My old psychology lecture room. I walked the same floors as I did ten years ago, to the same room that I sat in doodling while studies and theories seeped out of the tutor’s mouth and bounced off the walls. The hot afternoon sun beat in through the open windows casting long shadows as the marker squeaked across the whiteboard and I planned my weekend. It was also the room that housed my exam results one August a decade ago. I was scared to go in and then scared to look and then ohmygoodnessIdidok!
Everything is the same but different as I walk in after all this time. The chairs all face the opposite wall, the whiteboard has been moved but cobwebs still cling to high corners and sway gently in the breeze, the sun still pours in through the windows. No longer a room where I would study psychologists and daydream about seeing friends and boys and boyfriends on Saturday, it had become what I desperately needed to be a glimmer of hope, of help, and a way to access treatment.
I jumped through all the compulsory hoops (again); I filled in the forms, scored my mood out of eight and ticked the relevant boxes to get here. The next step. The place where I would decide what treatment would be right for me to help me to recover. It struck me as odd that the best way to do this would be to assemble
the mentals sufferers of anxiety, depression, panic disorders, phobias and similar in an enclosed space, close proximity, away from home and extremely publicly.
I feel far from comfortable about being in a room full of people with various mental illnesses of varying degrees of severity. In no other aspect of my life would I ever smile at someone I had never met before and, holding out my hand in greeting, divulge that I have a mental illness before I have introduced myself.
A PowerPoint presentation begins; every cliché, stereotype and misnomer about depression and anxiety presented in 72 point comic sans as each slide is read aloud for emphasis.
We all have to deal with stress, the projected slides tell the room, sometimes we don’t deal with it correctly and it becomes a vicious cycle. You, yes you, can learn to change that vicious cycle. We will give you workbooks and homework and group meetings where we will explain to you in fine detail all of the mistakes that you are making in life and how to put them right. And then if you work really hard you won’t be stressed anymore.
Shit, I’m in the wrong room. Did my feet carry me here because it’s a path that they were so used to treading? I should really put my hand up or something. Or just leave…A quick glance at the sign stuck with blu-tac at a jaunty angle on the inside of the door tells me that I am in the right room. Oh.
And then I want to leave. Are you telling me that this is a choice that I have consciously made for myself? I have been living this for nearly eighteen months, if I could have changed it I would, it’s taken everything from me. It’s taken me.
Break flashes up onto the wall, projected in looming letters (I hate comic sans) and bends and distorts around the woman who moves forward to tell those who want to stretch their legs to be sure to return in five minutes. I want to go. I want to sulk and flounce and close the door behind me on my way out. This isn’t what I need to hear or anything close to what could help me. I soak in my own private pity party on my chair in my old psychology room in my old college missing my old life. The last thirty minutes told me that I can choose not to be this way, but they also told me that depression makes you cry all the time. Over nothing. I want to cry; nothing.
The slides start up again. Not one person left the room. More animated bullet points about stress and its vicious cycle. The pity drains away and leaves anger in its wake. Slide after slide after slide of information about workbooks and healthy eating and exercise and homework and courses and spider diagrams and flow charts.
A person who feels a little low may put things off, for example, they may keep putting off washing their hair because of lack of motivation.
What about looking after a newborn baby? What if I can’t even look after my own child? I didn’t choose this. Fuck washing my hair. I want help. I want to be a mum.
My inner voice screams.
I have just ticked a box to say that I think about self-harm, that I think things would be better for everyone if I wasn’t around. How is any of this relevant and why should I give a shit?
Ten minutes later we are dismissed. I float out of the room, outwardly blank but internally screeching.