PLEASE STOP ASKING.
So, you may have noticed a dramatic drop off in posts here in the past year. That’s for a few reasons.
1) I’m managing mostly fine these days, so I have a lot less to write about in terms of living with mental illness. It’s just the same old- taking medication etc. The latter has caused me a lot of problems at university, and I still haven’t managed to get off Seroquel. But that’s about it.
2) I have been very busy.
3) I am scared to. My name is here and now I’m a student mental health nurse, I don’t feel as though I can be as open as I used to be. And believe me, it is a shame. I feel shit about it, since I’ve spent the past few years writing and speaking and generally gadding around telling everyone my experiences in the hope it would help other people and in the knowledge it helped me. I have done some things I will always remember and met people who are so cool they are coming to my wedding. It has been my life.
Anyway, I already hid the worst bits of my blog last year, so…
I don’t feel as though I belong in either, “world”. I know many people who are mental health nurses have mental health problems themselves, but I cannot think of one who has been congratulated for disclosing it. I have been told- often- that people who work as mental health nurses shouldn’t have mental health problems. I understand why this is. There is issues with boundaries, ones which are in place not just to protect you but to protect your patient (I sometimes wonder- what if someone I was caring for found this blog? It would ruin the therapeutic relationship). I understand it because although I don’t feel it influences my practice at all, and I don’t have the problem of going, “There for the grace of god…”, it can be a bit close to the bone. I do stiffen, in general life, at peoples’ attitudes towards alcoholics because of my experiences with my dad. I want to challenge these things. I want to fight about it. I don’t go shouting from the rooftops on placement or anything, but my opinions are partly informed by my experiences, experiences I feel as though I have to keep largely hidden. At least in the sense that it is difficult to be both- a boundaried student nurse, and a mental health activist who talks about their own experiences.
I found being on my last placement absolutely excruciatingly painful. I enjoyed it as a clinical experience, but I had to wear short sleeves and I have extremely obvious self harm scars on my arm. This was the first time in my entire life I have worn my sleeves up in such a public setting. I have my own limits of disclosure and because of the setting I have chosen to be taught in, I reached them, rather unwillingly.
I undoubtedly want to work in mental health- it is my passion and my joy. But I have seriously questioned, ever since I started, whether I wanted to be a mental health nurse. But I love the patients, and I know that this is my way, “out”. In short- what else have I got? My own mental illness pretty much destroyed all my options. It ruined my education, it put me in bad stead with a lot of people who I could have worked with or could have been helpful. I have no qualifications, I have nothing. If I could find a way to work in mental health in some capacity- whether writing, advocacy or general campaigning- and in a capacity that would help me stay in work for the foreseeable, I would not do this degree. I would do that instead. That’s my being honest.
For the most part, I enjoy what I am doing, but find it painful to navigate as a person with a mental illness, and as a person who is used to speaking out, who is quite vocal and quite straightforward in my views.
Maybe they were right. Or maybe I’m not giving mental health nurses, doctors, etc, the system, enough credit. It’s just some stuff I have heard so far.
My other option has always been writing but I feel so nervous doing that right now. I am frightened it would put me in jeopardy. So I’m in a bind. I can still write, but not so much on my personal experience. And possibly not so much on the NHS or treatment.
But maybe that’s a good thing- maybe I have been so far up my own arse for such a long time, it’s time I did stop talking about myself. Because I don’t feel as though I fit into the other, “world” that much anymore either. I consider myself in recovery. Not clinically recovered, not back to normal, because I had no normal to return to. I had to become someone else, and I quite like who that someone else is, if I’m honest. I still take medication and my illness (and the dead-state side effects of medications) still causes me problems but I am not where I was. I’m not on benefits, I’m not under the CMHT, I’m not someone who is actively unwell. I didn’t write the book I was supposed to because I had an incredible fatigue in talking about my own, “story”. But hiding it is equally fatiguing.
So what to do? I really don’t know.
Winston Churchill is currently in a straitjacket in Parliament Square.
It is part of a stunt from the series of art shorts, Random Acts, in which different filmmakers showcase short, three minute films. This film is part of Channel 4’s, “4GoesMad” series, a season of programming on mental illness.
A daring endeavor, but not quite new. Rethink straitjacketed Winston in 2006. Gimmicky? A wee bit. But we shouldn’t shy away from making bold statements. It can’t all be fluffy and nice. The act was savaged by the Churchill family as being, “offensive to them and to the people who revered him”. Many members of the public denounced it as insulting to his memory, which led to its premature removal.
Winston Churchill is widely cited as one of the greatest figures of British history. He was also open about the fact that he suffered from depression, and indeed, coined the now ubiquitous term, “the black dog”.
Mental health problems can be a psychological and social straitjacket. And yet Churchill- and many other successful people who suffer ill mental health- show us that it can be escaped from.
To deny the existence of this bind is disingenuous and disrespectful to those- including Winston- who have struggled within it. Churchill is all the more admirable for what he achieved when one considerswhat he struggled with privately.
And although I respect the opinions of the Churchill family-and clearly the public do also- in their outrage lies the rub; why is it offensive to illustrate, visibly, that someone was mentally unwell? Why should it be hidden away, erased from history? Why does it offend a memory, or indeed offend sensibilities? Outrage at such a, “stunt” is a tacit agreement that mental ill health is something to be hidden, something shaming, a black mark against a person- a stigma.
A retrospective assessment of someones’ mental state does no harm. Florence Nightingale suffered from depression, and many artists have lived through mental illness. It has not dented their reputation, not sullied their personhood. Because, in retrospect, we judge them by their acts. We see it for it is, something which can shape a trajectory, influence a person, but it not the whole of who they are. We see that the mental straitjacket made them no less a person, no less capable and no less worthy of respect.
So why is it, “offensive?” It is offensive to those who are still in their straitjacket and who are judged- often- to be weaker or lesser for it. We should celebrate people like Churchill, who was open about his mental health issues and achieved so much. And we should understand that those here and now are as equally worthy of that respect.
Hello chaps! You might remember that I worked on a project called, “Warning: May Contain Nuts” which culminated in performances in Reading and Brighton Pavillion. Well, it’s that time again! Please see below, and if you are interested, contact jon (at) companyparadiso.co.uk. I highly recommend it, I found it a very rewarding experience.
Greeting to All,