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Monday, September 21st, 2009 07:10 pm
Amanda "Brocky" Stachewicz had everything: a loving family with children, a great career as a doctor and a home in the western suburbs. The former St Hilda's schoolgirl got top marks for everything and was beautiful inside and out.

But at her funeral at her old school in March, mourners were stunned to hear about how she felt before she died.

"I'm tired and I don't want to suffer any more," Brocky wrote before she committed suicide.

Her schoolmate Karen Heagney is running in November's New York marathon to remember her friend and do something for mental illness.

"Depression is a hidden disease," Karen said this week, as she limbered up for a training session at Perry Lakes. "If you suffer from a physical disease it's visible and tangible and people ask how you're going. With depression often no one knows."

This is an excerpt from an article which appeared in our free local paper[1] this week. It was one of the things which pushed me over the edge into absolute screaming hysterical fury today, and got me breaking down.

Why? Well, I'm depressed. I'm not an over-achiever, I'm not a person with a great career, I'm not someone who has everything, I've never been beautiful, and I'm not the kind of person who got top marks in everything. No. I'm a working-class brat who grew up in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth, and I've had depression now for the better part of twenty-four years. I didn't ask for it, I certainly don't want it, and I'm just as undeserving of the depression as everyone else who has it.

I need help. I don't need someone to hold me and tell me it's okay, or to tell me it will be okay - I'm old enough to know it isn't true and I don't need encouraging lies. What I need is someone who's willing to bully me into taking my medication every day. I need someone who's willing to nag me out of bed at a reasonable hour, make sure I get dressed and do my hair, and make sure I do ordinary everyday things like making my bed and washing dishes on a regular basis. I need someone who's willing to damn well kick me into an everyday routine, because try as I might, I can't set one up for myself and stick to it.

Trust me, I've tried. I've tried repeatedly. I'll start out, all full of good intentions and hope, and maybe I'll manage these things for a week or two. Maybe even a month. Then it'll all fall in a heap, and I'll wind up skipping a day, or two, or a week on the medication, or I'll be too tired to make the bed, or I'll decide I don't need to bother with one thing, and before I know it, the whole shebang has collapsed and I'm back where I started. Like I am now. I haven't taken my meds since about last Monday, the house looks like a bomb hit it, my sleep cycle is all over the place to the point where I got out of bed at approximately 3.40pm today, and I'm sitting here with my hair uncombed, wearing slippers on my feet. The only damn things I've managed today are making myself a meal (a thrown-together salmon and pasta casserole) and having a shower and getting dressed.

I can't cope. And I hate having to admit this, because I feel like I've failed. I feel like a failure, and I know the only damn reason I haven't killed myself yet is because I'm too afraid of pain to cut my wrists, I dislike the cold too much to try swimming to South Africa (ie drowning), and I don't want to make someone else responsible for my death by walking out onto the road into the path of something heavy. I doubt overdosing on the various drugs I'm taking would do anything anyway - as P J O'Rourke puts it, I might make a mistake and just have a good time.

The fun thing here is, I don't know where to turn for the help I need. There are plenty of people who'll put me in touch with counsellors. There are loads of people who'll listen when I need a shoulder to cry on. But I'm damned if I can think of a single person who'd be willing to take on the job of bullying me into acting like a reasonable adult because I literally can not manage it on my own. Steve says he's willing to do it, but if he were able to, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this now. I need someone who isn't going to mollycoddle me, and he's too damn keen on being sympathetic to stop and consider whether sympathy is the thing I actually need. I might want sympathy, but I'm honest enough with myself to know I don't need it. What I need is someone who's going to tell me when I'm being too damn self-pitying and self-indulgent, and kick me out of my sulks and make me yell at them and throw tantrums and all the rest.

Yes, I want my bloody mother, okay? But I also don't want her, because she's already had a go at doing this, and I don't see why she should have to put her life on hold to do it again. Besides, she's currently off in Queensland or the Northern Territory or somewhere like that, and isn't due back in town until about November.

So, time to dig through all the various depression support services, and see if I can find one which has people who are willing to throw me the rope I need while I try not to drown here. I wish I could believe I'd find it.

As to why the article in the paper got me so furious? Well, let's start with the whole business of running a marathon to improve the profile of mental illness. Yeah, great, Karen Heagney is raising funds for the Black Dog Institute. That's lovely. That's great. But she's doing it because her friend is already dead, and one of the things which helped kill her friend is the stigma which attaches to any mental illness at all. I have depression, I have no history of violence, I have nothing in my prior work history which indicates the depression would be a problem at all - but I've been asked by at least one temporary placement agency to supply a letter from my doctor saying that I'm fit to work. Just covering their backs, in case I suddenly start attacking people, because after all, I'm mentally ill and there's no difference between chronic depression and extreme psychosis in the minds of the average person.

I find myself wondering whether Ms Heagney knew about her friend's mental illness while Ms Stachewicz was alive, and if so, how she would have reacted. Would she have been supportive? Or would she have been one of those annoying people who would have told her that it was "all in her head" and that she should "cheer up" or "just pretend to be happy"? Would she have continued the friendship if she'd known, or would she have distanced herself, just in case the depression was catching?

Alive and depressed, "Brocky" Stachewicz was an embarassment to the establishment. Alive, she would have been offered medication, tea and sympathy - heck, she was a doctor, she probably knew what kind of treatment she'd be given. Admitting to depression meant losing her career (or at least those patients who weren't willing to be treated by a nutter) and possibly her husband and children. Alive, she would have been offered everything short of constructive help. Alive, she might well have wound up like I am - unemployed, and apparently unemployable, because I don't think like ordinary people. Alive, she would have been told to "pull up her socks" and that "it's all your own fault anyway".

Dead, she's a tragic victim of circumstances beyond her control, another martyr to the cause. Dead, she's not going to say things like "how the hell does Karen Heagney running a marathon help someone like me cope with my mental illness?" or "never mind the fund-raising, how about some actual, practical assistance here?". Dead, she can be another photogenic face for the problem of depression, and another tragic case of someone who didn't deserve to be cursed with the illness she wound up with. She's much more use to the cause of gaining attention for mental illness dead than she ever would have been alive.

Running a marathon to improve the profile of mental illness is like knitting to improve the profile of amputees. It's an excuse for doing something you wanted to do anyway.

You want to do something constructive for the mentally ill? Come round on a daily basis and make sure I take my fucking medication and get out of bed before noon. I'll yell at you, swear at you, curse you to hell and back again, and probably throw things at you too. But you'll be doing something useful to make someone else's life liveable, and I'll bloody well thank you for it on the days I'm sane.

[1] Mosman Cottesloe Post, Vol 36 No 37; September 19 2009.
Monday, September 21st, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
I've been asked by at least one temporary placement agency to supply a letter from my doctor saying that I'm fit to work

There is a purely practical reason behind this. If your doctor thinks you are not fit to work, and you work somewhere even without the employer knowing this, the employer's insurance is negated. If you or anyone else get into an accident at work, they're wholly liable. So it's to do with making sure someone else pays for it if something goes wrong (with you or anyone else), and I have no clue why they can't just tell people that. As though it's more fun to make you feel singled out and humiliated.

WRT to the rest of it: I've been there - hell, I am there. There's a lot I could say that won't end up meaning anything to you, because we're different people and similar experiences don't mean similar solutions, yada yada yada.

The one observation I want to make is this: the desire to have another person around to bully you out of bed and make sure you take your medication looks like you want to delegate responsibility for that onto them, perhaps so you don't have to feel so guilty about not doing it. Do you think that's a fair comment, or am I totally off the mark?
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
WRT to the labour laws; I'm in the UK and I thought the insurance thing applied to the US and Australia, but now I can't remember why I thought that so I probably made it up. Please ignore that.

More importantly - on rereading my comment, it sounds overly harsh and that was totally not my intention! The reason I asked is that wanting someone to be there so I can put responsibility on them for things in my life is something I do, so your post struck a lot of chords but I wasn't sure if I was reading it right. You could have been writing a good chunk of my life there, except that when I'm that low I lose all ability to communicate. The fact that you can communicate that horrible low so well is pretty amazing to me, and is also why I wanted to clarify because I often can't put it into words. I chose a particularly bad way of phrasing it, and I'm really sorry.

I'm not going to tell you that all you need to do is apply yourself or make a commitment, because that's a pile of steaming bullshit with no connection to real life. If you're at a point where you want the help and are able to go get it, that's a big step forward anyway, and way more than I can do half the time.

I am really, really sorry for any hurt or upset I might have caused. It was very much not my intention, particularly when you're at such a low point.
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
Hello, is there room at this table? *brings commisseration and cookies*
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
It's always startling to read something written by someone else, and wondering how they managed to get into your head and write out how you feel.

I've had depression for at least the past eight years, along with a good helping of ADD (not ADHD, which could probably at least help me want to get up and get moving more often), and of course it got to happen throughout high scool and college. I probably had it before that as well, I just wasn't diagnosed.

And oh gods, I understand everything you said there. My mother's lectured me, "You need to get off your ass and go do things!" And I know. I know this, and I'm still curled up in bed with my laptop and the wireless and the knowledge that I really need to go out and get a job, and get back to my normal employer about getting back to work (part-time, and no benefits, which is why I'm looking for an "actual" job), and the utter lack of desire to do it. I've had stomach problems, and I'm pretty sure half the time they're because I don't eat well, because when left on my own - and there was over a month where I was pretty much at home by myself - I tend to do silly things like forgetting to eat.

And medication. Oh gods, medication. Well, right now I don't actually have insurance, so I can't afford it myself, but my mom said she'd pay it for me, and I'm lucky as hell to have her kicking my ass for this, even though she shouldn't have to. But I also need to get off my butt and make appointments with my psychiatrist, and I keep putting it off because, "Well...I don't feel like doing it right now. I'll do it later today. Maybe later on. It's getting kinda late...but not now. Dammit, it's too late now, they've gotta be closed. I'll call tomorrow."

I guess what I'm saying is...thank you for writing that out. Because I know I'm not alone. And you're not either. Of course, that doesn't help in the least, because we're just going to do nothing at each other, but at least we're doing nothing at each other together?


I'm going to get up, and take a shower, and get dressed, and do something. Call my doctor, and make an appointment to see him and get drugs, so my brain starts working again.

Thank you.

I can read directions, honest. This post moved from IJ. *cough*
Friday, September 25th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)
Amen, megpie71. Nothing like all those folks who "help" from a pleasant distance, generally by telling you what you ought to be doing. I always wonder, if they came upon someone struggling to carry a large, heavy piece of furniture up some stairs, would they shout out, "You really ought to be doing X instead," and then congratulate themselves on how helpful they were, and tsk-tsk if they later learned that the armoire had knocked the person down the stairs and crushed them, saying to themselves, "If only that person had made use of the help I gave them. If you grab the other end of the object and help carry it, that's helping, not flapping your gums. I'm not saying anyone is obligated to do that; just don't call cruise-by commentary "help."

The marathon-runner reminded me of a letter I once saw in Dear Abby's column (US-based advice columnist.) It was from a concerned soul who wanted depressed youth to know they shouldn't kill themselves because so many people care about them. Her proof? At the funeral of a young man who was a member of her church, the officiating minister talked about what a terrible mistake this young man had made when all he had had to do was ask for help! The minister asked the attendees how many of them would have been willing to have that young man call them and ask for support instead of killing himself, and wouldn't you know it, every hand went up! I wonder if the letter-writer thinks we're all stupid, as well as crazy. The fact that people attending a funeral do not want to be seen not raising their hands in response to that question is not really much of a guarantee that they would actually be willing to invest any real time and patience in being of assistance. But hey, it made them feel better. And that's the point, right?

I hope you do find some help.

Shaker Maud