Mentally Unhealthy.

by Lori Dwyer on September 9, 2011 · 39 comments

I sit in the doctor’s waiting room. It’s the first time we’ve been here, and I have to fill out the New Patients form. My children play with a selection of incomplete, probably germy toys as I flick past questions, tick boxes.

Then I stop, unprepared for what comes next.

Mental illness in the family…? Yes. Mother, medicated. Father….

It’s the first time I’ve entered into my children’s medical history the fact that their father has died by suicide.

***

The doctor obviously hasn’t read my form.

“How did she your husband die?” She asks. she has a thick accent and kind eyes, and gives my children lollies to take away stings and fear.

“Suicide’” I answer bravely. “He killed himself.”

“Ah, well,” she replies, “you made the wrong choice this time, eh? You chose a man who suffered from depression. next time, you will not.”

I am gobsmacked. For so many reasons.

If I have depression, does that make less loveable, less worthy of being loved…? Now, or Before….?

I’d like to think not.

***
After I leave my neighbours backyard, my children relieved form my arms, the shock hitting me, a wall of painful disbelief disconnecting me from reality… the police, they need to ask my questions before i can go to the hospital. Hurry, I think, just let me go, I need to go.

“When was his birthday?”

“The fifth of January. Yesterday… it was his birthday just yesterday.”


“Does he have any history of mental illness?”


The question knocks the breath from me, and when it returns it’s a thumping wave of sobs. How did this happen?


“No! I’m the one with mental health issues, I’m the one with depression. What the fuck is going on?”

***

A few days after this article in the SMH was published, one of Tony’s old friends from school posted on the wall for the memorial FaceBook group that is run by some of Tony’s mates on FaceBook.

The beautiful photo featured in the SMH Sunday Life magazine.

The message was lovely- wishing me the best, thanking me for speaking. Stating that she had some understanding of what I was facing, as her daughter suffers from Bi-Polar.

I can’t remember the person’s name, and I never got to say thank you before the comment came down. So, if you’re reading, thank you.

A few people took offense to this comment, on the grounds that it mentioned mental illness. Compared Tony to someone who was mentally ill.

I’m not even sure where to…. *sigh*. Let’s start from the beginning.

My husband suffered from no diagnosed mental illness at the time of his death. However, when he was younger, he was, from what I was told by him, diagnosed with severe depression.

A pre-existing mental illness is a factor in most, but not all, attempted or completed suicides.

Personally, I think that just the act that you put a rope around your neck and jumped- not even once but twice- indicated that there is something very mentally wrong there. You don’t do that in a normal state of mind. You don’t do that just because you’re angry. That’s not a mentally ‘normal’ or healthy reaction, no matter what state your mental health was in up until that point.

Tony was stressed and worried and had a lot playing on his mind. Maybe he did have depression. Maybe not. The police and staff in the ICU agreed that Tony probably suffered from a violent psychosis.

I guess what all this comes back to is… why is mental illness such a dirty word? Why is it so shameful, so terrible, if he did have a mental illness? What fucking difference does it make? Does it make what he did any better, any worse?

For pity’s sake. This is half the problem.

There is no more shame in being mentally ill then there is in having a cold, or a broken ankle, or cancer. It’s an illness. It doesn’t make you any less of a person.

***

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. For the sake of family’s grieving all over the world…. talk about it. Speak.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

That is bullocks my grandma has Bi-polar and she has her ups and downs unfortunately she is not on the right medication atm which sux anyway I have OCD, autism and depression and it is thought at one stage bipolar which thankfully I have not got, got enough problems as it is without adding to then list bipolar. My grandma was married for fourty yrs even though my grandpa died mere 10 yrs ago of prostate cancer anyway he treated my grandma like an equal she is Please please please stop seeing the doctor it is not worth putting yourself through all that trouble. Your words inspire me Lorie I am only 16 yrs old probably the youngest but anywho YOUR AN AMAZING PERSON. much love anon Xx

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Suzi September 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

It's sad that someone in the medical proffession can be that uneducated as to the affect of her words, particularly in regards to mental health. She should read your blog.

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Rin September 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Please keep talking Lori. I just watched a documentary about "Surviving Suicide" and what I took most of it was what a super amazing person you are! I take my hat off to you! You are an inspiration to every single person out there. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be such a dirty word! Talk, talk, talk and never stop! You have so many people supporting you here!!

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Sapphyre September 11, 2011 at 10:41 am

Hi Lori, I've just finished reading your blog since January… prompted by the SMH article. Thank you for writing it.

My husband has been suicidal on/off for years. He has lots of physical and mental health problems. We have two kids in primary school. And even though we love each other so much, sometimes I've wondered if it would just be easier if he did kill himself.

This blog has given me one resounding answer to that. "No!"

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Lisa September 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm

It sounds like you need to find another new doctor! Thanks for your honesty in your posts. I've been reading here and there for a while and I think this is the first time I've felt I could comment.

My older brother attempted suicide 12 years ago. Psychosis, they called it. Fortunately for him, he was found and our brother (a nurse) was able to revive him and keep him alive until the ambos arrived. Doctors didn't hold much hope, he'd lacked oxygen to his brain for an unknown period of time. He suffered some permanent brain damage.
He's been suicidal several times in the past 12 years (and prior). He has spent a lot of time in the psych ward. Mental illness is not a dirty word in our family – it's reality.
No words can adequately describe the pain of suicide, even a failed attempt.
Thanks for sharing your journey. I am certain there are others who also appreciate your honesty.
x

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Donna September 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I'm not sure what amazes/annoys me more – that insensitive Dr or the fact you are still expected to explain yourself or your situation.

Will always speak, because of you and your story x

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Ms Styling You September 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

Lori, I will speak. I will talk today to my former workmate, whose mum committed suicide almost seven years ago. Thanks to your posts I now know that we all should talk. And I have a better understanding of how to now do that. x

PS. I'd be reporting that doctor.

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Rhonda September 10, 2011 at 10:56 am

I think you should tell that doctors office worker that her comment was offensive and she should really watch her mouth. She deserves no less.

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Michael September 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

125% agree.

Dump the doctor, posthaste.

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Shellye September 10, 2011 at 7:28 am

I accidentally hit post without sharing my thoughts on the nurse's comment.

I'm not defending the nurse, but unless there's something I'm not aware of, she could not have known that you had any sort of mental health issues. She was merely opening her mouth and inserting her foot there. (If she has any sort of compassion at all, she will realize the error of her words and apologize to you the next possible opportunity she has to do so.) As for her comment about how you "picked the wrong one" so to speak, that was just completely rude to say the least. She wasn't there. She had no idea of the intimacy you shared with Tony in the Before. And you are not unlovable. The comments and readers/supporters of this blog obviously answer that question. Love isn't just about romance.

There are four types of love; Agape, Phileo, Storge, and Eros.

Agape refers to unconditional love.

Phileo pertains to friendship and brotherly love.

Storge is a physical show of affection that results from pure motive.

Eros refers to the fulfillment of physical desire (sex).

That nurse is just so clueless, but should she continue such rude and judgmental comments, I would suggest a nice long chin wag with her superiors.

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Shellye September 10, 2011 at 7:00 am

Lori, I totally agree with you. There is no shame in having mental illness. I am guilty of not speaking up. I do make a bit of fun of myself when talking about my issues, especially Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but I never talk much about how it disrupts my life. So allow me to be completely honest right here and right now to show my support.

1. I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that affects almost everything about my daily life, how I clean, what I wear, what I am capable of accomplishing. I am afraid of germs and contamination. I can't relax until everything in my house is in order.

2. I have Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I don't think this needs further elaboration.

3. I have emetophobia. (Fear of vomiting.)

4. I have an eating disorder, EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). This is tied in with perfectionism from the OCD and emetophobia, which affects the way I cook, especially when it comes to meats. I don't cook poultry at all.

I've been tested for depression several times, but my test scores have proven otherwise. (I kept trying to tell them that somehow, I wasn't depressed.)

I tried therapy for these things, but when my husband lost his job on Tuesday, November 10th of 2009, we lost our insurance coverage and I couldn't (still can't) afford any sort of therapy/treatment etc. The only therapy I have is the book that I'm writing. It's my way of escape from the mess I call a life at times, and I get so much enjoyment out of writing.

I admit, there are times I embrace my mental illness. I have a good memory from OCD; I am generally cautious of things due to anxiety which helps me provide a safer environment for myself and others; When I'm anxious, I become an instant comedian for those around me; but there are other times I am ashamed of having mental illness(es). I have been more forthcoming about my issues in the last three years.

Hopefully, the the future, I will get the help I need to lead a normal (or as close to normal as possible) life. Where I'm at right now isn't idea for anyone.

So here it is. I admit that I am a bit nervous about sharing everything to say the least, but maybe this will help others come forward or seek some help to prevent suicide attempts. There is hope.

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Cassondra September 10, 2011 at 6:13 am

I wish I could say that I can't believe a doctor would say something like that, so callous, and so obviously not paying attention. But in the past few years I've run across several doctors who contradicted themselves from one visit to the next, didn't pay attention, accused me of being a wuss (normal women who have working uteruses have pain every month), and asked the same questions over and over (about my brother-in-law's job after a partial amputation) and over after six months of treatment. Some doctors are just idiots I think. I promise there are good ones out there, sometimes you just have to keep looking to find them.

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Hanna September 10, 2011 at 3:59 am

Thank you!

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Good Golly Miss Holly! September 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm

This culture of sweeping shit under the rug is not doing anyone any favours, that's for sure. Oy x

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Wanderlust September 10, 2011 at 1:38 am

Thank you Lori, for another beautiful, honest post. You are a light in the darkness and you are bringing change to a corner of the world. Don't forget that.

Doctors can say inane things. When I wasn't able to breastfeed my daughter, after several consults with a lactation expert, I was devastated. A nurse practitioner said I had to start her on formula, she was losing weight. She put a hand on my knee and said, "It's okay, it's god's plan for you". Really?? For my child to have formula? What bullocks.

Half the people I know, men and women, have suffered from depression at some point in their lives, myself included. WTF? Are we not worthy of being loved, are we to be tossed to the wayside. What silliness. x

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Hear Mum Roar September 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I think you have your answer as to why you get blamed for his death, Lori: ppl don't want to acknowledge that mental illness must've been involved. It's easier for them to get angry at a person, and it sounds like you were the most convenient to them.

It sickens me that I just wrote that. There had to have been something wrong at the time Tony did this. Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what the name for it was, but I agree with what you said, it takes some form of mental illness or another to do what he did that day.

I wish people could understand it's an illness too. My partner has mental illness, and occassionally will be criticised by others for not helping out at school or going to our daughter's awards night.

I've been told, 'no one wants to go to these things, but it's mind over matter, you do it for your kids'. Which only makes me feel like shit. Like if my partner had a 'tougher mind' he could go to an awards night despite his agoraphobia. It doesn't take the bloody night off!

It doesn't mean he loves his kids any less than the fathers who can go to these things.

And don't even get me started on ppl's opinions on OCD! That's what's getting to me the most here at the moment, is the idea that if you have mental illness, you're somehow being a wuss, when you should be using 'mind over matter'.

Yeah? Why do sufferers need medication, treatment, therapy, sometimes even carers then? It boggles my mind how little ppl understand it all. It's as if ppl think sufferers choose to be mentally unwell to be 'quirky'. I wish ppl would understand that no one chooses to have mental illness. Ppl think it happens to 'other ppl' but never them.

If anyone's reading this who thinks they're above mental illness, just know, it could happen to you, it could happen to anybody. So stop trying to brush it away because it makes you uncomfortable

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Melissa September 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Oh my god Lori, I'm absolutely stunned with the doctor's comments to you! I hope you're shopping around for a different one….

As far as I'm concerned, mental illness is exactly that….an illness. We don't get all precious over people suffering other illnesses so why should we be so uptight about mental illness? Unfortunately I think it's gonna take a loooong time before everyone else wises up to this :(

*hugs*

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Anonymous September 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm

You need to get a new doctor immediately. Aside from the fact that this one is obviously an idiot you don't want someone with that sort of an attitude towards mental illness as the primary care for your kids. Chances are that somewhere down the line at least one of them is going to have some "issues" (possibly stemming from the death of their father, possibly not) but at that point it will be much better to have a doctor who is at least compassionate about mental illness.

I say this as someone who has been diagnosed with and medicated for depression in the past and who has several family members who have been as well including a teenage niece who spent months in and out of residential treatment last year after threatening suicide. If she hadn't gotten the appropriate care from wonderful people I don't know where we'd be today.

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Melissa September 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I've had this page open over an hour, and I haven't been able to reply. I'm still stuck back on what the dr said, and my visceral reaction to it. I honestly felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I wonder, more times than you can imagine if that's what Joel's parents think. I imagine that it must be. Pity. Sympathy for him, for being stuck with this. With me.

I'm sorry she said something so hurtful. I agree with you. I think it's time we accepted that in 99.9% of cases we can pretty much guarantee that the person who commits suicide is NOT mentally stable. Is not well. It's not a cowardly act. It's not an act of anger or revenge. It's not the act of a sane man or woman. For that moment, at least, and I'm sure many leading up to it, they are mentally unwell. No sane, healthy person does what Tony did. So for a time there, Tony was sick. Very, very sick. And he acted the way a very sick person, without the use of all of their faculties would make.

Whether he'd been diagnosed previously or not is neither here nore there. The act speaks for itself.

My love to you.

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Glowless @ Where's My Glow September 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm

This hurts my heart :( Some people are insensitive pricks. Luckily they seem to be heavily outweighed by a whole lotta awesome people. People who send cards and stuff x

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Kirsty @ Bowerbird Blue September 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Well said Lori, such prejudice out there, as if you just go out shopping for some problems.

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Jayne September 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm

What an insanely crass and insensitive remark from the doctor.

I can't believe after the shit you've been through, there's more to come. You are so strong and your story a beacon for others struggling to be heard.

<3

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Claire September 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Good Lord, Lori, I hope you aren't going back to that doctor! If you are looking for a new one, try one that has a mental health nurse attached to it – they hopefully have a bit more of a clue when it comes to mental health matters!

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Dorothy September 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Firstly, that doctor needs a slap. That was such an offensive, patronising comment. She is not the sort of person I would want to be treating anyone with a mental illness.

Secondly, I am constantly shocked at the stigma associated with mental illness. I know so many people who either are or have in the past suffered something or another, that it would almost be strange to meet someone who is perfectly mentally healthy. And yet, you are right, most people will not readily admit to it. No wonder really, given the reaction of most of Tony's friends.

If people would just talk about it, admit to it, get treatment, the world would be a much better place.

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blondtress September 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I can't believe that a doctor of all people would say something so dumb and hurtful!

I hope that you are making a difference out there after all you are going through.

Good luck with the big move on the weekend :) xxoo

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Squiggly Rainbow September 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I cannot believe a doctor said that to you. Wow – I too am gobsmacked. I denied by depression for so long because of people like her. Crazy. It takes courage to talk about it, especially knowing some still have ill-conceived ideas and notions. I thought most people were past that. Someone gave me an analogy of with-holding insulin from a diabetic – why would you do that? Why would you with-hold or name and shame depression and mental illness? Gets my goat!

Rach xx

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Chantel September 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I admire the strength you have to share something that must be so painful for you. Your blog and your story is getting out there and making a difference to so many lives. If we can normalise conversations about mental illness, lives will be saved. Well said Lori as always. xx

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Tony September 9, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I'm not sure if I'm taking in the first bit correctly, Did that woman really say that to you? I am so angry about that.
That right there is why we feel ashamed, we are a faulty product that shouldn't be chosen. At least if you have a broken something or other, people can see it, and accept there is something wrong with you. If they can't see anything they don't believe it.
At the end of the day its PEOPLE who make you feel weak if you admit to having a mental illness, So that's why we say nothing and feel embarrassed if we are asked or have to fill out a form. I would have no problem saying to a receptionist across the room,"I have a broken Arm" but I would get up and go right up to her and say very quietly "I have depression" That's how it is. 'Unfortunately"

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Lee September 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I will add Truth to the comment above (Love).

So so true.

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Miss Pink September 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Love.
I want to say more. Just…can't.

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claire September 9, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Thankyou for this post, I agree whole heartedly. My best friend suffers from severe depression and anxiety, I spent years picking up razor blades that she used to harm herself, and was for a long time the 'guardian' of her meds, only allowing her to have a certain amount of pills on her at any one time. This makes her no less loveable, no less of a beautiful human being, and it pains me so much to think that there are people that might find her 'defective' or any less of a person. Thankyou for speaking. thankyou thankyou thankyou.

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tonymcfadden September 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I don't think there's need to add anything to this except, Spot On.

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Fiona September 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Apparently, I still need to feel shame for taking a day off for being anxious and overwhelmed. but not for having the flu or wanting to chuck a sickie.

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Mrs Woog September 10, 2011 at 6:55 am

That doctor is a fuckwit. Please do not go back.

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keeksaz September 10, 2011 at 3:30 am

Beautiful post. You say things so perfectly. Thank you.

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Crystal September 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Wow. Just wow. I can only imagine how exasperated, frustrated and angry you must be at the people who continually try to sweep mental illness under the rug. Like you said, mentally healthy people don't just throw ropes around their necks and jump! Argh! And it IS an illness, just like cancer or a common cold or a broken leg.

Also? I would dearly love to slap that doctor for you. You're most certainly not unloveable or unworthy just because you're depressed. ((HUG))

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Clairzilla September 9, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I wish I could say that I can't believe a doctor would day that.

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Denwise aka Denyse Whelan September 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Like others here, Lori, I am appalled at the insensitive comments from that doctor…however, I can only guess it was for her sake that she did it, more because she was in a room with 2 little people and a mum…but truly…
moving on…I agree X100 that it would be ideal to be able to express ourselves properly about our emotional health, mental illnesses, and more that affect us and in our relationships….
recently I had an experience where some old thoughts and feeling were brought to the surface, some 9 years after the occurrence of the event which triggered my mental health breakdown.
the body may age, the brain and its senses does not forget.
love you hon. stay strong…as you face tomorrow and the attention via RU OK day…. XXXXX

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Toni September 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm

So true Lori.

It must exhaust you to have to keep telling people all this though.

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