Thursday, 30 June 2011

Free to be Me!

I like this Duane Sherry M S. Just found her website 'Discover and Recover ' (apparently it used to be a blog but has recently been changed).  I could spend hours reading it all - but although I have barely grazed the surface yet I am impressed and inspired.

I found Duane through Rossa Forbes' blog - she had posted a comment about how psychiatric patients, or former ones, can now consider themselves free.  This is something I kind of worked out already, by writing this blog over the last eighteen months or so - psychiatry is a load of tosh, so I and all other former patients are free from these labels already, if we let ourselves be.

I have an active and happy life.  I don't think most people these days see me as having any particular problems.  Maybe even a psychiatrist might say one day soon to me, 'Oh, you have been off medication for ten years and you have a family and you are well? And now you have written a book. OK, so it must have been a mistake.  You don't have schizophrenia'.

On the one hand, that would be great.  A psychiatrist actually told me after the birth of my second daughter that he was going to review my diagnosis - and for the two weeks until he came back and said that actually the diagnosis must stand (he had spoken to the rest of the 'Team', whoever they were, in the meantime and I suppose read through my notes) I felt really good.  Like a proper person.

But I have kind of moved on.  I'm not sure I would accept a re-diagnosis now as happily as I would have done a few years ago.  Because that then leaves all the other people, who haven't recovered, who 'do' still have it. And I don't feel that is fair - if you get better against all the odds, you didn't have the illness after all.  If you never get better - 'Well, ha ha, we were right'.

Oh, and the other thing. Even if somebody tells me I haven't got schizophrenia and I never had, I am still kind of sunk in the jobs market. When my eldest daughter started school word got around that I have a law degree (ok, I boast about it sometimes, it makes me feel better) and the Mums were a bit confused about why I had never done anything with it.

Well, because I couldn't. Because my perceptions of what I was capable of were skewed by the idea that I had a permanent illness and I believed I had no place in the workplace. My confidence in my abilities has sunk very low and stayed there for a long time.

And even if I hadn't felt like that I wouldn't have been given a job with my medical history.  A friend told me today that there is an advert on the TV at the moment about this - a guy goes for a job, he's written 'mental health problems' on the application form, and the interviewer starts to surreptitiously move all the sharp objects on the desk out of his reach. 


I have avoided lots of things over the years in case my diagnosis became public.  For example, many years ago I was invited to take up a position at my daughter's school, as Clerk to the Governors Meetings, but was put off by the fact that I had to fill out an application form first, with a medical questionnaire. I have wasted years of my life not taking up opportunities, or not looking for them because of worry about what people would think if they found out about my mental health history.  Particularly the diagnosis.   

And now it has been so many years since I worked that there is an unbridgeable gap on my CV. And also, if I am honest, I have a young family and I have enjoyed being able to stay at home to look after them. So the not being able to work kind of played in my favour too, although that made me feel guilty.

Now my attitude is changing.  I am aware that I suffer from stress, but who doesn't?  I am going to stop thinking of myself as inherently weak.  And certainly not going to consider myself as having a mental illness any more. 

I don't dislike psychiatrists per se, by the way. A friend of mine is one. I also have lots of friends who are nurses and my kids and I have been treated by lots of good doctors for various ailments, so I am not anti the medical profession at all. I just don't think they have all the answers.

But thanks Duane and Rossa. I am sorry I have only just found your blogs, because I think you and others out there like Ron Unger and Rufus May (he has a website that can be found by searching his name) are doing a great job already. I just want to add my voice to the chorus.

I read a comment on Rossa's blog yesterday about the use of the word schizophrenia - I can't remember who, but somebody said it makes them sick to even hear that word. And that person is right - the word needs to go, along with a lot of outdated attitudes. I am sorry that I use it so much, on this blog and in my book. But I do it for the right reasons - to draw attention to how wrong it is to label, to pidgeonhole people.

Enough for now.  And by the way, I am wondering why nobody has been commenting on here in the last few days.  Has anybody read the book yet?  Does anybody have an opinion or a question or a thought to share with me?  Is anybody out there?  Hello?  Hello?...
Louise x


  1. Actually, Duane is a guy, like Duane Eddy the guitarist is a guy (bloke?) You have hit upon something that is the elephant in the room. First of all, I think it is outrageous that you would have to fill out a medical form for a school clerk to the governors meeting. But, what are they going to do with you if they find out? Fire you? What if you went bonkers for the first time in your life after you took up the position? I would like to know if it's okay to lie on a medical form in the case of so-called mental illness. Since there is no diagnostic test to prove the existence of a mental illness, all you would be putting down on a medical form is hearsay. Like that stupid doctor telling you that your diagnosis stands, after he checked with others. That's hearsay, in my opinion. Or, you could call it gossip. Anyway, all that stands between us and a decent job (when we wish to take one on) is lack of confidence. It usually boils down to lack of confidence, and you don't need a mental health label for that!
    Thanks for your post.

  2. Ah, thanks Rossa. I did wonder if Duane was a man. It's not a very English name, that's my excuse, though I should have looked it up... And yes, I think my confidence was the main part of the problem with that job. The school really wanted me to do the job (the head teacher at the time liked me, but of course she didn't know about the diagnosis and I lacked the courage to tell her). I was much more nervous then - I have improved gradually over the last ten or so years. I actually took the notes at one meeting to see if it would suit me and I had a panic attack during the proceedings (although I still produced a good set of minutes). So my nerves were probably a factor too when I decided not to formally apply for the position, plus the fact that my elder son was just a few weeks old (he was born on the Friday after my daughter began school).

    Yes, the doctor thing was upsetting, but he was a really nice guy, and quite young, and I guess just doing his job. I think he was just trying to help and the 'Team' - maybe his boss? - probably put him in his place. Anyway, what would I have been re-classified as? Schizo-affective? Bi-polar? I think in a way they did me a favour, because I have worked through it all now to the point where I don't feel anybody has or had the right to label me at all. Although I am always aware that I will be vulnerable to stress, I am ready to take my place in the human race again!

    And yes, I could have lied. I did that on an application form for the only 'proper' job I have had, in an insurance office. I lied on the advice of a friend I had studied with at Uni, who qualified as a solicitor (she has now become a barrister). She said 'If you don't lie they won't give you a job' and I thought, 'OK, you're a solicitor, I can take your advice on this'. But I felt a bit funny with the school - because children are involved, I didn't want to mislead anybody about who or what I was. Or thought I was.

    I had a friend at Uni whose Dad worked for the UN - I mentioned him in the book. This friend's Dad once told me a story. He said he was in his office one day (I can't remember what country) and a chap came in and asked if somebody would write him a letter saying that he wasn't mad. He didn't need it for any legal purpose, just wanted written reassurance. (Maybe he was a bit mad? I am allowed to say that...) Anyway, apparently everybody in the office refused to write the letter, except my friend's Dad, who did it, and the man went away happier.

    But you see, I never told my friend that I had been mentally ill. Even after hearing this story. So due to my nerves etc, I didn't help myself, because chances are he and his family would have understood, and so might other people over the years if I had given them a chance. Lots of people have been great to me since I have gone public with all this - nobody at all has been horrid! Which is amazing, and helps my confidence no end.

    As do you and your writing!