Living with mental illness - My story

Neil Ross

Brisbane, Australia

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SELF PORTRAIT – LIVING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS – MY STORY
Photo taken in Brisbane QLD Australia
732 viewings – 11 favourites – 14MAY 2012


In the latter part of 2009 I was diagnosed with Autonomic Seizures – Epilepsy and it has changed my world. The angst and uncertainty of this condition, although frightening, has also been a motivating force fueling my return to photography and the subsequent artwork I have been producing. Along with family and friends, this activity has been one of the few things that has helped me cope, keeping my feet on the ground when everything else seemed to be chaotic and airborne, and it’s only now that the physical and psychological costs of this condition are being counted.

Loss of weight and muscle tone, haphazard short-term memory and diminished concentration, reduced self confidence and reclusive tendencies, occasional migraine headaches, anxiety and the odd bout of depression, reduced stamina with mental/physical fatigue and mild obsessiveness to name but a few, are now random parts of everyday life. However, the seizures which are synonymous with epilepsy are now held in check by the appropriate medication, and it works well. My particular condition causes a vaso-vagel response affecting the nerves that regulate the heart, and it’s dangerous because it can stop the heart so thank God for my meds. The other symptoms are just annoying little things that are part of the overall package. C’est la vie, but there are many, many people dealing with life-threatening situations, terminal illnesses and untold hardships, so who am I to complain? I feel so fortunate that this is all there is to deal with. I know what my problems are so for the most part it’s a simple matter of managing them, and I’m a master at that!

Having had two bouts of CFS (chronic fatigue) as a younger man has held me in good stead to deal with this current episode of illness. Many of the coping mechanisms have been in place for many years and are now truly a part of my everyday routine. A sound diet, physical activity, mental stimulation, stress minimization, well established boundaries and a ‘tested’ belief system have helped greatly. Being around happy, positive people and having a good laugh has been vital, and I haven’t lost my sense of humour; it’s still wicked. The most important component of all though has been ‘simplicity!’ To keep life simple and to maintain simplicity has been the greatest practice of all to ensure basic functioning on a day-to-day basis. In their song ‘Judas’, the U.K. band Depeche Mode posed the question: ‘Is simplicity best or simply the easiest?’ I’ve often pondered that lyric and can say with absolute certainty “simplicity is the best because it is the easiest!” I have experienced the stressful and at times ‘soul-destroying’ alternative and came to the conclusion it really wasn’t worth it. As a result, I walked away from the stresses of corporate life years ago and now work at a simple wage-earning job, and you know, I’m far happier for it. Healthier too!

The adages ‘know thyself’ and ‘to thine own self be true’ are so true because they encourage one to embrace all that one is. I own my illness; I embrace it and am responsible for dealing with it. No one is to blame nor do I blame anyone, not even myself. Anger is futile and so is regret because it’s wasted energy that does nothing to change the reality of ‘what is’. There are lessons to be learned from this and it’s part of the souls journey towards enlightenment via the travails of the imperfect, earthly human experience. Yeah I know life sometimes sucks but hey, we’ve got to make the most of it and strive to move forward.

There’s a quote I love from the movie Gladiator and it rings true with me: “I knew a man who once said, ‘Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back’.” That’s sound advice and when it’s my time to shed this mortal coil, that’s just what I’ll do. There are times when I’ve wanted to die, but then survival instincts have kicked in and they are far stronger than I ever gave them credit for. A willingness to survive is found deep within us all and when it’s needed the most it’s always there, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. I’ve known for a long time that I’m a fighter… and a survivor, and I count that as a great blessing.

I’m embarrassed by my physical body, so this is one small step towards accepting the way I look… and I’m sharing it with the world, hence this photo. Believe me, some days I look in the mirror and wonder who’s looking back at me. I can live with embarrassment and it could be worse but hey, I do want my ‘sexy’ back!

This portrait is part of my self-therapy, one step on my healing journey hopefully enabling me to mentally process and reconcile all the stuff that has been happening in my life of late. I’m fighting my own personal demons at present, but then aren’t we all? Good days are far more frequent than bad ones, and I know that faith and hope will get me through. Bottom line, I’m usually a pretty happy guy. As for the portrait itself, I think this one is OK. I’m usually the guy behind the camera, rarely the one in front of it, so here I’ve ‘killed two birds with one stone’ so to speak.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Peace, happiness, and good health to you always :D

Photo taken with Canon IXUS 80 IS and edited with Lightzone. SIMPLICITY is my niche!

Companion Photo: Crossing the unknown – a test of faith.

Artwork Comments

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