As children we are taught to be honest, ‘Don’t tell lies’ or ‘can you please tell the truth’ are phrases we would all hear time and time again. I’ve therefore been inexplicably lead to believe- that being honest is something that you have to do, and that not saying something will result in consequences later. But how does disability and mental health fall into this realm of honesty? As I grew up I learned that disclosing is something I should do, in the same way that I shouldn’t lie about eating all of the sweets. As a teenager I was as far away from this acceptance as you can possibly be, I knew I was different- I read books, wrote poetry and played folk music- while others my age were taking drugs, going to parties and having one night stands. The embarrassment of having a completely different teenage life to my peers made disclosure impossible, and hiding away from reality easier to achieve. I remember going away on a hostel weekend with The Woodcraft Folk, I was about 14 at the time and the girls in my dorm were discussing weed, boyfriends and blow jobs – I buried my head in a book as to show that I wasn’t interested in the conversation, but really I was embarrassed – about the lack of experience I had in life and the little acceptance I had of myself. I find being honest pretty natural now and it’s given me more friends than I have lost, but back then I found uttering the words ‘I am Dyspraxic’ to myself, on my own in a room harder than anything.
Disclosure as common place as it is for me now, despite the sleepless nights regularly wondering ‘have I done the right thing? There have been times when I either wished that I didn’t have Dyspraxia, anxiety or depression OR that I just simply didn’t disclose. Those of you who have followed this blog, or my general life for a while will know that I went to India for three months in 2010 and had one of the best times of my life. Ringing a friend up in tears, when I was worried about getting on the plane all worked out okay in the end. An experience that came later – as it’s a few years ago now, it doesn’t feel so raw. I applied again to go to abroad, this time to South Africa to do some similar volunteering with an organisation called Restless development, as part of the International Citizen Service. I had visions of this being as good as India- it’s cliche I know, but I felt I’d ‘found myself in India’ – for the first time in my life, I talked about my Dyspraxia in depth throughout the interview process, a disclosure that ultimately got me a seat on that plane. Without thinking I disclosed here too.
‘Do you have a disability or medical condition?’
And so Dyspraxia & anxiety appeared on my form. I went away not thinking anything of it, knowing that I had done the right thing and that my honesty would help me here too.
I would never have imagined what was to follow. My ‘mental health’ was picked up as being a problem, I was put through the most gruelling assessment process and judgements were thrown at me left, right and centre. More than anything, this experience taught me that the stigma of mental health is still well and truly there.
‘We are totally unprepared to support Alice’ were some of the comments in the emails I later read about myself.
And ‘What if something inappropriate would happen, like if she needs to go back on anti-depressants whilst in South Africa for example’
The list goes on, and so I filed in a formal complaint – for my sanity more than anything, and to channel my anger about an organisation that see’s the word Anxiety, panics and then discriminates, into something positive. I didn’t go to South Africa in the end, but I didn’t want others to go through what I’d experienced. Hence all of the writing. All of the tweeting and the many frank and open discussions I’ve had lately.
It’s experiences like this, that makes many of us wonder if disclosure, honesty and being as open as I have is the right thing to do. I’ve certainly thought twice about disclosing my mental health or Dyspraxia since, and can understand why people don’t – although I am pretty comfortable writting and blogging about these these kind of things now, this confidence in discussing issues that others would rather avoid on social media, came well after Restless Development and still, sometimes I wonder if I really should.
This week I went to a folk gig with a friend, and as I sat there listening to the music, in the world where I first found a sense of belonging and acceptance, I thought to myself: ‘I fit in so much more now that I’ve started to use disclosure as a positive thing’. And this to me, is why honesty is important.
In other slightly related news, I’ve found that the best thing for mental health (and the latest devastating news in politics) other than understanding and supportive friends, are cats – meet Biscuit and Amber: