Perspectives from the Mentalist's Best Friend

Good afternoon, loveliest readers. Following the success of A’s series of guest posts for Confessions on daily life with a mental, my best friend Daniel asked if he could add some thoughts of his own. Clearly I jumped at the chance to have these insights, so I fired him off a couple of questions, which, along with his answers, now follow. Enjoy 🙂 ~ Pan

What was it like growing up with a mental friend? Did you know how mental she was? Did you ‘get’ some of her weird behaviour? What, if anything, did you feel you could do about it?

An interesting question, because as a teenager, rather than consider my friend to be mental, I considered her to be interesting; as such, I chose to emulate her behaviour.

I remember running up and down streets carrying a curtain pole. I recall parading around people’s living rooms with a cushion on my head, making stupid noises. I was there when we walked home, unable to afford our bus fares [Pan – having spent our money on alcopops, if I recall], from the near-ish-but-far-to-walk-from large town (approximately eight miles, if my memory serves me correctly) – all the while pretending to be German, talking to every person we met in broken English. They were helpful in offering us directions and admitted that they had forgiven us for “the war” when we insisted on apologising for it (and yes, I’m still laughing about it now, perhaps 15 years later). [Almost literally pissing myself at that one. Ah, memories…].

Oh, almost forgot: we phoned teachers in the middle of the night pretending to aroused horses, cats and vampire bats. Good times.

This seemed to me to be completely normal, acceptable behaviour – and if I am brutally honest, it still does [agreed]. This is how we chose to spend our time and was what made us laugh as children. Of course, society may judge young people behaving like this as being weird, unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous – but this is certainly not how it seemed to be at the time.

But, in saying all that…I was also there the night Pan took her first overdose (I think we were 16). I recall watching her take the pills and I helped her mum force her to spit them out. I was still there that night in the hospital, when Pan informed the staff that if she were allowed to go home, she would kill herself. A sanctimonious A&E doctor curtly replied, “no, you won’t. Manics don’t want to kill themselves”, to which Pan calmly (bearing in mind she’d been hysterical only moments before) explained, “oh that’s interesting, because I do”. [I don’t remember this bit; I hadn’t realised I’d talked back to the supercilious bitch. Good.]

And in a moment of what should have been horror for any young person, that wry smile – infectious when around Pan – spread across my lips; here we had this suicidal teenager who, despite her suffering, still had the audacity and quick-thinking to look a doctor in the eye and calmly tell her that she didn’t understand a word of what she was talking about (though Pan’s mum was naturally mortified).

Who doesn’t love a bit of black humour?

But in all seriousness. I just went with it. When Pan got out of the hospital, we did talk through the issue that had upset her. But we never psychoanalysed her decision to overdose (on ibuprofen? [yes. That makes me cringe now.]). It wasn’t the sort of friendship we had then – again, because it was just normal for me.

If you knew me, you’d know I judge everybody. I can’t help it. It’s a cold part of an unashamedly bitchy streak of mine. I judge people on their clothes, their hair, their reading habits, what music they like, their accents, and the things they say.

With that in mind, the following may be surprising. I think Pandora’s the only person in the world other than my partner that I love unconditionally. As such, she’s one of the few who’s been immune to this cult of judgement – back in school, throughout university, and still today. For her part, she has never formed an judgemental opinion of me, despite supporting/counselling my countless foolish decisions. Perhaps these acts have been made because of some undiagnosed mentally interesting characteristic in my head, I don’t know; as such, either way, I have never formed any judgement on the way she thinks and what she does. Ever. And I never will. I can’t understand the exact thoughts in her head – and again, I probably never will – but I ‘get’ why she has them.

So – growing up with a mental friend? Every day was an adventure. Most days were fabulous. On a daily basis, Pandora painted my dull life with beautiful colours. No one has ever made me laugh as much as her. She knows me inside out – in ways that, almost terrifyingly, I do not know her [you do, my dear. Believe me, you do].

Did I know how mental she was? Yes. Definitely yes.

What could I do about it? Not a lot. But I hope I was one of the things in her life that at least didn’t exacerbate the problem. Although thinking about it…curtain pole/teacher stalking/rollerblading late at night/”Shinobi”-wise – I totally did, didn’t I? [Indubitably. But in the most hilarious and uplifting way possible 🙂]

To what extent has a physical separation impacted upon your friendship with the mental, if at all?

I don’t like it very much. But I know “the mental”, as she so eloquently puts it, very well in different ways. Her blog outlines in detail what she is up to, so on a very cosmetic level I know how she’s getting on [or did, until I took an unannounced hiatus. Explanations and more for that next week]. And I understand a lot better now what she’s thinking. So that’s nice.

Fundamentally Pandora has always behaved exactly the same with me, so when I see her, we click back in. Since I have been away she has developed her relationship with A, who is now also a good friend, so it’s been great to get to know them as a couple and have – to an extent – a more traditionally ‘civilised’ friendship.

Mental wise? Her condition certainly seems to be to be more complicated now – but then, I read about it on a screen. If she were to talk to me about it face to face – and we have done so, on some issues – it is/would be no different to how she communicated things to me when we were children/teenagers. Still, this blog certainly allows us to have a ‘conversation’ (about mental health) that is often made more difficult in person. But I imagine that’s because of the context, therapy, drugs, triggers etc etc – inevitably, analysis of such difficult issues is more easily tackled in the written word, no matter how close the relationship.

How do you reconcile the teenager you knew with the depths of the person you now do?

Right – I have touched on this a little bit. But she’s very, very similar. Pan has always been deep, though perhaps she is much more considered now in how she speaks. I don’t witness her highs or lows, since I see her maybe only three times a year, usually in a public setting – so she comes across to me as the same girl. And often we will reminisce, so we talk a lot about us as children.

But now, what’s interesting to me is how rather than reacting angrily to her mental health difficulties in the way she might have perhaps done as a teenager – she actually uses them for something constructive. It’s quite inspiring actually.

Perhaps some of the people who read this blog have a certain schadenfreude about the terrifying thoughts that go through Pan’s head and how she reacts to them…But she’s really not a dramatic person. She’s calm, caring, thoughtful, considerate and although she does like the occasional bit of recognition for a job well done, this blog doesn’t exist to win awards or amass some sort of international recognition, or whatever. Rather, it’s to help three groups of people.

  1. Pan – to keep a diary of her progression and an archive of how she is feeling after certain therapy session and/or drug cocktails
  2. To help people like me who are ignorant about mental ill health understand that sufferers are ordinary people leading extraordinary lives
  3. To provide information and a forum for people who are suffering – so they know they are not alone.

She wouldn’t have had the balls to do this as a teenager – no one I knew would have, and most wouldn’t now. To take something like mental illness – something that can be so powerful and destructive – and harness it into something that has been described by influential types in the mental health sector as “beautiful” is, in my mind, the mark of an exceptionally gifted woman.

This side to her, although I knew it was there in ways…well. I don’t think I could have ever imagined from knowing her as a teenager that she had all the facets and experiences that led to the persona we all now know as Pan…Does that make sense? [very much so. I didn’t know this…entity, I suppose, of Pandora existed until relatively recently either]. The Ang Sang Su Chi/Eva Peron/Catherine the Great of the Madosphere? We’ll see [don’t be so melodramatic!!!].

The mental is, of course, mental. As a writing professional yourself – knowing that the mental narcissictally proclaims herself a writer – do you that think she has any realistic occupational prospects in this arena (be honest)?

Ok – she has won more awards than most well-known or full-time writers, and turns in copy that is tidier and requring less editing that the majority of journalists I work with.

But writing is a big job description.

The issue here is in confidence. I can only speak for myself in my own job. I have to attend networking events in rooms with dozens of suits I don’t know, attend dinners and sit at tables with people I’ve never met – and talk to them. I have to interview executives in their offices, over the phone, speak to PRs and have hideous corporate lunches – daily.

Pan would hate all of this shit. [I would…most assuredly, I would].

I had to write a 3,000 word feature once on bio-degradable microwavable packing (I can send you it to read if you want [I cracked up at this. Please send it. It sounds incredible!]) as a freelance piece when I was looking for a job – and I can’t imagine her ever doing this.

But, and I really don’t want to sound patronising here, she has a hell of a lot of raw talent and will dedicate herself to something – but only if she’s passionate about it.

I would LOVE to see her have a regular column in a paper or magazine, edit a serious mental health journal, or – dare I say it – write a book.

This is probably where the future lies – but I know she’s already talking to editors, making strides and breaking into the wider arena. I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. It’s just about planning a strategy and working to it, and I’m learning that Pan doesn’t necessarily tend to let things she’s terrified of stop her from doing what she wants, if she really wants something (although she doubted herself…MIND awards anyone? She was petrified of attending the ceremony, yet she threw caution to the wind and just went). [Very true – I was genuinely terrified of attending the event (fucking anxiety), but knew it would be a travesty, both personally and professionally, not to. I’m so glad now that i forced myself to go, of course – but I managed to get through my agitation and enjoy the night, in part, with Daniel’s help 🙂].

And that, boys and girls, is a rap.

Can I just add here that I am touched and flattered and have a warm fuzzy feeling inside after reading all that Dan has written here. I know he loves me, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. I love him too 🙂 With a friend like Dan, and a partner like A (whom, obviously, I also love very much), I really have much to be thankful for. You two rock. ~ Pan

Perspectives from the Mentalist's Partner (6): The Blind Leading the Mad

As regular readers may have noted from Pandora’s occasional mentions of me, I have a disability. I’m partially sighted. I usually don’t think about it. Why would I? It’s something that’s always been with me. Well, when I say ‘always‘, I mean the pleasure’s been all mine ‘within living memory’. I hesitate to say that it’s a part of me, because that suggests a welcome I don’t extend to the problem; but the reality is that, yes, it’s made me who I am and so, yes, it’s wedded to me for better or worse, richer or poorer, and all that lark. Inseparable buddies, ’til death do us part. You know the lines.

So, then, how does this constant travelling companion affect me, you might ask? Well, I can get around familiar places for the most part, I can get on with my work. I don’t tend to think about what I can’t do a lot of the time because – well, to be blunt – I can’t do it, never have been able to and likely never will. I can’t play ‘normal’ sport with any degree of aptitude. I can’t drive or even safely ride a bike on a public road. I can’t read signs unless they’re smacking me in the face. I find it too much of a strain to read most newspapers or magazines (so the internet is a gift and the Apple iPad, with its built-in accessibility, is a dream come true). I can’t see well enough to build a PC, despite knowing exactly how to; I get help on the former score from Pandora.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are quite a lot of things I can’t do, and more things besides that I can’t do with much competence. I don’t tend to think about this because, as I’ve already stated, that’s how it’s been for as long as I can remember. Yes, occasionally I get pangs of wishful thinking – possibly more so when I was younger than now – but generally I can ignore my bosom buddy. And since I don’t tend to think about what I can’t do, people who know me tend to stop thinking about it as well. Sometimes I think they forget, or consign my sight problem to the ‘oh yeah, forgot about that’ bin.

Why is this relevant to this blog? Well, it is to the extent that I have what, sometimes, can be perceived as an ‘invisible’ disability. Granted, it’s more readily perceptible than the amorphous ‘what?’ that’s going on in someone’s head, but it’s closer to that than the other extreme of, say, being in a wheelchair.

As we know, if a health issue isn’t readily perceptible, it tends not to be thought about – or, at least, it tends to be thought about less than the more obvious. Lots of buildings are geared up for ‘disabled access’. What this appears to mean, in general, is the installation of a wheelchair ramp or a lift. Worthy additions, certainly, but additions that fail to cater to me and others.

Airports are a good example of this. Many airports are moving away from announcing flights towards a position where the onus is on the passenger to find out for him- or herself when a flight is departing. Fine if you can see the often distant screens with their not so huge fonts. Of course, if you’re hard of hearing, announcements are not much good, but does there have to be only one form of communication?

Or what about going into a fast food joint. You might argue that I shouldn’t be there in the first place. But I am. So let’s look at the board. Oh, hang on, let’s not. I’d better get Pandora to read it to me. Often the same with a menu in a restaurant, the specifications on the back of product’s packaging, the instructions (as a last resort) that I’ll need to understand when trying to get something to work. There’s not a Braille or large print version.

I don’t expect the world to change for me, and it sure as hell doesn’t revolve around me, but I experience the unquestionable feeling of being marginalised at times. Perhaps not deliberately or in a major way – simply a crime of omission. The wheelchair lobby have been very successful in pushing the need for reasonable adjustments, and I applaud those efforts; but others have enjoyed fewer victories.

Now, take my problem and double it; treble it. People at least know what a sight difficulty is and they generally accept that I’m not making it up or hallucinating the bugger. Maybe society hasn’t caught up enough to cater to it in an ideal way, and there are real difficulties still. But things generally tick over. Good Samaritans will often step in to ask a blind person if he or she needs help. A lot of my friends are blind or partially sighted. They lead pretty normal lives. They get disability aids to assist them. They are offered reasonable adjustments. Could things be better for them? Most likely. But their disabilities are seen and recognised, and I for one wouldn’t like to be the person standing between them and the entrance to their local of a Saturday evening! Normal lives, normal people.

If being blind or half blind is Cinderella, then being mental appears to be Cinderella’s unborn sister. From my observations of developments around the Madosphere, it seems to me that there is a very long way to go to achieve recognition of mental illness as a disability (whether temporary or permanent). While stigma – the ‘get over it’ culture – still persists, what hope is there of a genuine cultural shift towards accommodating these problems, of reaching something akin to normalisation of these issues? If the problem is not seen, it often goes unacknowledged. Not through malice, perhaps. Ignorance is the mother of stigma here, I’d wager. The generic term ‘depression’, is a good example of what’s wrong. It doesn’t communicate useful information to Joe Public. In regular usage, it can mean practically anything across a wide spectrum from ‘a bit pissed off’ to ‘suicidal’. It’s symptomatic of, and continued to support, an all too common attitude of ‘Snap out of it! Get over yourself! Cheer up! It’s only in your head!’

Only in your head? What a quintessentially galling statement. Everything’s in your head. Everything is filtered through the lens of our senses; everything goes through our heads, all those neurons firing away merrily to create what we call our world view. Can things that are ‘just’ in your head be so readily trivialised or dismissed? Really?

My conclusion isn’t revolutionary. It’s stating what the Madosphere and mental health advocates generally are already stating: there is a need to begin to see mental issues in the same way that we see other health issues. We must collectively stop laughing them off and begin to provide the interventions, empathy and adjustments that are being extended, albeit sometimes slowly and imperfectly, in so many other areas.

Here endeth the sermon.

Pan

I think this post is particularly timely, given the shocking ignorance, offensiveness and self-righteous cuntery of the utter bollocks shown on the otherwise respectable Channel 4 this week (words to the wise: follow the link at your peril. It could genuinely upset or trigger you, and it will almost certainly anger you). For those unfamiliar, some God botherer, Malcolm Bowden, has been wanking on that depression – and as A notes in this post, that’s certainly an overused term – is a character failing, caused not by biopsychosocial factors, but by the dirty heathen sin of ‘pride’ (incidentally – as my next post will discuss, at least a little – there’s fuck all wrong with pride anyway. Conceit and arrogance are ‘sins’, if one must employ Biblical nomenclature – but they are
quite different from simply taking pleasure in the fact that you’ve done something good).

Yeah. The words “fuck away off” came to my mind too. Apparently leading mental health charity Rethink agree.

Can I just say that this is not how all – or even many – Christians view depression and other mental health concerns. This is clearly exemplified by some lovely people who actually practice the doctrines preached by Christ, rather than sitting in self-referential, holier-than-thou judgement.

Unfortunately, though, Mr Bowden has done neither people with mental illnesses nor his warped view of Christianity any good. He’s poured gallons of fuel onto the stigmatic fire, and has in all probability provided cocks like Richard Dawkins with a new pile of wank fodder.

Depression is real. Depression is a real mental illness. Godliness, or the lack thereof, has fuck all to do with it. Yet society, or at least parts of it, will nod along to Bowden’s demonising rhetoric, because it suits them to believe that teh m3nt@lz are all evil/scrounging/lying etc etc etc.

So hard as it is, on we must fight. All of us with disabilities – seen or unseen, mild to severe – in solidarity. That we must do, despite members of the community being some of the most marginalised and vulnerable in society, is disgusting, but cockjockeys like Mr Bowden, and indeed challenges such as A has discussed above, prove that it’s sadly a necessary evil even now, in a supposedly enlightened 21st century.

Dermatillomania: Do 'Normal' People Pick Scabs?

***Possible Triggers for Self-Harm***

I’m sitting here on my sofa, contentedly watching A play Saints Row. Legs folded comfortably over one another, relaxed, comfortable. A perfectly ordinary way to while away a dark and rainy November evening.

Except for one thing. As I sit here with my lower legs bared, I cannot help but be drawn to gaze upon one of them. You see, I’m mesmerised by a deep, beguiling, dark flow of blood pouring out of my shin.

I’ve not started self-harming again, in case anyone finds this a perturbing state of affairs. Or rather, that is to say, I didn’t sit down consciously with my scalpel or a knife, and inflict a gaping wound. I have no idea how the gash got there, but that part doesn’t really matter anyway.

What does is that the wound was healing – until I pulled the scab off it, and re-opened it to the air and all its multitude of dangerous impurities.

I pick every scab on my body. Regularly, and compulsively. I have some fairly hardcore eczema in my ears, and I have the most disgusting, lurid habit of digging scabs of dead skin out of both aural cavities with hair grips (I know. I know! But if it’s not hair grips, it’s my nails – so should you ever encounter me in person, make sure I have one of the former with me ;)). And as for spots – I squeeze the few of the fuckers that I get without exception, and in fact actively go in search of others – usually non-existent – to burst. In that way, I end up picking random bits of skin; in doing so, I frequently and unwittingly scar myself.

I have always engaged in these anti-social behaviours, much to the repulsed chagrin of my manner-minded mother and, to a lesser extent, A. When, historically, Mum would call me up on an incidence of same, I would simply say that I couldn’t help it.

I continue to hold to that prerogative. I truly feel that there is no way to control any of this mistreatment of my skin; frequently, the actions are unconscious, but they are always compulsive.

So anyway, I never really thought much about the nature of the phenomenon until recently, but if I had, I suppose I’d have termed it nothing more than a bad habit – and one that was not, at least to some degree, particularly unusual. Since my descend into utterly chaotic madness (as opposed to ‘mere’ clinical depression), though, I’ve come across the term dermatillomania.

According to the linked Wikipedia article, in order for compulsive skin picking to be deemed dermatillomania, one has to experience anxiety in relation to it. Whilst in my case, that doesn’t commonly precede picking, what does happen is that – should I be stopped from scratching – then I’ll start panicking.

Arguably then, I suppose I could say I had this ‘condition’, being as it is compulsive, and obsessive. But perhaps I’m just over-pathologising myself – it would hardly be the first such time, would it?

Either way, I can’t imagine not skin-picking. It’s one of those things that just cannot compute in my tiny, limited brain. So, bad habit or dermatillomania – do other people really not do this, or is it just that they have enough self-control to avoid indulging the practice when they’re in polite company? I can logically accept that it’s the former, but I cannot truly believe that the latter is not the more accurate picture when fully painted.

Is this yet another manifestation of my wide-ranging madness or it just…meh? Do you do this or do you honestly, truly not?

Later

A side note: A and I are off to Laaaahhhdahhhnnn in the morning. Tomorrow, to my delight, we will finally meet bourach for the first time. Yay yay! Sunday sees a lunchtime meeting with my best mate Daniel, and (hopefully) his partner Craig, then drinks in the evening with the lovely CVM. And – Jesus Christ almighty – Monday night sees the long-awaited awards ceremony. GAH! I know I was banging on last week that I was excited rather than nervous, but I’ve just lost a mission on Saints Row six times in a fucking row and packed, so now I’m in an apprehensive rage, which has led to a still-excited-but-OH-FUCK-I’M-ACTUALLY-GOING-TO-THIS-THING sense of…well, oh fuck, I’m actually going to this thing.

Wish me luck as I take my worried strides in the unknown…

Bye, by the way! See you next week. I’ll try and post about how the awards went on Tuesday (or, as I probably more accurately mistyped, Ruesday. Rue because I’ll no doubt feel slightly deflated at not winning anything, even though I already know that’s going to be the outcome. Well, no one ever said I was rational). Love you all, lovely people. Take care. xxx

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

World Mental Health Day 2011

If you suffer from mental health problems, how open are you about them to your friends and family? Those of us that blog and comment here in the online community that has come to be known as the Madosphere write candidly and in detail about our mental illnesses – but is this translated into our so-called real-lives?

For a long time, in my case, it wasn’t. I maintained a façade, where possible at least, that I was still a contentedly functioning member of the rat race, as sane as anyone else that has a similar way of life (albeit, perhaps, a little more cynical!).

Even when I became rather more open about having experienced, and about my experiencing, severe depression, I still withheld information from most people regarding the multitude of ways in which the other facets of my madness manifested. I tried to avoid mention of psychosis, dissociation and mixed episodes. I would certainly not reveal anything about the main issue that led to my having developed complex PTSD.

And as far as the latter goes, I doubt that I ever will – but that’s because it will ruin the lives of others, and there’s only one of them that even comes close to deserving that. However, the symptoms that I habitually experience are not going to directly impact upon most individuals – other than those that, due to their proximity to the situation, already know about and have seen frequent examples of the crazies anyway.

So one day, I thought, “fuck it. What am I hiding from? It’s me that has to endure this, and if others can’t deal with my reality, that’s their issue. I’m just going to be honest.” And I was. And I am.

The voices and visions, the amnesia, the GCHQ and other paranoias, the fugues, the simultaneous hysterical laughter and despairing tears. I’ve ‘fessed up to it all, and much more besides. Granted, it’s rare that anyone actually asks about specifics – but when they do, I tell them the whole truth.

If they choose to deride, stigmatise and make false assumptions based on erroneous and sensationalised information, then I correct their misguidedness. Most people mean well, I think, but are understandably apprehensive, thanks to the way our culture has demonised mental health trouble and attempted to brush all references thereto under the carpet. All you can do is to try and separate myth from fact, and show that despite ‘having issues’, you are still essentially ordinary. In my experience, people are more tolerant and accepting than you might originally think.

Of course, there are some who are truly disdainful of mentalness and will not be persuaded that you are not a knife-wielding freak, hell-bent on sadistically torturing everyone that crosses your path, no matter how much evidence you show them or normality you personally exhibit in their company. If people elect to maintain positions such as this, based only on moral panics, media sensationalism, and wilful ignorance, then I don’t need them in my life. Fuck them.

Yes, it sounds so easy written down here in nice, black-and-white words, and of course it’s not in practice. However, if you have a long-term mental health problem, there will probably come a time when you face a similar scenario: keep hiding behind an overpowering wall of shame to which you feel undeservedly bound, or break free of it, realising that you’re tired of the pretence, that you deserve better, and that you have nothing for which to be sorry.

You are not some sort of fucked-up, freakish aberration because you have a mental health difficulty. Some statistics state that the incidence of same is one in four in an average lifetime – I’ve read reports that dispute that, but regardless: the point is that the chances of experiencing mental ill health at least at some juncture are reasonably high.

How many people do you know – in general and overall? Even if we dismiss the one in four statistic and, for the sake of argument, adopt a much more conservative estimate of a lifetime prevalence of mental illness at a mere one in 10…well, anyone who’s ever studied, worked or even been part of an extended family is bound to know someone (else) with mentalist issues.

So why do we silence ourselves so? Do we do so in consideration of cancer or diabetes or migraines? Of course not, nor should we. But why are physical maladies considered the more acceptable relatives of mental ones, when the latter are arguably just as common? And how can an unconsciously ignorant society learn, en masse, that mental health problems rarely resemble the over-blown melodrama perpetrated by biased reporting and established stereotypes…unless we speak up to contradict them?

Of course, there are times when such honesty can destroy opportunities such as job interviews, the development of potential new friendships or partnerships, whatever. It may not always be possible to admit that you’re mental, and this is not a condemnation of people who choose not to be widely open about their conditions. I just wonder how we can eradicate stigma for good unless we have an open dialogue in public around issues of mental health, illness and recovery.

No where has this been better underlined to me than in this post by Lori at Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum. Lori’s husband, after a brief but serious psychosis, hanged himself in front of his wife and baby daughter.

In the linked post, she discusses her speech at his funeral. Had he spoken up, she wondered aloud, could he have been treated?

I can say nothing more prescient and eloquent than what Lori already has. If you are experiencing mental distress, if it’s too much to cope with, if you feel you have nowhere to turn – you do. Speak. Please, on this – World Mental Health Day – at least consider speaking up to help raise awareness of mental health problems. In a small but important way, you could well be helping millions of others that suffer in silence, and indeed yourself, when you speak.

The Secrecy of the Confessional

I don’t like surprises. They intimidate me, and require me to feel like I have to second-guess a person’s motives and intent – and, at the more extreme end of the scale, they can even feel like shocking violations (and apparently it’s not just me and my eccentricity/oddness/paranoia/whatever, so there).

It reasonably follows, therefore, that I don’t like secrets greatly either. I suppose we all have them from each other to a greater or lesser extent, but some can be big, and it is the covering up of those that I find problematic. I write a good bit about sexual abuse on this blog – that remained a perfect secret between me and Paedo for years, and is only known to a small few beyond that dubious duo even now. That’s big, and I hid it. I don’t like that I hid it. People should have known; particularly with other children exposed to the man as potential victims, it wasn’t really my secret to keep.

But before I go on an abuse-related, potentially self-vituperative tangent, let me hark back to where I wanted to go with this. Putting abuse and some of its related issues to one side, I have a pretty big secret. You know about it (yes, you do). A and my closest friend, Daniel, know about it. But my mother, one of the people to whom I’m closest in the world, doesn’t have a clue (if my investigations have been as smart as I think they have). Another close friend, Brian, is similarly oblivious. My wider family, Paedo and friends included, are also in the dark.

I am, of course, talking about this blog.

Now, on the one hand, you might say, “big deal. You throw (a few too many) words on a page once or twice a week, what does it matter whether they know or not?”

However, even though it is not today what it once was (I write less, less people visit – it happens), this blog is a major part of my life. I have an entire identity based on and built around it, and if I’m entirely honest, a lot of the issues I discuss here feed into my ‘real’ identity too. This blog is important to me; it is a life chronicle, a place to vent, a support network and an adjunctive form of psychotherapy all rolled up into one. There must be the best part of a million bloody words written here, and the site ranks highly on Google for many mentalist searches. For whatever reasons – reasons I don’t think I’ll ever entirely understand – some people seem to actually like it. It has won awards (!), for Christ’s sake, and has nearly 300,000 views (which, after two and a half years, is damn all compared to some big blogs – but which isn’t awful for a personal journal, particularly in such a niche interest arena). And how many (wo)man-hours must I have put into getting things to this point? I almost dread to think.

I’m not trying to self-aggrandise or gasconade here (not any more than normal, anyway..!); I’m simply trying to convey that the blog is a big deal in my life.

I chose the suffix ‘confessions of‘ for the site’s title quite deliberately. I know that the term, in the blogosphere at least, has become clichéd almost to the point of vulgarity, but the thing is, it is confessional for me.

Yet the confessional – a place to admit, possibly to seek redemption – is decidedly exclusionary. My mother, and a number of other pivotally important individuals in my life, haven’t the faintest idea that this even exists.

That feels incredibly fucked up to me. All children inevitably hide some things from their parents but they tend, in the grand scheme of things, to be relatively insignificant – that do you remember that night I was at “the cinema” with x and then “staying over at x‘s house” when I was 16? Yeah, I was actually at a club until 6am sort of thing that we all do – not things of key import, or things that have an enduring impact upon one’s psyche. Mum should know about a big issue in my life, and it feels so dirty and wrong and discriminatory that she does not.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell her or anything. There’s no point in ruining whatever years she has left in this world by her finding out about everything that is contained within these pages (my current obsessive mental intrusions – and I mean seriously obsessive, as in feeding into almost anything – is that she will suddenly die soon. I keep telling myself that her life expectancy can be reasonably estimated to be 80-something ((she’s 69)), given her relative health and our familial history, but reason never assuages my neurosis ((something I should well know from past experience)). Perhaps this latest manifestation of anxiety-driven batshitness is the reason for this very post). Yet, although the secrecy is necessary to spare her feelings – perhaps even her very sanity – it feels odd not to share some of the highs and lows with her. I remember when I won my first award for this blog; my first clumsy, elated instinct was to scream it at A, then to anyone on the internet that was willing to listen.

And I didn’t get to share that magical moment, and others like it, with my mother. It almost feels akin to her not seeing me going to school for the first day, or graduating from university, or having my first legal pint at the age of 18. OK, so these comparisons may sound a little bombastic, but I hope you know what I mean. My mother should (have) share(d) with me moments I considere(d) meaningful, yet in this shadowy part of my life, she has been utterly denied that opportunity.

Nevertheless, I know there are others out there that hide or have hidden their blogs and mentalist/internet alter egos from everyone in their real lives. I suppose in writing this entry I’m wondering how we can reconcile the openness and candour with which we speak on these blogs with the cladestineness that, ironically, said blogs represent in relation to certain personnel. What do you think about that? Is it a necessity for you, or do you like having a ‘secret’? And if you have managed to keep your blog private from ‘real life’ people, how have you managed it, logistically speaking? I’ve got myself in a few dangerous pickles in the past that could have revealed all to my Mum, so I know it’s not easy to keep schtum.

Just random thoughts, really.

I was going to write a ‘how things are’ scribble at this juncture of the post, but I can’t be arsed. I might try and do it tomorrow. I might not, however. Suffice to say, life is still shite but my death is unlikely to be imminent (day-long fantasies about long, sharp knives stabbing the living fuck out of my skull notwithstanding).

marketing

Anders Breivik: Mad or Bad?

First rant of the week.

I’ve just watched a speculative documentary on the repugnant Anders Breivik, the man responsible for the horrific attacks on Oslo and Utøya Island last month. Before continuing, for the little it’s worth, I’d like to extend my sympathy and solidarity to anyone from Norway reading this. Living in Northern Ireland, I have not been a stranger to terrorism. It is a truly despicable thing, that someone could think politics (or more specifically, in the Norwegian case, reactionary extremist racism) could be worthy of ending even one – never mind multiple – human lives. One of the survivors of the shooting attack on the island, who was attending a summer camp on what the documentary described as “left-wing” politics, stated at the end of the programme that he was sure his ideals rather than Breivik’s would, in the end, be the political victors. It is my fervent hope and belief that this will indeed be the case.

I commend the survivors in the programme for their bravery and determination in the face of such horrible, senseless adversity; I hope that in time all of the survivors can heal from both their physical and psychological injuries; and I send sincere sympathies to the loved ones of those that died.

In the sense of the survivor and eye-witness accounts, the documentary was interesting, informative and very powerful and tragic. I am not the nicest person on this Earth, let’s face it, but even I will never, ever understand how someone can be filled with so much loathing for other cultures and different demographic groups that doing something like this would ever cross their minds.

And herein comes the rant. Inexplicably renowned criminologist David Wilson, a supercilious little man that I’ve come across dozens of times both in an academic context and in my more amateur investigations into criminality, was employed by the film-makers as an ‘expert’ witness on Breivik’s psychology. Can you guess where we’re going with this, readers?

According to Wilson (who, to the best of my knowledge, has no more insider knowledge of Breivik than you or I do), Breivik has a “classic cluster B personality disorder”; Wilson exemplifies this point by highlighting the sensationalism of the attacks, and of Breivik’s apparent at-easeness, even his thrills, with the media frenzy after his arrest. Wilson also contends that Breivik is a psychological splitter (ie. a black and white thinker), presuambly in reference to his “MUSLIMS BAD! LEFT WING BAD! KNIGHTS TEMPLAR GOOD!” kind of thinking. Also, he’s a classic narcissist – look at the “manifesto” and the ridiculous pictures the man posted of himself online the day before he embarked on his awful plan.

I can’t argue with any of that, but neither can I see how it took Wilson years of training and work experience to come to these frankly blindingly obvious conclusions. (Also, he contradicts himself on the histrionic thesis at a couple of points by then pointing out how much of a loner and how reclusive Breivik generally was before this all took place, though to be fair that doesn’t exactly mitigate the gruesome exhibitionism the man demonstrated when he enacted his plans). Given that Wilson fails to explain his hypothesis further (or at least that any further explanation was not shown in the programme), I also don’t get how exhibiting a few (admittedly extreme) traits of cluster B pathology makes the man a “classic” example of same. Yeah, he’s probably a narcissist – but being narcissistic does not necessarily mean having narcissistic personality disorder.

Breivik is certainly a classic example of a cunt, but that is far from always the same thing as being someone with a personality disorder. Look. Maybe he has a one, and maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he has some other form of mental illness (the whole Knights Templar thing sounds vaguely fantastical to me), and maybe he doesn’t. What I object to is the programme’s, and Wilson’s in particular, testimony to these possibilities without any qualification.

OK, so they shouldn’t have to point out that just because one exceptionally extreme (possible) example behaves in this heinous way that the overwhelming majority of people with allegedly similar disorders do not – but let’s be honest here; the public love the morbid sensationalism of reporting on supposed madness, and that – and personality disorders in particular, stigmatised as they often are – is (are) often the perfect scapegoat(s) for outrageous behaviour that decent people have difficulty understanding.

I think, as an unfortunate consequence of things like this, that each examination in the media of a criminal that may or does have a mental health problem should carry a clear disclaimer with it: that people with mental illness are generally no more violent than the general population, and are in fact much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators of it (if memory serves me, schizophrenics in the community are about seven times more likely to be affected by violent offending than other members of the populace, but I could have the specifics of that wrong). It shouldn’t have to be that way, that we need to qualify every generality, but I’m a pragmatic person. I’d rather that than have everyone outside the mental health community demonising those within it, because the consequences of the latter are potentially devastating.

Anyhow, as far as I can see Breivik was mostly sane anyhow. Null made a very good point on TWIM the other day – no one with a serious and active mental health problem could honestly have spent so much time* meticulously researching and planning a major ‘event’ in the fashion that he apparently did (except, arguably, a sociopath, the more organised version of the psychopath ((depending on which textbook you read))). We just don’t have the concentration, the calculated calmness and, more practically, in all probability we don’t have the economic and physical resources to engage in anything so necessarily complex. That sounds like a cold statement, maybe, but the point is that mentally ill people who kill because of (as opposed to in spite of) their illness tend to do it on impulse (because of a false sense of feeling persecuted or threatened, perhaps) or because they genuinely have no rational conception of what they’re doing (eg. because hallucinations compel them towards the crime).

* Null’s comment suggests that Breivik was planning the operation for nine years, though the documentary claimed it was three. I’ve heard different reports from other sources too, so don’t know what to believe. Either way, it’s a long time and was, by all accounts, a complicated process.

Further, in September 2001, did we start hearing speculation on whether Marwan al-Shehhi, Mohamed Atta, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Ahmed al-Haznawi et al, and – presumably – Osama bin Laden himself, had cluster B personality disorders? Did we spend any significant amount of time discussing whether they had folie à x? No? Didn’t we just accept that they were representing a particularly extreme and reactionary version of Islam (which, I would add, in no way represents the vast majority of people that belong to that faith)?

It’s not an entirely fair comparison, granted, because as far as we know Breivik worked alone – whether or not the two supportive ‘cells’ to which he referred were somehow involved in the attacks is at present unknown, but either way the bomb and the shootings specifically were carried out by him alone. The 11th September attacks were organised by a huge, world-wide cult of extremists.

But therein lies the point. Breivik, by his own delighted admission, is a racist that loathes Islam and wants to wage a war to drive Muslims from (Western) Europe. He claims to be a “cultural Christian”, which I think in effect means that the man is not particularly religious, but supports whatever continuing influence Christianity has on an increasingly secular and culturally inclusive continent. But although Breivik is probably not a religious extremist, he is certainly a political one.

To further exemplify, when the Troubles here were ongoing, we didn’t try to examine whether or not Johnny Adair or Thomas Murphy were personality disordered. Do we debate the state of Nick Griffin’s mental health? Was that the first thing on people’s mind when London was attacked in July 2005? Indeed, is it the lead speculative headline as regards the current ongoing rioting in London?

No. Because we used to be able to, and still can on occasion, accept that some people are just twisted fucking dickheads. People have always committed unspeakable acts in the name of religion, politics or other fucked-up ideologies. Anders Breivik is one such example. He may be mad after a fashion, but he knew what he was doing. So, ultimately, he was just fucking bad. Very, very bad.

RIP to all those that were killed as a result of the attacks on Norway on 22 July 2011.

Disclaimer: author of the above is not a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, not a criminologist, not a political scientist, not a sociologist, doesn’t know Anders Breivik, doesn’t know David Wilson, doesn’t know anyone from the Discovery Channel, could be wrong on all counts, could be wrong on everything she’s ever written, it’s all merely alleged, she’s only speculating just like the programme was, is not a member of any organisation, believes in free speech. Author of the above is a provincial nobody who apparently can’t stop her vociferous gob (fingers) when presented with a topical story and a laptop. Author means no harm in voicing opinions, welcomes sensible and reasoned debate, wishes most people well, though doesn’t wish Anders Breivik well.

marketing