a professional hermit rambles

On forced helplessness

There is much written about Learned Helplessness but there seems to be no recognition of the phenomenon that I describe as Forced Helplessness.

An accident has left me with physical problems and the treatment I’m being offered is inadequate and badly thought out. The impact of the treatment would leave me in a state of helplessness that could easily be avoided. 

I know my body and the way it feels. I should be given information to consider and then given the opportunity to discuss the options. I should, as an ‘expert patient’ be allowed to make the choices I need not be forced into helplessness by being excluded from the decision making.  

There are many people who have recourse to therapy re mental health only via the National Health Service (NHS) and that has been very limited for decades.

Unless there is a serious concern that a person could self harm and/or endanger their life there is little chance of being referred into the system that could help them.

Those who constantly hover on the edge of bleakness because trauma that needs to be treated isn’t can feel permanently crushed and unable to function. What little help is available isn’t enough and shouldn’t be the one size fits all that CBT and Mindfulness are considered to be.

By being taught to be helpless and therefore potentially falling into the cycles of depression and/or other mental health problems we are then, instead of being taught how to unlearn helplessness, being forced further into it.

This forced helplessness whether the illness is physical or mental is wrong; if we cannot be given the treatment we need we should not be made to have the only option available.

On learned helplessness

This blog post is based on my own experiences and these influence my opinions. They may be different from yours.

In my 30s I began to have problems with my neighbours and living on the edge of the city meant that I was cut off from supportive sources. My partner was a gaslighting feeder and his response was to give me chocolate and tell me I couldn’t cope. I got fat, despised myself and I learned how to become helpless. As an indirect result of succumbing to Learned Helplessness I was diagnosed with having Bipolar Disorder.

Learned Helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.It is a pernicious problem insidiously chipping away at the soul; organic gaslighting.

I joined a self-help forum to find support and encouragement but it became a centre for picking up information in order to learn how to be more adept at accentuating any mental illness or problem. 

It is evident that the situations that can teach us to become well can also teach us to become professionally unwell.

Let me define what I mean by professional unwell.

A person who could be described as professionally ill would be an expert in his or her own illness and could speak knowledgeably about it and how it affects them but not necessarily in broader terms.

A professionally ill person would be able to find the literature and/or websites to back up their particular knowledge.  They can trip medical terms off the tongue with ease but usually with subjectivity.

They are enthusiastic about their illness and can talk for hours about it.  They will talk to anyone and everyone who will listen.

They are legends in their own living rooms.

The professionally unwell do not believe, or want to believe, that even those illnesses that progress and become worse can be alleviated with even a small amount of acceptance as they have persuaded themselves that they cannot unlearn their helplessness.  

For more information on Learned Helplessness please follow this link.

On life with Ogden

In 2015 I adopted a rescue dog from Spain. He hadn’t had a walk in three years and so arrived in a bad way both physically and psychologically.

The first time I let him off the lead he ran with a sense of freedom but gradually settled into sedate walks to places with a high point so he could sit and watch at whatever interested him.

He didn’t like many people and went crazy when there was a knock at the door. He like fewer dogs and the smaller they were the less he tolerated them. He nipped at a few people who got too close to me and I began to worry about his behaviour. It has taken me two years to admit this but he was not an even tempered dog and his capacity to attack increased. His vet was his friend until the examinations began and then he would try to bite both of us.

On February 21st 2018 we were taking our early morning walk when he lunged at a man and bit him with some force. He then sat down beside me as though he’d done nothing wrong. 

At that moment he’d crossed the line from a dog I had to watch closely to a one that had become dangerous. We walked the remaining way home and my heart began to break.

I rang the vet and we arranged for him to go to the surgery so he could be put to sleep. I rang the friend who looked after him when I was away and he agreed to come with me.

I gave Ogden the best last morning of his life; treats, a ride in a taxi and a walk in a green space.

The vet took us to a quiet room and Ogden was given a whole tub of treats. I sat on the floor with him and held him. I told him that I loved him, that I would always love him and that I could never forget him. He then received his sedation and slid silently to the floor. I cried as he died, stroking him and telling him he was a good boy. The grief overwhelmed me.

A few nights after he died I dreamed that I could hear him barking and running up behind me. He was with a group of dogs and as he ran past he looked back at me. He was happy, playful and relaxed.

The unconditional love I gave him wasn’t enough to repair his mind but we had two years and eight months together. We became soul mates in a second and remain soul mates.

I used to sing to him and he would wag his tail. Always the same song, always the same reaction, always the same smiles. Listen if you’d like to.


On living with vita pedestrum

I have a health condition known as vita pedestrum. At times it can be a struggle to cope with it but at other times it can be a source of happiness. Many people in the world have the condition and for some it develops into dolor in asinum syndrome.

Those of you who have a smattering of Latin or have googled to see what this health condition is will by now know that vita pedestrum is a “pedestrian life’’; a normal, average life. The side effects, e.g. poor quality of life etc. lead it to become a “pain in the arse.’’ In three sentences I have used an ancient language to medicalise life. I made you think that life was an illness by describing it in words that most people wouldn’t understand.

There are many people who have genuine illnesses, particularly mental health problems which need a diagnosis, but we also have a tendency these days to medicalise ordinary feelings and want a diagnosis of anything in order to move forward. We should perhaps look at the “dis-ease” (hyphen deliberate) within ourselves and work forwards in understanding why we feel the way we do and not seeking a diagnosis then tracing our steps backwards. As people we feel a need to be told that  something is wrong but we should be prepared to accept that life and the way we approach it can alone be the heart of the matter.

Emotional dysregulation is the latest umbrella term used in the latest version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM 5) and put simply it is an emotional overreaction to any given set of circumstances with regards to a wide range of mental health conditions and illnesses.

Does such a thing as emotional dysregulation exist or is it yet another term to medicalise feeling and emotions that could be considered normal in the circumstances in which they present themselves? 

This leads me to ask why we have we become so obsessed with medicalising life experiences. Is it that we feel a need to be ill in order to be a part of society? Does it make us feel better to hang a name onto whatever we are feeling? If we have X Syndrome or Y Condition does it some how excuse us from coping with our lives? Or are we under the spell of social media and glossy magazines that underline our insecurities and tell us whatever we think we’re good at we’re not good enough. 

If it it’s any or all of these then it’s time we moved forward in a new way. It’s not time to listen it’s time to ask the right questions.

On building a support network

We all need support networks but they don’t come ready made so how do we go about creating one?

If you have a chronic illness as I have then the receptionist at your medical practice and your doctor are the first in line. I know that quality varies from practice to practice but fingers crossed that you strike lucky. Should you need medication then a pharmacist follows closely behind.

I live in social housing and the housing officer who looks after the area is a key figure for those of us who are vulnerable. I have mostly good neighbours and some have become friends. I get support from those who feel animosity towards me because they remind me of who I don’t want to be.

The high street close to where I live is a combination of independent traders and chain stores. 

I know some of the independent traders well: the guy from the paper shop who always has a chat, Ross the greengrocer, Hayley from the pet shop/emporium place and Nelbo who has a corner of her shop for his business. All of them are ready to chat but also respect those days when putting my head out of the door is painful.

There are the women from Greggs who are warm and friendly, any of the assistants in Peacocks will chat even if you’re just looking around and the staff in Iceland and Asda get as much out of chatting to the customers as the customers do to them. Chain stores often have a bad press but the people working in them can be wonderful.

Most of the people in my support network have no idea that they’re part of it. I’m just a woman who goes in their shop and has a chat while I’m buying stuff. They don’t know they keep me going or that sometimes the energy spent talking to them ends with me in tears when I get home. I am unfortunate in that I have a debilitating illness but fortunate that I am surrounded by people who help either by being there or not being there.

It isn’t easy if you can’t get out as often as you would like to or you are in a community that enhances your feeling of isolation but I hope that by counting off the people in your life as I have just done then you too will realise that you have a support network or at least the makings of one.

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