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Psychology Issue 2

Mental Illness Can be Beautiful by Iain Begley
After seeing the wonderful articles by the ACS community in the student magazine I felt inspired to write something about myself, mental illness, and how these things relate to ACS. My name is Iain Begley and in 2008 I completed a course via distance education called Health and Wellbeing. The course proved to be a vital link in my recovery from mental illness, leading me to the unlikely realization that mental illness can be beautiful.

The beauty in all this is that despite suffering from schizophrenia I have learnt to turn this disability into strength. That statement could raise some eyebrows, but I will put to the reader that mental illness is a very common medical condition to experience. Nearly everyone has met, befriended or been related to, a sufferer of a mental illness. It costs the government millions of dollars to treat it every year. It causes pain, suffering, trauma and leads to criminal and other forms of anti-social behavior. Transforming this condition into something which can produce a well-rounded, confident individual who has skills to offer society, is a valuable thing.

It seems that the nature of our addictions, afflictions and disabilities is something which can make us or break us. After getting the right medication for my symptoms, I was able to use my sanity to research addictions - in the form of my Health and Wellbeing course. I researched addictions because I saw people sick of being lethargic and unhygienic from smoking cigarettes, and I knew if I quit I could learn a new skill. The Health and Wellbeing course through ACS gave me both the skills to quit smoking, alcohol and any other harmful substances; and better knowledge of eating and exercise.

From this base I started doing more courses, staying off the substances, staying mentally well and rebuilding. I had been a nomad for 10 years and the challenge of learning the course material seemed overwhelming, but the energy I got from passing my final exam easily was a great reward.

More things fell into place for me as it seemed that no challenge could bring me down. Yes, it pushed my emotions, but I would complete each challenge and move on to the next one. I learned about goals and how one could reach goals. I learned about breaking a goal down into smaller goals. I learned about emotions and how it was natural to feel bad, and therefore to experience disappointment rather than suppress it by ‘getting off’.

Today, I have a steady job at a University doing admin work, a Cert IV in Adult Tertiary Prep from TAFE, Cert IV in business administration, control over my addictions, good health, love from people and now I have begun University at the University of Southern Queensland, majoring in Physics – a subject which I excelled at in the University preparation course.

If I was to offer advice it would be that balance is so important. I have seen people more able than me, get stuck for cash, fall into addictions or make bad decisions. If I don’t ‘slow down and keep it real’ I can make my life go too quickly and then when I am having a bad day, take up smoking again. I could lose my job if I am up late doing a last minute assignment because I took on too much study – to distract my mind from drugs! 

So balance, not a ‘balancing act’ is imperative when a person is recovering and rebuilding, and when you move into a more developed phase of life. That doesn’t mean I should stop editing this article and turn on the television just because it sounds right in theory! But, obsessing over work and serious stuff can really bring some people down.  

To conclude I hope I have highlighted and displayed something about mental illness for all to learn from, and shared a life lesson as well. Thanks to the ACS community for the little bit of help they played in this story. I am now doing a conflict management course through ACS and I hope for some insight into the foundations of conflict on a larger scale – with countries that have been at war for generations. My dream is to help with peacemaking processes worldwide.