5 missed calls. First letters, now this? He wants to meet to discuss my ‘difficulties’. How did he get my number? I’m not giving in. I know what will happen – i’ll get carted away, put in ‘treatment’ with all autonomy taken from me… given therapy that would change my thought patterns, force-fed, only being released when ‘they’ decided I was ‘sane’ and ‘healthy’. This is a conspiracy, they’re trying to trick me into thinking I am mad.
Oh, how fragile the tethers that bind us to normality. The mind is so powerful and complex and works in many ways we cannot control. As a result, I often find it difficult to decipher the difference between what is real and what is not, and am then left with the thought ‘is what my head is saying true?’; Am I mad, am I normal? What is normal? Does everyone think this way?
In the family it’s a running joke that I am ‘the mad one’, the nutty branch of the family tree. Why I couldn’t have been an apple branch is beyond me. I could be a part of the ever popular and much requested family apple crumble. Instead, I am the lone nut looked upon differently, since it’s not seen as a proper part of such a classic pudding. Consequently I have a quote printed upon a cushion propped on my bed:
“But I don’t want to go among the mad people” said Alice.
“Oh you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We are all mad here”
The words of the cat lead me to ponder: Are we? What is it to be ‘mad’? The very word carries such negative connotations of hellish asylums and padded cells. As such, it often results in people feeling they have to hide their mental ill health for fear of subjugation and differential treatment.
This was my fear.
Initially I was worried about speaking out. Did I really want people to know? I thought they would treat me according to the label and group me as one of ‘them’. I thought I would lose myself.
But the reality was, I already had.
The Chinese proverb stood true: men in the game are blind to what those looking on clearly see. Experiencing psychosis, depression, OCD and anxiety is one thing, but living with it is another. Looking back, my parents were saints for putting up with me. How they must have felt seeing this alien in place of their child…I became extremely insular and, when interrupted, a monster. So the part of me that thought I was going mad? It turned out to be correct.
This took a while for me to accept – around two years or so. Labels bound with such experiences restrained me from talking about it. Life became a ‘me against the world’ scenario. I was angry, oh so angry, but at what and who with? At the time I was unsure but I now know this anger was with myself. Frustrated I wasn’t getting where I wanted to in life, I felt as though I was failing. In the end I sought help but on my own terms. My GP was fantastic and I owe him my life. I was dying and did not realise it. I think I must be the only person who has been prescribed a milkshake and Greggs. I saw a psychiatrist. That did not work out. I then sought support from a counsellor which also did not work out. But I pursued and went to another psychiatrist. He turned out to be perfect. After a few sessions I no longer had to see him.
Much has changed in the mental health arena since the early asylums with growth in psychological understanding and public acceptance. Now, many treatments are available and you do not have to suffer in silence. So my message is this:
Do not fear the label for it could be the key.
It may take a few tries to find the right person or technique that works for you (face-to-face, helplines, online peer mentoring, talking to friends) but I urge you to try it. Hearing yourself express thoughts aloud, however jumbled they may come out, helps make some sense of the nonsensical. Take it from a prior sceptic. I was worried the label would own me and change the way I thought, thereby changing me. But that was not the case at all. My mental ill health had already done that. What the talking therapy did was help me find myself again.
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