To live with a mental illness can be a very lonely and isolating time in a person’s life, a fact I know very well still battling my way to recovery as I write this. We all know the statistics, in the U.K. 1 in 4 are suffering from a mental illness. Sadly, so many are suffering in silence and far too many are losing their lives to Mental Illnesses, one sad example this year was Claire Greaves who lost her battle with Anorexia.
When I began blogging about my physical disabilities, Mental Health and Autism through AMHA and the charity Fixers last year. I joined a growing online community that had been working hard to dismantle decades of stigma, misunderstandings, myths and negativity surrounding mental health through real stories about their own lives and experiences. As blogging is not my best skill struggling with dyslexia, being a more creative person, I decided to launch a new anti-stigma clothing and accessories brand called Whatlabel in spring 2018, hoping to compliment the work I do raising awareness around Autism, Mental Health and disabilities.
Why clothing though? When done right, clothing is a great way to promote awareness, after all clothes are used to express ourselves, they can act as a great canvas for artists and designers. Although I had a very clear picture about what i would design, I didn’t go in blind. I took some inspiration from some other mental health clothing companies like WearYourLabel, Fandabby and Schizophrenic.nyc who all have their own values, unique branding and designs based on their own experiences around mental illness. I also took note of independent sellers on platforms like Etsy, which is a great place to find some amazing handmade mental health themed accessories made by some very talented artists and designers.
Although I felt clothing would be a great way of taking what I was doing online into the real world, I was also extremely aware of how mental illness has been abused through fashion and the media, and im not just talking about how Mental Illness has been used as a theme for Horror, or the ridiculous Halloween costumes that pop up every year, (just to name a few examples).
What I didn’t expect was to find dozens of startup businesses with their own websites, aswell as independent sellers using platforms like eBay, Amazon, or sites like Zazzle or Cafepress (which frequently appear in the mental health search results), where it is apparently deemed acceptable to sell cheap mental health themed wholesale clothing and accessories which can be found on marketplaces like AliExpress, as if it’s some kind of fashion trend to jump on. Most of the designs have been created with no thought, using tacky cliché stigmatising designs, printed on see-through cheap material. Many of the slogans are not only offensive, but distasteful and rude.
Would you wear a t-shirt with "Medicated for your protection" slapped across?
This made me stop and think about what I was creating. I knew it would be essential to ensure I made it clear from day one what WhatLabels missions and values would be. I wanted to make it clear WhatLabel has been created by someone who really does understand. I have only ever wanted to promote awareness, acceptance and share resources to helps those suffering.
Although some home truths will be popping up in my designs, plus my take will be different when designing for Autism and Disabilities. My focus will be on promoting wellness and encouraging messages, especially around recovery, and enduring those dark lonely days when all you can do is just sit and look as a TV screen. I want those struggling out in the real world when they see my designs to feel they are not alone.
To see my clothing, something I spent months designing now roaming around the Barbican Centre on the backs of people this summer was a very surreal moment for me. To have a big organisation wanting to wear my clothing and contribute to raising awareness gave me hope and the energy to keep doing my little bit to highlight the struggles of others.
If you would like to support Whatlabel, you can do so through donation or purchasing of any of our clothing, profit raised this year is being used to support Mental Health Charities like Clearly Speaking, a Special needs family centre in Buckingham who support thousands of families and young people every year who have mental illnesses, autism, various disabilities and special needs. Find out more
The 10th of October was World Mental Health Day and I have a confession: I’m exhausted. Not just this day in particular, it’s been creeping up for a while. The difficulty sleeping, the irrational thoughts, the intense headaches. My head feels so heavy that my only response is to lie down, which subsequently results in me not wanting to get back up. My ability to get up in the morning has diminished, so my 7am start times seem impossible. Even when I manage to get to sleep my dreams are, for want of a better word, unnerving. They serve as a reminder that I still have obstacles to conquer. Heck, I couldn’t even time this post right I’m so all over the place.
I have many things on my to-do list. Paint the walls, defrost the freezer, deal with my Grandmother’s death, wash the dishes, put in my prescription, iron my clothes, battle my demons, paint some more and last but not least, pretend that it’s all okay. It’s not. But that’s okay.
One of my recurring dreams at the moment is that my Grandmother is alive. In most of them she has died and then comes back, sometimes when I wake up I think they’re real. But they’re not. I’ve discovered so far that my grief comes in waves, most days I genuinely feel like she’s going to come back (or that she’s still here). Other days, but rarely in comparison, I sit and think about our various exchanges and get upset knowing they’ll never happen again. I found myself on Google maps the other day looking at where she used to live, digitally walking down the roads I used to when I was little. Then she moved closer to us. Then she moved in with us. Then she lived in a hospital bed in our front room. Then she stopped living. A part of me did too.
It’s strange to have to accept the fact that you will never see someone again. All the questions you wish you’d asked will never be answered. It’s a weird numbing sensation, that can’t say I’ve never encountered before but the circumstances are different. I’ve come to realise that it’s undoubtedly my body’s survival mechanism, something it has become accustomed to over the past 2 years. A way to stop the floodgates from opening and subsequently submerging your mind. Why feel pain when you can feel nothing?
My Grandmother was always my favourite. Any excuse to sing her praises and I’d be off, telling as many anecdotes as I could until the recipient zoned out. She always had sweet stuff in her fridge and her encouragement for us to eat its contents was never ending. She had an infinite list of superstitions with a zest for life that was incomparable to anyone. And now she’s gone. I can’t even put into words how odd it is. It’s like it hasn’t registered that I’ll never hear her voice again or see her cheeky smile. I’m writing words but I don’t feel the emotion they depict. I’m in a familiar fog for an unfamiliar reason.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already in the fog. It seems easier for me to say that my current mental state is because of my Grandmother’s passing, even though it’s not. It’s just how my brain works. I feel less ashamed about it when I insinuate that there is a specific cause. But in all honesty there isn’t always a reason. Fleeting between a combination of different factors to absolutely no cause whatsoever. I’ve also found that some people just cannot fathom the idea that depression can pop up when it wants to – it’s more comfortable for them to pin point a root cause.
That’s another thing I’ve come across quite a few times. People may be suffering terribly and others may know about it. But nobody reaches out. Because they feel uncomfortable. The void that ensues just festers into bitterness and self hatred. The illness takes up the space where comfort from friends should have been. And before you know it you’re consumed. The well gets deeper and darker. You have no energy to even attempt to start climbing. There is no-one around to throw down a rope and help you. And you convince yourself that no-one is helping because no-one likes you and no-one cares.
It’s all fine and well to promote mental health awareness. Whether that is on the dedicated day itself (the 10th of October) or the week (13th to the 19th of May 2019) or even every now and then. But I must stress that there is a difference between sharing a quote on Instagram and actually reaching out to someone in need. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s unlikely that someone suffering from a mental illness will reach out when it has already consumed them. I speak from experience but can appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone (and I applaud whoever has the strength and courage to do so!).
Random acts of kindness are greatly encouraged nowadays. I must admit that, in my opinion, there is nothing more selfless than overcoming ones own uncomfortableness in order to help another. That applies to all situations, not just mental health. It’s indescribably difficult to get yourself out of the depths of despair. Internally crying out for help but the words cannot leave your mouth. You don’t want to reach out for fear of being a burden. So you don’t. But some kind words from someone who cares can just maybe begin the steps to recovery. Sometimes it can be the difference between life and death.
I want to talk about something slightly outside of Autism and Mental Health today, although very much related to the subject of Hidden Disabilities. I haven’t shared much on my physical conditions, all of which were diagnosed a few years ago,although much like my Autism, its been something I have struggled with under different labels throughout my life. I want to raise awareness not so much about the said conditions individually in this piece, but the effects of having hidden physical disabilities and some of the challenges I’ve faced personally aswell as how it interacts and contributes with my Autism and Mental Health.
While writing this, I also doubled checked whether Autism and Mental Health are considered officially as hidden disabilities which unsurprisingly they both do (always good to double check). So hidden disability is quite a good subject to cover on AMHA.
So, for a start, what is a hidden disability?
A hidden disability can be a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, communication or activities that is invisible to the those around them. The very fact the persons disabilities are invisible can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions, lack of support and frequent judgement from those around.
The public perception of a disabled person is usually defined as a person in a wheelchair, an elderly person or a person visibly in pain, In other words, a disabled person must be visibly disabled either physically or mentally to fit the bill. Thanks to the hard work of many disabled people including athletes at the Olympics in recent years, the definition of a disabled person is changing slowly to show that not all disabilities are visible, and for those that have visible conditions especially, that it doesn’t necessarily stop a person living a fulfilled life.
So, what’s wrong with ya then….
When I was diagnosed with Autism in 2013, it was like a key to unlocking the many medical mysteries that were mounting up since I was a child, having struggled with various physical issues with joints, dislocations in my knees and arms, strange intense pains usually in my legs that were put down to growing pains 90% of the time, (Given I was 6ft since the ages of 14 years old, it started to sound ridiculous by the time I was in my early 20s). The older I became, the more of a struggle it became, up to this point, all my disabilities were very much invisible or mysteries that were always on the back burner. I had put a lot of effort into being as independent as possible, having been a young carer for over 12-15 years, I was used to having others depend on me, not the other way around. With my Autism and Mental Health aside, physically speaking, It wasn’t until the catalyst of removing some major weight when I started college did I start to really notice a deterioration in many of my physical symptoms, almost like the weight was keeping my body together. It was a slow deterioration in the beginning, but once the dislocations began, and I started getting numb fingers and joints, feeling fine one moment and then achy and tired the next, I knew something wasn’t right. The more visible my disabilities became, especially the tiredness and struggle to walk due to the pain, the harder it became to function and accept what was going on, especially all under the label of growing pains!
After being dosed with enough radiation to make me look like I’ve had a trip to Chernobyl, combined with my then new Autism diagnosis which helped piece some other connections together, Hyper-Mobility, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis in my arms (good bye career in art and design) were finally diagnosed. Although more recently the potential for Erlos Danlos Syndrome has been spotted, however finding a Dr able to diagnose it on the NHS has been another thing altogether.
Since being officially diagnosed, I have had an interesting few years health wise, going from invisible to visible disability and then back to invisible disability again, but with the occasional bad day where its more visible thrown in, seeing how people have treated me has been a huge eye opener which I hope to use to raise awareness in the future.
Visible vs Invisible
My coping mechanism throughout my life has been to hide and mask my disabilities, whether it was Autism, Mental Health or physical, I have always tried very hard to keep it private, and not make a fuss, even putting up with people calling me shy, quiet, strange, weird etc… (some of the nicer things I’ve been called without the colourful metaphors). I have tried very hard to pretend everything was ok in my life in fear of being treated differently by others. All my disabilities are internal and not obvious unless Im having a bad day, even before I had labels and official diagnosis, it was just me, and Mental Health with a bit of Dyslexia thrown in for good measure. The real struggles in my life was coping as a young carer, doing my best to look after my family and endure the hardships we went through, without any help and support, while trying to be as independent as possible. Although cracks started to appear in my Mental Health by mid-teens. Behind closed doors, physically speaking I struggled regularly with strange pains in my legs and arms which were always put down to ‘growing pains’, it was like a scratch you itched every now and then but didn’t take seriously as the GPs weren’t concerned, other symptoms like the tiredness or achiness got lost with Mental Health. When the first dislocation happened, because it was so quick and went straight back in, everyone around me thought I was faking the pain, “How could you dislocate Sonny, you would need to go to the hospital!” was usually the reaction I would receive, all my years hiding didn’t help the matter as no one was aware, not even myself to be fair what was happening. When I left school most of the focus was on my then suspected Autism and getting it diagnosed, I was so focused on getting better, and no longer being a young carer, I was determined to sort myself out. Unfortunately by focusing elsewhere I ignored all the initial symptoms of my physical disabilities developing which reared its head not long into my first/second year of Art and Design college.
My plan was to become an artist, or at least something in fine art or graphic design, It was something I had become very good at from years of hard work and practice, just when I was about to start my final year of Art and Design, the strain of overusing my hands started to cause pain in the joints and lose control of whatever medium I was using, I then started experiencing tiredness and lose of feeling in my fingers, I thought It was just my old Nintendo injury playing up again (90s childhood issues lol), but over time I lost my ability to draw properly, or even write for more than a minute without the tiredness setting in, After a lot of thought and stress and worry, I decided to switch over to my backup skills in computing and programming, but it was never my career plan to sit behind a desk, all I had wanted to do was make art and draw. I remember making excuses to my art tutors at the time, I didn’t know how to explain to them what was going on as I didn’t have a clue myself. Thankfully my path via IT and Engineering was a success, as it was a particular interest/obsession which played nicely with my Autistic brain, I picked it up extremely fast, although the symptoms I struggled with during Art and Design college where still there, as I wasn’t straining my hands the way you do holding a pencil etc the symptoms became less noticeable. It was several years later when I was working as a disability teaching assistant did I notice a deteriorated again, as I was trying to finish my Engineering degree and work at the same time (thought it was a good idea at the time). I don’t know if it was a combo of exhaustion and stress or the lack of support for my Autism and Mental Health, but my pain levels started to spike in the day for the first time, spreading to new parts of my body like cold chills, and my ability to walk started to become a real issue, becoming dependent on the car more and more as public transport was causing too much stress and energy, when the slowness in my joints kicked in and the grogginess, I knew something had to change. Then one lovely morning, I caught my foot in a hole one of the students made in the courtyard causing me to fall flat on my face, after a moment of being dazed, I looked up surrounded by several students poking me, although I can laugh at it now, my pride took a bit of a beating that day, it was at that point I knew my pain levels were too great, and my joints weren’t working properly, I would never have normally fallen, I could tell I wasn’t balancing, for the first time I needed medication to relieve my symptoms and support my mental health which was deteriorating from the stress and pressures coping day to day with Autism in an unforgiving environment.
After the fall, and a long story short, it wasn’t long before I quit my job as a TA, and started working in IT, overtime I started using the crutch openly as I could no longer mask or hide my physical disabilities, I didn’t know what to expect at first, most people just think you have a broken leg, or its temporary especially when your young with no obvious history of disabilities. At the time I looked fit and healthy at my original weight, although I was struggling in the background with Autism and Mental Illness as usual, my biggest battle was with the side effects of the medication. At the age of 23 I was given a disabled badge for the first time, certainly not part of my 5 year plan, although I was used to using disabled parking for mum for many years, now having my own, although a relief not having to walk so far, but now discovering how other disabled people can behave when you’re not visibly disabled certainly knocked my confidence. It started with very judgmental stares, old ladies shaking their heads at me with some openly moaning that a young person is taking up a parking space, the cherry on the top for me was having an actual detective (not just a ordinary policeman) wait for me for several hours inside Milton Keynes shop mobility because the lady working their thought I was using someone else’s disabled badge. If I had the crutch or was in a wheelchair, it was obvious, there was no doubt I was disabled, some members of the public can be very kind and helpful, I noticed this especially when I was in London, I would get offered seats to my embarrassment, even if I got questioned why I was in disabled parking, all I needed to do was lift the crutch and people would apologies, but it placed a real strain on my Autism as I dreaded confrontation, I just wanted to go out in peace and be left to my own devices, not have to defend and justify my disabilities 50% of the time.
Before I could adapt to my new situation, my health deteriorated again very quickly from the side effects and interactions of the medication I was on for my Mental Health and pain levels. Most of the weight I had lost when I left school had been put back on again very quickly crippling my joints and back, I became puffy, pale and tired from the medication, which also caused psychosis and amplified other issues with my mental health, I developed a sleep disorder so my routine was virtually gone, I was experiencing agoraphobia and social anxiety, I was also unable to mask my Autism so people started noticing my stimming and sensory overload. When people I knew saw me, I was either starred at, or avoided. As I adapted to using a crutch I quickly discovered how hard it was to access the outside world as everything’s designed for abled bodied people, something I remembered well when Mum was in a wheelchair. The only upside to being obese again was people could tell I was visibly disabled so virtually no one questioned me, but being judged for being fat again was something I didn’t miss from when I was a teenager, I also missed being able to wear nicer clothes that fit properly, or the ability to fit into smaller seats, or have full range of movement in my body. I started to notice people talk through my parents instead of me directly when out and about which made me feel quite isolated and looked down upon. When I decided to stop taking the medication, and try my long haul back to recovery, although I was once again in control of my Autism, and Mental Health, the pain, dislocations, swelling and tiredness were all at war with what was left of me. Looking at myself in the mirror was a shock, and to see how others now treated me made me feel very isolated and angry.
After a lot of time and effort trying to look and feel more like myself, slowly relying less on the crutch, once I dropped most of he weight off and I started dressing and making more of an effort with my appearance, I started to receive the other end of having an invisible disability again, however this time around, my physical disabilities were a lot harder to cope with, especially on the days where I was struggling with pain. Unless said person knows me, or I have openly explained, people don’t realise I’m physically disabled, or if I have a few days where I don’t need a crutch it doesn’t mean im not struggling, or that im not going to need my crutch potentially In a few days. It can be even harder using disabled seats on public transport or disabled parking where I get openly questioned, even having a screaming middle aged man last week block me with his car as I was reversing, despite showing him my disabled badge, I still had him shake his head at me in disbelief, yet ironically I get non disabled people park up next to me almost every time without question just to wait or drop someone off working in the shops opposite. I started to feel very watched and judged all the time, especially on the days I was having a good day, I didn’t want people to think I was faking my disability because I could walk ok one day, and then limp and struggle the next, when you don’t know people, the last thing I want to do is talk about my struggles all day long, having to justify myself. The lack of support from the care system most certainly didn’t help, now that my disabilities are not obvious on the surface, The saying “your young, you will recover“ gets thrown around a lot, because I am afraid of the side affects pain medication and SSRIs have with Autism, usually I get told it’s all in my head, or it’s my Mental Health. The scary thing about it all, is I have no support, and no medication to dampen the anxiety, panic or sensory overload, it’s just me.
As you may have noticed reading my experiences, there is something I call the crutch conundrum, as I rely less on a crutch or wheelchair, yet still needing disabled parking, or priority seats, or the need to use lifts or disabled toilets, because of the judgments and stares from people passing by and other disabled, I started to feel unable to use disabled facilities or parking spaces without my crutch just to show I’m disabled, and not some young person abusing the convenience of easy access, even dad at times feels a little awkward which I found quite difficult as it’s hard enough to deal with my own insecurities. As I’m still recovering, some days I feel scared to be ok, and have a good day, or even recover and look normal Incase it meant receiving judgmental comments and stares or feel able to use disabled access in public. As my conditions are life long, it’s not like a broken leg, I’m always going to have what I have, but it’s how I manage it and knowing my limits is the key to how I’m going to cope, it was a scary realization that all the awareness I was doing for Autism and Mental Health, I now needed to be brave and stand up to those who criticize and judge me because of my physical disability which at least 60% of the time is invisible.
Despite all of this, I’m very thankful for the time I had to contemplate my situation during recovery, having the experience as a carer, and as a disabled person has prepared me so it wasn’t a sudden shock becoming disabled. Although I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself not to take the medication that caused a breakdown, Im glad it happened as I know not to in the future, and I can certainly say im stronger as a person coming through the other end, especially experiencing disability in various workplaces when I was on contract. I know my limits now, and when I need to rest, or when I cant do something. I know for one thing, throughout the last 2/3 years, without AMHA or the other projects I have been working on, my recovery would have been so much more difficult, my projects have forced me to put myself out there and write about the hardest areas of my life I have kept private behind closed doors, which I think hasn’t helped my situation, even writing it out like a timeline has helped me to move on and understand better.
Thanks for reading so far, I must admit this has been a challenge to write as im trying to cover three distinct areas, Autism, Mental Health and physical disabilities, which can all blend together.
In the second part I will discuss in more detail how hidden disability has affected my Autism and Mental Health.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the other pieces by myself and my other contributors. If you have a story you would like to share, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are looking for new stories to share with our growing community.
…I mean I welcome them! Don't get me wrong. Yeah, send them my way. Ok. All of my poor attempts at humor to the wayside, however, with my OCD I approach compliments with a wildly out of order methodology than your average person. It is not easy when even being liked is difficult.
I don't find that I live that extraordinary of a life outside of a few things I do which I can quite honestly separate from that which is "me." Thus, I communicate with people. Some of them like me, some don't, and most people really don’t care one way or the other. Such is the human condition now that we're up to 7.4 billion of us.
I take a lot of heat at my work, and I get a very good slice of the pie which is humility and general problems. I'd say that while most people know my work has extreme value, I spend a lot of time dealing with things people do not like about me. So that exists and we'll put that to the side for now.
Getting to the point: I get compliments from time to time. I am human. I have good qualities, and every now and then those are communicated to me. For most people they go one of two ways with compliments: they embrace them as nice enough, may return the favor, and go on with life. Others revel in compliments, never having enough.
They scare the hell out of me.
I take them, but inside I do not like when they happen. I wish I did, but I do not. At all. This is beyond modesty (something I actually am not.) No, this is a mental anguish I keep to myself when complimented. I cannot process them, because to me they come with so much weight.
We're not necessarily talking about someone thinking my hair looks good (it doesn't.) or surface-level niceties. Those I can get beyond by just ignoring them. No, rather I am talking about compliments that go deep into who I am. Let's say someone likes my art, or my music, or this here that I am writing. You could literally be liking what you're reading right now.
If these things are expressed I am flooded with an assembly of very difficult-to-deal-with thoughts.
I first feel completely unworthy. I know what goes into making the sausage, I know the limits of my talent. I feel most of the creative work I've done has been through faking it—as I am not trained at all in any of it. This may come from a deep-seeded attitude that one must be trained properly in something to excel at it. And when I paint, I just friggin' paint. I certainly understand how to convey thoughts in an abstract positioning of, well, paint. But I don't know a lick of art history. I feel like a fraud. One of my brains tells me there is nothing wrong with this lack of knowledge, and art is all in the eye of the beholder. But the other half can't take it. I am gathering in a compliment I should not be.
I secondly feel guilt. I feel guilty a lot. I've heard that I'm a good person on a few levels. I've heard the opposite too, but again—not the subject here. How is the hell someone
who is as self-absorbed as me a good person? How is someone whose mental disorders are overtaking a good percentage of his being a good person? How is this ok, and then someone has taken the time to like me? That makes no sense. I only half like me, and I am me. I don't hate me, I just… well, let's just say I'm not my own first pick .
So a lot of this boils down to the knowledge that if I receive a compliment, I am receiving one based on who I am to this person. No matter how close the person is to me, they can never be in my head. I'm pretty damn open and honest, but let's face it… I have a mental disorder that requires me to practice in façade. So, what are they complimenting? Are they complimenting the façade? If that is the case—I have rather messed up. I have caused a person to like a lie.
Or so I fear. I know this is not rational, I am not a liar in the true sense of the word. I am just so hyperaware of faces that I have to put on as someone with a mental disorder, that a compliment has to be measured through the colors that glass lets through and does not let through. Again, my simplistic brain just thinks "lie." And to be complimented for a lie is the worst feeling for a non-sociopath. (I am, by the way, not a sociopath .)
So now a compliment to me becomes an issue of morality. Is it moral for me to take a compliment when I cannot be fully honest with every single person I meet? I mean, I am not. I do not tell everyone of my past lives, my faults. Most people do not know the naked me, as most people do not know the naked you. But to me, I am so aware of this that compliments make me instantly shy. I messed up. I am living a lie and got someone to buy into it. Crap. Lying is not good—the whole "having to make up twenty more lies" and the like.
I am not a liar, I just wear figurative clothing as we all do. But I have not come to terms with the concept of clothing oneself. I don't quite understand why I need to act differently around different people, but I know I do. You do too, it is human. But I cannot process this like I cannot process most social structures.
Thus a compliment brings me to my knees.
Yet here I am wondering what people will think of this very article. And you know what I would like people to think. Thus… this is all messed up. This is all messy. This completely triggers my OCD. I'd feel most comfortable if I look at my inbox and see no real big response to this article.
Luckily in the virtual world, I have a folder in my email client where I can just stow away compliments.
 It does, actually. And I'm going with a new look too. Moving on.
 I sort of assume if you've gotten this far, you do and don't mind the verbosity.
 Who is? Probably George Harrison.
 Yes, I am aware that a sociopath literally cannot say that honestly. You'll have to trust me. I've dealt with sociopaths.
Author's note: First I believe the week begins on Monday. If that invalidates all of my arguments and points attempted to be made, well you may have too strong of a stance on this issue. But. I'll argue it with you. I have done so before.
Monday is hell. The world seems pre-conditioned to dislike Mondays, Bob Geldof and the murderer he was referring to being just a mere and slight observation of a good chunk of what the entire Western world believes. For someone like me, I absorb the feelings of others, I take it all personally. I can't help it. This day is on you.
Tuesday of this week opened with the best of intentions. I woke up at 4.00 am, as I do when I have a proactively good attitude about the future. Oh, and by future, I mean all of it. I feel the glee of a perfect life ahead of me. No sleeping in because of all the reasons I sleep in (more on that later.) I extrapolate the feeling of good as if it will last forever. The day won't beat me up, I have all of my sayings in order to push myself (mostly about assertion and the like.) Luckily this continued long enough in the day so that I could fake enough greatness to satisfy the picture I feel I need to paint of myself for others. I consider this a good day.
Wednesday starts in hell. All of my feelings about the future have flipped in the absolute opposite direction. Again, my brain—or the brain that feels these things, as I truly believe I have more than one—only accepts absolutes. Shit is bad with work and money and everything all at once. Hell. To me, this will last forever. I will never not feel this hell. I work to merely put fires out in order to attempt to get to a point where I am not being screamed at because of the two-hundred-plus projects I manage. I am a failure and I end the day as a failure.
Seeing as I have been launched into hell the previous day, Thursday is a fog of anxiety. I remember none of it other than not wanting to be in this world. I spend a good part of the day in bed. I think.
Friday is spent obsessing. This is my day to worry about the only free days I can possibly have to extricate myself from 15-hour workdays in a business I'm already unsure of. But obsession here manifests itself in the opposite way of the other myriad feelings I've had about my entire life this week… I am not thinking of the here and now. Every potential email or instant message could ruin what I need Saturday and Sunday to be. This is not comfortable, but it could lead to comfort. I make sure I do absolutely no work that could possibly go wrong and bleed into needing fixes over the weekend.
Saturday, most likely, everything is fine again. I feel I can slightly cut myself off from my business and do creative things. Now, as of late, my only creative outlet has been this here site. That's ok. I also promote my artwork. I also have fun programming projects to do on the computer to better automate my life. If I can avoid people at work (and by avoid I mean mitigate potential disasters with whatever wording is necessary to push off problems into Sunday or Monday) all is pretty good. I feel… well, unfulfilled. But I feel an odd "unfulfilled" on Saturday. I feel like I can be fulfilled if I just act on certain compulsions. Something. Not sure. But I know fulfillment is possible. I hope for the day to not end. That is why I woke up at 2.30 am.
Sunday should be like Saturday, but I often find myself with the energy to approach work projects proactively. That makes me happy. I own part of my business, I am not an employee. Though my business now involves other people, and my feelings on other people are tepid when I'm in a good mood (less than tepid if worse.) Sunday should be good, other than as the hours pass it becomes closer to Monday. My fears of what Monday will bring increase by the second. I can actually feel it. Ok, that was hyperbole. By blocks of minutes.
That is a typical week. I have OCD. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I look at this and think: crap, please don't tell me I'm also bipolar.
 There is not a typo nor hyperbole in this sentence.
I'm walking down the road. Walking my dog. The same way I walk the dog, just about the same time every day. I notice things, my OCD. I notice I feel the need to make sure the dog completes her own rituals—which are decidedly not very OCD-like. But of course rituals, as dogs… well, they don't think like humans. Instinct and all of that. But I find myself counting the number of times she urinates and how much, to make myself feel like I've, well, walked her enough to get it all out of her. Same goes for poop, but we don't need to go there.
I wouldn't quite say I obsess over this, but most likely because her bowels and bladder do the work here, and do a good enough job at it. I still need to watch over everything.
She steps in her own pee. Sheesh. Now we have to walk that off. If we walk enough in the grass, that won't track in the house. You know—pee itself doesn't bother me. Until it's dried up. Then it is a hellish substance. That's a thing. A thing we can't have in the house.
I'm walking down the road. Walking my dog, still. I come across what looks like a dog or cat toy. It is multi-colored and squeaky and prickly and altogether cool. It is! It is cool. It is situated halfway on the street, and halfway on the curb.
I want it.
Why? I don't know. I want it.
I am conflicted. No, I am more than conflicted. I feel this belongs to someone. Or someone's dog. Or cat. Or maybe their kid. I'm dangerously close to literally stealing candy from a baby. I could be. But it is so clearly lost and will so clearly somehow become garbage soon.
I want it and I take it and I put it in my pocket. No one sees me. I know this because I look around. I clearly feel guilty. But I want this silly toy. I'm risk-adverse, except when I'm not. My rational or irrational brain (I'm not even sure which one) is telling me I am stealing. I am causing someone to feel bad in the future. I could easily just drop the toy but my rational brain… ok, we've figured out which brain is thinking what… knows I need to get over this and allow myself to pick up discarded items for my own use. I like doing that.
But the OCD.
Fear. Fear that I have stolen something and I am going to be confronted. Worse, the fear that I have stolen something and created an omen of future karmic retribution against myself from… wherever that comes from. But it does. I know it does.
Oh! And I'm not walking down three more blocks and there is a half-eaten sandwich with flies all over it on the ground. I would never ascribe any of the above feelings to this sandwich. Never. I am absolutely not going to touch it, but if in some other bizarre universe I took the sandwich… I would not think the same.
Now, if I just give in and put the toy back, I'm… letting this negative magical thinking take over. Magical thinking. Yeah, it is an OCD thing. I know. I can't stop it. I may not even be using the term correctly.
But here I am. With a toy in my pocket. That I want just for the sake of wanting it. Waiting for karmic justice to render a verdict on my actions.
I am back home.
And I worry. For hours. Inside my house. No one else knows. Everyone just thinks: "well, that is odd that he picked up a dog toy from the ground for no good reason, and is now washing it, huh."
But to me: omens. Karma. Morals. Signs. Right and wrong. More omens.
I'd show you a picture, but I don't want the previous owner of the toy to find this out.
An entire week is dedicated to raising the awareness of mental health. I can’t help but feel that this highlights not only how many people are affected by mental health issues, but also how much more work is needed to be done in order to break down the stigma surrounding them. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has improved since revelers paid to visit asylums and gawk at people who were suffering from various mental illnesses. But isn’t mocking such conditions in the name of ‘entertainment’ for a few likes or views the same thing? If you take into account the fact that teenagers now have the same anxiety levels as psychiatric patients in the 1950s aren’t we the ones who would have been in the asylum? Are we the ones who would have been laughed at? Are we still?
My mind is uncontrollable. It is constantly abuzz and whizzing at 100mph that if I think about it too much I fear I may get motion sickness. When I’m trying to relax and switch off I get myself worked up because I think about how much I need to switch off but how I can’t switch off because I’m thinking about switching off too much thus never actually enabling me to switch off. It makes me dizzy just writing that sentence let alone actually living the reality of it all. If only someone could invent an off button which I could just switch and have at least a few minutes peace, a break from myself if you will.
Alongside the never ending internal podcast, there are also extraneous variables. One in particular springs to mind. The virtual conversations, the updates, the instant access to other peoples’ lives, the opinions that everyone is entitled to - even though they may cut deep, the desensitization to whose eyes are reading the words that are full of spite, the world at our fingertips - in the form of a touchscreen.
There are both positives and negatives to the technology available to those of us who are fortunate enough to access it. It allows us to stay connected whilst simultaneously detaching us from the sensitivity of humanity. It can have toxic effects - especially when in a bad place. Seeing the picture perfect lives projected on social media can lead to negative comparisons. Belittling and questioning ourselves based on curated content in the form of pixels behind a glass screen. Emoji’s have a billion and one interpretations, and if you’re anything like me you tend to think of the most destructive, even if someone sends an innocent smile I could interpret that as being a subliminal message for their distain towards me. A picture tells a thousand words – so does an emoji. Don’t even get me started on what a message without an emoji or being left on read or how people word themselves via instant messages can be interpreted as. There is no winning. It is all just too much overthinking for my poor brain to process on top of my every day-to-day struggles. The lack of face to face communication (in the form of body language and tone of voice) means that, in my experience, the gap is just filled with paranoia and overthinking which then festers and rots my self-esteem.
The media has a habit of depicting those with mental illnesses as being violent, ‘the black sheep' (I literally just heard that on TV as I was typing) or the ones that always seem to be on the receiving end of ‘locker room banter’- kind of like in the asylum huh? It stereotypes the complexity of mental health; by fueling such stereotypes, the consequences can be devastating. People may feel scared about talking about their mental health for fear of being typecast as one of the media depictions. Which in turn means they don't speak up. An individual who feels lonely and trapped in the inescapable prison of their mind. They feel alone even though 1 in 6 of us are in the same boat as them but 1 in 6 aren’t portrayed in the media, at least not as being ‘normal'- whatever that may be.
It didn’t hit me until recently. But we can turn it off. The notifications, the read receipts, the comments, the television shows and even the device itself. Unlike my mind, they have an off button. Maybe we should use it sometime. Instead of looking at filtered images of doctored landscapes maybe should take a few moments to be present and see the world in all its beauty through our own eyes. Focus on the real people behind the real stories. The people behind the screens and the online personas. The everyday Jane and John Does. The 1 in 6.
I have no doubt that this week is going to do a lot of good in the field of mental health. Speaking up and changing perceptions is how the stigma will end. There is a vast amount of online materials available from mental health charities (one of the many positives of technology) all of which can be incredibly educational. However, one of the most powerful things you can do is quite simple really. Talk. Give a hug to a friend who’s in a bad place. If you don’t understand what they are going through – ask them. We can become so immersed in external factors, like our phones, that sometimes going back to basics can help ease our buzzing minds. A break from the information overload. Time to ourselves. Time to heal.