to try to understand. Impatience. Hate. Fear.

You know what helps the majority of the time, though? Being treated as though I’m a normal person. Because I am. Every single person on earth is unique. That’s how I look at it. My illnesses dont’ define me. But I do deal with them every day. I used to be ashamed, but not any more. I’ve been through a lot, with mental illness as the end result. But I’m not just mental illness. I’m a writer, a wife, a friend, a niece. All of this things come before my illnesses, and I want everyone to remember that.

Rachel

The Shock of the Fall

Shock

 

Write about a fictional book or movie character that represents mental illness well.

The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

When I read this prompt, I knew immediately I had to write about Matthew Homes in ‘The Shock Of The Fall’ by Nathan Filer. This is one of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. It’s Filer’s debut, and he has done an extraordinary job of creating a character who stays with the reader long after they finish reading his words.

Matthew is a nineteen year old schizophrenic, and this book is narrated through a series of typed and handwritten accounts of Matthew’s life. He flits from childhood to present day, to time spent in psychiatric wards, and the disorder with which he writes—actually—with great clarity is really clever. The book uses different formats and fonts throughout and even includes drawings which Matthew has done. These varying styles follow the ups and downs of Matthew’s mental illness. They reflect the constant turmoil of his mind. In addition, the chapters are all relatively short, which kind of shows his short attention span.

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.” This is at the start of the book. Upon reading this, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop reading. And I didn’t.

The book follows Matthew from the heartbreaking accident at the seaside, where his older brother who has special needs tragically dies. Matthew blames himself, and the trigger for his illness is flicked. We see his difficult teenage years, when he fights with his parents all the time. As he gets older, his mother is a fusser. She doesn’t stop talking, but it’s all pointless. His father withdraws and doesn’t speak to him. The family is broken because of the accident at the beach and, increasingly, because of Matthew’s erratic behaviour.

The one constant in his life is his Nan (Nanny Noo). Their relationship is beautiful. She checks on him every week. She isn’t afraid of or in denial of his mental illness. She accepts him and loves him, and it’s the most touching relationship. It’s Nanny Noo who gives him the type writer on which he begins to write his story. He wants to write it in an attempt to gain some kind of order in his life, in an attempt to understand what is happening to him.

Here’s another quote from the book: “I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new it learns it too…………………..My illness knows everything I know.”

It’s interesting to see how much less coherent Matthew becomes as his illness deteriorates. Simon (his brother) is always with him, in his head. He talks to him a lot. This relationship is more real, in a way, than those with his one friend and parents. Those relationships aren’t trustworthy. But Simon is.

The thing that struck me the most about the narrative is how innocent and child-like Matthew is. Whilst at the same time being capable of great rage. The reader feels protective toward him, and we desperately want him to get better. But that’s not how it works. Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, a lifelong struggle, and the author leaves the reader with this knowledge. Matthew can’t be fixed overnight, and he knows and accepts this.

It is just so moving. (Did I say that already?) The author, Nathan Filer, is a qualified psychiatric nurse with lots of experience of working with psychiatric patients. This experience he has gives him first-hand knowledge of how mental illness affects a sufferer and their loved ones. We see the pain for both the patient and his family. But, in the end, it’s Matthew who carries this book. His accounts of life are disturbing, unsettling. But he is so endearing. This book really tugged at my heart. I first read it a couple of years ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s definitely not a book to read if you want to be uplifted. It’s a book that makes you think. It makes you feel. It’s just brilliant.