An open thank you letter

To The counsellor I went to speak to in March 2014,
You may never see this letter, you may not even remember me. But make no mistake that I remember you.

In my first year of university, when life was unbearable and I had nothing left to give, I went to you for help. I gathered the last vestiges of my resolve and forced myself out of the bed I hadn’t left for six days to attend the appointment I’d already rearranged with you twice. 
I remember sitting on the chair in your office, my cane in one hand and a box of tissues you’d handed me in the other, feeling empty; feeling dead; feeling black. I remember the nervousness with which you guided me to my chair and your uncomfortable laugh when I explained that you would need to complete your survey with me as I wouldn’t be able to write my answers myself. 
You asked me to wrate my feelings on a scale, zero being not at all and 10 being all the time. I remember being surprised at my own answers when I responded to statements such as, “I feel hopeless or worthless” never scoring less than 7. 
I knew I was in trouble, that’s why I went to you. I knew that staying in bed for over a week was not normal. I knew that missing countless lectures and cancelling numerous appointments for fear of leaving my room was not normal. I knew that ignoring phone calls and messages from concerned loved ones to avoid admitting what I was doing was not normal. I knew that a black cloud had gripped me, and I went to you to give it a name.
When you ask me why I was there, I told you everything. In a monotone voice and divoid of emotion. Continuous obstacles and injustices had warned me down to the point that the only thing left was anger, and as I told you what had happened during the last few months and how it had made me feel I think you saw how much that anger was consuming me.
I told you how the support I had expected had not been delivered. I told you that I felt isolated and unable to identify with my peers. I told you how, despite feeling unable to leave my room for the last 10 days because of the anxiety that gripped me at the thought of interacting with people, I didn’t want to give in. I told you that I wanted to be there. I told you that I wanted a degree. I told you that I wanted to prove myself, to myself and to the world. 
I wanted you to offer me support, to tell me that it was normal for me to feel this way and that the way I had been treated was unacceptable. I wanted you to tell me that my feelings were justified and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted you to reassure me that you understood, that I hadn’t failed. But you didn’t.
Instead you told me that “maybe University might not be the right place for me”. You suggested that perhaps I should consider dropping out of my degree, as I had confided in you that I was so close to doing. You admitted that maybe I would be better off going home and giving up.
Thank God I ignored you.
You telling me that I shouldn’t be at university only rekindled the determination in me that had been stamped out by repeated disappointment. Your words rang in my ears and reverberated around my head for months, years afterwards. Your pitty and doubts in my ability became the fuel that only drove me to push myself harder; to get myself better; to believe in my self because you didn’t.
You are not alone in thinking that people like me are not worthy or not capable of achieving. The cane in my hand predisposed you to judge me before I had even started speaking, as it does for so many people in society. Those of us living with disabilities continuously face the misconceptions and misunderstandings of those who do not live with our challenges. But this attitude extends wider than just speaking to my friend rather than me when we are out, or ignoring my refusal of the help you have offered. This attitude leads to systematic failures that put barriers in the path of people like me from living normal lives and achieving our goals. 
Every time you take me by the arm and lead me somewhere I don’t want to go without my consent, you undermine my autonomy and disrespect my personal space; every time you fail to provide me with material in an accessible format, you reinforced the feeling that I and my needs are an afterthought; every time you tell me, that because of the adaptions I need, I am being difficult and giving you more work than you already have, you are reiterating the message that I am not welcome. I am not worthy of the time and effort it would require you to include me. I am an inconvenience that should be reprimanded for having the audacity to expect to be given the same opportunities as those who don’t need The adaptions necessary for me.
You epitomised this attitude for me, and as a result you made me stronger. Your ignorance reawakened and the stubbornness that defines so much of my character, not because it is part of my nature, but because it has to be. Your audacity to suggest that I would be better off giving up on my dream, despite me specifically explaining to you that this wasn’t what I wanted, thickened my skin and hard and my resolve to prove you wrong.
For so long your words were my motivation, though a part of me still believed you. So when, in my third and final year, everything again became too much and I threatened to crumble beneath the pressure to disprove your assumptions, your words again reverberated in my head and convinced me of their truth. 
But you didn’t win. I did. This time when I asked for help I received the reassurance and support you denied me. With that support I was able to again pull myself out of the darkness and overcome the final hurdle that would get me to my goal.
I am graduating with a first class honours, because of you. Whether it was your intention or not, your words have gotten me through the last three years and helped me achieve what I always hoped I could do but often thought was impossible. So I want to thank you for meeting me that day and for judging me as so many others do, because in doing so you gave me a reason to make myself and everyone around me proud. You forced me to find the self belief and self-worth I had lost, you shocked me out of my depression and inspired me to be the person I knew I was, but that you were too blind to see. 
Thank you for giving me the strength to prove my capabilities to anyone who doubts me. Thank you for motivating me to do my absolute best to show exactly what I can do. Thank you for reminding me that I alone can determine my worth. Thank you for having such low expectations of me and challenging me to exceed them. Thank you for inspiring me to continue facing my challenges head on and reminding me why I thrive on doing so. Thank you for teaching me that my disability doesn’t define me, and that it is my responsibility to demonstrate this to anyone who thinks otherwise. Thank you for reminding me why I wanted a degree in the first place. Thank you for driving me to work so hard that I not only exceeded your expectations, but also exceeded my own. 
Thank you, in short, for ignoring my own words and deciding my capabilities based on your judgement of my disability. Because in doing so, you’ve reminded me that nobody has the right to decide my limitations but me.

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#HighFiveForAnxiety

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to offend or upset anyone, neither am I a mental health expert or professional. I’m only speaking from my own experience. 
#HighFiveForAnxiety
 
Anxiety UK have recently launched a Twitter campaign to break the stigma surrounding mental health. The #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag hopes to get people talking about anxiety and mental health; topics rarely discussed in day-to-day conversation. Thousands of people have tweeted sharing personal experiences and messages of support using the hashtag #HighFiveForAnxiety, including me.
I have struggled with Anxiety coupled with Depression for the last couple of years. I receive counselling and practice Mindfulness to manage it as best as I can. Very recently, my Anxiety peaked making me feel more vulnerable and helpless than I have in a long time. Yesterday I was feeling particularly low so took to Twitter to get my mind off things, where I found the #HighFiveForAnxiety trend.
Reading the tweets, I found myself identifying and relating to people I’d never met. I tweeted using the hashtag and felt relief that I’d gotten some feelings off my chest. Then my tweet was retweeted by @AnxietyUk and was favourited by a couple of people. Then my tweet was shared by others and favourited even more times. I was overwhelmed. At a time when Anxiety was making me feel especially lonely and isolated, the #HighFiveForAnxiety campaign made me feel supported in a way that I never expected.
 
What is Anxiety?
 
Anxiety makes me feel alone. I feel ashamed of my weakness and embarrassed of my vulnerability. I feel suffocated, claustrophobic and like I’m trapped in my own head. Irrational thoughts crowd my mind space, but despite knowing that their irrational I can’t rationalise them. I can’t understand how everyone else can go about their lives seemingly care free, when leaving my room or answering the phone are monumental challenges for me. I shake and find it difficult to talk or stay still. I don’t know how to tell anyone because I doubt they’d understand, mainly because I don’t know how to explain.
Before I understood that what I experience is Anxiety and Depression, the worst thing I did was not tell anyone. I find it incredibly difficult to admit my own weakness or make myself vulnerable. The fact that I had stopped bothering to take care of myself and sometimes wouldn’t leave my room for days at a time wasn’t as concerning to me as the thought of actually admitting these facts to someone. Because what if I did and they said that there was something wrong with me? What if they assessed me and put me in the box of ‘mentally ill’? What if confessing my feelings to someone lead them to confirm that I was broken, defective, crazy?
 
Physical health/mental health
 
Imagine that you wake up one morning feeling nauseous. You can’t keep down your breakfast and you feel weak, clammy and all round crappy. What do you do?
You’d probably try to get something from the chemist to relieve your symptoms. You might make an appointment with your GP. You could tell work/school/college that you’ve got a stomach bug and won’t be in today.
Now imagine that you wake up one morning feeling completely unmotivated to get out of bed. You’ve had a terrible night sleep because you were up half the night worrying about anything and everything. The thought of leaving your bed and facing the world makes you panicky because you can’t stop imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios in your head. What do you do?
It’s unlikely that you could get anything over the counter that would stop you feeling anxious or depressed. It’s unlikely that you’d think to ring your GP or call work/school/college to tell them how you’re feeling. It’s likely that you’d try to force yourself to carry on as normal, or you’d stay in bed and burry your head under the pillow trying to ignore that anything is wrong.
 
Why should we talk about mental health?
 
According to the Mind website, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. It’s more common than you think. Chances are that at least one person you’ve interacted with today have experienced struggles with their mental health. But you don’t realise it, because we don’t talk about it.
When I have my guide dog or my cane with me it’s perfectly obvious to anyone that I am visually impaired. This often prompts comments or questions, it usually makes people more understanding and more willing to help. But there is nothing physical about me that would indicate to you that I experience Anxiety and Depression. You wouldn’t know, unless I told you. And if I told you, what would you think? If I turned to you and said, “This situation is making me really anxious”, what would you say? Would you be shocked? Would you know how to help me? Would you understand what I might need?
When I was at my lowest with Anxiety and Depression, one of my friends was going through very similar feelings. We would talk for hours about our feelings, but we never thought that how we felt might have a name or might not be, for want of a better word, normal. We confessed how we felt to each other, but thought it impossible to admit it to anyone else. Simultaneously, another of my friends was experiencing similar feelings, but neither of us ever discussed it. It was only much later, when we were both able to open up about our experiences and share what was really going on that we realised how much support we could’ve gleaned from each other if we’d only confided in each other.
I’ve learned that one of the most important steps I can take to ensuring that I never return to my lowest point again is by trusting others with my thoughts and feelings. That includes professionals, family and friends and my University. If I’d never spoken up about how I was feeling, I would never have been able to access the support that I needed to improve.
 
If I had come across #HighFiveForAnxiety when I was at my lowest, I know that being able to relate to hundreds of people online and being able to identify with their experiences would’ve made me feel much more secure about admitting my feelings. It would’ve reassured me that I wasn’t alone, that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and that there are things and people that can help. I might’ve told my friend going through the same thing and we could’ve supported each other. I might have felt able to confide in my other friend and could’ve supported them as well. It would’ve given me the courage to talk.
 
Please check out the #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag and join in by tweeting your thoughts about Anxiety. If you feel that you might be struggling with your mental health, check out the websites below for tips and support.
 
Thank you for reading and remember to comment or tweet me @seemyway15 with any questions about my experience of Anxiety and Depression.
 
Anxiety UK: http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk
 
Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk                                                             
 

Independent isn’t alone: guest blog for VI Able Solutions

VI Able Solutions is a blog intended to share the problems we all encounter in our daily lives and how we have resolved them. Posts include solutions for anything from paring socks to making friends. The aim is to share experiences in the hope that someone else might benefit from what you learned.
Check out my guest post here:
https://viablesolutions.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/independent-isnt-alone/