Monday, May 2, 2011

Can We Make A Deal, World?

I tell you what - I promise to try my very best and actually get of my arse and do stuff without fear of failure if you promise to stop with the ableist bullshit, ok?

Time to Change has been running a campaign trying to get people to talk openly about mental health, so here's my little contribution.

I suffer from depression and anxiety. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I want to try and make clear what that actually means. I take anti-depressants, because I'm worse without them, but they don't make me "better". I get by with the help and support of my friends and family- especially my partner who makes sure I get fed and have someone to talk to, as my attempts to open up to a counsellor have always ended in failure. I'm not suicidal, I don't spend all day in bed, I manage to eat regularly (but not overeat), I manage to get out of the house most days, I can go into shops and answer the phone and talk to people in social situations. This doesn't mean I'm not ill though. Just because I'm lucky and my depression is very mild, doesn't mean it's not there, or that it's just a bad mood, or I'm over-reacting to a negative mind-set and I just need to pull myself together. I am ill. And, as I'm beginning to accept, I probably always will be.

This acceptance doesn't mean I'm giving up or going to spend the rest of my life wallowing in self-pity or am placing myself in a "victim" role or any of that nonsense you might be thinking. In fact, it's the complete opposite of giving up. I spent too much time as a teenager and young adult hoping that one day I would be "better", that I'd get over whatever was holding me back and everything would be ok. Even once I'd realised that wasn't going to happen by itself, I looked to doctors to help me, to cure me, to make this horrible mental illness go away. And they couldn't. At that point I nearly did give up.

But accepting that I had a chronic illness, that I had a disability was just the first step to learning how to live with it. Hoping for a cure for my depression and social anxiety is about as much help as hoping for a cure for my myopia. But instead of trying to deny I'm short-sighted or struggle on without any help, I buy glasses and wear them and get on with life. Mental illnesses are not so easy to cope with, of course, but I have learned (with help from both professionals and other sufferers) how to catch those negative thoughts and realise they're not true, how to set myself achievable targets and get myself moving each day, and how to occasionally give myself a break. I've learned how to do that but it doesn't make it any easier. Unlike riding a bike, it doesn't really get easier with practice and I doubt it'll ever become second nature for me.

So obviously I have bad days.I have relapses where it feels like the rest of my life is going to be like one of those bad days, because that's what depression does. And on those bad days I reach out and tell people I'm feeling bad and go fishing for sympathy and things like that because that's what I need to feel better, to get enough of a grip on myself to get past the bad moment and pick myself up again. And when one of my friends is in a similar bad place, I give them sympathy and love because that's what they need right then, not a lecture on how they can make things better. It's called a social support network, and it's one of the most important things a person can have. Sure, it might be better to teach a man how to fish, but a starvation victim who is too weak to hold a rod really just needs the damned fish. Learning to catch your own supper comes later, when you're strong enough.

But still. I've been a slump lately and I've done enough whinging and asking for sympathy, and I've been given it because I have friends who are great and understand. And now I need to learn how to fish. (Metaphorically, of course. I'm far too much of a softie to kill my own food.) So apologies for the self-pity and whinging, and I hope you can forgive me. As for the deal, I'm going to try and keep my end of it, so do you think you can uphold yours? Don't assume just because something works for you, it will work for everyone. And don't assume just because someone doesn't look unwell or disabled, they must be fine. Thanks.

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