How many times have you heard “There’s always someone worse off than you!”
I used to think there was nothing more annoying. You know it has a ring of truth, but it feels as though your own problems are being minimised or not taken seriously.
One therapist I saw for Depression asked me to grade myself between one and ten to show how bad I thought my problems were, with ten being as bad as things can possibly be. I settled for seven.
He told me he used to work in a psychiatric ward where people were so depressed they couldn’t wipe their own arses. Bearing in mind this new information, he asked me to score myself again.
I concluded that as I was in full control of my arse wiping and had never ever missed a wipe, then maybe I would be around five out of ten.
Some may say his approach was unorthadox or unprofessional, but I thought it was hilarious. I like straight talking and it gave me immediate perspective on my situation.
It’s important to take Depression seriously and make sure other people do too. It can be horribly debilitating and I’m not denying that. But sometimes I think it can be helpful to recognise that even though you feel terrible, it is entirely possible to feel a whole lot worse. I knew that the extremes of Depression could be hideous. I knew it from my own experiences, those of friends, people I’d met in self-help groups and from everything I’d seen, heard and read about on the subject. I thought I was pretty well informed on how bad it could be. But it was completely outside my comprehension that you could be too depressed to wipe your own arse. It boggled my already boggled mind.
With physical illness, I think it’s easier to gain this kind of perspective. I’ve suffered with Neutropenia for 15 years and although it is shit, I get a reality check every time I go to clinic appointments. I’m under the same department as all haematology related conditions and I’ve spent countless Friday mornings sat in the waiting room with leukaemia patients, counting my blessings that I don’t have cancer. Even when I was hospitalised, I could see from looking around the ward that things could be worse. No-one had any hair, there was a woman opposite whose leg seemed to have rotted and the lady in the next bed to me died overnight.
With mental illness it’s all hush-hush and to a large extent, invisible. You know it’s happening and that people are suffering, but because of the stigma surrounding it, no-one talks. It’s difficult to know or see the extremes of how it affects people.
The arse wiping revelation made me more inclined to appreciate how well I was functioning, even though I felt awful. I could see that there were levels of not being able to cope that I hadn’t experienced. It gave me the jolt I needed to appreciate what I was doing to help myself. I realised I was one of the lucky ones; I’d been able to get up, deliver myself to a therapy appointment and tell somebody what was wrong. There were times when I hadn’t been able to do that, but even the worst nadirs of my life were still met head-on with acceptable personal hygiene and usually make-up too.
You could even argue that the people lying in hospital beds with unwiped arses were not as bad as they could be, because they were still alive. They may be in mental hell, but they had found the strength to hold on and not kill themselves.
I think perspective can be gained in many way. From being told home truths like I was, or by going out and looking for it. I thought I’d seen and heard how bad Depression could be, but I clearly didn’t have the full story. I know it’s hard to look for perspective when you are depressed, but I think it’s important to try, or at least be open to it.
If mental health issues could be normalised in the same way as physical health problems, I think it would be a lot easier. It doesn’t matter whether you have a physical health problem yourself or not, we all know people who are suffering and it’s easy to see the ones who are suffering more than you. If mental health problems were out in the open, it would stop people judging themselves for having difficulties and feeling as though their experience is the worst ever. If everyone talked openly and honestly about how things really are, it would be much easier to place your own problems accurately on the scale.
Plus, if you ever did find yourself so depressed that you couldn’t wipe your own arse, you could answer the critics with, “Actually, there aren’t many people worse off than me.”