IMAGINE

“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.” – unknown

Imagine a pain worse than child birth. A pain that’s even more horrendous than an amputated finger or toe. You have the highest level of pain that exists today and experience it everyday for the rest of your life. No cure and no way to stop it. It never occurs to you that one day you’d wake up sick and never get better, but it happened to you. As said by Elizabeth Taylor “The only way to get through the day is to force yourself to get up. Force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go on about your business of living.”

Imagine that the blood in your entire body was replaced with gasoline, lit on fire, then kept that way 24 hours a day 7 days a week. All whilst knowing nothing could be done to put this fire out. Then imagine all your skin was burned off and is now completely raw; next massage salt into the wound with a strip of sandpaper. A complete physical, mental and emotional assault on your body.

Imagine going through just one day where everything you touch or everything that touches you causes instant, agonising pain. Anything from your clothing, a gentle touch from a loved one or even a stray hair falling onto the bare skin of your leg causes you pain. Each sound is a scream in your ears. A school bell, a passing car or even a loud wind. A pain that demands to be felt.

Imagine getting through the day is like walking in a circle. Except for you, you constantly walk these circles in a deep swimming pool. Each step requires more effort than everyone else, making it impossible to keep up with everyone out of the water. You just become more and more fatigued the harder you try to catch up. So you have to tell yourself, “it’s okay if all I did today was breathe.”

Imagine a pain that messes with your brain function. A pain that fills your head with a thick fog making it almost impossible to think. Turning everyday tasks such as driving or even holding a conversation into giant hurdles you barely scrape over. Combined with the lack of sleep, constant agonising pain, stress, fear and loneliness, you find it near impossible to concentrate on anything.

Imagine leaving your school dance in an ambulance and having absolutely no idea how you got there. Fear, depression, anxiety and pain all compacted into one ball orbiting your brain. You’re strapped on a stretcher, screaming and cursing while every speed bump and pothole sends agonising flames through you, taking over your entire body. That’s when you realise. Your pain has spread. You start screaming louder and louder to the point your vision goes blurry. “I can’t feel my arm!” you wail to your mother only to find the paramedic is ripping out chunks of hair from your arm, feeling none of it. At the young age of 14 you are certain you are going to die.

Imagine being terrified of going to the hospital. You are just desperate for relief but because of the uncertainty, you are fearful. You have no idea which doctor you will get or if they will have any understanding of your pain. They may not know that CRPS (Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome) is a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder where the nervous system malfunctions in response to trauma. The nerves misfire sending constant pain signals to the brain. They might not even try to help you, just send you home helpless with no solution. You should not have to be scared of the only place you can turn to for help but when medical professionals make you out to be the problem instead of the real issue – the lack of research, when they blame you for something you have absolutely no control over, sometimes you just can’t help it.

Imagine you are in the most amount of pain you have ever encountered and all your closest friends accuse you of faking it to get out of a test in class. Everyone has labelled you as being overdramatic and a complainer just for having a condition so rare it’s misunderstood. To them you are just a warning sign. Someone they look down upon and have to look after. You are treated as a lesser person by your friends just because you can’t walk as far as everyone else. Having to take the odd pain killer here makes you a criminal and no matter what you do, there’s nothing you can do to change their minds.

Imagine being scared to let people know how much pain you really go through, especially your close friends and loved ones. You never want to let them to really understand how much you suffer because you know how much they would then suffer as well. So you fake it. Put on a smile and you say “I am fine. Its nothing I can’t handle.” Which is just as much a lie to them as it is to yourself. You get so used to putting this wall up, when the time comes and you need to convey to your doctor your depth of pain you just can’t. It becomes so difficult to truly let your guard down and to take away those walls out of fear of not being able to put them back up again.

Imagine feeling strong. You’ve been to hell and back and now you can take on the world. You don’t know pain until you’re staring at yourself in the mirror with tears flooding down your face, begging yourself just to hold on and be strong. Just making it through days like those make you feel like a champion. You showed courage. No one appreciates you or even notices how strong you are for holding on. But you do. You make yourself proud and that’s all that matters.

People always say “With pain comes strength” and I can honestly say I never knew how strong I could be until I encountered Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. Whenever I need motivation I look back on the past 4 years of my life, living with CRPS and I know I can get through anything if I put my mind to it. I don’t want my pain and struggle to make me a victim. I want my battle to make me someone else’s hero.

-Ryan Curran

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What Are We Doing Wrong?

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New Zealand has been battling issues with youth depression and suicide for the past 20 years. We currently have the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world. This is a shocking 15.6 per 100,000. Our rate is double America’s, five times the British and eight times worse than the best performing countries, Italy and Portugal. (Unicef Annual Report 2016). We just simply aren’t doing enough to make a change. I strongly believe that lack of education and support concerning suicide in New Zealand high schools is one of the leading causes as to why the youth suicide rate is so high. In addition there is a major gap in the funding towards much needed mental health facilities in New Zealand.

 

The government strongly advises all New Zealand high schools to shut down all conversations around suicide as an attempt to avoid suicide contagion. In most schools around New Zealand, suicide is purely known as “the S word”. It is ministry policy for schools to say sudden death, never suicide. In the wake of a student suicide, the Ministry of Education trauma team will write a script for the principal, teachers and all the members of staff to read to students. Even if students were to ask questions, the teachers have to stick to the script. The script aims to minimise any discussion around suicide. In no way does it mention why it happens or even how to prevent it, making the grieving process for students and families so much tougher. Out of 235 schools surveyed for the New Zealand Herald “Break the Silence” campaign, the schools had experienced a combined 150 student suicides. One of these schools has lost six students to suicide since 2007.( NZ Herald ‘Break the silence’ 10 Jul, 2017). This clearly silence on suicide is an outdated policy that has shown no improvement over the past 20 years. New Zealand needs to better their suicide education in schools by showing our youth what healthy relationships, self care, sexual health and consent actually look like. Our teachers need to show their students that it’s okay to be different, that there’s nothing wrong with failing and it’s okay to make mistakes. High school in New Zealand is no longer preparing kids for the world and we are just expected to be happy about it.

 

This year’s New Zealand mental health budget has been described as “giving a starving dog a rubber bone” (NZ Herald Budget 2017: Mental health funding ‘distressing’ 26 May, 2017) and it evidently shows us that mental health is not a priority for the government. $224 million will be invested into mental health services over four years.(Stuff.co.nz May 25 2017) According to YesWeCare.nz campaign coordinator Simon Oosterman, it is falling $300 million short of what is needed to keep services like local mental health and addiction facilities effectively running. This includes New Zealand’s only 24-hour suicide counselling service Lifeline, which receives 15,000 calls per week, and due to the cut in funding it is most likely to close next year. Although statistics show that since 2008 New Zealand has had a 60% increase in demand for these services, the government still cut $5 billion entirely from health care alone (Newshub 31/10/2016). It is obvious that the funding for mental health is nowhere near enough and the way the money is spent is not being as effective as it could be. After 20 years of no change and almost 2000 young people denied mental health services just last year, the New Zealand government needs to set a target to fix the issues around youth suicide.(NZ Herald Budget 2017: Mental health funding ‘distressing’ 26 May, 2017) We need to make sure the small amount of funding allocated to mental health is not wasted on the same services that just aren’t working. More funding needs to be put towards services such as lifeline and the crisis clinic that noticeably make a difference and save lives on the daily. Suicide is now New Zealand’s third highest cause of death close behind heart disease and lung cancer. This should be the wake up call the New Zealand government needs to prioritise mental health.

 

In contrast, suicide is becoming an increasingly more talked about topic seen in the media of New Zealand. Just recently The New Zealand Herald ran a special series over the course of 5 weeks called “Break The Silence” as they believed that it was time for a national conversation about the matter. The campaign shared personal stories of everyday New Zealanders affected by suicide and depression. It explored the history of why the silence on suicide has been orthodox in New Zealand since the mid-1990s and even discussed some of the different ways this issue has been handled in homes and in classrooms. (Break The Silence: New Herald series 4 July, 2017). The idea to encourage the youth of New Zealand to reach for help, to let them know there is always hope and to provide places of support was great in theory but it did not hit the targeted audience. Another New Zealand news media agency, stuff.co.nz, shows through statistics that out of their 1.9 million frequent readers only 7.4% are between the age bracket of 18-24.(Stuff.co.nz Media Kit March 2016) This was the age bracket for the New Zealand Herald’s target audience for the “Break The Silence” campaign. For The Herald to reach the targeted demographic then they would need to also use the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that this age bracket uses to advertise their campaign. Although the parents of the youth were more likely to see this campaign it is entirely up to them to pass this information onto their children. Overall the Break The Silence campaign did not work as well as it could have but is a step forward in creating awareness and starting a national conversation.

 

New Zealand is doing no where near enough as they can to reduce the appalling 15.6 per 100,000 youth suicide rate as we have seen no improvement for the past 20 years. The silence on suicide in schools, the lack of funding towards mental health facilities and even New Zealand news media agencies not getting through to our youth are all major contributing factors to the increasing youth suicide rate. It is definitely time for a drastic change.

Ryan Curran