In case of a mental health emergency, someone is watching, caring and available to you! 

Sharing this here, please spread it widely it if you were intending to spread the “Someone is always watching and cares!” memes. I do care đź’š.


This has updated and comprehensive information on managing a mental health crisis including depression, anxiety, self harming, disturbing thoughts and suicidal feelings IN AUSTRALIA.  Many of these services also include chat features but you need to visit the websites to find out. It is okay not to be okay! It is even better to find help and access your options because talking about depression, PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks, self harming, suicidal thoughts and other disturbing ideas doesn’t mean you’re more likely to act on them. It actually gives you the power to start a dialogue and access your options. Wellness and recovery are possible with the right combination of help and support. Sending you đź’›. 
In Australia, for a mental health crisis emergency the first number you call is 000 (or 112) and ask for an ambulance. Or go to the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital. The Mental health acute care team is available at 131 465 is also available day or night. I’ve used them myself. 
In Australia, the number for the free counselling service at Lifeline is 13 11 14, any time, night or day. 
There is also the Suicide Callback Service has a 24/7 hotline that can be reached at 1300 659 467. They also have a website at: https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/

A concerned friend or family can call the police for a welfare check on someone (no matter how long or little time they have been missing despite what TV tells you, 24 hours is not necessary for asking for help) on 131 444. If you are worried about their health, state of mind, haven’t heard from them or they are behaving out of character, the police these days are trained to be first responders to this. I’ve even been taken for an assessment based on a worried phone operator and the worst outcome is you waste a bit of your time at the emergency department but get medically accessed. It’s better to go and not need it! 
The next best personal option if you feel mentally unwell, is to contact your family or a personal GP or the local community health centre (or a walk in medical centre if you don’t have a doctor). They can write you a referral you to appropriately qualified professionals and often free resources, though there can be a demand on them so if it’s an emergency or you feel urgently unwell, please got to the ER. They will have the doctors on hand. 
If you have a bit more luxury of time with yoor condition if you feel unwell but are not in immediate danger, generally living in a place like a city or regional centre, there is private help or hospital outpatient programs. These have access to qualified professionals like psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses, social workers, NGO case workers and psychologists. If you see a GP, you can usually see them under a mental health plan for 10 sessions a year or have them put you in a program to help you change your life for the better for minimal cost. I use a psychologist and psychiatrist who work with my GP. 

A lot of bigger employment groups have EAP (employees assistance schemes) you can access mental health care with and some places like universities or TAFEs have their own counselling and medical services for students. 
Other web resources for Australian mental health and suicide awareness include:
•The Black Dog Institute: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/

•Beyondblue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

•RU Okay: https://www.ruok.org.au

•Sane Australia: https://www.sane.org

•Mind Australia: https://www.mindaustralia.org.au

•Kids helpline: https://kidshelpline.com.au

•Project Semicolon: https://projectsemicolon.com

Clara Santilli, 2017. 

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Rebuilding Rome: A life in ruins but hey we still have the plans for that fancy aqueduct and the soap…

My life as a background Slytherin in May 2017…

Where have I been and have I been on any adventures worthy of the Lonely Archaeologist? I did attend the Wizardfest Adelaide night at the Producer’s Exchange Hotel in May 2017 and I’m happy to report butterbeer was everything I’d imagined it could be and came with frothy cream and edible gold stars. I was also background Slytherin dancer on the disco floor but I’m proud to say that I did get Michael Jackson’s Thriller choreography down with Voldemort and the Death Eaters…

But largely, I’ve been living a life in ruins: academic, archaeological, personal and my dis/Abilities took me very very far from where I started when I first moved to Glenelg in 2016 and experienced the first freedom I’d had in years. The summer of Adelaide Fringe (2015-16) with my favourite artists, Ryan Adam Wells, Patrick Hercamp, the fabulous Anya Anastasia and Sound & Fury, was the first taste of being liberated from chaos and sorrow in a decade for me. Ryan in particular gave voice to my pain in Beers About Songs, gave me the strength to leave that past behind and freed me from the old shackles you carry when you’ve been abused. I’ll be reviewing it after some more therapy this year because it’s that sort of important epiphany! Darling Pat entertained me as only Pat can and rekindled my love of the Bard in Half Hour Hamlet. Anya gave this blog one of our first proper interviews and taught me that this was a tease, it wasn’t burlesque. Plus those red shoes, milady!


These artists had opened the door to so much more than personal interest blogging for me, it got me involved in trying to support the local arts agenda and the larger arts productions because Adelaide does have the potential to be an artistic centre in the Southern Hemisphere all year around. We need to create small and medium venues to nurture local talent to bigger venues and Fringes such as Perth and Edinburgh. I’m excited to see what is coming under the production of Anya and Jennifer Kingwell this year!

From Sapphire Snow, Viola Verve and Dulce Esperanza, I personally learned so much about body positivity, the arts of cabaret and burlesque (and boylesque). I learned I was perfect the way I am. Thank you, ladies for teaching me I was lovable and how to use glitter effectively.
It even gave me the courage to unusual forms of local tourism – I got to try ghost hunting at the Old Gaol and a dark history tour at the Adelaide Arcade with the award winning tourist operation, Adelaide Haunted Horizons last year. I got done by the ghost sheriff…


I reviewed some movies and television in my down time as a dis/Abled individual while being diagnosed with fibromyalgia when ghosts weren’t hand cuffing me at the Old Gaol in winter.

I had the time of my life at the SA Museum’s Night Lab event (where I meant the fabulous Tamara at Animals Anonymous!) and volunteered with 28 different kinds of flour…please don’t eat the demo damper! Like a hundred different people had touched it!

But sometimes, you can’t plan for catastrophic events and in life, it all comes tumbling down around you unexpectedly and fast. The hoard of space junk crashes into the place you’d been laying out the plans for that shiny aqueduct that would make your Roman ancestors proud. I can say I honestly tried to publish a paper on queer archaeology and Doctor Who, attend Flinders university where my tourism Hawaii assignment attracted more than Maui’s attention into my personal life and then live a normal functioning life while the steaming pile burned away and polluted the air, then scorched the earth of my well laid plans.


I’m pretty sure I know how the dinosaurs felt after an asteroid impacted the earth (as the darkness filled the atmosphere and it got really really cold). I really was a broken archaeology student in January 2017 with a proximal radial fracture on my ulna to prove it along (with a broken heart, an investment in triple milled soap production and a whole lot of nausea when I smell rotting piles of trash). It was after yet the final disaster in my book of sorrows – that was the first half of this year (where you’ll see I reviewed ’13 Reasons Why’ off Netflix) because I was suicidal and making the case for why Hanna was wrong and that I had options in place of self annihilation. Why all this now? I was tired of living in fear, under a rock and having my freedom & safety in jeopardy. I’ve had to leave some things behind to ensure I’ll be fine but it has awakened my love of adventure, science communication and writing again.
Because the blog is off hiatus, I woke up and worked out what I needed to do to love my city again and my next blog interview will be with a Spoken Word poet of great talent. This year I hope to do a focus on various local writing and poetry as an art form alongside the beginning of my archaeology research into accessible archaeology in semester 2. Thank you for the patience and let’s get this party started again!


Clara Rose Santilli, 2017
Initial photo property of Wizardfest Adelaide by Colin Peevy, 2017. Special acknowledgement of copyright (under fair use for review by Colin Peevy, 2017).

All other photos bar initial shot, copyright Clara Santilli 2016 and 2017.

13 Reasons Why: when life is a mirror to Netflix.

Netflix has produced a series based on the young adult novel, 13 Reasons Why, which has started a dialogue on mental health and trauma among all ages and in the media. It was a very mature production for such a young group of actors and it was a great adaptation of the book by Jay Asher, I recommend getting the expanded version with a forward and essay by Asher. Here are a few of my thoughts on watching it while I’m working on what accomodations can make archaeology accessible for me with mental health condition type dis/Abilities. Part of what helps this process is writing about my experiences in a larger context and having it thrust into popular culture is very validating of my lived experience.

Hannah is the protagonist of the television series and book, who takes her own life and leaves a recorded suicide confession on seven cassette tapes. She was bullied, stalked at home and online, sexually harassed and objectified, had her reputation assassinated at school, raped, abandoned and vilified to the point she feels like she has no option but to kill herself because she can’t live with it. These aren’t isolated incidents in her life but interlocking events that cause her to feel reality is reflective of her compounded emotional trauma. I’ve lived a lot of what was in both the book and TV adaptation and survived it because I was given choices and options when I made my last ditch attempt at giving life a chance unlike Hannah who really didn’t make the most of what she decided was her last chance. For me, 13 Reasons Why articulates the things that went wrong in my adolescence and how they can be avoided now people are talking and paying attention and holding space for me when I feel like I’m thinking of giving life once last go. The trauma hasn’t left me though I’m trying to work through and make sense of it rather than letting me swallow me whole, but it’s easier to do now as a mid thirty-something than a teenage girl. 

First I have to say this is not a comprehensive treatment of all the material and issues covered in Hannah’s posthumous revenge by mixed tape on the people she attributed to her death to. That was the twisted plot device of a sometimes unreliable narrator, because suicide never brings about true resolution for the victims or those left behind (unless you view your death as being a success) and while the television series seems to give a kind of narrative resolution for Hannah, that is by the way of story-telling rather than resolving her issues successfully. I understand the magical thinking of the adolescent brain and how Hannah tries to punish the people about her with her choice to die because I had that exact fantasy as a depressed 14 year old. Maybe not with the death note by mixed tape, but I did actually sit down and plot an elaborate mind map of who I thought was responsible for my suicidal impulses – and in the process I had a grim sort of satisfaction of how living with the remorse of my death would give me some kind of justice from the grave. I don’t relay these experiences because I think everything about teen mental health is about me and how I lived with it, but to add to the fact that this type of magical thinking is actually a reality in a suicidal adolescent brain and drive home it’s not just a clever fictional device like completing Hannah’s narrative arc. 

These days I know much better that the sole responsibility around managing my mental and physical health is actually mine – blaming other people for my thoughts and feelings is unfair to them – but that’s the result of maturity and experience of living through my trauma and sitting with it in therapy. The important take away from this is that the decision to die was Hannah’s alone, but it was also on her to get help  and the failure to do so was not solely Hannah’s. It was the adults around her as a teenage brain is not fully developed and able to deal with the consequences of this kind of decision making. 

13 Reasons Why also addresses the paradox of Amy Bleuel of Project Semicolon’s recent death by suicide in that Amy and Hannah’s messages are not negated by the method of their deaths, but if anything the message is amplified by the people around them discussing and discovering what they can do differently going forward with the benefits of hindsight. I disagree when two of the characters say that they were all responsible for Hannah’s death, they may have unwittingly contributed but it was the adults around them that failed. Until recently, most adults weren’t aware of teen mental health and trauma having never grown up with it being in their lexicon of their adolescent experiences as something they could change. Amy did something about suicide awareness by giving the semicolon a new meaning for a group of suicide survivors in highly symbolic language that said surviving meant your story wasn’t over. I can tell you as someone who was living with fully disclosed bipolar disorder and complex post traumatic stress disorder, that I talked about it more openly than most, that these were revolutionary ideas for the time. 

With campaigns like Project Semicolon, Hannah could have been alive if she’d known to take a few actions herself beyond leaving the counselling session because further help is available, I did it tenaciously and I survived but only because the people around me lived with the challenge that I presented to them: my life didn’t have to be like this if I was given help. She did not have to die alone. 

One really important facet of the television series is seeing people of all ages take responsibility for the trauma they inflict on each other by recognising it and changing how they behave. While you are never directly responsible for someone else’s decision to take their own life, you can mitigate the damage by being kind and aware of how your behaviour effects other people but also by not being a bystander. The Bystander effect is essentially when otherwise good people witness an abusive behaviour right in front of them and do nothing about it. I found when it happened to me recently when I was harassed on public transport, the fact that no one stepped in to help me when it was happening and then some adult people actually laughed at what had happened to me for the entirety of my trip, was just as traumatic as being victimised in the first place by my harasser. 

13 Reasons Why brought up the different types of abuse that happens in modern life and what the consequences are for the abuser and abused but also calling out the bystander effect on both teens and adults alike. It’s true to some degree that Hannah was failed by the people around her through inaction. One coping action that can change the balance in a real way that the television show called out and equipped the audience to do straight away in their own lives, that requires no special mental health training or learned skills, is to not be a bystander if they see someone suffering abuse and to actually ask “Are you okay?” So beyond RU Okay Day, ask the people around you how they are doing and refer them to appropriate help (see below). 

One thing I feel the need to further draw awareness to since I feel in 13 Reasons Why  they didn’t address this as I am an adult, not a vulnerable teen, is not letting yourself be a victim of the bystander effect if you have the presence of mind to be able to proactively ask for help from a bystander if you are in trouble. Two years ago, I was being relentlessly stalked by a local man to the point just getting bread & milk was an awkward and unsafe experience in situational awareness. Somehow I found myself (in a comedy of errors) in broad daylight where it was just me, the abusive creep and a local teenage kid from a nearby high school in an area of low pedestrian traffic, therefore immediate help. So I approached the young man the on the pretext of getting the time and explained quietly I was being harassed by the older man and asked if he minded walking with me to the main road near by. The young man was very understanding, no violence was committed by my harasser as most bullies are reluctant to act in front of a witness and I was not the victim of the bystander attack that day. While it’s a calculated risk, most people are willing to help you get help or at least to a safe environment. 

I think that the Netflix series is a necessary resource in this age to address the mental health crisis going on, I certainly don’t want anyone else living through what I suffered without knowing there are other options to deal with mental illness & injury and trauma than killing yourself. I live with both a psychiatric illness and injury and often I question what my life would be like if I had to live with the bipolar disorder alone. I fantasise about having moved through my PTSD and living a normal life. It’s wishful thinking for me, but it could be closer to reality for the next generation of young people. Talk about it with everyone, suicide doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone, any time. The more we shine a light on the dark places, the more we open a dialogue about these hard and uncomfortable truths, the more we are able to bring about change and new approaches to mental health. 

The number for the free counselling service at Lifeline is 13 11 14, any time, night or day. 
The Suicide Callback Service has a 24/7 hotline that can be reached at 1300 659 467. They also have a website at: https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Other resources for mental health and suicide include:
•The Black Dog Institute: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/
•beyondblue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Clara Rose Santilli, April 2017. 

Life and death: Why I chose to stay. 


This post isn’t about archaeology or ghost hunts or my latest favourite thing. It’s going to be a bit dark and it’s going to be a bit scary but I feel like now is the time to address my past. I am a suicide survivor. 
It feels like an enormous risk to publicly say that and I know I’ll be judged and scrutinised, some people are going to call me selfish. A decade ago was my last attempt at killing myself, I don’t remember the details or particulars, I just remember how much pain I was in and how alone I felt. I am fine now; I relish my wonderful life and I have a great Team Me supporting me as I am recovering. 

Yet there have been periods over that last decade where I have experienced the darkest of suicidal ideations (thoughts) when I was stressed beyond breaking point and my entire life was falling apart so much  that I’d pick any other option than living my life. Rather bleak stuff. People appealed to my empathy and how my choice to kill myself would have knock-on effects for other people in my life with detrimental consequences. 

I now appreciate the sentiment but guilt tripping and emotional appeals to a suicidal person are not the way to get them to reconsider taking their life. I know back then I was only thinking of me, totally absorbed in my own pain and grief (it may even have been technically selfish; but in the same way breathing is). I wasn’t thinking about it. Just feeling it. It was all consuming blackness. 

I am offering the perspective of a suicide survivor here. I’m not a qualified mental health professional (I’ve listed some resources at the end). This is simply my experience of being depressed and suicidal but I hope what I’ve lived through can be useful to others. I want to help people who find themselves in my situation and I want to empower the people around them to help them. I want to enable you. Being suicidal is a state of mind, not a character trait or a situation where anyone should be inserting their brand of morality. People suffering suicidal thoughts need compassion and time and space to heal. They need help.

Using emotional appeals isn’t going to get people who are considering killing themselves to stop and rethink their plan. They are in so much pain that they cannot even begin to comprehend the consequences of their death on the people around them, they have lost the ability to see tomorrow. They just want anything other than the reality they are currently feeling. They need it to stop. Now.

The things that reached me through the darkness weren’t false hope and empty promises and nice platitudes, they were meat solid options that translated into real world outcomes that allowed me to function again. Little things mattered the most. Help calling a qualified professional to organise my treatment going forward or helping me pack to go to hospital if that’s what I needed and then arranging for someone to feed my cats while I was away.  Even just a lift to get groceries helped allievate the stress I felt as a suicidal person – the really important thing is that you offer relief tied to an action that actually helps them in a practical way. Offer them the means to recover their lost vision of the future. 

Suicide is the act of a desperate person who feels like they haven’t got options, they are trapped by their situation and the way to reach someone who is suicidal is to give them a door out, or a hand up, from where they are stuck. You give them a way to get out of the situation rather than using guilt to isolate them further than they already are feeling alone. Unless they are very perceptive and self aware, when they are that absorbed in their pain that they are planning their self destruction, they aren’t thinking of the other people in their life. 

I honestly think suicide survivors are the people we should be talking to about killing yourself. I’d be asking them what changed your mind, why are you still here and how? What changed my mind was knowing my reality isn’t always congruent with how I am feeling. I wasn’t really alone despite feeling that way and there were people saying I didn’t have to live like that who were approaching me with real options to change my stars. It doesn’t come easily in practicing these two things – remembering my feelings aren’t necessarily an accurate portrait of my life and being humble enough to ask for help from other people. 

I chose to live because I want to know what happens next. Why anyone else chooses to live is too much of an existential question for this little essay and I can’t give you the answer why other suicide survivors chose to stay. Ask them.  I will say knowing I have people who care enough to help me through the dark and scary world of mental health recovery is helpful in my decision to live and create a full life for myself. How I’m still here is that I’ve had a decade of therapy and medication and lifestyle changes – it wasn’t easy on me and Team Me, but it is worthwhile journey. Thank you to all the people who have been there for the last two decades, I really couldn’t have done it without you…

TL/Dr: Don’t preach. Give suicidal people options.

The number for the free counselling service at Lifeline is 13 11 14, any time, night or day. 

The Suicide Callback Service has a 24/7 hotline that can be reached at 1300 659 467. They also have a website at: https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/

Other resources for mental health and suicide include:

•The Black Dog Institute: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/

•beyondblue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Clara Rose Santilli 

Dark Tourism: Why I love spooky visitations and that’s just Alison from Haunted Horizons! Also My Fringe picks for 2017!

We all know by now I’m quirky with some hobbies of acquired taste such as dark history tours and ghost hunting with Adelaide’s Haunted Horizons and there will be more paranormal investigation this year. I’m going to quickly mention there’s Valentine’s Day events at Z-Ward for something truly unique for 2017 -check out the website mentioned below for details. 

Adelaide Arcade, 2016.

And I realised that I never published my adventures last year (2016) with Alison and Kag from Adelaide’s Haunted Horizons dark history tour of the Adelaide Arcade. They are the only company that can give you access to the old abandoned Tea Room under the Adelaide Arcade! 

Alison O’Born setting up paranormal investigation equipment in the Old Tea Room beneath the Arcade.

Exciting archaeology feature: original gold gilt paint in tea room.
Table base in Adelaide Arcade Tea Room.
Internal or infernal stairs to the old Tea Room.

And since it’s been a year, I’m going to do it again and remember to take notes this time since they were Best Tour Operator for 2015 & 2016 in the S.A. Tourism Awards! And this year, maybe go hunting for spooks at Z-Ward if I can only get my friends to agree and book with Haunted Horizons on tel: 0407 715 866 after checking out their cool website that also offer tours of the Old Gaol (read about me as the time I was the ghost bait).

<http://www.adelaidehauntedhorizons.com.au&gt;

But there are some nifty events coming to Adelaide’s Fringe and here’s my top predictions if you enjoy the quirky, macabre and historical. 

Anya Anastasia’s Torte-e-Morte and Rogue Romantic. 

Anya Anastasia’s Rogue Romantic preview in 2016.

I saw Torte-e-Morte last year and thoroughly enjoyed the life and undeath of Marie-Antoinette with her blend of historical humour and black comedy. Then I was lucky enough to preview Anya Anastasia’s Rogue Romantic (you’ll have seen her on a bus, train or train around Adelaide somewhere in the last year). She is a powerhouse in the international and Australian Fringe festival scenes and not only performing her own shows, she is cultivating talent by co-ordinating the entertainment at Stirling Laneways and check out the venue she helped create, Henrietta’s for the Adelaide Fringe (one week to go). I have tickets to both of her performances for this year! 

Check out her website: <http://anyaanastasia.com/&gt;

Sound & Fury 

Sound and Fury performing Sherlock Holmes (picture used kindly with permission of Patrick Hercamp, 2017).

After years riotous Lord of the Thrones, US vaudeville comedy act, Sound & Fury, return with Sherlock Holmes. The thing to know about these guys is that anything goes with their blend of geeky satire and improvised comedy at the Tandanya Cafe, a venue I cannot recommend highly enough for pre- and post-show socialising. 

I’m also recommending here Patrick Hercamp’s solo performance, Half Hour Hamlet, because it is a pithy and delightful exposition of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Patrick is like quicksilver and the play is an engrossing half an hour of something I dreaded studying during my school days. I can sincerely say I have a greater appreciation of the original Hamlet as a result of Jeff McLane’s clever writing and direction at one of the Bard’s most complex and potentially dreary works. This play was selected as Mensa’s selection for the Perth Fringe and Patrick has been nominated for Best Theatre Award in Perth! 

Patrick Hercamp and myself after Half Hour Hamlet at the Producer’s in 2016.
Adelaide Cemeteries Authority Night Tour: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem Night Tour at West Terrace Cemetery. 

This is I show I’m planning on catching since going on a night tour of West Terrace Cemetery in 2014 as part of research for a tourism subject at university. Like the paranormal investigation and ghost hunts, cemeteries are dark sites historically and for those interested in dark tourism, West Terrace Cemetery is a major destination and is an eerie and compelling venue in the darkness. The previous tours I attended were professionally produced and the history is faithfully recorded. See you there? 

<https://www.adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/murder-mystery-mayhem-night-tour&gt;

All pictures (other than those used with special permission) are copyright C. Santilli, 2017.

Down the rabbit hole: what living with my condition makes it an ability than just a disability. 


I’m studying a masters degree with the aim of researching disability in Australian archaeology and cultural heritage management. Even I don’t quite know what that means yet, but I thought I’d write a follow up to my horror themed post on Split and actually explain why I like the terms dis/Ability and mental health condition. 

My story with mental illness came young with my first depression episode manifesting at fourteen and I started taking medication at sixteen as a suicide survivor. Between fourteen and about twenty-four years old when I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder (type 2) and PTSD, I needed a lot of medical and therapeutic interventions so I term that period of my life as illness. There would be other years of crises and some where recovery seemed just in reach and cruelly snatched away. There were years of specialists, speculation and the fluctuation of my condition that really made me decide recovery and wellness and crisis and episode were all convenient words for other people to describe how pathologically I was dealing with my disorders. Then I was labelled chronically disabled rather just sick and felt smaller than just failing uni and mid twenties mile stones, so diminished even further because the ‘dis’ prefix meant my ability was substandard and I’d never reach my full potential, that even that hope of recovery was the fruit tree to my Tantalus. It was limiting. It was very heavy. I felt caged, stuck in the mud. And I was thirsty; I wanted scope. 

Sometime, in the last two or three years since I first published Broken Archaeology , I’ve started to think differently about the way I describe my personal cognitive and intellectual domains and instead of focusing on the limitations, I looked for my strengths and capabilities. I joined an international online discussion group for people like me studying dis/Abled with archaeology and it was here I first found the term *dis/Ability* and its sister term Enabled. I don’t know the history of those words and I don’t think that’s relevant to my story right now but I will discuss them in May for National Archaeology Week. 

What I do remember is, at first dis/Ability annoyed the heck out of the English student in me, but it was the accepted term in my online support group’s culture and I was going to learn to use it, even if I didn’t love it. And then a funny thing happened, I actually got what dis/Ability meant! 


Before I returned to archaeology in 2013, I actually referred to myself as crazy and a manic depressive when I started a counselling course that changed the way I look at medicalised language. I still stand by the crazy, after all yesterday I was at an inflatable fun park with 5 other adults trying to recreate scenes from the Assassins’ Creed (2016) movie and discovering I’m excellent at falling and landing. But I’m no longer describing myself as a manic depressive – the counselling course called us mental health consumers (which I still hate and would you like fries?) and to describe living with X illness or disorder. So I was living with my disorder and on the way to recovery from my illness. 
And then my horrible years of 2014-2015 happened, with failed attempts at peer support from mental health organisations supposed to help me reintegrate into the community, having to seek victim support counselling as a survivor of harassment from random men in my local community, the neighbours and a landlord from hell and having to move twice in six months and failing university after falling into a tram. I lost three significant friendships due to mental illness as I was in crisis and that is the appropriate language for someone suffering a sickness based in the brain needing help. And I gave up on recovery as an ideal of the psychosocial model of mental health rehabilitation lead by consumers. And I stopped thinking of myself as a consumer and survivor. I threw the whole lot out the window with wellness and mindfulness and breathing exercises…

I started to see myself as someone with a condition that I managed. I still take my medication, see my doctors and my psychologist and make sure I eat, sleep and do the exercise my physio recommends to help me rehabilitate after being hit by the tram. That’s all basic self care along with me playing with my therapy cats, listening to eclectic music live and recorded, journaling my thoughts GIGO style, LARPing with my friends in ARC and going to public lectures on the arts and sciences.But I took it one step further and realised the root of my three chronic dis/Abilities is the fact the word divides it into what I can do – focuses on my ability, what  the capabilities I can develop and the unique aspects of my condition that can actually be quiet enjoyable. What do I mean by that?

In 2016, I found myself unable to contemplate returning to some approximation of normal that I’d never had. I added a few new terms to my vocabulary like neurodiversity and coined my own, neuroexpectional to explain the unique aspects of my condition I enjoyed and found advantageous. I took control of those things that appeared to be uniquely mine and made them a strength. I’ve joined my university’s postgraduate leadership program run by the careers department and I’m learning to leverage them in my everyday life in positive ways. 

For me, having bipolar affective disorder as a condition when it is well managed translates as an extended capacity for creative thought, an appreciation and passionate engagement with my world, more intense emotion so I cry at films or experience frisson when hearing beautiful music, the sun is brighter some days and the world, life runs right through you as pure passion. It is a sense of being, enjoying the feeling of being alive. The abilities of my dis/Abilities are coming to fruition in a return to what I can do: going to university this semester to learn to make documentaries in 2017, blogging here again after a hiatus, even just considering some volunteering over the summer and year, the things I achieved last year demonstrated at the SA Museum Night Lab event and speaking about archaeology at National Archaeology Week after being hit by the tram and being more and more involved with the group, Enabled, now as an admin. They gave me direction for my last two years for my research in my master’s degree; this week I’m also doing some research assistant work with my mentor and preparing some CFPs for a conference in New Zealand in June on my other great passion, Doctor Who.

This may sound clincally like hypomania pipe dreams to my arm chair psychologists readers (hi!), but through my lived experience of a hypomania (bipolar high) episode “and doing all the things” versus greatly enjoying a capacity to appreciate the rhythms of life, for me they are very separate things I’ve experienced temporally and in context. One is a medical illness like depression that I urge you to seek appropriate qualified help for immediately because so many people want to chase the high mania and hypomania give, but it’s like a drug induced false euphoria with shallowness and ultimately it’s a fleeting experience that you lose as you crash to Earth. 

The other aspect of a personality shaped by a managed approach to my conditions I have to explain is much more than emphermal, it is realising how much depth I can experience and cultivating certain nuanced aspects of my personality over the years to a place where they are a gift in my life rather than something that diminishes me as a person. Those experiences and character lessons stay with you and evolve your personality – changing you is key differentiating element here unlike (hypo)mania or depression which are just illnesses of the brain, rather than a personal apotheosis. This is a more hopeful post after last one but dis/Ability is a complicated process and I wanted to show the other side of the coin that it is not a life sentence to be abused by society and the health system, there is in fact a silver lining that in with the right treatment and attitude, you can make it what you want it to be. Am I recovered? No. But I never was really normal either and as it says in Alice and Wonderland, let me tell you a secret, all the best people are a little mad.

Clara Santilli

The Methodology of Madness: the real face of mental illness and I don’t look like Carrie. 

To my shame, I saw the *thriller* by M. Night Shyamalan, Split.  I’d like to think that anyone who saw this travesty, would realise that this is a horror movie and using my rusty old film study skills, an origin story for a villain to set up his sequel to Unbreakable. It’s an implausible origin story about Kevin’s evolution from his alternative personality  Barry to the collective multiplicity of The Hoard. The notably exclusively female victims and depiction of mental illness are just  window dressing to a very short story that doesn’t do much apart from showing some truly scary white guy dancing by Hedewig.

So apart from showing McAvoy’s tremendous acting scope as  Kevin/Barry losing control to the Hoard, it’s  a blatantly obvious incorrect depiction of what is known in popular culture as Multiple Personality Disorder (or DID) and a good dose of psychopathy in Kevin’s evil multiplicities, Dennis and Patricia, for measure -which is a junk popular  diagnosis anyway, I recommend James Fallon’s The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain (if you’re curious about it). Statistics however say those with a mental health condition are more likely to be the victims of crime that the perpetrators.

The real horror story of mental health conditions probably looks closer to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Most of us are relatively *normal* people trying to function in a world that neither truly accommodates us -so often we are gaslit when we are considered to be harbouring inconvenient “unreasonable” feelings or to be *having an episode and in crisis* based on normal frustration, often at situations a neurologically typical individual would deem unreasonable by doctors,  carers, family , friends. Then if we the neurodiverse end up unwell and urgently need to access help, have to use the hospital mental system, where we cease to exist as people in our own right and become monsters to be contained far from the sight in spite of the party line of treatment in the community being the best practice. Yet despite a glowing public rhetoric about treatment in the community being best as part of the psychosocial model of rehabilitation, in the medical system the mentally ill become persona non grata and are hidden in locked wards.

In my experience, none of the positive media spin by mental health providers and organisations help such as RU Okay Day; and, the “peer” support workers employed through these organisations often do not follow through with reintegration into the community but take a fluffy feel good approach they can use to show their supervisors that they should be employed. Only one peer support worker, a rehab counsellor I knew personally ever referred me to the resources that could help me and I’m incredibly grateful for her realistic approach to how my life was.  In comparison, the two assigned to me over the last 5 years I saw, were never receptive to the things I needed to get by or goals I wanted to achieve in my time with them.  For me, I abandoned the false hope that these organisations would have provided me the resources so that my living situation would change and my lifestyle would improve.

While I’m not fully rehabilitated, I have a new normal now and I’m tackling researching disability in my chosen profession I’m studying at uni, because to be different in my field is a black mark in Australia from my personal experience. As to social inclusion, I have a few good  friends but I had to go to many different places on a leap of faith to find them and join local communities to find a safe place I could exist free of bipolar’ stigma. But it was a long road to get here and create the opportunities that freed me from the system and the stigma of living with a mental health condition.

The  extra challenges a neuroexceptional individual faces, even if we are behaving within normal acceptable behavioural limits, are often mistaken as disordered symptomology – my quirky quick speaking style with wild brown hair, flapping hand gestures and as an Italian descendant with my great big Roman snoz are just features of my personage. In a neurotypical individual, none of those things would even have been psychiatrically or psychologically considered relevant in the first place / unless I disclosed my dis/Ability. I did and it was a mistake.

I was never told I didn’t have to disclose my illness as a right and have been “out” as mentally ill for most of my adult life because after 20 years, there’s no way that genie is gonna fit into the lamp again. As a young adult, I had no idea what stigma was and how I was a victim of it by virtue of my honesty. There were a lot of unhappy years as a result and I wish I’d had been given the agency and choice to decide what I was going to tell people when I was ready. Let me tell you a minor horror story about  being “known” as having a mental illness versus cultural prejudice in modern medicine in Australia and why you might want to not disclose your dis/Ability to anyone other than medical Team You.

Once in 2011, after a major health scare, I was involved in trying to get my maintenance med regimen re-adjusted and desperately needed access to someone who could adjust my prescription psych medication quickly at a safe dose before I ended up dead (it was medication effecting my heart with extreme tachycardia for the morbidly curious). After a three day or so fight to get any help at all from the local emergency mental health system on a Monday that drew through to Friday morning, they called a privately practicing individual, a totally dismissive psychiatrist that laughed at me on a Friday afternoon, wished me good luck finding treatment before next week and offered no solution. At all…my life was disposable to the medical professionals of this town apparently.

The private psychiatry sector in my country town was backed up by at least three months and that seems to be standard around Australia- so what’s a gal to do to remain well and med compliant if her GP is unavailable, no other professional qualified in mental health will give her accessible care to safe medication to maintain her recovery and we are heading into the weekend? It was obvious I didn’t belong in a psych ward based on side effects but because I was denied drugs that gave me dignity and a quality of life as a dis/Abled young woman studying counselling at university, I followed the advice of my text book and went to the hospital quick drop clinic in to get a script and then to the pharmacy. Bingo, right?! Nope. You shall not pass go and possibly end up in Gaol.

After establishing the country town in question didn’t actually have a mental health service I suspect unless you were a teenager, a drug addict or a criminal on a violent drug related charge (maybe I’d received help if I’d went on a McAvoy Beast style rampage as ‘The Hoard’). After being exposed to callous indifference at my attempts to stay well; after I was stunned and left fumbling by some guy calling himself a trained medical professional treating the whole situation as hilarious – rather than my whole life – I still had no answers. I tried a private script from the hospital’s drop in  clinic and found I couldn’t get the medication except for $300 (more than my fortnightly rent!) I probably could have found those criminals mentioned above and probably get my prescription meds cheaper from a dealer than a legitimate chemist.

There I was, desperately trying to secure the primary medication I take -that I needed to keep myself well with but I couldn’t afford privately on a disability payment. As a last ditch resort, I went back to the local hospital in an attempt to get the prescription I needed at a price within my means to keep myself healthy and out of inpatient care. So I went to the ED at the local hospital as the psych ward was admitted through their triage service- by now it was dinner time. I was tired, hungry and just wanted my dinner and a warm bed without another night of vicious sinus tachycardia.

At the Emergency Department, I was angry and frustrated, speaking quickly because of the urgency of my predicament to the triage nurse because I was rather scared at what I would happen without my night medication since I’m a compliant consumer. I know that drug’s value to my wellbeing with a rapid cycling, episodic condition. When I miss a dose it’s nothing short of catastrophic; in the short term I get withdrawal syndrome that feels like the worst flu you have ever had, brutal insomnia which exacerbates my dis/Abilities and without it for more than a few days in the longer term, I get very unwell. I’ve been taking medication for more that 2/3 of my adult life and have colloquially what’s known as “lived experience” that is often recognised by progressive professionals as equally important to listen to a consumer as well as their text book training.

Instead, I was told by the small town triage nurse, who wasn’t listening to a word about me being Italian and talking quickly was absolutely normal for me, that I was manic and confused. That what I was saying wasn’t reasonable about needing my particular medication to stay well was bunk because I was *sick*. She implied had no idea what I was talking about and gaslit me as unwell. A sick thing. Lock it up! She seemed to have no idea the consequences of abruptly coming off that medication either without tapering down the dose either. It’s not pretty as I later found out.

In a hospital situation, I don’t know if there is anyway since my diagnosis is disclosed, that anything I impart to a triage situation that will not end up with anyone and everyone assuming that I am suffering hypomaniac delusions and have no self perspective, awareness of my circumstances and they need to take away my right for bodily autonomy by putting me in a white sterile hospital room cage (all the while not recognising my mind is part of that right to bodily autonomy and my brain didn’t stop just working within hospital walls). The small town nurses hadn’t even performed a MSE before dxing me as psychiatristly unstable-so I quickly walked out of that ED while there voluntarily and decided never to go back.

It’s not been an isolated incident sadly to say  and I’m still leery of hospitals even in a bigger city where you’d expect them to have better resources and education into invisible disability and expect to this day, would perform better. It isn’t the case either since after moving to a larger city with presumably better medicine, I had a case of simple syncope on a hot day after running my sick cat to the vet in under 10 minutes and ended up in a short stay mental health ward based on my dis/Ability since now fainting is a sign of mental illness. I’m on medication known to cause fainting in hot weather for migraines.

To further harass and terrify me, I was given the wrong information about my rights under my stare’s mental health act that I was there involuntarily by the nurses who intimidated me into staying until I had to get a friend with a psychology degree to argue my admission and release with the nurses…but once you disclose your condition, you seem stop existing as an individual with a right to dignity in your care and become an exercise in pathology like cancer to be cut out and exorcised like a tumour in a hospital system. This is why I like consumer driven community health where being person is not a privelge but the very most baseline treatment.

The cultural stereotype of the ranting, fast tongued Italians aren’t there for nothing (I have a mono brow and gesticulate a lot too, so probably best to give me room when I get passionate). But this is a fairly common occurrence for anyone who understands what the day-to-day difficulties of navigating a mental health system that despite the media spin focussing on the psychosocial rehabilitation model of recovery in the community and consumer wellness. We, the users of this poorly system, aren’t actually given the agency and privacy, ascribed enough self awareness by carers and doctors alike and access to resources (especially in an emergency) to navigate the system let alone direct our return to whatever our individual approximation of the new normal is for us living with mental conditions are.

What a good doctor looks like, sadly,  was best portrayed by Betty Buckley as Dr. Karen Fletcher in Split. Dr Fletcher advocated for her consumers as people first who needed her help and treated each multiple personality as an important part of her therapeutic process, worthy of her respect in her treatment of their illness for example by letting one of Kevin’s  (McAvoy) multiplicity’s Dennis, known  that she would not invoke the primary personality and the need for Dennis’ existence as part of protecting Kevin. She had also arranged for further care for her consumers if something should happen to her and established a research effort into having DID internationally accepted. If we ignore the fact she decided to not contact the authorities when she became suspicious of Barry’s (McAvoy) change in behaviour and alarming emails for emergency sessions which anyone with basic mental health training can see as red flags, we can perhaps ascribe this to the fact director M. Night Shyamalan has a poor history of writing strong plausible female character’s capable of agency so he fridges 3 of the 4 major female characters and the one who survives has been punished by the patriarchy off screen and in flashbacks. This discussion actually will tie in with my next post about the current influx of female lead television & film about strong women and film that caters to a female aesthetic and gaze that happened in 2016. All in all, mental health and what constitutes illness to recovery falls on a highly movable, personal and subjective spectrum.

Clara Santilli