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.

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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.


 

 

 

Autism, Distrust of Doctors, and Mental Health Awareness Campaigns

Trigger warning: mentions suicide, too many times.

Recently Canada held its latest Bell Let’s Talk Day where people tweeted about mental health awareness and for every time #bellletstalk was tagged 5c was donated towards mental health services. Celebrities were especially vocal in getting the word out. William Shatner had tweeted about it with that hashtag about 12 twelve times before I even caught on. When I got the gist I was reminded of R U OK? Day, which we have in Australia so I thought I’d like to join in. But as I read through the many tweets they seemed to be statements I’ve heard many times before.

Such things like:

“because mental health is real.”

“it’s ok to not be ok.”

“it gets better.”

“all it takes is asking someone ‘are you ok?’ to make them feel better.”

It made it hard to post anything because I didn’t want to post anything too graphic or disturbing.

Eventually I went with: “Had rampant suicidal thoughts earlier but got through it. As always. Keep moving on” #nostigma #bellletstalk

40 minutes earlier I had constant suicidal thoughts and was in such a deep state of depression I couldn’t move. So, can you imagine how I felt for someone to write “it’s ok to not be ok?” Sure, it’s ok to not be ok…until you want to commit self-harm. It’s very hard for me to tell the difference between sadness and clinical depression, just like it’s hard for me to tell the difference between happy and hypomanic, and all those emotions in between.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that people supported this and worked hard to end the stigma around mental illness, and drowned out the voices of the denialists and trolls, and I’m especially grateful for celebrities that helped get the word out to their millions of fans, but as someone who personally experiences mental health issues I felt like I wasn’t counted in the conversation. I’ve moved past the whole ‘mental illness is real’ thing and I just thought after all these years of mental health awareness we had reached the next step to actually talk about mental health; the symptoms, the heart ache and to actually engage with the suffering. That’s what was so important about #BellLetsActuallyTalk – it opened up the conversation to people with lived with mental health issues everyday. What started as people of colour having a say in a day they felt left out of, soon contributions from all ranges of minorities came in and real sufferers of mental health issues and I took the opportunity to spout all my frustrations with biased and incompetent doctors. I ended it with asking everyone whether disabled people with mental health issues were counted in #BellLetsActuallyTalk as well.

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All the Bell Let’s Talk stuff actually distracted me from what I planned to dedicate my entire Australia Day doing, and that was teaching people about Aboriginal Australians, especially their horrid history under English colonisation and their current situation in the communities but by the end of the day I actually didn’t want to change the date or even abolish Australia Day. But more on that later.

For years I have been dealing with doctors who wouldn’t take my concerns seriously. It’s hard enough to have poor communication skills from autism and difficulty even getting words out in a clear concise way because of chronic illness, but then having a doctor disregard it because they don’t think you’re even self-aware enough to know what’s going on, is frustrating and discourages me to keep going to the doctor when I even have physical health issues.

The very first time it happened was before I was even diagnosed with autism. It was along the way. I first thought I may have dyslexia and the psychologist I went to see was entirely dismissive and hit me with a severe depression and severe anxiety label – all from doing an IQ test. This was back in the day when dyslexia was only diagnosed to people with an IQ of 80 or under.  Another time was when I had a painful and constant tinnitus. The doctor looked in my ear and said I said some wax and left it at that. The same doctor was in complete denial when I thought I may have hypoglycemia and asked for a referral to see neurologist because I was having seizures. My psychiatrist didn’t believe me either and it took me a few years to realise that the reason was probably because I reported it as a side effect to Ritalin. The doctor who made me come to that realisation said that there wasn’t anything wrong with having extreme sensitivity to light, and said it’s better to wear sunglasses everywhere to protect my eyes from the sun. Medical professionals don’t like it when you say something nasty about those drugs they’re paid to prescribe you.

None of them were as dismissive as my psychiatrist though. I have cyclic moods, which is basically what I call undiagnosed symptoms of bipolar. My psychiatrist has refused to even asses me for it despite the fact that my symptoms were ruining my life. You can imagine what untreated bipolar looks like. For a long time I saw my mania as a positive too. I couldn’t really commit to a project unless I was manic because I had more energy and more ideas just popping into my brain. In those last days I took Ritalin I just take it to get manic. I could cut a pill in half and still become manic but 20mg (less than 10 year olds are dosed with) was what I’d take to have complete wild ride and often ended up with me going into psychosis and an intense teeth grinding session.

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This photograph is a trigger.

Being deprived of the treatment I needed, my mum not believing me as much as my psychiatrist put me into a deep depression and I even used to tell him when I felt suicidal, right at that moment. I’d tell my mum that I felt so suicidal that I’d run out onto the busy road just outside the medical centre, and I was just ignored.

So I gave up. I gave up asking for help, for anything. I embraced my mania and it took a long time to see it as a negative. I let a GP put me back on anti-depressants so I could actually leave my house without having PTSD triggering and kill the delusional thoughts. It worked but 3 weeks later they made me hypomanic. I stayed on them for a year or two then thought it was probably best to have less hypomanic episodes, so I stopped taking the meds and now have less hypomanic episodes but now deal with short but intense depressive episodes.

For the 6-7 years I’ve been aware of my mental health issues I’ve had to develop my own coping mechanisms to deal with them and stay positive about where my life is heading, and just keep getting through everyday. There were no social lessons after my autism diagnosis. I’ve been teaching myself how to read body language, mimic it and how to start and keep conversations going and everything about social customs, except hierarchies because fuck that shit. I can learn social skills, apply them but I’m not joining the collective consciousness that tells you what’s a suitable subject to like, or a suitable way to dress and to only surround yourself with suitable people. If you’ve ever made fun of someone for liking a subject you felt was too nerdy or strange, or laughed at the way they dressed, or thought yourself smarter than them then you are a part of that consciousness.

Likewise, I’ve had to learn similar ways about how to minimize my symptoms of mental illness. It’s been less about learning things from others – although everything I’ve learned from social behaviour can help me regulate my own emotions around them – but is more about employing self-therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy or using the only helpful advice a psychologist told me about anxiety: the thoughts are in no way based in reality.

My seizures and hypoglycemia are controlled through strict dieting; no caffeine, very little alcohol, nothing high in sugar or salt. Because of my often low blood sugar I have to eat small meals every 1-2 hours, sometimes I can get away with not eating until 4 hours later. But if I put off eating when I begin to feel weak and light headed I can end up fainting, but usually just experience a lot of pain, particularly in the stomach and arm muscles. And migraines.

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Getting back to mental health awareness campaigns, I think they’re helpful, needed but they need to expand. They need to work out a way to include everyone who suffers from mental health issues and let people tell their stories. Every R U OK? Day I tell people to share their experience with mental illness. At first it was something I just ranted about but it took off and I just thought this isn’t such a bad thing to do. R U OK Day? is usually a day when people are encouraged to ask people ‘are you ok?’ and it angers me because they’re just doing it because they got told to, and they’re just going around asking everyone that. The day is actually about opening up the conversation on mental health so I’ve hijacked the day to encourage everyone going through mental illness to share their story, current feelings and where they think mental health awareness should be heading.

There was another mental health awareness campaign launched in Australia called Mental As. The ABC showed a range of programmes centered on various mental health issues from all walks of life. It was a great way to spread mental health awareness by showing how it affects a variety of people, like comedians, actual residents in a mental institution and people who were living normal lives that were disrupted by suddenly developing bipolar disorder, but there was a strong emphasis on mental illness being overcome or people handling their bipolar on medication. Happy endings are great and all but they don’t reflect the reality for many people in low socio-economic areas who can’t access or afford the services they desperately need, and don’t forget about what I said about biased doctors earlier.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the University College London’s Institute of Health and Equity, says that mental health issues are caused by the conditions of a lower working class, unemployment and lack of government spending towards public healthcare, and I think that can be true sometimes but I think for many of us those mental health issues are separate; genetic or triggered by the environment, and not just in the way Marmot thinks. I can certainly pinpoint the exact moments my mental health issues triggered because of environment stressors. I can give the date, time, location and even say what the type of weather was when my PTSD developed, but cannot give you any specifics of the actual event. Most of my anxiety and cyclic mood-like symptoms are basically permanent side effects to medication which is why I’m strongly opposed to drugs, all forms of medication except for codeine for severe muscle pain I experience.

But I’m not completely denying what Marmot says. Being low class and unemployed certainly adds to the stress and therefore exacerbates the symptoms of mental illness. I certainly experienced more suicidal thoughts when Tony Abbott proposed changes to the disability support pension and made all recipients under 35 years get re-assessed. Not one day went by when I didn’t feel extreme anxiety or depression. I even had a suicidal plan. My financial anxiety often got to that point in 2015. I actually became so manic that my words became unintelligible. It was my anxiety experienced during the assessment interview that made them decide to keep me of the DSP. And now with the Turnbull government forcing me to into work that has me two days a week looking for jobs that I don’t have stamina to do and none of the social skills the employer expects, I feel a mixture of anxiety, suicidal thoughts, apathy, and complete contempt of my job network consultants who are nothing but pawns of a Gilliard government plan to kick 400,000 disabled people off their pensions and into low paid work. They get no respect from me.

They could take a leaf out of the Centrelink whistleblower’s books and risk losing their jobs by doing the honorable thing and tell the public how much pressure the government wants them to put on people on disability and the dole to just get a job; bullying and  threatening to cut them off their payments at any sign of resistance. And believe me there’s a lot. Not a day goes by where not at least one person argues who gets passively aggressively talked down, or they end up storming out and risk getting their payment suspended.

There’s another source to my anxious and suicidal thoughts: Centrelink are through the Turnbull Liberal government using an automated system developed by the Labor government to weed out welfare cheats by comparing payments with income statements, and after they’ve found ‘evidence’ of the over payments they send out a letter declaring someone one welfare pay back up to $3000-$20,000 in over over payments. Problem is most of these declarations are false. It’s been proven that people either owe less or don’t owe any money at all, and at least 280,000 have received such letters, and the government has extended its number of victims to people on the aged care and disability support pension. People have already become suicidal over it but what do you expect will happen when they target people who are already dealing with suicidal thoughts? Now doing something as simple as checking the letter box gives me panic attacks.

So, there’s a lot more involved than just asking for help for mental health issues. Some people ask for help only to have their concerns shrugged off by doctors and there’s those who can’t even afford to get the right care, especially in Australia where GPs are refusing to bulk bill and the government tries more and more sneaky ways to privatize Medicare. I’m fortunate that I live close to a medical centre that still bulk bills. But with all the extra pressures of living with pre-existing mental health issues and living on handouts below the poverty line in low socio-economic areas with crime, deeply set racism, job instability and rising rates of unemployment and fearing that things will just get so much worse, there’s not a lot of hope people can have to receive treatment for their mental health issues even if they do ask for help.

UPDATE:

At the moment I am seeing a GP who is taking my concerns about having mitochondrial disease and chronic fatigue seriously. He has even given me bipolar assessment questions and has even tried to reassure me of my anxiety about having a blood test taken. And I’m finally looking into my foot pain from having very flat feet. It’s such a breath of fresh air to finally have a doctor that will listen to my concerns.

xSpycraft

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.