First came the professionals with their sound medical backgrounds, wanting to help. We took the advice and fistfuls of pills hoping to get better.
Then came what in any other era or field would have been dismissed as quacks. Perhaps we needed to look to our pasts, our resentment or our suppressed anger over ancient trauma. So all this time my getter better was in my own hands. Problems invalidated.
A decade or so later a more insidious offensive begins in the form of ‘show-and-tell’ celebrities – we’ve been there, we’ve suffered – and then the catch, buy my book/DVD/whatever and I’ll show you how I became a survivor. If you don’t buy into it, as with the Emperor’s New Clothes, you don’t want to get better. Problems invalidated.
This week sees the publication of another miracle cure, this time by a journalist, telling us that we’re not unwell we’re just feeling that we have no control over our lives. So to get off the pills and get on with living we need to grab back our autonomy. Problems invalidated.
If all this was aimed at physical illness there would probably be questions asked. But this is about Mental Illness and everyone who has an opinion and the clout to get it aired is ready to take us on. And it seems that those without a serious problem are more than eager to listen and become experts too.
To come full circle, this is happening in the medical world. I was referred to a Mindfulness Course and the course book states on the cover “An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress”. Note the words “Free Yourself”. I first went on meds for ‘nerves’ in 1966 and was diagnosed with Clinical Depression (with psychosis) in 1969, then re-diagnosed with Bipolar 1 (with psychosis) 13 years ago. My first CBT, from 1996-1999, was with a Founder Chair of a Branch of the British Association for Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy. This latest referral puts an annihilating invalidation on my condition. If I can indeed Free Myself from Depression in 8-weeks what have I been doing for the past 50 years? Apart that is from years (on and off) in hospital, a cocktail of meds, ECT, talking therapies, Art Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Dance Therapy, Music Therapy, and a frightening stint in a ‘research-based’ unit for the therapeutic communities movement in the early 1970s. Well I’ve managed to stay married for 43 years and raise two great children. I’ve also acquired 4 degrees including a Masters, been a very successful Primary teacher over two periods totalling 10 years, worked part-time for an NHS Trust and Rethink, edited a magazine for service users, run a support group for self-harmers, and was part of an award winning team presenting Personality Disorder training to Mental Health staff and organisations such as the probation service and the police.
Despite having “serious and enduring mental health issues” I have not let my illness get in my way and have tried to help others and give back to the community when I can. And yet I can still feel ‘got at’: there’s nothing wrong with me that a bit more application can’t resolve. No wonder some just give up.