This post will probably turn into something different from my original intention, but I don’t think there’s an awful lot wrong with that. If I keep going with this blog, I potentially have all the time in the world to write about anything and everything I want to.
I’ve been focusing a lot on mental health, and specifically my own experiences. This is therapeutic for me, and important for others to see how anxiety and depression affect me as an individual. There are so many different stories, adding mine to the mix can only help raise awareness and understanding (or do absolutely nothing, but either way it’s unlikely to be a hindrance).
I originally sat down to write about how I feel like a fraud sometimes, and that post is still forthcoming. I opened a new page to start writing when I came back from going into town, picking up my prescription and other mundane but necessary activities. Whilst I was at the chemist, a lady sat next to me and admired my bag (it was one of the black canvas ‘Fighting Animal Testing’ bags from Lush). She mentioned how she would get one for her daughter, an animal lover. We chatted a bit about animals, pets, and animal welfare.
I’ll interrupt myself here to point out that I have absolutely no idea why people talk to me in public. I cannot imagine that I radiate a positive, glowing ‘come and talk to me’ vibe. I am usually so anxious or preoccupied by something else I cannot fathom what would possess someone to approach me. It seems my rampant mental health problems disguise themselves very well when I’m in public.
To be perfectly frank, I have a rather strong ‘weirdo magnet’, meaning that sometimes the slightly less conventional of our fellow humans will make a beeline for me, should they want to share some worldly wisdom. I can honestly say that I have never been approached in public or chatted up by a man who anyone would consider reasonable potential relationship or coitus material. Never. If you’re a man who’s chatted me up and you’re reading this – sorry mate, but you’re a fucking weirdo.
The weirdo magnet does not only extend to men, of course, it’s anyone really. I’ve seen it in action with my mum as well, so it must be hereditary. Sometimes it’s a nuisance, and my patience for people who drone on about something random to a complete stranger wears very thin. I’m too polite to say anything, though, so it’s partly my fault.
I’ll point out now that the term ‘weirdo magnet’ is largely used affectionately – it’s rare to come across someone whose intents are malicious, and instead it’s just people who wander slightly outside of societal norms. I’m a very, very uptight person because my social anxiety has caused me to work incredibly hard to appear ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’, to be doing and saying the ‘right’ thing. My version of ‘societal norms’ is constructed from the way I view myself and the world, and I would never dream of chatting to a stranger because really, who on earth would give two fucks about anything I have to say?
Other people’s norms are different, though, and I use the term ‘weirdo’ mainly to describe someone who is behaving differently than I do. There’s no saying that either way is right or wrong.
I digress (significantly). The lady I spoke with today was not a weirdo. I mean, she might have been, but she didn’t really come across that way. Just a lady in the chemist, having a conversation, because why not?
I’d say she was perhaps in her late sixties or maybe early seventies; she spoke of being married at seventeen, and having children in their fifties, so it would make sense. Not that her age really matters, although she did have some remnants of purple hair which was pretty cool. As we chatted about animal welfare, she mentioned how the system (I’m paraphrasing) doesn’t care about humans, so it’s no wonder animals get a raw deal as well. The conversation moved on to politics from here, and she revealed herself to have some different, even challenging views. I don’t mean by this that she was some sort of right wing stalwart; she’d have got a pretty short shrift if that had been the case. She’d been involved in anti-war and liberal movements as a younger woman, and still had a lot to say about the state of things today.
This lady maligned how people today simply don’t care about anything. A lot was said, but this was one of the things that struck me. There are a lot of things going on that we, as a population, either don’t know or don’t care about.
Do we manufacture arms and sell them to problematic countries who then bomb the shit out of innocent people? Yes, of course we do. Does our government funnel money into pointless development after development only to leave an ever-increasing number of people sleeping on the streets at night? Absolutely. Are cuts being made to welfare, making it harder and harder for our most vulnerable citizens to exist, never mind live? You bet. Did we blindly allow bankers to piss away all our money, cause an international financial crisis then refuse to hold anyone accountable? Oh look, we did that as well.
We do know about these things, and I’d say a lot of people do care, but we are trapped. We are trapped by political apathy, and we have been run down into obedience by political systems and parties that don’t work any more. We talk about how awful things are, and yet we still voted the Tories in to power three times in a row, and act surprised when things get worse.
People, particularly the younger generations (although that is my own age bias coming into it, and proved wrong by the woman I met today) do care. We do. It’s just, no one really knows what to do about it. People don’t take to the streets in protest or go on strike because we cannot afford to lose our jobs, many of which are no longer in publicly funded institutions. We see poverty, racism and abuse and of course we care, no one wants to live in a country where things like that are the norm – but we do. We can give our spare change to the people sleeping rough, and even our time or money to the charities trying to help them, but we can’t catch up with the shitstorm. We have fallen behind, and it seems that anything we try to do lands on deaf ears. There is never a solution big enough to any of the masses of social problems that have befallen this country.
For such a small island, we are internationally quite powerful, although I’m sure Brexit has rendered us a laughingstock the world over. As individuals, our voices are not being heard, and our standards of living have declined. That sounds dramatic, and I am not for one minute bemoaning my privileged life, but it’s different. The economy is a smouldering pile of rubble being pissed on by Phillip Hammond and Theresa May, keeping the rich people at the top, nicely avoiding their taxes whilst the rest of us drudge through life with increasing rent prices, lower paying jobs and less of a fucking clue what our future holds.
Mental health problems are becoming more and more of an issue for us in this country, and when I think about it, part of me is not surprised. Cycles of poverty, drug and alcohol dependency, abuse and trauma are commonplace, and services to help people are constantly being cut or closed down.
Many young people must feel directionless and worried about the future, what job will they manage to get, will they ever afford a house? University tuition fees are ludicrously expensive, plunging people into masses of debt before they’re even 21. People of any age are losing their jobs; the older you are, the harder it is to stay in the job market, suddenly robbing older people of their purpose and their worth, leaving them confused and depressed. We are living longer, but we aren’t getting any more money to look after our elderly. Many of them are isolated and afraid.
There are so many problems, it’s hard to know where to start and what to do. Even the most well-meaning of us must feel completely overwhelmed at wondering where to focus their good intentions. To make matters worse, we are growing up in a ruthless, every-man-for-himself Tory wasteland, working so hard to keep ourselves afloat that we struggle to help those in need. I took a step back and looked at our country after talking with this lady, and I panicked.
I want to help, I’d love to make a difference, but how can I do that when I can’t even help myself? There are people in need on every corner – figuratively and literally. Those of us with mental health issues often are the people in need, and the people able to help others. It is overwhelming. Opening up our filters to view the world around us is hard enough – and then the world around us is terrifying. It’s no wonder I retreat into my shell, focusing obsessively on my thoughts to catch my depression or anxiety in the act. I know those, they’re familiar. If I’m preoccupied inside my head, I don’t have to face the heartbreaking truths outside my front door.
It is easier for us to carry on with our own lives, keeping our circles tight, than to look out and see the 1980s happening again. Even the mentally healthy practice self-preservation, and it feels like that’s all we’re left with at the moment. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, that’s all they want us to have. A silent nation, intent on preserving what they have and too flabbergasted to kick up a fuss. Too overwhelmed, tired, stressed, overworked and underpaid to take to the streets. As people, we can’t catch up with the demands of ruthless capitalism and poor governance, and it is making us tired. It is making us unwell. We do care (some of us, anyway), but we are at a loss.
I feel the guilt of trying to take care of myself, knowing others have it worse. I may be too anxious to function at times, but I have food and a roof over my head. I know that mental health problems do not discriminate and my situation does not make me immune to them, but at least I have a space in which to confront them. The NHS may be crumbling, and it’s taken years, but I now have some regular intervention to help me process my mixed up mind.
What happens, though, when my mind is less mixed up but the country is still failing? By looking after ourselves, will we eventually be able to stand up and say, enough is enough? What happens to the people who can’t look after themselves? What happens when we know what goes on outside our own minds, but we’re too carefully treading the thin ice of wellness to afford proper time or attention to those who need it?
When I was self-harming at age 14, I went to see a man. Some sort of psychology man, to talk to about my feelings and such. He spoke to me and he spoke to my parents. He told my parents afterwards that I was sensitive, that I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Maybe he was right.