My mental health has been on dodgy ground since I was a teenager and my physical health started rapidly deteriorating – depression, stress, anxiety, the triangle of despair. At first I assumed I was just being a normal teenager with the blues, getting moody for no rational reason. Maybe I was. Maybe that’s where it starts for most people unless they have somebody smart enough to catch it before it becomes serious. Then it was just the trials of being an adolescent. The student years of all-nighters and constant deadlines. The problems finding work. Combine these, relatively normal, things with a condition doctors couldn’t even identify until 11 years ago, being forced to rely on other people for a lot of things, having to deal with social services all the time, becoming an employer at the age of 18 and a million other little things that I can’t even think of right now and it’s a miracle I’m not wandering the streets in nothing but a monocle.
I’m still alive, still annoying, still me. Apart from one attempt to slash my hand with a (thankfully blunt) pair of scissors, I knew enough that what was happening in my mind was as out of my control as what was happening to my body and I should stop doing things that made it worse. Eventually I realised nothing was getting any better and that I needed to get help. My GP was terrible but, after a heated exchange, gave me anti-depressants. There is so little understanding of disability and mental health. The advice you read, the help people think they are giving, the support you eventually get from various sources is rarely appropriate for individual needs.
To start with, my doctor suggested I get in touch with a counselling service although the waiting list could be 18 months – everyone knows mental health help is crap in the UK so I’m not getting into that. The conversation went like this. Kinda.
Dr: I think counselling is the best option. It might be a long wait though.
Me: How do we start that?
Dr: Someone will ring, at some point, to arrange an initial assessment.
Me: And how am I meant to get to this appointment. I can’t exactly hop on a bus?
We went round in this circle for a while until I finally got the sticking-plaster pills I needed just to take the edge off. Talking therapy might be a good option for some people but what help is there for wheelies, like me, who need physical help to access that service? It just stuns me that somebody in a supposedly caring role would suggest something without even bothering to consider the difficulties.
Another annoyance is the ‘just get some exercise’ brigade. For years and years, I’d be in the gym a few times a week and it did help sometimes. Now, though, I have no assistant to take me to the gym or swimming. I can’t exercise at home because it’s dangerous to attempt anything involving moving without supervision. Every time I see ‘go for a walk’ or ‘get out in the fresh air’ on one of these bullshit self-care guides, I want to throw my computer through the window. Without opening it first. I have no-one to push me to the local park for some vitamin D. I can’t walk. Be more considerate of physical abilities before you tell me how to improve my psychological ones.
Even advice like keeping up with your hobbies or learning a new skill is more harmful than helpful when there is nobody to facilitate either of these things. It would be impossible to even attempt these alone. The worst part isn’t even that people can be ignorant enough of reality to post this advice as if everybody who is struggling can be fixed in a few bullet points, or even that medical professionals have decided my physical inability to take advantage of the offered help was just me finding an excuse to refuse it – it’s knowing that my own unreasonable guilt over the desperate state of my life, knowing that I can’t do all these things people claim will help is making my mental health worse. Which then affects my condition, provoking a bad episode because I can’t focus on not crashing my wheelchair when there’s a pity party raging in my head. And so it goes…
I have more depressed moments than is good for me, I spend half my time apologising for myself, occasionally I’ll cry for ages with no idea why, and a hug from Laurence does more to make me feel better than any drugs could. I’ve been off anti-depressants for a couple of years. At bad times, I have considered going back but I never think about it as a viable option for long enough to act on it. I think that’s a good thing for me.