LORIKEET CENTRE SPEECH
THE GAME OF LIFE BY CARISSA WRIGHT
Reality. What is real to you? What is real to society? Is the high demands the mentally ill have to keep up with is a realistic demand? A demand that we have to keep well in order to survive. Realistically, mentally ill people are keeping up with unrealistic expectations. We are expected to get out of bed after we had a psychotic break down to get to work because our bosses threaten us with dismissal. We are expected to continue on living after a suicide attempt like nothing happened. We are expected to accept some of the most poor treatment people around us have showed after said suicide attempt because they ‘dont understand it’. So we have to accept that they ‘dont understand’, and sit quietly while the emotional storm erupts in us. Stewing over on a low heat, just waiting to boil over.
We have to continually stop and start again. Like our life is some game. In and out of wards, institutions, hospitals and doctors appointments just to keep running through options that will suit our own experience with our mental illness. Some of us may have the same diagnosis, but the treatment may work for one of us and fail the other. We run through all energy levels in this game until some of us are on empty. We go up and down, over and under, ducking near misses of suicide attempts that can leave us hospitalised and crippled. We keep going through life like a game until it is game over. The worst case scenario is game over.
I started the game of life when I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at just 17 years old. I had woken up on a hospital bed, in a white gown and as I opened my eyes, I could see the heart monitor machine up above me. I had nurses frantically working around me, whispering to each other about the cause of my suicide ideation. They closed the curtain as the doctor came in to check on me and explain to me in great detail how I had ended up in hospital. He explained my family were in the waiting room. I closed my eyes expecting to wake up from some nightmare I may have suffered from the night before. But this was my reality. This was real life. No matter how much I closed my eyes, trying to pinch my skin even though it felt numb, trying to scream but the noise would not come out, this was just the very start of the game. The game of making sure I could manage my life safely in order to survive the suicide ideations that were vivid in my mind. No wonder I wanted it to be over.
Having a newly diagnosed mental illness, I had to start adjusting my new life of living with BPD. I didn't know there would be a handful of suicide attempts down the track after my diagnosis. I didn't know my life had to stop and start just to gain the correct medical treatment. So I was the hard disk drive, slotting in to the computer. I pressed start again, watching myself go through all these levels to live a normalised life. I will take you into the three levels of the game I entered in order to survive and still be here today, standing in front of all of you.
So I will begin by explaining level one. So I know most of you would of played video games or games in real life that you would have to start at the bottom level to reach the top. You would usually start at the starting line. So here I am standing at the starting line. Except my starting line is trying to get up out of a hospital bed. My gown is still on like I explained to you before. Back then though, I had no idea how to reach level two. For a long period of my adolescent years I realised that reaching level two (or moving forward in that matter) was going to be exhausting. I thought I would reach that level only to tumble down back to the start again when my stability was thrown off. Different types of medications hindered my process of moving forward as there was no medication out there that could benefit my condition. I know medication has helped others, but each time I was medicated it would be game over and back to the start for me.
The first stage also included finding the right psychologist and psychiatrist to help me cope in every day to day life. I assume majority of us in this room have had to seek other mental health professionals as they may not have suited and may have hindered your road to recovery. I think the most challenging thing personally has been trying to seek the right professional. I have gone through 14 psychologist and psychiatrists through out my time battling my illness, which has been a space of 11 years all up. Only 3 professionals of the last 4 years have helped me gain knowledge and understanding into my mental illness.
Another experience I endured at level one of the game of life with my mental illness was stigma. Stigma for those who aren't aware of the definition, is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. People weren't able to separate or differ my illness from who I actually am as a whole. I was belittled, mocked, ignored, isolated and disregarded each time I was hospitalised by specific people (even important people) due to them not understanding and for their own selfish reasonings. For so long, I convinced myself I was simply over reacting and justified their hostile behaviours in my own head. Realistically, if I wanted the stigma to change and for people to grasp some reality of my illness without glamorising it in the process, that I would have to speak up in order to be that change. The worst feeling I ever experienced was receiving silent treatment after I tried to end my own life. So many stereotypical labels were attached to me because I didn't do ‘what everyone else would of done’ in the head space I was in. I was labeled ‘manipulating’ and ‘attention seeking’ for wanting people closest to me to hold me and keep me safe while I was in excruciating pain. I know if I was set alight and they could see the flames burning my skin, they would have thrown water on me immediately to set the fire out. But what some people failed to understand is the flames burn deeply and internally, and my burns can be at ease if they can sit with me and listen to me when I am in this head space. Not dial the police each time I speak out about self harm. Not being taken back and fourth to emergency, slowly decaying away because psychical illness is an actual reason for people to be there for you, and mental illness is not.
So these obstacles were in the way of me reaching the second level of trying to process and live a life where I could function properly. What I have learnt is it is hard to function a day to day life with the demands society has placed on us, and be living with a debilitating mental illness at the same time. If you take some time off work for a psychical injury, you are looked after and made sure you can have a smooth recovery process to get you back to work. If you have a mental illness, you will be either let go from your job or treated differently when you return to work. A lot of jobs in my past have look down on me if I have last minute stayed at home due to having suicide ideations. They would not see it as a valid excuse to take a day off work. We are told to ‘suck it up’ or that ‘being at work will make it better’. Yes because being at work is going to be a miracle and cure me of my illness. Work may help yes, but that is a temporary solution to an ongoing issue. A lot of things can help, but suicide ideation and visions can be so consuming that you want to end the pain. You want your head to be clear, not living in this daze of fear and on edge of trying to regulate your emotions so you dont act upon what your mind shows you that you are feeling.
By this stage, I was feeling defeated. I felt nothing was going to work. I was ready to throw in the towel. I entered relationships that would leave me on my knees each time they abandoned me. I wanted so badly for some small sign telling that my life would get better. That life would become contentment rather than the nightmarish hell I was living. It was draining me inside and out. My knees were bruised from dropping to the floor each time I was hurt. I would spend days in my room in bed lying there to the point I didn't know what day it was. I had no motivation. I could barely stomach food in the process as my anxiety had reached a all new high. I couldn't open up to my friends because the feeling of being let down so many times was always lingering that I didn't see a point. I had a ‘whats the point’ attitude. I didn't want to be here anymore. I thought daily of ways I could painlessly leave this life. I justified suicide in my head and that my friends would be released from the burden I seem to have placed on them. If you could use a colour to describe my mind it would be black. A black hole sinking deeper and deeper. I started to feel suffocated by how consuming my mental illness became.
In order to reach level 2, I had to change some aspect of my life. As I got older and more experienced, I learnt there are other options and ways to seek out the help you need during a crisis period with your mental illness or mental health issue. I was so focused on trying to change the people who didn't want to help me opinions of me, that I started to wear it like some shirt on my back. I was letting these definitions define who I am. Each time someone said I was attention seeking, I would assume I was being attention seeking by reaching out. Each time someone said I was manipulating and toxic, I would assume I am manipulating and toxic. I was ignoring major factors that could of helped me slowly try survive this thing they call life.
It was the year 2014 when I had found a psychologist I had finally clicked with. I was on my last legs with my illness. I was in a negative relationship that had taken its toll on me psychically and mentally. My self confidence had been stripped bear. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a psychologist at head space. I had ongoing treatment for 8 months which really helped me gain a different perspective on my illness and how people act around me. I became more self aware, which abled me to deal with conflicting situations a whole lot safer. This is where I reached a new level. I had entered level 2. Only just, but I got there.
Level 2 was a whole new other side of living with a mental illness. This period of my life was a tightrope balancing act. Trying to maintain my illness and putting my own health on hold. I finished up with my psychologist at head space after 8 months. She had to leave for family reasons. I knew that I would have to start from scratch so I put off seeking out someone else. I convinced myself in a way that I was ‘cured’. I was regulating my emotions a lot better that was for sure. But something still didn't feel right. I ignored all signs of my intuition and went on with life. Growing up in the environment I was in, I was never validated when I was hurt. I was either told to ‘grow up’ or ‘stop being a baby’. So I bought this mentality into my adult hood. I thought to myself I just needed to move forward and move on. Little did I know this would come back to haunt me later down the track.
The next two years of my life were like I pressed play and fast forward to where I was. Everything became distorted. I was in a lot of pain but I decided to shovel it down. I was having outbursts when I was out with friends. This is not to their own knowledge though. I masked my pain so well that I would leave places I was at, catch a cab home and walk up my stairs into my dark room. Curtains drawn. I would cry myself to sleep as I felt so isolated. I knew some where deep inside of me I still had the capability to seek help. But after my last psychologist who helped me left, I didn't want to go through the same process again. I didn't want to drain myself. I was slowly slipping away. My friends didn't notice. I would try to vocalise to them how I was feeling. I was suffocating but without the pillow over my face. It was my illness slowly suffocating me. I was running out of time.
I presented to everyone the ‘strong’ Carissa. The one who was extroverted, sociable, sport driven and holding a job down. I entered another relationship thinking that would be the solution to my ongoing problems. Unfortunately, I yet again ended up in another relationship that sucked me dry from the toxicity of it all. I was left in suicidal states by my partner at the time because she could not quite grasp the reality of my life and illness. I dont even think I could quite grasp what was going on either. Everything started to become one big tornado of emotions. I was swirling in the middle of it. Getting sucked in and out.
Back and fourth in emergency again, I decided there must be other ways to be able to contain my illness. There must be other ways and other people out there who were feeling exactly like I was. I was hospitalised 7 times in the space of two years. I was introduced to groups of people who were never exposed to Borderline, and due to them not understanding, I was the brunt of some cruel and heinous actions on their behalf. I even had one person come up to me and ask me if I ‘got enough attention in hospital’ when I was hospitalised for two days as my suicide ideation was high. I spent days in my room self harming as I had no other control over what was happening around me. Level 3 seemed impossible to reach. I was on my last legs. I was adamant that the game was over.
I was in my room on my computer when I stumbled across an event Suicide Prevention were organising. They were gathering people who have had a lived experience with Suicide to raise money and hike in Alice Springs August 2016. Finding this event and signing up for it literally saved my life. I was determined to help others. I was determined to be that change as the system seemed to fail me time and time again. I was a shadow of myself. But finding this, I was slowly able to build myself back up again. Knowing there were other people out there wanting to help people like me was the gateway to achieving level 3. I was on the ground, bruised and battered. I then somehow picked myself up off the ground, slowly healing myself through helping others. That is the reason why I am stunned in front of you all today.
Through Suicide Prevention Australia, I started to discover what I was capable to do. I began writing, something that would of never crossed my mind 3 years ago. I now write for one of the leading mental health websites in the world, The Mighty. Through Suicide Prevention Australia I was also trained over a 3 day course to learn how to speak safely about my lived experience with Suicide ideation and my mental illness. Being in a room full of people who live, have lost and have suffered was the positive ripple effect I needed to give me that push to keep on going. ing around similar people made me realise I do belong here, just like everyone else. I wasn't cured as such, but I was shown what hope is. I was shown what acceptance is as well. Along with my resilience combined, all these factors played a major role in keeping me alive.
I went on my trek last year in August 12. Standing on the top of Mt Sonder after starting the hike at 2 in the morning to watch the sunrise was when I felt like I had accomplished things I wouldn't of pictured myself doing due to living with Suicide ideation every single day of my life. I ended up raising over $7,000 for Suicide Preventions organisation. To go from self harming every day in a dark room to hiking in the outback Northern Territory showed me the strength I do have from what i endured every day of my life. We raised over $45,000 dollars between 12 of us. The money we raised gave opportunities for indigenous people in Alice Springs to attend the National Suicide Prevention Conference as they had no fundings to get over to Canberra. I was helping people by sending them to opportunities so they could also gain knowledge into helping the suicide epidemic here in Australia. Experiencing life with a debilitating mental illness can work in positive ways. It can set you up to achieve anything.
I still battle with the visions and imagery in my head dog not wanting to be here. Even though I achieved things I didn't think I ever would, I still suffer with my illness. I am working tirelessly to make sure other people out there get to have the experience of life that I had last year. You are probably thinking what you can do? Here is something I want to leave with you today.
8 lives a day are lost to suicide. People die by suicide because they aren't heard. They live in fear to speak up because of the stigma society has attached to the label of it. I discovered that speaking out about my despair prevented me from trying to end my life. So today I encourage you to speak out to people around you that you know love and value you. Save your energy for those people around you. Remember you have an illness, but that does not define you. Seek that understanding from those around you. The more you seek out help, the more you will be surprised the amount of people who actually want to help, not leave you behind. When we come together as a small community, that is when hope is achieved. Accept who you are at the end of the day. When those negative voices enter your head and you may have experienced a psychosis or an episode, always remember if you come out of it, you are still a human being who deserves to be helped at the end of the day. Not everyone is going to understand what you experience. Everyones experience with mental illness is different. If we can remind people of that, then more help can be offered. Last but not least, make sure you use resources such as the centre you are at today. Being around people in a safe environment can make you feel a certain belonging. I know the frustrations that come with the system. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to seek the treatment that is needed. As long as we know we can lean on people like everyone in this room today, that is a step forward.
I will finish on this note. Its a quote I found by Richelle E Goodrich. The meaning of the quote is one of the main messages from this speech. That main message is banding together to achieve results of help and hope. I have learnt over my time that when it comes to mental illness, there is a high pressure on us to behave and act a certain way that we are expected to in order to achieve help. This is where I feel everyone goes wrong. If we have the mindset that everyones experience and perception when suffering their illness is different, that is when change can occur. “Life is a puzzle, a riddle, a test, a mystery, a game- whatever challenge you want to compare it to. Just remember, you aren't the only participant; no one person holds all the answers, the pieces or the cards. The trick to success in this life is to accumulate team mates and not opponents.”