Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Do We?

I was at an appointment the other day. The staff were aware of my mental health problems, and they asked me what I do in my free time. I said at the moment I am working and at university. She looked shocked. She then said “unpaid work, though?” because obviously us crazy folk cannot hold down a paid job. I mean, what kind of fool would pay me to work?

It annoys me. Number one unpaid work is a brilliant thing to do for experience, and for giving something. Number two, why would you assume my job is unpaid?

I was then further annoyed when she said I needed to come back on Monday to see their consultant. I told her I had work, and couldn’t make it. She looked at me and said “well, you have to have see the consultant” and then booked me an appointment any way. I was stood there thinking ‘yup, please ignore me, my words mean nothing’.

I honestly do not think that if I was ten years older, and not in for something mental health related, she wouldn’t have ignored me. But hey, I am crazy so my job cannot be that important, right?!

We think that we have progressed with our attitudes towards mental illness, and my gut reaction is to say some progress has definitely been made. I mean, we do not lock everyone away in asylums anymore, people are not oblivious to mental illness, and people know what depression is. Mental health is talked about more. Being homosexual is no longer a sign of insanity, and we do not drill into peoples brains hoping it will ‘fix’ them like we did in 1935.

My research in my undergraduate degree proved that making a definitive conclusion is not that easy. Some things have improved, some things have not. Do you know what schizoaffective disorder is? What about obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Unless you have an interest in mental illness, or personal experience, probably not. Even spellcheck does not think ‘schizoaffective’ is a word.

While general attitudes have become better, I would argue it is something we are fine about as long as we do not have to come face-to-face with it, and for a lot of people mental illness is something that affects others, not themselves. Did you know that only 46.9% of disabled people are in employment? Which is a gap 33.1% higher compared to people without a disability. The disability employment gap is one of the most significant inequalities today.

In 2015 the Conservative Party stated that to half the gap they would need to change policies, practices and public attitudes.

Not all disabled people can work, fact. That is why there is no goal to get rid of the gap completely. But some can, and some want to. It is easy for people to respond to this huge gap by saying that disabled people do not want to work, that they want to live off benefits, and all of that other rubbish that realistically applies to a very small percentage of those with disabilities, and actually also to a larger number of people without

I do not personally have much of an issue with the term disability. I would agree that I do have a disability, and that it can be extremely disabling. But it can also be worked with if I am surrounded by people who are willing to be understanding, and to provide me the right environment to minimise the impact my disability has on my ability to work, and to succeed.

Starting my recent internship has made me aware of the difficulty I would definitely have to work full-time, while juggling my medical appointments. I can see why this could be unattractive for an employer, and even for me; even if I managed to find an employer who was happy for me to take time off work for appointments, it would mean that my disability would still be impacting my ability to work full-time, and receive full pay. But this is the thing. I would not think about that; that is something I have to live with, but being discriminated against, is not.

I would be overwhelmed by the amazing support of my workplace to enable me to work. I would arrange my appointments as best I could to avoid interruption. I would stay late at work if I could, or arrive early. I would give everything I could and more, and being able to have my necessary appointments would actually boost my productivity at work, compared to if I was having to delay them, hide them, or become stressed at managing them.

The thing is, people can discriminate against people with mental illness, but mental illness is never going to discriminate against you. You might have a negative attitude towards those with a mental health problem, but they are still going to come into your life. It is going to affect your colleagues, employees, friends or family, whether you like it or not. Whether you think it is something that happens in your life or not.

More scarily perhaps, is that one day it might be you. You could be the top dog in a major company who does not take particularly take an interest in disability in the workplace. You might be a bit irritated that your PA, Janice, has to take two hours off on a Wednesday afternoon because she has a one hour appointment with her community psychiatric nurse, plus has to travel to and from the clinic. You will forget Janice stayed at work for an extra hour on three days last week. You will forget Janice doesn’t take lunch breaks, and always emails back at weekends. You will forget that since Janice started her role, she has made your day-to-day life easier, and taken on many extra roles that you never expected her to take.

You will be reluctant to hire the best applicant for your new events manager because she disclosed that she has physical health problems that will mean she has to take some time off work once per month to travel to a hospital out of the local area. You will think that you need someone who does not have these needs, and that they are not suitable for your company, just like the principal that once said to my support worker that students with severe mental health problems are not going to achieve A-Levels, so why support them in trying to do so?

And then fast forward, it is 2027. You have been getting very stressed at work. Janice left, and her replacement is struggling. Your wife has been working away a lot, your kids have left home, and it is like you never see neither them or your wife any more; she admitted a few months back that she is not happy in your marriage. Your mother has Alzheimer’s (which is a mental illness too, but for some reason that doesn’t count) and she is deteriorating. Last time you saw her she did not know who you were. You have begun thinking a lot about your childhood growing up, and how she used to be. You keep remembering things you had forgotten; maybe your childhood was not as rosy as you had convinced yourself. You remember your father being very violent to your mother, and having to witness that. Bit by bit it is coming back to you, like a tap that no matter how hard you tighten it, it just will not stop dripping.

You feel low. You know you do. You say low, because you do not want to say depressed. Men do not get depressed, not strong men like you. Not top of the company men. Not men who earn £100, 00o per annum. Not men who are well educated, and whose parents were too. You tell yourself you will ‘snap out of it’ soon. Maybe you just need to work harder. Only weak people take a step back, take a break. But it is getting worse, and you end up going to see your GP. I mean, he will just say you are fine.

Well, apparently not. Apparently you have signs of depression, but mental illness is not something you will ever experience, right? He must be wrong.

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Turning things around

Things got really bad again, and I thought hospital was on the horizon, but I have managed to turn things around. I want to work out how I turned things around. Y’know, so I can turn things around in the future quicker. So I can bottle up the magic and share it around. But I literally have no idea what happened to change things.

Since Friday I have just started feeling alive again. I have been much more sociable than normal.. I even have a date on Saturday, and I haven’t dated in 3-4 years! We’re going to Yo! Sushi if I manage not to cancel! (Arranging a date is the relatively easy bit.) I have found a house to live in for the next year, as I have to leave my flat at the end of this month, and I’m going to be living in a nicer area, and on the same street as a friend. I am pretty excited. I’ve spent time with my best friend from home, I’ve been getting jobs done, and I just feel free. I can’t explain it.

Oooooh and I saw the lecturer who is going to be my primary supervisor for my MA and my head was in information/thought overload but I am so excited to start this. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I want to do. And she gave me my last assignment result and I got 80% when I was expecting about 60.

Any way, People always say ‘action before motivation’, and I get that. But honestly, it hasn’t been doing these things that has made me feel better. Feeling better has made me do them in the first place. Yes, doing things has improved how I feel, but that is after I started feeling better. When things deteriorated I stopped taking one of my medications (the anti-depressant) and I’ve been taking it again for about 3 weeks. Personally I am very sceptical about medication and do not believe it makes much difference (except without my anti-psychotic I would never sleep, and I mean never). But it does seem pretty coincidental that I stopped taking it and got worse, and then have been taking it again for a few weeks and feel better.

I want to say that what has made me feel better is not important, but it really is. For my own sake, but also because I want to be able to know how to better help other people. I think a part of it is actually people. I’ve let someone into my life, a friend who has become like a sister, and maybe my psychiatrist is right. Maybe people do need people. I thought I didn’t.

What I do know is that doing things, being sociable, sorting out things I have been putting off, has made a difference even if it wasn’t initially what improved my mood. So I think lesson number one is yes, the annoying ‘activation before motivation’ thing. Basically you’re going to have to force yourself to do things that you don’t want to do before you start feeling better or like doing them.

Lesson number two, self-destructive behaviours/cycles are easy to fall into, and horrific to climb out of. I managed not to engage in any self-destructive behaviours, but it has come pretty close. I realise now if I had ended up doing something dangerous, all it takes is that one act to seriously harm or kill myself… when hanging on just a little bit longer has made me feel so much better. Feelings are temporary, actions aren’t necessarily.

Lesson number three, and this works for me personally at least.. making an effort with yourself, especially at the start of the day, works wonders. I’m getting more into male-up (my best friend is a make-up artist) and I’ve been doing my make-up every morning. I’m dressing in more thought out clothes. Morning showers are definitely a good start to the day, so if you shower at night, consider changing that. I’ve also sorted my nails out.

I know these all sound like tiny things, but they really can make a difference.

I suppose there’s also a little lesson to learn with regards to medication. TAKE IT!

 

 

 

End of my undergraduate degree (and a little update!)

I handed in my dissertation last week, and my final assignment this week, and I don’t know if it hasn’t hit me yet or if I’m just not a very emotional person, but it hasn’t bothered me that much! Everyone keeps asking how it feels and I don’t really have a response!

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I also had a final presentation and the transformation with my confidence has been incredible over these three years. I know I talk about it a lot…but in first year I didn’t do my presentations and so I got ungraded for one, and capped at 40% for the other because my lecturer agreed I could hand a paper copy of what I would have said. Second year I did them, I’m not sure how well. This year I have been so much better. I mean my hands shake and I feel terrified but even turning up is a big deal with me! And a friend commented on how I seem like the calmest/most confident person in our group hahahaha if only she could see me inside!!! But it feels so good to see this progress. It means more to me than any qualification or grade, as insane as that sounds.

Today was a big one! I never go out with my friends, but it was one of theirs last day here before they move back home and I went. Not only did I go but I ate waffles!!

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To think that when I was 15 years old I had a crisis meeting with mental health services because I hadn’t eaten all week and then I ate a grape and had a total meltdown, I feel this is a pretty big deal. It is probably the most challenging thing I have done in recovery (oh and a pizza a few months back).  And it was so lovely to see my friends, and I am going to miss them so much.

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I also met my best friend at home yesterday after seeing my psychiatrist. I met her at the anorexia nervosa day programme I used to go to and we’ve only actually been really close for 9 months-ish but she is literally such an amazing person. It sounds cheesy but she brightens up my life so much, she really brings out the best in me. She makes me feel ambitious and determined, happy and just able to be myself. She is probably the most amazing person I have met in my life. I haven’t had someone I can call a best friend in so long, I thought I’d never get that close to someone again, but this girl is like a second sister to me. She is a ray of sunshine even when things are tough. She makes my mood go from pretty damn low to absolutely amazing just by being herself. I am so lucky to have this girl.

I have been struggling a lot this last few weeks. I had an incident 3 weeks ago, which I am absolutely determined will be my last, but it has led to such an insane number of hospital appointments and I might need surgery and I am sick to death of hospitals/clinics right now. I have been to the therapy preparation group twice now and it’s, overall, good. I lost it on Tuesday-Thursday and was adamant it is stupid and I am not interested in going, but I have come through that now ha! There has been an issue within my family that has basically changed my whole life. I don’t want to go into it, but I’ve lost a member of my immediate family. I think I am fine with it, that I am coping, but then there are moments where it hits me and those are pretty tough – especially with things like finishing university and graduating, knowing that person isn’t going to be there. My psychiatrist told me I can get upset, that it is ok. That I won’t disintegrate, and I keep reminding myself of that.

I have been referred by occupational therapy for camouflage make-up and I’ve seen some examples of how amazing it is (this guy with full body tattoos had them all covered and you couldn’t see them at all!) and it is going to be so so life changing for me. I’ve also booked a holiday to Marrakesh at the start of September with my best friend! And I’m going camping in the peak district in a couple of weeks with my sister which is going to be so lovely. I love a walking holiday. I haven’t been on holiday since I was 18 for various family/health related reasons so this is all very exciting.

I guess I am learning that I can be both happy and sad and that is ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for participants in an online focus group on mental illness and UK newspapers

I am looking for a few people (12-20) to take part in an online focus group that is in a forum style. There is one active group right now, another will be made once the first is completed for those who have not taken part in the first.

The topic is the portrayal of mental illness in UK newpapers, and more specifically, whether the portrayal has changed. The only requirement is that you read UK newspapers (print or online).

You do NOT need to have a history of mental illness. If anyone is interested use the link below or message me and I’ll talk you through how to do it if you struggle. There are 4 topics and a lot of questions but there is no requirement to answer or comment on everything. I will be commenting on replies to create a two-way conversation.

This is the link: https://focusgroupit.com/groups/d46db971

If the number of questions overwhelm you, it’s fine to do as much as you have time for and it’s going to be open for a few weeks too.

Thank you!

The Worst Part of Recovery

Ok, there are a lot of ‘worst parts’. The worst parts are the parts you are dealing with right now.

Since coming home, behaviour wise I have been so much better but today is my first day home alone and I am struggling. I’ve always seen myself as a ‘on my own’ kind of person, and I remember even as a child saying I wanted to live on an island by myself. When I know I will have the house to myself, at home or at university, I look forward to it.

Yet I’m absolutely awful at being alone and when I am alone, I struggle.

I’m exhausted. I am constantly tired, tired and hungry, and I’m not too sure why. I’m also anxious. I’ve got an assignment I need to do but it’s going nowhere fast. In fact, it’s going nowhere at all. I’m feeling lazy, which I can’t stand, and yet I don’t want to do anything.

More than anything I am anxious about going back to university. I thought I felt ‘safer’ there but the reality is I don’t. I actually feel quite alone there, even when surrounded by people.

The part I am struggling with right now is not engaging in negative behaviours, but still feeling the same, still feeling awful. It makes it hard to keep on making the ‘right’ choices. I can’t help but wonder how long I can keep on going, and fear things going backwards when I get back to university. And it’s not being able to hang on for long enough, that sends me right back to the start.

I guess I am still learning, but that doesn’t mean I know nothing.

I’m learning that I need to talk, and to try my hardest to use my appointments to get out what I need. I am learning to try get my head out of my illness and spend time in the ‘real’ world and I am trying to learn to be ok with where I am at, even if it’s not where I want to be.

Today I am tired, anxious and a little low, so I will have a bath and snuggle up. I will meet my Mum from work to get outside for a bit and I will try get on with some university work tonight, and if I can’t do it, I’ll try again tomorrow.