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Waving Or Drowning?


The one thing I really don’t want to do right now is to write this sixth blog post. I want to hide away from the world and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, or have stumbled into the dreaded writer’s block. Nor is it a mental health issue. Not really. I’m just ill. Ill in the way anyone else gets ill. Cold and trembly, to too hot. Earache, sore throat and a cough which is beginning to make me feel sick, and makes me want to actually be sick if only to clear whatever is lingering down there and get better faster. Yep, it’s the type where you call in sick to work, maybe get written off for a week by your doctor, then you’re back up and in, fighting fit.

I have been procrastinating writing this for the past few days by burying myself in books and my fictional work. It’s somehow easier to write fiction right now. I could say, ‘it’s a different type of writing and requires a different part of your brain’, and venture into the science behind it all, ‘creative people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems’ and so on. But the truth is I don’t hold any form of science degree, have done no experiments of my own on such theories and haven’t got the time, patience or brain capacity to delve into any of that right now. No. I simply enjoy writing fiction for one simple reason: I don’t have to be me.

One thing I’ve discovered in recent years is that it is really important to know what it is like to be me. When you first start to suffer from mental illness, in my experience anyway, you are not yourself. In a dramatic way. I don’t know how true this is for each individual illness, or person. This is a very well known quote by Dr. Stephen Shore about autism: ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,’

I’d be tempted to say that the same is true of those who suffer with mental health problems. If someone who suffers from a mental health problem is brave enough to disclose their diagnosis to you, consider asking them how it affects them. Be careful, think about the time and place, give them the option to not respond or change the subject… after all, you don’t know how far along their journey to recovery they are and they may only just be testing out new coping mechanisms themselves.

Here’s where Designs In Mind can play an important role. By providing a safe environment within which to work they can help provide a sense of normality and routine to those whose lives have been turned upside down. Unlike many other mental health services, they aren’t around just for the short-term. Your membership is yours for as long as you need it. Everyone recovers at different rates, and some will require different amounts of support and different types of support depending not only on their illness, but on what life springs upon them. The social communication aspect of the group can become its own self-help group for its members, if they so choose to use it this way. For it to work at its peak, you all have to respect each other’s boundaries, which is almost impossible to begin with when you’re struggling to come to terms with the complications of suffering from a mental health condition. In time, I find you can learn a lot about yourself and your own boundaries, which can greatly help in adapting your life to accommodate changes in your health.

Last blog post I used the following quote from an interview with the author Patricia Cornwell:

‘I immerse myself in the traumas and tragedies of other people because I so desperately need to heal other people, ‘cause I know what it feels like to have nobody come and do that for you and when someone finally does - and I was given that gift with people like Ruth Graham, who made me feel like ‘wow - that lady paid attention to me when I was just this nobody in this little town,’ maybe there’s something special… …It’s about healing myself and one of the ways we heal ourselves is to heal others’

- (Patricia Cornwell, BBC News HardTALK 31st OCT 2016)

It can be a dangerous quote to use. For one, it’s out of context. She is simply an author, talking about her work and herself in an interview. Running in to help other people in trouble is not always the best thing to do. Remember, a fair portion of people have a mental health breakdown due to experiencing large amounts of stress for one reason or another. In life-guarding, the first thing you do upon entering a situation is to check the area is safe around you. Jumping in to save a drowning person is an absolute last resort. Throwing them a rope or a buoyancy aid is a far safer solution. Swim up to a weak swimmer whose struggling and they are likely to grab on to you and drag you under. Suddenly you’ve got two people in need of rescue and not just one. Being able to know whether or not you are drowning and need to call for help, or can actually swim to shore yourself is another skill to master. I remember one session I had with my psychiatrist who asked me how I was feeling. I said depressed. He asked about other aspects of my life. To my dismay at the time, he did not prescribe any anti-depressants. He explained anyone who was going through what I was going through at that time would feel the way I did. And how important that was. You can be ill and still feel depressed without suffering from depression. Knowing the difference between the two can be instrumental in how you then go about dealing with the situation.

Since then I have come across a number of people, non professionals, trying to diagnose each other or even diagnosing themselves with all sorts of mental illnesses. I met one person who discussed possibly suffering from the same condition as myself. I listened, and by the end of it, gave the same advice my psychiatrist gave me, ‘anyone in your situation would likely feel the way you do’ (but do discuss with a medical professional if you still feel concerned). Through further discussion I discovered the suggested diagnosis had come from doing a questionnaire online. I asked who had provided said questionnaire, ‘Was it the NHS? Or did you find it through Facebook?’ The response was this: ‘you know, I didn’t even think to look.’ In the case of the latter, those questionnaires can be done by anyone. A college student learning how to code javascript or the like for example - or someone just playing around with Survey Monkey. They do not necessarily have a qualification in medicine or mental health. It could be done for a completely different purpose all together. Computer Science, Law, Business Studies… Fun… take your pick.

Designs In Mind strictly never does this. They don’t label people, or put them in a box.

They are not the life guards. They are not the last resort, the people who can issue medication or put in round the clock care. They cannot and do not diagnose people. However, they can provide the buoyancy aid… something which might help you to swim back to shore. Preferably using your own skills. You never escape the water, the waves life throws at you, but you can learn how to swim, or sail, to navigate the storms ahead.

This is the last in a series of six blogs by Lorraine Knight. To read more from this series just click here

#OurStory #MentalHealth

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