At the moment that I created the blog she had just completed her GCSE exams, having been nursed through the education part by a fabulous group of staff in the learning support area of her school. Her school attendance over years ten and eleven had averaged fifty percent and most of that time had been spent in learning support. However, she had managed to gain eight GSCE at the magic C and above and above, in fact mostly B grades says the proud and at the time uplifted and optimistic mother. We were looking forward to a new and fresh start at college.
College had appeared very equipped to manage young people with issues. We met with some learning mentor back in the spring. The process of having to spill your child’s life and frailties to a complete stranger whilst they assess what support the college can give is always a joy and just one of the petty indignities that you get used to as a parent of child that is unwell.
It is that feeling of being judged, of knowing that people want to know the back story, that feeling that people see a deficit in your parenting. Part of the parenting process under these circumstances is learning not give any (fucks), this bit does get easier, not sure whether it is acceptance or exhaustion.
Anyway back to the interview: the lady arrived with an array of A4 sheets with the requisite tick boxes to ascertain what disorder and what support would be required, there were about five in total, we go through them. Prior to going through them we have the interview, the ‘tell me about yourself and what help you need’ conversation.
My kid discusses her issues, anxiety, depression and the really scary one for others the psychosis. We have learned that it is always worth taking a brief pause to assess the reaction of the person who has just heard the word psychosis…..PSYCHOSIS…it is a very loud word and makes people super uncomfortable.
You can dress it up and say things like severe depression and acute anxiety but they are the fluffier more gentle ways to ease people into the understanding or the knowledge at least that hearing voices is pretty typical for people that have mental health problems of the heavy end variety. It is, as described to us, the critical inner voice gone wild and if you are especially lucky they will generalise into many more nasty symptoms of seeing things that frighten you, badly frighten you, that a person can feel things physically that aren’t there, smell stuff that isn’t there and joy of a thousand joys the command hallucination that tells someone to do stuff to themselves. For most people, it seems, hearing that word it translates in their heads as bat shit crazy nutter, don’t be on your own with them as they will probably stab you.They are wrong.
This woman was very professional, she immediately took the professional position…head slightly tilted to the side, eyes slightly squinty, looking a little constipated but most definitely listening, in fact actively listening…with both ears. Except she hadn’t really or the word PSYCHOSIS was screaming in her head with the subtext of this kid is batshit crazy.
We get to the sheet relating to support for ADHD – do you have trouble organising yourself. Dear lady had not listened to the earlier conversation as my daughter had to point out she has OCD so therefore has no problem organising herself or others and could probably organise the questioner into a coloured coded neurotic state too, if left alone long enough with her.
Despite the less than helpful sheets the college was equipped to a much greater level than school. School, where some staff really did give the impression that they thought she was likely to go Columbine on them and kill her classmates or herself, probably in a main assembly, hosted by the Head teacher and probably one where they had the Mayor in to visit to give out Duke of Edinborough Awards, and for good measure, the local paper in attendance.
I get their anxiety, I get the worry that if something happens that the school would probably take some epic flack in any serious case review and more importantly their reputation amongst the apparently liberal middle class parents of the catchment area would be dented if something happened but it is rage inspiring that people hear PSYCHOSIS and immediately assume that this is an outward thing that it makes someone dangerous to be near that they have the capacity and intention to do something unspeakable.
When in reality it an inward thing, full of self-criticism and self-hatred and self-harm on many levels and a secret thing. It is still the case that a person with mental health issues is much more vulnerable from others than anyone is from them.
You will discover that your own anger towards a world that really does seem to be full of fuckwits is hard to deal with and when you come across someone who is not professionally trained but displays a degree of insight and compassion, they are a rare treasure and should be recognised as such.
The lack of mental health understanding when people are faced with PYCHOSIS (shouty word, remember) is really sad and leaves people more isolated and in a position of denying what is happening to them, it is difficult when teachers tell your kid not to tell their friends as it will scare them and then they will not talk to them.
Although I get this is, on one level, a sensible and pragmatic strategy it does not help the person accept themselves. When the mental health experience that I have witnessed is characterised by fear, self-loathing and a compulsive and impulsive need to hurt themselves, being told what they have is not OK to talk about compounds that feeling that they are not worthy.
It also does not help the next kid with the same issues because they think they are the only one.
It is tough when the kid with cancer gets an announcement in assembly and a cake bake fundraiser and your child, who also has a life threatening illness, that does not even have a tried and tested recovery trajectory, is told not to tell anyone because they will scare people into ignoring them and will make them subjects of derision and hostility.
Stigma is a killer.