The feeling's mutual
Posted Monday 23 July 2012
I’ve had problems with my mental health for many years now, so many in fact that it’s just part of who I am. It’s not interesting, amusing or quirky, it comes along with all my other mundane characteristics: I have dark hair, I have a mental illness, I have ten toes... Yawn.
Rarely is it a conversation point with my family or friends, I may be a curious offering on paper but not in real life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said and done my fair share of bizarre over the years but day to day life is pretty average.
This is why I am so bowled over at the level and frequency of stigma that I encounter. I do recognise that I am one of the lucky ones, I know not everyone who experiences psychosis can live the average life but I do and there are more like me.
I want to tell you about my workplace assessment, purely to illustrate the point. For University I had to provide proof of my qualifications, a criminal record disclosure and a health disclosure, which I did. I expected them to follow up on the health disclosure (see curious offering), which they did. This follow up is the point at which I almost fell off my chair. The doctor began his questioning in slow speech… “can you dress yourself?”
I wanted to reply, in slow speech, “Are…you…kidding…me?”
I explained that yes, I dress myself, I live independently, hoping to curb the line of questioning. “Can you cook for yourself?” – which part of ‘independently’ had he not grasped? We went through a frustrating exchange which ended in his eyebrows rising up his forehead as I informed him that I can drive a car.
The particular low point of the assessment came when he concluded that I couldn’t possibly study a healthcare course as it involved patient contact. I asked him to explain further, considering we had already discussed my ten year employment history of working autonomously with various categories of vulnerable people. “People who hear voices hurt other people” and that was that. Access denied.
These assumptions only make me believe the same of people that they clearly believe of me. Talking slowly infers that I am an idiot, so I think they are an idiot for talking unnecessarily slowly. A doctor discounting my competence makes me think them incompetent. Suggesting that I cannot be trusted makes me mistrustful. If they can’t come to a sensible conclusion by talking to me, how could I trust them not to put up more barriers than I already face?
If someone suggests that I am likely to be dangerous, I think their ignorance is dangerous. These types of people, not too many years ago, would have had me locked in an asylum for life. These are the type that hear my dry humour through the crackle of my label and would lose me my job over an innocuous comment. These are the people who peddle fictitious statistics about violent mental health patients, threaten my normality and fan the flames of stigma. These are the people who are afraid of me and, as I said, the feeling’s mutual.
Watch Mind ambassador Ruby Wax's documentary Mad Confessions. It's on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight. Join in the discussion on Twitter #4goesmad.
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