My first conscious feeling upon returning to awareness in a hospital bed post-suicide-attempt was shame.
I remember this with extreme clarity.
Here I was, covered in my own vomit, sweat soaked shirt sticking to my back, black sludge dripping out of my nose, chest shaking with barely concealed sobs, all alone. And the first words directed at me by the doctor were:
"How did you think this would help? Causing all this trouble over nothing. "
I felt my throat close up and my hand start it's tell-tale tremor. I've never known a doctor to speak with such disdain and judgement in his voice. I wasn't thinking! I was drowning and desperate and didn't know what else to do. I had been broken down by a system that refused to award me the help I had been BEGGING for so I took to drastic measures. I did what I had to in order to silence the goddamned voice in my head.
I'll never forget that doctor and I will never forgive him for setting me down this path.
Or there's the night the police were called. I won't get into the full story as it's one I've never shared. Even now just thinking of it brings about a giant ball of dread in my stomach. My chest is beginning to heave uncomfortably and my right hand it shaking. So I won't get into that. (Rest assured – it had nothing to do with any type of criminal activity).
I suppose to summarize – I've been conditioned to feel ashamed of my mental illness. Now, I majored in psychology/sociology in high school. My father is a social worker and I come from a family where many of us have dealt with mental illness if all sorts.
I know logically that depression is not something I can blame myself for. I know that it is a chemical imbalance in my brain. Yet I here I was (and remain), utterly and completely ashamed of how I was feeling.
I was weak. I was a burden. I was too broken to be helped.
So out of fear of being an embarrassment to my friends and family I hid my struggles. I functioned when I needed to, and drank myself silly so I could slash my arm and thigh to ribbons when I was alone.
No one should ever be made to feel like that. Like they don't matter, that their struggles are insignificant and unimportant and an all around burden to the system. It makes me so incredibly angry when I look back at how I was treated. I didn't know any better! There was no one else to turn to. So I shut up and accepted that this was as good of help as I was going to get.
At this point you're probably asking yourself how the hell this relates to me hiking across a rainy country on my own in a tent. Fair enough.
Did you know that 1/5 of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives? Yet nearly HALF of us will not seek the required help.
Even if you do attempt to get help, you risk being misdiagnosed, wrongly prescribed and generally mistreated by the medical system. Medications are often expensive, treatment centres have absurdly long waitlists, and you can forget about private therapy unless you've got thousands to spare.
The system is clearly broken and most people don't even realize it. So it's up to us to raise awareness. We need to step up out of the shadows and share our stories. The only way to end the stigma is prove otherwise.
Here's I plan on doing my bit:
This September I will (somehow and miraculously) hike 900km across Ireland, for a brilliant national charity called Mental Health Ireland.
Why Ireland? It's far enough out of my comfort zone without being too overwhelming. We (for the most part) speak the same language, and the trail itself is not terribly technically difficult. And I mean…I may have a bit of a soft spot for the Irish accent.
While my main goal of this hike is to continue to write and share my personal experiences with mental illness in the hopes of inspiring others in need to speak up – without organisations such as MHI, there would be no resources to turn to. The reason I've chosen to support an Irish organisation for this adventure is I strongly believe in supporting the local communities – I will be hiking Ireland, and thus will support an Irish charity. MHI does fantastic work and I can't wait to see how much good we can collectively do.
I'm incredibly excited and mildly terrified.
To be alone with my own mind for 40 days is indeed a daunting thought. But in the midst of my quarter life crisis, I feel this is something I need to do. To separate myself from my friends and go out on my own, clear my head – cleanse my palette if you will – before I settle into a new country. I need to make peace with myself and my past, and what better way to do it than out in the wild(ish)?!
Attached to my blog you can now find a donation page for Mental Health Ireland (as well as a link to their website so you can find out more about the incredible work they do). Anything you have to give will go a long way. In order to end the stigma and fix this oh-so-broken system, we need to act. We need organizations such as MHI that those in need of help can comfortably turn to. We need to continue educating the general public on mental health. MHI does all of the above and I would be so incredibly grateful for your help in reaching my fundraising goal. Share your stories, share this page, and help #endthestigma