Content note: mental health, mental health services, CAMHS, mental health slurs
When I told the pastoral care team at college that I was having auditory hallucinations, one of them said to me "it might not be that, it might just be earwax." I spent weeks laughing at how ridiculous it was for somebody in a position of care to say that to me. It wasn't funny. The bottom line was, I knew that I was ill, and I knew that I needed help, and I knew that she was wrong. So I laughed to get through.
It was the first time someone thought they knew better than I did what was going on inside my own head, but not the last. When I was 17, I was referred to CAMHS - the Child And Adolescent Mental Health Service. I can't name the number of counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, who have not listened to what I feel like I know about my own condition. The problem with telling people that you're mentally ill is that they don't believe you. We have this stereotype with mental health that one of the conditions of suffering is not knowing that you're suffering. We associate mental health with being unaware, out of control, "crazy". But this stereotype is just another way of dehumanising people with mental health stuff - taking away our ability to say for ourselves how we're feeling and what we think is wrong.
It's always seemed like a bit of a catch 22 to me: if you tell people you have mental health stuff, they don't believe you, because awareness of your problems is a sign of "sanity". If you don't tell them anything, and say you're fine, they prescribe you with mental health stuff, because making a judgement that you're okay when other people don't think you aren't is a sign of "crazy". It's ludicrous when you think about it - just like when I broke the bones in my foot, I could feel that something wasn't right, I can also feel when things aren't right in my head. I might not have been able to diagnose broken bones, and I definitely can't diagnose my mental health conditions - but I know that something is wrong.
When I talk about mental health, I can see how people's reactions differ when I'm calm and rational about it, compared to when I'm in a state of anxiety. But just because I'm calm about it a lot of the time, doesn't mean that it's not happening. And just because I panic sometimes, doesn't give people the right to then take away my autonomy and place their own judgement on "what's best for me." Yes, I have mental health stuff - but I also should have the ability to decide what is best for myself, just like any other person would. I don't need everybody suddenly jumping to tell me what I should be doing and how I can "fix" my head. i don't need someone to save me from myself.
Last week I made a decision as to what was best for myself at the time - and I took a week off from writing this blog. I was feeling messy, and I decided to look after myself, because self care really is radical in a society that wants us to "keep calm and carry on". The thing is, sometimes I can't keep calm. So I took time out, and I wrote myself a list of things I like to do for self care.
1) Take a bath
2) Climb some trees
3) Go for a walk
4) Read something (non-feministy!)
5) Chat to someone I love
6) See friends
7) Play guitar/uke
8) Write it all down
9) Talk to my cat
10) (In mental health emergencies) Leave London for a bit
This is my self-care post, and a reminder to myself that I need to treat myself like I would treat a friend or family member that I loved or cared about. It's a reminder that I don't have to always be happy, and that everything I feel is valid and okay. And it's a reminder that nobody knows more, or can know more, than I do about what's going on inside my head.
I'm not saying that therapy doesn't work, just that it didn't work for me at that point in my life, and being able to do these things did. I can't always take care of myself, but I try to when I can. And when I slip up, I need to remember not to punish myself - and just go back to this list again. It's as big a part of activism as anything.