03/01/16 What would you do if you were diagnosed with a mental health problem?

There’s a saying I recently stumbled across, who I’ll attribute to God knows,

‘Fear is a mile high and a mile wide, but only paper thin.’ 

When I was growing up in Corby, the most Scottish town south of Gretna, we used to scare each other with stories of what would happen if you went crazy – you’d go to Ferndale – that’s what. 

Although I never set eyes on it, I’m sure my youthful mind imagined this psychiatric hospital as some dark Victorian institution, it’s silhouette becoming more pronounced as lightning flashed behind it. 

The maddies inside screamed and moaned in response to some inner torment unseen by others. 

I remember going for evening walks with my neighbour’s dog, Manson (who in the name of… would call their dog…?) with my mate Derek around the villages near the old home town.

As the sun went down, and the countryside took on an altogether more sinister demeanour, we’d scare each other shitless with tales of escaped lunatics ready to pounce from behind…well, from behind anything really…

I’m sure we’d bowl off home afterwards, completely wired, giggling like…like, well, you know…unable to sleep for about a year…

Aye, in my day we didn’t need any of yer fancy Red Bull – we made our own fun – and look, it didn’t do me any ‘arm… (Wisened old Yorkshireman accent optional) 

I’m sure our view of people with mental health problems as uncontrollable rabid loons was no different to other folks our age.

They were the bogeymen. 

Imagine then…

It might start off at school. You might see yourself as being different – having fallen into the age old trap of comparing your inside to other people’s outsides. 

Lordy, you might actually be different – the occasional friend at school might let it slip that they think you’re crazy…

No worries…none taken…

You might experience the world in a different way….

Something might have happened to make you see the world in a different way…

Or not…

You might go to university….

You might not be able to get out of bed

Or wash

Or leave the house

You might get a job.

You might see things that aren’t there

You might not believe the world is real

You might do your best

You could talk to someone…

What? And admit failure? 

You might do MORE than your best

You might talk to your partner, your family, your friends

They might be great

They might ask, ‘Why do you have to keep talking about it…?’

They might say, ‘When I feel a bit down I just get on with it…’

They might listen

They might give you a hug

They might say, ‘Have you tried…?’

They might say, ‘I’m here. I love you…’

You might go to your GP

They might say, ‘Have you tried turning to God?’

Or, ‘Here’s a sick note – take a couple of weeks off work,’

Or, ‘Do you think your job’s too stressful?’ 

Or, ‘Here’s a diagnosis…’

Or, ‘There are no services’

Or, ‘The waiting list is a year long’

Or, ‘Psychotherapy starts next week..’

Or, ‘Here, try these pills…’

Or, ‘You’re sectioned…’

You might go back to work.

People there might not know what to say.

Your manager might make reasonable adjustments…

Or they might say, ‘You’re either fit to work, or you’re not…’

You might think any chances of advancing in your chosen career have gone up in a puff of smoke…

You might have a great management team who give you a phased return and recognise that your professional future is still looking rosy.

They might try to sack you.

They might manage to sack you. 

The treatment you receive from the GP might work.

It might not

Professionals might blame you for it not working

Or they might bend over backwards to try to get things right

You might have to apply for welfare benefits

The process WILL BE fucking Hell (note the lack of the word ‘might’ there) 

Professionals might help you with the application process

They might not 

You might get the benefits to which you’re entitled

You might not

You might appeal

You might lose your home

You might not

You might be offered alternative accommodation 

You might not

You might be sanctioned – have your benefits stopped 

You might not

You might have to rely on food banks

You might have access to crisis services

There might be none

You might have to go to accident and emergency

They might treat you with dignity and respect

They might not

They might dismiss any physical illness you have when they discover you have a mental illness

They might take you at face value and treat you accordingly

You might be told to go and have a bath – listen to some soothing music perhaps…

You might be seen by liaison psychiatrists 

They might be great
Or they might say ‘There’s no cure for Borderline Personality Disorder’ and suggest you have a bath/ go to bed whilst completely ignoring the fact that your lips are blue 

You might be supported by well trained professionals who know about your condition

You might not be

You might feel shame

You might have been abused or neglected in your childhood

You might blame yourself

Others might blame you

Others might silence you

You might hate yourself 

You might end up in prison

You might think, as you realise that about 75% of the other prisoners have mental health problems, ‘Hey, I’m in good company…’

You might buy into the rhetoric and the negative portrayals in the media of people with mental maladies

You might not

You might remember walking that dog in the dark and the terrifying tales of maddies from Ferndale

You might believe you have become your own bogie man and experience the self loathing that accompanies it. 

You might believe the government drivel that you’re a skiver and not a striver

Or you might seek out and find people who love and respect you for who you are

You might come across great peer support – people who’ll help you steer your way through the trials and tribulations 

You might feel jangled when others claim that mental ill health – everything from self harming to bipolar disorder – is fashionable 

This wasn’t meant to be a full and complete portrayal of the mental ill health journey. 

It was my hope that folk would get a flavour of what your world might be like should you experience a mental gear slip. 

You’ll notice that the actual mental malady is the least of your problems as you fall down that Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole – that maelstrom of half chance, prejudice, post code lotteries entwined with some outstanding oases…

That mental health stigma is by far the greatest challenge that would lie before you.

You might not think that this will ever effect you.

You might not be one of the 15 million plus people in the UK effected by mental health problems every year. 

You might not have a family member who…

Or a colleague…

Or a friend…

But that’s pretty unlikely, isn’t it? 

This is everyone’s problem

Walk a mile

Chris

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6 Responses to 03/01/16 What would you do if you were diagnosed with a mental health problem?

  1. daisywillows says:

    Yes. we need to keep fighting stigma against mental health issues. love this post. thank you.

  2. daisywillows says:

    I have been diagnosed with emotional unstable personalty disorder, bipolar and chronic Anorexia. I volunteer for mental health charities and I am one of the lucky few that has a lot of support. I am not ashamed about my illnesses at all. I live the best way I can.

  3. Kristin says:

    Thx for your blog. Excellent bald portrayal of the pitfalls of the “process” of getting help. Whether it’s “helpful help” is always an ongoing challenge.
    This poem applies equally to a single person (just remove the word family), describes my attempts to get help when in a MH crisis and at risk of becoming homeless – both triggered by #DV. Thank God we landed on our feet, it was a very near thing.

    The Client’s Experience

    I lay my family’s plight out before you
    I feel vulnerable and exposed
    I don’t like asking for help but I must
    I wait with hope…
    You speak
    Your judgement yawns wide and cavernous
    Our needs vanish from sight, swallowed whole
    Drowned in the clamour of misunderstanding
    I try to walk on anyway
    Feeling angry and despairing

    I lay my family’s plight out before you
    I feel vulnerable and exposed
    I don’t like asking for help but I must
    I wait with hope and trepidation…
    You speak
    Your forms do not have boxes which fit my family
    Our needs are not quite right
    Asking too little / too much, being too sick / too well
    I try to walk on anyway
    Feeling somehow / everyhow a misfit

    I lay my family’s plight out before you
    I feel vulnerable and exposed
    I don’t like asking for help but I must
    I wait with little hope and much trepidation…
    You speak
    Your platitudes rain down from oblivion
    Our needs unheard cannot be met
    Being offered excruciatingly unhelpful help
    I try to walk on anyway
    Feeling completely unseen

    I lay my family’s plight out before you
    I feel vulnerable and exposed
    I don’t like asking for help but I must
    I wait with trepidation…
    You speak
    Your offer of imperfect help says you “get it”
    Our needs are somewhat met
    Offered real help after so much searching
    I can walk on with some dignity
    Feeling relief and gratitude

    Maybe I can manage, next time
    Maybe I can help someone else, next time
    Maybe if you hadn’t helped there would be … no next time

    Kristin Gillespie© February 2012

    Hope for a healing journey endures…
    Kind regards, Kristin

    • You’re absolutely right, Kirstin. Thanks for posting this – the message I was putting out in this post just gets us to the front door.

      What happens next? Well that’s just as variable.

      I hope this finds you well.

      My healing journey? Sometimes there’s a clear path – sometimes I find myself on some untrodden undergrowth wondering, ‘How did I get here…?’ It’s a work in progress.

      Thanks again

      Chris

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