Pain and Mental Health: The lived experience by Nadia Malliou, PAE Treasurer
The year 2018 is marked on my calendar as my turning point as a patient, as a woman, as a professional, as a wife, as a mother. Mental health has been a key issue in my life, in my education and in my daily routine. I am a psychologist, so, everyone can immediately think that I have acquired the set of skills and the appropriate knowledge to be able to help people to overcome their difficulties and manage their own mental health issues. And this is accurate. At the same time this has been my most difficult obstacle because I am also a pain patient and I live with depression.
Living with pain, apart from the harsh reality of the pain itself, its societal impact, the barriers in daily activities, brought along the stigma of being a patient and of a person living with a mental health issue. And that created the expectation for me to become a psychologist that would be able to overcome and manage her own depression. That was my absolute downfall. Back in 2018, where I had lost my appetite, I was not socialising with my friends, where I’d completely lost my sleep and my willingness to do anything, depression crept into my life in a cruel, unforgiving way. Typically, as a professional, I would be so calm, so on top of things but at that point, helping others would turn into such a heavy and unbearable situation for me to endure. I tried to ask for help. It was inconceivable for my family, for my friends and my colleagues to see me in a place where I would be weak, not in charge and in control of my life. The stigma was harsh where I lived, where I worked and where I socialised. Why? My mental health issues impacted my life to such a degree that I could not see, think or find a way to overcome the burden I felt day in and day out.
It was the 28th November of 2018, midday, I was at work, a man came in, spoke to my so rudely. My pain level was at 9. I could not focus, I felt so small and insignificant. Nothing mattered that day. I stood up, went in my coordinator’s office and said: I need to go. It’s all so unbearable. I went to the hospital, to my doctor’s office and requested to be admitted in the psych ward. I wanted it to end. The suffering. The burden. The difficulty. All of it. Nobody could understand how hard it was for me. Sometimes I wonder, can they understand now?
I have worked really hard to manage my conditions. It’s not only my depression, it’s the chronic pain. It’s my chronic disease. It’s all of them together that create a type of wired net around me that sometimes feels so suffocating. Other times it’s more manageable. I’ve come to terms with my realities. I am a good and effective professional. And I now know that I do need to take my time, and my distance and whatever else I need, when I go into that deep place. My mind and my soul need healing. And that takes time. It’s a rare occasion for me to be able to open up and speak about my depression for fear of the stigma and of who might know. But there is no point in not speaking about it anymore.
PAE Board Member