My Ordeal to Get Back on the Disability Pension

This was originally going to be a letter I would send Centrelink about my severe and almost constant suicidal thoughts, but it ended up being too long so I decided to keep a 2 week long journal about my ordeal, writing down my thoughts every few days about the events that happened and my mental state at the time. I will have to issue a trigger warning as this is a completely uncensored insight into the thoughts of a person who was seriously thinking of taking their life. I understand if that’s too much for some people to read, for others I hope it makes you understand just how severe anxiety can get and not all people want kill themselves because they’re depressed.

Let’s begin.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 15.02.51

Five w
eeks ago I had planned to commit suicide if I wasn’t able to be transferred from Max Employment to another disability job employment agency. For two years I had either gone into that place feeling suicidal or leaving it feeling suicidal. I always flirted with the idea of stepping out onto busy Marrickville Rd and instantly ending my pain. The day I tried to transfer my consultant (the most coldest and uncaring man I’ve ever met) said he would do the transfer but while I waited for the transfer to go through I had to keep doing what he said. That meant going to information sessions to jobs I was unfit and unskilled for, while doing my own job search. I still had to see a man that thought someone with chronic fatigue could work at an airport doing a physically demanding job. He never listened to my concerns and as much as I wanted to say being in your presence made me want to slit my wrists I couldn’t. I went straight into Mission Employment who couldn’t take me in because they didn’t work with people with disabilities but they gave me a number to call. I pleaded my case to the person on the line and when they told me coldly that I had to go for jobs that the consultant says I cried silent tears. It just seemed like no one would listen to me. But they did transfer me immediately to WISE Employment.  Those last couple days I was on my feet constantly. I had to go to an information session about a job at the airport and the same day I had to go to Wollongong to photograph Against Me and I was experiencing foot pains from a fully developed Morton’s Neuroma too. The next day I had to job search at Max Employment so I decided early to transfer that day. There was also a book signing for Laura Jane Grace, singer of Against Me to attend and a second Against Me show to photograph. That night I became seriously ill from exhaustion. My only memories that night of watching Against Me were of stomach pains, breaking down into a fit of crying in the toilets and having a seizure throughout their whole set.
WISE replaced old worries with new ones. Now I was anxious about being unable to apply for 20 jobs a month and in my mind that meant having my pension cut off. The suicidal thoughts started flooding right back.
In both cases I was unable to tell the consultants face to face. Autism. Go figure.
After writing an e-mail to my consultant, Marie, she asked me to see her right away and contacted the mental health team. She said I didn’t have to worry about applying for 20 jobs a month, changed it to 12 and became even more lenient with me. I finally felt like someone was actually listening to me. Not just mental health wise but it sounded like she was putting me on a path to start my career, to work doing something I enjoy and am skilled at (photography). Hope was restored.  But when she tried to change my job plan she saw I had been suspended – still getting my disability support pension but didn’t have to do job search until I was reassessed.  Marie had reassured me that because I have been looking for work though I’m on the pension I would probably not get cut off. But it wasn’t enough. My anxiety sky rocketed and my suicidal thoughts returned more vivid than ever.
Still, I gathered up medical documents like Marie instructed but when I felt it wasn’t enough I organised to see my GP.

This is when everything started to go wrong.

I asked him to do another mental health check form with me – we do these every four weeks. When I did he said I sounded like I was exaggerating. I looked over the test – I was interpreting the questions in my own way, not the way the writer of the questionnaire intended. It’s something I often struggle with.  I started to panic. They won’t believe me. Then when I asked him if he would reassess me for chronic fatigue (I was diagnosed 15 years ago on the South Coast – it’s not on my record) he lectured me and made it sound like to get over my mental health issues I needed to get busy; socialise, study and get a job. He seemed happy for me to lose my pension even though it meant poverty and forced to work full time when I only have enough energy for 8 hours per week. I would also lose my support from WISE Employment who were the only people guaranteeing me a future. I don’t think he understood I am already looking for work – it’s only a part pension.
I felt dejected. I put on my most depressive mix music playlist and walked home feeling empty inside.

The next day mental health workers from Crisis Team, Camperdown came to my place. ‘Finally!’ I thought, ‘they will help me and give me a report to give to Centrelink.’ I told them I have high anxiety. They didn’t flinch. They didn’t empathise. They outright denied I could have bipolar because I failed to describe my manic episodes. They made it sound like getting a hobby would take away my anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. They looked at my symptoms as less a part of a disorder and more emotions.
When they left I burst into tears. There was no help for me. They refused to provide documentation I could give to Centrelink during my reassessment.
They told me to go to Headspace. My sister said it was a good idea. She said I should see a different GP at the medical practice. I made an appointment.
During all of this I had four days of severe period pain – another medical condition I would have to get treated for after all of this was over. Also, I need foot injections for my Morton’s Neuroma. Living was too painful. If it wasn’t my emotional pain that made me want to kill myself it was my physical pain.
That night I had such severe anxiety over staining the carpet I couldn’t sleep and I felt like my heart would explode. I was either having extreme anxiety over that or the reassessment.
Then, I became hypomanic. Hyperactive. Overconfident. Impulsive – I wasn’t taking the usual care I would, particularly to avoid a hypoglycemic crash. My high anxiety and suicidal thoughts that I felt daily for hours before we’re gone, felt like foreign concepts to me. I no longer cared about the reassessment or losing my pension. I had to force myself to care, if I didn’t I would not have enough medical evidence to be allowed to stay on my pension. But I was so happy and carefree that nothing could touch me. I couldn’t walk – I ran. I didn’t have my own personality. I was mimicking someone. Someone in control. Someone who made their own decisions. Someone that never showed their weaknesses. I could have lost everything if I didn’t snap out of this mood soon.

FRIDAY

During all of this anxiety and suicidal ideation I had a Paul Dempsey gig to go to and photograph. Somehow I had to put all my worries to the side and do one more job for my editor. I didn’t actually care. I was just going to go to get it done. It was the first gig I would officially shoot for a music website I had tried desperately hard to get a photo pass through. Before that I had to go see a new GP to see if they could give me a medical certificate. I had an anxiety attack in the waiting room. I was told the doctor would see me a bit late, it felt like hours. Every time her door opened and someone was let out I thought it was my turn. I was either hopeful and confident of what I was going to say or I had a huge blind blank. But every time the door opened someone new went in and my dread grew even worse. Most people who walked out walked out with smiles on their faces. I didn’t think that would have been me. I drew my attention to the TV on the opposite wall above and zoned out. I felt no anxiety, depression, happiness. Nothing. I was a hollow emotionless shell of nothing.  Barry Manilow was singing with some people I didn’t know. Was that even Barry Manilow? I was so far gone I didn’t even know what Barry Manilow looked like anymore. I checked the time. Only half an hour had passed yet I had seen at least three different TV shows.
When it was finally my turn I was sure to mention I was feeling anxious, then all my thoughts about all the stuff I had been preparing to say gushed out like a waterfall. At first the GP didn’t want to write me the medical certificate so I told her how bad the previous GP had been, that it didn’t sound like understood me at all – weeks or months all wasted. I didn’t stop talking even as she was typing out the medical certificate. I made it clear that I was on a part pension, meaning I could work a little bit but not full or even part time. I wanted that to continue. I wanted to see WISE again and have them give businesses a subsidy to hire me, because there was no other way for me to get employed.
After she wrote me the medical certificate my mood was immediately lifted. I was able to put all my attention on going to the show that night. In the pit – the part where press photographers go – I smiled internally as people in the crowd would marvel at the size of my 200mm lens and comment about how many lenses I had in my bag. They thought I was a pro, not the shivering mess of anxiety with no hopes or plans about the future that I was lately. Later when I was deep in the crowd watching the band from behind the sound desk I made a point to look around. If I had taken my life a month ago I wouldn’t have been there. The two members of the band onstage that I knew would have no idea and still had no idea of what I went through. I also looked around to take one last look around at a room I may not see for a long time. If I did get a job I wouldn’t have energy to do my band photography, but I would have a burden off my shoulder. I wouldn’t have anxiety about financial trouble and I’d stop feeling useless. I would always have anxiety, depression and mania especially seeing how no doctor believes me about having bipolar and I’ve stopped believing it myself. There would be no treatment of my symptoms, no alleviation of them. I would have to learn to live with them and manage my chronic fatigue so I didn’t end up bedridden. Working a job and doing my photography on the weekend would guarantee my fatigue would get worse. I had a few near collapses when I did that before, though an idiot like me would always push myself too much if I got obsessed about something, like photographing two Against Me gigs and going to the instore and lately my plans to cover Sydney Supernova over two days. I never learn my lesson.

MONDAY

My depression returned. I had spent the whole weekend editing Paul Demspey photos and lamenting the loss of a friendship that never happened, that never built into more even though I wanted it to. It wasn’t enough to make me feel suicidal. I had been through so much that made sure I wouldn’t go down that path again. I was nervous about going to the Marrickville Health Centre and telling them everything I forgot to tell the previous mental health workers and my GPs. Crisis Team called me on the weekend, a woman this time. We had a long talk as my mood was a lot lighter and she recommended I go to the health centre. I went along and prepared for the same disappointment. It didn’t happen. Lorne just listened as I spurted everything out. Everything I said to my GPs, the four mental health workers, my consultant at WISE and everything I didn’t get to say to them. I had done this so much it was getting tedious but I was getting better at it. He told me to explain exactly what my thoughts were like when I thought of suicide. I was taken aback by it. I told him I visualized it like a movie, from the moment I do it to the reaction of people who know me; family, friends and most importantly the musicians I know. He convinced me to go back to my GP and ask for a mental health care plan and to see a psychiatrist. He said he will find someone for me who specialized it PTSD and CBT. I never got help for my PTSD so I was filled with both hope and dread. Then I brought up that I was transgender but felt stuck because being on welfare I could never completely transition. He told me it wasn’t true and then gave me a name of a transgender therapist to call. I held the note with the words scrawled on it like it was a golden ticket to my new life, the life I was always meant to live. I was full of hope again. I liked talking to him. When I left my doubts came back. My anxieties over the reassessment came back to me. I knew I had to get control of it.

I decided to play the video game Destiny that night. For the entire time I played the game my thoughts didn’t worry about the reassessment. I planned to play more, get deeper into the game like the hardcore player I was before, but I wouldn’t play it during the day because although videogames help me through tough situations I can get so obsessed with them I don’t want to do anything else.

TUESDAY

Last night I got a message on my phone reminding me to attend an appointment with WISE Employment tomorrow. Early in the morning I contacted Marie about it. It didn’t feel right because I was on suspension. She told me yes I was on suspension…until 2019. I was confused. I thought after my reassessment that if I was successfully still able to continue disability I could go back to WISE either on the Tuesday after my Centrelink appointment or a few weeks after they approved me to continue the DSP.  Now all my confidence and calmness about the issue turned back to anxiety and more suicidal thoughts. This was exhausting me. I needed to play more Destiny. I needed to keep myself busy. I need to do something, anything, right now and always. I couldn’t allow my thoughts to wander. I needed to clear this all up with Centrelink on Friday, for now I would have to live with my confusion, doubts, anxiety and the occasional suicidal thought.

FRIDAY

I HATE MY LIFE.

I’ve been playing Destiny more. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane. The amount of thinking and focus I need to make to play the game silences all of my doubts, at least temporarily. My sister makes it sound like I’m playing it too much. She doesn’t understand that I have to. I only play it at night though. The days are the worst. I have to preoccupy myself enough that I don’t start feeling anxious again.

I’ve started to get stomach pains and let me tell you my time on the toilet is not nice, all because of anxiety. No matter how well I eat or how much fibre is in my diet.

My appointment was rescheduled today. That means I have 11 more days of this uncertainty, of high anxiety and depression and the occasional graphic suicidal thought entering my mind. If I just stepped out early onto Parramatta Rd it would have all been over.

At least I know I’m not really suspended from seeing a job employment agency until 2019. Centrelink checked for me. I’m going to have to discuss it with Marie after my assessment.

My doctor makes me wait too long for appointments so I haven’t started the mental health care plan nor have a got a psychologist to see.

THURSDAY

I’m experiencing a lot of mood shifts from extreme highs into extreme lows. I’ve been told by countless doctors this is normal. I spent $1000 in two days – is that normal? It doesn’t feel normal. My hyper moods make me feel like I’m on stimulant drugs and my low moods make me want to commit suicide. My focus is completely on video games especially what with E3 being on, so I’ve been watching a lot of trailers for games coming soon and a lot of gameplay. I got Horizon Zero Dawn for free which is pretty fantastic because it retails at $99, so I’m going to play that. My sister made me feel like shit because I bought the game monitor and PS4 Pro. I know I should control myself but it’s not always that easy. I won’t spend my money like that for a longtime too. I just wish she’d realise how much video games have helped distract me from my high anxiety and having a mind that says suicide is inevitable over this rescheduled disability assessment appointment.

I’m back into my art…well it’s Destiny fan fiction though but it’s helping me express myself creatively and it’s helping me explain how I’ve been feeling over trans things. I’m calling the project Translight and it will be broken up into chunks of small paragraphs and poetry. It’s the only way my ADHD brain can get this stuff out.

I’m done with social media for a while. I’ll still share photos, statuses etc but I’m not engaging with the braindead populace any longer.

MONDAY

This is what it feels like to want to die…

Despite my sometimes good days things really start to go to shit for me. As I made my way to Sydney Supernova I started having doubts, those doubts turned into too much anxiety to go further. I was stuck at Lidcombe station with no idea how to get anywhere. I recovered in the pub where I decided to not go at all despite my sister trying to convince me to go and even sending me train timetables.
I had also decided to go to a show with her and take photos that night. That was also a mistake. I was depressed so didn’t talk much to people and didn’t want to. I was aware of how quiet I was, of how much I didn’t care and I just wanted to disappear. Actually, I couldn’t stop thinking of self-harming and not the kind of self-harm you survive.
I decided to take photos of the bands to get away from the group I was with. It’s not like I was going to ever say anything to them so why not? I felt anxious taking photos down the front. The bands were not really that great and I gave up during the first one. Every time I held my camera I just thought about all the celebrities who I missed out on photographing and it still kills me inside. I feel like a failure. No matter what people say nothing takes away from the fact that I still haven’t entered into the type of event photography – movie stars. Since I was a kid I’ve loved films and now I want to somehow make it into that industry. I don’t want to act but I want to tell those stories acted on screen. If I can’t then I’ll photograph the actors and crew. But right now I can’t see that ever happening.

Tomorrow is my Centrelink assessment. I’m less nervous over it because I’ve been playing video games but when I’m not I still think I’m going to lose my pension. But now I know my brother is at least there to help me out but I hate the feeling of having to rely on others. I want to only be able to rely on myself.

I still feel like I don’t have the energy to work. I might be ok for a couple of hours, as in 2, but I’m still worried about getting exhausted and let’s face it I’m not very good at communicating with people. And then I’ll have to deal with the stress of not being successful at getting the job which makes me even more depressed.

I don’t think I want to kill myself anymore (though those thoughts come usually when I have another depressive episode) but I just don’t feel a lot of confidence. I don’t like my life or myself or even the way I talk and I don’t feel like I have much of a future. Even when I’m about to make friends I don’t think I want to put them through dealing with all my messes. I certainly don’t want to have a relationship with anyone. That’s more the transgender stuff. I have no idea how I’m going to handle intimacy. Maybe I’ll just remain the same single loveless person I am.

Hopefully after tomorrow I’ll be more at ease and have a better idea of what I want to do with my life.

My appointment actually went as smoothly as it ever could. I feel bloody ridiculous over my behaviour but a part of me thinks if I didn’t the result would have been the opposite. Despite stomach pains from anxiety that I thought was my period coming. My anxiety made it easier for me to talk about what I needed to. It wasn’t even a reassessment, it was just a check-up. The lady was sweet to me and I felt reassured I was still on disability. She seemed fine with me to go back to WISE Employment which is being incredibly lenient on me ever since I told them I felt suicidal. This will help quite a lot. I’m looking forward to applying for photography jobs though I still don’t have much confidence that I can get the jobs or have enough energy to work them.

I still haven’t set up a Mental Health Care Plan. I’ll have to organise that with my doctor. I’m cringing over seeing him again but I need that number for a psychologist. I doubt they will be able to help much but they are someone to talk to. I just hope they’re not as ableist as the last four doctors and mental health workers I’ve seen.

I’ve got a good long term goal though. To continue as a photographer I need a much more powerful PC with a lot of storage space so I’m going to give my computer a full upgrade. I might even build it into a gamer PC. But it will predominately be for photo and video editing – I might become a streamer. I still need to get a new lens for my camera: a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS but that costs triple what a PC upgrade would. Even my PS4 Pro and 4k monitor together comes in cheaper. It’s a really high quality lens. It’s worth it. My concert photography won’t survive without it. I’m so sick of shaky photos that could have been perfectly crisp.

I’ve got a few more blog posts on my mind that I’ll try to post within the next few weeks too. I might even post some excerpts from Translight too. I’m actually going to write about all three of my new Guardians on PS4 (one from my Xbox years) and maybe one of my main from the last 2 years of playing Destiny on Xbox One. I write backstories for the characters I play with on Destiny – what? I did say I wanted to be a screen writer.

Oh, and yes I did just reveal I’m transgender in my journals. You’ll get a big long post about what it was like to grow up in a society that never accepted that.


 

 

 

Why I Stopped Taking Photos

img_8178

I want you to think about that one special skill you have. Something that makes you you, something you can’t live without. Everyone has one. It could be you’re a natural and talented artist or a skilled athlete. You could be a math genius, a captivating storyteller or a gifted actor. Everybody has that one thing they’re good at but some people haven’t yet discovered what it is yet. Ok so, think about your job. You’re good at your job; otherwise you wouldn’t even have it. You could be a graphic designer, or maybe you’re just really really good with people so work in sales. Or maybe you just do something basic that isn’t really that demanding and is actually enjoyable. Now what if one day you couldn’t do your job or you lost that one skill that everyone knew you for. It made them look up to you. It was the one thing that made you get up in the morning, it was all you lived for and now it’s gone. That happened to me.

It just took one night of forced motivation to make myself do something I wasn’t feeling up to and I ended up screwing up so much that I can’t even stand to even try again. OK, I’m going to stop being vague. I’m a band photographer. I’ve been taking photos for 11 years. I’ve been capturing rock moves under the colourful and dancing stage lights. I captured emotional moments that are easily missed from standing back in the crowd. A missed moment that now exists forever in a million ordered pixels. So how could I one night mess that up on a monumental level? And why is it keeping me from ever trying again? Am I so scared of failing I’ll never try again? Well, yes. Failing hurts. But this isn’t just limited to my band photography, it pervades to every part of my life.

This all started when I lost my job after just working there one day. It was the most basic and menial job that they usually give to immigrants who can’t speak fluent English. Those are the only jobs I can get. The jobs no one else wants. And I can’t even do them. My communication is stunted by my autism. My energy is exhausted in a matter of hours because of chronic fatigue. I feel like my whole body is falling apart and I’m feverishly and hopelessly trying to hold it together. No doctor or scientist can restore it to what it used to be. Am I overreacting? Maybe, but sometimes it feels like no matter what I do to help it it won’t be enough.

So lately I’ve been in a state of apathy. I don’t care about getting another job, mainly because I don’t think I can take being fired again. I’m not talking of disappointment but something far deeper on a psychological level. I basically gave up on my goals. For years I’ve just been trying to reach both short and long term goals but now it all feels like it’s for nothing. I get moments of motivation and creativity but it doesn’t hang around long enough for me to really do anything with it. And I’m not a person who can exist without creating something or making something out of myself.

I’m still trying. I’m still planning to overcome this fear of never taking the same quality photos again. I mean, that seems like such a small thing but the thing is it’s my only skill – no, not only skill – it’s the only skill that I can actually do with the energy and motivational limits I have. I’ve started to think about working on screenwriting too but the same issues come up. It’s a project that relies on self-motivation and organization. It takes commitment. And the final pitch takes high level communication skills, and you have to accept failure over and over again.

Autism and the Videogame Community

April is Autism Awareness Month and if I’m lucky today is the 2nd of April: Autism Awareness Day. I’m taking this time to not just write one but a couple of posts dealing with issues faced by those with autism, instead of my usual spotlight on myself and talking about what autism is like for me. It’s my 8th Autism Awareness Month so talking about that stuff does get tiresome. The first post will be about autistic people in the videogame community and the second about the state of the autism community and its many divisions within that community.

Recently I made the decision to quit playing in multiplayer worlds such as MMOs and spending a long time in game forums. I felt like it wasn’t a very supportive environment and not an ideal place for someone still learning social skills and dealing with serious mental health problems. I was let down by the fact that the game community and most social online communities are not really about making friends and supporting each other. I’m not saying it should change. I would love it to change but I’m not pushing anything here. It’s just not for me and I don’t think it’s for people with similar issues.

That said, I’m still going to play the DOOM beta later and if I run into the same obstacles I will try my best to get through it. Obstacles, you say? Yes, these obstacles are often the mindset other gamers have when they are looking to team up with another person. They expect you to already know what to do and be just as good as they are. If not they will accuse you of not trying hard enough, even being lazy. They just don’t see that two people may not be alike. It’s actually very autistic. OK, I deserve the abuse I’ll get from saying that. But it’s very true. I had to learn all throughout my early adult life to remember to think of others and even had to pick up in other people how to empathise. So, it’s something I’m always trying to keep in mind, yet others seem to be losing this innate ability.

I don’t play as much as other people. I have many other interests, all of which will individually take my complete focus for weeks and months on end. I can’t really commit to two at a time. At the moment I seem to be trying to juggle writing with my band photography with playing video games with reading comic books so I’m not putting much time on any one thing at all, so I haven’t got that intense attention to detail autistic people are famous for. I expect some abuse thrown at me from playing DOOM because I haven’t played anything like DOOM for years. I’m off my game, as they say.

What I’m really trying to encourage here in my speedy jumpy-brain ADHD writing style is that I wish gamers would open their minds up to the fact that not everyone who is playing with or against them is exactly like them. You never know what kind of stress someone is under or what their challenges are. Most of you don’t care but I believe there’s a minority of people who will still give consideration to a minority of people once they’re made aware of it.

The reason I play video games at all has a lot to do with my poor performance playing platform games on SEGA, PC and Nintendo as a kid and proving to myself that I’ve gotten better since. I have. I use my brain much more now than when I was a kid. The second reason is because back when I wasn’t even playing games but was sorta interested in them thanks to the invention of mobile gaming that I started to research game development to help me write about VR technology in a science fiction novel I was writing. Funny thing was I didn’t actually know another company was creating the same type of technology under the label VR Roaming. Anyway, tangent. Point is my research turned into playing the games and living in the communities and then I got so absorbed into the playing side of the research, I became a gamer myself. Then when I was going through a lot of anxiety over going to see live bands cause of a PTSD issue I found that playing Batman: Arkham City calmed these nerves and maybe beating the hell out of bad guys felt kind of empowering. So, when I was struggling to deal with crippling depression and suicidal thoughts (oops, trigger warning) I would make myself play a game at the very beginning of my depression and the feelings would be alleviated and I wouldn’t go on online rants and lose all my friends in the process.

Now the fact that I was in these mental states while gaming meant any slight abuse hurled at me was deeply felt as my mind wasn’t even seeing the world properly – both depression and anxiety put thoughts in your mind that often do not reflect your current situation, but are both paranoid and delusional, in a mild non-psychosis sense. You’re self-critical, sometimes hating everything about you and losing hope about your future. You start to hate everyone and everything around you too. What were once little annoyances are now the most irritating things in the world. And you believe them, you always believe them. It doesn’t matter how many times you try and put positive thoughts in place of them, they will always sneak their way back in. At least for a little while. Dealing with toxic people in the gaming community just becomes more of a burden when in that state of mind.

Now back to autism. I believe it’s tough being an autistic gamer because our symptoms may lead to playing badly, though sometimes an autistic gamer that has gaming as a special interest can have the upper hand. The old term used by psychologists was ‘little professor’ – it was the fact that a child with Asperger’s or high functioning autism (they’re basically the same thing) could become interested in something and soak that knowledge, mostly facts, up like a sponge and when they talked about it they sounded like an expert in the field. People with autism can teach themselves to do anything this way. I used to read a lot about physics, especially astronomy and spit out facts I memorised here and there and people thought I was a genius. I understood what I was saying but I’m far from a genius. We have a high attention to detail so can pick up on things people may miss. Try to pick up an object with a lot of detail with it and try to pick off every little detail on it. This is what we do naturally. It’s actually a good coping mechanism. When we look at the whole picture (environment) we’re easily overwhelmed. Most of us have extremely sensitive senses (take note Bungie) and need to detach from the world and just focus on one thing. As a result we memorise all the details. I’m just saying, a player like that on your team could be an asset.

We’re also very good problem solvers. Despite thinking mostly linearly, like it says in the diagnostic criteria, some of us can think of unconventional ways to solve a problem. A big problem I have with video games is that there’s usually just one way to play the game. I was once doing a raid in Destiny playing the Dark Below DLC. You have to take down a Hive Prince called Crota. We all pretty much knew the drill. All six of us have to touch a stone, then you gotta fight the Hive minions and there’s just a very set way to go on from there. But there was this one time where Bungie servers were being little buttholes and glitching the whole raid up, so we were impatient to finish the game so we broke protocol. It was only a slight deviation from the plan but we defeated Crota a lot faster than we usually would. So, maybe having a less than conventional member on the team could not only make a boring rinse and repeat raid more interesting but may lead to quicker victories. And I just think if there were at least 3 or 4 possible ways to complete a level then it would make for much more exciting game play. I really like emergent game play where you take over some dialogue decisions and it affects the outcome of the game. Developers need to make the way players actually get around the environment and the decisions they make within be as varied as the many choices of dialogue in story driven game play.

Autistic people may be able to learn a lot of information quickly and rehash that knowledge as though they’ve been into that subject for ten years when really it’s been two days, they may see other things people miss and they may want to shake up the linear way in which you play games, but there are also some cons. One of the most noticeable shortcomings about someone with autism is their poorly developed social skills. I’m here to elaborate on that. When talking to someone with autism it’s best to talk in a fairly straight forward manner and leave the phrases and idioms at home. They also cannot process too much information at once so it needs to be done in step by step intervals. For me, I don’t like too much banter while in a raid. I need to be able to focus on the mission at hand and really focus on the team leader’s directions. I simply cannot hear two different types of dialogue at once. I always have to pause a TV show when someone comes into the room talking. I can no longer follow what’s going on TV. I feel so frustrated I feel like throwing the remote at the people talking, but I know they don’t understand why I can’t hear the TV. They can filter out unwanted noise and focus on one thing. I and most people with autism, can’t. And always remember, people with autism cannot deal with change. A very helpful and awesome person will help them slowly transition to change by revealing that something different is going to happen and a most unhelpful person will just drop that information 2 seconds before it happens. The difference is a calm and contended person eager to do some team death match or a very angry person who is going to rage quit anyway, and blame you for it. Might rant on Facebook about it. Maybe.

One thing to keep in mind is people with autism just want to be understood but still be treated like everyone else. We don’t want pity. We’ve been handled with kid gloves for most of our lives and to be treated that way in your teens or adulthood is degrading and patronising. There has to be a balance between not being an ableist coont and not treating us like we’re in damn kindergarten.

I think one of the big problems facing people with autism and is probably the reason why they remain unicorns to me (hard to find in the gaming community) is because of the fact that autism is used as an insult throughout the gaming community and social media as a whole. Now, I’m not going to tell those people to stop. I know how much gamers hate having to change something about themselves to seem less offensive. I just don’t think autism should be used as an insult. For one, there’s nothing in the diagnostic criteria that says people with autism have an intellectual disability. Anyone who would make fun of someone with an intellectual disability have voided their humanity and are not subject to the same rights as declared in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in my book anyway. They’re monsters and not worthy of a second thought. Hmm. I may be compartmentalising here..eh. People with autism are not mentally handicapped; it just co-exists in those with severe autism. In the psychological world we call that co-morbid. Like my ADHD. The symptoms of autism are to me personally a set of behaviors developed within the brain as its own way to cope with the chaotic world that the differently connected neural circuits within the autistic brain cannot cope with. But go ahead and think of autistic people as all retarded. It just shows how little you really know about the condition. It’s probably one of the very few mental disorders that give special skills within the frustrating life experience limiting symptoms too.

There are other autistic gamers out there who face the same issues as I do in the online community. I can’t be the only one. I wish to find them and give us a safe place to exist in the game community. If you’re on Xbox One send REDMENACE85 a message. If you’re a troll you will be ignored, reported to Microsoft and name and shamed by the international autism community. If I ever get back into Destiny I’ll make a clan just for us.

Feeling Defeated

I've got the sads like my dog Bear does here

I’ve got the sads like my dog Bear does here

Recently I had missed out on taking photos of two bands that I really love, and I think I’m about to miss out on a third this weekend. It hurts a whole lot more because I choose to take photos of the bands I don’t just like or love but obsess over. That’s not a bad thing. You know, I’m just like a teenager who sticks up posters of all their favourite bands and relates some lyrics to their own situation. The music I listen to is more than background music or tunes to just enjoy; they provide themes to my own moods, energy levels and even identity.

From time to time I do miss out on photographing my favourite bands, either from a lack of media access to their shows or being unable to make it to the gig for some reason. The first band I missed out on photographing was The Living End, who I have loved since I was 10. If you think teenage obsessions with bands were big when I was 10 The Living End was my whole life. They were my young autistic special interest who I not just listened to but soaked up any information about. It was really heartbreaking to not get a photo pass to one of their gigs. I even wished I could have loved another band as a child over them; one that wasn’t so hard to get media access to.

The second band was The Ape. My new favourite band and introduction to the music of Tex Perkins. I was also going to travel to Melbourne for the first time if only the tickets to the gig weren’t so expensive because the flight was also going to cost a lot. It was kind of the next big step for me because when my sister was talking about going to the airport I had so much anxiety and felt so overwhelmed by all the information being told to me my head plummeted to the table, and I was shaking until I contacted one of the band members to see if I was allowed to get in to take photos, and get a plus one for my sister because the tickets were really expensive. I’m still not sure if I was allowed to take photos or not, but as the tickets came with meals and drinks and it seemed unlikely I could get on the guest list and eventually I started to become anxious about going, I decided to mope at home and play video games instead.

The next gig I applied for media access to is Rock the Gate, a concert standing against coal seam gas mining. One of the acts playing is Tex Perkins and the Dark Horses. The headliner is Pete Murray and that would probably really help expose my photography to a wider audience, but I haven’t heard back from anyone regarding my application to photograph the gig yet and so I have little hope I’ll hear back before this weekend.

Last night I noticed I didn’t take my missed opportunity to see and photograph The Ape well and by the time I was in bed full blown depression hit with the occasional suicidal ideation. Now I thought my next depressed episode will be over Centrelink post the two interviews I just had, which I planned to post about in ‘My Second Most Recent Breakdown’ but the interview didn’t turn out to be so bad. I sat down for another capacity assessment to see if I was still eligible for the disability support pension and surprisingly the assessor made me feel like I was. One thing I didn’t mention to them however was the fact that I get so down and depressed when things don’t work out for my photography.

That’s how I feel now: I feel like I will never get another opportunity to photograph another show that I need media access to and I even feel like I don’t have the skills to do it should that opportunity arise again. Although, I seem to be doing all right when taking photos of my cats and dog. There was a little black and white photo challenge on Facebook where you had to post one black and white photo a day, and so I decided to take about 200 black and white photos of my pets and now I’m posting one or two each day to my wall.

The skills are still there but my confidence isn’t and since missing out on photographing The Ape for a fourth time I’ve lost interest in going out to gigs. I’ve basically just been playing my Xbox One and getting most of my self-confidence back through playing video games, and I’m pretty good so will stick at it. It’s become my new special interest. It is all I think about, read about, desire and of course, play.

So yes, the next step is learning to take defeat and still staying with my photography. There are so many bands to photograph but like I said I choose to photograph my upmost favourite. The bands I always think about, listen to and buy camera lenses worth +$1000 for just to take photos of individual band members alone. I actually did that, after the last The Ape gig I was at I decided that I needed a wider angle lens, which I did have but left at home. I bought it after I kept cutting off the heads of guitarists with my usual lens.

On the bright side I will still be able to photograph my favourite bands that don’t require media access. I have two opportunities to see River of Snakes next week. The next couple of gigs I need media access to would Gyroscope at Oxford Art Factory and the big one for me will be Datsuns at The Metro. Both gigs are coming up in the next couple of weeks.

I still feel defeated. I’m still depressed of course. It will run its course and I’ll recover soon. I find the best way to deal with it is let the emotions and thoughts come and do their damage and by the end I’ll forget about ever feeling this way. When I first got the idea to go to Melbourne and take photos of The Ape I had that super inhuman level of over confidence which almost led to me spending $170 on tickets alone and thinking it was a sacrifice worth taking. But then I came back down to Earth and thought it would be better to wait for them to come back to Sydney so I can see them for $20-$30 again.

I should probably mention that I may have missed out on photographing two of my favourite bands but I did get to take photos of my mate Davey Lane and after I put the photos online got a post reach just five views short of 4000. That was massive. That’s the highest it’s ever been, and I didn’t even need to pay Facebook money to show my posts to more people.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t get many opportunities to photograph bands this late in the year. It’s heading into the Christmas season and I like to spoil my nephews and nieces.

So, I’ll keep doing my band photography. The harsh reality is you can be doing this for 20 years and sometimes you’ll miss out on gigs that you just assume will be easy to get into, and sometimes you’ll get into huge arena shows…or The Metro in Sydney.

For now I’m just going to continue to feel sorry for myself, because depression.

My Latest Breakdown

Trigger warning: Brief mention of suicidal thoughts. 

A few months ago I got a large letter in the post from Centrelink. For those not in Australia Centrelink is an unemployment service that provides payments to those who are struggling financially to make ends meet. In these last couple of years my psychiatrist had recommended I go on the disability support pension to take the stress off me from applying for jobs. And it was stressful. I would apply for ten jobs a fortnight, hear back from few employers for an interview and then be left waiting in nervous nail-biting anticipation to find out whether I got the job or not. I’d get a call but it was more for being told they went with someone else and that maybe I should try to be less nervous during interviews.

Being on the disability support pension did take the edge off. Unfortunately, I suffered worse mental health issues in that time and now I think I really depend on the pension to be able to live away from home. It’s a pity though because there was a point in my mid-twenties when everything seemed to be working out for me. I was so driven to succeed in any way I could. I was able to learn anything I put my mind to. I was medicated to focus, be motivated to do any dull task without giving it a second thought and I was hell bent on becoming a famous author, or a physicist, or even the first female combat pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. But then the truth was finally revealed, which I’ve been writing about for a long time – it was just mania and I had developed bipolar disorder.

I’ve been thinking about that for a long time because I’ve still not received proper medical treatment for it which just seems dangerous and counterproductive to my future plans. I also at times struggle to see mania as a bad thing. Why did the great authors, artists and a few composers find success despite their bipolar when all it does to me is destroy my relationships, empty out my bank account and make it impossible for me to commit to an artistic project or anything else I’ve wanted to accomplish. Another obstacle in seeking treatment as it’s made me a much more sociable person. I used to be quiet, withdrawn and low on energy. Now I’m usually sociable, a chatter box really, and have bursts of intense energy for a few hours, sometimes a few days.

But all this combined with severe ADHD and severe anxiety and the eventual depression that always follows mania, has shown me that I’m more unfit for work than ever before. I may feel like I have more energy but I’m too impulsive and distracted to stick with any task. The only work I’ve been successful doing is volunteering for a music website called The Dwarf as a live band photographer. October has been my busiest month and I’ve been shooting bands non-stop and when I haven’t been shooting them I’m editing photos for days on end, to the detriment of my own physical health.

That letter from Centrelink was a review form for my disability pension support payments, and according to my psychiatrist this meant that the Prime Minister just wanted to kick people off the pension and send them to work. My much nicer translation is they were going through the list of people on the pension, under 35, with a fine-tooth comb, seeing who belonged on the pension and who didn’t. I was a red flag for them because I’m only down as has Asperger’s syndrome, and I’ve been getting letters saying that I could still participate in work, even if it’s just volunteering and I could even be trained up. Actually, there are going to be more services to train autistic people to get them into jobs. And all this time I thought the government didn’t care about us? That was sarcasm.

There were a few hiccoughs getting this form filled out. For starters the second part of the form had to be filled out my doctor and at this time I didn’t want to see my psychiatrist. He’s ignored my plea to be assessed for a mood disorder so many times, even when my mood journal was plastered with suicidal thoughts. At this time I was desperate for a diagnosis and medication. I had stopped taking Ritalin full time late last year and my depression and anxiety was very hard to deal with, to not alter my own personality. What I mean by that is I listened to the thoughts and believed them and my mind and lifestyle was changed to accommodate for those thoughts. Since I went on anti-depressant medication it’s been easier to see those thoughts as merely symptoms and they don’t become a part of me. At first the medication completely dulled my mood or rather equalized them which felt like losing my personality, and then I adjusted. Then the mood issues came back.

Previously to finding this form in my mailbox I had successfully been able to keep my suicidal thoughts at bay. But because of the fact that if this form was not handed in I could have lost my pension this played on the most severest of my anxieties – financial instability. It goes like this: if I don’t have enough money to buy food then suddenly I see myself living on the streets and eventually dying. My poor sister has witnessed my many panic attacks over paying rent when I didn’t feel secure enough with the amount of money in my account. This anxiety turns to blaming everyone for causing the anxiety (sorry sis) and feeling like rampaging through the streets because anxiety and anger mixed together gives one a lot of manic energy. You just have to smash, throw, yell it out of you. But all I smash is my possessions, sometimes expensive and rare sci-fi paraphernalia. I throw my possessions too. And I yell at the air.

But then the suicidal thoughts came back, and not just feeling worthless but planning how and when to commit suicide. Then I found another way to want to stay alive. It has to do with not wanting to make a friend hurt over the suicide over a friend all over again. But I still have to deal with very intense suicidal thoughts even if I don’t plan on killing myself, and it’s a horrible thing to go through every couple of days.

So, me and my sister went searching for a new psychiatrist but time was running out to hand these forms in so I had to wait hours in Centrelink waiting to just see someone, because on calling their hotline made me extremely anxious because I didn’t know how to follow the prompts given to me by a robotic voice. In the waiting area at Centrelink I every half hour discretely ate a snack so I didn’t have a hypoglycemic attack. I still did and felt really weak, dizzy and had blurred vision where I’d just stare around like most autistic people do when they’re under stress. My anxiety was intense too and I started to get in my angry ranty mood where my thoughts turned to violence. I was kind of seeing the worst case scenario in my head. I think it ended with me being institutionalized.

I got the extension on the time to hand in the form but it was recommended I see a doctor who knew me well. That meant going back to mood disorder-denying ‘you just have to work and socialse more to overcome your anxiety/depression/mania’ biased as f**k psychiatrist. Fine. So, I called him up. The next appointment fell on the day my form had to be handed in. Now I don’t know why I didn’t ask for another extension after that, even just one more day, but I didn’t. I’m starting to think I make myself paranoid on purpose. Just so I worry about everything falling apart constantly so everything turns out fine in the end. And now I need to find some wood to knock on.

Basically, if one thing went wrong then the end of the world would come. I even started to refer to October 20, the day of the deadline, as the day the world ends. I think this is why I overcommitted to my band photography. On one hand I was glad that I finally could get to shoot the kind of shows I wanted to, on the other I could lose all this if I was to be cut from the pension, have my payments sliced in half and most of my time taken up by applying for jobs or working in a field I was not even remotely passionate about. I even have myself a bit of a fan following. People have told me it’s a waste of my talent to not do band photography. Even my ex was happy to hear I was still doing it. Nah. It’s not like that. We still mates.

For a few weeks I was able to ignore the looming deadline but in that last week my anxiety skyrocketed and I was still shooting shows and editing photos up to the day of my appointment with my psychiatrist and the end of the extension. And then it rained.

The appointment went fine actually. In the waiting room my writer’s block that triggered every time I thought about filling in my part of the form had miraculously disappeared and I scribbled down a bunch of answers. During the appointment I talked non-stop in nervous-manic energy as my psychiatrist filled out his part of the form, replying with the odd ‘mmhmm,’ to show he was listening to my ramble. I kept talking about my mood disorder symptoms of course, including my impulsive spending which he played down by saying I was buying things I needed – sure, I was just spending thousands instead of waiting until I could really afford to spend that much.

Afterwards, I was briskly walking to Wollongong Centrelink in the rain. I had scoped out two Centrelink buildings before my appointment – as I had arrived more than 1 hour early – to put my mind more at ease. The people inside this Centrelink were nice and friendly, compared to the rush-shove too serious service I get from my local one in Leichardt. I was told that I could leave my form there and that everything will be alright.

Finally satisfied that I was given some clarification about my payments continuing I celebrated my buying underwear, socks and a checkered jacket for only $12.50.  I had one of the most scrumptious Mexican lunches at one restaurant too. And as soon as I arrived at the train station there was a train going to the city waiting for me. I even got to catch the bus home, which was free instead of me forking out some $20 for a taxi home. So, things just seemed to fall in place for me that day.

I thought this meant the breakdown was over but I was wrong. That night I was exhausted and being used to this after dealing with stressful situations I just went with it. But the following day’s things didn’t get better. It was hard to adjust to my normal daily life and I fell into a comfort zone where I didn’t try to push myself more. I thought maybe I needed it after going through months of extreme anxiety, but it was hard to break out of. I didn’t even want to go to another show to photograph a band or edit the remaining band photos. I procrastinated writing this blog post for a very long time. I began to watch a lot of TV or spend most of my time on Facebook.

I’m not even sure if things are better now. I’ve decided to plan my days thoroughly so I won’t have large chunks of the day where I’ve got nothing to do so spend them watching TV or saying stupid things on Facebook. I think my afternoon vodka drinking session which of course made me more manic yesterday taught me that I needed to get more control over my life and especially my emotions, which meant fighting against those impulsive desires. I never been good at avoiding impulses because they’re impulses – you act on them before you even know you are – but if I commit to something that needs more focus and thus requires me to take more focus aides (fish oil) then there may be less opportunity for these impulses to surface at all. And I have decided to put all leisurely activities as lesser priorities, which means TV and internet leisure time happens at the end of the day.

So, I’m looking forward to getting more organised and focusing more on my art, which now means Christmas cards or perhaps a nice canvas painting as a gift. I’m not sure. I haven’t done it in ages. It’s my natural talent but I still need to practice it to create some real masterpieces.

I’m also hoping I get to photograph my favourite band from my childhood, The Living End, this Friday and again on the 6th of November. Then after that I’ve got a few more gigs to shoot and also a visit from my mum. I do like to keep busy. I’ve been walking a lot more too to help with mood and focus. And I have another appointment with Centrelink next month to keep me on my toes, somewhat literally. I’m just going to keep on doing my photography, playing my therapeutic video games, and having Christmas with my family. Next year is about taking my photography professional. I need to learn more about taking promotional band photos though. I think I’d do better with getting a professional photographer friend acting as my mentor rather than studying in a classroom. My untreated moods, ADHD and my more anti-social symptoms would make it an impossible task to accomplish.

revealed, which I’ve been writing about for a long time – it was just mania and I had developed bipolar disorder.

Stigma? What Stigma?

Hey peeps! Look who’s back writing another blog post. I told you I would. So, I’ve been following the ABC’s coverage of mental health awareness on TV and on social media and I’ve been impressed with the many forms of awareness they are using. After all, we all experience it differently. They’ve taken a ‘mental illness is an everybody thing’ approach to it, which I do understand – we all like to relate to each other – but for some of us mental illness can be genetic and our type of mental illness does not affect everyone. Some of us – ok me – believe that this type of mental illness is non-recoverable and it’s there for life and we’ve just got to deal with it the best we can. Of course, recovering from any mental illness is a difficult road to go down. I’ve had various forms and severities of social anxiety for most of my life. It took my voice away in childhood. And I still have some non-inherited forms of mental illness to overcome like PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder.

So, what is this inherited form of mental illness, I hear you say? Well, it’s a mood disorder, most likely bipolar 2. It triggered in my early 20s after I took any type of prescription med. I’m not here to criticize the Pharmaceutical industry. The medication worked for what it was designed for, it’s just that it did something else, which doesn’t happen to all people, just people with a family history of mood disorders. So kids: always look at your family medical history before taking drugs, especially the ones your teacher says you should be on.

Bipolar is my newest constant companion, together with autism and ADHD I really don’t know what each day will be like. I can wake up one morning and have little energy and at some part of the day or night be unable to contain my energy. I randomly go on spending sprees, say things to people I forget and commit to things without giving it much thought. Then at some point in an extreme exhausted state I may crash into a deep dark depression. Even writing about it changes my mood state so I’ve got to be careful.

First, negative thoughts seep in after days of over confidence. I go from thinking everything is possible and everyone loves me to doubts about my abilities to questioning who my friends really are. Then comes the pessimism and a cynical view of the world and the cruelest sarcasm towards people you could ever think I was capable of. And then I just keep sliding down, down, down. To the point I become incapable of making myself meals or can even get out of bed. My mind turns on a loop of very vivid thoughts of suicide; the moment before, the act and me gazing down at the world following my suicide. Then after a couple of hours I cycle out of it. I become hypomanic again. It’s an all-round positive mood, energetic and ready to give the world a big giant bear hug.

I know a few people who have actually had their friends commit suicide and it made me feel very uncomfortable and guilty to be around them and hear them going through that mourning process. I never used to empathise with people when thinking suicidal thoughts and people’s poor choice of words to comfort or encourage a deeply depressed person to rethink their decision didn’t help either. I couldn’t see things from the point of view of a suicide survivor and copped a lot of abuse for that. But I’m used to it. My old blog was trolled so much I had to delete it but I’m back and expecting it now so whatevs.

Then, when I became deeply depressed again, despite being on anti-depressants, I started to think about one friend in particular who had lost a friend who I didn’t want to upset again if I did kill myself. And I certainly didn’t want my friends and family to develop a mental illness because of the shock of my own suicide. Before I didn’t think they’d be a shock because I talked about it so much – I even think I wrote a status update that was an equivalent to a suicide note. Luckily, a few friends got behind me and started to encourage me and I felt better.

Now when deeply depressed, if I can’t avoid falling into it through constant gigging, playing video games, watching comedy and sci-fi, I will just experience it and focus more on the physical pain than emotional. Once I get control over my mind I can push my emotions in any direction. So, I will deny my depressed thoughts and just try to focus on the next mood cycle. I wouldn’t do this if I had unipolar depression but because I’m also a rapid cycler telling myself the feelings are just temporary works for me. So far.

I think in order for people to really grasp what bipolar is about I need to talk about my manic symptoms. First, I’ll explain the differences between hypomania and mania. Hypomania is the milder state but it’s a higher than usual ‘happy’ state to be in. You’re very motivated to do things, you might get a few creative ideas you’d like to try out and you want to be around people more. Together with the motivation and creative ideas you’ve got the energy to get everything done and you don’t even require that much rest or sleep.

Mania is the more serious state. I can only tell I’m manic by the wired-like stimulated state of my brain. I have non-stop racing thoughts, overflowing with 10 to 200 creative ideas I must accomplish NOW! I’m restless and anxious and my skin tingles in discomfort. Sounds are louder, lights are brighter- every sense is turned up way loud. This is the state you become delusional and psychotic in. You have higher ideas. You feel like you are enlightened and that everyone else is intellectually inferior to you. They can’t see what you can see. They’re stuck in this stiff collared world of facts and reason, and not into the Jungian dream-like utopia that you slipped in through the smallest crack in the universe. You have more energy than you’ve ever dreamed of and your legs don’t stop moving for days. You’ll pay for it later. You know depression will come but you tell yourself you’ll be like this forever, although, to be honest, you just want to go back to hypomania.

It’s not always so positive though. Mania and hypomania have an opposite evil twin. It’s sometimes called dysphoria or dark mania – it’s the ugly pessimistic and paranoid face of bipolar. Much of it is mixed with symptoms of anxiety and depression, though I’m still unsure if this is what constitutes a ‘mixed episode.’ You snap and yell and rant at people. At worst you have paranoid delusions about them. You’re impatient, anxious, losing confidence in yourself but still have a flair of arrogance about you. You still have all the energy of mania but all positivity is gone. This is actually the most dangerous state to be in because if feeling suicidal you’re impulsive enough to do it. You’re definitely ‘not in your own mind.’ People can become violent when like this.

Above I said mania was like a drug and indeed it is but no one goes on a constant high for days or months without making some mistakes. Those can be overspending, sharing your delusional ‘enlightened’ ideas with people, just ranting and raving and ending up in places you can’t remember how you got to. There’s a trail of destruction you’ve either got to clear up or run away from. You interact with a lot of people during this time, people who you may have to see again when you return to normal, unless you’re rapid cycling – if that’s the case then you’re probably going to repeat the same mistakes again.

In my first year of taking Ritalin for ADHD every dose made me manic, from at least day two of taking the drug. So I spent a whole year basically manic. Depression never came because I’d just take another dose. Eventually it did hit at the end of the year where I was also experiencing clusters of seizures. I was just waiting to die basically. I’d come up with some wild themes for my science fiction stories and books on Jung or Synchronicity took my mind into a new and exciting realm. It was incredible but it wasn’t real. Some of my delusions were very damaging to my mental health. I became obsessed with people, people I acted like I knew well and was destined to be with. That is one place I do not want to go to again. I thought I would never recover but my medication for anxiety has helped make that world disappear. I finally feel sane again.

The title of this post is kind of confusing but what I mean by that is before I was even aware there was such a stigma around mental illness, well, I sort of always talked about it as though I was talking about a hobby. I find psychology and neuroscience to be fascinating subjects and my underdeveloped social skills could not pick up that I may have been making people feel uncomfortable. I actually had to be told by someone that people might not want to be around me if I kept talking about it. Then after I was trolled severely after writing many manic fueled blog posts before I even realised that I could even be bipolar, I decided maybe I’ll just cut back on posting about mental illness and ADHD and autism. But lately I’ve been thinking censoring myself and giving in to the stigma just makes the stigma of mental illness even stronger and I felt better being open and honest about all my mental health issues and atypical neurological wirings. So, while I still may be aware that I’m making people uncomfortable I can just ignore it and keep on talking, or writing. It’s not like anyone will tell me when I make them feel uncomfortable.

October is even ADHD Awareness Month and because I’ve been unable to write my blog about inattentive ADHD, I’ve just been posting a few things on social media. I will eventually write that post though.

I also find educating myself about my illnesses, neurological disorders and other ailments makes me develop the best coping skills for dealing with them. I’m untreated bipolar only on anti-depressants for my severe anxiety, so the only treatment I can do is problem solving skills. Okay so I may have spent $300 or more in the last week and I’ve been mouthing off/ranting a lot and my upcoming gig list keeps growing because I’ve finally got the opportunity to photograph what bands I want, even the ones I need media access to, and not just photographing bands keeps me sane, but the preparation keeps me looking forward to something. Then there’s my recently reignited video game addiction which I really think helps keep my depression from triggering. I just get exhausted now which is ok. I’d rather have the tiredness and lack of motivation that comes with depression without any of the emotions.

So, this is me. A life of mental illness and unique brain structure. There’s no stigma here. It’s just my life. It’s wild, it’s messy, sometimes boring, other times exciting, scary, frustrating and then something unexpected happens.

What is and What is not a Choice in Depression

Robin Williams’s suicide has sparked many fascinating debates, from the need to break the stigma behind depression to just treating others with kindness. The debate I was surprised by and even a little cynical about was the debate regarding whether the act of suicide is a choice or not.

I feel for Robin’s family; they have lost a father, a husband and here are complete strangers arguing whether or not his suicide was a choice. I wish I didn’t have to take part but I have this compulsion to set people right, and I hope I can delicately put forward my argument and share some facts about my ongoing struggle with depression.

I’m grateful that people are being more open minded about depression but in doing so I think some people have confused the hopelessness in depression with a lack of willpower. I’ve actually been able to achieve many impossible feats while under severe mental illness or neurological disorder symptoms when exercising the muscle of willpower. I’ve managed to delay meltdowns, seizures and push myself through blood sugar crashes. I’ve stood up to crippling anxiety – although, I usually do fall victim to it – and I’ve avoided giving into impulses. My willpower has never been more needed than during intense and continuous suicidal thoughts.

A few years ago I discovered a book about cognitive behavioural therapy which is basically replacing negative and irrational thoughts with more positive ones. I took the information to heart and began to change the way I thought. Now it is a much needed defense in my fight against my mental illnesses. However, there are times when I’m more focused on the negative and am incapable of thinking more positive thoughts. The longer I’m in my depressed or anxious thoughts the more likely I will become aware that I need to utilize some CBT thoughts to help deal with my feelings. Now when I am starting to doubt myself or even when I am angry at someone and I think I hate them, I can backtrack and decide, no, I’m just angry at them.’ That is all CBT is.

I have felt some deeply intense suicidal thoughts since 2008 and even though I’m on anti-depressants they won’t go away. During the day I may be ok but when the medication wears off the thoughts seep through. The medication does nothing to control my mania and if I give completely into it and allow it to overtake me and make me spend impulsively and do all those other self-destructive habits one does in the middle of a manic episode then I will become deeply depressed again, and often suicidal. Even when I’m in a good mood I know that I have a suicidal plan. When into the middle of a depressive episode it just feels like the plan will go into effect any day now.

But time and time again I have decided to not go forward with that plan. This isn’t moderate depression, this is severe hate and loathing and misery and no one loves me and my life is hopeless and it’s just easier if…It’s serious stuff. But I go through the pain and I come out better on the other side. Sometimes after my mood lightens I’ll still be thinking mild to moderate suicidal thoughts, unless I blank those thoughts out of my mind.

So, how can suicide not be a choice when I’ve made the choice to keep living? Do you want to know what I’m still living for? Most times it’s so I can see and photograph a band. Seems silly but many times when I’ve seriously considered suicide I will then think ‘but I’ll never get to see so and so again.’ Other times it’s been my nephews. I’ve actually written out notes apologizing to them why I did it. Sometimes the physical pain is too much for me to go through. But there’s always been something else, a need to keep pushing on. I’m not in best situation. I’m unemployed and I’m unsure how much longer I’ll be eligible for the disability pension. Obviously, I need to stay on it but I’m not sure if my government will agree. I struggle with social skills and feel doubtful about getting into a romantic relationship which is what I focus on a lot when I’m depressed. And I’m living with family members and don’t know if I’ll ever be completely independent to live on my own. I’ve also got physical health problems as well as mental, and without my ADHD medication I feel stupid and that I can’t reach my potential. So, when I become severely depressed I’m focused on all those issues and I just feel it’s too much – and tell myself ‘I have a good reason to kill myself.’ Then I come down from depression and just keep going on with life.

Now I am in the ‘suicide is a choice’ camp but I feel there are certain moments in depression where one has less of a choice. There’s the extreme tiredness and lethargy, not to mention apathy you get where you can’t even get out of bed. You lose your appetite and so can barely eat. Positive thoughts become harder if not impossible to achieve. When you can eat it’s hard to make a big healthy meal for yourself so you stick with what takes the shortest time to prepare. Around people you give short terse replies and may even snap at them. And then when you feel overwhelmed you can’t stop the meltdown. You might have planned going out weeks ago with friends but now you just don’t care and can’t psyche yourself up to go or even want to go.

I’ve dragged myself out to live music gigs when depressed. On the bright side I wasn’t terribly anxious as usual, but was angry, impatient and was so absorbed in my own ruminating thoughts that I almost got hit by a car. I would look at the crowds of people especially those in groups and just be annoyed. I would drink alcohol and get even more depressed. I’d become paranoid and feel abandoned and yet I would still drink more. I may come out of it if my photos were turning out the way I was expecting, or I’d remain depressed and leave the gig early.

Even then I would have a choice to not drink, to distract myself and turn my thoughts to something more positive. It’s difficult but not impossible. I was actually at a gig where I chose the foolish decision to drink but it did cheer me up, but my friend stayed depressed, and so only one of us enjoyed ourselves.

The only time depression has seemed impossible to control was depression brought on by a hormone imbalance. I had one of the worst weeks with getting up every morning to make sure my cat didn’t defecate in the shower, and then I had to put up with people arguing while trying to fight my own chronic feelings of depression. I actually came very close to committing suicide because I just wanted it to stop. I have been through worst periods of depression though. Having to deal with a mood disorder and a hormone disorder is like a double threat though.

I deal with other symptoms that seem uncontrollable. I have bipolar mania which makes me terribly impulsive. During the last episode I spent too much money and gave into the mania too much so when I did crash into depression it was brutal, but it passed. I actually wasn’t sure when it would end. I even considered suicide too. It was strange to me because I was taking anti-depressants. This time I’m controlling my mania by not instantly giving into impulses, even something as simple as craving food. That’s where it all starts. I be very careful when deciding my next purchases. Yes, there have still been times where it feels my brain is into control of me but I’m still able to fight against this. When I do slip though I try not to be angry at myself. I tell myself, ‘Yes, you got a bit out of control there, said some things you’d probably regret, but just stop here before it gets any worse.’

I used to lose a lot of control of my emotions too but now I take my time to respond to someone or not before I lose them for life. I used to cut ties with friends to save them from my manic rants. I’ve got better control of my anger now, or rather, I can avoid exploding at them and keep those thoughts in my head, then the little CBT officer in my head will try to soothe the angry irrational side of me.

While I do think suicide is a choice it’s more a choice people make when they feel they have no other choice left. Right now I’m choosing to keep my depression at bay while slowly releasing my mania or hypomania and not letting it out all at once or letting it do whatever it wants, so I don’t crash so hard again. And even if I do crash hard again I probably won’t end up killing myself, even when it’s the only thing on my mind.

I think I understand where people are coming from though. Suicide is a very emotional topic especially if you have experienced it. What I’ve seen a lot of lately is people reading into the statement ‘suicide is a choice’ in their own way, and it probably brings up memories of people once telling them or others it’s a selfish act which then makes them think of what most of us think of when we say someone is selfish – narcissistic really – but the selfishness in suicide is far from that. It’s like saying an autistic person is selfish. I’m autistic and I sometimes feel like I’m selfish because I don’t consider peoples emotions at first. But that is the way I’m wired. I work hard to gain more empathy but even when deeply depressed and thinking of suicide that empathy is hard to reach. What I really think people do is focus on those words and only interpret them in the way they’ve always been told them.

So, I hope now people understand by what we mean when we say suicide is a choice. Just being factual really. I’m more of a logical person than an emotional one. Like a Vulcan really. You have to make an act to kill yourself, usually when you just want to end your pain, but it’s still involves making the decision to take those pills, hang that rope or cut with that knife. When deeply depressed my choice has always been: watch a comedy until you start feeling better.