Mental Illness Freebies

Little Extras

The thing about Mental Illness is that is comes with extras, like the Aldi catalogue- they know you don’t want it but still try to dump you with it anyway, the green tea you never finish at Nha Trang Restaurant (Millennials can’t afford to refuse freebies), and all the wasted Liberal Party (aka Australian’s Republican party) campaign material deposited in Northcote. EVERYONE knows it’s a Greens area!
The extras you get with Mental Illness aren’t all as innocuous as those examples, but they are unwanted, all the same.

After a week of sinking into the couch with my dopey cat Amy by my side, I decided it was time I ought to try to go to work. Halfway through the morning, my mother texted me “how is it going, did you make it to work?’ “Meh” I replied. “But not too awful?’ she asked, “I would like to quit very much” I said, regarding the employment, not life. “I know, do you want to go to Ikea later?” as if Ikea can fix the type of low level dysphoria with its $1 sausages and cosy textiles- that soothing consumable crap that reminds you that life doesn’t have to be too deep. I wanted to reply that my life was slipping away from me and felt more productive at home plotting new ideas and researching writing grants, but I just couldn’t be bothered. Personally, the ‘Are U OK?’ day campaign is what someone without mental illness came up with, because if you’ve ever been medication or hospitalised for your illness, having someone ask you “are you ok?” is simply maddening, condescending and the answer will be ‘Fine, why?’, so therefore ineffective. I won’t go on about how mental health campaigns should be led by people who had a lived experience. But seriously!

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The constant worry from others that you’ll ‘do something silly’, the lack of financial stability, and the free advice “it’s just the job/meds/friends/environment /drinking/lack of exercise- that’s the problem- you just need a holiday!” I can only speak for myself, but when you’re mental, you want to hide it. You want to keep it safe beneath layers of shame and guilt and late-night Uber Eats weight-gain.

My first experience of family and work knowing my struggles felt like I was being ‘outed’, which is terrifying because you’ve worked so hard to fit in and be ‘normal’ and appear as if you don’t analyse every single interaction and thought and end each night thinking ‘Why am I here? What’s the purpose of Everything?” If I can’t answer those questions to myself sufficiently, there’s no way I’m getting out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to explain to your manager that your sick leave is due to existential doubt, causing depression. It’s much easier to say you had gastro. Again.

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I’ve been outed a few times, and each time I promise myself I’m not going to be ashamed and just embrace it. Easier said than done.
I met a guy on Tinder and things were going well. We organised a pool date which I had a mini panic about because it would mean I would be outed. Physical scars don’t hide. He saw my upper thighs and asked what happened. I hesitated for a minute and replied, “it’s from me…I did it”. He then told me about an ex-girlfriend who also had scars. Then we changed topics and I felt a huge wave of relief, like I could now bask in the warmth of urine-concentrated kiddy-pool water with this person because he knew my worst secret.

There’s a fine line between privacy and hiding your very normal human pain chained in a closet.

I became a Missing Person

Sharing became easier the more I practised it. It was something I could control. But then a week after a particularly bad episode, I went out to a gig and during the course of the night my phone died and I met a guy who I went stumbling home with. The next day I charged my phone at his house and a barrage of messages came through asking where I was and was I safe? I called my mum and she explained that my friends had made a missing person report and it was all over social media and the news. This coincided ironically with mental health week, with world mental health day falling on October 10th.

An ex-boyfriend texted too, saying he saw me on the TV at the gym and it almost sent him flying off the treadmill. I would have enjoyed seeing that, I thought.
Overwhelmed by guilt, I accepted everyone’s opinions that I should be happy that everyone cared so much. But I wasn’t happy, I felt like there was a glaring spotlight on me when it should be on others who were actually missing.

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I suppose what came of it was that as much as it’s nice to be ‘off the grid’ (lol) sometimes, people do worry for good reason. So, I now I keep my phone charged and use a safe word to assure people I am OKAY if I decide to be spontaneous (Shoutout to Bipolar 2!).
After a week of embarrassment and laying low, the lexicon of my friend’s texts has changed to “Missing or nah?” as a greeting, which I wholeheartedly embrace, and as William Arthur Ward put it, “To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”

In my next post I will muse on the nature of ‘Missing Person’ reports and the sociological phenomena of the Missing White Woman, looking to academia to try and process what made me to newsworthy. Hint: may involve discussion of white privilege.

All images authors own, except for title image courtesy of Leif Podhajsky.

The Night I Tried To Buy Dope

I folded three twenty-dollar notes and zipped them into my track pants; beginning the dress-down role I was planning to take on. Each of my silver rings I squeezed off my sweaty fingers and chucked them next to the sink.

Next I took out some black eye shadow and rubbed it carelessly over my lids and a little beneath, attempting to smear it as roughly as possible. I took all the cards and my ID from my purse, leaving only a few gold coins in there for good measure.

Earlier that night I had been drinking with my mum at a bar in Carlton, and whilst riding home on the dark humid bike path that swayed through Park Street, I had a sudden urge to see how hard it would be to score Heroin.

When I got home I watched a documentary on Vice about the use of Krokodill in Russia, which is a cheaper alternative to Heroin, or added to it to make the hit stronger, which had increased the wave of recent deaths due to the extreme toxicity of it.

Maybe I’m fucked up, just like them. Maybe they’re ‘my people’, I thought.

I’ve never tried or bought Heroin; all my ‘street’ knowledge came from books, movies and former mental health patients who I used to eavesdrop on.

Four drinks deep, I find myself on a train heading to North Richmond station, already in character. Head down. Shoulders hunched. I feel like an amateur actor in a non-existent one-woman show. Can other people sense my fraud?

When the train hits Clifton hill, it turns around and I allow myself to swear out loud. A few young girls also look confused and we all get off at Westgarth. I start wondering if it’s worth getting an Uber. It might look a bit suspicious. I’m supposed to be a poor Junkie, I thought.
The girls approach me asking if I’m going into the city and we share an Uber to Richmond. They had all finished work for the night at a food truck in Thornbury and were heading back to their hostel. Two were German, one American. It occurred to me that I was talking to them as me, not my fake junkie persona, and was surprised how friendly they were despite how gross I had attempted to make myself look. I may not have talked to me.

I walked through the gardens of the housing commission flats, intersected by Elizabeth Street in North Richmond. I was stupidly calm and fearless. The streetlights glowed unnaturally over the playground making it appear like a film set. It was quiet and the air was light and lukewarm. I scanned around for human life and spotted a women pacing while talking to herself through a cigarette in her mouth.

Then I saw him, rummaging around in hard rubbish. Lit by a spotlight of fluorescent security blaze hitched on the side of the flats. It was like he was sent to me by the council flat Gods. It was too easy. I sidled up to him with faux anxiety and asked him ‘do you know like, where I can.. score?’ stumbling the sentence out self-consciously.

He bounced up with a wobble from the bin and stared at me, focusing his opioid-tinged eyeballs on my face. They strained to make me out in the shadow of the outdoor fluorescent lighting, like fingers reaching out- two snail antennas trying to feel their way in the wet and the dark. “Yeah maybe. I’m Anthony”, he said reaching out his non-bin hand to me, “whadda ya doin here at this time? Ya don’t look like you use?” he said squinting.

“I’m just out of rehab. I can’t fuckin’ do it, I need something to tide me over” I said without hesitation, surprised at the ease at which the lie slid out.

The original title of this story was “The night I Donated Sixty Dollars to a Junkie”, but after scanning conversations i’ve had with friends that have are still fighting addiction,  I was mortified at how how insensitive  and lacking in compassion it sounds. Not to mention that I was completely blind to my own moral culpability in the scenario I forced my way into. My assumption was that since Anthony used, it meant he wanted to- which is not true as any addict, including myself, can attest to. I felt like smacking myself in the head like the emoji.

My intentions were at a surface level- to get a story, and perhaps at a deeper level- a pervasive death-drive; a sense of self-destructiveness that began in my teens. What I thought of previously as a ‘favour’ to this man– giving money to a homeless addict to buy us both drugs- now seemed to be so outlandishly privileged and fundamentally short-sighted that I can barely admit it to this page. My biggest fear was that I was putting myself in danger, something my mum would have thought, had she known what I was doing. But it goes deeper than that. Why did I feel that I could use Anthony as a way of amusing myself? Why did I not want to tell my own story? I didn’t consider that I would be hurting someone else.

As he met up with a gang of youths, he protected me by telling me to hide in the stairwell of the council flats. I stayed there for an hour under the blinking lights, listening to the moaning, shouting of the occupants of that floor. I became restless and retreated to the laundry room. Its smell comforted me, but it also made me aware that I was getting too comfortable.

I eventually needed the toilet so bad my bladder was busting the zip of my pants, and the stairwell, although it was swimming in ammonia, was not somewhere I felt comfortable to take a piss. I needed to get out. So, I did the only thing a well-educated white-girl would do whose booze was wearing off and went to McDonalds, ordered McNuggets and fries and slipped quietly into an Uber home.
Anthony tried calling me twice and I let it ring out. I guiltily hoped he would be okay, while fantasising about the fresh feel of make-up wipes cleaning the night off my face and getting into bed.

I felt like a fraud, but there was something earnest in my actions- I craved a connection to someone who kinda knew what I was going through, even though we didn’t use words. Someone else who would risk their health and their life to escape pain.
It took me six months to start writing on this piece, even longer to admit it to another person. It was so obvious once I was sober that escaping pain is a misnomer- it catches up with you eventually, and the original pain you felt is magnetised by the chemicals you use to disconnect yourself from your thoughts.
Next time maybe I’ll just stick to Chicken McNuggets, a cleansing face mask and retreat to bed.

Bumble and the Faux-Feminist Brigade

Three years after beginning my journey on dating apps, fuck-boi behaviour still slips through, parading as a ‘sex-posi dude who is interested in feminism and indoor plants’. I know. That’s like three red flags I missed.

“Did you know that the deadliest spiders are actually those that live underground, like the funnel web?” Isaac awkwardly reeled this off from his store of fun facts he used when lost for words or avoiding the massive elephant in the room. His Ute was claustrophobic in the heat and I felt like toddler sitting in the clunky and loud front cabin.

“I didn’t, that’s cool. So the dangerous ones are the most covert spiders? That makes sense, the little bastards.”

He dropped me off outside my apartment, and we leaned in for a Disney-appropriate kiss. I hesitated for a few seconds, but couldn’t get the words out. The need to avoid more awkwardness was stronger than the wish for honesty.

“Speak to you soon” I said and jumped out of the car without looking back.

.Isaac never contacted me again but stayed following me on IG. Classic Fuck-Boi move.

Months later I posted a cartoon of a girl crying after a tinder date because she had been told she was a ‘crazy girl’. Because Women are crazy, and dudes are assholes, right?!

He texted me a day later saying how sorry he hadn’t messaged again and hoped I was alright and that he thought I was smart and attractive but didn’t feel a spark.

He believed that this cartoon was meant for him! That MONTHS later I would still be stewing about his ghosting enough to draw it and post it, like some passive-aggressive attempt to guilt him.

There are no words for how far back my eyes rolled or how loud I said ‘UGHHHH’. The irony was just too perfect.

I sent him a curt reply saying it was not connected to him and have a nice day.

Boy bye!!!

 

Image courtesy of: https://vimeo.com/jimmymarble

 

Orange is the New Me

Like agent, or Citrus. Or that show with the female prisoners. Like a place in New South Wales or Jamaica, Orange Bay.

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Interior Northcote sunset (2017)
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Red sand dune tan in Vietnam with a local girl. She turned on me when I didn’t leave a bigger tip in her hand. (2016)

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Trevor Veenedahl was a great dude. Tattooed in Phnom Penh, Cambo (2015)
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Fake Nikes, Real Happy. Cambodia (2015)