I've become so independent there's no one left to talk to: the side-effects of long-term mental illness.

"Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten).

When I was under the care of secondary mental health services, I think that you could safely say that one of their main objectives was for me to become capable of living independently. Indeed, when one is in the throes of a psychotic episode it is more than likely that one's life becomes chaotic. I remember quite clearly from my own experience that I was so bound up in a delusional frame of mind, that managing money, paying bills and attending appointments all became problematic. When help came, therefore, it was understood that I would first need support in carrying out such practicalities of daily living. Indeed, I remember being allotted a care worker who was there specifically to help me back on the road to eventually having the capability of doing such seemingly everyday tasks independently.
However, as time has gone on and a saner frame of mind has taken the place of that once troubled and traumatised brain, I no longer need such help. By the measure of those in mental health services then, this would appear to be a success. I suppose my question is, though, just how independent can you be? And, if the aim of services is to get you back into mainstream living, then to me that mainstream life has to offer more than one was getting when ill. There has to be some quid pro quo. For if I am to make the effort to help myself, and indeed if along the way I help others through working voluntarily, then surely there should be a goal or destination at the end of it.
In my own experience, I've found the transition from secondary care to so-called "normal" life quite difficult. I've worked voluntarily on and off since around 2007, but of late this work could not exactly be called structured. I do what I can when it's offered. And, after nearly 10 years of contributing in this way, one might be forgiven for thinking that there may be some sort of paid work available. However, even after trips to the job centre, such work has proved almost impossible to find. A brief foray into the publishing world, where I was asked to write indexes for weighty academic texts on my first day, even though I had no previous experience of doing so, ended with me leaving such stressful, meticulous, and still unpaid work. After this, the people at the agency where the job centre had referred me to tacitly implied that I may just be better off at home, continuing to receive benefits.
Also, after such a long time away from the support of mental health services (I was first discharged in 2012), it is hard not to get demoralised and dispirited. The encouragement and morale-boosting help they provided I seem to sorely miss. After all, in ordinary, everyday life it is not anyone's job to tell you, for instance, how well you are doing and what good progress you are making. But this is exactly the kind of thing that nurses and other staff routinely said, and it is amazing just how, after years of illness, such comments can bolster one's confidence and self-esteem, and how, conversely, one can once more become excessively introspective and negative without them. Indeed, I seem to find myself now with more time on my hands and with a feeling of creeping isolation. Where is my break? Where is the "normal" life that mental health services seemed to promise was at the end of my road to recovery? Instead, I am still alone, and with looming benefits assessments ahead, can see only further isolation and poverty.
You could possibly say, then, that I'm so independent now that there's no one left to talk to. You could say that one couldn't have foreseen the awful side effects of simply being ill. I often feel it's almost as if I were being punished just for this fact. You could say that getting better just wasn't worth it in the end. You could say that I often get the feeling I've been cheated.     


bazza said…
Hi David. I listened to a programme on Radio Four Extra this morning. It appeared to be a reading of a famous neuro-surgeon's autobiography. He described a case where a patient could be saved but the patient’s resulting quality of life caused him to ask himself if it would be better not to operate at all.
It struck me then, as it does in your post, that there is a dichotomy; is a cure always for the best in all cases? I would always say ‘yes’ so I suppose I would say always strive for cure and then deal with whatever outcome you get.
This may sound harsh to you David but I am looking at the bigger picture. You just have to fight your corner to make the best of what you have. I imagine that, in your position, the route I would take is social-networking (starting with writing a Blog!) Getting out, lots of walking, starting or joining a book-reading group, a painting group etc. You may think this naive but that’s how I see it!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s criticasterous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
Thanks for kindly commenting and your continued interest in my little blog.
I suppose things wouldn't be so depressing were it not for the fact that I've already tried most of the things you suggest, from going to the job centre, to trying out other mental health charities and trying to join local library groups (would you believe there's a waiting list to get into the local library-run poetry group!). In my experience there really doesn't seem to be that much out there for people like me, at least in my locality.
I guess also, and I'm not being rude here, people tend to comment on my predicament from their own, often more comfortable, position. I suppose what I mean is that your average person seems to take for granted the things I'm striving for and not getting - access to fulfilling work, being able to forge lasting close relationships with others, having enough money, marriage, children, family of your own. You could say that I'm just not fighting my corner enough, but I tend to think all these things are rendered problematic because I've had a long-term mental illness.
Also, after ten years of committed and conscientious work towards the cause of mental health awareness, all of which has been unpaid, I get a little miffed when people say "why not join a group or work in a charity shop?" I wonder if, having done the same thing, they would settle for such a life. Why am I not afforded some sort of parity of expectation from existence? It is as if having an illness somehow means one must settle for less. Well, I'm sorry,, bazza, but I fail to see why this should be so.
All the same, I do appreciate your remarks, and hope you continue to comment. I may be over to your won blog presently!
Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,

Finally, as I promised, I have managed to gather up enough energy to actually comment. My own mental health concerns, in part, have made even commenting these days, a rather daunting proposition.

Thus, after reading your heartfelt post, which, I'm sure you will realise, I relate to, you do know that, no matter what, you are not alone. You have me to talk to because we do share that precious gift that is empathy.

Chat soon, my fine fellow.

In kindness and concern,

David said…
Hi Gary,
Thanks for your kind comment. Yes, I'm sure you can relate to what I've said here, although it is a quite negative post and I was feeling particularly down in the dumps when I wrote it. You'll be glad to know that the doom and gloom has lifted a little since then!
Hope to speak to you soon, my hairy pal.
All the best,

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