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Millaa - Interview 14

Age at interview: 20
Age at diagnosis: 15
Brief Outline: Millaa first experienced depression and anxiety at age 10. He was bullied during high school, and at 15 was diagnosed with depression and Asperger's Syndrome. He has attempted suicide several times in the past, but now feels a renewed will to live. Millaa attributes this to his strong bond with his siblings and friends, and desire to help people with diverse sexual identities struggling with mental health problems. He has found neither antidepressants nor counselling helpful.
Background: Millaa is a full-time student. He lives at home with his parents and three siblings. He runs a weekly radio program looking at issues in relation to Queer-identifying youth. Ethnic background' Welsh, French, New Zealand and Australian.

More about me...

Millaa first experienced anxiety while at primary school. While his family life was then relatively stable, undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome together with a distinctive personality meant that school became a source of anxiety as he struggled to fit in and understand the social environment. When Millaa was about 10, his father declared bankruptcy, began drinking heavily, and his parents’ marriage began to deteriorate. Little outside support was available as the family had distant relationships with extended family and few friends. At the same time, Millaa found the transition to high school a challenge, and it was at this point that he recalls his depression starting.
 
When his parents began fighting and drinking on a regular basis and started to neglect the children, Millaa and his brother had to care for their two younger sisters, which exacted an enormous toll on his mental health. He remembers constantly worrying about the welfare of his siblings, feeling pressured by the extra responsibility, and feeling frightened about his parents. At this time his bedroom was his sanctuary, a place he would retreat to for peace and quiet, but also the place he remembers all his disparate feelings coming together into what he would later come to understand as depression. Gradually, Millaa’s unhappiness stopped being associated with his parents fighting and became a constant presence, and chronic insomnia and borderline anorexia soon appeared as further signs of his internal turmoil.
 
Struggling to survive emotionally at home, Millaa found no respite at high school. His emerging queer identity saw him dye his hair and wear makeup to school. To avoid the resultant bullying, Millaa would spend any breaks in class time in the library (another sanctuary). However, a librarian eventually picked up on his ‘social awkwardness’ and evident unhappiness and referred him to a school counsellor who in turn referred him to a child and adolescent mental health service. There, aged 15, he was diagnosed with depression and Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis and treatment that followed were positive insofar as Millaa was assisted with his social skills, however he found the counselling superficial and unhelpful. He also tried antidepressants around this time but had a strong negative physical reaction to them so didn’t continue and has never tried them again.
 
Around this time Millaa also stopped spending time in the library, and was put into an all-boys class, which exacerbated the bullying. While new friendships with a few like-minded students helped him survive school, this was not enough to sustain him as home remained chaotic and he was also experimenting with drugs and alcohol (though found these didn’t suit him), not sleeping, and eating very little. This saw Millaa attempt suicide a few times over the following years. Later he decided that he no longer wanted to be a ‘victim of mental illness’, but to keep fighting and to try to help others. He is determined to do this using his own willpower together with the support of friends and his siblings and, when needed, health professionals. Recently he has battled severe anxiety, so is unsure if he will ever ‘recover’ from depression and anxiety, however believes he can deal with his mental health so that he can enjoy life and do the things he wants to do.
 
 

From an early age Millaa had to take care of his younger siblings as well as himself, as his...

From an early age Millaa had to take care of his younger siblings as well as himself, as his...

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And as the old - I'm the oldest in my family; I have two, a brother and two sisters, they’re all younger. My sister was a newborn at that time; she was only about one. And my parents started to really fight, you know, verbally, physically. They would fight each other in the home. And… you know, I tried to sort of help with what I could, you know, with the, with the kids, more so with, with my siblings, I tried to sort of protect them. But at the same time I was also quite weak in that I had to hide in my room a lot as well. You know, I tried to put them in their rooms and lock the doors so they'd be fine and then I'd go to my room 'cause I just couldn't deal with it, 'cause I was, you know, I was only a decade old, but...
 
And so yeah, I used to sort of hide. But I remember it because when I used to hide in my room I called it my white, my white sanctuary because the walls were all white. It was a sanctuary for me, you know, because I could just write or draw or paint or, you know, watch some television or something while my parents sort of blew up downstairs. But I remember that, being in my room once and I remember this incredible feeling of loss, and loneliness, and just sadness, and pity and all these other little emotions, but they all put together became this sort of monster in me. You know, like this demon, almost, you know – just haunting. 
 
 

The stigma and abuse that Millaa experienced for being different was a factor in his anxiety and...

The stigma and abuse that Millaa experienced for being different was a factor in his anxiety and...

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But in the relevance to depression and anxiety and the mental disorder spectrum, I think queer people have a lot of abuse and a lot of depression and a lot of anxiety and a lot of pressures that perhaps people with just - straight people with just depression and anxiety don't. And they couldn't really understand because they're not of that persuasion or that orientation. 

 
You know, I mean I was teased, like I said, for being queer or for being different. And queer in the sense that I was different, as well as queer as in gay or homo-, of a different sexuality than the norm, or what's considered “the norm”. And because we live I think in a very heteronormative world, which means one that based on heterosexual ideals such as, you know, weddings and masculinity and femininity as defined gender roles, and people that sway from that and perhaps mix you know, ball gowns and beards together are considered freakish or are considered queer or are considered completely different from the norm, and hence subject to, you know, ridicule and whatever else, and abuse. 
 
Which, as people know, you know, if you're abused in any form, even people coming back from war or people just in the street, you know, if you’re abused, and even if by your friends if you're abused. 
 
 

Millaa described why he went down ‘the therapy route’, while acknowledging that for other people...

Millaa described why he went down ‘the therapy route’, while acknowledging that for other people...

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For me, I've done, done more of the therapy route because I find that that route works better for me because I don't like drugs, like I said. But some people would do the opposite, they like drugs more because it's easier I guess, maybe. And they don't like the ther-, therapy as much because perhaps they don't like to talk about what's making them depressed or anxious. But for me, I like to talk about it, 'cause I think, like I said, it can only help. I think you can only really, you can only really help yourself if you can face your own insecurities and depression. 

 

When Millaa needed support, his parents were not able to provide it as they were struggling with...

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When Millaa needed support, his parents were not able to provide it as they were struggling with...

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Can you talk a bit about how your parents responded to your moods, or did they notice that something was wrong or? 
 
Don’t, [shakes head] personally, I don't really think so. I think it was, because they were so caught up in their own depression and alcoholism and everything else, and their own troubles, and animosity, I don't think it really – they just, I just, we just became strangers in the same house. There wasn’t, there was no – the – [uses hand to demonstrate sequence of years] each passing year was like the lessening of emotional connection between us to the point where now I don't really [puts hand to mouth] – pardon me – I don’t really see them as parents, you know. And I see them more as just strangers that I live with, you know, because I've really lost the emotional tether [demonstrates with fingers] that bound us, you know. 
 
My sisters still have it, I think, but I don't really know. I mean, I want to get a tattoo on my arm here [indicates place on arm], of [initials of siblings names], which obviously says [word], but [letter], and then there's going to be like the stars between the [letter], ah, between the [letter] and the [letter] and the [letter]. and that's to stand for [siblings’ names], my siblings, because they're my family, you know. So I want to have them tattooed on my arm. 
 
But my parents, no, I don't have any real connection, you know, like... I mean, there's just, there’s so much over the past decade that has happened that's just, opened up a side of the parents, a side of your parents that probably most children don't really see, you know. A side where you've got to roll, roll your father over before he drowns in his own vomit, there’s the side where you've got to help your mum sort of not have a nervous breakdown or kill herself and, you know, there’s sides where you've got to be - yeah the adult before your time you know, and really deal with [looks down], really deal with a lot of BS that your parents are too sort of - they’re very, they’re actually quite accomplished at being you know, chronic invalids, really, but yeah. Just...
 
So where did you get support, as a 12-year-old?
 
I didn't. I didn’t. I didn’t, no. It was just me against the world [smiles], so to speak. Or me against my parents. No I didn’t. Because I was raised in a really, really weird sort of way. Not weird, but just different I guess. I have, I have my grandparents – my, my father's from [place name] so I don't have any real contact with his side of the family, because they all live in [place name]. But my mother is from here and she's been here since the second fleet, I think. Or her family has been. 
 
So I've got grandparents, both of them are still alive – her parents. but they're old and you can't, it’s just, you can’t really rely on older people that need people to take care of them to take care of someone else, you know what I mean, so it just. So that just wasn't really an option. Also, there's so many secrets that my family has that we just - like my grandmother didn't know about any of this abuse or anything like that till, until like about last year, early last year. 
 
 

Millaa’s advice to others with experiences of being bullied for being different was to befriend...

Millaa’s advice to others with experiences of being bullied for being different was to befriend...

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Well, with being queer and, and at high school for instance, because I know that's very, very, very difficult because you're coming to terms with your own sexuality and, and people are coming to terms with theirs, - and a lot people do get showered with abuse that are out, or that want to be out, or that are very feminine for instance for a man, or very butch if you're a girl. I think what my best advice would be with, with high school, for instance, is that [inhales] in retrospect it was good to keep my head down. But it was also probably better to fight for my beliefs and fight for my right to be a fellow student. Not just a fellow human but just a fellow student, you know. And you talk to the teachers, talk to the teachers because they're the ones that can, can help you the most. 
 
You know, and also make friends with, try to make friends with likeminded people. Maybe if they’re even a little bit crazy, but just try and make friends with people that are more accepting and more open. And you can usually tell with people who are and who aren't, but. And you know what? I mean, a lot of people who tease you for being queer or whatever turn out to be queers themselves. So you know what, just say, ‘Go back to poofter-ville,’ to them. And you know, they might go crazy or they might just be like, ‘I'm too shocked to react to that!’ 
 
So but yeah, my best advice would be to - if you're a shy person and you don't feel courageous enough initially when you start school, keep your head down and just keep to yourself and try to just keep away from the bullies. If you are not, and you feel that - or if you get to a time when you feel courageous and determined enough to really - like what I did, to speak for your beliefs and to really stand up and, and, and you know say something and, and really reinforce what you want to be as a person and your identity, then really, like, go for it. Just go completely for it. Like, splash on some slap. Put on some makeup, put on some cheap perfume and just go for it. There's no point in holding back. Just, if you're going to do it, just do it. Take a deep breath, hold your nose and dive in. That's all I can - you know, for that. 
 
 

Millaa talked about how he felt scrutinised by a number of psychologists and psychiatrist during...

Millaa talked about how he felt scrutinised by a number of psychologists and psychiatrist during...

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And the counsellor came and saw me and started talking to me about all these different things. So counselling sessions upon counselling sessions. And eventually I was sent to [mental health service name] which is this – oh, what do you call it - I guess a psychologist's wet dream. 
 
It's sort of like a clinic, in a sense. And I think it's also an asylum, but I'm not sure. Went there, they diagnosed me with - they did all these tests on me, you know, ah cogni- I can’t pronounce it – cog- 
 
Cognitive
 
Cognitive, thank you, tests and you know, colour scheme tests, where you choose what colour you're feeling that day or all these other you know, tests. And then they came out with the diagnosis that I had depression and depression through Asperger's syndrome.
 
And they told my parents and my parents researched it and you know they said, ‘OK, so you've got this, and that and the other and it's okay, we'll have to deal with it’. And that was one of the first times I remember that my parents showed any interest in me. So that was quite fun. 
 
How old were you at that stage?
 
Fifteen, 16, yeah. It was, it was also, it was also coincidentally, the pinnacle of my bullying and also the pinnacle of home life and the chaos, you know. So it was a really - it was like being in a twister. It was very chaotic at that time. 2005-06 and the beginning of 2007 was probably hell on earth, or the closest you could emotionally come to, yes. So yeah, it was good times. Yeah.
 
The first time I really sort of got into the counselling was when… when that librarian first sort of submitted my… mental instability, I suppose, to the school counsellor. And so that's the first time I ever met a counsellor, or a psychologist. And they were quite - it was very much - it was quite... oh, I don't know what the word is – I guess - it came across very fake, in that it, it came across as like - in that… 
 
...in that they wanted to be very clinical in a way as well. Like they wanted to just be very black and white - in, out, done, go sort of thing. It's not - there wasn't a huge amount of um… in-depth-ness to it. ‘Cause I guess they're just counsellors so you can’t expect miracle workers, but yeah, I, you know, I’d spend hours in there trying to, trying to… figure out, you know, what's what.
 
But they can really, they can really only do so much. And then I was referred to [mental health service] and that's where it really started there. There I met psychologists, psychiatrists who wanted to poke, prod and you know look - make me look through everything to try and figure out what was going on in my little cranium. 
 
And yeah, like I you know, like I said, they came up with Asperger's syndrome and depression through that, through you know rigorous testing and things like that. And you know, I’d go in every week, once a week, and talk to them for maybe 45 minutes about how my week was going, about what I was feeling, about what… you know what experiences I'd had, I’d had, I’d had recently. And I…the first few times, I, you know, I did, I went along with it. Then I got bored and when I get bored I get sort of - bored. And I start to sort of make up things because I find that more interesting than recounting my own past, you know. 
 

 

 

Millaa outlined his reservations about taking antidepressants.

Millaa outlined his reservations about taking antidepressants.

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But in, in the sense that - with medication for mental depression, for mental disorders, I don't - I think it's just a bandaid. Because I know that… it – you can't - they just, they work in that they stop all the demons coming out, or, or in, whatever, to your mind. So it's just, it’s - but once you stop the medication it's like the boom gate gets lifted [uses hands to demonstrate gate lifting and traffic passing through] and all of the cars start going again. It's, it’s not a cure. It's merely a, a preventative measure, and. It's a, it’s just a, it’s just a boom gate and… once the medication starts to wear down or once your body or mind, ah, gets used to the medication, perhaps they can smash through those boom gates, you know. And then you need something stronger and then something stronger and stronger. So I think you're just going to be perpetuating, I don’t know, a cycle that's just going to lead to drug addiction, in a sense. Because you'll know that you'll be dependent on these, these drugs. 
 
And I know that I don't want to be like that. Because I know that my parents are very much like that. They’re - my mum especially is addicted painkillers and things like that. So I, I've seen it first-hand so perhaps that's also part of why I'm like that. But I prefer more of a natural approach to medicine when… when it's more appropriate. You know, like, if you cut yourself, put a bandaid on it, yeah. Just the most simplest way, you know, because your body is designed to heal and it's designed to recuperate and regenerate itself. 
 
 

Millaa talked about the benefits and drawbacks of herbal teas.

Millaa talked about the benefits and drawbacks of herbal teas.

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I find though that chamomile and peppermint teas work. One, the peppermint works because it helps with the - if you've got any physical symptoms it just sort of soothes everything. Chamomile helps because it keeps your mind kind of clear. But I only found that it worked - I can only really do that once a day. So, and then it, it’d last for maybe an hour and then it would all start again. But I can only – the effect would only last for about a day. Then I'd have to wait for the next day to have some tea again – for it to work anyway. I'd drink it but it wouldn't have any real impact like it did the first time. Yeah.

 

Millaa used the metaphor 'going to war' when he described going to school, and said he experienced severe bullying.

Millaa used the metaphor 'going to war' when he described going to school, and said he experienced severe bullying.

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And we used to hide in the Japanese gardens of the school and we used to sort of hang out there and talk and discuss everything, philosophy to what was in your sandwich, you know. It was very - it was actually, you know, quite a good time. You know, that’s, that's the only part of school, if any, that I looked forward to, you know. Because school was really quite - and very much I think it is for a lot of people but - it was like going to war each day, you know. You had to shine your, polish your armour and put it on and get ready for a battle, because it’s, it’s very much - especially for me it was very much like that, that's how I saw it, you know. 
 
So yeah, I, no, I used to get - there was this one particular person that - for instance, I go out to the place called [place name] now. And it's a drag club, drag event place. And there's a, a guy there and his name's [name]. I'll never forget his name. I'll never forget his name, or his eyes. Just burnt into the cranium. Because he was one of the half a dozen torturers. And that's putting it lightly. He would really, really, you know, cleave into me. They were the ones that - I think sadists - probably the best way to describe them. They enjoyed, I think, the anxiety and the, and the depression and the, just, and the, just the… sheer fear of their own creation, you know in a way. 
 
And I, you know, I'd see him at this [place name] place and he used to tease me for being queer and for being different and whatever else. And then and so I see him, I saw him the other night, and he I was looking, and he was looking, and we just locked eyes, like that. And I was like, just the sheer amount of - my body completely, it felt like scorpions were crawling off my skin. Just seeing him, I hadn't seen him for five years, 'cause this is you know about, about five years ago. And he was, he really just – morning, noon and night he would torment. Even online, he would. You know, like he'd spit on me, he'd beat me, he'd push me into the lockers, he'd verbally abuse me. You know, anything you can think of he probably did. 
 
Cyber abuse, yeah yeah, Facebook and ah, and MySpace. More so MySpace, 'cause back then that was big. yeah, and – oh, even thinking about it makes me sort of get a bit – yeah, and you know I used to sort of, sometimes I used to throw up in the mornings on anticipation that I'd, you know, get another dose of poison – and you know, the butterflies and everything, like I said. yeah it just, and that was the anxiety, and then I just got really depressed as well because I wanted to be his friend and I sort of opened myself up initially to him, you know, and I thought that he was a kindred spirit. Which obviously, in the end, he has turned out to be, that, in that he's also queer. 
 
 

Millaa talked about choosing between giving in to or fighting depression, and helping yourself...

Millaa talked about choosing between giving in to or fighting depression, and helping yourself...

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Recovery, eergh. Well, I haven't really recovered, I wouldn't go that far, but - because I still very much deal with it on a daily basis. But , but recovery in the form of - that I'm better than I was a few months ago, anxiously and depressively, is that – what does it mean to me?, well it means that you're not as… you’re not as hazed over, you're not as insulated, you're not as scared about everything and you're not as sad as, as well. You’re not, you try to not - once you come out of the, the black and you start to come back into the sort of grey area, you start to sort of - you have time to really sort of reflect and think, and think to yourself, ‘You know what, it's my choice really, if I want to be depressed by what I have to go through’. Because it's your brain, it's your – and you have a I mean, it's very emotionally based, I know that too, obviously. 
 
But it’s your choice if you want to get really, really depressed, like to the point where you want to commit suicide. Like, suicide is your choice. You choose to put the knife in your hands, you choose to put the gun to your face, you choose to swallow the poison. It's not someone else forcing you to do it, is it. It's not someone hold-, holding the knife to your neck and saying ‘OK now, you take hold’, you know. So I think it’s, it is a choice. But that being said, it's an emotional choice. It's very - it’s not a logical choice, being depressed, obviously. But you do have a choice to try and work through whatever issues are giving birth to the depression, when you're “sober” enough to, you know, when you're out of that depressive haze, out of the real darkness. When you're into the sort of - more of the light. 
 
And you, you, you know, you have a choice to go and seek therapy, to go and help - go and get help and to also help others and maybe through helping others you can help yourself, which I think perhaps I can do. That's why I want to share my story because I want to help others and perhaps then help myself, 'cause I can learn from others, they can learn from me.
 
 

Millaa connected depression experience with creativity.

Millaa connected depression experience with creativity.

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And you know what, I think - I consider depression also like a baptism of fire for dep-, for artistic people. You know that you’re really, you know that there's something creative in you if you've got some sort of depression and it lasts for a while, you know. And if it stems from something like identity or, you know, being queer or something especially, it's probably something to do with - perhaps you're going to get really creative or perhaps there's something in you that needs to be expressed in a way that's probably not, you know, as conventional as sport, or maybe even sport, but you know, maybe something - writing or drawing or singing or music or whatever it might be. I think that that’s, that’s how you really know that you’re a creative person, is if you’ve got a little bit of depression, I think yeah. 

 

Millaa was diagnosed with depression at the age of 15. Knowing that depression was a treatable...

Millaa was diagnosed with depression at the age of 15. Knowing that depression was a treatable...

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I was about 15, so I didn’t really, I didn't really understand anything at all, really. Looking back, you know, you were 15, what do you know. You know, you think you know everything but you know nothing. … you know, I was really well read, so I did, I did have an idea of what depression was – like I had what I thought depression was I should say. I didn't really. I … found out it was more faceted than just being sad and lonely and… feeling distressed all the time. I felt, I found that it was a lot more deep and a lot more intense than that could possibly be. It’s a lot more than sadness. People think depression, they think sadness. Depression and sadness are quite different I think. ‘Cause, sadness is, is a baby compared to the mother that is depression, you know, it’s – yeah. 
 
And what I got from the diagnosis was that you know, it's a treatable disorder. It's not something that's – you know, it's not terminal, it's not - it's chronic, yes, but it's not something that can't be managed or fixed. Well, not fixed but managed and to a point where you can still live as a person, wanting to do the things you want to do. You just need a lot of therapy and some, maybe drugs, you know, it’s...
 
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