As you may have gathered, my mental health has been misbehaving of late. The funny thing though is that this period of brain misbehaviour is very different to other periods of illness from my past. I thought it might be worth looking at those protective factors which are in place for me now which weren’t there in the past. To do this I will compare three scenarios:
Scenario 1 – 2001
I was a recently-released ex-prisoner who was trying as hard as I could to make my life more positive. I had enrolled in university at the start of the year and discovered that I was a very good student. I found out that there were things called high distinctions and I was keen to gather some more of them at assessment time. I decided that a job would also be a good thing to have given that my university colleagues were all doing part-time work and earning much more money than I did. I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant but it was never going to work. I was so stressed about my job and terrified of making a mistake that it resulted in a fairly unpleasant mental illness episode. I ended up in hospital and had to quit the job and take time off uni. The support I had was the staff and residents of a live-in mental health program where I was staying. That was pretty much it. I suffered immensely for the next couple of years, begin haunted by intrusive thoughts of violence and self-destruction and strange thinking and extreme anxiety. Time took its course and I recovered. I stayed at university during this time and some years later gained a Masters degree.
Scenario 2 – 2010
I was a published author, Autism self-advcoate and Government official with a Masters degree and a newly-purchased apartment. I thought I was invincible and cured from my mental illness. I experienced a number of anxiety-provoking events whig led to me being constantly stressed and at a high state of anxiety. This went on for some months until I started to get quite unwell. Quite unwell is something of an understatement. By the time I sought help I was thinking I was dead and that I was being punished by God. I thought there was a ghost in my house which was trying to kill me. I was too frightened to use any of the appliances at home and was only eating stuffed vine leaves from a can and pistachio Lindt chocolate. Needless to say I spent the next few years in and out of hospital. The protective factors I had at this point were my job, my family and some good friends, my own attitude and confidence and the fact that I had moved from being a socially devalued person to a middle class, respectable and respected person. It took a long time to recover but I stayed employed and I kept my house and I built my author and speaking profile very quickly after getting over the worst of it (my talk for TEDx Canberra happened six months after my most recent hospital stay).
Scenario 3 – now.
I spent eighteen months begin driven and working on my Autism world work all the hours that God sends. A lot of people told me that I was working too hard and I ignored them, saying things like ‘but I enjoy this work!’ My illness started some months ago and I looked at changing things and seeking help as soon s a noticed. I kept getting worried about events I was attending and speaking at. I thought I would be unable to speak at things or that I would end up in hospital when an event was on. I worked through all manner of unpleasantness and misery but I stayed quite confident that I would be OK. When things got really bad I made an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist who increased my medication. This seemed to help quite a lot. When I needed someone to talk to I did. I cuddled my lovely black cat, Mr Kitty and felt his deep purrs radiating through my chest and felt the healing power of them. I stopped working when I was stressed and watched a movie. I decided to take things one at a a time and not worry so much about the future. I was also incredibly blessed to have my wonderful Facebook family who always give me support and kindness. I have my various projects to inspire and engage me – books and talks and things. I have the wonderful protective factor of my paid job to help keep me focussed and take my mind off any nasties.
As far as I see it, the main protective factors are I have now which I didn’t have so much in the past are:
- Being in a ‘socially-valued role’ – that is, having a position in society where I am respected and socially included
- Having confidence that I can overcome difficulties
- Being part of a peer group which respects and supports one another
- Having a little black furry kitty person
- Knowing when to access help and where to find it
- Building self-awareness
- Taking control over my life and my health
- Having a job which is supportive and doesn’t contribute to any difficulties with my health
- Being engaged in supporting other people which puts my own issues into perspective
- Willingly accessing family support
- Being engaged in activities which I feel are meaningful
- Having positive feedback about my work from people I value (i.e. Autism world peer group)
- Liking myself
- Being strongly focussed on the future and positive things
- Having so much useful ‘stuff’ to do that thoughts of self-destructive behaviour don’t stick around too ing
I hope some of those protective factors are helpful for you as well. Just keep going and remember how amazing you really are. If you are having a tough time (and live in Australia) and you need to talk to someone – you can call Lifeline on 131 114.
My favourite protective factor, Mr Kitty