A list of shits no longer given

If you read this blog, or even worse, have had the misfortune to meet me in the last few weeks, you’ll know that I am not in the best mood.

I have a washing machine of vitriol churning in my head and a blaze of anger what I formerly assumed was a cold, dead heart.

So I have made some resolutions. Here are some things that I have resolved to no longer do/ignore/allocate any of my precious thought time to.

  • Tits and nipples. We (very nearly) all have them. If you can see mine, and choose to sexualise them, that’s your sweet issue. I realised at the grand old age of 40 that I don’t, and have never needed a bra. The reason I wear a bra (I suspect like a lot of women) is to a) make my breasts a more desirable shape as deemed by decades of media imagery or b) to COVER MY NIPPLES. Why, I find myself wondering? Which imaginary deity deemed that visible nipples were somehow an invitation for unwanted sexual contact or the sign of the sexually promiscuous? If I can see a man’s nipples/moobs through his t-shirt my last thoughts are of sex, believe me. So rule one: fuck your views on my perfectly natural human body.

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  • Smiling at strangers on trains. I am a sociable bean, and also from Yorkshire, so my automatic response upon meeting someone’s eye is to smile at them. This is nice and I don’t want to stop doing it. But I was one the tube yesterday and looked up to catch a man letching at my aforementioned rack. I was literally halfway through my automatic smile when rational thought intervened and I realised that I was smiling at this man because I somehow felt like I owed his unwanted sexual attention a friendly response. So rule number two: from now on, stinkeye for letches. Speaking of letches…

 

  • …those guys who slide into your DMs at quarter to twelve on a Friday night. The kids are in bed, the wife has followed and they are sitting alone, deep into their collection of craft ale. The messages begin innocuously enough, perhaps with a tenuous link to a mutual friend or a shared interest. I used to wonder ‘why are you messaging me? I don’t know you’. But being a nice person, or at least a shadow of one, I would reply. I would engage, because that’s what I was brought up to do; be friendly and polite. The only difference here is this is not a civil exchange such as one you might have with the elderly lady or gent at the bus stop. This is a highly gendered phenomenon, because it relies upon two of the great pillars of patriarchy: men’s entitlement to women’s attention, and women’s obligation to grant them this. It took me a good few months of messaging back and forth with randoms before I saw the pattern emerge: the lateness of night, the alcohol, the fact that it was never, ever women getting in touch at 1am ‘just for a chat’. The crunch came for me when one of these Facebook buddies decided in his drunken state to send me a meme that amounted to ‘show us your tits’. I realised then that these guys wanted neither friendship nor sex, what they wanted was a bit of a diversion, some idle flirtation to bolster their sagging self images. I also realised I was gaining nothing from these transactions, and they were taking up a whole load of emotional energy.  So from then on, rule three: I don’t accept ‘chatty’ DMs from men anymore, instead just telling the sender that I’m happy to be Facebook friends but I don’t chat with people who I haven’t met in real life.

manspreading tories

 

  • Taking up space. I refuse to apologise for occupying my 68kg 160cms volume of space. Take a look at the picture above. the four women in the front row clasp their legs together, cramped into a small amount of space, while the seven men have spread, relaxed legs, occupying as much of their own sweet space as they wish. OK, its a picture of a load of Tories who by their very nature are bound to be a bunch of cunts, but the pattern is repeated everywhere. Theatres, trains, airplane seats. Rule four: without needlessly encroaching upon other’s space, I will take up as much as I need. If that leads to a battle of wills with the fella sitting next to me, so be it. I am more than capable of giving passive aggressive kneeing when required.

 

  • Rule five: I will not apologise for myself. My education (hard fought for – I got a first class degree but it took eleven years of interrupted study including dropping out of Cambridge to get there), skills, vocabulary and what my mate calls ‘grit and determination’ can often be perceived as a threat by people in authority. I was brought up to have an enquiring mind, which goes down like a lead balloon when you’re sitting in a psychiatric ward at 2am asking for the NHS policy on voluntary admissions before you sign anything. Frequently this has brought me to blows with medics who view this as a personal attack and as a result, become upset and defensive. Whilst it is absolutely not my wish to hurt or disrespect another human being, I’m resolute in my belief that professionals need to be impartial and open to questioning and, at times, criticism. It’s really not personal.

 

  • Rule six: I’ll try my best to give love, appreciation, support and credit where it’s due. In a world filled increasingly with dangerous bell ends, I will hold close those dear to me, thank them for their care, seek to make connections with other good people and show empathy and support to those people going through their own hell. I’ll use what little I have in the tank (mainly lying like a lump on the sofa writing blogs or going on Facebook) to support new artists and creatives, to challenge cuntiness, and to bring good people together. I will try.

 

  • I will pace myself. So instead of lying on the sofa feeling overwhelmed by the chores, I will do one thing each time I get up. So I go for a wee, and put a wash on. I water the plants while I boil the kettle. I am aiming for three chores a day, anything else is a bonus. The prospect of unpacking my suitcase from the crisis house is a faraway fantasy. Leaving the house alone still a long way off. But rule seven seems do-able at the moment, which is the best I can hope for.

 

If you have any suggestions for rules for living in this difficult world, or thoughts on mine, I’d love to hear them. I moderate all comments and will happily post critical comments but only if they’re constructive and non-abusive.

Diagnose and Treat…or Discipline and Punish? 

After just a week I decided to leave the recovery house. I’m not better since my admission; I’m worse, but I fear that being in the house was one of the factors in my deterioration.

When I was studying towards my PhD I became acquainted with a chap called Foucault, who had a lot to say about power and its role in modern society. By ‘power’ I’m not referring to the copper-plated buffoons in Westminster, I’m talking about the subtle mechanisms of power that make you lower your voice while visiting a church, or refer to your GP as Dr Smith whilst she calls you by your first name. 

Mental health treatment is a seething morass of such displays of power. To me, each transaction seems to be test in which the person in authority seeks to assert their power. You will receive treatment, but only if you’re humble. 

In crisis and require some diazepam? Turn up to the surgery, head bowed, in jogging bottoms and makeupless (for god’s sake don’t wear lipstick as this is a clinical indicator YOU ARE FINE). Utter your request in hushed tones, explaining you are desperate and you don’t know what will really help. It’s touch and go, but the diazepam genie may just grant your wish. Don’t under any circumstances be articulate. Don’t make your request calmly and confidently. For pity’s sake don’t point out that your consultant psychiatrist (who outranks them in their tinpot kingdom) has left instructions on your notes for you to be given diazepam in such circumstances. Because this is an affront to the power of your GP, and as a result you will be punished by them failing to find the letter supposedly held electronically on your patient records, a claim that they will need to speak to your psychiatrist directly and other such complicating factors. You’ll get your 5mg diazepam, but only after much anguish and a possible invocation of the Human Rights Act.

Such assertions of power – in fact lets call them what they are, micro-aggressions – were no less in evidence when I checked into Drayton Park, the crisis house in my London borough. If you’re not aware – crisis (sometimes optimistically called ‘recovery’) houses are places for people who would otherwise be in psychiatric hospital. I have been in Drayton Park before, and although it was not without its frustrations I found it to be a broadly positive experience. Having said this, I was really, really reluctant to relinquish my liberty and go back there. By the time I referred myself, I was very ill indeed.

I asked my best friend to accompany me to the assessment, partly because my trust in mental health services to treat me fairly and with respect has been irreparably damaged after previous instances outlined elsewhere in this blog, and partly because I’m not good at showing my mental distress. Apart from a very tiny number of occasions when I’ve fully flipped, normally the anguish and turmoil is buried deep inside. I can explain it, by god I can intellectualise it, but I just can’t bloomin’ show it.

Seemingly this makes me a less credible candidate for crisis care, because following my assessment when I was offered a place, I was told that their decision to admit me was borderline because I ‘clearly found it difficult to show my feelings’ as if this somehow makes me less ill than someone running round naked screaming. It’s as if the concept of being high-functioning mentally ill has yet to reach Islington.

I was assigned a wonderful and highly-skilled worker, who unlike me had actually managed to complete her PhD; in a similar field to my own. As well as discussing my health problems and possible solutions, she also sympathised with my feeling of being lost in the mental healthcare system. Despite having a dual diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and Bipolar Affective Disorder I’m not deemed ill enough for continuing support, but the drop-in type services which are being offered to me as an alternative are in no way suitable for my needs, because they focus on stuff I’ve covered comprehensively over the years: sleep hygiene, exercise, basic CBT and mindfulness.

Sadly my excellent worker was part time, so on her days off I was assigned an endless stream of other workers with whom I was obliged to have a one to one meeting with each shift. During the week I barely saw the same person twice. The team at Drayton are kind and committed but I found discussing how crap I was feeling depressing rather than helpful, and I dreaded the twice-daily meets. Often, because of my propensity to put on a brave face, I found myself smiling and making small talk in order to just tick the box of attending the session.

However, it was the regime of rules and surveillance that really made my stay untenable. I couldn’t bear the constant scrutiny and invasion of privacy. Strangers coming into your bedroom at midnight to (incorrectly) tell you you’d not taken your medication; being referred to as ‘non-compliant’ for choosing not to take a painkiller if I’m not in pain. 

I didn’t have the freedom to break in half a 5mg tablet of diazepam and take the other half if/when I needed it. It was take the whole pill and feel like a zombie or take nothing at all, and then risk having my script reduced because I wasn’t using it ‘as prescribed’. I’m used to managing my own medication to cope with both my moods and my chronic pain and having this taken away from me made both conditions worse since the rigid system allowed no room for me to alter my levels of meds to meet my needs (despite my psychiatrist being fully supportive of this approach). 

Because of the emphasis upon staff contact, I couldn’t relax, write or take a nap (which I sometimes need to do as my pain meds sedate me) because staff would come and knock on the door every couple of hours. I was constantly on a high state of alert knowing I could soon be interrupted.

One of my workers told me I shouldn’t sit alone in my bedroom, and when I said I didn’t feel well enough to be around other unwell people I was told to ‘sit in the crèche and watch TV’. I don’t watch much TV at home (OK, OK, apart from Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares), I’m certainly not going to sit in a playroom and begin now. If anything that’s more bonkers than the situation I’ve just gotten out of. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that every one of the rules I’ve complained about above is there for a reason, and the fact remains that Drayton Park remains a wonderful haven that provides help to a lot of people. But one of their core claims is to treat residents as individuals, and this just didn’t seem apparent in my case.

It also transpired that Drayton Park, despite its progressive ideology, is not immune to micro-agressions of power. I told my allocated worker I was leaving, explaining that it was nothing that the house itself had done but that I felt it wasn’t helping me. She was very regretful and kind, and said that a senior member of staff would want to come and discuss my decision with me; I assumed to get some feedback on my leaving and risk assess my departure.

However, in the twenty-five minutes I sat by reception waiting for my medication to be returned to me, no-one spoke to me. One of my key workers walked past me with no words, no eye contact, despite me sitting surrounded by my bags. By having the temerity to make my own decisions, it was clear they weren’t going to pay me the respect of wishing me well or even saying goodbye. Neither of the managers came out to see me, despite me being sat on the other side of their glass panelled office. I gained the strong impression that if I was going to make my own decisions, they weren’t going to bother with me. My kindly worker came to return my medication to me and I was outta there, in more of a mess than when I’d entered the week before.