A sense of perspective

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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.”

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9 responses »

  1. Hi Laura,

    I’ve just started reading your blog. In the spirit of honesty of which you seem to give so freely. I just wanted to say a thankyou really for being brave and posting. I always remember when I met you I genuinelly thought you seemed like such a genuinelly good person, someone who seemed to cut through bull and did it with such a sense of humour I always looked forward to you being at the film group you always made me laugh. I never told you that. I also wanted to say thankyou for this blog. There are many reasons for the thankyou, perspective, a sense of some one else, a refreshing read ….theres more, but I think your a champ. Keep going I have sent your blog to a few friends and will continue to do so. xx

    • Anna, thank you so much for your lovely words. You have no idea how much it means to me to read your kind and thoughtful comments. It has taken a lot for me to overcome my fears and start this blog, but when I get feedback like this, it makes it all worthwhile. To think I have made a difference in any way is overwhelming. I wasn’t feeling good about myself when I joined the film group, so hearing that I made a good impression and you looked forward to seeing me is just fab. Thank you for reading the blog and sending it to your friends. I hope our paths will cross again someday Xx

  2. great piece. i always think to myself that it could always be worse – though in the heat of the moment i feel like it cannot get any worse. there will always be people and situations that are so much worse off (yes, bad grammar) – but you are right – mental illness has this stigma that needs to be wiped away. i know someone who thinks that because i have had some difficulty in the past year that i need a caretaker. a caretaker? no, i do not need anyone to take care of me. i could use a friend – someone to just listen and maybe offer a word of encouragement, but i do not need some one to take me by the hand and work for me, cook for me…… really?? again, great piece xx

    • Thanks for the fab comment, I’m so glad you liked it! I agree that sometimes it is only a friend you need. Some of the best support I had was a non-judgemental listening ear. Although personally, I wouldn’t mind if someone cooked for me! I think it’s the lack of open conversation around Depression that makes it difficult for people to know how to help. Even if you are ill with mental health problems, it’s important to retain your independence and autonomy as far as you can 🙂

  3. Life is what you make it. Even at your lowest point you have to smile. You are only here for a nano-second in time, so make the most of it. Remember your joy transfers to others, and seeing the joy on others faces transfers to you, the circle is complete. Take care and be happy.

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