The Hidden Village of Aspergers

October 19, 2010

A cross between Alan Partridge and Eeyore

Filed under: fuckwittage,language,stuff what i have read — kankurette @ 7:52 pm
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When I went to the Latitude festival with the family earlier this year, I met up with my brother and his girlfriend after Belle & Sebastian’s set, and amongst other things, he told me to go and check out a young female poet-cum-rapper he’d seen performing around London. Her name was Kate Tempest, and she was performing in the Poetry Tent. She also, it turned out, is from Brockley, the same area I lived in when I was a baby.

Kate Tempest looked pretty innucuous; she had long, curly blonde hair and was wearing jeans and a sweater, and looked more like a first-year student than a rapping poet, but then she opened her mouth, and I was hooked. She spoke of south London, of teenagers growing up on dismal grey estates where she and her friends would ‘paint rainbows’, of troubled youth, of self-destruction and getting drunk and having a fag and saying and doing regrettable things and then writing poems about said regrettable things on wine-stained paper. Watching her in action was incredible; it wasn’t a poetry reading so much as a tornado of language and sound, and I wished fervently that I could articulate myself so well when I opened my own mouth. I can write poetry, sure, but I totally fail at reading it.

One of the reasons why I blog, and why I am writing this, is because I find it immensely hard to articulate myself when I speak. Some people tell me I’m articulate, but I open my mouth and I hear this sound that’s half Alan Partridge’s daughter and half Eeyore, and I stumble over words and sound like some mouthbreathing Baldrick. I hate speaking to people I don’t know and speaking in front of big groups of people, and although I dream of doing a talk for the NAS, or being an advocate like Chris Mitchell, I worry that I’ll start speaking and utter bollocks will come out, but give me a pen or a computer and I’m fine.

So you can imagine how pissed off I was to hear that – and yes, I know this article is a couple of weeks old – Andrew Marr thinks most bloggers are, and I quote, ‘socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting’. Aside from the fact that Marr actually seemed like a decent guy and one who would surely be above such juvenile crap, I actually disagree with his statement. For one thing, it smacks of the whole ‘hurr hurr there are no girls on the internet’ argument so beloved of trolls. The feminist blogosphere say hi, Andy, as do I. Yes, I am blogging and I am a GURL.  (Also, my mum doesn’t have a basement, and I moved out of her house four years ago, so nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. Ahem.)

Yes, the internet does attract people with rather…unique views on life. Yes, there are a lot of angry bloggers out there who spew nothing but hate and paranoia. Yes, there are bloggers who are sexist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, eliminationist, and just plain disturbing. But please don’t lump all of us in with them. For those of us who find it hard to speak, blogs help us. They are a way out, particularly when they can be used to help others – for instance, the Mutual Madness blog, where people will post their worries and queries, and Mental Nurse regulars will do their best to answer them. Mental Nurse itself has done its bit to (to paraphrase Zarathustra, the evil enabler / mod) expose all kinds of liars in the medical profession, and also gaps in psychotherapy egulation that jeopardise mental patients’ welfare. Net result: Mental Nurse has been in the papers. People are sitting up and taking notice. It all smacks of the kind of work my dad did in the early days of nuclear power in the UK, and long may they continue.

Blogs are also a great way to learn about other issues, through the eyes of the people they affect, and not all bloggers of this ilk are the kind who insist Barack Obama is some kind of magical space Muslim Communist Jew ninja pirate. I have an American online friend, for instance, who often blogs about reproductive rights, healthcare, fundamentalist Christianity and general politics in the US, and her blog makes for very educational reading at times. Certainly, she links to news, but also to sites such as Sadly, No! and PZ Myers, whose comments are as worthwhile as the articles themselves. As well as the above mentioned friend, I also read the blogs of queer people who blog about their experiences of homophobia, institutionalised or otherwise; of transfolk and genderqueers who discuss transphobia and gender identity; of people struggling with mental illnesses and physical conditions; and so on. Through the internet, I’ve found a good few people who share the same interests and values as me, and corny though it is, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. One of them became one of my best friends. (Hi, Chloe, if you’re reading this.) For those of us who struggle with talking to people in real life, the internet is a valuable tool.

I also find it a great form of release. Some say venting is counterproductive, but not always; I feel better when I’ve picked up the phone and ranted to my mum or a friend, but sometimes I don’t want to dump my problems on other people and force them to listen to my incessant whining. So I write them down. If it’s on a public-ish space, I may get comments, and that’s nice if I do, but the main reason is just to get it out of me. It’s certainly more healthy than picking up a razor blade and slashing my arm. It doesn’t always deter me from doing that, but sometimes it does.

In conclusion: please don’t judge all bloggers by a few idiots. Many bloggers are good people doing good work and talking about things that need to be discussed, and which the media doesn’t always touch – and many of us see our blogs as a lifeline. We can’t say it with sound, but we can say it with writing.

October 10, 2010

Happy Mental Health Day. If ‘happy’ is an appropriate adjective.

Filed under: mental illness,world mental health day — kankurette @ 7:15 pm
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Today, it’s World Mental Health Day.

I’ll be honest. I feel kind of strange making a post in relation to mental health. Amongst all the other Mental Nurse bloggers, I feel I don’t really belong. I have it easier than a lot of people with mental health difficulties. I have a job; I’m not on Incapacity (yet) or DLA; I’ve never been institutionalised; I’ve never been prescribed anti-psychotics; I was never abused as a child, and I had two wonderful parents who loved me; I am white and middle-class; I completed my university degree, albeit after interrupting; I have a support network of friends and family; I have a roof over my head; I am able to socialise with others to an extent; I rarely hallucinate or hear voices. But I’m going to write an entry anyway, because mental illness runs in my mum’s side of the family, and because the past five to six years have been some of the hardest years of my life. December 2004 was when everything changed.

I’d always been a melancholy kid. Think Marvin, Eeyore, Cassandra, the Ides of March. I just went along with it. In my teenage years, I had moments where I was suicidal, and I started self-harming at 14, but I just put it down to teenage angst. Depression wasn’t an illess, I believed. It couldn’t happen to me. Even though my mum turned into a wreck after my dad died and spent days in bed, even though she had panic attacks in front of us and seemed to be more temperamental and headachey than usual, even though the doctor gave her pills to take, I just thought she was sad; I didn’t realise she was ill. After she married my stepdad, I began to internalise some of his attitudes towards weakness and depression. I believed it wasn’t an illness, and that it could only happen to someone who’d been through trauma.

I was stupid. Stupid and ignorant.

My second year of university was one of the worst years of my life. It started with coursework and rushing around like a headless chicken doing stuff for Unite Against Fascism and the LGBT Society and the Student Union Council and its extracurricular groups and the Women’s Group and the Vagina Monologues and the Rock Soc and my course, had an overdose and the loss of four people I considered friends in the centre, and ended with me living in halls with a load of rugger buggers, trapped in my room, and then staying with my parents, only able to read the Beano because my attention span was too short, fooling around on silly websites, and wondering how I ended up like this.

At my very worst, I could barely drag myself out of bed (this was before the ME hit). I was sleeping during the day, comforting eating and throwing it up, cutting myself at least once a week, crying a lot. I did go back to uni to repeat the bit I missed, but it took ages to get accustomed to sitting through classes without crying and running out of the room, I was still cutting a lot, and spent way too much time sleeping and eating pick ‘n’ mix. I was having CBT, which did help somewhat.

The Disability Department at Manchester were great. I know some people will disagree with me, but they helped me get accommodation and extensions for my coursework, and the lecturers – the German ones in particular – were so supportive. I worried that because of this stigma, this bullshit that depression is not a real illness, I wouldn’t be taken seriously, but it was quite the opposite. I sat my exams in a special room for students with disabilities and mental health issues, knowing that if I were to have a panic attack, they would stop the clock and I would take time out to recover, and then go back in when I was ready to complete the exam. I never needed the clock, but having it there was a comfort. I also got all my coursework done to deadline and did not make a hideous mess of my course. However, I did miss out on the year abroad, as Occupational Health thought sending me to Spain and Germany for a long time was a bad idea, and it did bite me in the arse when we had to talk about our years abroad (I got round this by talking about the places I would have visited), and I did feel left out, but I wouldn’t have been able to go abroad, realistically.

I admit that while writing this, I feel like the archetypal upper-middle-class Gap Year student, volunteering with the disadvantaged, throwing their arms open and proclaiming, “I am Just Like You! Respect me and allow me to bestow my whiteness upon you, and be thankful!” I almost feel like I’m slapping other people over the head with the fish of privilege. I say this because in the Daily Mail recently, there was a story about a Nice Young Middle-Class Woman who became a Victim of much Depression and spent some time in a Terrible Dickensian Institution with the Great Unwashed (hey, this is the Daily Mail – this was a psych ward in a London hospital, by the way, that treated a lot of local people, many from underprivileged areas), and how Terribly she suffered. I feel like her. I am one of the lucky ones. What I have been through is nothing compared to what the people in the article have been through, and believe me, I am well aware, although thinking this and counting my blessings is not going to help – and there! The internalised stigma rears its ugly head. Stop whining, Lotte, there is someone worse off than you.

That revelation will not make the depression go away.

The other reason why I decided to blog is because I recently reduced my dosage from 40mg of Citalopram to 20mg. It is a big step, but thankfully is going great. I feel like shit, but it’s more due to overwork than the meds change.

Although this blog was originally about Aspergers Syndrome, there will be mental health stuff on here too. So watch this space. The two issues are interconnected, twined around each other like mating snakes, so it’s inevitable they’ll tread on each other’s toes. Or whatever the snakey equivalent of that is.

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