“But you’re an intelligent woman, I don’t understand why you’re like this!”
Frustration, perplexity, and not just on the side of the mental health worker who had just uttered these incredible words.
That was maybe 15 years ago. And, while it has never been said to me so starkly, before or since, this is the single most compelling reason why I struggle to get my needs met.
Because, unfortunately, mental illness is unremittingly democratic. It baulks at none of the usual hurdles: gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age… IQ. In fact it laps them up. Oh, trauma and poverty will give you a head start, but when it comes down to it, mental illness is not picky. It will take you or leave you according to its own mysterious logic.
So when I turn up for an assessment, or, increasingly frequently, the assessment turns up to me, I have zero credibility. I’m articulate and insightful, clearly intelligent, and I have a constitutional inability not to make a serious attempt to truthfully answer any question put to me. How, then, could anyone believe that I can’t find my way from the outside of a door to the inside of it unaided? Or that I truly believe that I have insects moving, breeding and dying inside me? Or… Well, they can’t. And so they say things like:
“Do you think you’re likely to try to end your life again?”
“Well, the crisis house can’t meet your needs so we’ve decided to send you home.”
So home I go, wake up 3 days later through a haze of medication overload, and try to pick up whatever remnants of my life I can muster. Although not, obviously, making any attempt on anything simple like finding my way round my house or figuring out how or what to eat. I stay in my bed where it’s safe and read academic papers or draw degree level art.
I don’t get dressed because it’s some time since I figured out how to get washing in the machine AND get it back out, so there’s nothing to wear. If I have a mental health appointment I put on the clothes I took off whenever the last time was that I was dressed and run the gauntlet of the five minute walk to the centre. I’m functioning, engaging, so I have no needs.
Afterwards I’m so exhausted and confused that I can barely walk home. But the safe zone of my bed is like a little homing device and it always calls me back. Unless, that is, I happen to be lost somewhere in a field in Derbyshire – and who knows how I ended up there when I got lost in Sheffield city centre on the way? – Then I have to be located and retrieved. And, by way of some very kind friends, emergency respite that left my very capable carer completely unable to cope and completely unsupported, some time in hospital having fragments of glass picked out of me and CT scans, then back home. They wanted to send me back to respite, but, very sensibly, respite said no.
So here I am, in the middle of the night, processing my experiences (because I’m unable to do otherwise), charging my dead phone and dead iPad after a big long search for downstairs, finally finding the charging cable that, to my eternal gratitude, my carer tracked down and packed. It took me several long minutes to get my case open and root around in it feeling many things that were not the charger that I didn’t even know was in there. But no phone and a trail of worried people is not a good mix so I persevered.
Eventually back in bed, I waited and waited for power to transfer. Then I settled down to write this. Setting up the document was a bit of a challenge, but the writing is a breeze. Writing I can do. It’s life that leaves me clueless.
But I can tell you all about it, so, clearly, I’m fine.
Photo from smartdrugsforthought.com