Cars – well car drivers – tend to get a hard time on these pages. Not this time. No professional road race of any significance on the professional calendar could operate without the team support vehicle. Easy to spot with spare bicycles strapped to the roof, mechanics leaning out of the window stretching over to tweak a gear lever or a loose bolt, as the rider comes alongside. A word or two from the team’s Directeur Sportif.
As you may know, I earn a living as a peer supporter by offering support to other people with enduring mental health problems. I dabble in the black market, too. From time to time I run workshops on the theme of Wellness Recovery Action Planning (always known as W.R.A.P.) In a nutshell it is a tool for helping us to manage our mental health, pre-empt relapse and stay mentally healthier for longer.
Well that’s what the advertising department would have you believe. One of the most challenging parts of constructing such a plan is when we need to decide who we want to share this plan with. That is to say, who do we want to know when things are on the slide. And, just as important, who do we want kept in the dark. For many people it brings into focus the lack of people they can lean on, be it day to day, or when things take a turn for the worse ( and they usually do ….eventually.) For some their supporters are all paid to be just that. Unresponsive G.P.s, unavailable Community Psychiatric Nurses, and those most invisible of the species, psychiatrists. That in itself is a hurdle in its own right. It leads to social isolation, a recurrent theme in mental health crises.
It’s my job in such a session to tease out specifics. What needs doing most urgently? Over the years I have heard the following: walk/feed the dog, pick up my prescription, give me a lift to the Accident and Emergency department, listen to my ansaphone messages, put the bins out., ring my boss.
And can you please pick the kids up and take them to school please because I cannot. I cannot see the day. I cannot be their Dad right now. I cannot … be.
That last one was me, regularly, in 2001 – 2. My Long Suffering Spouse was out at work and it was my job to …… some days it was my job to brush my teeth and get back into bed and gaze out of the window at the sky, like I was looking after that when I couldn’t look after anything else.
A friend, one of the parents whose kids went to the same school, drew up by the kerb outside our house on the days I had called her and told them ….. in what ever dialect I was gurgling on those school day mornings she understood. If I made it to the school gates thinly disguised as their Dad at the end of the day to pick them up she understood. There were no concerned looks or enquiries about how I was feeling. There was just the car horn outside in the street in front of the house. That was enough. That is what I – we – needed. I didn’t need concern, empathy, interest or a shoulder to cry on. I needed someone to take the kids to school and bring them home again when I couldn’t. From time to time. At short notice. And that’s what they did again and again.
Those school runs weren’t psychoanalysis (I had 2 years of that.) They weren’t 300mgs of Venlafaxine (around 9 years of those.) They weren’t regular psychiatrist appointments (I am one of the lucky ones.) But they made a bigger positive difference to us than the Mind Meddlers and all those folks at Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline put together.
How to Approach the Ill
Approach us assertively, try not to
cringe or sidle, it makes us fearful.
Rather walk straight up and smile.
Do not touch us unless invited,
particularly don’t squeeze upper arms,
or try to hold our hands. Keep your head erect.
Don’t bend down, or lower your voice.
Speak evenly. Don’t say
‘How are you?’ in an underlined voice.
Don’t say, I heard that you were very ill.
This makes the poorly paranoid.
Be direct, say ‘How’s your cancer?’
Try not to say how well we look.
compared to when you met in Safeway’s.
Please don’t cry, or get emotional,
and say how dreadful it all is.
Also (and this is hard I know)
try not to ignore the ill, or to scurry
past, muttering about a bus, the bank.
Remember that this day might be your last
and that it is a miracle that any of us
stands up, breathes, behaves at all.
Julia Darling (1956 – 2005)