Mental illness

Sometimes it’s a struggle to manifest fance (manifance?)

29 September, 2010

This past few weeks I have struggled. Not just with blogging but personally too (and I’m waiting on some blood test results that might return an outcome I’m NOT keen for.) Lots of bloggers seem to cover up all the bad bits and present the shiniest and most palatable version of themselves to the world, and while it’s nice to appeal to aspiration and positivity but I think that it’s important to be truthful and raw too. I think that trying to be positive all the damn time puts a lot of people off blogging too; I’ve encouraged my husband to blog the struggles as well as the victories as he starts his own blogging endeavour, but I struggle to share my feelings when I’m feeling low and asking for help is especially difficult. It’s harder for me to do this more recently because as my readership increases, so does the percentage of people who aren’t very fond of me and often I feel like admitting my flaws and failures is just providing free ammunition. But then I realise that the percentage of warm, supportive and considerate readers basically swamps the haters, and I want to be able to share vulnerability because yannow, I’m a human being too!

Photo of a bougainvillea branch against an unpainted wood fence; the flowrs are bright fucshia.

So in the spirit of being raw here’s a list of things I’m struggling with right now:
● My blemished and scarred skin;
● the impending humidity of summer and worrying about how I will manage not to look like a melting wax effigy of myself in the next six months;
● feeling like a failure in comparison to others even though we are in completely different fields;
● going to my sister’s wedding and feeling like an odd-bod;
● not being tanned even though I have never tanned and have little interest in being tanned, but wanting to just because I am the whitest person in my whole family and the wedding photos will look odd;
● being fat in Brisbane in summer because despite what the news says about an obesity epidemic, fat people are NOT everywhere and I usually feel like a sideshow attraction whenever I am around people who are not my friends;
● a depressive episode that seems to be stretching languidly over a number of months, making me think that I might need to go on meds again;
● the cost of treating my diabetes, having to find money for a MRI for my high heel damaged foot and a possible hypothyroidism diagnosis;
● feeling like I am drowning in emails;
● etc.

I’m not looking for solutions or advice really, it’s just a relief to let these anxieties out to reduce the echo inside my brain.

Photo of water in a pool, the light is dancing on the gently rippled surface and the water looks a deep greeny/ blue.

To be fair, some good things are also happening too:
● I’ve cut back on commissions because even though I like drawing things for people, I feel like I don’t have enough time to focus on my personal work and develop my skills;
● the first meeting of Aquaporko BNE, a fat femme synchronised swimming team;
● I ordered more fat necklaces and hope to create a new design to be cut in acrylic soon;
● plans for camping with friends;
● exploring some lovely Lush product samples that Fran sent me;
● discovering Mylanta can be used as a face mask to draw out zits and reduce oilyness;
● some people really like my illustration and design work and that’s nice.

The other week I was having a fantastic discussion on Twitter about the culture of positivity and how damaging it can be, especially when different issues intersect with this societal demand to be unfailingly upbeat and happy and positive. My own particular beef with it is that as a person who suffers depression there is always someone around to tell me to “cheer up” or keep my “chin up” and, you know, if it was as simple as just being happy I would. Because it’s a real effing larf to be depressed and struggle to do even the most simple daily activities. It’s hilarious when people tell me I’ve got excuses for everything. If I could just wave a wand and cut that terrible “behaviour” out, I’d be a winner for sure!

So, I guess this is me extending my middle finger to that culture of positivity as it effects the bloggersphere. Sometimes I am so immobilised by worry I can’t move. Sometimes I am so sad I can’t brush my hair. Most of the time I am so fearful of how people will respond to my experience with mental illness that I do not talk about it. I want to shrug off that shame because it does nothing for my health.

(Hitting Publish on this is the scariest thing.)

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  • Such an honest and raw and lovely post Natalie.
    Sending you good thoughts to tide you through the blood tests and the worry and the ocean of panic.
    xx

  • Thank you for your honesty. I feel that the culture of positivity can be damaging in a way. For those who aren’t feeling so positive or are in depressive episodes, it feels judgemental and ableist (my word choice there might be wrong, hmm) to tell people to only present their best side and, in a way, ignore the bad side. Ignoring it isn’t going to make it all magically better or go away.

    I hope things improve for you. I’m glad you’re taking some much needed time for yourself.

  • KateF

    Things that I am suffering with this week

    Having nothing stylish in my wardrobe to wear because I have gained back all my lost weight
    School Holidays. I am exhausted and I feel like a crap mother because I do not have the energy to give my son the holiday he needs
    My anxiety reappearing twice as strong as last time.
    Being contacted by my highschool crush and him thinking that I’m still the same hot chick that I was back then and feeling like a fraud about “letting myself go” and being angry with myself because I feel like that. What should it care what he thinks, and why am I assuming that he would only be friends with me because of what I used to look like.
    Wishing I could buy something from the Beth Ditto collection
    Wishing that I looked as stylish at Natalie when I went out
    Wishing that I had a group of supportive fat-friendly friends as opposed to the fat-phobic friends I have at the moment who have had weight-loss stomach surgery, and eating disorders. (I know, that’s awful to say that about my friends, but if one more person tells me to get stomach banding I’m going to scream)
    That for some reason I have developed butt-acne!
    And I have haemmoroids… (too much, sorry!)

  • Nly

    Thanks for posting this — I love your blog, your talent, and your strength. You are one of the reasons I have decided to focus on fat studies in my own academic career.

  • Thanks for posting this. While no one wants to read a blog that’s all gloom and whinges, I think it’s much more positive to read someone honestly dealing with their challenges than stuff that’s all rainbows and lollies. No one leads a perfect life and why gloss over the bad stuff?

    I hope things pick up for you soon. Except the sun tan. Don’t give into that pressure. Sun tans are bad news.

  • I’m going to do this too.

    I think sometimes it’s hard to publish the more negative aspects – that fear that you’ll suddenly become “that whingy blogger”, and who wants to read that? And everyone’s banging on about ‘fake it til you make it’ these days … which apparently includes being upbeat and positive.

    It’s unnerving putting on the happy face all the time – makes it a lot more lonely when you’re trying to deal with the less upbeat things going on behind it all.

    Also I’m with Kathryn – tans are bad news (even in sunny Queensland!). You’ll have lovely youthful skin in 20 years when they’re all tanned prunes … then who’s going to look strange in photos!

  • I really admire your honesty. I have struggled with depression and anxiety but I find it very very difficult talking about it. You publishing this is incredibly brave and I’m impressed by your strength.

  • Natalie, thank you for your bravery in publishing this. I’m not sure if you’ve tried it before, and I know it’s not for everyone, but I found cognitive behavioral therapy to be immensely helpful in achieving remission from my latest MDE several months ago and in managing my GAD since, and if money is tight you can pick up The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns and be your own therapist. (The title does hint at the horrible cheesiness, and there’s a lot of really hilarious fifties-esque slang, but if you can get past that it’s a tremendous resource, IMHO.) At any rate, good luck. <3

  • Depression is horrid and people who have never suffered from it have no understanding of how debilitating it is. Earlier in the year I decided to keep my head shaved (number 2), and this has helped a bit on the really bad days, as it means I can just chuck on some clothes and go and buy some pre-made food without having to worry about showering and stuff first. Otherwise I sit at home, not eating. There will be food in the house, but I will be unable to do things like make something simple like toast or 2min noodles. Before I was medicated/shaved my head my partner would get home and I would start harassing him to get dinner because I was so hungry, but couldn’t do anything about it myself. Having muesli bars in the house has also helped, so when I do get hungry during a depressive episode I do have something simple to shove into my face.

    Thank you for posting about your own troubles with depression. It is really hard to talk about, but I think more people need to discuss their mental illnesses, so that maybe, someday, it won’t have such a stigma associated with it, and people will actually understand that it isn’t as simple as being “a bit sad”.

  • Lilacsigil

    I’ve had depression for a long time, plus thyroid-related health problems – there’s a lot of us out here! I think there’s a special pressure on fat bloggers, though, to be the Ideal Fattie – healthy, well-off, upbeat, cheerful, partnered. Thank you for summoning up great reserves of bravery (and energy!) to post this.

  • Depression SUX, and I agree, what sux even more is (sometimes well-meaning) people telling you to “just be happy”. ARRRRGGGH! I’m really struggling with the notion that “I am not my mental illness” and it really does help when other people also admit to having problems. Not that I’m advocating for sitting around moaning at each other, you know, just – the not being alone in it all, that helps, even over Teh Interwebs.

    I’m lucky that my GP is very on top of the various programs that are around to access psychology appointments (better access, I think one of them is called) and I can also access the PBS safety net – are either of those things that might help? (Please forgive if I’m teaching you to suck eggs, obviously I don’t know you or your financial situation.)

  • Just for a change, I’m not just going to read your post and think to myself, “geez, that Natalie is ace” – I’m going to leave you a comment and say so!

    I think (for what it’s worth) that this epidemic of over-positivity in the blogging world is a direct response to baby emo culture. It’s just a theory of mine, but I have noticed over the past couple of years that bloggers of our age-group have begun to use squeaky-clean positivity as a ‘point of difference’ to try and stand out from the attention-seeking melancholy that’s taking over the world.

    Melancholy which (I should add) is not the same as genuine writing about things that aren’t going well.

    I find it difficult to relate to bloggers who give me a pep talk every time I drop in, showering me with puppies and rainbows and telling me how lucky we all are. I also find it hard to relate to people who write about how terrible every aspect of their lives are and how they have no option but to endure it all again tomorrow. Both lack authenticity and substance.

    What draws me to people is real life stuff. People who blog about the stuff that’s going well, people who can allude to (or, if they choose to, fully explain) how they are struggling. Every person on this earth is trying to deal with something and to pretend otherwise usually strikes me as false and untrustworthy.

    I know how scary it is to write a post like this one, and expose yourself to comment – good and bad. I don’t know how to make that seem less scary except to say all this to you in a comment instead of just thinking it.

    Thanks for always showing the “real” you. I hope you don’t feel that it takes away from any of the brilliant facets that make up the sum total of Natalie!

    (Good luck with your results, I hope you receive some good news.)

  • Thanks for posting Natalie – it makes me feel better to see that some people have days as bad as I do sometimes. Which sounds a little…sadistic? maybe? but I don’t mean it that way; it’s just that when all anyone ever blogs about is how awesome everything is, and you’re not feeling so great, it just makes you feel worse. Or it makes me feel worse, anyways.

    I’ve been in quite a funk lately too (I feel like “depression” is a strong word and I don’t want to appropriate it) so I can sympathize somewhat. When it seems like everything goes wrong and it all goes wrong at once, and you were feeling shitty BEFORE that happened…yeah. It’s no good.

    All I can say is that you’re awesome, and super talented, and I hope you feel better soon, dear!

  • RMJ

    I really appreciate this post, and I think it’s brave. I particularly identify with this line: ” feeling like a failure in comparison to others even though we are in completely different fields.”

  • Natalie you are not alone. I am DREADING summer in Brisbane for the same reasons. I too wonder what I’d look like with a tan, even though I really don’t give a shit at any other time of the year. Just so sick of people picking on me for being so pale. Fucking social pressure bullshit.

    Depression I too struggle with. It’s a prick, an unrelenting prick.
    For what it’s worth, and I had to say this – you are a huge inspiration to me and I am always thinking how amazing your talent and courage is. Even if you don’t think you so, we all see it. xxx

  • Stephania

    Hey Natalie, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d say this…. JUST INCASE IT CAN HELP SOMEONE –

    ALOT of people with depression, anxiety… even other mental illnesses like OCD and even schcitsophrenia, can be living with a biochemical condition that most conventional doctors & GPs dont understand or know about. I really do encourage you to look up the conditions called PYROLURIA and HISTADELIA/HISTAPENIA. These are genetic conditions where you either cannot produce neurotransmitters properly, or you loose Vit B6 & zinc (nutrients absolutely crucial to balanced brain biochemistry) which can create havoc in terms of mental health.

    I have pyroluria and histadelia, and have discovered that at least one of my family members has pyroluria as well. Treatment is relatively easy to rectify the problem (includes prescribed doses of specific nutrients you’re lacking in), but requires a doctor who knows what they’re doing. I would reccommend my doc who is Dr Mike Woodbridge – http://www.drmikewoodbridge.com.au .

    IT IS REALLY WORTH RULING THIS OUT!!! (because while drugs may be lifesaving, they dont fix any biochemical problem – they just bandaid it and the underlying biochemical issue remains untreated.)

  • Ms Loaf

    This post was so needed. I live in Utah, where I am surrounded by a dominant Mormon culture, and they are ALL ABOUT being positive and only ever talking about the GOOD. I think they might consider negativity a sin. And it’s also got one of the highest rates of anti-depressant prescriptions here in the good ole US of A.

    So I am always glad to see other people willing to share the raw in their lives. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been brushing my own raw stuff under the rug in exchange for fashion on my blog, but now you’ve inspired me to be a little more honest.

  • Jaynie Edwards Wa

    Milk of Magnesium is also a good face mask (probably what Mylanta is made out of) might even be cheaper :)

  • Jane W.

    Oh Natalie! You would be lovely even as a melting wax effigy. Hang in there. Sending love your way from New Mexico.

  • This is exactly what I needed to read. You are an inspiration – thank you for telling the truth.

  • I love your blog and thanks for sharing. Have you read “Smile or Die” by Barbara Ehrenheich? It’s an interesting kickback against the cult of positivity; I think you would like it.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Smile-Die-Positive-Thinking-America/dp/1847081738/ref=sr_1_2?s=gateway&ie=UTF8&qid=1285787500&sr=8-2

  • What you talk about here is pretty much the cornerstone of my blog – I’m all about talking about the hard stuff. I think it’s hugely important to do so because you never know how your openness about your struggle will help other people through theirs.

    I’m sure it sounds lame, but part of my life philosophy is that we are given experiences in life in order to share them with others to make the world a better place. Which is why I am so open about the crappy stuff on my blog – at least equally as open about my joy.

    Thanks for being brave and posting this. Sure, there will be people who may use it as ammunition against you, but mostly I think you’ll find people who support you and will stand by you, or people who have been moved by your struggle to better themselves.

    You are wonderful.

  • I think that attitude is quite similar to ‘well, it’s EASY to loose weight, so you’re fat because you are lazy and disgusting’. No, it isn’t easy to lose weight, your reality is not my reality. And I shouldn’t have to be thin/happy all the time to be a worthwhile human being.

    Bad stuff happens. People get sad. Things are hard. Not all the time, but I think it makes the fance fancier when you know it’s part of a real person’s world, it’s not cotton candy that will disolve the first time anything real touches it.

    Thankyou for publishing. I think it’s important that we all acknowledge that, while there are certainly some shiny times and things, everything isn’t golden forever and always.

  • Kylas

    Well, I have been reading your blog for a wee while now, enough to recognise you when I noticed you walking into City Chic at Chermside yesterday and baby girl, YOU ARE HOT!!!! Be strong, you are strong. xxx

  • Susu1927

    Dear Natalie,

    I’ve been reading your blogs for a few months now and adore its mix of creativity and feminism. It’s hard enough being a woman dealing with the points you’ve raised, let alone doing it publicly in an open forum. You are brave and the work you do is important. And exhausting. Recently reading a defiant but essentially ‘I’m out’ post from Kate Harding made realise that I had taken for granted her sass and energy and humour (much like yours). These things suck up personal energy and everyone has their own issues to deal with. You said you’re not looking for advice so none will be given but we all need to find ways to recharge ourselves, to give ourselves a bit of a boost to go out and face a world where, as a conscious feministy person, you sometimes feel you spend all your time pushing up against. Hope you can find that boost somewhere, just know that you’re no Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill alone, we’re all pushing together. Keep looking out for the other hands.

    Best,
    Sara

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  • Diana

    Natalie, Wow, I can’t even begin to tell you how much this post meant me. My life is full of very happy positive encouraging people who have never struggled with depression and don’t understand the depth of the saddness that sets in. They are truly amazing because they put up with me but I do hate that they just don’t get it most days. I always feel like such a horrible friend for thinking things like “If one more person tells me to just be more positive and stop focusing on the negitive i think i will scream until I pass out.”
    Thank you for hitting publish, I needed to hear that I am not alone in this darkness and that I am not a freak who isn’t trying hard enough. Thank you for being real, and for beautiful and courageous! I will be praying that you get the answers you seek from your blood tests, and the the news is good.

  • Oh oh oh, I identified with so much of this…the observations about bloggers, the anxieties, the fears, all of it. When I read your blog, I see so much beauty and talent, and sometimes it has even been a bit intimidating. It’s yet another reminder that we’re all afraid but doing our best, and I’m grateful to you for being so brave as to show the other side of it all. You’ve encouraged me a lot, and I also want to extend a hearty ‘thank you’ for inspiring so many people. I hope things go for the best. Lydia x

  • Thank you for sharing.

  • Andi B Goode

    I was linked to this when I wrote about how, lately, I feel like I’ve been letting my anxiety and depression ‘win’, as it were. I think it’s fantastic that you wrote this. It would be wonderful if more people could feel like they could. My brain is completely mush right now but, yeah, I can relate to a lot of this.

    My own particular beef with it is that as a person who suffers depression there is always someone around to tell me to “cheer up” or keep my “chin up” and, you know, if it was as simple as just being happy I would.

    I can especially relate to that!

  • Megan

    Just came back to this post – I bookmarked it ages ago and re-read it every now and again.

    I recently uprooted my entire life and moved 2,500km away from all of my family and friends to a small town in the middle of nowhere where I know absolutely no-one. While I’m enjoying it and all, people only really post positive updates on Facebook and the like, and it amplified my own insecurities about where I’m at and what I’m doing. Having had depression for a few years, while I’m through it now, I still have my bad days. Your last paragraph felt like it had been taken out of my brain and put on the screen in front of me.

    Thankyou for reminding me that we’re all human. I really needed that today. x