More than an illness.

Sometimes mental illnesses can become so overwhelming, so all-encompassing and bold, that it can feel as though we have lost our entire selves to their entity.

During the deepest, most destructive stages of an illness, everything can feel subdued, isolated, and lacking in richness; colour. What would usually mean the world to us could become meaningless, or be a source of pain and guilt. Feelings of unworthiness and of not being good enough, to be worthy of good things in our lives, show their sneering faces.

It’s not as though any part of who we are is necessarily taken away, but rather that there is a heavy filter over ourselves and all we experience. A thick raincloud that buckets down abuse, regardless of if we are walking beneath the sun. 

Through learning how to live a full, rich life alongside whatever is going on in our brains, whether this be recovery, healing, or any word you wish to use to describe your journey, these filters can fade. They may always have a presence in our lives, but they will not always dictate our experiences, and who we become.

Something that both the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and being deeply unwell with one, have in common, is that we can be told, whether it’s by ourselves or from others, that this is who we are. That we are depression, anxiety, self-harm, the whole shebang! That our experiences from a particular time, while being unwell, defines who we are. That our potential is tethered and capped by the arms of the mental illness. That mental illness is who we are, and who we will be.

The day that I asked my closest friends if they would like to be my bridesmaids was during my recovery. We went out to a cute little cafe, and it was the first time I had eaten out with them in about four years, and one of the first handful of times I had eaten with them at all. After we were done, I got a message from my best friend, saying that in all honesty, she didn’t think she would ever see that day come. She also said how proud she was of me, and how far I had come.

This is a person who had seen me at my worst, for years. Who saw me refusing to get help again and again, and saw how it tried to destroy everything in it’s path. Who saw me make up lie after lie after excuse as to why I couldn’t go to to certain events, and who saw my anxiety bubble over countless times when food was present. Her message meant so much to me, and to be honest, I didn’t think that day would ever come either. Of being able to do something as normal as going out to eat brunch with your best friends. 

That day gave me so much hope. And it still does, thinking back. Because when you are utterly consumed by a mental illness, it can feel as though you are the embodiment of it. That your entire past, present and future will be tormented. There is no light, there is no hope. Your horrors are all that you are.

Well I’m here to tell you that this isn’t true.

You are so much more than an illness.

Remember that the illness resides in your life, rather than you within it.

Here I am.

My name is Kaitlyn, and I experience depression, an anxiety disorder, and dermatillomania. I have largely recovered from an eating disorder and self-harm too.

This things are part of me, but they aren’t all that I am.

And that’s the same for you too.

There was a time in my life where they felt as if they made up so much of me. But it’s important to note that they weren’t everything.

I am so much more than some of the stuff that goes on in my head.

And you are too.

Think of all those little moments where you feel wonder to be alive, of all the songs you sing along to, of all the people that bring you joy.

Think of the flower that catches your eye, of what you gravitate towards, of what makes you laugh.

Think of all the times you have helped others, of when you have accomplished hard things, of when you have been honest.

This all helps to build up you too.

You can be everything beyond what mental illnesses say you can be.

You are so much more than a label.


Ruby Wax, humour & being mentally ill.

Having a good old laugh and discussing mental illness are two things that don’t really sound as if they fit together well. Kind if like chives and tea. Naturally, mental illness is a serious topic, as the repercussions and impact that it has on millions of lives are immense. Part of the discussion, and the work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, involves these illnesses being taken seriously, as they are often dismissed as being “all in your head.”


Mental illnesses are located in the brain.


The symptoms of many mental illnesses can affect different parts of the body too, but the brain is the central hub, sending all the signals flying.

Now why does that mean they aren’t seen as real, progressive, or harmful, as an illness with it’s spindly roots growing in an arm? Or maybe in an ear? Or perhaps a throat?

This all reminds me of the wise words from the wonderful Albus Dumbledore –

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

(J.K. Rowling).

Day 1 – Watch a TED talk and be inspired.

Today, I watched the TED talk What’s so funny about mental illness? by Ruby Wax. I picked this one from browsing through the mental health section on the TED website, which I definitely recommend having a flick through! It looks like there are heaps of pretty good ones there. I picked it because it was categorised as both humorous and courageous, and what a beautiful combination that sounded like!

bloom, blossom, botanical

And, wow. You know how sometimes it’s like the universe knows what to put in your way, for you to stumble gracefully (or sometimes trip, falling flat on your face), upon?

This banana peel was Ruby Wax’s TED talk.

One of the key messages I took away from it (and there were lots!), was that there are different ways to discuss mental illnesses, and to work to reduce the stigma around it.

As mentioned at the start, often discussions surrounding mental illness as serious, precise and humorless. And rightfully so, in many spheres. There is still ample work to be done to get people to listen that no, it’s not “just a bad day”, and no, being told to simply “just smile”, probably won’t solve it all.

However, Ruby Wax talked about mental illness in a way that was engaging, energetic, vibrant, and overall, was just plain funny. It was also informative, lighthearted and relatable. The fact that she used humor to portray her message meant that it seemed a bit less scary, and a bit more open for input, shared experience, and insight.

Lately, I’ve been trying to expand the tone I use to write about mental health with, however, it has been hard. Usually I write with a serious tone, as I would always be afraid that writing about it all in any other way, would somehow come across as being disrespectful or wrong. However, I am coming to realise (with the help of the lovely Ruby Wax now too), that it is okay to discuss mental health in different ways.

Using humor can make talking about mental health less daunting, and potentially more approachable. Something I’m trying to work on, is using humor (or trying to) more in my own writing, about my own experience with mental illness. However, it is also important to note that the humor needs to be used in a way that will help propel forward the discussion surrounding mental illness, rather than contributing to the stigma of it. This is why I am so hesitant and afraid to be venturing into putting “funny” and “mental illness” in the same sentence.

Overall, the TED talk by Ruby Wax has inspired me. She is both pretty rad and pretty brave, to be sharing her message with the world so openly and with such great vulnerability.  It has inspired me to keep talking, to keep doing, to keep bashing down the stigma with one long, pointy stick at a time. The stick can be traditional, serious and straightforward, or it can be a little curvy stick, with flaking bark and maybe a caterpillar or two. Both sticks are good, for destroying stigma is a darn good thing.

Sharing our stories.

Being open about mental illnesses is something that is so much easier in theory than in real life. I fully advocate for breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and in doing so, fulfilling the requirement of talking about it. However, when life cuts to the chase, and suddenly it’s my turn to share my experiences, there is nothing more I would like than for the ground to swallow me whole.

Just joking. I imagine that would be a rather uncomfortable drop! However, talking about mental illnesses, especially in terms of our own experiences, is hard. It’s nerve-wracking, it’s scary, and it can sometimes feel awkward. There can be a lot of kerfuffle about what exactly to say, and how to say it. About what to share, and what to keep to yourself. However, what is the most uncontrollable, and thus can be the most scary, is how the other person will respond.

I really don’t know what I’m doing over here. I don’t know how to have exactly the right conversation when talking about mental illnesses. I’m not very good at it, and that’s because I haven’t had much practice. All I really know is how I would prefer discussing mental illnesses not to go. This is because there have been many times when instead of having a conversation I should have had with those close to me, they have instead found out through other means. This could be from someone else voicing their concern, from a professional, or from my own behaviour when I am in the depths of the mental illnesses.

I’m not saying that these methods of people finding out about your mental illnesses are wrong, or bad, because they just simply are what they are. However, from my own experience, I would prefer to communicate, honestly and openly, so that I can choose what and when details are shared. It also provides the grounds for connection and understanding, more so than if it’s discovered in a heat-of-the-moment type situation.

Standing Man in Black Dress Facing Mountain

Upon beginning this blog, I was a bit nervous to write so openly about my experiences with mental illnesses. I was afraid of the shame, and what people would think. One of the most harmful factors of mental illnesses is the stigma attached to them. The stigma stifles us, makes us feel ashamed, and labels us as broken. It prevents the truth from being shared, which results in misunderstanding and isolation.

I am still afraid about writing about my experiences on this blog. It scares me that I’m not writing about these things in the “right” way, or that I might be doing something wrong. It also scares me that I may come to face discrimination later on in life due to being open about my mental illnesses.

However, these are the reasons why I need to write about it all so badly. Because it is not right that we are afraid of how people may think differently of us, after they find out about our mental illnesses. It is not right that I feel ashamed of these parts of me, when if it was an illness that revolved around an organ that’s not my brain, things would be different. I’m not saying that visible illnesses are easier, because they aren’t. But the fear of being deemed incompetent or unworthy once conversation makes them visible, may not be as prevalent.

In all honesty, throughout my little recovery journey so far, the conversations in which I have opened up to those around me, about my experiences, have been invaluable. The support I have been given astounds me every day, and I am so thankful for that. Many times it has also provided a window for the other person to open up about their experiences too. This goes to show that for the most part, it is okay to talk about mental illnesses, even from our own shoes. Especially from our own shoes.

It should go without saying, but please never feel pressured to share part of your story with anyone, if you don’t feel comfortable to do so. However, these conversations can be beautiful, connecting, funny, awkward, and life-giving even. They can help to build us up, higher than any walls of stigma can reach. This year, I’m working on honesty. Honesty about who I am, and with each conversation, maybe the next one will get easier. We don’t have to fight our battles alone.