A few years back I moved to another town. This meant another check to determine if I was still eligible for mental health support. I checked into the nearby sprawling psych hospital. I had been entitled to monthly psychiatric reviews which weren’t therapy as such, but were a fairly stable touch point for me; I wasn’t just flung into the world with my minefield mind and behaviours seemingly careening out of control.
My anxiety definitely didn’t let me sit still in the waiting room so I leaned over in looming agony, furrowing my brows in confusion and religiously mumbling in something between pain and lassitude. I struggled with competing thoughts. Being a student journo, I tried to frame that as a learning opportunity, focusing on evaluating the facility and its many loopholes rather than my own. So instead of warily tweeting these ruminations on insanity like I had always done, I searched other faces for signs of inner turmoil, lethargy, disillusion, disenchantment and everything that hit a little close to home. I know mental illness doesn’t have a ‘face’ but when you are in with ‘the kindred’ you can’t help but search for things in them that you can identify with -so you feel less alone.
One man with beady eyes giggled at a bumblebee that landed on his pinkie. An elderly lady couldn’t stop jiggling her left foot and another svelte young girl folded what seemed like a prescription leaflet until it could fit into the palm of her hand and kept it clenched in a fist. I also thought I noticed someone ogle at a number of rumps. We certainly came from different worlds but pain was the common denominator in this particular throng.
Fast forward to my assessment. I think I lost my cool. A man with a hardened exterior who seemed like a med student, proudly donning his white coat, shepherding patients to and from consultations, sometimes addressing them in that ‘sing-song’ pre-school teachers voice and other times addressing them like adults, came to my assessment. He gave me a stern look and I couldn’t help feeling like a phoney. Yes, phoney because I had answered ‘no’ to most of the questions. God knows I was being brutally honest because I’m pretty asocial and I need help with interpersonal relationships since I’m a hermit. Strange how this time I didn’t use suicide ‘buzzwords’ which usually happen with such spontaneity. I have had morbid fascinations with suicidal ideations as a daily struggle.
See I was desperately looking for a reset button, a safe haven and recovery. Joke on me, Mr. Med Student wasn’t having any of that. He handled me frivolously. It felt like a judgement in black and white, as if I was being accused of fabricating a diagnosis. Like I had just plucked Bipolar II Disorder out of the blue; like I should just whack some studs in and get on with it. Well I feel like wearing a sparkly pair of studs when I’m feeling under the weather is only going to help in the sense that it will make me look like a snazzy, depressed, bipolar ridden hermit. Plus when I’m feeling that under the weather, I couldn’t give a rat ass about what I look like.
So you people think if we can make it out of bed and into the world there can’t be anything wrong with us in the subsequent?
Wow! What an incredibly polarized view of people’s mental health needs. It is not down to my assessor. He was just doing his job, even if not with the best of ethics. But unfortunately he is part of the bandwagon that is part of a system that is part of a society that perpetuates the most lethal of mental health misconceptions: that if somebody seems okay they must be okay.
While much of my odyssey with mental illness and recovery sometimes still seems to be guided by a broken compass, I recognize the importance of unplugging, looking within and being present. And I’m here today, purveying grit and tenacity and fighting this gargoyle one pill after the other. (I’m on olanzapine and fluoxetine now).