I wish the medical bodies, mental health charities and those who hold power would use it in an honourable way instead of capitulating to a corrupt system.

Heather’s #MadCovidDiaries 24.12.2020

2020: the year the other shoe dropped.

To wrap up this year, I decided to choose four lessons I learned. None of them are cheerful but they are real hard won lessons. I even name check ginger crooner Mick Hucknall, and ever disapproving DBT wizard Marsha Linehan, two great minds of our time.

1.      The time to talk about mental health was well and truly over a decade ago!

It’s time to act and because there have been years of deliberate defunding of care, there will not be enough care to meet existing demand from people who were already mad. The millions affected by COVID19 will not get what they need either.  I’ve seen how much MadCovid has achieved through their own initiative and I intend to be part of it, doing the practical things to keep individuals alive.

Maybe in decades to come there’ll be an enquiry into the deaths of those people murdered by austerity, neglect and COVID19 policy failures, but regardless, us ordinary people will keep on documenting and doing what we can to keep people alive. 

I wish the medical bodies, mental health charities and those who hold power would use it in an honourable way instead of capitulating to a corrupt system. I wish they could get behind user led projects that meet actual needs with actual money. I won’t hold my breath on that though. They’re still having the same Crisis Care Conversation I remember having with MPs in the Westminster dining room in 2012, and I am worth even less to those fancy people now than I was worth then. In monetary terms? Lord Freud valued me at well below minimum wage then, and ATOS valued me at £200 less per month; I’m significantly less value for money now. That mental health charities are still busy being apolitical, bidding for work ready contracts and not talking frankly about fatal poverty is just shameful.

So no more faffing about with national awareness ‘everything we hold dear is being destroyed’ conversational social media stunts in 2021, please. Everyone knows our mental health system is now simply a wreckage. No more will I participate in listening events and engagement surveys and research projects; to paraphrase wise old Mick Hucknall, ‘if you don’t know our mental health system is broken by now, you will never, ever know why it’s broken, ooooOooooOoo.’

2020 taught me that my ‘story’ is one of thousands of mildly interesting but ultimately alike stories of people getting lost in the psychiatric system and digging their way out. It’s one of privilege because I got a standard of care then that others don’t get now. I vow I will not waste time and energy on talking about how it’s not time to talk. Rather, I’ll be here rebuilding from ashes and broken bits of a system that previously saved me.

2. I need other people to the exact same degree that every neural pathway in my brain resists the pitiful vulnerability involved in asking for help and love.

I used to pay a lot of lip service to friendship, like how you do when you have to set goals on a care plan or an action plan. Ring my friends, see my family, stop being so totally crap at object constancy and remember to reach out to my fellow human beings. Social functioning, or what the DWP calls ‘mixing with others’ has turned out to be vital to my survival. I’m horrible at it. It’s exhausting and awkward as arse. I hate my face on zoom. I’m probably always going to squirm my way through social contact but I need to keep mixing with others or I might starve. At least I can zoom in my Pjs.

I’m lucky to have good folks who offered to bring me food or help me get my meds. I’m lucky to live in an area where I got access to an NHS psychologist. I appreciate the hell out of people around me now.

3. I am not British anymore and that is ok.

I don’t recognise my country. Not in a gosh how did we become so polarised? hand wringing kind of way. I always associated my Britishness with Big Old Great Britain.  We were eccentric, open, dutiful, artistic, aid giving, riddled with unresolved Empire racism and class struggle, but we were trying to do better as a union of little countries who loved and loathed each other. 

We could be kind to each other. Not anymore. Now my partner says ‘hey, did you see Priti Panel is doing a thing with laser sharks’ or ‘look, that 5G mast is on fire again’ and I am not surprised. I know how this happened and why, so I’m giving myself permission to stop trying to be cool with this current Rule Batshit Britannia country I live in. It’s not a country I feel part of anymore. I don’t have to bind my identity to it anymore.

4. There is some comfort in finding that – finally – everything *is* awful.

I used to fear The Bad Thing. It was a nebulous, free floating, nonspecific Bad Thing. In Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, we learned about the core beliefs that stopped people from enjoying good things in life. One was that for every good thing that happens, a Bad Thing must follow. The other shoe always drops. 

I remember that moment of mutual recognition in the room, aah, the Bad Thing, we agreed, gotta watch out for it. We all knew what dreading the Bad Thing felt like. It was what woke us up at 4am with chest caving panic. It was the subtext of the sobbing crisis line calls. What is wrong? – people would ask and, well, how can you explain The Bad Thing to a normal thinking person?

Covid19 might as well be my personal, private Bad Thing made universal. All normal thinking people now recognise the Bad Thing, although DBT’s Marsha Linehan would probably call this an all or nothing statement and frown a bit. Ok, some normal unthinking people are trying to think their way out of COVID19 with sheer bloody minded denial. As a coping strategy, I found limited mileage in denial but for a while that was my thing. I get it.

Covid19 is invisible, it arrives with no warning, from other people, it brings fear and isolation and maybe death, the kind you don’t see for yourself but know is horrible. There is no logic or justice to who survives COVID19. Avoiding the Bad Thing means shrinking your life to a little zero of inactivity and risk aversion, so it is with avoiding COVID19. There is end in sight, no one in charge to count on. That other shoe has dropped and now maybe nothing good can happen anymore. In a way, I have been in training for this my entire panic-ridden life.

And yet, that saying about the other shoe dropping, is actually a saying about feeling relief. It comes from crappy 1910s New York, where walls were so thin you’d hear your neighbours shoes drop one after the other as they shucked off their work boots. When the work day was over, the other shoe dropped. You got peace and quiet. You were home safe, even if home was a slum. Remember what relief felt like?

What I’ve had to learn from Covid19 is to listen hard to shoe dropping. I had to tune in for the truth among the lies. I’ve had to hear the thud of bad news and loss. I’ve had to listen out for my own weakness and care for myself. I’ve been determined to listen out for my neighbours, friends, family, fellow mad people, to listen to what they need and do what I can to help. There have been so many Bad Things arriving this year that the other shoe dropping is no longer the scary sound I imagined it would be.

Marsha Linehan would probably say that good things will happen again because life isn’t all or nothing. I’d probably be as truculent and resistant to receiving that suggestion as I was during 18 months of DBT; if you’re wondering how I was in those sessions, I was a delightful ball of cynical animosity and my DBT therapists radically accepted my hurtling rage.

2020 has taught me that life is not all injustice all the time. Rage hurtling is hard on the soul, it’s best saved for when rage can right a wrong. Good things do come and good people do show up and we find that we are coping better than we did last week, last month, last decade. 

When everything is destroyed, we can rebuild. We haven’t had it all for a long time, but we don’t have to fear being left with nothing. We have each other. Sometimes, a group of Mad people band together and do a new thing, and then we don’t have to face The Bad Thing alone any more.

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