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

Hobby Horse

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Hobby Horse

Her baby face fills with
mischief;
dark blue eyes sparkling,
newly grown teeth
poking through her smile;
delicate, blonde tendrils
dancing around her ears
as she rides her horse
that was once upon a time
just a broom.

Salt water stings my
cracked lips;
memory so raw
it bites into my flesh
and holds me captive.

I can smell the coconut
in her hair
and hear her
little-girl-giggles
as she jumps imaginary fences …

Why can’t I touch her?

Life: the saga that
lasted too long;
trapping her in sorrow,
leaving scar tissue
so delicate it
burns
in the sunlight.

These, her final thoughts,
are all that remain
of my baby—
these words and the
photograph atop the mantel
of my daughter
riding her horse.

fragments

I’ve come to realise that free verse, dark poetry is my go-to place when things are tough. I’ve written a lot of poetry over the last couple of weeks, and it’s been dark. I first noticed myself retreating to this place of creativity when I was a teenager. It was the first time I really began writing. And I did it because I was desperately unhappy, and I needed an outlet.

Over the years, it’s always worked out this way. Free verse just seems to flow more—well—freely when I’m depressed.

So, with that said, here is today’s offering:

 

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fragments

secrets transmitted through
silence,
morse code in static;

tap

tap

stomp

insanity seeds sprout shoots,
instil doubts, and
truth—
that toothless, old man
with brandy-breath—
morphs into eggshells and
glass

fragments of memories—
sharp, vicious—
shatter, then dissolve;
taking with them what’s left of my
m

i

n

d

there are moments within these
stills of life that
p  a  u  s  e
long enough
for me to catch their truth …

how do i change this cassette which
l o o p s
my brain’s membrane?
how do i
stop
the voice who torments me?

fatigue violates my bones;
tearing down walls of ligaments and muscles,
draining blood.

i’m barely here

my fingernails are
starting to ache and
letting go
would be
so

e

a

s

y

help

I wrote this poem this morning, after a long conversation with my doctor. I don’t trust the mental health team. It’s not paranoia. It’s the experience of being let down by them more times than I can recall. But, my GP (who is the most wonderful lady) persuaded me I need extra help. I wrote this poem when I got home. It’s just the first draft, with no edits as yet. But I wanted to share it. It’s dark, and I should probably add there are TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Suicide

 

help

i sometimes wonder if
at the end
we get some release,
or if it’s the most
a  l  o   n     e
we ever feel …
i imagine a warm
blanket;
darkness
settling over my
body,
swathing me in a soft, dark
comforter,
but will it bring the
relief i crave,
and will it cause
disappointment, or bliss?

never give in,
that’s what the
lady with almond eyes and
a mouth that cares
says;
this is all
transitory,
but what if it’s not?
what if the only words to make it out of my mind
tell me of another option?
well, maybe i have to listen
because those words are important,
that’s why they’re all that survived the
frying of my brain.

confused,    foggy,     bleak
all i really know
one last chance to
stop being me,
a less permanent solution—
help;
not my favourite concept
but one i have to accept
this one last time,
and if it doesn’t work,
well, who cares …

Lyrics Mean So Much

Through the month of February, I’ve been taking part in a mental health writing challenge. Every day, we have a different question to answer or topic to discuss. I thought I would share today’s with you because it relates to some of my favourite music.

Write about a favourite book quote, movie quote, or lyric that relates to mental illness.

Just one? Nope. Can’t do it. Too many song lyrics come to mind, and then Holly Golightly saying, “The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible … Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s.”

The mean reds. Depression. This part of the movie always makes the hairs on the back of my arm stand up. This point, where we really see how vulnerable this young woman is, mesmerises me every time I see it. She knows something about how it feels to be in my head. I know this sounds over-dramatic (bearing in mind I was a teenager the first time I saw ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’), but I felt like life had shifted over the course of the film. Something changed, and it’s never been the same since.

So, that’s my movie quote. I’ll move over to song lyrics. As I said above, lots of them are flooding my thoughts. The first is the entire song ‘Checkout Blues’ by Eels. These are the full lyrics. I want to share them all with you.

I’ve got something
Maybe I should tell you
I may check out
At any given time
Things won’t get better
Until they get much worse
Is the curse stronger than me
Or am I stronger than the curse
Everyone is scared of me
And I’m scared of me too
Never know just what I’m gonna do
Heads up, kittens
Everything is bad
The sky is dark now
But it’s the best dark I ever had
Hang on to a little thing
And let it guide the way
Bring it with you to
Another day
I’ve got something
Maybe I should tell you
I’m hanging on here
And I’m really gonna try
Things won’t get better
Until they get much worse
Am I stronger than the curse

I love how the song deals with suicidal ideations which are such a huge part of depression for many people. I remember hearing the lines, “Is the curse stronger than me, or am I stronger than the curse?” and thinking, yeah. I thought about that question over and over, and if I’m honest, I still don’t know the answer. Who knows what could happen in the wrong circumstances at the wrong time. The lines, “Everyone is scared of me, and I’m scared of me too,” resonate big time with me. I mean, people aren’t scared of me because I’m scary, but when I’m really ill, they’re scared of what I might do. As am I. So, yeah. This song. Just . . . this song.

Another song that pretty much breaks my heart every time I hear it is ‘Irvine’ by Kelly Clarkson. She says she wrote it on a bathroom floor at a gig in Irvine, CA. She had reached the limit of what she could take and wrote this as a kind of prayer to God, feeling he was the only person who could help her. Here are the lyrics:

Are you there?
Are you watching me?
As I lie here on this floor
They say you feel what I do
They say you’re here every moment
Will you stay?
Stay ’till the darkness leaves
Stay here with me
I know you’re busy, I know I’m just one
But you might be the only one who sees me
The only one to save me

Why is it so hard?
Why can’t you just take me?
I don’t have much to go
Before I fade completely

Can you feel how cold I am?
Do you cry as I do?
Are you lonely up there all by yourself?
Like I have felt all my life
The only one to save mine

How are you so strong?
What’s it like to feel so free?
Your heart is really something
Your love, a complete mystery to me

Are you there watching me?
As I lie here on this floor
Do you cry, do you cry with me?
Cry with me tonight

Are you there?
Are you watching me?

When I first heard this song, it was not long after Dad died. So, although, the song is clearly about God, I always thought about Dad when I heard it. I pictured him looking down and begged him to come and take me, over and over. He never answered. I can really relate to the feeling of being slumped on the floor, with nothing around you feeling real, but everything feeling painful. It’s a wonderful description of the despair we feel when depressed. The lines, “I don’t have much to go before I fade completely,” bring a lump to my throat. That point where you no longer care what happens to you as caring takes too much energy. It’s so sad. Also, the lines, “Are you lonely up there all by yourself, like I have felt all my life.” Yep. I totally get that. The whole song is haunting. Her voice sounds like she’s pleading for help. It’s just beautiful.

One more song that deals with the subject of depression. ‘Weather Channel’ by Sheryl Crow. There are actually a few of Sheryl’s songs I could have linked. She has suffered depression previously, and she has managed to focus her experiences into a lot of songs. I chose this one because it’s another that I listened to and knew straight away we shared some of the same feelings. I listened to the album this song comes from a lot at a very dark time in my life. I love the image of the black dog growling at her to “get to running.” She knows depression is coming for her again. The way she pleads, “Can you make it better for me, Can you make me see the light of day?” is heartbreaking. I remember listening to this in my car, tears streaking my cheeks, and thinking, Please, make it better for me. I couldn’t listen to this song without crying for a long time.

Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming
Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running
Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a
Big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel
And waiting for the storm
It’s just sugar
Just a pill to make me happy
I know it may not fix the hinges
But at least the door has stopped it’s creaking
I got friends
They’re waiting for me to comb out my hair
Come outside and join the human race
But I don’t feel so human
Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got lab coats
Who will bring me a panacea
While I’m watching the weather channel
Waiting for the storm
You won’t want me
Hanging around the birthday pony
Even though it’s just a game
You know we are the same
But you’re the better faker

 

 

There are (probably) hundreds more songs I could mention on this topic. I’m definitely drawn to songs with lyrics I can relate to. But, for now, these will have to do.

A Moment’s Love

My prompt for this poem was to include the words yellow, lemon, and sunny. The ingredients for a happy, joyful poem, surely? But my mind doesn’t work that way, and this is what I came up with . . .

Yellow Ribbon

A Moment’s Love

Six weeks, four days;
that’s how long since we
spoke
touched
loved.

I wander the length and breadth
of our house,
searching for a clue;
that hidden word,
that out-of-reach memory
that will tell me
why this happened.

Outside, the boot-sized weight of
your loss
stomps on my chest,
and crushes my resolve.
The sycamore-lined street
is awash with yellow reminders
tied around each bark—
lemon ribbons fluttering in the breeze,
mirroring my heart’s own beat,
slapping your loss across my face
and leaving fresh marks for all to see.

Six weeks, four days
since you last kissed my lips,
and I pushed you away, running late,
with no idea it would be the last time we
connected.

Your picture no longer accompanies
the ribbons tied in memory,
we found you too late
and discovered your fate,
and I think someone knew it would be
too much
for me to see your face every day
(like that doesn’t happen anyway!)
but the sunny tatters flowing in the wind
remain, and it fills my crumpled heart with
a moment’s love.