Sixteen years ago I saw a psychiatrist for the first time. He wore a canary yellow jumper and scraped a gold tipped fountain pen across his notepad until the scratching of the nib rose from the paper and stopped somewhere in the middle of my chest.
Sixteen years on and psychiatrists tend to write with Biros now.
I’ve spoken to a lot of them, and to therapists and councillors and volunteers and GPs and nurses and any poor bastard that would listen. The adolescent mental health treatment centre, a red brick building that was always, always too hot. Charity run, volunteer led counselling sessions that I paid £10 an hour for. Private sessions that cost anything from £45 for an hour to £350 an hour. Endless, endless doctors and NHS nurses and A&E doctors and teachers and tutors and family and friends and boyfriends and people…
For hours. Seriously.
I’ve been hungry to talk. Desperate. I’ve written fucking letters, pages and pages of my smudged handwriting that the doctor has to read so nothing can be missed out or overlooked. I’ve begged and I’ve cried, shown scars and hidden scars and gone back week after week, month after month in the hope of something.
Fuck your five minutes, I’ve done sixteen years of talking and…
Mental illness is something that people, ill or otherwise, should feel confident to talk about. And if not confident, able. At the very least.
The real problem though is what comes after the talking. With doctors it’s one thing; it’s the faux concerned head tilt while the printer whirs into life and spits out a prescription for antidepressants. The usual patter about waiting lists and potentially helpful YouTube videos and books available in all good libraries and bookshops. Are my family supportive and did I know that having a bath is a good way to distract from the searing urge to cut my arms to ribbons on a particularly bad day?
And then I take the drugs and wait on the waiting lists and do as I’m told until the next thing propels me back ad infinitum.
Friends and family and humans tend not to know what to say. Why the fuck should anyone know what to say? It’s emotive and scary and it’s hard and ultimately all anyone needs to do is listen but that’s hard too andandand…I often don’t know what to say to someone who is having a really shitty time and I bloody live it.
I’m perhaps more open now than I ever have been and I put that partly down to my growing comprehension of my own illness and the desensitisation that comes from years and years of learning to be open with total strangers. There are times when I wish people weren’t so uncomfortable or were more receptive but it’s often not an easy thing to talk about. I am selective with it in the way that I am selective who and when and where I tell about a particularly horrific spot that exploded in triumphant goriness. Not everyone needs to know.
I’m dubious of Time To Talk. I’m a bit fucking frustrated that all the mental illness posters and flyers and advice guides are Time To Talk. That is the mantra that is brandished at all of us all of the time; Talk, go on. Talk about it and you’ll get better you just have to talk. We can’t help you if you don’t talk.
We can all talk until the words run out but care doesn’t exist and when it does its patronising as fuck. I couldn’t give a shit what people think of me, what I care about is access to support that isn’t drugs based because it’s easy. I’m lucky to be able to say that. I’m lucky to have pulled my defences up so high that there’s only a few people on this planet whose opinions I care about.
There’s a place for standing against stigma towards mental illness, just as there is for sexuality or culture or religion or fucking hair colour. No one should be victimised or marginalised or berated because of something that is intrinsic to them.
I’m just not sure I really understand what anti stigma campaigns are supposed to do.
Do we all crawl out en masse, like a horde of moaning zombies dragging our heavy limbs through the streets because LOOK HOW MANY OF US THERE ARE WE’RE JUST LIKE YOU ONE DAY YOU COULD BE LIKE ONE OF US.
Does “let’s stop the stigma” make anyone drop their cutlery onto the dinner plate with a clatter mid mouthful because OMG I DO THAT I MUST IMMEDIATELY STOP CALLING THAT GIRL AT WORK A LUNATIC BECAUSE IT IS NOT RIGHT.
Do the campaigns actually have a message? A real one? A raw and honest and accessible and personable; when all that really needs to be said is “if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Go and Google. Read WebMD or Wikipedia and fact search. Or just acknowledge the word ‘illness’ and fuck off with your opinions because you wouldn’t dream of telling someone with a physical illness that it’s all a load of bullshit. Love and care and hug. That’s it”.
All the campaigns advertise is “this thing is misunderstood. Try to understand it.” I just…what is that helping? Who is that helping? Stigma is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me stupid enough times and I’ll start to believe it. Say “let’s stop the stigma” enough times and I’ll start to believe there is one. There is, but hang on…
Time To Talk are a government funded organisation who exist seemingly solely to normalise mental illness a bit. But…that isn’t the issue. We don’t need to talk about it, we need to treat it. The real issue are GPs who lack basic training, a lack of specialist staff, of resources and of beds and of respect. I have encountered more stigma from GPs (and that one therapist who accused me of attention seeking because I deliberately cut my own face. I was fifteen) and that screams that it is the root of the problem, basic care needs to improve and specialist care needs to fucking exist and to be accessible and safe and empathetic.
These campaigns promise a lot but there is nothing. These campaigns speak of how common a disease depression can be but don’t speak of any of the other just as shitty illnesses that all spin-off from the same messy jumping off point. There is no targeted awareness of many, many illnesses or transparent steps to care or real support or change. There hasn’t been in the last sixteen years. There won’t be without a massive injection of cash and a commitment to quality care.
So I’ll talk and I’ll take the drugs and I’ll wait until I work out what it is I’m supposed to be waiting for.