The Darker Side of Speaking Up

AWARDHAIR!!!1!!!!11!!!eleven!!!six!My hair has arrived for the awards ceremony. Do you like it?

Initially, I was unsure as to whether I could even go to the ceremony. After all, I would probably be the only person there that writes under a pseudonym, since most of the nominees are from the world of the more traditional media – papers, telly, radio and suchlike. Even amongst the ‘New Media’ short-listees (if that’s a word), as far as I know I’m the only person responsible for a nomination that’s anonymous.

However, I had a quick word on Twitter with some of the lovely folks at Mind – and they, in conjunction with their PR people, are coming up with an anonymity masterplan! I can’t say how delighted this made me, and how very kind of them to accommodate such a bizarre request! So Cinderella will go to the ball after all 🙂 I don’t expect to win anything, don’t get me wrong, but to be short-listed for such a prestigious award is such a big deal to me that simply being there will be amazing. A is coming with me, as is my best friend Daniel and, all being well, a fellow mental health blogger. If there’s enough room, I can even bring two more people 🙂

So, mentalists of the UK. If you’re kicking about in the general area of the Home Counties in late November and fancy a pale ale or three with a sad blatherer with a Pot Noodle fetish, feel free to give me a shout. We’ll be in Laaaaaahhhhaaaandaaaaaahhhhnnnnn from Saturday 26th to Wednesday 30th November. Monday night is out, as it’s the awards ceremony, and on at least one of the other days I’ll be meeting a friend, but there’s flexibility in the latter if anyone is amenable to a Mini Mad-Up.

Anyway, speaking of Mind, I have a guest post over on their blog today entitled Speaking Out is the Only Way to End Stigma (see here). Although the title mirrors what I talked about in my last post, I’ve actually looked at the issue of stigma from the other side of the coin than that which I previously discussed here. I thought I’d quote it here too, for your dubious delectation:

I consider myself a fortunate person, in that there are a wonderful – and rather diverse – range of people that I have the privilege of calling my friends. Generally, I’ve been very open with them and my relatives alike about my mental health difficulties – but there’s one group with whom, until recently, I tended to keep my mouth shut.

My partner is partially sighted, and as such his primary education was delivered in a school specialising in teaching children with visual (VI) and auditory impairments. After being reunited with a number of his schoolmates in his adulthood, I was pleased to also make their acquaintance, and am glad to report that I now consider them my friends too.

One thing that repeatedly surprised me about these otherwise lovely people, though, was their attitudes to my mental illness. They are open about their disabilities around the dinner table and, more formally, they vocally demand reasonable adjustments at work, raise money for related charities, and have been known to campaign politically on VI related issues such as traffic calming and electronic accessibility. I think it’s brilliant.

You can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming, can’t you? Here it is. In my view, if you are pro-disability rights – as every right-thinking person should be – then you should be inclusive about the meaning of the term ‘disability’. Unfortunately, mental health problems can represent potentially very severe disabilities, just as physical ones can.

This is something my friends didn’t seem to realise. I remember one night, over dinner, after they had been talking about VI issues, I shifted the subject subtlety with the intention of talking about the barriers I, also, had faced in terms of my disability. The specifics are lost to the passing of time, but I think I was alluding to the HR problems I’d faced during a depression-fuelled absence from work.

My commentary, delivered in my usual matter-of-fact tone, was met with a stony, almost horrified silence. People started staring at their food or fiddling with their wedding rings. An approaching waiter reversed back into the kitchen, having felt the tension emanating from our group. And all the while I sat there, genuinely mystified, thinking, “what did I say?!” Lest I ruin the rest of the evening, though, I decided to keep schtum thereafter, and eventually someone (quite deliberately) changed the subject, and things moved on.

That was several years ago, but if I’m brutally honest, the episode still cuts me to the core when I let myself think about it. Why is someone else’s disability considered more socially “acceptable” than mine? Why do mental health conditions still exist only in the realm of whispered taboo and under-the-carpet brushing?

This was only my second proper encounter with the stigma that continues to permeate discussions pertaining to mental health (or lack thereof). I don’t blame my friends personally: they are a product of a society and culture that remains scared of and ill-informed about psychiatric disorders, and they’re far from alone.

My first significantly prejudicial experience was in my most recent job (mentioned above), in which I had initially gone off sick with “depression”. This was deemed a common and ordinary complaint by my employers, but when my condition failed to improve and I was eventually diagnosed with, initially, borderline personality disorder and bipolar type II (now changed to complex PTSD and either bipolar I or schizoaffective disorder – go me!), their attitudes mysteriously changed. Oh, we really were in mental territory there, weren’t we? They couldn’t have that, now could they?

(I’m being slightly unfair here, as when I was eventually dismissed, I had been absent over a year – my leaving the organisation was therefore both legal and fair. However, the paradigm shift between their tolerance before and after my diagnoses was very evident).

Rather than incite meekness, however, if anything these two incidents encouraged me to speak out more about my mental health troubles, as I wrote about in my World Mental Health Day post here. It started off by writing – anonymously – on my blog (I still write pseudonymously, incidentally, but that’s because I have no choice but to protect some key personnel discussed therein), but in time I found myself openly discussing mental health in ‘real life’ too. Besides those already discussed, I only remember one particularly negative reaction – when explaining to a friend of my boyfriend’s that I was not working due to “being mental,” he replied, “is that ‘I Can’t Be Bothered With Work-Itis’ then?” Not a pleasant comment by any means – but by and large, people have been accepting, willing to listen and mostly sympathetic. I even revealed the severity of my psychotic and dissociative symptoms to an ignorant and rather set-in-their-old-fashioned-ways aunt and uncle recently; I was quite surprised when they didn’t back away in petrified horror, but instead proffered me their genuine good wishes and a listening ear.

Again, though, there’s a ‘but’. Two, actually. Firstly, it is not easy to be so unabashed about this subject to other people (particularly, I would suggest, acquaintances or strangers – you have no clues to enable you to gauge what their reaction might be). As a general rule, I’m remarkably passive in the arena of ‘real life’, but I am both blessed and cursed in having something of a bolshy streak when I feel I’m being treated unfairly, and I think it’s that force that has driven me to speak up. Secondly, even though I have received a number of pretty positive reactions to my disclosures, stigma still exists. There are still those who demonise us as loons or scroungers who should be locked up in an asylum or get back to work, respectively (though, of course, many people with a mental health problem do work). Admitting to mental health issues in such circumstances can seem like a dangerous thing to do.

I think, though, that there is ultimately good news. As many people familiar with Mind will know, the Time to Change campaign has been granted another four years’ worth of funding, which means that the very meaningful in-roads the initiative has already made can be further built upon.

As Time to Change says, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health. I know it’s easy for me, an anonymous stream of words on a blog post, to say, but I really believe that speaking out is one of the key ways in which we can break down the societal barriers we’re presently forced to face. And although it sounds naïvely simplistic, if people refuse to be educated on the subject, if they make active decisions to remain prejudiced and wilfully ignorant, well – it really is their problem, and not ours. We deserve respect. We don’t deserve to have to hide behind a wall of silence.

Oh, and my visually impaired friends? One got a job in mental health training, and now often shares my material at work. Another recently ran a fund-raising event for a mental health charity. Most importantly to me personally is that, after a lot of determined “I am going to talk about this,” they are now willing to openly discuss my difficulties with me.

Proof, to me, that negative attitudes can change.

And, despite it all, I think that’s true. Feel free to share your experiences, either here or (preferably) on the Mind post itself (since it is likely to have a more diverse audience).

I was supposed to have finished writing about my last stint of therapy with Paul by today, but as you can see I’ve failed. Not that that should surprise you; it certainly doesn’t surprise me. I have no excuse really; I’ve been reading a lot, and doing a bit of my own writing, but that’s about it really. I’ll try to do the two outstanding posts this week, but this time I won’t promise.

My Mum has found out about the awards. It was entirely my fault, so I shouldn’t whinge too much about it. She still doesn’t know the specifics involved, though, and I actually came right out to her and told her I didn’t want her reading my writing because “a lot of it is very personal.”

She said, “to your present life – or your earlier one?”

A curious question, I felt. Why would she even consider the latter. given her lay understanding of mental health difficulties?

I said, feigning a typical nonchalance, “oh, you know. Everything.” Then I changed the subject, and that was that. To be on the safe side, though, I’ve blocked her IP address 😉

Not much else to report. Not seeing NewVCB until 9th November, so no new medication(s) as yet. I can’t remember at all the date of my next appointment with Christine, so will have to bloody ring the CMHT for clarification. In non-mental news, I’m off to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne next weekend for a football (watching, that is) weekend with the lads. I can’t afford it, but I’m going anyway. Cross your fingers for the Toon, please!

Anyway, folks, I’ll catch up properly next week. I hope you’re all well.

Love Pan ❤ x

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15 thoughts on “The Darker Side of Speaking Up

  1. I’d love to met up with you in London, but with the way I am physically that probably isn’t the best idea at the moment. Will you have a spare 20 minutes while in Newcastle? It’s only a bus ride away for me, and I could buy you a drink 🙂

  2. Yeah I’m up for a meetup when you venture into the land of Laaahndaaaaan 🙂 Will have to make a day of it (abd save my pennies)

    Yay for Mind helping to sort you out for the awards do! Very cool.

    And to round out this comment, yup (see what I did there) I’m with you on the speaking out, and to be fair, when I’ve felt comfortable to do so I’ve met with a surprising amount of ‘Me too’ or ‘My [insert close relative] has [insert diagnosis]’ too so people show that they understand where I’m coming from. I’ve come across the idiots and I’ve bitten my tongue in order to keep the peace (which at times I regret). But that’s down to me being a wuss, them being idiots, and being a guest in their house.

  3. I certainly owe you a pint or two, Pan. If I’m still stalking this planet that far away, would love to catch up. Will wander past the Mind post when i’m less snarly….

    • ooh, and love the wig, although it’s a very “I AM BEING ANONYMOUS!!!” look (although I think you’ve had ‘not natural’ tendencies before, yes? wigs are *great*; lovely colours to suit your mood and dyeing with bright colours is sooo messy & hassly)

  4. Hi Pandora, just read your post n Mind and found you in the awards shortlist – congratulations! I have recently written a few posts for Mind myself. I hope you win the award (imho you are the best in your category!) Best wishes
    Sharon 🙂

  5. Jesus in a Sidecar towing his pogo-stick! Just wrote about some of the very things you mentioned in this piece. The inability of people to recognize that a mental illness IS an illness (and your comment about a particular disabled group being just as ignorant was extremely interesting..but sadly not surprising).
    An ignorant boyfriend who believes the ‘bootstrap’ approach to mental illness and other items as well.

    Going to go through some more of your postings now. and add you to my Blogroll.
    BTW: LOVE the hair and congratulations and good luck at the Awards ceremony

  6. I’m not being funny, but I really think you could take this award. I believe you’ll win.

    I might launch a campaign this morning. Watch this space.

    Tulisa Contastavlos? come on.

    • I appreciate your faith in me, darling, but don’t be so ridiculous 😉 Have you seen the other New Media nominees?! Dawn Willis or the girl (Rebecca?) that did the trich video are my bets 🙂 xxx

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