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.

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.

Philip Davies, Mental Health and the Minimum Wage

This is an expanded, more opinionated version of an article I wrote elsewhere.

Unless you’ve been living under a stone since Thursday night, you’ve probably heard about the controversy caused on Friday by a hitherto pretty much unknown Conservative backbencher. Philip Davies stated, in a debate on opportunities for employment in the House of Commons, that people with mental health problems (or learning disabilities, as he inaccurately referred to us on several occasions) should be “allowed” to work for the minimum wage. I shall come to that main crux anon.

Firstly, though, did you know that he also regards young people who are unemployed – without, apparently, any particular qualification to his comments – as braindead layabouts, who spend their money on childish versions of gambling? Well, you probably did – it wouldn’t be difficult to guess that I suppose, given other things he’s said – but let’s have it documented here anyway. This may not be the most popular blog since the beginning of time, but it may well have more popular appeal than the fairly turgid transcripts of words said in the House of Commons:

It is bizarre that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) [Labour] thinks that it is appalling for young people to be going out to work for low wages, and that he would therefore prefer them to be sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle and “This Morning” and visiting their local amusement arcades, rather than having gainful employment.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

Good to know, Mr Davies, thanks. I was under the impression that the majority of people without jobs – whether young or otherwise – were sick, disabled or trying to get work. Now I know better. Cheers!

Seriously, yeah – we all know there are some unemployed people out there like those he describes, but the stats show time and time again that they distinctly are in the minority. But if Mr Davies wants to ignore findings from (of all sources) The Daily Mail, with whom I would imagine he would get on with quite nicely, who are we lowly dolescums to protest?

So, onto the minimum wage/mental health issues. Mr Davies has accused several people who emailed him in disgust of not properly reading what he said (see below), so let me, as promised above, dissect his commentary by going through the Hansard record of the debate in question.

I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

I can’t correct him on that figure, mainly because – as someone who does not have a learning disability – I have not done an awful lot of research into that arena. But wait…doesn’t he say that he went to Mind? Why yes – yes he does. Mind are, as many of you will know, a mental health charity. Could Mr Davies possibly be equating learning disabilities with mental health problems?

Nah, he must just have made a slip-up…

I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

Oh, good. ‘Mental health problems’, he says – that’s more accurate. Now, I think very few of us would deny that Mr Davies and the people with learning disabilities mental health difficulties that he met at Mind have a point here: as things stand, yes – the employer is likely to employ the non-disabled but otherwise like-for-like candidate in a competition against a mentalist. I get that. I think we all do.

Mr Davies makes clear in the debate that he opposes the minimum wage in principle. That is his perfect entitlement, and as far as I’m concerned he can go about and campaign for reform of it all he likes. The specific problem in this instance lies, in my view, in deliberately dressing up his ideology in false (or even erroneously perceived genuine) sympathy for what he at one point terms society’s “most vulnerable”. The assumption made in his spinning of this is that the “most vulnerable” are less worthy than the “less vulnerable”.

To get a foot into the job market, we are supposed to work for less than other people doing the same job?! We should be “allowed” this supposed right, rather than be allowed the right to compete on an equal platform based on relevant occupational merit? All this despite the fact that many people with mental illness(es) are educated, experienced, intelligent people – and that they and many others within this sphere have other skills, demonstrable creativity, and/or potentially lucrative or strategic ideas?

No, Mr Davies – that is unacceptable. We are not lesser people than others, and as such we do not make lesser employees. Ergo, we should not work for less than the legal minimum.

I noted the following on a blog post that initially complained about the furore surrounding Mr Davies’ remarks:

Racism [for example] is still rife amongst certain people; if Davies had met a group of black or Asian people who said that they’d expect the nice British Aryan to be chosen over them at an interview and subsequently suggested that they should be grateful to work for less than the minimum wage, there would have been uproar (and quite rightly so). I fail to see how the demographic to which he did refer should be any different.

And I don’t. The problem is stigma and inequality, not who pays who what. Here (not sure about the rest of the UK?), the law has recently been changed so that potential employees don’t have to declare that they have an illness before an offer of employment is made; this is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough in my humble-ish opinion. Greater reform of employment law is needed – for example, it being entirely voluntary for an employee to declare periods of work absence.

But meh. It would be easier just to continue to stigmatise the mentally ill, to make them ‘live’ off a pittance, rather than perhaps putting our dear friends in business out a teensy-weensy bit. Plus, it saves money too – YAY! (Of course, Mr Davies working for less than the minimum wage would also save a hell of a lot of money. Maybe he should consider that as a viable proposition.).

And the ‘learning disability = mental illness’ thing? Not a mere slip-up after all, as it turns out:

…[t]he situation was doing the people with learning difficulties [that he apparently met at Mind] a huge disservice.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

[in the wake of the horrified response to what he said] Left wing hysteria now dictates that you can’t even repeat what people with learning disabilities tell you if it questions their shibboleths

(Source: Twitter)

Good to know he’s informed on what mental health and learning disabilities are, then. I find such touching comfort in the fact that he can therefore ably speak for both groups!

I mentioned above that Mr Davies accused complainants of not reading his speech accurately. Even if that were true, which is patently wasn’t, his responses left a lot to be desired:

One

I am extremely sorry but I am afraid that you clearly have no idea at all about what I actually said as I did not say any of the things that you have accused me of saying in your email [she pointed out the laws on equality and disability discrimination and stated that his comments “disintegrated” them, then said that his comments suggested that people with disabilities should be treated as second class citizens]. Please can I suggest you read what I actually said in Parliament.

Two

Thank you for confirming that you have not in fact read my whole speech.

If you had you would have known that I was merely repeating what people with mental health problems had said to me!

I am sorry you feel their views shouldn’t be aired just because you happen to find them unpalatable.

Three

[to the same woman as ‘two’, who had by this point read his speech in full]

If you have read my speech then I am unsure why you would want to distort what I said and misrepresent it so badly.

Clearly in those circumstances it is impossible to have a sensible debate.

There are very many people with disabilities who have congratulated me for what I said. I am sorry you feel their views shouldn’t be aired just because you happen to disagree with them.

That is what I consider to be intolerant.

Etc etc etc.

(Source: Facebook Page – Reduce Philip Davies’ Salary to Less than the Minimum Wage)

Even if you agreed with every word the man spoke, even if you were thrilled with his claims of mere repetition, the brusque, condescending and simply bloody rude tone of his correspondences with members of the above page is not something people should have to put up with an elected MP, whether he agrees with their outlooks or not.

Also, he keeps stating that he was merely repeating what Mind’s clients said to him. What he actually said in the Parliamentary debate was that the folks he spoke to knew there was a much greater likelihood of a non-disabled applicant getting the job for which they’d also applied (see above). As I said before, I think we all know this to be true. Accepting that this is a real situation does not equate to a willingness to derogate from our right to basic equality, to being treated like human fucking beings. So, I’d challenge Mr Davies to state whether or not the people to whom he spoke specifically and unequivocally stated that they would be willing to accept less than the minimum wage in order to get some sort of employment. If so, can this be backed up? Mind don’t seem to think so – they appear pretty outraged that their clients were being referred to in this manner.

A, who is registered blind, was furious when he heard about all this on Friday evening. He asked, rhetorically, if he should be paid less than the minimum wage because of his disability. I should certainly be interested to hear Philip Davies’ views on this.

In the end, whinging about this here isn’t a particularly good use of my time, because Downing Street have already stated that they “reject” the ideas espoused in Mr Davies’ remarks. Still and withall, this bollocks really riled me. Not only does Mr Davies clearly not fully understand mental illness or learning disability, he has twisted – and apparently continues to twist – the innocent and justified lamentations of unwell but otherwise ordinary people into a reactionary, macro-political discourse.

marketing

Them and Us

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?

/overlengthyrant

(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…)

The Comprehensive Spending Review Will Screw People With Mental Illness

I’m far too depressed about this to write extensively on it, but by now you’ll probably be aware that our friend Gideon has slashed funds for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  Fair?  Well, you make up your own mind, but let’s face it; those of us that are genuine claimants are just as screwed as the few ‘scroungers’ that exist within the system.

ESA Work Group

Georgie has decreed that those in the ‘Work Related Group’ of ESA will only be allowed to remain there for a year, then will be transferred to Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA).  Um…sorry?  I thought the work-group was for people who had ‘limited capacity‘ for employment.  Augh well.  Everyone will be better within a year, won’t they George?  It really is as easy as that.  Thanks for letting me know.

This is truly dreadful in just about every conceivable way.  JSA does not carry with it ‘return to work’ schemes and the support of an ‘advisor’ in as work-group ESA does, thus reducing and definitely not incentivising those that will be affected.  Also, JSA paid at a lower rate than ESA.  You could argue that it’s only a difference of about £20, but when you live on the fucking line, £20 is a lot of money.  Way to boost people’s morale and encourage them back to the workforce, regardless of whether or not they’re still ill.  Nice one, G.

Here’s a stunningly insightful, absolutely non-patronising and comprehensive look at how the work group of ESA works, in case you were not previously familiar with it:

Wondrously Amazing Explanation of ESA!

Wayhay!!! Thanks, Social Security Agency, This is STUNNING!

ESA Support Group

Big G ‘n’ Friends claim that the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled individuals will still be ‘looked after’.  Oh really?

Just how is that measured, G?  I can’t find a source through Google, but estimates being bandied about on Twitter suggest that only six per cent of ESA claimants are allocated to the ‘support’ group of the benefit, the one where people are ‘safe’ from being moved to JSA.

Why don’t we just reduce it to one per cent, George?  Or even point one?  If all that matters is protecting the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled, then why not just set your arbitrary figures at an even more arbitrary level?  Why not screw everyone?  Why not decide that the lowest number possible represents the ‘most severely’ disabled?  In fact, I have a great idea.  How about, instead of using percentages, we just ‘protect’ the one single ‘most severely’ disabled person in the whole country?!  That would really help clear the deficit!

Why Mentalists are Fucked

It’s not just mentalists, of course.  Anyone with a hidden disability is potentially bollocksed by this, regardless of reams of medical evidence agreed by 700,000 health professionals clearly demonstrating their chronic/severe/seriously debilitating illness(es).  This is because of the government’s infinitely wise choice to ignore what is clearly biased evidence from your GP, consultant and any other medic-y types you may see, and have you assessed instead by their independent medical assessors.

These people of course work for the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ATOS because they voluntarily turned down positions in the NHS and private medicine, absolutely not because they were faced with little choice when it came to their careers.  Hmm.  yes.  *clears throat*  Furthermore, naturally their specialist rotations were of such longevity and depth that they know at least as much if not more than individual consultants in specific branches of clinical medicine. Um-hmm-hmm-hmm.  Yup. *clears throat again*

In short (and sarcasm aside) – these twats have little to no specialist knowledge of psychiatry/psychology, and are therefore not in any position at all to make a judgement on whether someone is truly mentally ill or not.  Ditto gynaecology, rheumatology, opthamology, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.

Random Notes and Observations

I am interested to note no evidence in the CSR of extra percentage points added to things like inheritance tax for those left with colossal inheritances.  I wonder why that was?

It should be noted (as if matters weren’t complicated enough) that ESA can be claimed on a contributory or an income-based basis:

  • [you can claim] contributory ESA if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. However, if you become unfit for work before you are 20 (25 in some cases), you do not need to meet the national insurance contribution conditions.
  • income-related ESA [is claimable] if your income and savings are low enough…To get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with an amount the Government thinks is enough for you to live on.  If you income is less than this, you will get the maximum amount of income-related ESA. If your income is more than this amount, you may get some income-related ESA.  You cannot get any income-related ESA if your savings are more than £16,000. If you get child maintenance payments, usually these will not be included in your income.  (Source)

So, to be fair, this reform won’t officially affect everyone who claims ESA in the work-group.  But do we trust the government to keep the income-related component safe from stealth cuts?  I’m not so sure.

Links

Many people have responded and will respond far better to today’s announcements than I have or can.

I will add to this as and when I come across more.  I suspect that that shall not be far in the future.

My views on the already-proposed changes (from the June 2010 budget) to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be found here.

Number Crunching

I do not object to benefit reform per se, and I would like to see ‘scroungers’ weeded out of the system as much as anyone else.

The problem is that the idea of ‘scroungers’ is a hand being grossly overplayed by the government and the country’s reactionary media.  No one denies that there’s some such people; however, most of us dispute that they are as high in number as The Fail or The Sexpress have indoctrinated their respective readerships into believing.  In actuality, the rate of benefit fraud comes in at something like one per cent of all claimants, for God’s sake.  Oh, wait.  A source, you say?  OK.  It’s…um…The Daily Mail!

For the purposes of comparison, This is Money notes that the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that whilst the aforementioned 1% of fraudsters may be incurring about £5 billion pounds of expense, about £16 billion of benefit entitlements are unclaimed.

The same site also points out that The National Fraud Authority (NFA) claims that tax evasion costs the Treasury about £17 billion.  One thing to note here is that one single case of tax evasion or white collar fraud can run into millions, thus possibly meaning that relative to benefit fraud, there are fewer individuals committing this type of financial crime.  Nevertheless, the figure is still three times higher than that of benefit crime, and thus is surely relevant to the bigger picture in governmental macro-budgeting.  Perhaps some funding to help the NFA catch white collar criminals wouldn’t go amiss.  Perhaps, given these figures, much more money could be returned to the Exchequer in this way than by cutting benefits to those that need them?

Meh

What do I know though.  I’m just a dirty benefit fraudster who thoroughly deserves to be cast into a potentially deadly financial desert for her crimes, all because you can’t always see her faux illness crippling her body.

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Guest Post: Working With a Mental Illness

I was recently lucky to have my Disability Living Allowance claim renewed, but am presently in the position where the Social Security Agency are forcing upon me another claim for Employment and Support Allowance.  This is to my chagrin as they only recently granted me my proper allocation to the ‘Support Group’.  Alas.

Bearing this plus the current winds of change that seem likely to be made to social security laws and eligibility for benefits, I’ve been panicking about what’s going to become of me in the next few years.  Will I be granted the benefits that I need, and to which I am entitled?  Will I be denied them, but manage to survive through sponging off Mum and A?  Will I have to kill myself?  Or, with continued therapy / counselling (from wherever that may be) in conjunction with medication, will I be able to return to work before my benefits are ripped away from me?

I don’t know the answers and only time will tell.  However, I did wonder what others might have to say on the topic of benefits and/or working and mental illness, and asked my Twitter followers if anyone who had views and/or experience in this arena would like to write a guest post for Confessions.

I was delighted when Kevin Friery, @therapeutic1, offered to do the honours on working with a mental health problem.  Here is his very interesting article 🙂

Introduction

There is a fascinating social survey that for some reason is not widely quoted in the media. Examining and quantifying Psychiatric Morbidity in England, it was published in 2009. Whilst acknowledging that it only looks at England, it still tells an amazing story. Three quick facts: In any week, 16% of the adult population experience common mental disorders, half of whom would benefit from treatment, yet only a third of the treatable group get any help. Four adults in a thousand have a severe mental illness in any one year. Finally – over 30% of male adults (and 16% of women) drink to a hazardous level in any one week. It is a very interesting read and can be downloaded for free here.

My Story

I work for a living.

Perhaps nothing unusual in that, except that if you are one of the adults with Mental Health problems in the UK you are far less likely to be in the same position. Disadvantaged in terms of employment, housing, benefits and opportunity, people with an enduring mental illness can often find themselves severely marginalised. It was partly because of this that I decided with my employer to become involved in support for people at work who have a mental illness. There are a number of organisations trying their hardest to create opportunities for entry to the job market, but what about those who have a job and are keen to thrive in the world of work? What about the people who haven’t told their employer that they have a mental illness, and go to extraordinary lengths to keep that fact secret? These people often have nowhere to turn. This may now get even worse with the scrapping of Pre-Employment questionnaires; scrapped because they could be discriminatory, but they also gave an employee the opportunity to highlight their needs under disability legislation.

Although I am a psychotherapist and counsellor I didn’t want to provide therapy to the people I was going to work with; most people with a severe and enduring mental illness have access to psychiatric treatment and support in some shape or form. What they often don’t have is workplace support. What I set out to do was to identify ways in which we could identify the obstacles to workplace integration and to create systems that could overcome these. I didn’t do it alone – I had the support of a major employer and also of a good team in my own workplace, but for reasons of confidentiality I can’t name them here. We talked to employees who met certain criteria (severe and enduring mental illness diagnosed by a psychiatrist, self-referred and wanting to be part of a programme that would involve sharing information across several parties) and found that almost universally they were highly motivated not only to remain employed but to grow and flourish, to be equals to their peers whilst having their particular needs met. We found that the adjustments needed to improve their situation were very often minor, with little or no cost involved, but made a huge difference. Flexible working hours was a frequent solution, especially for people who found that their medication impacted on their focus at the beginning or end of the day. Some people had specific severe phobias that, once identified to the employer, could be worked around. The introduction of Buddies or Mentors was also something that was often effective. The biggest single issue was, of course, stigma. So often what we found was that people had either been stigmatised by colleagues or conversely had kept quiet for fear of this happening. It was really very little effort to change this.

I’m not trying to self-promote here. What I am trying to say is that people with a severe and enduring mental illness are not aliens – they are not drawn from some other population to which we don’t belong. At work they can be on the shop floor or the boardroom, they can be rough or they can be cultured, they can be friendly or aloof. All of them, though, can and want to be productive valuable employees who contribute to the efficiency of an organisation and in return receive the security that employment brings. It is not rocket science to understand why this is for the good of UK Plc, nor why it is good for the individual. Dame Carol Black highlighted the simple psychological truth – Work is Good For You – in her excellent ‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’. All we have to do now is help employers understand that it is good for them too.

Kevin

Here’s my self-promotion bit – you can find my Fear of Therapy cartoon blog at http://therapophobia.wordpress.com

I should add a couple of points: although I’ve been out of work for two years, I do agree that working can be very good for people with mental health problems.  Of course that doesn’t always mean that people who are still unstable or uncertain as to whether the worst of their symptoms can be adequately managed for the foreseeable future should attempt to make a return to work – it’s imperative for both the person in question and their employer that the person is ready to move back into the workplace.  If you’re not at work at the minute but are thinking of returning to or looking for a job, please discuss the matter with your GP, therapist or psychiatrist.

I think it’s brilliant that Kevin has made such efforts to support those with mental health problems in his organisation, and hope that perhaps someone will read this (or otherwise learn of his work) and be inspired to discuss it at their workplace too.

Also, the Therapophobia blog has given me a good few laughs over the last few weeks, so get yourself over there if you need a bit of cheering up 🙂

There hasn’t been much ‘normal service’ on this blog this week, and I still haven’t reported back on my first meeting with Paul which was on Monday.  I’m hoping business as usual will be resumed tomorrow or, at the latest, at the weekend. x

Nadine Dorries is a Twat (AKA Why I Love Twitter)

The title says it all, really.

Sad CowYou’ve probably heard of this fuss by now: Tory backbench Moron Nadine Dorries has explicitly stated that she feels that anybody who’s claiming benefits and simultaneously using Twitter a lot must be a cynical, lazy, scrounging fucktard who deserves to be reported to the Department of Work and Pensions (or, in Northern Ireland, the Social Security Agency) and have every last penny that sustains them removed from their apparently fraudulent bank accounts:

Is there such a thing as Twitter addiction? How can anyone live a normal life who can do that? Surely these people cannot be in employment because if they are, how can they work? if they aren’t then it’s time they got a job which involves being sat at a key board because there’s nothing much up with their fingers, brain or attention span!!

do you know of anyone else who has Tweeted more than 35,000 times in less than six months? If so, email my office and let me know. Or, better still, if it’s someone you know is on benefits, contact the DWP.

As you can see, aside from being a remarkably sensitive and understanding humanitarian to whom we should all look up, Ms Dorries also epitomises the subtle art of prosaic narrative, and in so doing simultaneously beguiles her readers with her quick wit and astonishing intellect.

As I know she has the best interests of each citizen of the United Kingdom at heart, I would invite Ms Dorries to read the archives of my blog to see whether or not she feels I should be working.  I’m sure that she would agree that having a hallucinating, dissociated, ticking timebomb of pure mentalism work for you is high on the priority list of every employer in the country.  I’m also sure that she would find herself nodding in ruminative agreement with my assessment that my returning to a working environment before I am adequately well would miraculously cure me, rather than drive me to suicide.

Ah, such cynicism, Pandora!

OK then.  Ms Dorries was not referring to me and people of my ilk, sure she wasn’t?  But wait – I rather think that she was.  I have thousands of tweets to my name (thousands more if you include Alter Ego’s account too); what an evil clusterfuck of sloth-filled bile and societal degradation I am.  The fact that I can concentrate on 140 measly characters a few times a day must surely mean that I am twisted, lying benefit cheat who needs to be radically punished!  Right on!

Or maybe, it’s something that has given me back a small modicum of social interaction, an endeavour that is otherwise nigh on impossible when you live with the circumstances that I and countless others do?  Maybe it’s acted as a highly effective and much treasured support group – an acceptable kind of group therapy, if you will?  Maybe Twitter has actually saved me from myself…specifically from killing myself?  (I know that it might be financially convenient for the coalition if all disabled Twitter users topped themselves right now, but I am sure that even the saintly Ms Dorries would not wish to espouse such a course of action).

People who don’t use Twitter often misunderstand it and dismiss it as a fatuous and self-obsessed platform for searing, grandiose narcissism.  Whilst tweets exhibiting such traits inevitably exist on occasion, the opposite is in fact usually true.  Twitter opens up an entire world to the chronically agoraphobic or pain-stricken person: it connects kindred spirits, allows us a bit of a laugh together on occasion and enables shared suffering – no one wants that suffering to exist of course, but since it’s going to anyway, we might as well experience it with people who empathise and who give a shit about us.

Ms Dorries clearly does not give a shit about people with disabilities, whether or not those are physical, mental or both.  Trying to take away one tiny thing that gives some measurement of hope, pleasure and camaraderie to people who are otherwise entirely devoid of same is callous, cold and discriminatory in the extreme.

I wanted to post on this issue as over the past 18 months or so I’ve become moderately well known in this (admittedly very small) corner of the blogging community, and I hope that in that way I can draw some attention to the matter.  However, although I could say much more, for once I’m going to take a back seat here and not prattle on for 3,000 words.  To that end, I will now link to several articles that have dealt much more eloquently and succinctly with this issue than I ever could.  I applaud these people for their considered and astute responses to Dorries’ twattery.

All of the above come highly recommended, and if you know of any other blogposts or articles that should be included, please leave me a comment and I’ll add them here.

In signing off, though, may I just echo @miss_seaneen‘s particular sentiment as extended to Ms Dorries:

Fuck off, Nadine Dorries!

PS.  In case anyone’s wondering why I have filed this entry under ‘Important People in my Life’, it’s because people on Twitter are important people in my life, regardless of whether or not I’ve met them in person.  Twitter is a lifeline for many disabled people and can connect you with wonderful folks who become friends for life. If that’s some sort of criminal offence in political circles, then go ahead and hang me you cunts; if you were to deny me such a small and simple pleasure then I’d bloody welcome it anyway.

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