Dubbo Photo News
A demon in your head
“OH my God, there is no way that this night is actually happening,” said 17-year-old Charlize Mulholland at the launch of her book The Thread of a Demon.
Writing a book is too daunting for most adults but Charlize’s young age is not her major challenge, it’s that she wrote it despite the ongoing and bitter internal fight she’s been battling against her own mental health issues, all the while facing the myriad normal challenges of growing through her teenage years in the 2020s.
The St Johns College student said The Thread of a Demon is “a book that holds the beginning, the beginning of something amazing”.
“I couldn’t tell you how grateful I am to be standing here today when there are so many times I thought I would lose myself.
“I am holding a book that I spent hours and hours on, nights on end, then I would come to school the next day and walk around like a zombie, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
At the launch, Charlize said: “You may be amazed when I say that the year this book was based on, 2018, was my favourite year, and you might be shocked when I say I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I don’t regret the times I yelled at my teachers. I don’t regret the times I spent arguing with my mum.”
The assembled crowd was keen to know why, and with humbling honesty, Charlize told them.
“I wouldn’t be standing here with a story – hopefully, a story helps the teenagers, the teachers, the adults in our society struggling to understand the reality that we live in, that mental health is apparently a weakness,” she said.
“Who made up this concept that we live by, and why do we let ourselves live by it?
“As you follow the storyline of a teacher and me, you follow a story of a young girl fighting her mental health – my mental health challenged my perception of who I was and what my reality had become.”
Now the young author has a book that contains the essence of who she is and why she is that way.
Charlize writes about feeling the weight of the world pressing against her shoulders, how it feels to feel suffocated, “to feel like you’re falling but believing there’s no-one there to catch you, when in reality, there are”.
“You just have to let them, but see, that’s the perception of weakness – the stigma as a society we have created,” she said.
“Look at what we have done. One in every seven teenagers carries a mental health issue, and only half will get help. What does that mean for the other half? Are they supposed to sit in silence and watch their world crumble around them because it would be embarrassing to ask for help? After all, no one understands, right?
“Wrong,” she says, answering her own question. “We’re just misunderstood. Most of us cannot seem to open our mind enough to normalise the conversation that it’s okay not to be okay. Still, we’re too busy judging (and drawing conclusions about) our perception of someone’s behaviour before we get the opportunity to hear their story.”
Charlize says all these teenagers have their own stories and believes none can be compared with the other.
“Each day you get up and go to school, go to work, go out into society and put on a mask and no, not a face mask but a mask of a smile – but this book challenges that stigma. When you read this book, I want you to know that it’s okay when I thought it was not,” she said.
“I thought it was shameful, embarrassing, weak, so I changed my sadness to anger and took it out on the world around me. Because of the amount of trouble I was getting into, I thought I should become the person everyone eventually thought I was, a selfish teenager.
“Those behaviour cards, those meetings, phone calls and emails home, all those times I would get sent out of class and the times my phone would be confiscated, oh and let’s not forget that.”
Charlize said she worked hard to try to make out that it was everyone else’s fault rather than her own but says no-one would give her time at that stage of her life because everyone was so used to having “their happy little girl”.
“News flash: their happy little girl was gone although no one could accept that, could they? Ttheir happy little girl’s threads were now in the hands of a demon, a demon called depression,” she said.
“Depression is a funny thing because you could be happy one day, and the next you could be falling apart. Those days that you’re happy, you actually question if happy is the emotion you feel because you forgot what happy feels like.
“And you wish you could understand what’s happening,” she continues. “You want to process your current state of mind and ask for help because yes, we can say, ‘ask for help then’, but that’s easier said than done.
“When we don’t know what’s happening in our own heads, how are we supposed to tell someone else? How are we supposed to verbalise it without feeling like we sound stupid or selfish?”
The book shows how people like Charlize battling issues such as depression live in fear of hurting someone else’s feelings and posits that society’s perception when it comes to mental health concerns is that it’s the sufferers’ fault.
“So be happy, they say, you look happier when you smile, but you know what? You wouldn’t tell a person with a broken leg to walk on it without falling, so why say it to a person with depression just so you feel better?,” she asks.
“It doesn’t make much sense, doesn’t it?”
Twelve months ago when COVID-19 saw school lockdowns happen, Charlize’s mental health again began to deteriorate. She couldn’t handle not being able to go out and not having people around her.
“So I sat down and I wrote,” she recalls.
“And I know that they aren’t the same things, but it was my way of realising my emotions since I’m sure we could all figure out that isolation and depression don’t exactly work well together.”
Mum Nadine Mulholland was emotional during the book launch and is incredibly proud of Charlize for not only battling her own depression so courageously, but being able to confront her demons by writing a book in a bid to help other teenagers through their mental health challenges.
“I hope this book helps other teenagers who are suffering from depression or any form of trauma,” Mrs Mulholland told Dubbo Photo News.
At the launch she asked the crowd a rhetorical question:
“How did I make it to tonight? I have sat in contemplation today deep in thought and wondered. Well, it took unconditional love, communication with her teachers, reaching out asking for help and a very strong desire not to go to gaol,” she told the crowd.
“There were times I didn’t think Charlie would make it through the night with her depression and anxiety.
“She strived and worked hard to transcend higher than the mess she found herself in.
“As a mum I fought for her. I fought with every inch of my being to the point where it was a detriment to my own wellbeing and health – there was an element of grief as I struggled to let go as her mum, not knowing whether I would get her back.”
Mrs Mulholland said she’s learnt many life lessons from Charlize’s life-and-death struggle:
Don’t criticise or assume that the parent or carer/guardian is doing nothing or doesn’t care;
No one knows what is exactly happening;
In my case as a parent, Charlize was acting out at home as well as school, whilst hiding the real problem that was causing her depression;
I organised a psychologist and eventually for her to attend Headspace until, finally, the cause of her depression reared its ugly head;
We must support one another with mental health.
Mrs Mulholland said she’s eternally grateful to everyone who supported Charlize and her through the past few years, including many of her teachers, family and friends.
“I have only just got her back – I admire and love with all my heart this beautiful, courageous, strong young woman with a commitment to help other young people through Headspace and through her book The Thread of a Demon.”