Thursday, 27 October 2016

You're So F*ckin' Special, I Wish I Was Special...

I once heard a friend of mine, frustrated with a mutual acquaintance, utter the words "he always has to be special!" Said acquaintance, this friend felt, was never satisfied with being "normal", he must be "special". I remember it well, because I realised when she said it how easily she could have been talking about me. I don't know this particular acquaintance well enough to know whether his reasons for needing to be "special" are the same as mine, but the comment on it made me think about myself and the way other people may perceive me.

Let me clarify. I don't like being "average". Getting a "satisfactory" rating on an assessment upsets me. It's not because I think I'm better than that - I don't. In fact, it's quite the reverse. I inexplicably consider myself to be absolutely rubbish. I feel like most people start out at neutral and I'm already minus 50. If I'm not special, above average, exceeding expectations in some areas, then I don't even out at "ok".

One of the odd things about low self esteem is that, to the casual observer, it can look remarkably like arrogance. A frustration with others not doing things I can do looks like a stuck up "why can't everyone be as good as me?!", when in reality it's more like "it can't be difficult if I can do it!", much like disappointment at an "average" rating might suggest I think of myself as better than that, rather than worse. Unfortunately, hearing yourself described as overconfident or arrogant only serves to reinforce the belief that everyone thinks you're rubbish, making you more likely to do/say the things which get you labelled as arrogant. I guess in medicine, we'd call it a positive feedback mechanism, although ironically it's fuelled by negative feedback.

Another odd thing about low self esteem is that, after a while, it becomes so ingrained that you don't even consciously think about it any more. On being asked "how did that go?", you instantly reply "dreadful", even though it may not have been that bad. You're no longer capable of seeing yourself in any way other than crap at everything. A boss of mine once told me to "stop with the self deprecation, it's boring". Naturally, this was a sign that, on top of all my other flaws, I bored people around me too. When said boss later said I was "demonstrably not crap", all I could think was "but you said I was boring".  The lower your self esteem gets, the more you cling on to negative feedback as gospel and reject anything positive as either "trying to be nice" or "they don't know the *real* me" (see earlier blog on imposter syndrome).

This blog seems to go round in circles sometimes. I started off thinking I had something useful to say, and now I'm not sure I do. Perhaps just the writing is therapeutic. Either way, I'm sorry I insist on being special. I'd be delighted with normal, if only I felt it were genuinely true.

Monday, 10 October 2016

World Mental Health Day

Today, 10th October, is apparently World Mental Health Day. The World Health Organisation apparently endorse this, and I guess it's one of campaigns aiming to raise awareness of mental health and illness globally.

I always find the concept of a topic as vast as mental health being squashed together in one day a little odd, but although there are a vast number of mental health issues which are lumped together under one heading, they do have something in common and I can't criticise anything aiming to improve people's awareness of such a common and yet seldom discussed group of problems.

Any regular readers of my blog will be aware that my own mental health issues are longstanding so I can't pretend I don't have a personal stake in this. For that reason, I always feel slightly guilty pushing the mental health agenda. However, it's an important issue that will affect 1 in 4 of us (I think that's probably a conservative estimate) so I won't avoid talking about it.

My first experiences with mental health problems were back when I was a teenager. The support I received was less than ideal, my parents and school didn't really understand what was happening or how best to help me and even the professionals I encountered seemed out of their depth. A lot of my experiences were covered in this pseudo-anonymous post, which I initially wrote as a presentation to give at work. It's now nearly 15 years since that first consultation in that dreadful old building and I still remember it vividly. I can't ever change that, but I hope that when I meet young people in my professional life who are struggling, they remember their encounter with healthcare in a more positive way - someone cared, someone listened.

Unfortunately, it's not just a teenage problem. Although it's pretty common for mental health difficulties to begin in adolescence, they frequently persist into adulthood. Mine certainly have. Despite my struggles, though, I'm doing ok. I'm in a stable relationship. I'm holding down a (fairly intense at times!) job. Not everyone is so lucky. Mental illness is one of the most common reasons for claiming incapacity benefit. Plenty of people struggle and suffer, and yet stigma still persists.

Once again, my blog has become a ramble with no real direction or structure. I'm not sure it says much. But, if you're reading this and you're struggling, you aren't alone. Help is out there. And remember that just because you've been unfortunate enough to get unwell, doesn't mean you aren't awesome.

There are a number of places you can get help should you need it. The services I've listed are free to call and open 24/7. A more comprehensive list is available through the NHS choices website, but not all services are free or open at all times.

If you're struggling today, or any day, the Samaritans are there to listen for free - call 08457 90 90 90.
Children and young people can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 whilst adults who have concerns about a child can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
If you feel in danger of hurting yourself and don't have a crisis plan, please call 999 or go to your local A&E department.
If alcohol is a problem, you can call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555.
If you need help with drugs, you can speak to Frank on 0800 77 66 00.
Men with any difficulties can use the online chat/email service here
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, Beat can be called on 0845 634 1414 (adults) or 0345 634 7650 (for under-25s)