A more accepting age? Why stigma is nowhere near a thing of the past

For how many other illnesses would you have to wait 15 months or more for treatment to even begin, unless you were on death’s door? In treating how many other illnesses do we neglect to give patients a range of treatment options? How many other illnesses cost the economy over £100 billion a year, according to the Centre for Mental Health, but are only allocated spending of just £11.3 billion a year? 25% of our population experiences mental health problems each year, and yet mental illness (including dementia), is allocated just 13% of NHS funding.
Despite a rising demand for services, mental health funding has seen a real-terms cut of 2% in the past 2 years.
Fewer than 4 in 10 employers say that they would employ someone with mental health problems (http://www.mind.org.uk/media/1081517/Mind-Manifesto-Jun14.pdf) and yet we have people writing articles saying that there is no longer a stigma around mental health!
Even on a cultural basis, as purplepersuasion quite rightly points out, we jokingly call people ‘mental’ or ‘psychotic’ if they act strangely, we say that we’re ‘depressed’ if we’re having a bad day, we make jokes about suicide, self-harm and ‘mental patients’. We make parties themed around ‘looney bins’ and victorian asylums – and we assume that people with psychosis are violent and dangerous.
So not only does the stigma most definitely exist, but its prevalence in our general consciousness has filtered through to adversely effect actual treatment of real mental health patients. It’s basically a fucking disgrace!

purplepersuasion

STIGMA

  1. fig. A mark of disgrace or infamy; a sign of severe censure or condemnation, regarded as impressed on a person or thing; a ‘brand’.

Example: 1882   J. H. Blunt Reformation Church of Eng. II. 172   Branded with the stigma of illegitimacy.

Oxford English Dictionary

 

I’m particularly lucky where stigma is concerned. Despite having had bipolar since early adolescence, generally I have not experienced much stigma and discrimination. Some of it is to do with how open I am (it’s harder for someone to attack you if anything they could potentially use against you is already out in the open) but some of it must just be pure lucky because almost everyone I know who has a mental health condition has experienced much worse stigma. I know people who have been turned down at interview or hounded out of jobs, people who rejected by friends and family, people verbally…

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Picking your battles

‘You have to pick your battles’

Out of all of the maternal advice that I’ve had (and I’ve had a lot), I think that this has been the most frequent. Picking your battles. I remember being a small child and throwing a tantrum over my sister nicking my toy or not getting the exact sweet I wanted from the corner shop, and my mother telling me to ‘pick my battles’.

I remember being older, having issues with friendships and having to deal with really very painful arguments and bitchiness as a teenager – pick your battles.

I remember learning about injustice in the world for the first time, and being absolutely outraged at the idea of children starving in Africa, or pollution destroying the ozone layer, or governments toppling the structure of entire countries in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’ – pick your battles.

And I remember being awakened to feminism, being angry at the manager who hit on me, the ex who told sexist jokes, the men in the street honking their cars, the men in clubs touching without permission. And again, I subsumed these issues, because – you have to pick your battles.

I’ve accepted it, and subsumed it into my consciousness, for so long, but I’m starting to realise that actually – fuck that! 

When I point out to my brother that his favourite TV show is full of sexist jokes and stereotypes – that actually matters – it is actually a thing! It’s not just me being the crazy obsessive feminist – it’s me getting increasingly tired and frustrated by living in a world where sexism is so normal it’s not even noticed half the time. Where sexism is so normal that sitcoms airing at 6pm – sitcoms that are essentially aimed at young teenagers like my brother – are full of it! Would we accept sexism on a programme on the CBBC channel (kids TV channel for non-UK folks)? No, we would not. So why is it ok that the programmes that air before the watershed and are essentially for kids (after they’re too old for CBBC but before they’re old enough to think for themselves) are so full of misogyny?

So I realise that sometimes I might post *too many* depressing stories about rape, or murder, or rape-murder, or rapists being allowed back on a football pitch with no consequences – but maybe instead of telling me to ‘pick my battles’ you should look at the societies that allow these things to happen so often that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.

And maybe I’ll come across as an angry or bitter person – but it’s not true. I have my personal life, and I have my political views – and I’d like to keep them fairly separate (or at least be able to compartmentalise so I’m not constantly walking around fuming about female genital mutilation – because who does that help?)

However, I’d rather be angry and bitter and yet raising awareness and trying to make the people in my life concerned about these issues in the way that I am than be blissfully unaware of the damage and pain that my culture is contributing to.

As I’ve written in other posts, sometimes the injustice in the world really does get on top of me, and makes me want to melt into a heap and just cry forever, because I feel utterly useless and helpless to make a change.

But I’m trying to accept that whilst I might not be able to end sexism or give everyone an education, give everyone life-saving vaccines, give everyone enough food and water and shelter to live – I can make small changes and I can contribute in my own way.

I have to follow my talents, and my talents are in my writing, in my theatre work. If I make a play and just one person comes to see it and they leave thinking, really thinking about how they can change this stuff, I’ve succeeded. And that’s all I can do.

Sometimes it does feel like I have to make a choice between pointing out sexism and injustice all the time, and people thinking I’m obsessive and weird, or allowing this stuff to pass by me, allowing people to say hideous things in front of me with no protest, and feeling ashamed of myself and internalising that sexism.
But, honestly, people have always found me a bit obsessive and weird.
I’m really not bothered.
So I’m sorry, maternal voice, I know that you want me to pick my battles. But looking back on my life, in the past I’ve spent so much time picking my battles that I’ve neglected to fight some of the most important ones. So, moving forward, I’m fighting, and fighting, and fighting some more. Because I have to believe that I can make a change. Because I won’t be silenced by anyone, not even myself.

Airing My Dirty Laundry

As ever, brilliant. I want to share my laundry with the world too – and if that stops me from getting jobs or I lose a few friends – fuck them! I’m enough as I am, and my depression isn’t going to ever disappear – it’s part of who I am and I have to deal with that. So if it makes you feel uncomfortable that I’m depressed – you can just go ahead and leave my life – because I don’t need you. I have enough on my plate.

The Belle Jar

TW for talk of suicide

Since writing (or being featured in) a number of pieces recently about mental health this week – namely, this one about the challenges I face as a parent living with mental illness, and this one in The Star about the Mystery Room posters in the TTC – I’ve had a number of commenters asking why I’m choosing to “air my dirty laundry.” Why, they wonder, do I want to share such personal information on the internet? Don’t I value my privacy? Or am I just hungry for attention?

What these commenters are really asking is: why do you talk about things as shameful and embarrassing as depression, anxiety and suicide?

What these commenters are really saying is: the things that you have written here has made me uncomfortable, although I can’t quite articulate why.

What these commenters are really wondering is: how can she be mentally ill…

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I Can’t Cry

This post has opened my eyes about prostitution in a really big way – I’m still questioning, as I question every new idea I find, but it’s a compelling read and worth considering I think 🙂
(More of my meaningless opinions in the comment section btw)

Rebecca Mott

I want to cry so much.

My throat hurts so much coz it so blocked, my eyes are tired of being tired, my heart is in an agony where words disappear to.

I still can’t cry.

I wanted to cry when Lauren Bacall died, for she was my protector when all my world was being thrown to the wolves.

I remember as a 14-year-old wanting to be Lauren Bacall, wanting her presence by my side.

I stood by the bar in a sex club, and try hard to make it into “The Big Sleep”, and make reality disappear.

I imagined the dive I was in was a sophisticated nightclub – where I was wisecracking and keeping men at a distance.

I refuse to see the truth, that I had no voice, no safety, no access to dignity – I refuse to know I was nothing as I imagine I was…

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Guilt

For a while now I’ve been really wanting to write a blogpost about guilt. Because it’s such a huge part of my life. I’ve spent most of my life feeling guilty.

I feel guilty for what I say, what I do, how I feel, where I go, what I look like, what I wear, what I eat.

I feel guilt at some point during every social interaction, during every working day, every time I cook, every time I get dressed. Every time I have a shower.

I feel guilt towards my family, towards my friends, towards my colleagues, towards strangers in the street. Customers. My partner.

I’ve got so used to the feeling of guilt that I hardly register it anymore. I’ve come to realise in the past few months that actually what I’m feeling is guilt for who I am. I have cultivated the conviction that I am not good enough, can never be good enough.

I’m not happy enough, I’m not interesting enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not tall enough, I’m not intelligent enough, I’m not caring enough, I’m not successful enough, I’m not fit enough, I’m not skinny enough, I’m not loving enough, I’m not feminist enough, I’m not bisexual enough, I’m not depressed enough, even.

And when I’m not thinking about things that I’m not enough of, I’m thinking about things that I am too much.

I’m too fat, I’m too sensitive, I’m too self-centred, I’m too loud, I’m too opinionated, I’m too passionate, I’m too agreeable, I’m too short, I’m too ugly, I’m too intense, I’m too introspective, I’m too scared, I’m too depressed, I’m too boring, I’m too patronising, I’m too much.

I don’t know what I think constitutes good enough. I don’t know how much would be enough. I know that I can never be the exact right degree of all of the things I want to be.

Maybe I should let go of everything that I think I should be, and just be myself. But these thoughts are constant. Right now, as I write, I struggle against the voice in my head that tells me that there’s no point writing this, because everything I write is trite and shit and no one will read it anyway. No one is interested in what I have to say. I am a nobody.

And simultaneous to that, I have other thoughts attacking my body, feeling my breasts touch my arms as I type and being actively disgusted by their size, that they are touching my arms as I type. If my breasts were smaller, they wouldn’t touch. My breasts are too big.

And simultaneous to that, I feel that I need the loo and I feel guilty, am actively berating myself for not going earlier, because I’m waiting for a phone call now so I can’t go, and I knew that, and why am I such an idiot? I’m so lazy I can’t even get up and go to the loo when I need to, I leave everything to the last minute and I’m always late for everything and I’m shit I’m shit I’m shit.

And simultaneous to that, I’m thinking about what I’ll eat for lunch, and what I ate for breakfast, and I’m mentally berating myself for eating earlier, because I’m so fat I didn’t need to eat, never need to eat really. One meal a day, maybe. Maybe I could eat one meal a day, but really I should just not eat, see how long I could go not eating, I don’t deserve food anyway, do I? Really?

And simultaneous to that, I’m thinking about cooking dinner this evening for myself and my partner, and the curry I want to cook, and how lazy I am because I haven’t looked up the recipe yet, and I’m mentally berating myself for how badly I will cook this dinner (in the future), even though I don’t even know that I’ll fuck it up.

And simultaneous to that, I’m feeling myself grind my teeth with stress a bit, and I’m telling myself off for doing it, because I know it could fuck up  my jaw and because I know that all I need is a release, to calm my body down and keep me from grinding my teeth and being tense, and I’m obsessively thinking about that release, because that release would be cutting myself, and I know that I’m not allowed to do that, and I’m mentally berating myself for being so selfish, because I know that people in my life would be upset if I cut myself, and that would be like de facto cutting them, and I feel as much guilt for it as I’d have felt if I’d actually cut myself.

And simultaneous to that, I’m upset about the death of Robin Williams and I’m upset about the fucking mass murder happening in Gaza and I’m upset about the Yazidi people, huddling on a mountain while IS attack them because of who they are and what they believe, and I feel incredibly guilty that I’m thinking about my own problems and my own, silly, insignificant little life, when there are people dying and being raped and being mutilated and so on and so on, all over the world, and I have a nice little life, and why can’t I enjoy it? Why? Why?

 

Hmm. Maybe I can’t enjoy it because I am constantly stuck in a cycle of guilt. And I decide to try to work out why.

I grew up with a very strict moral code. We were C of E Christians, and of course the church has a lot of guilt in its rituals and rites.

But living with Christian morals, in my day-to-day life, I think has affected me a lot more than just the church stuff. The idea of, in every situation, in every conflict, in every social interaction, inspecting and judging my ‘performance’, and whether I’ve done anything wrong, definitely comes from the idea of treating others as you want to be treated. It’s a great message but I think we can easily become obsessed by it, picking apart everything we do for signs of doing wrong by other people.

It’s a shame because I think it’s a really great message, but the best part of it for me is when you flip it. ‘Treat others as you want be treated and remember that you deserve the same treatment. There’s no point in treating others well if you’re treating yourself badly.’ And I really want to try to get better at remembering that. I suppose, however badly I feel about myself, there’s no reason why I don’t deserve to be treated as well as anyone else does. There’s no reason why I don’t deserve the respect and love that I give to others.

Here’s hoping. Sorry if this post is rubbish*

*See what I mean with the guilt?

Depression

Wrote this as a kind of response to Robin William’s death, and as a kind of explanation of why, despite all my best efforts, I’m not blogging as much as I want to. Possibility of triggering (or of just pure boring emo-ness, oh well, this is my corner of the internet, fuck you if you think it’s emo. It probably is emo.


 

I’ve been finding it hard to write because I’ve been finding it hard to move
I’ve been finding it hard to do
I’ve been finding it hard to move
on with my life, move
towards the light, move
away from my pain, move
towards something more sane.

So I’m sorry I’m numb
So I’m sorry I’m blue
So I’m sorry I can’t
connect with people like you.

But your world seems so light
And your world seems so full
And my world seems the same
from where you’re standing, I’m sure.

But what use is a life
where people love you and care
If when you close your eyes
you see that nothing is there?

I wish I could see all
of the beauty around
but right now I have to concentrate
so hard to walk down the street
that there’s no other option
than to look down at my feet.

I’m sorry I’m wrong
Sorry I can’t love
in the way that I wantSorry I can’t be tough.

I’m just feeling so weak
and I want to give up
and I want to keep goingbut it feels now as though
the only way to keep going
is to carve up my pain
quarters, fifths, eighths, sixteenths.

And I know that that’s wrong
and I know that that’s bad
and I know that would make
all of my loved ones sad.

So I’m walking along
or I’m crawling in pain
and I’ve nothing to take
all the numbness away

But I’ll keep walking on,
or at least crawling in pain,
‘cos, well, that’s what you want
I know you want me to stay.

So I’ll stay, I’ll survive.
Don’t worry about me
I won’t drown, though it’s hard
To ignore my lungs filling.

Don’t worry about me
Sorry I made you cry.
I’d prefer if you forgot me
and just let me die.

But you won’t, and that’s fine
but please don’t ask me to be
just like people like you
the way that you think of me

‘Cos I’m just not that girl
that you thought that you knew
I can’t keep going on
Without stumbling still.

There are cracks in my heels
there are tears in my throat
there’s a loneliness here
that belongs to me alone

And I’m sorry you can’t touch it
I’d love if you could
but you can’t, so please, leave me alone.