As I sit here with a brain full of concrete porridge I keep thinking of this quote from Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

“Forget about the scant hours in her brief life when Sylvia Plath was able to produce the works in Ariel. Forget about that tiny bit of time and just remember the days that spanned into years when she could not move, couldn’t think straight, could only lie in wait in a hospital bed, hoping for the relief that electroconvulsive therapy would bring. Don’t think of the striking on-screen picture, the mental movie you create of the pretty young woman being wheeled on the gurney to get her shock treatments, and don’t think of the psychedelic, photonegative image of this sane woman at the moment she receives that bolt of electricity. Think, instead, of the girl herself, of the way she must have felt right then, of the way no amount of great poetry and fascination and fame could make the pain she felt at that moment worth suffering. Remember that when you’re at the point at which you’re doing something as desperate and violent as sticking your head in an oven, it is only because the life that preceded this act felt worse. Think about living in depression from moment to moment, and know it is not worth any of the great art that comes a its by-product.”

The romanticising of mental illness sometimes pisses me off. Most of us aren’t fucking geniuses (even though some of like to think we are) whose illness is a bitter sweet muse. Like most people, mentally ill or not, most of us are really just fucking boring and ordinary. Those people who become successful and whose creativity brings them fame and praise, it’s because they are in the small percentage of lucky buggers blessed with talent not because they are ill, and they’d probably still be talented despite of it all. Perhaps having a talent for writing allows you to explore your depression more thoroughly and can lead to some fantastic work, yet the same talent can also lead to deep insights and fantastic work about things that have nothing to do with depression.

Sometimes I do get insanely creative moods and seem to develop an enhanced vision of the world, but most of the time I’m too busy being depressed and wondering if I have the strength to read my email or wash my hair. I suppose it may be a bit of both but right now I feel Wurtzel is right, it is not because of depression that Plath created amazing work, it is in spite of it. There seems to be a lazy trend in the media for diagnosing people, often long dead  with mental health problems or assigning them somewhere on the autistic spectrum or diagnosing them with whatever else is fashionable this week. Diagnoses I assume are carried out by the ‘here comes the science bit, concentrate!’ of scientific rigour and not the so and so has a book out about so and so on sale in all good retailers, order your copy now approach.

All very well but for 99% of us living with these conditions we’re struggling to live life in a world that does not want us, having lazy assumptions that our illness or condition is somehow a ‘gift’ and we should all be tortured geniuses worthy of one of those able bodied actor playing a disabled person to get an oscar oh how brave of them biopics, assumptions often foisted on us by people who do not have to live with this shit everyday, often those who are part of the system contributing to our misery.

The romantic idea that you waft about being a bit sad and writing poetry, playing beautiful music and painting pictures, maybe pausing for a love affair in nice fuzzy focus and impeccably lit, is nothing like the reality which is hour upon on hour upon day upon week of almost catatonic, mundane misery. Where the pain is too much, where your brain shuts down and you lose any hope of stringing together a coherent sentence let alone composing a nuanced stanza about the fragile beauty of the human condition. When the self hatred is so strong you shut down and just lie there willing sleep or some form of unconsciousness because if you are active you are active in your own destruction.  When you come out of that you can explore it, but when you’re in it? You’re just lumpen, nothing, a shell.

It’s also rather insulting to assume that someone’s brilliance must be due to something pathological, a nice compensation for being disabled ‘oh hey your life sucks but hey you can paint really well! isn’t that nice?’. People have talent regardless of their illness or disability. My depression does not define me. I am a creative person but not because I am depressed, of course it influences me, if you live with a long term illness that affects your everyday life it’s quite likely it might affect your output, how you think, how you see the world and by god it gives you something to rant about.

Depression is not shorthand for depth of personality (or actually having one in the first place) or authenticity or anything. It is not a simulacra rendered in faux old typewriter fonts on crisp digital screens to be inked into shown off skin, It’s not the personality equivalent of a fucking instagram filter. So fuck off with your hideous Bell Jar tattoos (You aren’t, you aren’t, you aren’t) Morrisey Hair, and idolisation of Kurt Cobain’s pain,  and don’t assume that latching onto another’s utter fucking misery, something which lest we forget often ends with a violent & premature death, somehow makes your life more ‘real’.

People who have not had their life fucked up repeatedly by depression rhapsodising about how wonderful it is for creativity, adopting the accessories of a romanticised ideal as a lifestyle choice and fashion accessory, they are near the top of the shit list.

To quote the Simulacra and Simulation 

“The fourth stage is pure simulation, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever”

I feel exactly like that about romanticised depictions and adoptions of depression as some sort of deep and meaningful lifestyle choice.

Disclaimer: I genuinely love The Bell Jar, it’s a fabulous book. Bad bell jar tattoos do make me laugh though.

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I am not belittling social anxiety issues in anyway, they are horrid. But I am a wee bit sick of people (usually the sort welded to a CBT textbook and wondering why you refuse to fit into a neat little category) assuming that when I avoid social situations it’s ‘anxiety’ or some other issue about feeling I can’t cope with it. The biggest issue is usually, I don’t WANT to be sociable and I am worried that I won’t ‘cope’ faking being sociable when I have no desire or energy to.

I am a natural introvert, I genuinely like, even love adore and crave being alone sometimes. The dominant ethos of society is that of an extrovert. I feel some of my natural and benign tendencies become unfairly pathologised because of my depression. Sometimes I know that I will become more depressed if I do not get this alone time. The pressure to ‘be sociable’ when I know I don’t want to be in horrid and often leads to more angst and  mood nose dives than being left to ‘brood’.

Perhaps it’s selfish, but then so is the outside world’s insistence that if I come out to play and listen to all their tedious bollocks I will be magically happier.

As one of the patron saints of gloom, Sartre said ‘Hell is other people’. There are some days when I am driven mad by the sound of people breathing too loudly, to the point of having to go and lie down lest I fall into some sort of horrid rage.

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For those of you unfamiliar with ‘the spoon theory‘ I suggest you give it a read, it’s a good explanation of what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and explains the whole ‘spoonie’ thing you might have seen online and got confused about.

It is worth exploring that when you have a long term condition the effect ‘random life events’ can have on you, they can affect you much more than someone who is overwhelmed by a surplus of spoons. For example this weekend I have come down with a horrible cold. Everyone feels awful with a cold but I get wiped out more than most. That whole stuffy feeling of general gloomy ‘meh’ is a lot worse when you suffer from a background general gloomy feeling of meh most days.

I have been reading up a bit about feminism and mental illness and I shall endeavour to formulate something interesting at some point, but right now I am running on small numbers of crappy little plastic spoons.

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It hit me the other day  in the midst of a pre ATOS panic that what this government is embarking on and the way it goes about it is tantamount to psychological warfare. Everything about the process of claiming benefits, and especially the rhetoric of austerity and the ‘scrounger’ fallacy trotted out in every government speech about ‘reducing the benefits bill’ and all that, is designed to make you feel like shit, to have you questioning your self worth. It’s designed to make you feel like less of a person, designed to make it as clear as possible that you have to jump through every hoop to gain your pittance as you are at the mercy of their whims. It encourages people to express their prejudices by informing on you, the benefits fraud hotline has an estimated 94% rate of ‘malicious’ calls, something which is exacerbated by the government and media portrayal of those on benefits, often using grossly flawed statistics and misrepresentations if not downright lies presented as ‘fact’ and justification.

Today I saw this Image on twitter:

 

All thus austerity rhetoric? It DOES have a negative effect on your mental health, especially if you already have a mental health problem and pretty much hate yourself on a regular basis anyway and could do without the extra help, and are forced through a system which is clearly not designed for such issues. The rise of hatred against the disabled and those who are deemed to be ‘faking it’ ie not fitting the image of a disabled or long term ill person as imposed on us by those without disability, usually as some form of angelic ‘super crip’,  it all hurts, really, really hurts.

I feel it is no coincidence that the worst bout of depression, anxiety and self loathing I have suffered for a good few months has peaked around the time of my ATOS assessment. No matter how hard you try, all this shit gets to you. Barely a day goes by where I turn on the tv, read a paper, go on line or interact with the outside world in some way that I don’t hear at least one story about benefit reform, cuts and unemployment, stories which are more often than not dripping with hatred and scorn for those of us who ‘live of the state and don’t give anything back’ blaming us for everything. This stuff gets to me, how can it not? This isn’t about some abstract benefits claiming bogeyman this is about real people and I am one of those people so of course I take it personally, it’s about me.

I have been fucked over far more times by the system than it has ever helped me; yet I am demonised and forced to jump through belittling and dehumanising hoops to get a fucking pittance because it is politically convenient to paint people like me as taking everything and not giving anything back.

Every time I hear someone going on about ‘scroungers’   – it hurts
Every time I hear rhetoric about ‘benefit culture’  and getting ‘something for nothing’ – it hurts
Every time I hear more news about punitive benefit reform which has the ever present underlying tones of ‘you don’t deserve it’ – it hurts
Every time it hurts, it REALLY FUCKING HURTS.

Yes I have never ‘worked’. I am not lazy, I just happened to get ill when I was 11 and my parents generally frowned upon child labour. I spent longer than usual getting an education as I was cheated out of any post 16 educational support by the system meaning I was no longer eligible for support for help with education, such as a home tutor. By 16 I had 2 GCSES so it took me a good few years of catching up to reach University.

I am not a ‘drain’ on resources, I ‘work’ for free for local charities, I work for free in museums and galleries, allowing them to function as due to spending cuts they now rely on volunteers as they are making paid staff redundant, I am told it is good for me to volunteer yet my volunteer work is never seen as ‘real’ work so I am perpetually trapped in the cycle of ‘no experience’.

I have been offered noting but insubstantial and ineffective help to deal with my depression via the NHS etc, thus trapping me in the ‘too ill to work full time’ trap for longer and leaving me even more unemployable.

The way society treats people with mental illness means I am not at the top of the pile for any job, it means I have huge fucking gaps to explain on my CV. Any support I have tried to access for help with this has either been useless (or useful in theory but fails to account for the inherent shittiness of the real world) or non existent.

I am not a ‘special case’ and I will not hear people saying ‘but this isn’t about people like you it’s about the people who take the piss’.I am the same as millions of people out there being demonised, insulted and having our livelihoods threatened, squeezed and removed when we have done nothing wrong.

The fraud rate for disability benefits is LESS THAN 1%. More money is lost through the incompetence of governments and the DWP than is lost through fraud. People are not living a life of luxury at the expense of the ‘hard working people’. The media and the government lie and distort facts. 

How can we blame people who are having to rely on charity handouts for food, to demonise them as scroungers and cheats and the cause of all our financial woes.  How dare we call them selfish and the ‘something for nothing’ generation when we have people like Bob Diamond on fat bonuses and Emma Harrison profiting for forcing people into unpaid servitude?

The failures of the system have been far more instrumental in landing me in the unemployment/long term illness wasteland than anything I have ever done, yet this system is punishing me, and others like me, for failures and mistakes that are nothing to do with us.

 

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There is a fish tank in psychiatrist’s waiting room (on the nhs too, gosh!) and I have blogged in the past about how my favourite resident of the said tank, orange gravel moving fish, sadly passed away, or perhaps made a brave escape attempt into the water cooler. From my latest visit today it seems the whole tank has been repopulated (some sort of powercut disaster?  an aggrieved patient? or just the short life cycle of fish?) and now includes a very depressed looking fish. Maybe it’s some sort of empathy fish, or an especially sensitive fish and atmosphere of the place has got to her/him. I have a new favourite psychiatrist fish, I hope it survives.

In other news I am really not comforted by the fact my psychiatrist is umming and ahhing about my medication again, saying he’s not sure if a higher dose (I am already on a pretty high dosage as it is) would work or a change of medication either, apparently I’ve been on most types of anti-depressants before. I’ve been on fluoxetine a.k.a prozac and paroxitine a.k.a seroxat a.k.a the highly ironic branded name of ‘paxil’ , which haven’t worked so he seems doubtful a new one will. The anti-depressant I’m on now, venlafaxine again with a bitterly ironic branded name of ‘effexor’ which also manages to sound like internet slang, isn’t really working. It keeps more stable than some others but I feel so lethargic, it seems to have a definite numbing and sludgey sort of effect, a veil of clammy, stifling grey-beige apathy, the sort of nihilism that’s absolutely no fun. I still suffer hideous depressive bouts, suicidal thoughts, self harm all that malarkey so I have no idea if it’s helping much, and yet again the side effects (depression, suicidal thoughts, yadda yadda) listed are pretty much the same as the symptoms I have anyway so how on earth can I tell what’s what? It’s like ridiculous post Kafka joke; ‘this is an anti-depressant but the side effects include depression so good luck figuring that out and if you’re not mad already ha just wait!’

I have been given two months to think  about it. Yet again it’s the same old same old nothing seems to work no one knows what to do and ‘experts’ look confused, oh living with depression what a circuitous existence. I’ve been here so many times before I’m starting to wonder what the point of anything is if my life is  akin to constant repeats of Top Gear on Dave, an infinite loop of irritation.

 

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