I recently had a discussion with the lovely Aliquant about the sorry state of after-crisis care for those with mental health issues. Our discussion revolved not only around direct care, but also the way other care community workers treat you after you have been diagnosed with a disorder. Aliquant has had a rather shocking first hand experience of this when a doctor diagnosed her medical symptoms as ‘in [her] head’ and ‘part of [her] disorder’. Hours later she was in A&E being treated for septicemia in the leg and being told if it had been left any longer (a matter of hours) it could have been life-threatening.
Stories like this are commonplace. Maybe not all as dramatic, but pretty much everyone in the mental health sphere has stories of prejudice, intolerance, and mistreatment due not to behaviour in the moment but simply because of the diagnosis hung around their neck. The stigma around mental health is still so strong in this country, furthered by a public ignorance and the appalling sensationalist headlines of tabloids like ‘schizo stabs sons’. People who have difficulties of any kind are forced to hide in the outskirts of society, shamed into silence, never speaking publicly about their life and experience for fear of the negative reaction that they have learned to expect.
As you can imagine, such an environment is a pretty oppressive, and depressing, situation to find yourself in. Feeling that the only person you can talk to safely is your therapist – if you are lucky enough to have one – and even then you may not be sure what you can and can’t safely say. Not to mention the fluctuations in that relationship that come with transference! It is a lonely world indeed. Or at least…it was.
Now imagine having a space to say whatever you want. A space where not only can you safely and anonymously get everything off your chest, but you can ‘talk’ to other people with the same, similar, or even completely different issues. Imagine an international support net manned more or less 24hours a day by people who are not interested in locking you up, only being there for you as you have been for them. These are the Mentally Interesting, and this is the Mental Health Blog-o-Sphere. A collection of online journals detailing the experiences, thoughts, and essays by people in all walks of life. There are people diagnosed with almost everything in DSM-IV, mental Health nurses, even the occasional psychologist. And between them they form a kind of support network of online friends, people who understand, don’t judge, and who you can tell your ‘secret’ because they have theirs too.
We celebrate together when good news rolls in, we commiserate together with the bad, and comfort each other in times of pain. Collectively we have more detailed experience of medication and side effects than any one doctor, we share coping tips, offer advice, and yes, occasionaly we may gently suggest to one of us that it may be wise to self-refer to a ward or otherwise seek help if a crisis is in progress. We are also fiercely protective. If trolls leave nasty comments on someone’s blog we will rise together to defend the victim. And just sometimes we will snail mail a bag of jelly babies to someone who is down, just to remind them that there are people who care.
Twitter has helped this online community develop even further, effectively allowing us to chat to one another without compromising our anonymity. Now many of us talk, at least briefly, everyday.
This has even gone further now with the inaugural mad-up this weekend just past. Twenty something people from the UK mental health blogging community all converged in London to meet, drink, and talk safely in a group. As Pandora put it:
“There is something so absolutely empowering (I hate that word) and freeing (I hate that word too) about being able to openly and with impunity discuss those dirty little mental health related subjects that society wants to brush under the carpet”
While the idea of a group meet of a large number of mentally interesting people seems somewhat ironic, considering the prevalence of social anxiety and crippling self-esteem issues among us, the Mad Up was a huge success and it was wonderful to finally put actual faces to names.
So if you are reading this and you have felt alone with your diagnosis, if you have felt like your doctor has stamped a diagnosis on you, fed you some pills, and pushed you out the door, or even if you haven’t seen a doctor yet but you feel like something isnt quite right in your head – join us! Write a blog, start following others, make connections, leave comments, and become part of the Mental Health blog-o-sphere.