Wednesday, 20 July 2016

GUEST BLOG - Susan Pola - Growing up surrounded by Mental Illness

Happy Wednesday everyone!! :-)
There will be no blog next week as I'll be busy on stage!!
Shameless plug - 'Table' by Tanya Ronder, be there, or be square... -

This week's blog is from Susan Pola sharing her incredible story.
*Please note that Susan's story may contain sensitive content that some people may find upsetting*

Always on the lookout for guest bloggers, whatever your experience of mental health! Get in touch with me on facebook or twitter:
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Twitter - @letstalkmhealth


Susan Pola is 51, living in Brisbane, Australia  with over 30 years experience in the Administrative field,  based mainly in the Education sector. Susan's mother was diagnosed with a mental illness before she was born and Susan herself now suffers with anxiety and depression.

*Please note that Susan's story may contain sensitive content that some people may find upsetting*

"Thank you to Suzy for the opportunity to share my story on her blog and many thanks to two people who have already talked about their experiences with mental illness, and given me the courage to write this blog: Wendy Waters and Patsy Pease.  Patsy first shared her story back in the 90’s – and promptly gave me someone to relate to where there was none before. Thank you Patsy. 

My story is twofold and begins even before I was born – my mother was diagnosed in the 60’s with schizophrenia (wrongly I believe she had what was then called manic depression and now renamed bipolar)  and given electroconvulsive therapy (more commonly called electric shock treatment or ECT) when she was pregnant with me.  The process horrifies me and it is still being utilized in Queensland hospitals today – but that’s another story.

My mother became increasingly unwell throughout my life, and though I had a wonderful father who was very present – his job demanded shift work, so I was left alone with this very ill woman for much of my formative years.  I point out that my father always made sure I knew this wasn’t my mother Audrey’s fault, she was ill, she was doing the best she could.  I grew up parenting my mother through her illness and it was my father’s mother and  books/television that supported me as well as my Dad. 
My mother suicided when I was 16 years old, she chose the most painful and difficult death she could, as the mentally ill often do.  She used turpentine to set herself on fire and those screams will always live with me.  The system couldn’t make her well, and this was her only way out.  As one of our sympathy cards said “Audrey had her purgatory on earth”.  My one hope is that she has found peace away from this plane. 

Flashforward to my adult life – and 3 nervous breakdowns over 30 years later - my life has been peppered with workplace bullying. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life but it’s been the nasty, bitchy, and downright horrible bullies that have been my undoing. I would work all week with exclusion and screaming then come home on Friday evenings to swallow 9 Valium to try and escape the pain for just a little while. All I wished for was death, escape from my life.  If this blog has a message past telling my story, it is for zero tolerance for bullying to be achievable in my lifetime.  If you are a bystander, or you are in charge of staff, please - please stand up to bullies and make your workplace or school an inclusive and compassionate place for ALL.  

I’m in a really good place at the moment, my depression has lifted and anxiety is managed thanks to several fabulous counsellors.  I’m working part time and though I want full time work, I’m still not at that place yet physically or emotionally where I can achieve it.  

What I’ve learned in my life:  dark times don’t last, ask for help when you need it and keep asking until you  obtain it, do the things that give you pleasure (for me that’s watching figure skating and attempting to skate  myself – and I DO mean attempt).  “Love Torvill and Dean” was the 80’s catchcry and they are still the only skaters most Australians recognise – LOL – their goal setting techniques were and are my inspiration. 

Most importantly don’t focus on those who abandon you when you need them the most, focus on those who stay, who know your story and say it doesn’t scare them.  I have plenty of those – my best friend Susan who I’ve known since I was 5,  Josie, Jenni, Sherryl, Helga - the list goes on.   I also have a wonderful cousin Kathy, without who I wouldn’t be here, and whose family enveloped me when I was sick and alone with love and support.   

And you know what – I’m now in the cool group – finally!!!  I’ve found my home on social media, so much love and fun and care, Twitter’s my spirit animal!  Thank you to my special friends online Sarah, Andrea, Amanda and Danielle  – you rock my Twitterverse girls!!! 

We tell our stories not for pity, or sympathy but in order to break the stigma and I proudly stand with those who have gone before and have been risk takers to stand in their truth .  Thank you Suzy for starting this blog and giving us a place to share our stories – you’re one brave girl!"  


  1. I know Susan. We have talked over several five-hour (yes, I concede it's five, Ms Pola, not four!) lunches and she is (in no particular order) witty, charming, wise, kind, insightful, patient, tolerant, worldly and above all else THERE for her friends. The kinds of people who seek to tease and bully a woman with so many positive attributes are, in my opinion, the ones who are psychologically damaged. Susan Pola is a triumph!

  2. Just saw this now! So pleased to have met you Wendy - you've taught me kindness as well. And yes FIVE!