I’m not good at being a member of a group. I tend not to fit because I don’t have the herd instinct and I rail against being told what to do and what I have to think. I don’t toe the party line. I’m not exactly popular for it but then I’ve never wanted to be popular.
When I played in the hockey team at school all the other girls made a big thing of changing into non uniform clothes and walking home in a crowd. I always just put my hockey stick over my shoulder and walked off down to the bus stop in my hockey strip. I never wanted to be part of a gaggle of girls when I felt that I only ever hovered at the edge of them.
When I got older and I was in need of peer support as a recovering alcoholic I resisted the pressure to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for a long time. It was a group and I don’t do groups. Eventually being deemed “unsuitable” for treatment I joined and by that time I had been two years sober. I hung around for a few years and I learned a lot from some people. I felt that I was hanging around with people who had no conversation but “recovery” and what they did when they were drinking. There was an element of bragging about extreme behaviour whilst in your cups and I found that irrelevant and almost an incitement to drink again just to top someone’s wild claims.
There is a God element to AA which can be forced upon new members by the most fervent of groups. You don’t need a belief in God to understand that you’re not the centre of the universe and, regardless of my belief or lack of belief in God, I refused to say prayers when various groups demanded it.
What killed it for me though was the insistence that, because I took lithium, I was taking a mood altering drug. Mood stabilisers are not mood altering and I got sick of being told that, unless I stopped taking medication that saved my life, I would never be sober. I walked out one night and never went back.
There is a similar herd mentality around people with mental health problems. If anybody reads this then some of them will take exception to that sentence but it’s how I feel. I don’t need or want anybody to speak for me and I dislike it a lot when people speak for “the community”. I don’t live in bipolar, I don’t live in a mental health community, I live in the south west of England and I’m not moving.
I don’t like the way the big mental health charities say they speak for people with mental health problems when they actually consult with relatively small numbers of people. I’m never asked for my opinion and I doubt it would be popular if they did. One charity did some research and I objected to a question that was worded to get them the response that they wanted. The researcher said that it was too late to take the question out of the research – the tail wagged the dog and not for the first time.
I get tired of people competing with one another for who is the sickest, who is the less capable, who needs the most help etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I expect people will rail against that sentence too but sometimes I feel as though I’m in an arena and there is a pecking order of illness and braveness. I just want to do the best I can on any particular day. Mental health is not a competition and it shouldn’t be made to feel as though it is.
I strongly believe that attitude is a big thing when you have a mental health problem. I have been taught that there is always something positive to get out of any situation even if it’s just that you’ve got through it. This builds a resilience inside my mind and enables me to know (though not necessarily feel) that I can fight the negative feelings, outride depression and surf mania with a little bit more than a suspicion that I can survive the experience.
So, if you don’t mind, I won’t be part of your crowd. I like being a goat and even though there’s some lovely sheep out there I don’t want to be one. I need to be me, I have the right not to fit in and I’m not going to feel that I should. Be part of the group if you want to be, join the mental health community if you will but don’t expect to find me residing there.