The Hidden Village of Aspergers

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
Tags: , , ,

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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