Last week I discovered #InShadowSelfie thought up by Louise Gornall.
Go take a shadow selfie and help promote Mental Illness Awareness…
It was about the same time the DWP updated their list of health issues that come without physical impairment intimating that sufferers of mental illness are quite able to work and should not be allowed benefits. Last week figures were also released from the government giving numbers of those who’d died within six weeks after being refused benefits. (These figures are subjective, but in my opinion still damning – you can see the reality here.) This is so serious though, that the UN (United Nations) are sending a team to investigate Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms.
This is important to me for many reasons as I know many people who suffer from mental health related illnesses. I have a history of severe anxiety, panic disorder, and clinical depression. In my early twenties I was signed off work due to these factors and the then little known ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – better known as Post Viral Fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I left work and received Invalidity Benefit for a couple of years before John Major’s Tory government saw me fit to work. I suffered huge panic attacks amid years of debilitating depression, combined with self-harm and a variety of other symptoms, plus, I was raising my first child, but I was obviously fit to work as there were no physical symptoms. I vividly remember the government doctor telling me that I had no physical symptoms whilst my heart thumped and cramped so much I thought I was having a heart attack, and my legs became pure jelly. I could barely make it out of the examining room without collapsing. I was shattered, exhausted and lost, and spent the next few days at home a mess of tears, shivering loss and quite unable to think straight due to my antidepressants. Hubby worked part time and helped with my daughter as much as he could but I was a mess for those years.
That was back in the early nineties. Have things changed much for mental health awareness since then. Yes, and no. Public perception is marginally better, but government compassion? No.
So, when I saw my friend, Emmie, post on Instagram her #InShadowSelfie last week, I knew it was something I wanted to do too, particularly as I am right now in the middle of a bout of clinical depression.
Anyway, I wanted to let Louise explain her hashtag…and I want you to go and support it! Find your shadow, take a selfie and post it on your social media! You don’t have to suffer from mental health issues to take part and every picture posted will help to build awareness!
Louise, what prompted your idea to raise awareness to invisible mental illness with the hashtag and what made it personal to you?
Hi Lisa. Thank you so much for helping me highlight this project. So, I read this article in Welfare Weekly. Beyond the money part, I was really upset by the list of mental health conditions the DWP say come without physical impairment… On what planet is this? At first I assumed they’d made a mistake because I’m a chick with a laundry list of mental health issues, four of which appear on this list, and most days I can’t get beyond my driveway without passing out. Alas, there’s no mistake. It would seem that because you can’t see bruising or bleeding, I’m not considered physically impaired by my petrified brain. I shudder to think how I’d survive without my family taking care of me. Some days, even the smallest task sends me into a spin.
What’s your biggest frustration with insensitive attitudes to mental health conditions?
I have two. Well, I have about fifty, but these are two I keep seeing a lot of lately. It irks me that people measure suffering. Or weigh suffering against suffering. Phrases like, “Get some perspective…” or “It could be worse…” I’m not a violent person, but this stuff sends me into a table-flipping rage. For starters, if it were that easy to get some perspective, I would have bought it by the bucket-load already. And secondly, I’m not about to tell anyone they don’t know real suffering while they’re shedding tears over a deceased family pet. I don’t assume to know that relationship, or how it worked, or what it meant. If the loss of a pet tears you in two, my only job, as a human being, is to be sympathetic. There are awful things going on in the world, but the strength of suffering will always be measured most by the person affected.
And one more, the idea that people use mental health as some sort of “get out of work free” card drives me up the effin wall. Sure, I can’t go out to work… but then, what about the rest of my life that’s also on hold? People are very ready and willing to shout about me using my disability to get out of a day’s graft, but they don’t mention that it’s also the thing stopping me from being a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding in Cyprus. Or that it’s the reason I had to give up my horse. They don’t mention that I haven’t seen a film at the cinema in almost two years, that I have no love life, can’t pop to the shop for a bar of chocolate, go out with my friends at the weekend, go and visit my granddad in the hospital before he died. I just wish people would look beyond the little they know about mental illness. I wish they’d worry as much about mental health as they do about money.
What do you hope the #InShadowSelfie will achieve as it grows?
I want people to talk. I want people to feel like they’re not alone. I don’t want suicide to be a person’s only option. I want this thing to grow so big people see it, ask why, and what it’s all about. I don’t want people to feel afraid or isolated. I want mental health to be seen as suffering. I want accusing a self-harmer of attention seeking to become a thing of the past. I want people to stop saying anorexia is all about vanity. I want people to stop telling folks that are being crippled by depression to buck up. I want to join the fight to stamp out stigma.
Thank you for explaining your hashtag to us, Louise, I truly hope it grows and people take it to their hearts.
In my opinion, the government need to think twice before condemning so many people and before telling them they have no physical symptoms and are therefore fit to work.
Does an illness always need to be physical before it’s debilitating? No. Mental illnesses can be both visible and invisible, and both are debilitating.
Common physical symptoms of mental illness: heart palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, flushing, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling and numbness, choking, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle aches, restlessness, tremors/shaking. These can be both minor and major, but should never be dismissed. As always some people can work with these conditions, some cannot and should not, remember the extreme case of the pilot who brought down the Germanwings flight? Each case should be looked at individually, but with understanding, knowledge and most of all compassion.
So, please share your #InShadowSelfie and show your support and help awareness of mental illness. Let’s spread our shadows across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and show that we are not invisible!