Embarrassing Incidents Caused By Mental Health Problems

I talk a lot on this blog about what it is like to live with various mental health problems, often waffling on about how exhausting, traumatic, frustrating and upsetting it is to have a brain that doesn’t want to co-operate with your goals in life. What I rarely talk about though, is that sometimes, as well as being all those serious things, living with mental health problems can just simply be damn embarrassing and leave you in awkward situations that you later look back on and feel like a fool.
Indeed, every time I have played one of those truth or dare games and the question has been “what has been your most embarrassing moment?” the first answer that has sprung to mind has been something related to mental health. It is also a question that often comes up when playing getting to know you games in any team building exercise you have found yourself roped into, yet every time I am asked such a question I never feel able to be honest because admitting to some of the nonsense you can get into when battling a mental illness, to a bunch of people who don’t understand such things, can sometimes be more embarrassing than the situation you are meaning to describe.

When it comes to picking an embarrassing mental health situation I have a bag full of examples to chose from (the one with the fireman or the “box of soggy kale in the cinema” incident are particular gems), but for today I think I am going to go with one of my more recent exploits that occurred during what I thought would be an innocent little trip to the supermarket.
As always mum and I were doing the food shop together and I was, as always, sticking right by her side, the childhood lesson that you should never run off on your own in a supermarket still burned into my brain as well as the fear of such a thing happening (when I was younger I lived in terror of the idea that one day I would have to have my name read out by some lady on a tannoy as the idiot who got lost and was found sobbing in an aisle of loo rolls. The shame of it!)
There is, however, one aisle in the supermarket that I am not a fan of, that being the meat aisle, so when my mum wheels her trolley down there I often hang out in the adjacent aisle and wait very patiently without panicking about my name being read to the entire shop over any tannoys. As I was waiting in the next aisle during this particular expedition, I noticed a woman enter from the other end, her arms extended out wide to carry a large pile of groceries.
To be honest, this woman (lets call her Bertha), really should have had a basket, but I think she was doing one of those whip rounds where you only plan on popping in to get a pint of milk and end up leaving with some Bombay mix, three jars of pickled onions, and a birthday cake in the shape of a caterpillar. I ignored dear Bertha in the beginning, and each of us continued along our merry ways without taking much notice of each other…

Then it happened.

Disaster struck.

Bertha, dropped her yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals for dramatic effect*

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion only with fewer screeching tyres and more rapidly descending low fat dairy products. Now, Bertha, aka dropper of the yoghurt, would have probably liked to have reached down to retrieve her shopping herself, but as I mentioned, Bertha was carrying a lot of groceries and in her defence was rather incapacitated (again, this woman really needed a basket). Had she bent down to retrieve the yoghurt herself, she would have risked an overflow of all of the other food items she had clasped to her chest, smashed jars, broken Bombay mix, wonky caterpillars, aka, total disaster.
As I looked at her carrying those groceries and saw the yoghurt fall to the floor, I instantly knew what was going to happen next. I was the only other person in the aisle. Bertha was going to ask me to pick up the yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals again as a blood curdling scream is heard over some hidden speaker system*

To most “normal” people/sane people, the idea of being asked to pick up a yoghurt is probably not that terrifying, but to someone with OCD who fears touching anything that has been on or near the floor, it was a nightmare. If I had to explain it, someone asking me to pick something off the floor gives me the anxiety someone would feel were they asked to pick up a rattlesnake carrying a machete…in its non existent hand…(note to self, next time when trying to think up an analogy, think of an animal with hands…)

The second that yoghurt hit the floor, I immediately set about looking like the busiest person ever to exist, in the hopes that Bertha would not ask me for assistance out of awareness that I was on a very important mission of my own. I snapped my head away from the yoghurt to the shelves and feigned a deep interest in a bottle of olive oil (rookie error, nobody is ever interested in olive oil. I should have gone for pasta but alas, retrospect is a wonderful thing). I stared at this bottle of olive oil and peered at it so closely you would have thought the meaning of life was inscribed in tiny letters along the side of the label, as if this olive oil was the most fascinating and wonderful thing I had ever seen. My acting was impeccable, several people from the frozen section even applauded despite their distance from my performance, and sent fan mail which I received a few days later. Bertha however, did not take the hint. Despite my acting performance, Bertha saw me and my bottle of olive oil and said in a voice that sent shivers down my very spine “excuse me can you please pick up my yoghurt?” *clashes cymbals so violently that they break into a million pieces and the very centre of the earth explodes*

Looking back, you may ask me why I didn’t just say that I had OCD and couldn’t help, before venturing off to find someone better suited to the needs of someone who needs their yoghurt risen from the ground like some 21st century Lazarus. If I had had a leg disease or something, I would have had no problem in saying “sorry I am currently disabled because of my leg disease” yet for some reason it seemed unacceptable to say “I am currently disabled because my brain is broken”. It doesn’t make any sense, both are a disability and both physical and mental illnesses impact and interfere with your life, but still I couldn’t be honest because saying I had OCD felt a million times more embarrassing than saying I had a leg disease. This sounds especially weird for someone who is able to speak openly about their mental health problems online without shame, but then again I think that is because I don’t really believe that anyone is reading my blog and if they are (hello you), I know they can’t see me hiding behind a cushion in the corner as they do so. For some reason I found that I couldn’t tell Bertha the truth, provide her with an explanation as to why I was scared to pick up her yoghurt, so instead I did the next best thing. I ran away. As I sprinted off into the distance I didn’t look back, but in my mind I can still see the imagined image of Bertha standing there over her yoghurt, Bombay mix tucked under her chin, staring after me and wondering what on earth was going on.

I grabbed my mum and dashed us out of the shop before we could buy anything (we were all very hungry that week), and by the time we got home I felt terrible. Ok I was embarrassed but I also felt incredibly guilty. Here was this poor woman asking me for yoghurt help, and I ran away.
It just makes me wish that there was less shame and less embarrassment over disabilities caused by mental illness, so that people could be honest in that kind of situation. I truly dream to live in a world where one day it will be possible to say “I am scared to pick up your yoghurt because I have OCD” without looking like a lunatic and whilst being taken as seriously as anyone with a physical and more visible impairment. Maybe I am underestimating Bertha and maybe she would have been understanding, but still you have to admit it is more likely she would have raised an eyebrow at the mental illness excuse as oppose to the leg disease thing.

If any of you out there have found yourselves in similar embarrassing situations in which your mental health problem made you feel like a fool, I hope you see this post as a comfort. Remember you are not alone in feeling like a bit of an idiot because there is someone out there who left a woman with her yoghurt on the floor, but more importantly, remember that when in the supermarket, one should always remember to pick up a basket before heading for the yoghurt.

Take care everyone x

Yoghurt

Are People With Mental Health Problems “Really Disabled”?

If you live in the UK and follow the news when it comes to anything mental health related, you will probably be aware of a certain Tory MP named George Freeman (not the guy who made grills. That was George Forman. He was so proud of his grills that he put his name on them don’t you know). Anyway, this Freeman bloke has been in the news a lot this past week, due to his recent comments regarding the rights of people with mental health problems claiming benefits.

Initially I wasn’t going to make a post about this, as thankfully a lot of people were angered by what he said on the issue, and therefore there have been many posts on the internet addressing why his opinions are so misguided. Having read a few of these posts I couldn’t help but think “well I don’t need to say anything about it because at least one other person has said it for me”, but then I realised that when a crowd of voices chant the same thing, it is a hell of a lot louder than any noise made by a single individual (unless that individual is armed with a giant and extremely powerful microphone…Alas, such things are often reserved for people with power who have no idea what they are talking about…ahem…)
I also wasn’t going to post about it because since his damaging comment, our old buddy George (again, not the one with the grills), has retracted all of the nonsense he has been spouting. Maybe then I should forgive the poor chap, as clearly he regrets his statements (or just realised that everybody hated him for being such an idiot and thus backed down on opinions he was so passionate about, to avoid being glared at in the streets…I guess we will never know…).
However the damaging comments made by Mr Freeman are unfortunately not anything new, nor any revelatory belief shared by nobody else before him. They are comments that a lot of the public have probably felt and said in private themselves, it’s just those people  didn’t have the microphones allowing everyone to hear. So I am writing this as much for them as it is for my buddy George (starting to wish I was referring to the other George as my buddy now…I could use a free grill.)

So what are these comments that have outraged so many and that are damaging to society’s view of those who suffer from mental health problems? Well, they are about people who are unable to work due to mental health problems claiming benefits, and how their payments should be stopped in order to save the money for the “really disabled”.
It is funny actually that this has come up at this time as it was just last week before this controversy started, that I filled out a form applying for benefits myself. For years therapists have encouraged me to fill out these forms and claim what they thought I was entitled to, yet I have always refused because even though I knew they were right, the thought of officially asking for support for being disabled made me feel incredibly guilty. I think over the years you cannot help but internalise some of the stigma lying around these days, just as if you tell someone enough times that they have a big nose they will eventually start to believe you even if their nose is the tiniest nose of all time.

Though I have always been aware of my inability to work, I have still felt an internal judgement and feel that maybe I am just being silly and that I am not “really disabled”.
A wheelchair user may not be able to open a door that is at the top of a flight of stairs because they are physically unable to walk. I however am physically able to walk up those stairs, yet still I am also unable to open that door. Physically I could, yet still, mentally, the fear is so strong that I can’t. Really the brain shouldn’t be viewed as any less “real” than your average limb as technically the organ of the brain is a physical part of the body as much as a leg is. Still I suppose it is a lot harder to remember that when it is hidden behind a thick skull and an “I am OK” mask, unlike a broken leg which is far more visible. If you can see a giant green face claiming to be the Wizard of Oz, it is infinitely easier to believe in that reality over the invisible little man controlling the illusion behind it (if your name is Dorothy at least. I saw through that Wizard all along. Dorothy was silly…and her little dog was too!).

This being the case then, my brain often being the cause of my inability to perform basic actions like feeding myself or opening doors, how is that not disabled? I don’t claim to be an expert in the English Language (although I did study english literature and I read Moby Dick which is a HUGE book with a lot of long words), but when you look at the definition of the term “disabled”, I think that it makes clear that George and those agreeing with his views do not really understand what the word means, hence their belief that someone with mental health problems is not “really disabled”. When you look it up, the dictionary states that to be disabled means to be a person who has a “physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses or activities. So lets examine this:

1. Do I have a mental condition – Yes

2. Do these conditions limit my movements – Yes. I cannot open doors or move around in public without an aid supporting me through the anxiety, much like a wheelchair user may struggle to be mobile without their aid, aka the chair.

3. Do these conditions limit my activities – Considering I am often able to leave the house/partake in normal life, yes.

Yet according to certain MPs, I am not “really disabled”? I am sorry George, are you arguing with the dictionary? I totally support your right to free speech but are you sure you want to do that? It is a really big book (even bigger than Moby Dick), and if you start arguing with a dictionary then all the words in your argument technically lose all meaning and thus you will be making no sense…are you sure you want to do that George? Gibbering nonsense to a book would look awfully weird…people may start to think you were mentally ill!
If people without mental health problems are not “really disabled” then what are we? Just playing some sick game of dress up like I pretended to be a vet with my very own stethoscope when I was younger and made it my business to treat all of my teddy bears (rest assured, I may have been pretending then but I was very skilled and all my patients made full recoveries).

Tell me then, if I am unable to leave the house or touch things in public and spend most of my time fighting demons, a pastime that leaves me utterly exhausted and often a bit soggy with tears, what job would you recommend I try? What job would I be able to do effectively on the days that I am so depressed and suicidal that I cannot leave my house let alone contribute to society? Any ideas? The only job I could think of would be that of performer in a freak show, where people could come to my house and pay to see the hysterical sobbing mess in the corner who is so deluded they fear eating with a knife or fork. Is that what you want? (Even if that is the plan I would still need benefits anyway…If I have to be in a freak show I at least need a sequinned leotard. THOSE THINGS DON’T COME CHEAP FREEMAN.)

In a way, I suppose George being so vocal with his misguided opinions could turn out to be a good thing. Like I said, I am sure that he is by no means the only person who feels this way about people with mental health problems receiving benefits, and by speaking out about it, it has given us crazy folk an opportunity to respond publicly and tackle the stigma that before now has existed only in people’s homes behind closed doors. People make these statements all the time and are never challenged, yet now the words are out in the open, we have a public platform on which we can talk back and educate those who may not understand how debilitating mental health problems can be. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to do good.

So here I am, standing on my public internet platform speaking into my megaphone as someone with mental health problems and for others with mental health problems. To Mr Freeman and all of his supporters, I have one thing to say.

*STEPS UP TO MEGAPHONE*

“As sufferers of mental health problems, I will admit that our disabilities may be invisible, but our struggles are real. The pain in our heads is real. Nobody is pretending, nobody is playing games and we honestly are, “really disabled”.

*DROPS MEGAPHONE AND STORMS OFF PUBLIC PLATFORM LIKE A BOSS*

Take care everyone x

georgefreeman