My Fight For Better Mental Health
Let me tell you a little story about the last time I went for help with my mental health issues. It’s not a happy story to be honest, but it’s not a tragic story either, thank the Gods. However, it could very well have been, had I been in any worse shape than I had been at the time all this went down. I’d stake a lot of money that there are some for whom this story was the same, but with far worse outcomes. So I’m duty-bound to share my own story for those who cannot.
But this is not a story told for sympathy, since about half the blame in this story is mine. It’s just something that needs sharing, and I’m hoping it’ll annoy the shit out of people. But to be fair, at this stage in the game, I’m pretty much preaching to the choir in that respect. Y’all KNOW the system is fucked. I’m just giving you another example to add into the mix.
Late September last year, I had a breakdown in work. I’d had a fairly few stressful days beforehand, having done a lot of work in the field of mental health concentrated into a relatively short space of time, a lot of which was focused on the telling of my own story. All of this kicked off a tidal wave of stuff I’d spent a long time shoving to one side so I could do that ‘adulting’ thing that so many people had been going on about. Most of the time, to be fair, I’d found adulting fairly doable. I mean, I wasn’t exactly winning Nobel Prizes for any of the shit I was doing, but I’d been getting on with things for a good while. Then, in a now familiar pattern in my world, it all became a bit too much to bear.
That Monday in work, I lost all manner of coping skills. I’d been hiding out all weekend with a pain in my chest that I knew all too well, and a nauseous horrible sick feeling in my stomach that I basically consider as much a part of my existence as my arms. By Monday morning of that week, both had combined with my dodgy brain chemistry to make it impossible to leave the house without bursting into tears and losing the run of myself. I managed to last ten minutes in work before my emotional stability completely shit the bed. I had to be sent home. (They were so sound about it in fairness; I’m very lucky to be in a workplace that is supportive of maintaining good mental health. Others are not so lucky.)
The next day I went to the doctor, and got some older man I didn’t recognise. I hardly ever see the same doctor twice, I don’t know how commonplace that is for others. Into the doc’s office I went, trying to sum up for this stranger my decades-long battle with chronic depression & an anxiety disorder, making a desperate Elevator Pitch for my sanity.
The upshot was, I got signed off work for the week (more time to sit and worry myself into an nauseous anxious oblivion but whatevs, I’m sure there’s something funny on Netflix I can watch while I shred my face and fingers like skin-confetti), and I asked him to get me a referral for a day clinic I had previously attended when I was in the midst of an acute long-term episode a few years ago. He told me to ring them myself and get an appointment. I told him I was pretty sure that’s not how it worked, but he seemed equally fairly sure that it was. Guess who turned out to be right?
Anyway, I did actually ring, and when the lovely lady told me I’d need a doctor to write a letter of referral and send it in, I mentally yelled ‘FUCK YOU DOC’, then rang his office and asked them to send one on as a matter of some urgency. (I’d used that word in the surgery as well, but maybe he missed that bit). That was the very beginning of October. This is where I said goodbye to any contact from the doctor or the clinic for about 3 months. (I’m just going to post a little something below for the benefit of the doctor in question if he ever comes across this blog. Might save a life someday:)
Come December, and I finally get around to renewing my Medical Card form, which, to be perfectly fair, is one of the best things about our healthcare system. I’d have been utterly cluster-fucked without it at times. I wish every country had it for their citizens. I’m very grateful for that. I won’t have it forever, so I’m glad to have it while I do. But, me being me, and with my noisy, messy brain and uncanny ability to bury my head in the sand and have panic attacks about filling out forms, or even posting them, I didn’t send it in on time and the card expired. My fault completely; I’ll own that. In my defence, I find it hard enough most days to brush my teeth or get dressed and step outside, so most of my energy goes on that kind of stuff, so form-filling and posting shit can often be a step too far. I don’t expect understanding or sympathy, it’s just part of what makes up the marvellous buffet of depression and anxiety in my brain. Ain’t no logic to it, that’s why it’s a disorder I guess.
By the time I made myself start following up on why I hadn’t heard from anyone, it had been nearly 3 months. I rang the day clinic to see if they’d gotten any letter – they’d gotten nothing. I then rang the doctor’s office – they hadn’t sent anything. I then asked them if they would send it, they said they would check on that and let me know what was happening. Another long wait (think it was 2 weeks). I rang them back again; they said they couldn’t because my medical card had expired and the day clinic only worked through that.
Yup, on that point they were right. However, they’d had almost two and a half months between my initial request for an urgent letter of referral and my Medical Card expiring, during which time they had done absolutely nothing. I got through months of utter shite in spite of the people who had a duty of care towards me and basically acted like I didn’t exist. Me, and many others. Unfortunately, for some, the lack of care they experienced proved fatal. So while my case is fairly benign in the grand scheme of things, it’s just something worth thinking about.
On the back of that, I guess ‘system fuck-up’ is probably the wrong title. That would imply that things were done, but done incorrectly. In my case, nothing was done. So maybe it’s more ‘system apathy’. I’m sure if I presented at the doctor’s office with two open veins in my arms and falling to my knees wailing and begging for help, I may have gotten somewhere. But who wants to be at to that stage in order to get help? FUCKING NOBODY. If you want to be cold and money-centred about this, wouldn’t it cost the State less to treat someone walking in and asking for help on an outpatient basis rather than endless days and nights in acute residential care?
All they had to do was send a letter. I would have gotten to the day clinic, which had helped me so much before. They were the bridge between me and the organisation I needed help from, and they didn’t do their (fairly small but essential) part. They then tell me it’s my fault because by the time I started following up on it after waiting months to hear back from them, I didn’t qualify any more. They may as well tell someone with a broken leg to walk to Casualty by themselves without crutches, then getting annoyed at them for falling over.
My point is this: like many others in this country, my brain is a bit broken. And, unfortunately, it’s the only only one I have. And yet somehow, I have to use my broken brain to tell itself that it has to go and get help for being broken. Anybody spot the problem? Not only that, but it will also have to do a lot of legwork that it shouldn’t have to do, because the people that we trust to find a way for us to get things like broken brains fixed aren’t doing their job – in my case, simply because they sat back and did fuck-all when I asked for help.
Anyway, that’s my story. I’m angry as fuck. At them, and at myself for not filling in my paperwork in a timely manner. If I had, I could REALLY get angry and righteous with the system without having to add in a ‘Mea Culpa’ sub-heading. But hey, real-life is complicated. Ugh. But you know, other than that….