Monday, July 02, 2018

It's Nothing Like A Broken Leg

Guardian |  When I am well, I am happy and popular. It is tough to type these words when I feel none of it. And sometimes when I am most well I am… boring. Boring is how I want to be all of the time. This is what I have been working towards, for 12 years now.

When friends decades older tell me off for saying that I am old, at 28, what I mean is: I haven’t achieved all the things I could have done without this illness. I should have written a book by now. I should have done so many things! All the time, I feel I am playing catch-up. Always. I worry, and most of the literature tells me, that I will have this problem for life. That it will go on, after the hashtags and the documentaries and the book deals and Princes Harry and William – while the NHS circles closer to the drain.

Maybe it’s cute now, in my 20s. But it won’t be cute later, when I am older and wearing tracksuits from 20 years ago and not in an ironic hipster way but because I no longer wash or engage with the world, and it’s like: my God, did you not get yourself together already?

When I left appointments and saw the long-term patients, walking around in hospital-issue pyjamas, dead-eyed (the kind of image of the mentally ill that has become anathema to refer to as part of the conversation, but which in some cases is accurate), four emotions rushed in: empathy, sympathy, recognition, terror. It’s one of those things you can’t really talk about with authenticity unless you’ve seen it, not really: the aurora borealis, Prince playing live and the inpatient wards.

Maybe my prognosis will look up, maybe I’ll leave it all behind. I’ve noticed a recent thing is for people to declare themselves “proud” of their mental illness. I guess I don’t understand this. It does not define me.

It’s not something that, when stable, I feel ashamed of, or that I hide. But I am not proud of it. I’d rather I didn’t have it – so I wasn’t exhausted, so I wasn’t bitter about it – despite the fact that I know some people, in all parts of the world, are infinitely worse off.

I want it gone, so that I am not dealing with it all the time, or worrying about others having to deal with it all the time. So I don’t have to read another article, or poster, about how I just need to ask for help. So that when a campaigner on Twitter says, “To anyone feeling ashamed of being depressed: there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s illness. Like asthma or measles”, I don’t have to grit my teeth and say, actually, I am not OK, and mental illness couldn’t be less like measles. So that when someone else moans about being bored with everyone talking about mental health, and a different campaigner replies, “People with mental illness aren’t bored with it!” I don’t have to say, no, I am: I am bored with this Conversation. Because more than talking about it, I want to get better. I want to live.