(CW: Hate crime, Euthanasia, Disability Discrimination, anxiety and depression descriptions.)
I have an internal conflict occurring right now which sometimes makes me feel like I’m going to explode. There’s all these things I want to go, do and see. All of this activism I want to take part in, all of this writing, picking up old blogs, keeping this one up to date, all of this volunteering whether it be campaigning, hands on helping the vulnerable or just helping run the local anarchist library. I want to exercise, I want to be out in the sunshine.
But I just feel so completely overwhelmed at the thought of, well in today’s case, even taking my mind of things by doing some colouring in. Yeah, I couldn’t pick up the book. It’s hard to do anything you really want to when you can do little more than stare at the wall.
So I’m just remaining inside, on the couch, using the list above as a rod to metaphorically beat myself with. A horrid catch 22 of daring to think about desirable activities and then how fucking useless I am for not doing any of them.
My compassionate voice I practiced so well seems to have packed up and shipped out since my 1 to 1 CBT ended, and my other therapy since is having limited results. I just keep getting so frustrated at myself for having all these ideas and not acting on them. Like I’ll never have anything to show for my life. I’ve dropped off social for a few days too, I can’t be dealing with people when I can’t even deal with myself.
I watched this really good TED Talk earlier on the Slow Movement. Everyone living life at a calmer pace instead of on amphetamines the whole time. Sounded amazing in a perfect world, but I wonder how many people with stressful jobs and kids can afford to do that.
I always harp on about productivity being ableist and hate holding myself up to that standard, but it’s so damned ingrained in us. If you’re not producing, you’re worthless. The horrific extreme of this notion resulting in events like the (link CW: euthanasia, hate crime, disability discrimination) tragic killings in Japan I awoke to this morning. Hate crimes like this against disabled people demonstrate how deeply problematic societal views on productivity are. That was very hard to read, and my thoughts are with the victims’ friends and families.
The one thing I did manage to get around the mental block of was updating this blog. So there’s something, eh? Basically I kept thinking, it has to be perfect, it has to be well written, it has to be relevant, it has to be useful to others, if it’s not, then why bother.
But then I was reading Purple Persuasion earlier (Charlotte AKA Bipolar Blogger’s blog, which I really recommend if you have not seen it already) and something Charlotte said in a less recent post rang true with me, which is… this post doesn’t have to be for campaigning, for perfection, for other people. This can just be catharsis. And putting back in that frame made me be able to write this, even if it’s not perfectly crafted.
I always have to keep pulling myself away from this idea my worth is only what I’ve got to show for my day, rather than just concentrating on my mood. It’s unhelpful, oppressive and dangerous. The struggle in my head is the worst – between this view and what I’ve been taught to believe about low or no productivity – creates an emotional state akin to a rollercoaster. One I’m screaming to get off of.
I’ve drawn up a schedule of the next few days. This was an attempt to get a bit of a routine to stick to and keep a bit busier if I can. My concern now is it will either stay empty, or be filled full of activities I will not undertake, serving only as a shrine to my underachievement and laziness.
Excellent opportunity for disabled writers to raise awareness of disabled literature and writers.
#CripLit Twitter Chat
Disabled Writers & Disabled Characters
Co-hosts: Nicola Griffith @nicolaz & Alice Wong @DisVisibility
Saturday, July 23, 2016
4pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eastern
The Disability Visibility Project is proud to partner with novelist Nicola Griffith in our first ever Twitter chat for disabled writers and writing disabled characters. Nicola Griffith is the creator of the #CripLit series and the DVP is the co-host/supporting partner.
All disabled writers are welcome to participate in the chat but please note we will be discussing fiction. Check the #CripLit hashtag on Twitter for announcements of future chats that will focus on different genres or posts from these two websites:
How to Participate
Use the hashtag #CripLitwhen you tweet
Check out this explanation of how to participate in a chat by Ruti Regan: https://storify.com/RutiRegan/examplechat
If you don’t use Twitter and want to follow along…
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[CW: Mentions alcoholism, self-loathing, unemployment stigma]
The other day I had an angry neighbour complaining about rubble in front of our place, because we’re having plumbing problems fixed. Another neighbour said it wasn’t theirs, and told this guy to come talk to me. He passively aggressively made loud comments about me, knowing my windows were open.
The comments were something along the lines of implying I was a stay at home alcoholic. (And he made a reference to a certain drink I’m quite fond of, which as you can imagine, made my friends laugh when I told them.)
Firstly, can I just say, this dude must be at home all day himself to notice that I have been too. Secondly, he must have nothing better to worry about. Thirdly, why are you watching my comings and goings, you creepy prick?
Alcoholism, although people joke about it casually, is a fucking sad disease. So let’s say for a minute what he said was true about me. Then, at best, he’s a callous wanker for yelling about it outside my house.
Finally, and I hate to say this because it is the least relevant point, I was freelancing from home that day (and am very fortunate to have acquired a bit of freelance work). But even if I wasn’t working, his attitude and behaviour is completely unacceptable.
It reminds me of the whole skivers vs. strivers rhetoric the government has built up to make us all hate on each other instead of criticising them. More specifically, it reminds me of the comments made by Osbourne in 2012 on the unfairness of those on benefits keeping their blinds down whilst their neighbours went to work. It sparked the Twitter #mycurtainsareclosedbecause… which as you can remember or imagine, contained some hilarious Tweets.
But this guy’s abusive crap got me thinking, that this is the kind of story about ourselves we end up internalising if we can’t work or can’t get work because of disabilities, including mental health problems. And this just ends up running into every part of my thought processes.
So even when I spend a whole day job searching, I beat myself up for not having done the dishes and also something for my mental health like exercise or learning something new. Most upsettingly, it’s this constant trying to live up to these high levels of ‘get stuff done’ that helped land me in that breakdown at the beginning of the year. Yet ironically, looking after my mental health has become another ‘to do’ checkbox that if I don’t get done, I use as another stick to beat myself with.
Motivation for blogging
I’m also struggling to find motivation to write articles at the moment, despite having a lot of ideas about what to write.
Half of me wants to write personally about how I feel for catharsis, the other wants this blog to be way more than just naval-gazing ‘look at me’ blogging. Maybe that sounds too harsh on myself, but that seems to be the theme of the last week or so.
The EU Referendum just happened, and I really want to write a piece on how that will impact employment rights for disabled people. (The truth being the impacts will be way larger for many disabled people who can’t work – and that’s a whole other post, which is why I’d want to start there.)
However I just find that voice in my head (I call him David Cameron – to belittle it and make it easier to tell it to fuck off!) saying that it won’t be any good, that there’s others out there who know more, who are better at this kind of commentary – and ultimately what I write will pale in comparison. So why bother? Depression really fucks with your self-esteem.
So instead of writing about politics (because I’m not good enough to, according to Mr. Cameron), and not writing about my personal experiences (which is whiny / attention seeking, according to David) I write about nothing.
As I type this, I’m so pissed off that my demotivation is caused by such awful internalised bull crap points of view like this, still. They’re not my opinions, they’re the opinions that get shoved down our throats and etched onto our psyches until we believe them to be ours. Which is so poisonous.
Which just goes to show, that no matter how much I bang on about challenging mental health stigma, I’m still totally prone to voices (or this main one, thanks Dave!) telling me I’m attention seeking, making it up, being a downer – or that I need to ‘add value’ somehow to my posts.
Oh, and don’t forget the whole only being as important as your productivity. So if you don’t do much because of your mental health, you’re not worth much. (Again, this is utter shit, but it’s what society tells us.)
Being more compassionate with myself (and ultimately telling David Cameron to fuck off) was working well up to a point when I was still in therapy recently. Now I’m not, I’m finding it harder to keep it up. The self-doubt and self-loathing is creeping back in. And that’s a place it’s so hard to look after yourself from. Which becomes a vicious cycle.
[Content warning: sui (non-graphic, just mentioned), graphic description of anxiety symptoms]
Sound familiar? I’m putting together and sending someone I know a bunch of resources I found helpful in challenging my last employer – to help them fight their case with their company.
Like me, they’re sadly having to educate their employer about their rights under the equality law. Cue a massive sigh from me – when the fuck will employers take this seriously?? Anyway, I thought it’d be useful for others if I posted those resources I’m sending to that someone – and give a bit of advice at the same time. Beware of the colossal length of this post!
Without wanting to sound like one of those hooky adverts for workplace accidents… are you constantly in fear of going to work? Do you dread going back because of the way you’re being treated? Have you tried to speak up about your mental health concerns and ended up penalised/demoted/had responsibilities stripped away from you because you’ve owned up to feeling anxious/depressed or having other symptoms of mental health problems?
Then the chances are your employer doesn’t know shit about mental health, the equality act, and their responsibilities under it when you’ve expressed concern about your health, and they don’t support you.
Here’s some advice and links I’ve thrown together so you can defend yourself, avoid further penalisation/demotion etc – and make them realise they’re treating you unfairly because of your health – which is illegal.
[DISCLAIMER: If you have read my past blog posts, you’ll know from my experience that I still had to leave my last place, because they were still shit even after I challenged them.
But there is a chance that with larger companies and HR departments who do know their responsibilities, these tips may help – i.e. you may just be dealing with a few ignoramuses who manage you, who haven’t been trained properly, whereas getting HR involved may help.
Either way if you feel strong enough, it’s worth building your knowledge – you’ll feel more confident about not letting them get the better of you, and find out if they really are just ignorant – or if they’re negligent. So if you feel you can, tool up and fight, you Mental Health Warrior!]
1. Join a union
I’m a member of Unite. I’m not sure what the policy is if you’re not a unionised workplace, I had to go through a rep at my workplace. Whilst they didn’t have great knowledge about disability law, they certainly were supportive and sympathetic, and having them in meetings made HR take me more seriously. But Google ‘unions uk’, and find one suitable for your employment. Unison is another that springs to mind.
What this advice boils down to is, if you have grounds for constructive dismissal or unfair dismissal, you can’t afford lawyers’ fees unless you earn below £10k (thanks, Tories!) If you’re part of a union, you’ll get legal assistance if it comes to this. Membership is worth this alone.
2. See a doctor.
I can’t express enough how clear you have to be about what is bothering you and what you need. As soon as I did that, I got what I needed. But save yourself wasted trips beating around the bush like I did at first.
I only got signed off when I bought up needing it myself, which is ridiculous considering how ill I was & how many times I’d been in before specifically saying that my employment and the way I was being treated there was a contributing factor.
Be explicit and specific. So how exactly do you feel emotionally and physically? What are your symptoms? Are you sick, nauseous, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate? Can’t eat? Can’t leave the house? Do you feel suicidal? Or at least, do you wish you were dead? If work is causing it, how?
If you feel like going back to the office will trigger panic attacks or worse, tell the doctor in those exact words. Be specific about the fact that work has caused it. This all will help defend you if things escalate. And doctors won’t try and read your mind, especially if they’re under time constraints, so you need to be really specific. Say ‘I think I need to be signed off’ if it needs to be spelled out. Your mental health comes first, fuck the guilt around this condition.
3. Learn to advocate, and stop being pushed around
One the best pieces of advice I was given at my old job (was lucky enough to work with an awesome couple of disabled people also being treated crappily because the culture/structure there) was, ‘if you don’t know your rights and don’t learn to self-advocate, they’ll think they can get away with doing nothing.’ Basically ‘self-advocating’ means understanding disability and employment law and using it to kick an employer’s arse into action.
Time To Change has this helpful blog article which discusses how ‘capability [disciplinary] procedures aren’t supposed to be used in cases of long term illness’. There’s lots of other stuff on that site to help with workplace stigma and discrimination – try this article on Where Do I Stand Legally? It’ll let you know what you can do about being treated unfairly.
Citizen’s Advice Bureau has everything more generally employment related. Here’s some facts about being treated unfairly at work when you have stress and anxiety. Dig around the employment section for more advice relevant to your situation. I found ACAS really useful too. Because I was fighting for reasonable adjustments like second day working from home, I found their stuff about discrimination and flexible working helpful.
A lot of the above should cover you even if this is your first bout of depression and anxiety. However if you have ongoing (I’ve had it about 15 years +) and it’s severe or you have Schizophrenia, Borderline, Bipolar and other disorders, you are classified disabled. Read ACAS’ guide to disability discrimination to help you determine if what your employer is doing counts as that.
If you have any doubts over whether or not your mental health condition is protected by disability law – read this brilliant MIND website piece that confirmed it for me. It’ll help you feel empowered by that piece of your identity, and be confident you’re protected by disability law. (Interesting point in this article, even though I’m much better for taking my crazy pills – I am still considered disabled because of my poor health without them.)
If this is your first bout of depression and/or anxiety, you should still be supported not penalised, and should not be treated unfairly. Therefore even if you’re not sure your MH condition classifies you as disabled, you are still entitled to support – and bullying/harassment is still illegal.
I will do a separate post on the practicalities of requesting reasonable adjustments of your employer, but for now, I hope the above helps. If anyone wants to email me to ask about their specific situation, I’m more than willing to try and help where I can.
I’m self-taught, and not the final word on the law by any means (!) – but I’m willing to offer rough advice if it’s helpful. My email is Moody Crazy Lazy [at] Gmail [dot] com. Or pop a comment on this post and I’ll reply.
Power to the MH clan! 🙂
~ MCL x
CW: sui thoughts, worthlessness – descriptive thoughts
I’m not sharing this to FB. If people stumble on it, fine. But this is for me, to try and vent how I feel. Not for anyone else. It’s got to be better than bottling this stuff up. I feel worthless.
I have been for a fair few interviews in the last few weeks, and got none of the jobs. I’ve started CBT therapy, and one of the things recognised is that far too much self worth I feel is wrapped up in my employment status. That’s such a cultural thing, another damaging side effect of capitalism. It’s not uncommon, I know that. But I reject it – it’s not who I am. Yet there is a voice in my head who very much agree with this – and it is making me feel like shit.
I have another interview tomorrow. And I feel sick. I just keep thinking, why face the humiliation again. Just to be turned down again. I’m no good, I’m useless, I’m worthless. Putting myself through all this stressful shit again just to be turned down again. I really can’t do this much longer. I’m really struggling to pick myself up again after each rejection.
I’m then worrying that because I can’t focus because I’m too busy worrying/wanting to die, I won’t prepare well enough and I then I’ll definitely fuck it up. And I have no concentration to do anything. Then I hate myself more.
Today and yesterday I’ve just been having suicidal ideation again. It’s less upsetting and scary than it was before because of the medication I’m on that I’ve up the dosage of.. which is good in the way that it freaked me the hell out before, but then suicide seeming less scary is not necessarily a good thing.
I still don’t think it’s active. It’s not gone beyond vivid thoughts of how I’d do it. I’ve made no plans, and haven’t started assembling anything to do it. And that’s what doctors monitor this by (whether or not you need more serious help) so I’m guessing it will pass. It’s probably more just not wanting to be alive, and feel some relief from my thoughts troubling me than it is actively going to do anything.
I just really feel like I can’t take this any more. I’ll probably be OK though. I’m just speaking out about how I feel – and often that diffuses it somewhat.
Today has made me so angry. Don’t get me wrong, I totally bought in this at first. I changed my profile picture, header banner and even Tweeted a bit. But some of the stuff appearing under #timetotalk put all of the onus on the individual being responsible for mental health stigma – and this focus on stigma is problematic in itself. Let me explain.
I felt such anger when I read a Guardian article from a public sector worker saying that we need to ensure our families and workplaces give us the support we need. That makes a massive presumption we’ll let our employers know (by TALKING, obvs.) and then they’ll just do a 360 on their policies and support us. I’ve just been through hell on this, and I know others who’ve heard all the faux concern when they’ve first raised these issues, then FA changes have been made afterwards.
So, when you’ve fought to change the culture somewhere and it’s failed – and you’re being continually and systematically failed by societal structure and institutions that follow that norm, how do you do magically click your fingers and achieve change by talking about stigma? Did it not occur to this person that instead of blaming themselves by saying stuff like ‘I thought my workload would get easier’ his employer should have looked after the mental health of their employees? (I’m just venting here, I know it’s not that simple and there’s a hell of a lot of internalised oppression going on here.)
The sad truth is your employer isn’t going to change the rules just for you, it’s not in their financial interests to. The problem is again the way the world is viewed through profit and organisational lenses, instead of the people within its overall well being.
Socially acceptable – ‘let’s talk about this’ campaigns don’t tackle cuts, government policy, how people with mental health problems could become homeless and die on the streets, the amount of people that’s already happened to. They deal with the comfortable individualistic view that if we stick a post it note to our foreheads & take a selfie and ask the Tories to make some half-arsed verbal promises to improve things it’ll all be OK. They come from a place of presuming all we need to do is talk about it more – rather than tackling a structure and system that is fundamentally letting us down.
I do think these campaigns have their place. If our healthcare system, benefits system and employment laws were actually supporting those with mental health conditions properly, and the only thing we had to do was remove a bit of stigma and talk about it more, then they’d be relevant. But let’s face it, we’re really not in that place. And it’s getting worse.
(Disclaimer – I do know that Re-Think helped lobby against more cuts to the disability ESA payments WRAG group last week in parliament, which affects the payments of many people off work with severe mental health problems. However I personally think it won’t be long until this decision is overturned – and more needs to be done to actually reinstate a live-able income for those signed off because of disability.)
Not to leave this post on a completely negative note, the personal is political. We need to use employment law to the best of our ability, and challenge being treated unfairly. But also challenge the very structures that make that happen. I’ve come to the conclusion that mental health campaigns need radicalisation. If anyone’s up for a conversation about how we can actually make employers, government and other institutions actually make change happen, drop me a line.