A few weeks ago, I made very brief allusion to the (highly unlikely) question of being seen by random people whilst in a therapy session. The point also applies to the issue of waiting for or leaving such a meeting; given the nature of the department, building or clinic you’re in, people can immediately make huge assumptions about what you’re there for, whether they are accurate or otherwise. When I was seeing C on the NHS, I almost never saw anyone before the session commenced, but afterwards, the corridor would suddenly be laden – sometimes extensively, sometimes less so – of elderly people; there was a hearing clinic next door to Psychology, specifically catering to this demographic. As such, given the signage about the place, all of these old people would have known that I was in the building for being mental, as – old as I feel – I’m a few years off pension-age yet.
On one occasion at C’s, there was another young-ish woman waiting before the beginning of the session. The atmosphere was as awkward as fuck, meaning that it was almost inevitable that we’d have to start talking to each other; we both knew we were there for psychotherapy, though a direct confirmation of same was never entirely verbalised. She made assumptions about me, and I made assumptions about her. Depression, I reckoned. Isn’t it the usual catch-all term that GPs dish out when they’re making a referral, regardless of the accuracy thereof?
I wondered what the assumptions she’d made about me were. Inevitably, “complete fuck up” would have come in there somewhere, as I accidentally intimated to her that I had been “seeing this bloke” for over a year.
In Nexus, my current centre of psychotherapy, this sense of assumption is even more amplified: the entire point of the organisation is to counsel those that have been raped and sexually assaulted. Although you can’t tell exactly what has happened with a client of their services, you know – as opposed to assume – in general terms why they’re there.
As most of you will know, over the past month the weather in the UK has been very snowy, and because we lack any sort of normal and adequate infrastructure for dealing with same, people end up being
sucked into the centre of the of the Milky Way’s central super-massive black hole late for appointments. Because I do not have the shocking audacity common sense to be petrified of a bit of snow, I have not been late for my appointments. This late/on time confluence of circumstances has resulted in that most dreaded of things: encounters with other in-therapy clients (actually, it has now resulted in that other most dreaded of things – a session cancelled by the allegedly snowed-in therapist. I may rant about that, I may not, but it will come in another post if so. Perhaps in my review of Week 10 ((ie. last week, 13 December)), which I really ought to try and write tomorrow, because cunting, fucking, wankshaft, bollocks Christmas and its inane miscellany of shite are monopolising my fucking time for the rest of the fucking cunt of a week).
Anyway, meeting other Nexus clients. Perhaps needless to say, I haven’t exchanged words with them – I mean, what the fuck are you meant to say? ”How’s it going there, lovey? So…who was it, then? Your ex? Father? Cousin?” No. Sexual abuse does not lend itself well to polite smalltalk – however, for a split second, you lock eyes with the other person and, in a weird, intangible, unquantifiable sort of way, you know each other. You could be polar opposites in terms of character, outlook, political persuasion and so on – but somehow this similar sort of tragic shared history forgives any such differences. At the risk of sounding insanely pretentious, for that second, you are united.
Then you both remember that society rarely allows itself to openly acknowledge what has happened to you, and you look away from each other.
The particular branch of Nexus that I attend is quite a surreptitious building – a deliberate choice, I am certain. The sign denoting the name of the building is tiny, in stark contrast to some of the other properties in the area. I am in fact convinced that the name of the organisation – though probably symbolic in some way – was chosen mainly because it’s so anonymous and dull. Inside said branch, there are two waiting rooms; one for those there for training, or interviews and the like – and another one, tucked quietly round the corner, for us.
I am grateful for this.
I resent myself for being grateful for this.
Why shouldn’t I sit with non-client attendees?! It’s not like I have some sort of infectious disease or something, unless Nexus somehow have paranormal-like powers in the arena of medical classification. I’m not a walking case of dynamite or airbourne poison. The charity would no doubt claim that they arrange the rooms as they this for the privacy of the client, and I would not doubt this assertion for a nanosecond. As I say, I have only gratitude for their thoughtfulness in this regard. But should it have to be this way? What have I, or any of the other abused clients, done to deserve a sort of pseudo-banishment from ‘ordinary’ society? Why should we be hidden away from the world, like things to be brushed under the carpet? And, maybe more importantly, why should we want to?! (Yes, yes, yes – I don’t speak out because of my family situation, and I know I’m highly unlikely to be the only one – but in a way, that’s part of the point. My family would disown me and probably me my mother. Why should they do that? I didn’t fucking systematically rape my-fucking-self! And why would his claims of innocence be more convincing that my recounting of reality? This is exactly my point.).
I should note that I am not criticising Nexus in the least. They’re only implementing a policy that all their clients want. What I am doing is asking why we want it, and let’s face it – isn’t it in large part because sex abuse is still such a taboo subject? Society, whilst peripherally acknowledging its existence, turns a blind eye to the harsh reality of the phenomenon; it always has. In the modern era we are more aware that it happens, certainly – but have we come far enough?
I have so much admiration for those victims of the Irish Catholic institutional abuse. Many of them have waived their rights to anonymity in order that they could openly raise awareness of the issue, and indeed of child abuse in general. And nobody blames them for what happened, rightly reserving their antipathy for the horrible perpetrators instead.
I do wonder though if we as a society are really ready to accept that families and “ordinary” people do this to each other – in some cases, to their own children. Moreover, can we accept this without unwittingly excusing it? I know my little corner of the world can’t cope with such recognitions. My mother simply cannot believe that incest occurs, for example. ”Parents couldn’t do that to their children,” she claims: because she feels maternal love for her offspring, so it must be for every single parent in creation. She has come to ‘believe’ in the afore-referenced Irish scandal, as if it were something that somehow warranted doubt to begin with, but opines that if the Church allowed priests to get married, then it would never have happened. Her childlike naivety and wilful disregard for evidence staring her in the face still has the power to shock me.
Why is the default setting of many people to deny the existence of this stuff? Why is it society’s default setting to ignore it? Why do only a single-figure percentage of rape cases taken to Crown Courts result in conviction?
It’s not just sex abuse that I’m ranting about either. It’s general discrimination faced by people who have experiences the world is scared to try and understand – mental illness, indeed, though such attitudes are by no means limited to these two arenas.
Even as recently as the latter half of the last century, cancer was a big taboo.
Oh, yes, my sister’s ill. [Nervous pause] Er…well…it’s…well [whispering] it’s cancer.
Oh… [backs away] Oh right. Well, it was nice to see you. Cheerio. [Practically runs away]
In this stigmatic sense, mental health problems are today’s cancer – but then again, these forms of illness have always been regarded in demeaning or horrific fashions. From ignorant cunts claiming that mental illness doesn’t exist, to things like enforced electro-convulsive therapy – mentalists amongst us are still under attack with little hope that I can discern of ceasefire. True; no one really fully understands the mind and its parent organ, the brain – but nonetheless, mental health problems are still subjected to a complete Cinderella of a service in terms of accessing meaningful treatment.
Why? What is it that this stupid fucking planet is so scared of? It fears the unknown, certainly, but it has overcome its prejudice in that regard on a multitude of previous occasions. Various organisations are trying to help it overcome this one, but I really wonder sometimes to what extent they are succeeding.
In this little corner of teh interwebs in which people like me write – the little part of the blogosphere that has become known as the Madosphere – there is no stigma, no horrified and urgent backing away, when you discuss the finer (or even the general) points of your illness. But, if you ran into an old friend today (that had not studied Psychology, Medicine, Nursing or some allied professional) and said to them, “I have borderline personality disorder,” do you think they would even know what you meant? If you said, “I have schizophrenia,” would they automatically assume that you have 17 different personalities and/or are, by your very nature, violent and deeply dangerous?
Would you even tell them you had a diagnosable mental health difficulty? If not, why not? It’s none of their business, is it? You’d tell them if you had gall stones, would you not? How is that any more their business than your schizophrenia?
On the point of the erroneous assumption that schizophrenia is dissociative identity (or multiple personality) disorder, would they know that cases of multiplicity are almost always connected with severe and chronic childhood trauma – or would they simply be of the view that it was some bizarre, at times even amusing, quirk of the mind of those thus afflicted? If they’d even heard of borderline personality disorder, would they know that in a notable majority of cases, an abusive history is present?
Would they care?
Of course, everyone would claim that they would care deeply – how could one not feel repulsion and compassion for a mistreated child, blah blah blah. The problem is the person with the mental health problem is no longer a child, and in ageing for some reason seems to have lost the side with which one is allowed to have sympathy. One’s bad experiences – if indeed there even were any, because they might have ‘imagined’ it to their psychotic madness, or lied about it owing to them being a useless malingerer! – should be resolved by now; if one remains mentally ill, then it has nothing to do with either brain chemistry or trauma, and is merely a fault – a deficiency – in you, the person afflicted. Either you should get off your arse and get on with your life, or you should be sectioned.
I am simplifying, and of course a lot of people do recognise the existence – in theory, at least – of a middle ground, but I really don’t think I am grossly overplaying this hand. It is easy for us in the Madosphere and, if we’re lucky, our friends and family, to universally accept that mentalism is understood and accepted, because that is what we’re used to here. Experience, however, has taught me that as soon as you deviate from an inner circle, you see the views of the rest of the world – and they are the reason for the very existence of this rambling, meandering post. And it’s sad to see – from my own point of view, yes, but more so from the perspective of those people whom it prevents from seeking help. They suffer alone or, in especially tragic cases, end up committing suicide, feeling they simply have no outlet for their misery.
The problem is, of course, ignorance – at least in the main. As noted, that widespread setting is being challenged by the likes of the Time to Change project (or – here in Northern Ireland – um…er…well…nothing). However, these organisations can’t reach everyone, try as they so steadfastly and admirably do. At some point do individuals not have to take responsibility for their own lack of awareness (they do in court – not knowing that something is illegal, or that that person you slept with is a minor, is an illegitimate defence in British law)? I’m not saying that every single person across the space-time continuum should drop everything right now and start Googling the finer points of the academic discourse on mental ill health. That would hardly gain us any points! But when a non-disordered person encounters (I originally typed encunters, which also works) mental health difficulties in others – at work, school, the gym, or even through entertainment such as film and music – would it really be so much to ask that they took a few minutes to (a) understand that they don’t understand, (b) accept that they cannot therefore judge those affected, and (c) do at least a little research? Is modern life really that full and frenzied that 10 minutes out of a person’s day can’t be devoted to this, at least when there’s a clear catalyst for it?
Deary me. Trauma and mental illness, and the sometime correlation between the two. Can those of us affected ever be entirely integrated into normal society like, say, those with cancer largely have (rightly) been? Or will the issues always remain taboo – someone else’s problem, not something that happens amongst one’s direct friends and family? Will it always just be a case of them and us?
(NB. Questions are rhetorical (though discussion is, as ever, welcome); nothing in particular precipitated this gurning except my annoyance at the waiting rooms issue at Nexus; I probably perpetuate stigma and a Them and Us culture in using some of the terms I do; I am just a mental freak with bells on and you should not listen to ((read)) a word I say ((write)); the Earth is flat and orbits around a giant tombstone with a statue of a banana on top; blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, etc etc etc, ad infinitum ad infinitum ad infinitum, la la la, meh meh meh…)