Thanks to a poll on my Twitter back in November, my wonderful followers decided that I should publish a blog post and film a vlog every day for the entirety of December!
So welcome to December 8th…
I struggled to think of a subject to write about in this post because as usual, I won’t be doing a review of the pantomime. Like I said in Wednesday’s Jack And The Beanstalk post, there are so many media sites doing an awesome job at publishing straightforward reviews that I don’t think you guys need another one doing that! Also, this is first and foremost, a mental health blog so telling you my favourite parts of a pantomime would be completely irrelevant!
For those who don’t know the story of Beauty and the Beast; it begins with an enchantress disguised as a beggar lady. She approaches a Prince and offers him a rose in return for allowing her to sleep in his Castle to escape the storm. When he fails to look beyond her appearance, she casts a spell on him which turns him into a Beast and tells him that unless he meets true love before the final petal falls from the rose then he’ll remain that way forever. And then ‘Beauty’ comes along in the form of a local village girl! And that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it!
I guess the point of the story is not to judge a book by its cover, through not holding a preconceived idea of a person and seeing beyond a person’s appearance by appreciating their personality and who they actually are. It’s also about being kind to others and treating people how you would like to be treat.
Here’s – what I believe – are the five most popular misconceptions in mental health and what people should know to eradicate these beliefs:
1. Suicide is the easy way out
I actually once had a best-friend’s parents make this comment about another friend succeeding in committing suicide and I – understandably – got really upset because I worried that they had been thinking that of me since my first attempt to take my own life in 2009. It’d been almost three years and I’d made numerous more attempts and the thought of them thinking this of someone who had gone through the same thing I had been experiencing gave me the courage to speak up. I considered that it could make for a really awkward situation with my best-friend but felt that I had to do it if I wanted to ensure they didn’t mistakenly think this of someone else. Even before I’m NOT Disordered, I knew speaking out is the only way we’re going to eradicate the stigma of mental health.
The thing that gets me about this misconception regarding suicide is the ‘easy’ part of it. I’ve always said that human instinct is to save yourself; like the whole ‘flight or fight’ thing… so it takes some guts to go against that instinct. I’d say ‘courage’ or ‘bravery’ or ‘strength’ but of course I don’t want people misinterpreting that as me saying committing suicide is a good thing!
Another misconception regarding suicide being the easy way out is that those who attempt to take their own life are completely selfish and aren’t thinking about the impact their death could have on those who love them. The actual truth of this can go one of three ways; either the suicidal person IS thinking of their family and believe they’d be better off without them; or, they know how upset their family would be and it doesn’t weigh up against how unhappy they themselves are; or, they’re so overwhelmed by whatever is motivating their suicidal thoughts that they can’t even begin to consider anything else.
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to suicide, you don’t really ‘get it’ until you’ve been there and that’s why it’s so important for those who have been there to speak out because it’ll educate others in better supporting people who are feeling suicidal.
2. People who hear voices are crazy
I won’t lie, I used to think this. Before I started experiencing hallucinations (auditory and visual) I thought that everyone in a psychiatric hospital could hear voices and when I started to experience it, I worried that I was going ‘crazy’ and would end up in hospital. Over the ten years since I first started hearing voices, I’ve learnt a lot about them, what they mean, why they’re there, and how to cope with them.
There has been a mix of opinions with professionals regarding my hallucinations with some believing they stem from the abuse and others believing they’re actually part of transient psychosis. Me? Well I agree with both! I believe that maybe they were created from the trauma but have become part of psychosis because antipsychotic medication helps eradicate them.
I used to (my medication has completely gotten rid of the hallucinations) hear a few different voices and each of them said different things, held different beliefs and opinions, and had their own, separate personalities. So, some professionals believed that these voices were parts of me that I had cut off when I’d disassociated throughout the abuse. There was an angry part, which was sort of in tune with the anger I experienced around the abuse. The childish one, professionals thought stemmed from me disassociating when the abuse started when I was 15. Then there was a critical, self-deprecating voice who reflected my perfectionist side and the part of me who has very low self-esteem.
So, I guess my point is that hearing voices can mean lots of different things and can be a result of lots of different reasons.
3. A psychiatric hospital is the safest place to be
When I was sectioned to the long-term hospital in 2012, I felt so lost because all of my unhealthy and unsafe coping mechanisms of self-harm and attempting suicide were taken away from me and – initially - I was given nothing to replace them. It meant that I almost ‘had’ to learn alternative coping mechanisms and inevitably, some of these weren’t safe ones. It didn’t help that some of the other inpatients would encourage one another to self-harm by going so far as to show one another different methods. I think the worst thing that happened with this though was when one of the girls snuck a blade into the ward after her home leave and everyone passed it around to one another, obviously knowing full well what the other person would be doing with it! In the end, someone told the staff and there was a full ward lockdown whilst all of the bedrooms were searched, and everyone was interviewed to determine their involvement and find out who had originally snuck the blade in. The entire thing was pretty horrific because I’m a firm believer that we – as Service Users and patients, should be building one another up and encouraging recovery and cooperation with professionals and not the exact opposite. It was actually really saddening to think that people were so unwell that they fully believed self-harm was the best way to cope and that it should be promoted.
It’s hard because in inpatient wards, there will always be at least one person who is the most poorly and one person who is the most well and the latter person’s recovery could be affected by the other person’s behaviours and attitude. No matter how well you’re doing, it can sometimes be very triggering to hear others talk about feeling suicidal or how they find self-harm helpful.
4. Rape/abuse survivors did something to deserve it
Recently, a Police Force tweeted a picture of the Christmas tree in their station and instead of baubles it had pieces of paper hanging from the branches that read ‘stay in pairs’ and ‘don’t wear short skirts’ with the intention of promoting ways to avoid being sexually assaulted or raped. Someone I know had retweeted it with the caption ‘the victim of such a crime is never responsible for what has been done to them.’
Sadly, blaming the victim – or, as I prefer to call a person, the survivor – and holding them accountable, is a common belief and thought process among many people where it’s regarding sexual abuse and rape. It’s even more terrible because survivors often already blame themselves for what has happened to them so the last thing they need, is for others to validate that. For me, when the abuse started, I worried that I’d brought it on myself by wearing make-up and heeled shoes. Blaming myself actually became a motivation to not tell someone what was happening to me because I was afraid someone would confirm what I was already thinking and having someone say ‘well, you deserved it;’ was the last thing I needed to hear when I was already feeling suicidal from believing it myself.
5. People who self-harm are attention seeking
A long time ago, I was labelled an attention seeker by the Crisis Team and the Police because the voices would tell me to self-harm, after I’d done it they’d go silent and I didn’t want to actually die so I would go to A&E and then it would make them worse and I’d run away. To Nurses and Police, they just saw someone hurt themselves, tell someone and then cause a fuss and drama by running off or refusing treatment.
I guess, there’s also the thought that self-harm can be such an obvious and visible way of expressing your inner thoughts and feelings that it’s very literally a way to get attention. Sometimes, I do think ‘why is this seen as a bad thing?’ because surely doing something that could attract the attention that you need help and support, should be seen as a positive move. For some people, self-harm is a way of asking for help and whilst there are of course safer and healthier ways to do this, the actual act of asking for help should never be discouraged.
Finally, a little bit about the actual pantomime; there were quite a few wow moments with the costumes and some of the special affects but there were also a few parts that – in order to create silly moments - completely strayed from the plot and storyline. I understand pantomimes are fun and there’s children watching, and you need to keep them entertained but it really didn’t ‘fit’ with the plot. That being said, I’d still recommend seeing it though for the wow moments!
For a sneak peek at the show, you can watch my vlog from the day here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJGlqyDm2co&t=10s