Things have been getting worse again and I was kidding myself they weren’t. After uni today I got into a state. I say after uni, it started at uni. I walked home crying which is a rare thing, and embarrassing. And then I was an idiot, so I called my GP and saw an on call, and he sent me to A&E. I declined to see the mental health team because I’d rather not see people who nine times out of ten, make me feel worse.
I want to run away from everything right now. I have skipped the gym because after A&E, it’s the last place I want to go, and realistically it’s not physically a great idea right now. But that triggers my mood to get even worse. I mean, I will go after work tomorrow, but that is also the last thing I want to do. In fact it fills me with dread.
Everything just seems really crap right now and there is no better summary of it than that. I know I need to sort my attitude out and be more positive, and all of that stuff. But I honestly want to go to my bedroom, shut the door, and stay there for about a year…preferably 70 years.
I was dreading Monday. I had three appointments; my uni support worker (who is amazing so that was fine), a private counselling assessment, and my university supervisor. It turned out well. The counselling assessment was easy peasy. I am not sure what my expectations are, nor how this will go, but I can say that compared to an NHS mental health assessment it was pleasant, not at all overwhelming and it left me feeling optimistic – they are now in the process of selecting a counsellor to work with me.
The mental health team I am under expect to know EVERYTHING. They want to be in the loop. They want to know about university, my eating, my sleep, my family, my self-destructive behaviours, hospital admissions, friendships, activities… you name it. Not telling them something is usually interpreted as not engaging, as avoiding being open and honest and overall as a negative way to be. Counselling seems (so far) much more relaxed. It felt like I could say what I wanted and that I did not have to say anything I did not want to. Due to it being non-NHS they do not have access to my lovely medical notes; it feels completely in my hands what I choose to disclose and talk about. It feels like starting fresh with a blank slate. There is a key symptom/behaviour that is always central to my NHS treatment and is everyone’s top priority, and yet I did not even mention it in my counselling assessment. That is not to say I will not bring it up, but it feels like it is up to me when I do. I feel like the control is completely in my hands as to how I use the counselling. Counselling, at the end of the day, is not specifically for people with mental health problems. Anyone and everyone can have counselling if they feel they want, or need, to.
The appointment with my university supervisor was much more productive than I was expecting in more ways than I could have anticipated. I thought I was going to leave feeling confused, overwhelmed at how “bad” I am at work, and stressed. I was anxious about it being the first time I have been into university since my decrease in, lets say, productivity and my hospital admission to the acute psychiatric ward in January. I actually left feeling extremely clear on what I am doing next, feeling a bit better about some of the areas that have not been so great (i.e. presentations), and much less worried about what people are thinking about me, to the point that I feel more relaxed about doing my presentations now. It is amazing what talking can do compared to avoidance!
I went to my Mum’s that night, which is the first time since Christmas (which did not end well, understatement). I had a good time; we went to see Beauty and the Beast (if you can get over the singing, it is a very good film! I cried, but I cry at films more than I do life), we went out for lunch and I spent lots of time with my cats, which is basically my favourite thing about home. I also had a meeting with a police detective and she is now going to come to Leicester to see me again, and I met up with my best friend of 21 years!
I came back to Leicester early on the Thursday and had another strangely productive day; university work, cleaning, the gym and the doctors. Friday, the same, plus an appointment with my support worker again. I also managed to face up to a medical issue I have been avoiding. I was referred to orthopaedics and I am seeing them on Monday. I do not want to deal with the issue, but I also know it is not optional.
Thursday evening things got especially positive. I did an internship in January/February. It was just for 6 weeks. I missed the first 2 weeks, but managed to make up most of the missed hours. I absolutely loved it – everyone was saying how much happier I seemed. I think they saw the difference in me more than I did. It was all pot luck; I applied through a scheme at my university. They found the placement for us, and they paid for it rather than the placement paying. I was lucky because I was placed in the kind of place I would love to work for, working with really amazing people, doing really amazing work (campaigns and communications for a charity) – the “feel good” kind of work. Basically the dream.
Well, they emailed me asking if I am interested in working for them part-time for 4-5 months! I did not have to think about the decision at all. I have been looking for part-time work as I miss the structure of the internship and although I can survive financially without a job, the extra income would be useful. I have been applying for a lot of retail jobs, and while I would have been happy doing that because I am usually happy doing most things, working in campaigns and communications is without a doubt just beyond perfect. It is a “career” job, rather than just a job. I actually cannot even put into words how lucky and honoured I feel. I still kind of cannot believe this opportunity has come up. I keep kicking myself; I spend so much time being hard on myself and thinking that I am never going to get where I want in life and I often self-destruct because I do not feel like I can achieve what I want to achieve and then here we are!
I am worried I sound dramatic. To some people it might sound like “just” a part-time, temporary job, but to me it is everything. I care so much about their work and the campaign. It is all so ridiculously perfect for me that it is unbelievable, including the fact that it is part-time and temporary.
I just feel like I could not have asked for a better thing to happen to me right now, than this, and I never expected it at all.
I have also learnt something from this experience. Towards the end of 2016 I was in a very self-destructive place which resulted in the hospital admission in January. I could have carried on as I was, not done the internship, and not be stood here. I could have missed those amazing 5 weeks, and never met the people I did, or felt so inspired as I did. I would have missed out on an opportunity that made me realise I actually want to work next, rather than continue in education (and I was 100% sure I wanted to continue in education). I would have missed out on the route to this job.
I did not miss out because I fought to get myself out of hospital, rather than turn into someone who spends their life as a “patient”. I forced myself to be brave and do the internship. At the time I had no idea just how much good it would do me.
There are a lot of lessons in this, lessons that are definitely going to stick with me.
I struggle immensely with people not agreeing with me, or liking what I say. I have an intense need for approval.
I just bought the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k: How to stop spending time you don’t have, doing things you don’t want to do with people you don’t like”. It is blunt. It is extreme. And even though I haven’t started it yet, I think it is a book I need to read.
Tonight someone commented on my Instagram, disagreeing with my opinion. Not only disagreeing with my opinion, but personally attacking me.
It was not even really my opinion, it was a screenshot of a blog I read and agreed with.
For the first time ever I did not care. I do not have the same opinions as this person. In fact, she is the perfect example of what I hate about the online eating disorder”recovery” community.
I do not believe that low body weight photographs are a helpful way to represent recovery from an eating disorder. She does.
She’s entitled to that opinion and I have never, and will never, personally attack her for holding that view. It is a shame she will personally attack me, but that is her problem. I’ve realised that her approach to our differing opinions is her issue, and not mine.
For the first time ever, I don’t really give a F**k! I am not going to get personal and I am not going to argue. I never have. But what is new is that it does not bother me!
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.
Here is one of last years amazing winners. Lesley suffers from Agoraphobia and hadn’t left her house alone for 4 years. Getting into learning helped her to change her life. She’s gone from learning jewellery making and doing pottery classes, to now doing her English GCSE – and she talks regularly to inspire others!
Sign up to the thunderclap – it’s an amazing festival of learning, with fabulous awards that need raising awareness of so that the right people get nominated and recognised for their work!
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