What mental illness sufferers can learn from Scott Ludlam’s leave of absence

Mental illness is an insufferable demon, one that plagues the mind and the body. It takes a strong person to seek help. But it takes an even stronger person to tell the world that they need it.

On Friday, Western Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam revealed on social media his struggles with depression and anxiety. Ludlam revealed a need to take a leave of absence from his political duties in order to cope and seek care. His openness about his health drew waves of positivity and support from his fans and fellow parliamentarians, with comments urging him to take care of himself, and others commending his candour.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says he has been dealing with depression and anxiety for some time.
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says he has been dealing with depression and anxiety for some time.  Photo: Jacky Ghossein

As someone who is no stranger to mental illness, I am inspired by his honesty.

For over a decade I’ve fought with crippling anxiety, and at various stages severe depression. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t felt its icy touch, the irrational fear and fog of terror clouding my perceptions and making it difficult to function. It’s turned what should have been a three-year university degree into a six-year stint that I’ve only halfway completed, and has burdened my friendships under the weight of my constant fearful complaints.

Then, nearly three months ago, my symptoms skyrocketed. I developed full-blown panic disorder. The dread I felt before multiplied, and became a physical symptom in and of itself, like a disease snaking tendrils through my mind every minute of the day. Leaving the house became impossible, and when my brain was done racking my body, I would fall into depressed exhaustion, until all I wanted to do – could do – was sleep.

What never fails to surprise me about suicidal thoughts is how polite they seem. Never do they seem melodramatic or theatrical, nor are they emotional like a rained-out scene from a tragic love story. They’re a small voice, in the back of your head, gently whispering: Well, this isn’t going to get better, is it?

I’ve presented to emergency several times over the past few months, all because of that voice. Depression and anxiety feel like a grip you’ll never escape. This is the stark reality of mental illness.

Yet here is Ludlam, a loved and prolific senator, speaking candidly about his struggles. Where others might shy away in shame when talking about their health, Ludlam, despite his status, has opted to pull apart his threads and show the world his anguish. To young people, his constituents and people like me who are struggling, that means the world.

In a society where one in six people will suffer with depression, and one in four will deal with anxiety, his vulnerability – his willingness to speak out and bare his soul – can further crack into the stigma surrounding mental illness and inspire others to care for and support themselves.

Yet what remains such a daunting idea for so many people dealing with mental illness is the prospect of having to put a stop to their responsibilities in order to seek care. A present with mental illness can feel impossible to manage, but a future without it can feel utterly unattainable. As if putting your life on hold would mean that the world would spin ahead of you, and you’ll never be able to catch up.

The pressure to do well and excel, when burdened with depression and anxiety, can feel insurmountable – but the reality is that until we find the courage to support ourselves and seek self-care, our lives with mental illness can never improve. With services we can use to vent our frustrations, and to seek further aid, we can take those first steps and slowly begin to heal.

In the past month, I’ve found a psychiatrist who I’ve been having regular sessions with. I have a prescription. I put my working life aside. I am aware of the support services in my area, and have used them when necessary. Though I’m certainly not cured – I haven’t spoken in-person to someone who wasn’t a family member or professional in almost two months – I’m making steps to manage my mental health.

The pressure to do well and excel, when burdened with depression and anxiety, can feel insurmountable.

Taking the time out from our lives to care for ourselves shouldn’t terrify us, and the dread of falling behind shouldn’t burden us to tears. Through allowing ourselves a break, being surrounded by supportive forces, and through the power of vulnerability – like with Ludlam’s honest confession – we can take back control of our lives and inspire others to do the same.

At first, I was scared of reaching out for help. I couldn’t imagine a life for myself where I didn’t have mental illness, where I wasn’t in varying states of fear or suffering. It’s been a huge part of my existence for so long.

But then I realised; that’s exactly why I have to seek help. Because frankly, I deserve to get better. As do we all. I have asked for help, and been vulnerable – like I’m trying to be now.

Mental illness can feel like a losing battle. But one day, sooner or later, the fog will lift. The exhaustion and the dread will waver, and we will chase away our demons.

Know that it’s perfectly fine to just take your damn time and it’s okay to be vulnerable.

[Source:-The Sydney Morning Herald]