If you would like me to speak at your next meeting or conference please contact me at kazsynnott@gmail.com

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Voice


We all want to be accepted. It is one of the aspects of being human. But what if the person who struggles the hardest to accept you is yourself? We all have our strengths and we all have our flaws. For some of us it is difficult to accept our strengths. So how on earth are we ever going to be able to live with our flaws? How can we accept that which seems unacceptable? Especially if these factors seem socially unacceptable, like mental illness? Would these traits be unacceptable in someone else? Someone you love? Probably not. But mental illness is often perceived as socially unacceptable. So, if I want to be accepted, then I had better keep this aspect of myself hidden.
Right?
Wrong.
Easy to say. So how do I come to accept who I am? All of me. Well I can't be sure. But, of course, I have a theory. It comes with understanding. Understanding and knowledge. Understanding who we are. And why we are who we are. What has made us who we are. Really knowing. And when we find this out sometimes we are shocked. Because we might be nothing like we thought we were!
And sometimes the things we saw as strengths turn out to be flaws and the flaws turn out to be strengths. Because it is living with flaws that gives us strength and empathy. So our flaws become a source of strength.
This process of understanding can be an enormous challenge. Feeling like your whole world turns upside down.
Having a breakdown that turns into a breakthrough.
I have read about people with all sorts of illnesses who say that they would not change a thing because of what they have learnt about themselves. How, not only do they accept their illness or disability, but they embrace it. Because it makes them who they are. And they accept and value who they are. Well, if I could change what happened to me, I would do it in a heartbeat. If I could choose not to have depression, anxiety and PTSD I would do that in a heartbeat. I try to accept who I am and I treasure the life I have now. But, like many, I am my own worst enemy. Given the slightest opportunity the critical voices in my head take on a volume and a strength all of their own. The expectations I have of myself are not even on the same scale as the expectations I have of others. My self-critic operates in an alternate universe that is All Powerful. But at least knowing that this is a symptom allows me to practise some strategies that I have been taught in order to attempt to moderate this critic. For me, it is helpful to challenge the critic to view myself as they would view someone else. To extent myself the same kindness, empathy, understanding and acceptance that I would extent to others. But it is so hard. Because at the times when I need it most my voice becomes a whisper and the critic becomes a roar. And, because voicelessness is a trigger for me, I can find myself on a slippery slope. Literally. It sometimes feels like trying to climb up a slippery dip that has been oiled. I can see the top. I know where I am. I know where I need to go. I know there are strategies to get to the top. But I can't always find them because my head is way too busy beating myself up for getting myself on the slippery dip in the first place. Why did I go on it? Who did I think I was? I SHOULD be able to get to the top. I SHOULDN'T need help to get there. Put these thoughts on REPEAT at maximum volume and off they go!
Now I know that this is my particular pattern of thinking. And over the last ten years I have learnt where this pattern came from. It developed as an eight year old little girl who was trying to make sense of sexual assault. But she didn't know how. She didn't even have a language for what was happening to her. So to make sense of this, she told herself that she must be bad. She must have done something terribly wrong. There was something terribly wrong with her. When these patterns of thinking develop at such a young age, when the brain is so immature, they are very hard, for me impossible, to break. Because for me they are part of my brain pathology. I just can't think different thoughts. That would be like telling me to grow 10cms taller. Or, like telling someone who is deaf to listen harder. So I have to try really hard not to beat myself up for not being able to think differently. But understanding why I think this way, why my critical guilt-ridden voice is so loud has been the greatest gift to me. Because I have learnt that I am not alone. In fact I am almost a textbook case of someone who has suffered trauma as a child. Which really brings me back to why I write this blog and why the response has been so overwhelming. Because sadly, whether you know it or not, statistics confirm that you know people like me and interact with them on a daily basis. This is why seeking help was critical to my survival. This is why awareness and acceptance of mental illness as a 'real' illness is so important. So that people can feel comfortable to seek help. Comfortable to open up about who they are- just like with any other illness. To not feel like they have to wear a mask. To not feel so overwhelmed with shame and guilt that their lives are no longer sustainable.
So here is a little story to illustrate what I mean. (Clearly I am "a work in progress"!)
About a month ago I noticed that I couldn't lift my left leg, then had dreadful back pain and pain down my leg.
My Voice (MV): That's funny. Oh well, it will be fine.
Hubby: You should see the doctor.
MV: I will go to chiropractor.
Chiro: You should see the doctor.
MV: Pain is getting better. I don't need to go to see Dr.
A week or so later I go to GP for prescriptions. At the end of the consultation I mention that I can't lift my leg and add "but I'm sure it's nothing". GP says you need an MRI immediately. I go 3 days later. Another 3 days before I go back to GP who takes one look at films and says "Who is your favourite neurosurgeon?"
MV: I don't need surgery. I'm not having surgery.
I wait while GP screen shots the film, contacts the best neurosurgeon in Sydney who takes 18 months to get into. GP says he will contact you. MV: In a month or 2? I don't want special treatment. Other people need to see him more than me. GP: No, it will be sooner than that.
I leave the surgery and my phone rings. Receptionist of neurosurgeon says he will see you tomorrow afternoon. MV: No, sorry I have a appointment then. I will just go to my chiro. I don't need surgery.
I go to chiro who says "If DR D can see you tomorrow cancel whatever you are doing and go."
MV: Really? This is a lot of fuss. I don't need surgery. It's getting better.
Hubby says: We're going.
Surgeon says I have to have surgery ASAP. MV tries bargaining "but I'm sure it's getting better."
Surgeon says 4 or 5 days in hospital. MV: I will stay 2 nights.
Surgery done and leg miraculously moves to wherever I want it! MV: So I'm better now. I don't need the drip. I don't need these tubes. I don't need painkillers.
Nursing staff: You need to have painkillers every few hours so that we can control the pain.
MV: I don't need painkillers. A little while later MV: Well if I need painkillers I'm not taking them regularly. I shouldn't need painkillers. I should be fine now.
Day 2 drains and tubes come out. Nurse says: I will be back in 10 minutes to help get you up and shower. MV: No-one is helping me shower. I shouldn't need help to shower. She is busy. Other people need help. Nurse comes back 15 minutes later and I am back in bed freshly showered.
Physio says: "It's good to get up a few times and walk around your room".
MV: I should be able to do more than walk around the room. I'm not weak. I start doing laps of the corridor until someone notices and I'm sent back to bed. Physio doesn't come back.
Morning of Day 3 when I have told myself I should be ready to go home. MV: I should be able to go home. But I don't think I can. I think I need to stay one more night. But that would be weak. I should be fine to go home now. I stay but am feeling guilty about it.
Day 4 MV:Time to go home. I'm definitely not staying another night. I don't need to be in hospital.
Dr D says it's good to be active. Start with short walks and by 6 weeks you should be walking for half an hour. MV: I can walk for more than half an hour now. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm fine.
First day home I walk 4 kilometres. The next day 5.
Fast forward 2 weeks. Flat on my back with infection and haematoma. Painkillers and antibiotics.
Of course everyone has been saying that I have been overdoing it. But no matter how many people say it, no matter how often they say it, or how loudly they say it - nothing gets through as loudly as MV which says I shouldn't be sick, other people are a lot worse, you don't need to be looked after, you shouldn't need to rest.
And I am sure so many of you can relate. We are not kind enough to ourselves. We don't allow ourselves what we allow others. Clearly I need practise. And, logically, I see that.
So I practise. I practise what I have been taught. To talk to myself like I would talk to others. To accept myself like I would accept others.
And I will keep practising.
I will keep practising in the hope that one day I might feel it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

When You Open Your Eyes



When you open your eyes, what do you see?
I see you. And you see me.
And the deeper you look, the more that you see.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If so, isn't it interesting that that's where our tears come from? Our tears that carry our emotions.
Tears of happiness. Tears of sadness.
I have done a lot of crying in the last ten years. During one of my hospital stays I cried for weeks. Almost non-stop. Almost until I couldn't breathe. It was exhausting. I remember sobbing with one of the psychiatric nurses and asking her why I couldn't stop crying. And she said something that I will never forget.
She said, "Every single one of those tears has to come out".
And from then on I stopped feeling guilty about crying. There was a reason for my tears. And at that time I had no voice so my tears became the words I could not find. From then on I stopped being ashamed of my tears. And this was a good thing because sometimes they had a life of their own! And I had no control over when the stream might start or stop. It felt that sometimes I would just get so full of those emotions of sadness, despair, hopelessness, anxiety that they would leak out through my eyes.
And that's the funny thing about emotions. They will come out. No matter what you do to try to stuff them down they will show up in some form. I have heard depression described as these emotions turned inward. That it is anger and hurt and sadness turned inward. So, logically, if all these emotions are turned inward, then something has to turn outward! And for me it was tears. I was so blessed to be allowed to cry. I had people who held me, quietly passed me tissues and even worried about the damage I was doing to the skin around my eyes! Tears are not a sign of weakness. Sometimes it takes an enormous strength to let those emotions out.
And you can find understanding people in the strangest of places. About five years ago I decided to report the crimes against me to the police. I knew that I could not put myself through legal proceedings but I wanted what was done to me to count. Literally. I wanted to be part of the statistics. The statistics that are frighteningly understated. I wanted his name to be recorded. And I wanted to do this on my own. I cried all the way to my local police station. When I got there I walked to the front desk, crying and apologising. Apologising for being there. Apologising for taking up their time. Apologising because what I had to say wasn't nearly as important as other things they may be doing. Apologising for crying but also reassuring the officer (who looked about 12!) that I was okay, I just had no control over my crying. It makes me smile now when I think back to the "deer in headlights" look this poor young fellow had on his face. Clearly he had no idea of what to do with me so scurried out the back to find help. Out came a more senior officer who could not have been any kinder. And, of course, this kindness made me cry even more! She took me to a private little room and instructed that we were not to be disturbed. She offered me tea, coffee or water. She spent several hours taking my statement whilst I cried and blew my nose for the whole time. She explained everything to me, she told me that the crimes committed against me were every bit as important as if they had been committed that very day. She commended me for reporting them. She acknowledged what a difficult thing that was to do. She offered to get me a counsellor. She replenished the supply of tissues. She gave me her card and on the back wrote her personal mobile number. She told me to call her any time, day or night. She rang me the next day to check if I was okay.
But there was one thing that she did not do.
She did not say "don't cry". Because she knew. Just like the psychiatric nurse. Because they had both been trained. They didn't say "stop crying". They didn't say "don't get upset". They didn't say "don't worry". They didn't say "pull yourself together". They didn't say "don't dwell on the past".
Because they knew. They knew that every one of those tears needed to come out. They knew that those tears were important. Those tears were healthy. Those tears were a sign of recovery. And they were right. Because slowly I became able to find the words. And instead of the tears becoming a flood the words started to take over. And with the tears and the words came the healing. And when the healing happens the memories didn't go away.
But they did stop rolling down my cheeks.
                                                                                                            


Friday, 10 July 2015

Streets of Memories




Forrest Gump was such a smart fellow.
There are not enough rocks in the world to tear down the houses and demolish the streets that hold my memories. My emotions are directed at houses and streets. I could even say that I hate those houses and streets. And I am not a person who hates. But there are streets that I hate. They are the only things I hate. But hate them I do. I can tell you their names. Virginia Street. Palace Street. Crystal Street. Fitzroy Street. Carlisle Avenue. Hate them all. And if I could, I would gather up all the rocks in the world and reign them down on those houses and streets. Not the people of course. Just the buildings that make up those streets. And dig up those roads so those streets never existed. When I think of those streets my heart races and I feel physically ill. I feel my legs go shaky. I feel that my emotions will boil over. I feel sadness, anger, outrage, disgust.
Now this will test you. Have you been following?
Because in my last blog I talked about only feeling these things for other people. But into my subconscious popped the realisation that I DO feel these things for myself. But instead of being directed at the perpetrator and protectors, these feelings are directed at the streets and the houses where the crimes took place.
In the world of psychology, for me, these houses and streets are known as triggers. That is, they are something that 'trigger' a range of emotions. For me these triggers activate memories of trauma and the feelings and behaviours that existed at that time. We all have triggers. These triggers can belong to good memories or bad. At the beginning they can be quite frightening. But when you can learn to identify them and then act on them they can be your best allies. They can warn you that something is ahead that might need your attention or action. They give you preparation time. So, in my case, I try to avoid these streets because I know that they are not good for me. I have the good fortune that they are no where near my home. They are very intense triggers. Geography is definitely a recurring theme in my triggers, even the less intense ones. Other triggers for me are feeling unsafe, secrets, feelings of lack of control and powerlessness and the feeling that I have no voice. I have been taught strategies to cope when these triggers show up. There are actions that I need to take. It has taken me a very, very, very long time to learn about my triggers, their messages, and the actions needed. One of my important tools is writing. This allows me to have a voice. Just sitting down with a pen and paper and seeing what comes out is very revealing. It is about allowing my subconscious to have a voice. For those emotions that have been stuffed down so deeply that they are no longer readily accessible to come to the surface. To be dealt with. To be released at last. To stop carrying them around. I experience a recurring theme in my dreams which warn me that memories or emotions are about to 'come up' or surface. I was also encouraged to write with my left hand, even though I am normally right handed. The theory being that different parts of your brain are able to be accessed. This technique was extremely successful and revealing for me. Like everything else some things work better than others.
Now if you are thinking that all this sounds a bit 'loopy' think again. I consider that my triggers are no different to people with other illnesses. If you have asthma you will understand. You may have triggers like pollution, change of seasons, pollens, smoke. Sometimes you are even warned about your triggers in the media. If there are bushfires in your area you may be warned to stay inside. Does anybody think this is weird? If you suffer from epilepsy you will be warned if there is flashing or strobe lighting being used. Loopy? If you have anaphylaxis there are warnings written on food labels. Crazy? So if you have asthma you may carry a puffer and avoid smoke, with epilepsy you may avoid discos and light displays, anaphylaxis you may need to avoid nuts. So you know your triggers. You get to recognise the warning signs. And you learn what actions need to be taken to minimise the detrimental affects on your health. Well I do too. But avoiding streets? Having no clutter in my home? Being unable to be in a unisex hospital ward? Quirky at best? Obsessive at worst?
Why? Why the difference? Why is learning to have a voice about these things so difficult? Because for me it's the fear of being judged. It's the shame and guilt thing again. Recently I 'tested' myself again (seriously, do I never learn!?) because there is still that little voice inside my head that says I 'shouldn't' feel this way. Get over it. I would never say these things to myself if I had asthma. I would never tell myself to 'get over' epilepsy. And guess what? I failed my test. So I am putting it in writing now. I am making a commitment to myself. I am never going near those streets again. Never. I don't care if I have to drive 20 kilometres to avoid them. They are not good for me. They are not good for my health or well being. And that's okay. So now I don't need the rocks. I just need my voice. And just like Forrest Gump - "that's all I have to say about that".

 
                                                                      
 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Cracks, The Light and The Gold



I just love this picture. I think it is so beautiful. Which in itself is a bit unusual for me. I like things clean and neat and preferably symmetrical. But I love this picture. And I love what it represents. Which means that I have come a long way.
It has always been very difficult for me to describe how I felt when I became very ill. The best way I could describe what was happening in my head was to use the analogy of a vase. A glass vase. All shiny, no scratches, no chips. Then this vase was dropped. And it shattered. Into a million pieces. And that's how I felt. That inside my head I had imploded and shattered into a million pieces.
And that ever since then myself and my army had been putting it back together again. We used glue. Lots and lots of glue. And, just like anything that is reinforced with glue, it becomes so much stronger. I am the strongest person I know. And I'm not the same anymore. There are cracks and chips where the broken pieces don't quite fit together. Cracks everywhere. But this vase now stands strong and true and proud.
So I love the sentiment in the above picture. That when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. And maybe that beauty is not always obvious on the outside.
But depression has taught me so much. I have a strength beyond measure, a resilience that has truly been tested and passed the test, and a level of empathy for others that I may never have known. My priorities have changed. I've stopped striving for perfection. I have learnt that I am good enough. And that it is not my job to fix everything for everyone. Nobody else expected this- this was just how I saw my purpose in life. A permanent state of happiness for everyone in my life. Not too much to ask!
And because as a child I had created a perfect life in my head in order to cope with the actual reality, I was setting myself up for a big fall. And this creation had become the essence of who I was, my purpose in life, my sense of self. And to suddenly lose your sense of self, to feel the essence of who you are shattering is not only a painful, but a very frightening thing. After all, who are you when your soul is gone? That is what I began the process of finding out. Of rebuilding. Of reconstructing. And I feel blessed to have been able to do this. Although at times it was a very painful process because the demolition had to be completed before the reconstruction could begin, it nevertheless meant that the real soul could shine through - the light could come in. And the soul became authentic. With it's good and bad. It's not so good and not so bad.
Why was it painful? Because I was really scared. I was really scared of what I might feel. I didn't want any of the feelings. The feelings that went with the events. I knew they existed because they were there whenever I heard about other children being hurt in the same way. But they were never there for me. They still aren't. But the fear of feeling these things for myself was terrifying. I was only just surviving as it was and I knew that should the Pandora's box be opened that contained these feelings then I would go to a place from which I feared there would be no return. My therapist taught me to trust my brain. To trust that it would never take me somewhere that I was not strong enough to cope with. And she has been right. So one of the things that I know for sure is that, should the time ever come when I can feel these things for myself, I will be okay. But if I never do, then that's okay too. It doesn't mean that I don't feel these things for others so that is what is important to me. I can feel the sadness, the anger, the outrage, the disgust for what happens to some children.
The other advantage of the cracks is that they allow you to see what is inside. The inside is no longer hidden. It's no longer a mystery. Or a secret. Sometimes you have to look very carefully to see through the cracks. Sometimes it is only a little peek.. But it means that someone sees. Someone knows what is happening inside. Even when the mask is on, someone can see. If they take the time and they look carefully enough. They can see.
So when I look at the picture above I think about all the cracks in me. And if all those cracks had been filled with gold then I think that I must qualify for (literally!) being "worth my weight in gold". So instead I am worth my weight in glue!
Whether we like it or not, we all have our cracks. But to think of them in the context of light and shining and gold makes them so valuable. And the cost we pay for the cracks is what gives them a  value beyond price.
                                                                    

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Links With No Names



                                                                                                               

Well isn't life funny?! Just when I thought I had things pretty sorted out everything changed. Yesterday.
Nothing is the same anymore. Not even remotely the same.
Like... what did I used to think about before yesterday?
I thought I knew how this would feel. I thought I could imagine. But, as it turns out, I was wrong.
I had no idea.
My granddaughter came into the world. My granddaughter. Granddaughter.
Who would know that 3.7 kilograms could make such a difference? How on earth did we live without her?
Don't get me wrong. I knew I would love my grandchild. I have three children I love with all my heart. Three children who still make my heart skip a beat when I see them.     
But my heart suddenly got bigger yesterday. It actually got bigger. And fuller. I can feel it.
And that is what is amazing about life. And impossible to actually explain. Our emotions. And they are all tied up with the people in our lives. And the good and bad experiences we have with those people in our lives. Our family and our friends. Sometimes these relationships last a life time and sometimes they don't.
I don't have a relationship with my family of origin. But my husband and I created our own family and, through him, our extended family of sisters, brother in law, nieces, nephew and great nieces and great nephew. My husband became the source of my family. He gave me that gift. And I found my own 'sisters'. And then my son found his beautiful soul mate. So our family grew. Then we became related to her family. And what a blessing they are. But now that we share a grandchild (and all the siblings share a niece) we are really, really related. Like forever. So whether we are in laws, second cousins, related by marriage, we are really, really family. This precious little girl is now that link. She is the link that joins all our other links to become the chain that we call 'our family'. And some of the relationships don't even have names. There is no name for the relationship I share with my daughter in law's mother. So, if we ever needed proof, this goes to show that naming a relationship does not increase it's value. Our 'nameless' relationship is one I treasure. And what about my husband's brother in laws' family? No names. And what about my daughter in law's mothers' husband and his family? No names but you get my drift. But what about my girlfriends? They are more than girlfriends so I think of them as the 'sisters' that I chose for myself. They are my family. Everyone likes to think that they have some of their 'own' family. And they are mine.
When my son married his wife there was a pew in the church that was empty. It was labelled 'family' so no one else sat in it. And it made me realise that that was where my family of origin would have sat. And it made me sad. Even though it was my choice it still made me sad. Sad that I had to make that choice. Sad that I had to learn that that was the best thing for me. Sad that I hadn't been worth protecting. Sad that I hadn't been worth fighting for. Aren't all children worth protecting? Aren't they all worth fighting for? So what was wrong with me? And because I was only a child there is a part of me that will always believe that there is something wrong with me. Because that's what child abuse does. And that's what makes it insidious.
But this means that I have a special value for all the links, named and nameless, friends and family, in my life. They are there by their choice and mine.
And I know that we would all say that, of course, our family and friends are the most important thing in our lives. Careers, holidays, real estate, cars, dollars don't come anywhere near it.
But it is when something as miraculous as a new life enters your world that you are really confronted with your beliefs. And your blessings. And the importance of being well and healthy in order to appreciate what your 'links' bring to your life. My granddaughter has created a whole set of new links in my life. Links with no names. But links nevertheless. Because all her links, her other grandparents, her great grandparents, her aunts, uncles, cousins, her great aunts and great uncles and all the ones without names, they all become my links.
Because she is my granddaughter. My granddaughter. Granddaughter.
So every so often try counting your links. Actually counting them.
They are everything, everything that matters.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Help. It's There For The Taking.




In previous blogs I have talked a lot about the importance of seeking help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from any mental illness. As a result I have received some emails asking what sort of help I received. Can I say at this point that I am so pleased that people are feeling comfortable to email me (kazsynnott@gmail.com). Not only does it give me direction for what people are interested in, but it indicates that those difficult conversations are happening. That we are opening up those channels of communication. That we are demystifying the topic. That we are shining the light on the secrecy. Woo! Hoo!
OK back to the help that I have received.
The first thing that helped was being diagnosed with depression by my GP. I knew nothing about depression. I wish I had. It would have made a difference. I had no idea of what was happening to me. All I knew was that I felt like I was imploding. That I had no control of anything in my life. The feeling that I was shattering into a million pieces. I was crying uncontrollably.
And I was frightened by the way I felt. Frightened of what was happening to me. Frightened of what I was feeling.
Once diagnosed I was put on medication. Many, many different types of medication. Like with many illnesses medication can sometimes make you feel worse before it makes you feel better. But you need to persist if this is what you need. In milder cases things like exercise, changing your diet, being mindful and giving yourself a break from stressful triggers if possible is all that is needed to turn things around. Diagnosis at least means you can start making a plan and therefore taking back some control in your life. It also means that you have started building your support system. Just like with every other illness, the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment can begin and the better the outcome. Don't wait.
I was trialled on a variety of different medications. Many had side effects. Unfortunately, I became very ill very quickly and was hospitalised in an attempt to get the right medication and the right dosage. Being in a psychiatric unit will be a whole other topic for another day.
Over this and another two very lengthy hospitalisations my condition was still not stabilised so ECT began. Electro Convulsive Therapy (used to be known as Electric Shock Treatment) has a new level of stigma all of its' own. It is a last resort treatment where a brain seizure is induced in an attempt to release important hormones in the brain which are missing when a person becomes severely depressed. It is used when medication is unable to substitute these hormones. The average number of treatments required is between six and twelve. Some people find just one treatment results in a drastic improvement. I had over 50. Another topic for another day.
Eventually my condition was stabilised and then the counselling was able to kick in. From there, even though it was sometimes two steps forward and one step (occasionally 3 or 4!) back, I was always moving in the right direction. There were a few major setbacks like when my counsellor became ill and eventually died. We had formed a very close relationship and she had promised me that when she retired I would be the one client that she kept on. That wasn't to be. And even though she died over 2 years ago I still miss her and think of her every day. It took finding another wonderful therapist to help me come to terms with this loss. Interestingly, my first therapist came up as a suggested person on LinkedIn (which was weird in itself because technology was definitely not her strength!). And I sent a request to connect. Nothing weird about that. So, even though I haven't had a response yet, I think it is an indication that apparently there is LinkedIn in heaven.


                                                 And being loved and cared for helped.

So no matter how bad things get. There is help. It comes in all shapes and sizes. For me to stay well it includes exercise near the beach, yoga, spending time with family and friends, counselling, monitoring by my GP and psychiatrist and the knowledge that I will always be on medication.
And for each individual there is the right combination. It is there. I know it is.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Who Are You?


How can you tell who you might have been?
What would have made a difference?
I often wonder who I might have been.
What would she be like?
How would life have been?
I know it would have been different. And just accepting that has been a big hurdle.
For over 40 years I lived with the mantra that I was 'lucky'. That my past hadn't affected me.
But then there is that old saying that, in my case, proved to be true.
And that is, "you can run, but you can't hide".
Of course we all have our fair share of 'what ifs?' Just like in the movie Sliding Doors.
But when brain chemistry is involved it becomes something different to synchronicity.
It's not just fate.
It becomes something that needs to be processed and understood. At least it did for me. Understanding has had a major impact on my recovery. Understanding the psychology and the physiology. Understanding that childhood trauma has changed the wiring of my brain.
And accepting that. Not fighting that. There was a reason. And that made it okay.
Apparently I have a high IQ. But I know now that hyper vigilance and the effects of trauma were always going to limit my academic abilities. I have maintained my Emotional Intelligence though. And I am more proud of my EQ than I ever would be of my IQ.
Hyper vigilance is an abnormal, heightened awareness of the environment and detection of threats. It's living your life on 'high alert'. It is constant. It is unrelenting. It is exhausting.
It is a common thought pattern of those who have been abused. Of those who have experienced trauma.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have a ranking system for degrees of damage caused by trauma. It is dependent on the age the trauma begins and the length of time it is sustained. Trauma apparently has the greatest effect on children because their brains have not fully developed.
And trauma disturbs brain development. (Which is why being told to 'get over it' or 'look at the bright side' isn't too helpful).
For more detailed information regarding the damage which occurs to the physiology of the brain a great FACT Sheet is available on the ASCA website  http://www.asca.org.au/About/Resources/Impact-on-the-physiology-of-the-brain
This is a must read for teachers and anyone wanting to understand the links between trauma and mental illness (particularly self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression).
Also in this article it sites research which establishes that there is a 113% (!!) increase in the rate of limbic (the emotional brain) abnormalities for children who experience a combination of abuse. By it's very nature sexual abuse often also includes physical abuse and emotional abuse and neglect.
Whilst this article is written within the context of abuse, it also applies to trauma. And trauma for children can include so many things. It can be being involved in or witnessing an accident, being hurt, being involved in a natural disaster, war, experiencing the loss of a significant adult either through absence or death, lack of attachment as infants and many other circumstances, both known and unknown.
Of course this is very dependent on individual circumstances. But what is certain is this.
We must look after our children. All children. We must protect our children. All children.
Our children deserve to grow to be who they were meant to be. That is a right. A right that should not be taken away by adults who perpetrate physical, emotional or sexual abuse against children. Because it doesn't stop when these children grow up. It never stops. But the great thing about having all this information and starting the conversations like the one we are having now is that things can change. With the support of trained well-informed professionals recovery is possible. We cannot delete memories or change the past but it can find it's rightful place. It can stay exactly there. In the past.  No longer in the present. No longer to be carried into the future.
So the aim of this blog and this conversation is to encourage those we care about to seek help.
It is never too late to seek help.
So, back to the original question. Who might I have been? Who might you have been?
I have no idea of who I might have been. But I do know this.
I have no desire to be anyone other than who I am now. I love the life I have now.
I have fought hard for it.
                                                          

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Importance of 'Shenanigans"!


You've got to love Eeyore!

Last blog I talked about the importance of asking for professional help. But at different times in our lives we all need a little help from our friends. There are a lot of song lyrics about that. And Eeyore lends a little humour to a serious topic.
One of the signs that a person may be suffering from depression is that they may begin to isolate themselves. Sometimes they may not even realise they are doing it.

Facebook is an interesting tool for someone to seem present but they may actually be absent. Facebook allows you to hide right out in the open. In fact you can create the most social of lives without ever leaving your bed. You could even google image some photos to accompany your activities. What an interesting social experiment that would be.

It can be easy to just stop including someone if they continually reject contact and invitations. But please don't give up. They are not doing it to reject you. For me, it just became impossible to put on the mask. I could never have shared how I felt. At least Eeyore's friends know how he is feeling. I didn't ever give anyone but those very closest to me the chance. I felt too ashamed and guilty. Good on Eeyore! I could definitely have learnt some lessons from him.
When things got very difficult I didn't leave home because I was actually very, very busy. Even though I didn't leave my lounge I was fighting a raging war in my head. A war that is exhausting beyond comprehension. And no wonder. It's hard to fight a war with no ammunition, when you don't know who the enemy is, and you have no freaking idea why they are attacking you! Busy is an understatement. Busy doesn't touch it. And all that time you are fighting you are trying to pretend that there is no war, everything is okay. You are keeping it a secret because of the stigma and concern over being judged. And exactly like most wars-all you want is peace. Just a little would do. Just to close yours eyes and not feel that you are tumbling even further into this bottomless black hole. Just a little break from your war. Just enough to allow you to summon a little bit of energy.

But now I know that I would have had a whole army of people with me. They would have brought their own ammunition. They would have energy to fight for me when I needed a rest. (They might even see a picture and think I might like it for my blog-thanks Sue x). Just like we all need our own armies at different times. These armies can be made up of our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, church, community organisations. These are the people we would fight for. And they are happy to have their turn to fight for us.

Going out and connecting with people is so vitally important for people with depression. So find some friends like Eeyores'. Those who don't expect too much at the moment. Some people with depression find that they loose interest in things that they would usually have enjoyed. They no longer get enjoyment from the simpler things in life. But if you can do at least some of these things sometimes it is so helpful for recovery. A little adventure and shenanigans can do wonders.

So I have a suggestion for this week. If you are in Sydney go and check out Vivid. Not only is it a spectacular visual presentation but it has so much positive energy that you couldn't help but absorb at least some of it. It reminded me a little of the Sydney Olympics. Not on the same scale of course but just that there were crowds of people, everyone enjoying themselves, everyone friendly, no one rushing or pushing. Just a whole lot of people happy to be exactly where they are. How often does that happen? And it's contagious. It's all free so everyone can enjoy it. All ages and stages. Great access for anyone with a disability. I bought a double scoop gelato (blood orange and burnt fig- highly recommended!) and stood and watched the light show on the fa├žade of Custom's House. It was brilliant. And I took a moment to look at the people around me. That was brilliant too. If large crowds aren't your thing then go during the week. It is much less busy then. I am hoping to get to see the Darling Harbour display this week.

Even if you can't get to this particular event make sure you do something you enjoy this week (and every week). Indulge in some adventures and shenanigans. Share it with someone, because someone wants to share it with you. Let YOUR army in! And be mindful while you are doing it. Be present. Because these are the moments that make up our life. These are the moments that count.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Matter of Choice?



First of all before we get to the topic of the title I have just a few points to cover.

1. A huge thank you for the amazing response this blog has received. It's been very overwhelming. Please keep sharing as it is apparent that this is a conversation that many would like to be involved in.

2. Some people have kindly asked how they can follow it. I THINK I have added a spot for you to enter your email address and you SHOULD receive new posts automatically. There is also a google+ button near my photo. This APPARENTLY puts us in circles (?) that means you will also receive it automatically. I am not afraid to admit that I have yet to learn all about this but I guess I am just jumping in the deep end. I have yet to understand what a 'blog' actually is! There is also a google+1
button which SHOULD allow you to easily share this with friends (?)

3. Other people have enquired how they can comment. If you click on the little pen near the word 'comment' a text box will come up. Your comment will not automatically be published straight away but look out for it.

4. Please also note that I THINK I have added a list of available support for anyone who is interested in gaining support, information or resources regarding depression, anxiety and mental health.

Okay, on to the topic               'A Matter Of Choice'.

Today I had the honour of speaking at a Lifestyle Expo. As often happens, one on one discussions take place once the formalities are over. Today I was asked an interesting question during a chat with a member of the audience.
 If there was one message I could give to the general population in order to reduce stigma, what would that message be?
Now, I am not known for thinking on my feet but, strangely, my answer popped straight into my head.
I would like people to know, in their hearts and in their heads, that depression is NOT a choice.
I guess this popped into my head because during the week I had commented on one of those 'inspirational' posts that came up on Facebook. The words of the post said " happiness is a choice. Every single day you make a choice".
I disagree. And I said so. I even advised that the author should think carefully about the language they use. (I am sure they were grateful for my advice -NOT!) A number of responses followed mine. Some agreeing with me and others asserting that happiness was DEFINATELY a choice.
What do you think?
I definitely do not want to be a voice of gloom but I know that thoughts like these tortured me.
I constantly berated myself for not being happy. I SHOULD feel happy. I SHOULD feel grateful. I SHOULD look on the bright side. The list of 'SHOULDS' was endless. But all of these thoughts imply that I had a choice. So that then left me carrying huge guilt because I COULDN"T feel any of these things.
Think of it like this.
If I had a broken leg would I be telling myself that I SHOULD be able to run and jump and hop and skip? No. I would know that I COULDN"T do these things whilst my leg was broken. Would I feel guilty? No. Is it likely that anyone would tell me that I just needed to change my thoughts and I would be able to run and jump and hop and skip? I doubt it. What about if I just 'cheered up'? Could I run and skip and jump? I don't think so.
So, what is the difference?
The difference is that some people believe it is a choice to be depressed. There are no blood tests to confirm it. There are no x-rays to confirm it. Although I have been told that if scans had been done of my brain when I was at my worst that "it would have lit up like a Christmas tree". Strangely, this was reassuring to me. It would have helped with the guilt if I had scans to show the physical 'proof". How sad.
I am sure that if the general population understood this one concept of lack of choice then stigma may lessen. Perhaps empathy may even replace impatience. Understanding instead of cynicism. And education is the solution.
But there is something that IS a choice.
And that is - seeking professional help.
As hard as it is, seeking professional help is the only way to go. And, just like with any other illness, the earlier we seek help, the earlier treatment can begin and the better the outcome for everyone. Would you hesitate to seek professional help if you broke your leg? What a ridiculous question. Of course you wouldn't.
Would it be a sign of weakness? Another ridiculous question.
So be strong. Be Proud. Ask for professional help. For yourself or someone you know.
And be proud of yourself for doing so.

To those professionals who have changed and saved my life.
Jodie, Craig and Carolyn.
I thank you.



Saturday, 16 May 2015

Welcome to Write Strong

My name is Karen Synnott and I have started this blog after encouragement from many people who believe it may help, support and educate others. It is certainly part of a process of revealing some truths about subjects which some may prefer to ignore. However, the responses I have received since the first publication of parts of my story suggest that there are many out there for whom these conversations are critically important. Lots of issues were raised in the comments, texts and emails I received (as well as many, many hugs!- delightful!). In time I will open up these issues.

The first issue though is well timed in introducing myself. Many people have commented that it has been so helpful that someone 'normal' has admitted to having a mental illness. That sentence could read as a contradiction in terms! But I know what they mean. I am not a celebrity, nor an elite sportsperson. I do not have social or economic disadvantage. I am intelligent and well educated. I am not homeless nor unemployed. I have had a long and successful career and continue to work and volunteer in areas of which I am passionate. I am not wealthy. I do not have an addiction. I have a mortgage. I am a wife, mum of 3, mum in law, and any day now will be a grandmother (unbelievably excited!!!!). But I also have a severe, chronic mental illness which I will have for life. 10 years ago I was diagnosed with severe, major clinical depression with psychotic features. The prognosis was "at best guarded". So yep! I am 'normal'. I am no different to the many, many, many other people who live with a huge variety of challenges.

So what makes mental illness different?
The shame. The guilt. The stigma. The secrecy.

So I am working somewhat backwards (how unusual!). I am starting with exposing the secrecy. This is in the hope that by doing this we will, in turn, be able to dispel the guilt and the shame. When that's all gone the stigma will also be a thing of the past.

Why the title Write Strong? Because Power of Words was taken. And I wanted something about words. Words have always been so important to me. From the moment I realised that those squiggles on a page could be woven to take me to another world I was hooked. I could never imagine not having a pile of books on my bedside table. And journaling has been a crucial tool in my recovery and survival. I have kept all my journals over the last 10 years in case I ever write the book that I have been told is a must. But those journals are all tied up in a bag with a note asking that they be destroyed unread if I'm not around and they still are!
With words we can change anything. A kind word can make someone's day. A harsh one can destroy a soul. Words have more power than anything else. Words dispel secrets. Words make or take away shame. Words can reassure or condemn. So, with words, we can grow strong. With no limits.
Words have led to the creation of this blog. The words that became mine after people read parts of my story. The words that didn't judge. The words that didn't blame. The words that didn't shame. The words that said I was okay. The words that said I was enough. The words that said I was loved.

So if you, or someone you know might benefit from being part of this process please feel free to share this blog.

Off we go! Stay in touch and please feel free to comment and make suggestions. I can't tell you how important your contributions are. Let's make a difference.

BUT please know - this is not a blog offering professional advice. I am starting a conversation. For help and professional support there are wonderful organisations like Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and Lifeline who offer 24 hour support and advice. They do this because help is available. There is support and resources. Mental illness can be treated. But only if we seek help.