The hashtags #WhyWeDontEngage and #MentalWish have made me consider the enormity of the task we face in challenging society’s prejudices around mental health issues. The experiences people have shared make me so sad, but I’m not surprised by them.
As I read those tweets, I began to compare the way individuals with a physical illness and those with mental health issues are treated. The differences are, at times, staggering. One painful example that springs to mind happened at the start of the year, when I was the most ill I’ve ever been. I saw someone who works as a mental health professional and whose partner was ill at the time. They said to me “You’ve got to get a grip. I’ve got someone who doesn’t have a choice whether they’re ill or not – you need to sort your life out.”
It also made me think of a woman who lives on my road. She needs a hip replacement. Despite the pain and discomfort, she makes herself go for regular short walks. It must take immense effort, but she knows that if she doesn’t her mobility will just deteriorate further. Its right that others recognise her determination and courage – and anyone who didn’t would have me to answer to. Nobody exclaims “Oh just get on with it” whilst handing her The Practical Handbook to Scaling the Eiger.
So why, when I muster all the strength and courage available to me to make it out of the house, are my efforts met with derision? Thankfully only from a minority of people around me, but it happens often enough to make it part and parcel of my everyday life. I usually try to remember that ‘those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’ but can we afford ourselves such comforts? We need to change the views of a society, so surely everyone matters and we should always mind?
I once had a conversation with a dear friend, in which it took us no time at all to list the many ways in which it is socially acceptable to derogatorily use mental health issues in everyday conversation: “You’re mental”, “They should lock you up” “He went totally schiz”. People don’t even realise what they’re doing – and I include myself in that.
Fearing I may start to sound like that Michael Jackson song about a mirror, I’ve been thinking about my own attitudes – primarily the name of my website and blog. It came about after a rather trying appointment (is there another kind?) with my psychiatrist. During the usual debrief and rant I exclaimed to a friend “for f@*!’s sake, I’m crazy not stupid”. It made us laugh and has become my own tagline – but only in my head and only about me. I have an inexhaustible list of ways to rubbish myself and I would never say them to or about anyone else. But do I need to look outside of myself and consider the message it sends to others? I know I was once told by a mental health campaigner that you can’t challenge every single example of prejudice – it’s so prevalent you’d drive yourself and everyone else mad. Was he right or should we conceded no ground? And do I need to start with this blog?
Then again, I’m not sure whether I’m doing my usual trick of overthinking things. I’m great at that too: personal put downs and ruminating until my brain turns to jelly are my forte. I’m not good at much else, but for those two things I deserve a Grade A every time. In fact I may just be revelling in the idea that I’ve done something I can berate myself for. You see my problem.
So, I need your help. By referring to myself as ‘Crazy Not Stupid’ am I perpetuating the ignorance and prejudice I’m trying to challenge? Do I need to change the name of my website and blog? Would adding an explanation of how the name came about help in any way? Or do I merely need to calm down and remember to breathe?
Please vote in the poll and leave your comments. I want to do what’s right but I’m not sure I know what that is or how. I’m hoping that by being honest and brave enough to admit I don’t know the answer, I might actually be taking a step in the right direction.