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.

Mind Media Awards: The 2011 Presentation, Part Two (The Full Version)

I Don’t Know Where to Start

So, in the time-honoured tradition of writers everywhere and everywhen (well, it makes structural sense, does it not?), let’s start at the very beginning (/ A very good place to start / When you read, you begin with A-B-C / When you sing you begin with doh-ray-me / etc etc etc. It’s kind of hard not to break into song when something like this has just happened to you).

As you know, I found out that I had been short-listed for this prestigious (to use Mind’s parlance) award back in September. That was astonishing; I know I’ve won awards before, but – at the risk of sounding arrogant, and I really don’t mean to – winning something online, however wonderful (and it is wonderful, and I’ve been truly delighted and grateful for every one) is different to being nominated for a full-blown ceremonial thing like this, complete with short-listers, judging panels, large presentations with hosts and actual, real, tangible trophies. But you must understand, because this is just a personal blog – how many millions of the things are out there by now? – I was utterly stunned to have made it into a shortlist, and truly never thought I could ever win something so huge. Why would I have thought that even possible?

Between learning of the nomination and going to the awards, I had time to look at the other nominees in my category. I already knew Dawn Willis – the fabulous author of News and Views of the Mentally Wealthy, which is not only an excellent blog, but a truly invaluable news aggregation resource in relation to mental health – and seeing her blog alone convinced me that I couldn’t win, because what she does is of much more value than me barking on about taking tablets and ceaselessly moaning about how crap my life is.

Then I looked at the other entries. The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a remarkable charity that is aimed at preventing suicide amongst young men. As noted on their site:

Men are three times more at risk of suicide than young women – in 2010 75% of suicides were men. But while smoking and knife crime make the headlines, suicide is the biggest killer. Most men who take their own lives aren’t in contact with any other agency, and don’t identify with much out there. When asked, what they indicated they wanted was practical, anonymous, confidential help from professionals. Which is why CALM was formed.

Not only does CALM run the website, but they also offer a helpline and ‘zones’ where they work with local authorities to give access to the project to vulnerable young men. According to the above link, they have been in Merseryside for 10 years – and in that time, suicides amongst the targeted demographic have reduced by 55%. That’s compared to a general UK decline of about 20% across the same period. How awesome is that? How and why would or could anyone deem me – a unpaid but nonetheless professional whinger – able to compete with that?!

Next up was the YouTube video on trichotillomania that had been short-listed…and I was bowled over. Wow. Go and watch it. Now. It’s quite long by YouTube standards – but once you’ve been watching it for a minute or two, you’ll no longer realise that, because you’ll be mesmerised under its spell. Go on, off you go. This dirge of mine will still be here for you to peruse when you’re finished.

Beckie0, as video-maker Rebecca Brown is known online, was only 16 (she’s now 18) when she made this short film about a relatively little known mental health issue. That in itself is remarkable – it takes a fuckload of courage to speak out so openly in the way that she has done, especially with the potential demon of peer pressure lurking snake-like around a young person affected by a mental health condition. Plus she has the insight and wisdom of someone so much older – which sounds like a patronising load of bollocks, but I do mean it in good faith. She is also charismatic and intelligent, and the video is technically brilliant.

So, I had three truly heavy-weight competitors. The judging panel was, in A’s view especially, made up of quite a few individuals whose primary expertise lay in televisual media, and to that end he and I both believed that Beckie would win the New Media category – especially considering her entry was so deserving of winning by virtue of its own merits.

I genuinely didn’t mind. I thought, “well, I’ll go to this event, and I’ll meet some cool people, maybe meet some contacts and get my name ‘out there’, blah blah blah”. As I’ve already discussed, it was an absolute honour to even receive the nomination, especially in memory of Mark Hanson.

Mark was a social and new media strategist for, amongst others, the UK Labour party. I’ll admit that I hadn’t been aware of him before I received the nomination for the award in his name, but after that I did look into his work – and it was extremely impressive and wide-ranging. Yet beneath what by all accounts was confident exterior, Mark suffered from anxiety and severe depression, and tragically killed himself in early March.

After his death, his widow Clare Francis and Money Supermarket, for whom she works, ran half-marathons for Mind, raising about £10,000. She wrote movingly about this on Mind’s blog, and I was struck by the strength she exuded in her writing, and that she’d also evidently been exhibiting over what must have been an unimaginable nine months.

Although I didn’t think for any more than half a second that I could win the award, had I done so, I would not have considered myself even remotely worthy of receiving something sponsored by such a remarkable and courageous woman in memory such of a talented and popular man. I still don’t see myself as thus meritorious – but that being said, I feel humbled and privileged that I did get it. It’s a privilege beyond anything I could ever have expected.

This is getting rather long (what a surprise that is). As you can see, in short – I genuinely, honestly did not think I would win. And neither did A – not, he opined, because he thought I was unworthy, but because to him I probably just wasn’t what the judges would be looking for. We also concurred that the amount of cunting fucking swearing on this shittery fuckwipe of a twatting blog found here was likely to preclude me from any real chance of claiming a prize.

A was so confident in these beliefs that he said he’d give me £100 if I did win.

I jokingly replied, “make it a thousand and we’re on.”

“OK,” he replied.

I paused for a second, waiting for him to laugh in confirmation that he knew I hadn’t been serious. However, the expected cachinnation did not duly transpire.

“I was taking the piss,” I explained. “I do not expect you to give me £1,000.”

He shrugged. “I’m not going to, because you’re not going to win it. And if, in the 99.9999999999th percentile chance that you do, then I will give you £1,000. But, again, it’s moot. You won’t get it.”

Believing utterly that he was right, I chuckled and moved on.

That is how much I didn’t expect to win this thing.

Monday – D-Day

I didn’t sleep well in London at all, even though we were staying in a perfectly reasonable and quiet hotel (albeit basic); I was waking about 3.30 to 4am each morning, and Monday was no exception.

So, in that morning’s early hours, I woke to the bleak blackness that only the sun’s downtime can bring. A was asleep, so I couldn’t comfort myself with the television (not that there’s anything comforting about BBC News 24, which is the channel I would have turned to, in this day and age anyway), and for reasons I don’t recall I didn’t check my phone until a few hours later.

When I did look at it, I decided to start my own personal hashtag on Twitter (the more general one being #mindawards) to discuss the awards ceremony; my intention had been to use it for ease of reference when writing a post about the event. It was to be comprised of the intended compendium of live, as-it-happened tweets, rather than this usual tired, ballbag-eric prose. Sadly, that idea fucked up in the end, but I’ll get to that later.

As I lay there staring at nothing, I could feel my muscles tighten, my stomach churn, my breath quicken. I willed fate or providence or the arbiters of bloody space-time to just make it Tuesday morning. Despite ramblings about 10 days ago which described how I was looking forward to the ceremony, I knew I’d be shitting myself come the day itself – but ‘shitting myself’ turned into a full blown oh fucking hell, I’m going to die right here, right now, in a dank underground room in an anonymous London hotel panic attack.

I got up and took a Diazepam. It didn’t work. I got up and took a second Diazepam. It didn’t work. Eventually, A woke up and, duly noting my restless agitation, advised me to take a Diazepam. I advised A that I had already consumed two of the aforementioned sweets pills. A shrugged (presumably knowing that I only take the things in times of great stress, his resultant opinion being that an occasional 15mg isn’t a huge deal) and advised me to take it anyway. I did.

And…lo and be-fucking-hold, it granted me some mercy and actually bloody worked. I don’t remember if I went back to sleep or not – I might have done – but either way, the next clear recollection I have was of going round the corner to get a pub lunch, and being pretty much entirely fine.

Away We Go

I could detail the ridiculous palaver I went through whilst I was getting ready, but if you’re not bored already, then the tale of my struggles to adequately attire myself would surely fucking kill you. So instead, after I had clad myself in my preposterous disguise, off we trotted to the tube. I kept glancing about me, fearfully expecting half the world to be watching the weird woman with the bizarre curly read hair and hat in bemused repulsion – but no one seemed to give a flying duck’s arse. Sometimes I love London – it’s such a diverse city that no one really has time nor inclination to care about someone looking ‘alternative’. If I wore what I wore that day here – and actually, I’d like to, because I was quite pleased with it – then I’d be subjected not only to stares, but to abuse by groups of teenage males who’d be much more amenable to me if they were peripatetic NPCs in Saints Row: The Third.

We took the tube to Borough and headed to a pub close to the Cross Bones graveyard, where Zarathustra (Z) of The Not So Big Society fame was due to meet us. Perhaps this is a good point at which to note that I was able to bring five guests. These were A (obviously!); Z (as noted); Carrie Holroyd, an activist with Young Minds and a freelance mental health writer that I’ve known online for some time; and my wonderful best friend Daniel and his lovely partner Craig.

The Before

To cut a long story short(er), eventually all of us – Carrie excepted, as she met us just before we all went into the auditorium – ended up in the National Theatre for a pre-ceremony drink.

Z asked me if I had crafted an acceptance speech. I looked conspiratorially at A, then turned back to Z and laughed in his face.

“Why the fuck would I?” I asked him, in all sincerity. “I’m not going to win the thing.”

Z furrowed his brow slightly. “I think you have a chance,” he replied.

I scoffed, and if memory serves me correctly, I might even have accused him of being somewhat delusional. Not anything of which to be ashamed, clearly, but still not cognisant of reality 😉

When Daniel arrived, he almost immediately stated that I seemed really nervous. Curiously though, by that point, I wasn’t – or, at least, not consciously. That said, after a 15 minute fight in the woman’s bogs with the fucking high heels that I’d been idiotic enough to think I could wear for an entire bloody evening, off we trotted (stumbled in my case) next door to the awards venue, the Southbank BFI. Here anxiety threatened, briefly, to paralyse me (or catalyse me into fleeing – not that the heels would have permitted that, the evil bastards) – but in the end, I managed far better than I ever thought I would. I was a bit rambly at points, I know, and I’m pretty certain I made a tit of myself, but it could have been a lot worse.

Dan, having detected that perhaps now I was slightly struggling (I’ve known him for over half my life – other than A, I don’t think anyone knows me better), grabbed an angelic glass of red wine as it floated by, and thrust it into my hand. I sipped at it with relieved gladness, and felt myself gravitating towards a table where – although I couldn’t sit – I could at least stand with support and not topple over. Fucking Shoes. Anyway, I’d just stuck some crisp thing or other into my fat gob when a tall gentleman approached me, and asked if I was the person responsible for the Serial Insomniac blog. Trying my hardest – and failing – to swallow the stupid, calorie-laden piece of nourishment I’d just lifted, I responded in the affirmative, apologising to the man for eating with my mouth full. He introduced himself as Matt [Wilkinson], one of the judges, and told me – to my stunned delight – that he wanted to let me know how “brilliant” my blog was. I was really touched that he’d specifically taken the time to come over and tell me that.

Unfortunately, at that point the BFI staff were asking us to move into the auditorium, so I didn’t get long to chat to Matt, but he did tell me that the New Media category had been particularly strong (a statement with which I obviously entirely agreed).

The During

Having found Carrie somewhere along the way, all six of us strode forth into the classy auditorium (or, more accurately, five of us did. I tiptoed, wobbled and tripped my way in. As I did so, I seriously pondered whether I should take off the Fucking Shoes and throw them into the close-by Thames – but I swear the things are malevolently alive. They would have crawled out of their watery non-grave and come to avenge themselves by embarrassing me in front of all the assembled attendees at the ceremony). As we chose our seats, Z suggested I sit on the outside, “just in case” I had to get out to the stage. I rolled my eyes, but acquiesced.

As I said somewhere way, way up above, in the figurative Gods of this post, I had intended to live tweet from the event, but the reception was abysmal inside the plush and comfortable auditorium. I managed to send a few text messages to Twitter – one about the introduction given by Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, another about the opening speech from Rebecca Front, the actress and comedian hosting the presentation. By some miracle of telecommunications, I even managed a few messages about the winners of both the journalism and student journalism awards. At that juncture, though, the telecommunication gods decided to withdraw their support. My phone decided it would absolutely not work at all any more, and as I was trying to piss about with the settings in the hope that I could force its co-operation, I dropped the fucker. Predictably enough, it was not good enough for the phone to fall merely in front of me – oh no, it fucking richocheted off the row in front of me and made its merry way off to Temporary Phone Oblivion. So ended my spurious attempts at live tweeting.

I can’t remember the exact order of the ceremony, because it wasn’t in the chronology listed in either the programme for the evening nor the online short-list pages. So, before I move on to discussion of the New Media presentation, let me say a few words (as if!) on some of the entries that I especially liked. Z has written a great post on this over at The Not So Big Society, and I agree with nearly all of what he said (the exception being the bits about me!), but I’ll offer a few views anyway.

Josh Jackson, who won the Student Journalist category, had made a remarkably touching and brave film about his experiences of depression entitled Suffering in Silence (which is now available here – go and watch it! I’ll still be here when you get back – we’re only 3,000 words in, after all ;)). The other two nominees in this category did seem excellent, but the very personal nature of Josh’s piece really struck a chord with me, and I was delighted when it was his name read out as winner. A few whoops from the audience confirmed that I was far from alone in seeing him as an extremely worthy recipient.

Victoria Derbyshire’s Radio 5 Alcoholic GP won the News and Current Affairs gong. As the clip of her show was played, I found even my cynical self genuinely moved by the content, and the implications thereof. Granted, the GP did most of the talking in that particular segment, with Ms Derbyshire only speaking at certain points – but to me that was the entire point. She knew exactly when it was appropriate to ask questions or add sensitive comments, and seemed to have an innate appreciation of how she should handle her words and tone. In her acceptance speech, she said that the team behind the show were still in touch with the GP, and that she was “working very hard.” I’m sure neither of them will ever read this, but just in case, I wish them both all the very best.

The Speech Radio winner was, again, a Radio 5 programme, this time looking at the life of Robert Enke, the German footballer who sadly killed himself two years ago. This too was a poignant and eloquent documentary, and it felt all the more tragically appropriate in the immediate aftermath of the awful news of Gary Speed‘s death. A Life Too Short highlighted the strains inherent in sporting professions, and how living in such a ‘macho’ world make it difficult for those affected to speak out.

And speaking of…well, of speaking out. There was a non-categorised, special award for doing just that, and I think we were all thrilled and delighted when we learnt that it was Beckie0’s superlative YouTube video that won that award. I had actually felt guilty about winning the New Media category in lieu of her, such was the candour and courage she displayed. So this was really well deserved, and I was thrilled for her.

I have no idea if Beckie ever did face any form of intolerance due to her condition – but if she did, I think we can rather definitively say that she had the last laugh.

So You Won It?

Yes. Weren’t you reading the other day?!

The very worst part of the evening, which in a perverse, adrenaline-ODing sort of way was also the most thrilling, was when Rebecca Front said, “…and now to the Mark Hanson New Media Award…”

I felt as if I’d been stabbed with a live wire encumbered with a form anxiety that would cripple even a wooly fucking mammoth. My pulse quickened, my mouth went dry and I could scarcely breathe.

Ohmygodohmygodohmyfuckingfuckinggod.

Why? Who the hell knows? It doesn’t make any sense to me, as – as was extensively discussed above – I thought I knew I wouldn’t win. So why would I be so nervous? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, especially given that until that point, save for the incident in the early morning, I’d felt surprisingly OK about the whole thing.

Anyway, Rebecca invited Donna Franceschild, one of the judges of the awards and a BAFTA-winning TV writer, to the stage to present the award. As Donna reached the podium, she advised – poignantly, and to my personal smiles – that Clare Francis, Mark Hanson’s wife, was in situ. She was asked to also come up on stage.

Donna then proceeded to read out descriptions of the short-listed entries.

My heart stopped beating.

I heard the terms “beautifully written”, “by turns heart-breaking and hilarious” and “essays” (I loved that one) bouncing about the room without really being sure that they were being levied at Confessions. Of course, there was a giant screenshot of this blog behind the stage, so I don’t really know where my confusion came from; perhaps it was some weird form of dissociative mechanism for dealing with the surge of adrenaline pumping through and suffocating every capillary of my body.

[Amusing aside: Mind’s PR company, Keystone, had asked me to send them screenshots several weeks ago. I sent them the profile image from the top right of the sidebar, which was published in the programme – but I also sent them a copy of the header, in which I had removed the myriad instances of words like ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘twatbags’ etc. However, when it came to the bit, they had taken a more recent screenshot themselves; although I didn’t examine it closely – I didn’t think to look at the time and anyway, I was hardly thinking straight – it seems likely that the ‘dirtiest’ words in the English language were visually blared out to the great and the good of the British media. How pathetic is it that I find this amusing? At 28, I’m still the most puerile person I know].

Donna read out the names of the rest of the nominees and their descriptions. I have to be honest here and admit that I don’t remember a word of what she said; my head was somewhere in a cloud-cuckoo land of waaaaghhh! The next thing I do remember, though, is watching – as if in slow motion – her picking that envelope up from the lectern. Time stopped as she opened it, and took a breath in readiness to speak.

“And the anonymous winner…” [my emphasis].

Anonymous. Who else was anonymous, Pan? It must have been someone…

“…of the Mark Hanson New Media Award…”

Maybe one of the others uses a pseudonym and I mistook it for a real name? You stupid cow, how could you have missed that?

“…is…”

GAAAAAAH.

“…Confessions of a Serial Insomniac.”

And time stopped standing still, and everything came into focus, yet simultaneously spinned around me and the world suddenly had colours, bright, vibrant colours, and applause, and people on my left-hand side (A and my friends, despite the former just having lost £1,000!) grabbing my arm and grinning madly and speaking words of excited congratulation. Some automated version of me through her hands over her mouth in a gesture of utter shock as soon as the words had left Donna Franceschild’s lips. I turned to my friends, my eyes wide with delight, with disbelief, with oh my God, did you just hear that, with appeals to their ears in case I had misunderstood what had been announced in some sort of warped narcissistic delusional hallucination.

Somehow, I clambered up from my seat and cautiously made my way down the stairs, towards the stage. Curiously, the only thoughts I recall going through my head at the time were along the lines of, “don’t fall, Pan. Don’t fucking fall.” Which I nearly did on the ramp up to the stage, thanks to the Fucking Shoes. But I balanced myself, and eventually found myself in front of Rebecca Front, Donna Franceschild and Clare Francis.

I don’t remember much about that; I remember that I was asked in whispers if, in recognition of my anonymity, I wanted to make a speech; I confirmed that I did, even though I had absolutely nothing prepared. Sorry for not listening to you, Z – you and Dan were right, you told me so, yeah yeah yeah, I get it. I remember slight confusion over whether or not to take the award and certificate or make the speech first. I remember standing at the lectern, seeing a mass of faces in front of me and shaking – but shaking because of the Fucking Shoes trying to murder me, rather than out of the terror one might surely have expected in such a circumstance (incidentally, I did a lot of public speaking at school, and was one of those rare people that enjoyed talking in front of an audience. I know I’m ridden with social anxiety these days, so it would seem odd if I were still thus comfortable, but strangely, I think I was).

I opened my mouth to speak…

It’s Just a Silly Blog

A videoed my speech. The sound on the camera is shit, but insofar as I could hear it, the following is an exact transcript of what I said.

Um, I have nothing prepared – I genuinely didn’t think I would win this but, um, first of all, thank you, and I must say that it’s a great honour to win this in honour* of Mark Hanson – I know [that] Mark was very well known in the social media world and, er, it’s particularly wonderful to see Clare here as well. Um…yeah. I don’t know why people read it – it’s just a silly blog [audience: polite laughter] – but I would like to dedicate the award to them [my readers] and I’d like to thank my friends, some of whom are in the audience here, and particularly my partner who[m] I love very much and who’s been wonderfully supportive during this rollercoaster [me: nervous laughter at the use of a world I loathe in this context] I’ve experienced…so, thank you all very much.

* I used the word ‘honour’ twice in quick succession, which displeases me. In the second instance, it would have been more appropriate to have used ‘memory’.

Nevertheless, for having prepared nothing – literally nothing – beforehand, it could have been a lot worse. Someone on stage – I think it was Rebecca Front – said that it had been a good speech. A number of others reiterated the sentiment afterwards. A later told me that he thought I spoke well, content-wise, but that I sounded nervous (I blame the Fucking Shoes for that). However, he claims – as he claimed of Beckie Brown’s speech also – that our surprise and justified nerves made our acceptances all the more endearing.

As I left the podium, an award and a tube containing my certificate were thrust into my hands. The award is incredible. Bright, shiny, reflective metal, heavy, perfectly engraved with Mind’s logo and font – and my details. MY details. Wow. Just…wow.

The After

The immediate aftermath of the ceremony was a whirlwind. Daniel, who was in tears, flung his arms around me and waxed lyrical about how wonderful he thinks I am which – even though I already knew that he’s sweet enough to think that, it’s still so lovely to hear. We stood and hugged for ages, before he had to dash off (thanks to the Budget the following day, on which he was up to 2am working. Fuck you, Gideon). I remember hugging Craig too before he left. It was only the second time I’d met him – the first only being the day before – but I like him. He and Dan seem to ‘work’ together, and I really hope their relationship lasts.

People, so many people, they came to offer congratulations, to offer interest in what I write, to chat, to be wonderful. I had to wait around in the auditorium for a few official pictures, and gave what were probably waffly, nervous answers to a number of questions the photographer, along with Clare, Donna and Rebecca, had been kind enough to ask. In my defence, the Fucking Shoes were conspiring to plot my (literal and metaphorical) downfall, and I was still on a nervy-adrenaline high, so if any of the four of you are reading this, sorry if I seemed like a twat!

Back in the lobby, I was advised by someone – I’m not sure who, sorry – that there had been a minor Twitter storm about my win. I felt dreadful that I’d not been able to announce it there myself as I would have liked, and I know that one or two of you noticed that omission 😉 I believe that the madness started when Mind themselves tweeted about the result of the New Media Award and, subsequently, about my acceptance speech. As he’d left the auditorium, I know Z intended to announce it too, so even though I failed you, at least you knew 🙂

I’ve apologised for this on Twitter, but lest you missed it: when I had a chance to check my client, I was completely overwhelmed with @mentions. Seriously, there was something like 100 of them. I know if you’re a celebrity that must seem like an infinitesimal amount even by the standards of fuck all squared, but for me? That was a lot. There was no way I could respond to them all individually so my only viable option was to send a more general tweet thanking everyone, in the hope that said everyone would see it.

I Met…

I met Dawn, who was lovely, gracious, flattering, and so wonderfully enthusiastic about social media, and the quiet revolution in mental health that blogging and Twitter are making. I met Beckie, who is every bit as smart and charming in reality as she is on YouTube. I met Dan from CALM, who was a really friendly and truly interesting guy, really (and rightly!) positive about the great work he’s doing. Watch this space for news of a potential guest post for the CALM site 🙂

I met Taryn, Mind’s Digital Officer, who’ve I’ve known on Twitter since I reviewed Wendy Perriam’s Broken Pieces for them. She was great – bubbly, charismatic, full of good conversation. I met her colleagues Matt and Eve too – and guess what? They were lovely! I met several more of her colleagues later when I did a voxpop for them – more on that shortly – but I can’t remember their names and I feel awful about that because…yep, that’s right: they were lovely.

I properly spoke to Carrie, who was a delight, for the first time, mainly about the excellence that is Babylon 5 – however, our conversation was cut all too short by something or other, so I suppose I’ll just have to meet her again soon to make up for that 😉 I met @YouMustBeMental, who had bravely come to the occasion on her own, but who was easy-going, great to chat to and all-round good craic. I met Mark Brown from One in Four (look out for my article rounding up blogs in its next issue), who was a gentleman. I met Liz Main, one of the judges who, by random coincidence, is married to a (relatively) local bloke that A and I have known on Twitter for months. Small world! I met Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, who is nothing like the stereotypical stuck-up Executive type – he was, instead, friendly, congratulatory and thoroughly down-to-Earth. And I met so, so many more – and I haven’t a single negative word to say about any of them. I was convinced that there would be a few pricks who were a bit up their own arses, but seriously, if there were any such people there, I did not encounter any of them.

Perhaps most intriguingly, I also met one of the short-listers – I’m so sorry, but if you’re reading this, I never did catch your name…*blushes*…maybe you can give us a wave?! 🙂 – and learnt some of the inside story.

It turns out that A and I had been partially correct that the language used on Confessions could have been detrimental to the possibility of me winning the award. The (guess what?) lovely girl to whom I was talking said it was actually a bit of a challenge to get the blog onto the shortlist for this reason. However, it wasn’t so much the multitude of ‘fuck’s and ‘cunt’s that were the problem – but more my penchant for what could be considered stigmatic nomenclature. For example, “batshit”. “Doolally” (Paul always liked that one, though). The self-directed commonality of “mental freak” and similar accolades. References to “catching the bus” or “topping oneself”. For the avoidance of doubt, my informant did not give me any specific examples of that to which was objected, but I think it was mainly that kind of thing. It seems that I ultimately got away with it because the references were frequently tongue-in-cheek, used satirically, or were self-, rather than widely-, directed. Also, I address the matter directly in my ‘About‘ page, stating that I can be rather crass at times, but that I do aim to break barriers and fight stigma. In a way, there is part of me that wants to reclaim these terms for the mentalist lexicon; the LGBTQ community admirably did it with, for instance, ‘queer’, so why not those of us that are mad?

Voxy-Poppy

As noted briefly above, at one point Taryn asked me to do a voxpop for Mind’s website, a proposition to which I agreed. This may seem like the most monumentally moronic thing in which an anonymous blogger could partake – but honestly, the disguise was goooooooood. I really looked nothing like my real self at all, so I’m confident that the video taken will not lead to my identification. After all, _why the lucky stiff got away with parading himself publicly for ages whilst maintaining his anonymity, and he wasn’t even trying to hide his real looks. [/gratuitous geek reference].

I felt that I muddled myself quite a bit in the first two questions of the voxpop, although the lady conducting the interview – yet another lovely person whose name I have, to my disgusted regret, forgotten – seemed appreciative of my answers. The third though, as verified by the observing A, went better. The question was something about the profundity of social media in the lives of people with mental illness, and I proffered my sincerely-held view that were it not for Twitter, and to a lesser extent blogging, I would be dead today. Fuck you, Nadine Dorries (not that I said that on tape, of course ;)). I know I wax lyrical about this all the time, but it does merit reiteration; Twitter is the best support group – and, by dent of that, therapy – that I’ve ever come across. Words fail here, so I’ll offer an inadequate but sincere ‘thank you’ once again.

The After-After

Things started wrapping up towards 10.30pm or so, and off back to the hotel headed A and I, saying our farewells to Z at Waterloo Station.

We got back, drained and exhausted, but thrilled and elated at the same time.

Knowing that I had won this thing, this thing that I didn’t feel I really deserved but about which I was nonetheless genuinely thrilled, was surreal. So surreal, in fact, that I started packing (even though we didn’t leave until Wednesday) and then went to bed, rather than gawking in awe at the beautiful trophy. It was only the next day, whilst sitting in a pub waiting for a brief but welcome meet-up with Dan, that I really felt it. As I said to A, I couldn’t stop thinking about the award and how unutterably and stunningly humbling it was that people actually like this nonsense and somehow see it as being valuable.

Because, Thank God, It Has to End Somewhere

So it ends – almost – here. In conclusion – what an incredible night, and what incredible people I was both fortunate enough to meet, and am fortunate enough to know.

So, as I leave this preposterously-even-by-my-standards post, let me do one more raft of thanks. I’d especially like to thank Clare, Donna and Rebecca for presenting me with the award. Thanks to Keystone – and, in particular, Jenny – for their organisation of the event, and especially for their efforts in maintaining my anonymity. Thanks to Taryn and the other digital folks at Mind for all their hard and valuable work, and to the BFI staff for running around with booze and food for us 😉

Zarathustra, Carrie and Craig – it was an honour to have you there with me, and your support and congratulations were immeasurable to me. Phil Groom – not only are you a gentleman of the…er…gentlest proportions, I know that you were one of the people that nominated me for this honour, and I appreciate that more than you know. I appreciate you more than you know. @bourach – meeting you on Saturday was absolutely brilliant, and when I said this blog would not have existed in the first place but for you, I meant it. You won’t believe me, but I don’t care; I think you’re strong, smart, witty, and just generally terrific. And to all of my wonderful, supportive, passionate, intelligent and ever-entertaining readers – all the superlatives in this post and the award itself are completely dedicated to you. Thank you again. You really are teh absolute r0ck0rz.

If you’re eagle-eyed, or if you’re one of the personnel concerned, you’ll notice some glaring omissions here. Firstly, Daniel. I’ve known him for over half my life now, and although the Irish Sea has nefariously separated us for 10 years, the mark and strength of a friendship – a proper, loving, symmetrical friendship – is its enduring longevity and ability to ‘pick up where you left off’. That could not be more accurate in this case. Daniel, you’ve been a constant in my life for so long, and you have never once let me down. Also, you’re an idiot. A puerile, irreverent, off-the-wall idiot – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love you, you daft sod, and thank you for everything, always.

My mother will probably – by turns hopefully and sadly – never read this, but of course none of it would be possible without her. That she doesn’t know that I’ve achieved this makes me feel full of nauseated regret and woe – but I’d rather that than ruin her life, or even possibly endanger her very existence, what with the dark revelations that so frequently inhabit this blog. But lest she ever does read it, and lest anyone else be in any doubt, I love her very, very much and without her I would not only not be writing, but I would be dead.

And you, A. Thanks for the grand, Mister! (Yes, he really did pay up on the back of my ridiculous joke! Such an action truly makes me look sane). It’ll come in handy 😉

Seriously. There’s no doubt that I’d be six feet under (or lying at the bottom of Beachy Head or something) without you and your unwavering support, companionship, private sentimentality and profound love. Maybe I don’t always show it, and fuck knows I don’t say it often enough – but I know I’m so, so lucky to have you in my life, and I love you to the ends of the Earth.

Over and out. (Finally. Well done to anyone that got this far. What kind of sad life you must lead to have read all of this. Similar to the kind of sad life I lead by having written it all. OK. Enough. Really. Gone now. Vanished. Bye.).

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.

Change of Diagnosis

I finally saw my CPN, Christine, this morning. I say ‘finally’ as I had been meant to see her about – what? A month ago? Three weeks past? Something like that. I turned up on that occasion, early as usual, and reported to the CMHT/outpatients reception in the normal fashion. The bloke seemed a bit unsettled to see me, which should have been a warning sign that things were afoot, but then he told me to have a seat, as normal, in the waiting room. I dutifully did so.

And thus began the wait for which the term ‘waiting room’ was invented. To be honest, as soon as the allocated appointment time had been and gone, I somehow knew that she wasn’t coming – but rather than approach the reception bloke again and enquire as to Christine’s status on this plane, I just sat there rocking back and forth like the oversized bodybag of insanity that I am. Someone sat opposite me, curled up in her seat in a ball. Someone else sat to my right, shuddering and ‘ticcing’ with a remarkable frequency, as if afflicted by tardive dyskinesia (not such an improbable scenario in this realm, of course). I was struck by the obvious mental illnesses of all three of us: you might think that comes as no surprise in a psychiatric outpatients waiting room, but you’d be wrong.

In my two-plus years of attending the outbin, I’ve always been a little taken aback by how completely sane and normal most of the people looked – and then this makes me feel like a right stigmatising bitch. Mental health problems really aren’t that abnormal, and societal stereotypes on how people with such issues should look (foaming at the mouth, constantly existing in states of 1,000 yard-staring catatonia, running around wielding knives) are dated, inaccurate and sickeningly discriminatory. Madness can affect anyone – any age, any race, any gender, any religion, any sexuality, any class. It does not discriminate, and it can be well disguised. So why would I, someone who should have known better, have assumed that there must be a certain ‘look’ a mental must have, or particular behaviours he or she must present? Why does the the complete ordinariness of most mental health outpatients surprise me so? Because I’m a bigoted bitch, no better than the majority of the supposedly sane community who generally live in a similar ignorance – that’s why.

But I digress, as I am often wont to do. I knew Christine wasn’t going to turn up on this occasion because of the confluence of events in which (a) reception bloke had regarded me with an odd disposition; and (b) there had been a missed call from an unknown number on my phone earlier that day. No one had left a fucking message, though, so I did not consider it important.

Of course, it turned out that it had been the outbin calling me to alert me to the fact that some shit was hitting some fans in Shite Town, one of poor Christine’s unfortunate ‘community’-based stomping grounds, as poor reception bloke was forced to eventually admit to me. Not that I displayed it to him, but I was fucking irritated. Not with Christine – I fully recognise and accept that shit hits fans sometimes (especially in Shite Town…God, I hate that bastardhole with a passion) – but with her colleagues back at the bin for letting me drive all the way there when a simple fucking message could have saved me the petrol.

A secondary issue, of course, was that I was right in the midst of a major depression at the time, but meh. I was completely pissed about by (Old)VCB, but NewVCB and Christine have generally been very good in terms of seeing me, and have even afforded me the opportunity to contact them if I am in a non-crisis-team crisis – which, in de facto terms, means any serious (but sub-A&E) crisis, because it will be over my dead body when I ever deal with the bloody crisis team again.

Anyway, so it came to pass that this morning’s appointment was organised, and subsequently attended by both Christine and me. I was with her for about half an hour, which is relatively short by previous standards, but there wasn’t a huge amount of things to discuss. The poor cat had died since I last saw her, which was obviously rather a rather shit stabbing of fate, and it had come at a time when I was very mentally fragile anyway. Christine expressed what appeared to be sincere apologies for our loss, which I appreciated. Some folks say the words alright, but you can almost see them thinking, “but it’s just an animal..!” Others, of whom I’m guessing she must be one, realise that pets become your friends and family.

The odd thing is, apart from the first weekend after Ms Cat’s death, I think things have been stabilising ever so slightly. Obviously, one might reasonably assume that if one had atypical (AKA reactive) depressive symptoms, that such a horrible and untimely occurrence would have paved the way straight back into the depths of the abyss – yet in my case, it did not. It’s not because I’m cold or some sort of unfeeling droid – truly, I miss Ms Cat horribly and am horrified when I think about her being hit by that fucking car, her dying all alone in the middle of the road – but overall, putting a quite normal reaction to bereavement aside (and if viewed from an entirely pathological perspective), things seem to be ever so slightly moving upwards. This makes me feel smug. Why? Because I’ve been trying to tell the quacks for ages now that my moods are not reactive, and that my major depressions are clearly melancholic. What has happened in the wake of Ms Cat’s death exemplifies that well, to my mind.

Lack of a reactive mood suggests a lack of borderline personality disorder. I’ve discussed the fact that I don’t feel the diagnosis is relevant to me any more both here and here, in the latter case having made brief allusion to the issue with Christine herself. Today, I just came out and asked her: what the fuck actually is my current diagnosis?

The question was borne out of a discussion about mood stabilisers. As I had asked you lovely lot here, I so asked her about the pros and cons of Depakote and Lithium, both of which she actually seemed quite positive about. She must have seen some scepticism in my expression, because she asked me to articulate what it was that I didn’t like about them. I presented a redacted version of some of your responses to the aforelinked post.

“I know that’s a tiny amount of people compared to all of those that take these drugs, but still, I’m dubious,” I admitted. “What about Lamotrigine? I heard from various sources that it’s particularly good for depression.”

“Lithium and Depakote are the ones we most frequently use here,” she told me, “but yeah, Lamotrigine and [some other anti-convulsant-cum-mood-stabiliser whose name I have forgotten] are also used, and yes – Lamotrigine does tend to be good for depression. I know that [NewVCB] does recognise the severity of your depressive features. Would you say that they’re the most troublesome part of your illness?”

I thought about it for a moment, and then said they were certainly the most pervasive, which is undoubtedly correct. I kind of screwed up my face, though, because – although depression is a hell beyond the comprehension of those who have never truly experienced it – other symptoms I’ve experienced have been pretty ghastly too. ‘They‘ (especially on a bad day). The particular anti-delight that is the psychiatric mixed state. Insomnia. Fake Paedo and night-time peccaries. Dissociation. They all suck donkey balls that are bigger than I know how to quantify, but despite it all, I think that depression probably is still the worst of the whole sorry lot. It’s inutterably abominable.

For some reason, though, we ended up talking in some detail about my psychotic symptoms; Christine noted that whilst the psychosis had actually been pretty serious at times, that on most occasions it hadn’t been particularly prolonged (save for my ongoing GCHQ obsession, but then I don’t think that that is delusional. Those nosy pricks honourable men and women watch all of us: it’s simply a fact). This is true – in the past I’ve even suggested that my psychotic symptoms were perhaps transient and/or stress-induced, though as I continue walking this darkened path of lunacy and reflect on times gone by, I’m less and less convinced that any of it was (is) as simple as that. Either way, though, it has been uncommon for me to be verbally persecuted or delusional or whatever for long periods of time, as is traditional in the likes of schizophrenia.

One thing I told her, that I haven’t mentioned here for a long time, was that I missed Tom. Not all hallucinatory voices are malicious, y’know. Christine empathised; she says she has one particular patient that has an extremely settled and successful life now (hope, perchance?), but who really misses her voices which (like Tom) were killed by the anti-psychotics that, all things considered, the woman had little choice but to take.

Anyhow, that’s by the by, apart from my worry about reducing the Seroquel to 300mg and adding a mood stabiliser. This concern, as I observed in the appointment, was that even with a slow titration back down to the half-dose of the stuff, I would become psychotic again. Christine reminded me that when I had tried a self-inflicted hand at living on 300mg, that I had only had one day of psychotic mentalness – that the rest of those few weeks, whilst they appeared to have fucked with my mood, had not rekindled voices, paranoia, thought disorder and so forth. True enough, to be fair to her.

“So, maybe 300mg can work to prevent psychosis for you,” she said. “But yeah – I think the introduction of a mood stabiliser is a good idea to make up for the loss of such properties if you lower your dose of Seroquel.”

I nodded, also expressing my willingness to “just deal with the weight gain” if indeed it turned out, after all, that 600mg of the stuff was what I needed. She said that it was good that I had such a philosophical attitude to the whole thing.

“I suppose so,” I adventured, “but I’m going to be taking 300mg of Venlafaxine, 300mg of Seroquel and God knows what dose of a mood stabiliser. That’s a bit…well, mad.”

She shrugged, but not in a dismissive fashion. “If you had a broken leg you you’d put it in as big a cast as it required…”

“Oh don’t get me wrong,” I said, “I agree. I’m not at all one of those anti-medication apologists; the stuff has saved my life many times. It’s just a lot of medicine to be taking when…well, when supposedly dealing with a disorder for which NICE don’t recommend medication…”

Christine made some remark that seemed derisive of NICE, which left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Then she continued by saying that, if I was referring to BPD, then NewVCB was seriously doubtful about my having it.

Good! (Though let’s be clear: I do believe that I did have borderline personality disorder, though I never met the stereotypes so nefariously associated with same – but then, very few people actually do. So here I am – proof that it can be recovered from). But if BPD is no longer applicable, what are we all dealing with, then?

“[NewVCB] doesn’t like to discuss diagnoses with me,” I complained forlornly. “But I’d like to know.”

Christine nodded and said, “I’d say she’s about 90% going with – predominantly depressive, bear in mind – bipolar affective disorder with psychotic features.”

Of course, bipolar type II was always my differential diagnosis, but it now seems that they’re looking at type I. In a way, it’s curious as I’m pretty sure I’ve never intimately danced with a euphoric mania – indeed, (Old)VCB (who met me about four times and was therefore the consummate expert on the idiosyncratic nature of my personal psycho-neurology) stated that I definitely didn’t have bipolar I. However, if I have had mixed episodes – and I certainly have – then clearly, by very definition under the current editions of the ICD and the DSM, it must be bipolar I. I’d always shrugged that reality off: these things exist on a spectrum. I haven’t changed my view on that, but an elevation from II to I is not exactly a non-issue for me, partly because specific diagnoses may (or may not) affect one’s treatment. In that regard – and it’s as unfair as fuck, because the popular, sensationalised images of it are not accurate – not being seen as having BPD any more is a positive development, even though it’ll obviously never leave my files entirely.

Anyhow, there is a window of doubt in this apparent bipolar diagnosis. It is, to no surprise of mine whatsoever, potentially filled with schizoaffective disorder. Essentially, the difference between it and psychotic bipolar disorder is that the psychosis can occur outside mood episodes in schizoaffective disorder, whereas in bipolar (or psychotic depression), such symptoms are exclusive to either depressed or “manic” states (I use the scare quotes* here ((which I normally loathe loathe LOATHE)) because I feel the term denotes euphoria, whereas clearly in my case – if I do have this – then my “mania” is of the dysphoric variety). Given my inability to properly rise from bed in the mornings, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that trying to keep track of my exact state of mood relative to other symptomatology isn’t entirely easy. My sense is that I have hallucinated when fairly euthymic, but then euthymic by my standards could be a mild to moderate depression by those of another, and thus I feel unqualified to judge this objectively.

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that I still have a number of elements of C-PTSD, regardless of whichever one of the other two conditions is predominant.

I rattle when I walk sometimes, what with all the tablets I have to carry about with me. And that’s going to get even worse! And lo, my poor brain must rattle now, with all these diagnoses in place to form description of it. But, although I know the terms aren’t important and that the actual treatment is, I still see value in diagnoses. I read recently – I can’t remember where, sorry – that the point of diagnostic psychiatry is communication. Without at least some guidance – to be taken with a pinch of salt certainly, but which can act as something of a sign post – surely all branches of medicine, even those in which spectra and classification-overlaps predominate, would end up jargonistic free-for-alls.

Diagnoses may not help diagnosees, but I still can’t see how not having them does either.

* On the point of scare quotes, actually. The verb ‘to label’ and its nominal, adjectival and qualifying derivatives are unlikely to be used synonymously with ‘to diagnose’ on this blog – but if they are, they are the only terms I will always put in scare quotes. I cannot express how much I completely abhor this usage of the word ‘label’. I hate it. I despise it. I feel repugnance and disdain and derision and other derogatory d words towards it (though, it must be noted, not those that use it!).

It’s not a rational objection, but please don’t kick me – we all have foibles, do we not, and this, sweet readers, is one of mine 😉

Random real life aside – in the wake of Ms Cat’s death, we decided to get a new kitty quite quickly. This was a pragmatic decision based on Mr Cat’s future wellbeing. It became quickly apparent that he really missed Ms Cat; so did we, obviously, but human mourning takes time – does the same apply to felids? We know not. Had it been about us, we’d have waited at least a few months before getting another female cat, but on balance, we reckoned it would be better for Mr Cat if a new adoptive sisterbling came sooner rather than later.

So here she is! ShHe shall henceforth be known as Señoritao (Srtao) Gatao on this blog 🙂 [EDIT: As you can perhaps deduce from all the strikethroughs, we thought the bloody cat was a female when we got it, but alas it’s a bloke. We never intended to get another male; the possibility of territorial disputes was too unsavoury. But although Srto Gato annoys Mr Cat with his kitten ways, they actually seem to get on reasonably well. Thank Christ.]

Srta Gata

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.

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Nadine Dorries: "Abstinence Only Education Will Help Prevent Child Sex Abuse"

EDIT TO ADD: A petition has been created calling for Nadine Dorries’ resignation in light of the comments below. Please don’t allow her to get away with this unscathed – add your name to the list of signatories right here. Thank you.

How many times do the political and mental health blogospheres have to highlight and respond to this bloody woman’s insidious, dangerous views? First she whinges that genuinely disabled people are incapable of using social media (“get back to work, you layabouts!”). Next, she uses deliberately loaded and offensive language to slur an individual she has decided she doesn’t like because he had the bare-faced audacity to take her to task on something (“nutter nutter nutter nutter nutter!!!”). Now she is saying that we, ie. the victims of childhood sexual abuse, asked for it. Yep, you read that correctly: if young females, in the face of potentially unimaginable terror and bewilderment, had just said “sorry, not today, thank you”, all would have been well! Those poor paedophiles misunderstood gentlemen, being led astray by these slatternly young sirens!

Her quote:

If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse…if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse…when sex abuse takes place [girls] don’t realise that that was a wrong thing to do. (Source I, Source II)

This in light of her ridiculous Parliamentary bill to teach girls – and girls only – ‘abstinence only’ sex education.

I could go and dig out statistics on this whole abstinence debate if I could be arsed, but I’m sure there’s dozens of other bloggers that have already done so, so I won’t (leave me links in the comments if you wish, and I’ll add them to the post). I will instead respond to this in light of personal experience.

As far as I can remember, I was first raped at the age of five. It could have been slightly earlier, or slightly later, but it was at about that age, because I have a conscious recall of, during the assault, my agonised fat face lying wide-eyed on the ground with my long, light-brown hair cascading around my enforcedly-horizontal body (in a perfect rape-victim stereotype, I had the majority of my lovely mane’s length hacked off shortly afterwards).

I had a playground knowledge of sex, I suppose. It was a taboo thing in which adults engaged – if you did it before you were married, it might even result in a baby coming! My childhood naivety – my belief that sex wasn’t required after a marriage to ensure procreation; one’s offspring just sort of arrived in one’s arms – makes me laugh a little now, yet also disturbs me in that such anti-sex-before-marriage-rhetoric probably harked back to the horrible Presbyterianism that was forced upon me around such matters. Dorries would, presumably, be pleased by this sort of dogma.

Anyway, a playground knowledge of sex does not equate to a fundamental (or even rudimentary) understanding of the mechanics of the act of sexual relations, nor does it suggest an understanding of the physical sensations nor psychological impact of engaging in said activity. I knew it was something to do with genitalia, but no more than that.

So that first time, during that first rape, not even knowing I had an orifice in that location, I thought that my uncle was stabbing me. The pain, mental as well as physical, is almost impossible to describe.

Fast forward six years or so. We had sex education in school, much to the sniggering amusement of all the boys and a majority of the girls. I had already worked out what was happening to me by this juncture, but had assumed that my younger self’s belief that sex was the exclusive domain of adults had been an unsophisticated child’s mistake. To me as an 11 year old, childhood sex was a normal practice in which to engage.

It was only as a teenager that I began to properly realise that this was not the case, and to some extent I still struggle with the idea.

Anyhow, despite the apparent evils of standard sexual education both at primary and at secondary school, I did not willingly have sex until I was 18. I was an adult – albeit a traumatised, disturbed one – and the action was desired, considered and undertaken with considerable precaution. My partner did not abuse me; I consented to having sex with him. I consented because I wanted to, not because I was unaware that I could say ‘no’ to the man. I knew that I could say ‘no’, and what’s more – I knew that if I said ‘no’, but he made me sleep with him, that that would be rape. He would be forcing himself upon me; he would not somehow be encouraged nor spurred on by my not having some requisite words of objection as taught from some crap sexual education class. If I had not wanted to have sex, and he had continued, the fault – as with any situation of this nature – would lie entirely with him.

Such knowledge is not available to a child. You don’t know that you can say ‘no’ – not just because the situation may have a gruesome normalcy to it, nor conversely (if it is the first time) because you are utterly mystified as to what’s happening to you – but because, simply put, you cannot say ‘no’. You are option-less in this scenario: in the terror of a fully grown man forcing himself upon your tiny body, you have little choice but to lie still, grabbing whatever laboured breaths you can, in order to remain merely alive. Saying ‘no’ is likely to only provoke further determination and violence from the perpetrator. At the risk of being repetitive, you cannot say ‘no’. Your very life may depend on you not doing so.

Sexual abuse is deeply traumatic and has the power to considerably affect its victims long after it itself has ceased. I have lived with a life time of mental illness, much of it trauma-related, and am still wading through the murky waters of therapy in an attempt to gain something that approximates an ordinary life, as understood by society at large at least. The notion that I brought this on myself by not ‘standing up’ to my rapist(s) is so incredibly offensive that it nauseates me to my core. Righteous anger pulsates through every vein, artery and capillary of my being. I know there’s a dichotomy here – regular readers will know that I often say, “yeah, but it was my fault” or “I should have stopped him” – but those are the words of a petrified, traumatised child. The echoes of such ideas by an elected MP on a national television programme merely serve to re-enforce a victim’s (misguided but natural) sense of shame and self-castigation, to add to the stigma of sexual trauma and any mental illnesses resultant therefrom. And that’s not to mention a word of the blithe assent to misogyny inherent in Ms Dorries’ insulting remarks.

If we have an abstinence-only message in schools, there will be no miraculous drop in the statistics of child sex abuse. As alluded to briefly above, I would contend that the perceived “defiance” of a child saying ‘no’ to an abuser four or five times her/his size could actually be dangerous.

Does Ms Dorries really think that a perpetrator, hearing a young kid saying, “please don’t!” is going to cock his head and scratch his chin in a moment of stark realisation? Oh right, she doesn’t want to have sex, so I’d better not go on. Augh well, some other time maybe. The idea that this is somehow easily obtainable is ludicrous.

Why? Because, as has been consistently shown time and time and time again, rape and sexual abuse are only secondarily (if at all) about sex. They are primarily about power, about control, about the twisted, megalomaniac thrill of seeing another person made vulnerable and degraded by one’s own dominance. In other words, if a sexual criminal has the will and the opportunity to rape or molest, (s)he will take it – no matter what his/her victim may say.

Oh yeah, and another thing, Nadine. Plenty of people did say ‘no’ and were raped anyway. I suppose they mustn’t have protested fervently enough, eh?

Dorries will no doubt claim that her comments have been taken out of context. I don’t care, and I don’t care what context they were meant in. What she said is still fallacious, victim-blaming and reductive in the rightful apportion of blame to a rapist and/or abuser. Her mens rea is irrelevant; her comments are still grossly offensive and morally (not to mention factually) wrong.

Links

Disclaimer: As discussed in the comments, Ms Dorries is unlikely to be saying, straight-up, that sex abuse survivors were directly to blame for their traumas and rapes. It is indeed probable that the woman has used a poor turn of phrase for what she was trying to imply. However, that does not make her nonetheless distasteful remarks any less controversial or offensive; she should think before she speaks and make her points thoroughly unambiguous. As I noted above, her intent matters little amongst the offensive terminology and implications, deliberate or otherwise, that her comments were laced with.

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