Mental Health Advocate

Why climb this mountain for Mental Health?

I get asked often, WHY?

Why do you feel so strongly about Mental Health?

The simple answer is: People who have a silent scream need help, and I am here to be their voice. However, if we all stand together, our voice will be stronger and we could possibly change the world by #breakingthestigma against mental illness and help bring more awareness to Mental Health.

Below, is a beautiful piece written by my mother – the strongest women I know!

Mental Health

Mental health awareness in South Africa

THE SILENT SCREAM

My daughter, Taryn-lee Kearney, will be climbing Kilimanjaro this year to raise awareness for mental illness and to #breakthestigma. This story is my plea for you to support her.

Her motivation? Courage to stand up for myself and others with mental illness by breaking the stigma of talking about mental illness, so that positive awareness can be created to address mental illness. Maybe also to inspire me to break my own negative perception of my illness.

Taryn-lee and I always show the music video from Justin Hines, called, “Say what you will, before it’s too late”, at the end of all our training sessions we do. We conclude with it, encouraging and challenging delegates to go and “make a difference” in South Africa.

While watching the music video with my delegates at a training session recently, it struck me that the words I had heard over and over again, we’re actually now meant for me. It was time to be brave and to stand up against the stigma of not talking about mental illness, all the misconceptions and lack of education around it. This not only for my own healing but especially to make a difference and help others to break the stigma of mental illness. It is indeed time to talk. To help be the voice of others who cannot speak up because of fear of ridicule and misguided perceptions.

My daughter has the courage to climb one of the most daunting mountains for me and others, but here I was – too timid to even say that I had it. Why? Because I was too scared of what others would think of me and how they would start treating and labeling me. How they would start talking behind my back, how they would say, “she must be crazy” or “she was moody because of that”. But then I realised listening to the lyrics from Justin Hines which captures it so well, “… and all the time I was holding back to protect myself” …Words that described part of my very own story.

While growing up during some troubled times, including watching my mom try to take her life with tablets (when I was 8) and pleading with her not to, I developed my own ‘stigma’ and perception of mental illness. My mom I thought, was ‘crazy’. As I grew older, this perception grew even stronger, with me sometimes totally alienating my mom. My mom was ‘mad’ I said, and I sometimes told her that too. If only I had known that it was her ‘silent scream’ for help which I had ignored because of my own and others stigma and lack of knowledge on what mental illness really was. During those times, mental illness was a subject that you did not speak about. Full stop. If you had it, you were ‘mad’.

A few years down the line people have started talking about it more openly, but with a great deal of skepticism attached to it.

Three years, ago, after a period of PTSD (resulting from our family going through an armed robbery), and constant stress; the depression, anxiety, irritability, and the constant need to work non-stop without much sleep, started to slowly engulf me, and before I knew it, the darkness of depression had engulfed me.

I was dead inside!

This I also called my Silent Scream. Why? Because it felt like being sucked into a deep black hole, and every time you try to get out, you just fall back in again. Your scream for help is silent because you are either too ashamed or you don’t even know that you need urgent help or you don’t know what help you need. Why? Because no one really talks about mental health issues. You scream for help, but there is silence. Dead silence. I remember one night climbing into my car, and driving who knows where…stopping, crying and screaming and beseeching God to help, because I did not know what to do. I felt the world was looking at me, and all they could see was ‘failure’. After these constant episodes of feeling that my world was starting to crumble in, I remember vaguely how I decided enough was enough, there was nothing else left to do, I was useless. After a failed attempt of drinking tablets, and my family intervening in the nick of time, I was needless to say, admitted to a rehab care centre. After a family meeting, I agreed with them that it would be best for everyone involved, although I felt extremely embarrassed. I never in my wildest dream thought that I would ever land up in a rehab centre. It happened to other people, how could it happen to me? But I realised something was wrong, and for my family’s sake, I had to do something about it.  Once again, my own misguided perception and stigma of mental illness made me think I would have to spend time with some ‘crazy, mad’ people. Well being admitted to a rehabilitation centre was the best thing they could have ever have done for me, as well as for my totally misguided perception of mental illness.

My thoughts on Rehab

Rehab, was a very sobering, eye-opening experience, to say at least.  One of the best learning experiences of my life that I never want over again. I realised that everyone there was actually quite ‘normal’. There were people there who ranged from being a CFO of a big corporate,  a housewife who just got divorced, a highly stressed IT professional that hardly slept, to young people struggling to cope with the stress of modern life,  – all of them had a story to tell.  Listening to their stories and their pain, I realised we all had similarities, we were all going through similar experiences and we were all wanting to get better. It was actually a relief to hear that there were other people going through similar journeys.  What made the journey wonderful was to see and experience the healing of those around me.

Getting better entailed strict routines, attending classes on occupational health, stress, cognitive behaviour techniques, learning everything about your illness and how to manage it, the importance of sleep hygiene, how to cope with life again, how to strictly manage your chronic medication and how to adopt to a whole new lifestyle. The structured programme helped me to get my breath back, breathe in life, and with the loving support and patience of my family and friends, I returned back to the ‘normal’ world again.

Since then, there were ups and downs, and constant learning of how to adapt to this new way of life. I had to learn to manage my day very well. Doing my job which entails training people requires a great deal of research into new material, the development of material and the preparation of doing the actual training. Previously I had easily worked right through to the early morning hour with little sleep. Now, I no longer can do that. I have to be in bed by 22h00, so that I can get my 8 hours sleep which my brain needs, and for the chronic medication to work. In the beginning, this was very tough but is now more manageable. I have learned not to waste time, and time management is now a top priority in my life. I was also required to stick to a daily routine, with no sudden changes. Very difficult for someone who thrives on creativity and doing things differently each day. I felt like I was being put in a box. However, I realised that as with other chronic illnesses, that require major life changes, the sooner I accepted it, the sooner I would be able to ‘get on with my life’.

There is hope, I promise!

Although each day is a new challenge, it is now once again a more exciting challenge, than the deadness, I felt before. Sunshine is now back on the horizon, as I start to feel my old self again.

For three years I have kept quiet (the silent scream) contemplating whether to tell others about my diagnosis or not, and often someone says something cruel about mental illness, and I keep quiet again. However, I realised that sometimes you have to say something out loud to others so that you can hear it yourself, and start accepting your diagnosis. Not talking about it, does not help with trying to break the stigma. For everyone that keeps quiet, a life could have been saved, if they knew it was ‘ok’ to seek help. Well, I am now at that point. I will speak out and not feel embarrassed, despite the strange looks, whispers, and comments behind my back of people who are ignorant of what mental illness is. I will do this for my mom, who had I understood more of the illness, I could have helped her. It is just that – an illness, a medical condition.  An illness just as other illnesses such as diabetes amongst others.  An illness that can be managed with the correct medication, medical intervention, and lifestyle changes. An illness that also needs others love and support, and not their ridicule and cruel remarks. An illness that requires intense education and awareness raising to prevent unnecessary deaths, because people, especially our youth are too embarrassed to talk about it.

Break the stigma. Support mental health awareness, and help save a life!

Mental Health Awareness

Group of people who all walked for their own causes.

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