In my previous post, I talked about acceptance in connection with hallucinations and something I said has inspired this post: ‘…people reading this who have never hallucinated might not understand…’ It’s quite a common belief in mental health service users; that those on the ‘outside’ looking in will never understand what they are going through. I think that in fairness, those on the ‘inside’ might never understand what it is like for the people looking in. I’m not going to lie, it’s taken me a long time to be able to see it from both sides because I was so caught up in what was happening to me that when it/I was misunderstood, I’d get angry and defensive. Natural though, right? Like, anyone would be like that if they felt insulted… no matter what the situation.
I really hope that this post does a couple of things: I hope that it doesn’t just tell ‘outsiders’ what not to say but that it also tells them why they might be met with a certain reaction when they do say these things; because I don’t believe they always mean to be offensive. I also hope that it offers some assurance to the ‘insiders’ that they aren’t the only ones these things are being said to, and that they aren’t the only ones to feel insulted by them.
1. “Shake it off”
If only it were so simple! To say this, can undermine the pain someone is going through by telling them that you think there’s a really easy fix for it. As though something like the simple act of physically shaking, will be enough to make the hallucinations go away and to make the suicidal thoughts stop. It’s demeaning and condescending to assume that the person wouldn’t be so desperate to improve their mental health that they wouldn’t have thought to do something so simple to change it. Or to think that something so complex and deep like mental health could be ‘resolved’ so easily. As though you can ‘shake off’ a traumatic experience that has left you wishing you were dead. Or ‘shake off’ a chemical balance in your brain that is causing you to hallucinate. ‘Shake off’ all the times someone stigmatizes you or discriminates against you because of your mental health. That’s right, stuff the medication, ignore the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, who cares about what the Psychologist has to say? Because shaking - ladies and gentlemen - is the answer!
2. “You’re wasting everyone’s time”
A little while ago I was having a mental health crisis and the Police became involved and one of the Officers said to me that he’d been told by his Sergeant to arrest me for wasting Police time (it turned out he was lying and that it was just his own, stigmatized, attitude towards mental health call-outs). I believe that the notion of wasting someone’s time means something different to different people – what I believe to be wasting a person’s time, that person may think that they’re just doing their job. The Police are a prime example – many officers believe that a waste of their time is anything other than solving crime but then there are other officers who believe that as long as they’re helping someone, it’s not a waste of time and they are doing their job. The notion that you’ve wasted someone’s time with your mental health crisis – inevitably – leads to the person feeling worthless and like an inconvenience. Two thoughts that are absolutely poisonous to someone already struggling with their mental health. But ‘wasting time’ isn’t the only thing wrong with this sentence; ‘everyone’ is a very big word to use because it minimizes the opportunity for any exceptions. It takes away the chance that there are people in the world who don’t feel this way about the person. There isn’t anyone out there who thinks that this person isn’t a waste of their time. There isn’t anyone who think the person is a worthy cause of their time.
3. “You know fine well that it’s just a hallucination”
There was one time in one of my local A&Es when I had just been assessed under the Mental Health Act and began hallucinating a rabbit under one of the chairs in the room, I was sat in with a Police officer. She noticed, asked what was wrong, and promptly lifted the chair and stamped her very big, very shiny, black boot down on the rabbit. But, to her, it was just an empty space. She believed me and she did something that took very little energy, but it made all the difference. Then, in Cygnet Hospital Bierley, my room filled with rabbits and I ran from it screaming and crying. A Healthcare Assistant ran in and threw them all out. Later, my Key Nurse told me there’d been an argument between the staff as to what was the best way to support me when I was hallucinating. Some, thought that it’d be best to reassure me they weren’t there and others, thought it made more sense to ‘play into’ the hallucinations and do what they could to help. Those people knew that reassurance, in the face of a hallucination is nothing. If that was all it took then there’d be no anti-psychotic medications in the world!
4. “You’re just doing this for attention”
Probably one of the most popular, most stigmatized view a person can have of someone with a mental health illness is that they’re ‘doing it’ for attention. I once confronted this issue with my Community Psychiatric Nurse and told her that I don’t know how anyone could possibly want to ‘seek’ the attention you get when you overdose. Or when you cut. Or when you tell someone you’re hearing voices. Because more often than not, the response/attention is negative and upsetting; to say the very least. Your discriminated. Or your patronized. Or your misunderstood. Then those less frequent times, when others may say you’ve been treat with care, support, compassion, and kindness; well I, personally, just feel like ‘I don’t want to have to be supported with something like this!’ I don’t want to be cared for because I’ve self-harmed. I don’t want compassion because someone has heard about the abuse I went through. I want those feelings but not for those reasons. I’d rather be supported through my achievements and not my struggles. And I don’t mean to sound unappreciative when there is that kind of helpful response; it’s just that I’m trying to stress that even with those responses considered; I don’t have a mental illness for attention.
5. “People with your diagnosis don’t benefit from that”
This is something I’ve recently battled with my Psychiatrist who has repeatedly referred to studies on people with Borderline Personality Disorder and that 90% of those people didn’t find medication helpful. I remember my Mum saying, “maybe Aimee’s in the 10% who do benefit from it!” My Psychiatrist told me that there was no evidence to support that and promptly prescribed a reduction regime for two of my four psychiatric medications. I think that a lot of people who make this comment are basing it on studies and surveys but having the same diagnosis does not make two people the same. One person can have a different presentation of a similar ‘symptom’ e.g. there was a girl in Cygnet who came in with no scars on her arms because her self-harm was through abusing her Diabetes medication. And no two people have the same catalyst for their mental illness; we all have different traumas, different chemical imbalances, different relationships, different environments… It’s unfair to make a unanimous decision based on a majority statistic.
6. “You’re not even trying”
I mean, as far as I’m concerned, as soon as anyone wakes up breathing, they’ve achieved something. And I seriously mean anyone; not purely those with mental health problems but those without. I believe that every time you get out of bed it’s one hell of a win; and chances are, you’ve had to do so for someone to have the opportunity to say this to you. Saying this, can leave a person feeling useless – as though nothing they do is good enough. To think that you’re already trying your hardest only to be told you aren’t, is embarrassing. And what if you were trying and became so exhausted and sick of feeling like it wasn’t make a difference that you had to stop for a second? What if you’ve used all of your reserves and now here’s someone telling you that everything you’ve done – all those exhausting coping skills and therapy sessions – weren’t good enough. Believing someone has more potential is completely different to diminishing their current efforts.
7. “We’ve got a duty of care for people like you”
I mean, 100% honesty here? I don’t even like the first part of this comment; the ‘duty of care’ – I, personally, think it sounds demeaning, but I completely understand that it’s actually a legal term and not necessarily one that someone would personally use to describe the situation. But then I guess it’s a legal term that needs adjusting because it leaves the person being ‘cared for’ feeling completely inadequate and incapable. So, for the sake of avoiding a conflict, let’s pretend that term hadn’t been used in the comment; let’s focus on the ‘people-like-you’ part; people like me? I mean, since when was there an Aimee category of people? Since when was there a specific type of person that were all listed as being like Aimee Wilson? It goes back to what I said in number five (I think) that people with the same diagnosis should not be assumed to be the same and to require the same kind of care. What works for one person may not work for another. There was one time when I’d taken an overdose and Doctors and mental health professionals argued for five hours over whether or not I had capacity. In the end, it was decided that I didn’t and I was treat against my will so my Psychiatrist had me write an Advanced Statement that told medical staff should I refuse treatment for an overdose then they were to assume I didn’t have capacity because when I did (have capacity) I wanted to be alive more than anything in the world. But capacity means something different to everyone and so do the requirements to warrant the ‘duty of care’ being used.
8. “You don’t look depressed”
I’d genuinely like to know if there’s anyone out there with a diagnosis of Depression who has NOT had this comment made to them. Like, seriously! Hands up! I don’t have Depression, but I do have suicidal thoughts occasionally and I often get a similar comment to this when I’ve been sectioned under the Mental Health Act for attempting suicide, yet I still manage to return a smile or laugh at a joke. As though being suicidal or feeling suicidal suddenly stops you being a human and having other emotions. I think that if you’ve never felt suicidal or depressed then it’s probably reasonable to assume that those who do will present in a certain way; like, they’ll be crying, or they’ll be uninterested in a conversation, or they won’t want to get out of bed.
9. “There’s no excuse for your behaviour”
I got a phone call earlier today from the British Transport Police (BTP) about an incident I’d witnessed on the train back in April. The officer told me that he’d had to close the case after discovering that they hadn’t captured the offender on any CCTV. Not being dramatic; I wanted to slam my fist into a wall! I mean, I was seriously pissed off! I told the officer, I said; “I spent years learning to take responsibility for my actions and now someone is getting away with not taking it for theirs!” From my very first overdose/episode of self-harm to being in Cygnet Hospital Bierley over three years later, I’m ashamed to say that I never once, took responsibility for my actions. I’d apologize or say I didn’t mean it but actually, I was blaming everything I said and did on one person. One person who wasn’t even worthy of being in my head let alone taking the credit for an actual action of mine! But over time, and through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and trauma therapy, I learnt that what happened to me could be a cause of my actions without being the rationale behind them. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry because it didn’t to me when I was first told it was possible! But basically, the abuse can cause me to feel alone, yet it is how I cope with that feeling that’s important. You can feel suicidal from memories of the abuse but how you respond to those feelings – whether you act on them or not – that has to be up to you. As powerless as you might feel, it’s important to learn that actually; you, are the most powerful person in your life.
10. “Your self-harm is only superficial”
I’ve talked before about the use of the word ‘superficial’ so the word I want to talk about here is ‘only.’ To use that word - no matter what the next word is - completely undermines anything! To say ‘it’s only a fire’ or ‘it’s only a broken leg’ isn’t any better than using it in mental health but one thing that is different with its use in ways like regarding self-harm, is that it has the potential to be physically harmful. I’ve met girls who’ve said that they felt like someone had played down their self-harm, so they went ‘bigger and better’ the next time! That is the kind of mindset that some people may have when confronted with such a comment. To say ‘only’ patronizes the level of pain a person is feeling; it tells them that it isn’t the worse feeling in the world yet offers no comfort in return. You can’t minimize in mental health. You can’t say that someone is ‘only’ feeling that way or has ‘only’ done this. When I’d talk to other inpatients about my mental health history there’d be people who would say ‘I’ve only overdosed twice!’ As though those two attempts aren’t good enough compared to my numbers! As though those two times shouldn’t be regarded in the same way as my amount of times. As though those two times are unimportant. That is what the use of the word ‘only’ can do.