Imagine this with me. You have ordered your morning coffee at your favourite cafe. Waiting quietly you feel the presence of someone approaching from behind. Immediately deep fear fills you, you begin shaking and the need to hide dominates. Turning, you see this person questioning your response. Embarrassed, you collect your coffee and exit to the pavement where, in solitude you ask, “Why?” I wonder if you have experienced sudden responses that bare no truth to the current situation.
This was my experience over a number of years, in many different settings, until in recovery I learned an important message regarding life – where the body is suddenly disrupted, whether through a thought, behaviour, emotion or physical response to an event that appears to have no basis – turning to our story will provide clues.
Understanding the threads that connect between mental illness development, life events, and relationship is key where solutions are sought. Solutions are embedded within our stories, our bodies. Our story, our bodies are patient participants waiting for the chance to offer their knowledge so we can heal. For those who endure it is difficult to imagine seeing the illness as a friend, not foe, but this is where we need to venture for recovery to result.
Exploration, identification, reframing and script flipping are some of the tools available to assist this process. There are others, but essentially, at the centre of the recovery process lies the invite for us to explore the following areas of our lives to date:
thought processes, behaviour choices, emotions, physical responses, our values and beliefs, and finally our needs and wants. The ‘biggy’ – assessing the role of relationship(s) in our growth and development.
Through pulling out each of the connected ideas that come and truly examining each for truth versus fear, we can use this opportunity to make required changes that will see our bodies let go of the tension we carry. You will discover story elements that have a strong hold on you, twisting your character into knots. This in turn twists the body until it falls down crying out for help – this is the mental illness. Whether this is expressed through depression, anger, an eating disorder, alcoholism, gambling, OCD, and more, essentially we all need to go to these areas of our life to discover the solutions to our suffering.
As I am an Australian I will reference the following – but all countries across our globe will reflect similar statistics. I will then share a small part of my story to demonstrate the power of relationship connection, and the need to explore each of the areas I suggested above, for healing to be realised.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
20% of the Australian population will experience mental illness disturbances during their lives
1 in 25 Australians are currently experiencing an eating disorder
Sexual abuse remains high on the agenda in the development of each
Mental illness is a leading cause of death across our country
With 1 death every hour from anorexia nervosa alone
I am a statistic for the first three. Suicidal depression almost took me – thankfully I avoided becoming either of the other two!
Why had I become a statistic? Let’s find out together …
On Sunday February 28th a little blonde girl turned 2. Dressed in her Sunday best, ready for church, she was placed onto the back seat of the family car alongside her brother. Her baby sister on her mother’s knee in the front passenger side. Her father drove the car. Approaching the closed internal gate of the farm where she lived, unrehearsed she began to tell her mother a secret. Lightening fast her father launches from the drivers seat, ferociously hits her ordering her to get out, open the gate and close it behind her. She would not be attending church that morning. With no one coming to her aid, she did as she was told. The gate closed, isolation, dread, fear, tears and loneliness joined her. Eventually the car returned. Her life from that traumatic moment on became one of perfection and pleasing.
At 15, anorexia nervosa developed. At 24 chronic fatigue, debilitating migraines, anxiety, OCD, depersonalisation and suicidal depression became her existence.
At 37, unable to walk without the aid of the wall, unable to do anymore than the basics of life, she met a psychologist who asked that turning point question, “Tell me your story”. Tears immediately flowed. In reply, I answered, “No-one has ever asked me that before”. Conversations of discovery unfolded; common ground was shared.
Guided to challenge each presenting mental illness, seeing each as a friend sent to inform, the long road to reclaiming life began. Listening to my bodies messages, I designed positivity against the backdrop of negativity. Gradually I let go of the damaging script running my life, “You will be blamed, it is your fault, I will be killed, no one will like you”. I challenged my thoughts, behaviours, emotions and physical body messages. I refined my value and belief system to reflect me, not the ones I was pressured to accept via the strong controling upbringing I had endured. I explored whether my needs and wants were being met. I learnt that this was particularly important where happiness was to be lived. The biggest area I challenged was that of the relationships I had encountered in my life. Even though some may no longer exist, I discovered they still held power over me. This was the ‘eye-opening’ discovery for me. I had not understood just how much our relationships impact our development. Each of our life events do include relationships of one kind or another. Where trauma, tension, control, power-over tactics, criticism, bullying, blame and discord exist, the opportunity for mental difficulties can be the result. Where ‘sorting out’ does not occur, and we continue to carry the event negatively within our bodies, the chemistry can be altered – giving rise to mental impairment. As I worked on my story to date there was so much material to work on!
Through identifying sexual abuse, a story of strong control and disconnected relationships all throughout my life as my major story elements, I gradually freed myself from the grip of the mental illnesses I carried. For me, that was anorexia nervosa, chronic fatigue, anxiety, migraines, OCD, depersonalisation and suicidal depression.
MOST IMPORTANTLY I gave myself permission to exist.
The morning I turned 2 was indeed the traumatic event where relationship, (with father and mother), connected me to the beginning of my mental illness downfall. I was attempting to tell my mother about the sexual abuse I had endured at the hands of my father. Without being able to open this for discussion, I locked this event away deep within. The response I internalised that morning set the stage for my life. The perception, the filter I adopted was highly influencial by how I interpreted this event. Over the intervening years, the strong family control added to my developing beliefs regarding how we live life. I became a body twisted by the messages I was taught. There was so much fear lining my approach to every aspect of my life. I was indeed, a mess!
What do I want for you to take from this blog and brief exerpt from my story?
I encourage those suffering mental illnesses, an eating disorder or who are victims of `sexual abuse to pull out the story elements that deliver disturbance when recalled. Interrogate each, turning them into a learning opportunity to free oneself.
Mental illnesses are painful friends urging us to examine our life stories to date. Mental Illnesses long to leave as much as we wish for them to leave. My challenge to you, are you ready to examine the content of your story and the messages of your illness so you can effectively empower your life moving forward?
Our story holds a wealth of information for us to access once we decide to heal; it also holds our solutions when guided by the wisdom of those whose lives reflect our own.
Mental illness can be over-turned – your story is ready to inform you, and free you …