The ramblings of a 20-something disabled, queer, feminist, Irish kitty

Posts tagged ‘Mental Health’

Disablism, Ageism, and Living with Invisible Illnesses

When people look at me they see a healthy, young, 20-something woman. They see someone in the prime of their life. They see someone who should be fit and full of energy. They see someone who should be able to run up a flight of stairs, or queue with everyone else.

You know what? I’d love to be able to run up that flight of stairs. I’d love to be able to walk around an entire museum without falling over. I’d love to be able to stand in a queue for an hour. But I can’t. Maybe, on a good day, if there was a fire I could run up that flight of stairs. On a bad day, I could drag myself up it as fast as my body would allow. But I have a finite amount of energy, and doing so would use up my entire allowance for that day.

I do believe that the disablism I suffer is worsened by my age. I have had middle-aged people demand to know why I am using the lift, when I look fit as a fiddle and should be able to run rings around them. I have had shop assistants laugh at me as I try to use the crappy lift in their store. I have had doctors reaching retirement tell me I am too young to be on as many medications as I am. Medications that other doctors have prescribed! I have had old ladies stare at me as I take out my walking stick. I have had people stare as I sit down in one of the disabled seats on the bus. I have had people scowl as I have taken out my radar key to use the accessible toilet because the queue to the ladies is too long.
The problem is that all of those people cannot see the constant pain in my joints and muscles. They cannot see the raging infections. They cannot see the fatigue. They cannot see that if I were to queue for more than a couple of minutes unsupported my legs would simply buckle under me. And they cannot see the guilt, the anxiety, the depression, the paranoia that rages inside my mind. Every time I use an accessible facility I feel guilty. I worry about using a service that someone else might need more. Of course, if someone in more need than me came along I would give up my seat on the bus. I am not the monster that strangers seem to think I am.

People look at me and they see someone who should be in work. I dread going back and having to field a million questions as to why I could not work for months. People look at me and they do not see the crippling depression. They do not see the terror that befalls me at the prospect of making a phone call. They do not see the frightened girl who is scared of strangers. They do not see someone who needs assistance to fill out a simple form. They do not see the mind that is plagued with flashbacks.

People look at me and they cannot understand why I cannot be impulsive. One of the things that I hate most about my illness is having to ration my energy. I have a finite amount of spoons, less than your average non-disabled person. To make matters worse, the amount of spoons I have can vary wildly from day to day. So when I want to do something fun, whether it’s go to the zoo or museum, or go to a weekend long convention, or even go to the pub for an hour, I have to stop and consider how many spoons I have available. My partner and I have adapted to this by being as organised as possible, and planning our days as best we can. Where possible, we try to have contingency plans in place as well. This may sound dull. This may make people think I am boring. But it is actually to ensure that I get as much enjoyment out of my day as possible. By finding out in advance how accessible a venue is, by planning in advance an alternate activity should the first plan turn out to be too strenuous, we ensure that no matter how I am feeling that day we try to make the most of it. People judge me for not being impulsive, for not liking surprises, for getting annoyed when people change our plans at the last minute. But it is because they have no idea what it is like to have to ration one’s spoons. They do not understand the worry that comes from having to gauge whether doing this activity will use up all my spoons for the next 2 days and prevent me from going to work the next day. People may think I am a spoilsport, but this is me trying to have fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that people with visible illnesses have it easy, or do not experience disablism. I am simply trying to describe the special brand of prejudice that is levelled at someone like me, someone who is a young adult with invisible illnesses and disabilities.

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Self Injury Awareness Day

Trigger Warning: Self harm

Today, 1st March, is Self Injury/Harm Awareness Day. This is a particularly important day for me, and one that I feel does not get enough attention. Self harm is still a taboo topic, which people shy away from talking about all too often. Even I avoid talking about it most of the time, as I know that doing so upsets the people around me. I even find myself hiding the artwork that I do instead of self harming, because seeing such dark paintings would also upset people! But you know what? Not talking about it only makes it worse.

And so it pleases me greatly that there are charities and initiatives devoted to this topic, and who use today to raise awareness of self harm and how prevalent and damaging it is. When researching the topic, I found 2 particularly informative charity websites.
The first, www.selfharm.co.uk contains some important information, and disturbing statistics. The only problem is that it seems to focus entirely on teenagers and young people, as though once you hit the age of 25 all your problems magically disappear and you no longer feel the urge to self harm.
The second site, www.lifesigns.org.uk, while being a bit of an eyesore in it’s design, at least acknowledges that people of *any* age can be affected by self harm.
Sadly both sites perpetuate the gender binary, declaring that self harm is not just a ‘girl thing’ and boys do it too, completely dismissing anyone who does not identify as either of these. But I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I hope these sites do more good than harm even if they are not perfect.

But I digress. I wanted to give a personal account of my own experience of self harm.
I have been self harming for as long as I can remember, certainly before the age of 9 (when I was first treated for depression). I have been told by professionals that I learnt to do this as a coping mechanism because I did not learn any of the ‘normal’ methods of expressing emotion, especially anger. My anger was stifled, it was an emotion I was simply not allowed to feel, never mind express. So I bottled it up and took it out on myself physically, regardless of who or what I was actually angry at.

To this day I am still not sure what a ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ way to express anger is. I try to use other methods such as writing, painting, or, on rare occasions, actually talking to the person who has angered me and discussing the situation like a healthy grown up. These alternative methods are always a struggle though, and my first gut reaction is always to hurt myself in some way, or to lash out violently. This second part is the scariest. Sometimes I self harm because what I *want* to do is express myself violently outwards, at others, where others can see it. Thankfully since I went on medication a few years ago this side of myself has been easier to control, but it is still there, and it still terrifies me. One of my biggest fears in life is that someday I will lash out violently and I will lose the people closest to me as a result. And so I turn the anger inwards. It always seems better to hurt myself than others.

I had an extremely frustrating assessment with a psychiatrist a couple of days ago. She admitted to me that she intends to write a letter to my GP saying that she is discharging me despite knowing that I will continue to self harm until I undergo intensive therapy. The anger I felt in that meeting was overwhelming. This doctor in essence admitted that even though they are aware that I will continue to injure myself on a regular basis, I must wait several more months to begin therapy and they will not take any more drastic measures because they do not think I am a danger to others.
And whatever organisations like selfharm.co.uk might have you believe, even this doctor is not delusional enough to think that I will magically stop self harming in 35 days when I turn 25 and am no longer to be deemed a ‘young person’.

As I mentioned before, until now I have been too frightened to share the artwork that I make instead of self harming. But as it is Self Injury Awareness Day, I think I shall finally bring some of these pieces out into the light. They may be dark and distressing and all sorts of other negative things to other people, but to me they are a positive thing. They are what I create when I have just enough self control to paint instead of hurt myself, when I can take scissors to paper instead of skin. They may be an ugly outpouring of feelings that people do not want to see, but at least they are *out* instead of stuck inside me. Surely this is a good thing?

Red snowflakes and black text that reads UNWANTED, Drops of Blood in the Snow, drop by drop, it all comes pouring out

Drops of blood – My only painting specifically *about* the urge to self harm

 

black on red oil pastel piece

Pure rage – Quick pieces like might not look pretty but are particularly good for getting the anger out in a hurry.

black lines on bright pink paper, and text that reads 'pain' over and over

Pain – It makes no sense to me at all, but sometimes when I’m in physical pain it makes me want to self harm

Paper and bubble wrap collage including key words re mental illness - psycho, depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc

Psycho – This time I took scissors to paper instead of my skin.

 

 

There’s a lot more art where this came from, and maybe soon I’ll find the courage to post it all on my Tumblr. I honestly don’t know, are these disturbing? Can you look at these and feel my pain and anger? I know they’re not pretty, but they’re healthier than scars, right?

I feel like I’ve been too critical of the charities mentioned above. I genuinely feel that the work they do is very important. In fact, charities are one of the only things keeping me alive right now. During my current breakdown the NHS has failed me over and over again, but I have turned to charities, namely OSARCC, Mind and Samaritans and they have given me the help and support that the doctors have refused me. Someday when I am better and hopefully earning more again, I will give back to these 3 charities in particular, for without them I might not even still be here. I urge anyone who can to support any and all mental health charities. Whether you offer them your time or your money or whatever else you might have, these services are vital and horrendously underfunded.

And it all comes back to the fact that mental illness and self harm are still taboo topics in our society. Not enough people talk about them are far too many people feel that they have to suffer in silence. So even if it is just for one day, please help us smash this ridiculous and outdated stigma. Talk about it. Write about it. Tweet about it. Paint about it. Think about it. Please.