Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Survivors need to speak up.

In my last post I shared a photo of my new tattoo, the semi-colon in the jigsaw puzzle piece. The normal, autistic girl who lived. This post however is going to be a lot more worked on, because this one is very, very important in my opinion.

I started writing this blog because that's what I do - I write, therefore I am. Selfish maybe, but true. Then the Facebook messages started. Thanking me for writing the blogs, saying that they could relate to what I was going through, and what I had been through, glad that they had someone who they could identify with. Now, as a survivor, I write for those who are still suffering.

From my experience, the absolute, 120% WORST thing for anyone suffering with mental illness is ISOLATION. Whether it's physical isolation (like me just lying prone on the bed all day instead of going to work), self-inflicted isolation (sitting at dancing not talking to anyone because I'm scared), purposeful isolation (people bullying/being dicks because of the mental illness) or accidental isolation (people not understanding the mental illness so they back away), isolation is great for leaving your mind free to think of all of the worst possible things in the world, a fertile breeding ground for things like anxiety and depression. Don't get me wrong, some time to yourself is vital for happiness, however cutting yourself off from life completely is a surefire way to keep yourself sick.

Now, when you're sick, you're not thinking about what's best for you, and you need the support of healthy people to guide you to wellness again, much like you need people to help you when you have the flu or gastro (I had to work some toilet humour in somehow; it's how I cope, okay?!).  However, they need to know a) that you're sick in the first place and b) how best to help you.

When you're depressed, anxious, or suffering from any other sort of mental illness, opening up and talking is the LAST thing you want to do. Unfortunately, most healthy people either don't want to help due to a) fear (born of ignorance mostly) of getting sick themselves, making things worse or just fear of YOU b) not knowing how to help or c) they can't tell that you're sick because hey, you're hiding it out of fear yourself! You're scared of being judged, you're scared of being hurt, you're scared of everything. So you're not in the best position to educate the masses.

But what about the survivors?

Those who have been through it, but are now mostly strong and healthy again? Those who might be able to take a couple of hits that would destroy the suffers?

The survivors know the signs to look for. They know what can work and what is best avoided. They've BEEN there, they can share that experience. They are the ones who can educate others, helping to shed light on the darkness and removing some of that fear of the unknown. WE know the truths. We know that not everything works for everyone, we know that even a kind word makes a difference, we know that the simple knowledge that someone thinks we're worth a damn can make the day bright enough to live through, that someone being there can cut through the darkness, even if they feel they haven't done much.

I see it at work all of the time. Most of the guys at work are taken aback by how open I am about my struggles. You know what though? Being open about my struggles is a large part of what saved me. If I hadn't been open, my boss wouldn't have known that I need to be treated differently sometimes. We wouldn't have been able to work stratagies to get through the dark days (because they still come, and they can spring up out of no where). Now, if someone else with issues comes through that workplace, they know now that it's not this big, scary thing. They have a frame of reference, and the person coming in can see that they have experience with mental illness, which in turn makes it less scary for them. Everyone wins.

It's easier therefore if those who are well can talk about their experiences. My workplace got thrown in the deep end, which from what I've heard nearly always ends badly (again, I am so, SO lucky). It would have been a lot easier for everyone if I'd been able to say "Hey, look, sometimes my brain chemistry goes mental and this can happen. If that happens, this is what I've found works." People find it easier to cope when they're not suddenly forced to deal with a huge issue, it's easier to accept someone who says they've been through hell than someone who is currently going through hell. That is why the survivors need to be ones to open the dialogue. We're not as scary or as intense as the sufferers. We can be the bridge between the two, helping people to understand mental illness, and maybe even gaining some acceptance by the broader majority of people. I can dream, right?

So how do you open dialogue? That's a good question. For me, the dialogue kinda got forced open by my mental breakdown, which probably isn't the best way to open discussion (I lucked out majorly here). What I've found out in the past week though is that my new tattoo helps open doors - some people are familiar with the semi-colon, but are interested in the jigsaw piece and they ask, which allows me to tell them "Yeah, I have autism." Most people don't think it's a big deal. Obviously getting inked isn't for everyone, so perhaps a pin or something similar might have the same effect. The ribbon for mental illness is a green one, so maybe wear a green wristband.

Once discourse is open, try not to be offended by questions. Remember, healthy people really have no idea what you've been through (no one does) and might offend out of ignorance. Steer them in the right direction, towards websites like Beyond Blue that are full of information. The more people talk about mental illness, the more information that is out there, the more people will start to accept our disabilities as disabilities and not "laziness" or "softness".

I want to get a movement going. I want to start seeing survivors speaking up. I want to get #survivorsspeakup trending. Let's stop hiding in secret Facebook groups, where the suffers can remain safe and sound, let's go out there and make the world a safer, more informed place for them.

After all, we survived the horrors of our own minds. Anything after that should be a piece of cake.

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