Karen Tyrrell has experienced the worst of bullying and harassment—during her teaching career in Brisbane schools, the stress of bullying led her to a breakdown. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and now she has used her mental health disorder to help others.
“I wrote Me & Her: a Memoir of Madness, to tell my story about my situation as a teacher harassed by parents at my school until I could take no more,” Karen says.
“I became stressed out and anxious, not able to sleep. I woke up screaming with night terrors.”
Knowing and accepting a mental health illness
Forty-five percent of Australians aged 16-85 are diagnosed with a mental illness during their lifetime, but knowing and accepting your situation is a tough journey, and one of the one of the hardest journeys Karen had to undergo.
“At first, I had absolutely no insight that I was mentally ill. I refused to accept my diagnosis or take any medication,” she says.
“My psychiatrist demanded I swallow the pills I was issued if I wanted to leave the psychiatric hospital. So I gulped down those dreaded pills so I could return to my family.
“Slowly, I recovered and reclaimed my life,” she says. “But it took another year until I took full responsibility of my diagnosis, my health and actively worked on keeping well.”
Throughout her journey to recovery, Karen was fortunate to have the support of her husband, Steve.
“Steve remained by my side throughout my madness, mania and mental illness,” she says. He is the subject of her second book, Me and Him: A Guide to Recovery.
Having dealt with it first-hand, Karen is now passionate about helping others through her work as a teacher, storyteller, motivational speaker, workshop instructor, and author of six inspiring books for children and adults.
“I promised I would empower kids to live strong; I wrote Bailey Beats the BLAH to offer coping skills for anxiety and depression,” she says. STOP the Bully does the same with bully prevention strategies.
How to help sufferers
Karen, shares some simple advice for those who deal with mental health victims.
“People with mental illness need your support and kindness,” she says, “not your judgment or stigma. At sometime in your life, you or someone you love will suffer from mental illness. Mental illness is like any other illness – it has symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
“Their recovery depends on their support team. Support someone with a mental illness. You could be the one that saves their life or becomes their lifeline back to the world.”
Following is an extract from Me and Her: A Memoir of Madness
In May 2005, my mad half, ‘Her’, was born…
Hot water flowed over me, soothing my skin, washing my anguish and tears down the drain. After a week tucked up at the motel, should I return home to Steve and the kids? To teaching? I quivered … No, I can never return to that horrid school. Never.
I heaved a loud sigh.
Without warning, the shower screen shook, reverberating from thuds against the bathroom window. The soap dropped, bumping the tap. The stream became icy as I stood there, shivering. I spun the handle around and turned off the water. Muffled shouts came from outside. Then someone pummelled hard on the front door of my motel room.
‘Samantha, you all right?’
Samantha? That’s not my name!
My hands shook, beads of sweat forming on my forehead. ‘I’m naked. I’m getting out of the shower. Wait. Wait till I’m dressed!’
I grabbed a towel, drying my body as fast as I could. The chipped steamed-up mirror reflected a glimpse of me, hair dripping over my face ─ skin the colour of milk.
Why is someone banging on my door? I didn’t do anything.
‘Open the door now! Samantha Howard, you’ve got three minutes to let us in!’
I gulped. But that’s my fake name. The name I registered at the reception counter.
My heart hammered fast, the surging adrenaline pumping through my veins.
What will I do now?
‘Open up!’ demanded a deep voice. Two noses pressed against the fogged-up bathroom window.
‘I can’t. Not till I’m decent.’ I crept into the main room past my half-packed suitcase, the towel wrapped taut around me. They might grab me and take me away. Then I’ll never go home. I must stop them from coming in.
My mind raced with desperate plans. I rushed past the perfectly made bed and flung open the wardrobe, my fingers rifling through clothes sorted into sections with matching shoes underneath. Past purple, the colour of insight and imagination, and jade green, the colour of harmony and self-healing. Today I crave something stronger. Red ─ the colour of power and confidence.
I tugged on my cherry wool knit, black trousers with red pin stripes. Colour means everything! It can transform my day!
My body froze behind the door, straining to listen, but too petrified to gaze through the peephole. My hand trembled as I unbolted the door. Slowly I turned the handle.
Oh no! Why the hell are they here?
Excerpt from ME & HER: A Memoir of Madness © 2012 available on Amazon.
Margaret Nyakan Manyang Agoth is a Griffith University Communications student majoring in journalism and public relations.
Coming from a South Sudanese background, Margaret speaks four languages and hopes to become one of the first successful African journalists and business women in Australia.
She also dreams of giving other unfortunate young South Sudanese girls the chance to an education and better way of life.