Monday, 16 May 2016

The Mental Cringe

Here are two scenarios:

Scenario 1

Friend: You are looking depressed, what's up?

You: I have caught genital herpes from ....

Friend: What a bastard / bitch! Lucky for you they have drugs that can knock it quickly on the head. 

You: That's right but I still feel dirty and let down ...

Friend: STDs are more common than you think, Shelia caught gonorrhea from Dave, seems he had been playing away with a work mate when they were away on business and she was non-symptomatic and a carrier ...

The conversation then wends its way on the subject of different STDs, those who have had them or the cures ancient and modern ... 

Scenario 2

Friend: You are looking depressed, what's up?

You: I am in the depressive phase of my manic depression.

Friend: (Long silence) ..... well at least it is a warm, sunny day ... life's not too bad ... George's treatment for prostate cancer seems to be going well .....

The inference being George has a 'real' illness so you should think yourself 'lucky' and just 'cheer up'.

There is no understanding that serious mental illness is just as life threatening as most cancers. This is because suicide, as the end result of mental illness, is seen as self inflicted, selfish and 'giving up' or 'throwing away your life for no real reason' in UK society and not as the fatal end point of the mental health disease process, in the same way as the total organ failure associated with cancer deaths is.

For a large percentage of UK Adults mental health problems remain a major taboo; even among those who are suffering from manic depression and other severe forms of mental health conditions. Folk who suffer from the severe end of mental health conditions learn quickly that trying to be honest with other folk is just a waste of energy, it is easier to lie, play at 'normal' and leave others with their security blanket of ignorance and self assurance. The problem with this approach is while you play at being 'normal', you actually feel even more isolated and lower in self esteem; plus play acting 'normal' eats up even more of your limited energy, making it harder to keep in place the cognitive coping strategies you have created with your psychiatrist and mental health support team. When you are at the bottom of a manic depressive cycle, the inherent lassitude makes the destructive voice telling you to walk in front of a bus or jump off a high bridge very convincing, throw in the additional energy reduction from playing at 'normal' when you are at this point and the destructive voice becomes increasingly attractive. After all, no one appears to give a shit about you; do they?

So we are in a fix; I am not going to tell you how I am actually feeling because you will just get embarrassed or uncomfortable and seek to avoid the discussion anyway but my 'normal' lie allows you to keep on ignoring the real problems for sufferers of mental health disease while increasing my own sense of isolation, paranoia and uselessness, the sense of being an 'outsider' and anything but 'normal'.

We have a long way to go in UK society before society is comfortable with the reality that mental health illness is as much a disease as cancer or STDs. Mental Health disease needs to be brought out into the open so it can be freely discussed and properly understood. The sad reality is that in 2016 it remains less embarrassing to have an STD than a mental health illness.

My manic-depression has its roots in combat PTSD. I often think it would have been easier if I had an limb missing or some wound scar to show people but I do not, my scar is deep inside my brain, invisible. It can not be healed by surgery nor can I be given a prosthetic brain. Instead, every morning, I wake up with the destructive voice asking me just what is the point of going on. Some days it is an easy to ignore whisper, on others it sneakily sticks reminders into my consciousness of just what a failure I am at different points during the day - usually just when I am feeling good about myself and on the days when it gets out of its cage, it spends all day screaming at me 'you are a useless wee shite, do yourself in!'.

Every day since 1992, when I was on the point of 'doing myself in!' and got help, this has been my personal fight. Some days the 'fight' is easier than others but everyday is a fight not to give in, just as much as if I had a prosthetic limb or loss of function due to a wound.

The answer is out there, the active word is empathy - we sufferers need 'normal' people to understand what the severe end of mental health disease is like and not be either ignored or 'cheered up'; but simply listened to and unconditionally acknowledged for who we are. 

My wee dug is great at empathy, he gets up on my knee, licks my nose and lets me know I have value to him. Now, I am not suggesting this is what folk should do - getting on strangers laps and licking their noses (then again why not) - but I am asking you engage with suffers like myself with empathy.


  1. I've read your blog for some time now with enjoyment and interest and I'm particularly bad at expressing anything feeling/empathy related in speech or word, so I'll just give a +1 (Google+ style) of acknowledgement and support.

    Please take it in the positive sense it's meant.

    Best wishes.

  2. As a 'high functioning' doctor, who has suffered at times from severe depression, I have some empathy with you.
    You're a good writer, and I suspect have lots to contribute to the realistic goal of an independent Scotland.
    Good luck

  3. I hope that the good days outweigh the bad, but yes, it's amazing how the gremlins can sneak in, while we are unawares. Your dog, like all pets, sounds fabulous. Dogs are so intelligent, as are cats, of course. My chubby, but gorgeous cat is a joy. I think anything, or anyone that gives us even the smallest amount of joy, is to be cherished.

    Today I weeded my allotment, I couldn't cope without gardening and growing veg now, we each have our ways of managing, easier for some than others I know.

    Keep up the blog, always good to read about your thoughts and experiences. All the best, and thanks.

  4. I hope you continue to ignore the "whispers", and keep yourself and the dog; safe and well.

    Have you tried contacting Mark Frankland, at First Base in Dumfries; he has some experience with ex-military people and the problems they have, with PTSD and adjusting to civilian life.