My mental health condition enlightened but also frightened me. It hit me hard, knocked me for six and then ‘coloured’ my life’s pathway forever more. 50 years ago the general consensus of opinion, relating to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, was that there was no hope.
It was not considered appropriate by anyone involved in my case, my family or the university in which I studied, that I should be told of my ‘life-affecting sentence’. Instead, my growing paranoia was fed even more voraciously, by the ‘sotto voce’ comments, the ‘pussy footing’ around me, and the ‘kid gloves’ that were put on when I dared to question ‘why?’ then ‘who?’ then ‘me?’ or ‘what?!’.
After that came the brick bats, the vindictive and vituperative comments; a family that disappeared once there was nothing more in common to share, and the diagnostic label that overshadowed everything to which one would hope to aspire.
My mental health issues stopped me achieving my greatly aspirational desire to practice medicine.
I never had children for any other reason than that I was threatened that social workers might put them in care. My close family were embarrassed, horrified, treated me as though I was some long distant neighbour and excluded me from family occasions. As the aunt of a much loved nephew, I was not invited to his very special wedding; and it happened rather serendipitously to fall on the same day as my 65th birthday. I was considered to be a liability and ready at any point to let their impoverished middle class ‘side’ down
Stigma and discrimination prevented my being recognised to be capable. With no offence to others, my very active, highly reasoning brain certainly had no learning difficulty component. I was never permitted to have a go, and prove the fact that all the major theoretical assumptions made on my behalf, and all the old wives tales that coloured perceptions of my ability were of as much worth as the proverbial chocolate teapot
Others have helped me and supported my mental health, helping me to thrive in life.
A wonderful nursing sister from the Highlands saw I had potential and offered me a job as a nursing assistant in her department. At the time those of us, not psychiatric inpatients on a permanent basis, lived an unhelpfully shattered lifestyle and suffered with revolving door syndrome. This good lady welcomed me back each time, supported me and gave me confidence to continue for 16 years. She was life-line, my guardian angel, my mentor and a giving / forgiving boss.
In the last ten years I’ve worked voluntarily in the capacity of my local community council’s health brief. Nobody appeared to know my mental health challenges then, and I certainly never enlightened anybody. Only after I had contributed to a mental health historical collection, and the press and radio broadcast my details (without my knowledge) it was then that I realised that the people I worked and interacted with only saw ME and not the dreadful diagnostic label of all those years before.
My main message to people this mental health awareness week would be to remember that in every aspect of life there will always be a positive to juxtapose the negative. It’s only when you feel unable to see this that someone might offer you a helping hand.
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