It was a normal sort of day, I’d got up after a restless night of new ideas early, well early as is the norm when you live with two five year olds, a husband and a hungry cat.
The children were lively this morning which always makes for an interesting ride. A combination of tiredness and the fact they’d eaten too many sugar puffs. I dressed them, combed their hair and found their shoes while making a mental note to polish them at some point. I didn’t feel anxious but rather a little apprehensive as I drove them to school to deposit them for a day of free babysitting.
Once back in the car, my thoughts turned to the day ahead. My tummy had butterflies, not the little fluttery kind but the kind you see in museum drawers from tropical shores. Today was the day that I was to return to listen to my mental health assessment. My psychologist was a lovely lady but it didn’t stop me wondering what lay ahead as I boarded a train to the big city. In my bag was my packed lunch and large notebook which I had taken to carrying everywhere for my next idea. I had lots of ideas, usually at 4am in the morning and usually that came to nothing.
Once on the train, I sat by where the doors were opening so I could feel the cool air at each station in an attempt to reduce my anxiety. I amused myself by writing people’s life stories in my head as they got on and off the train.
Once in the big city, I made my way up what seemed like endless escalators to emerge into a bright sunny day. The city was extra busy today as the schools were on half term and the incessant chatter of little people was everywhere. It held some attraction for me, especially if I was having a busy head day. I made my way down Bold Street, which amused me as today I felt anything but bold! Glancing at the time on my phone, I realised I was ridiculously early, not my best record but not far off. I’d reserved that honour for a two hour earliness in a car park in Colwyn Bay some months earlier. I was early enough to wander into a cathedral across the road for a few moments of quiet before my appointment. I’d been into the cathedral many times, but it still took my breath away when I looked up at the amazing stained glass windows and quiet yet ginormous open space.
I found a coffee shop and sat for half an hour, enjoying the stillness and quiet in the middle of the big noisy city. All too quickly my time was up, I went into the bathroom and caught sign of my own reflection in the mirror. Would I be different after today? Would I still recognise myself? I came to the conclusion that whatever today held, I would still be me, still hold the same values and beliefs and hopefully people would still love me for that.
To get to this point had been no mean feat, I’d tried over the years to access mental health services but consistently came up against the same barriers, “You can’t be ill cause you’re still in work” “But you seem like such a happy person!” To have to fight for something when you feel least like fighting is the hardest thing. 17 years after I had first presented at my GPs with depression and anxiety I was finally being listened to.
88 Rodney Street was a grand Georgian house and as I walked into the reception area, I was greeted by dark oak panelled walls and chandeliers, in stark contrast to my everyday life!
I didn’t wait long before I was called into room eighteen, a consulting room on the top floor of the building behind a physiotherapist and a back specialist.
I recalled the room from the previous appointment when I had completed all my assessment forms. As I settled into the wing back leather armchair I began to listen to my life contained in 5 sides of A4 paper. It was strange to hear, being reminded of my over reactions to everyday events, my depressive moments, and my times when I had been so low I had thought there was no way out of my black hole. I squirmed a little as it was read out. My psychologist luckily recognised I was having difficulty with the waiting so in an effort to reduce my anxiety, at the end of the first page, she paused and said; “I believe Shelley to be bipolar” She paused after she had said it and asked me what I thought. I expressed my relief at there finally being a word I could associate with and waited for my reaction to her diagnosis. But there wasn’t a reaction. The room was silent, I felt relieved but other than that I was ok.
I wasn’t devastated at being a little bit different to the general populace, I hadn’t fizzled up into a few grains of sand and I was still sat in the same wing back arm chair. The cars outside hadnt paused in response to my diagnosis and the sun was still shining through the Georgian windows. An unbelievable stillness come over me and I think for the first time ever, I felt something that may have been contentment or hope. I continued to listen to my assessment and finally made my way out of room to step back out into the street.
I wandered down the street of Georgian town houses that were once elegant homes. They were almost all consulting rooms that had sprung up in response to our modern illnesses and wondered how I would have been treated years previously.
I was the great grand daughter of a man who had spent 15 years in bed, a man who had gambled away his family’s inheritance on nags and dogs before hiding from the world. He was one of the lucky ones, he had a family who loved him so much they cared for him for fifteen years, while the unlucky ones were sent away to live in secure institutions for the rest of their lives. As I turned a corner, I thanked my lucky stars that I lived in 2013. A time when people were beginning to challenge stigma and discrimination around mental ill health, not that it was anywhere near perfect but it was a good start.
Twelve months previously I had become a volunteer for Time to Change Wales. As an educator I went out to talk to people about my experiences of mental ill health. I had had many different reactions, mostly positive but there were still the odd instance where I would hear the audience discussing the merits of keeping “people like that” in secure medical hospitals.
Who did they mean? People like my great grandad? People like the many thousands of others who overcome mental ill health on a daily basis? People like me?
Two weeks post diagnosis and I still feel incredibly relieved more than anything. I believe people around me have struggled to come to terms with my diagnosis much more than I have. Maybe for a fear of change, fear of the future for them and me. Maybe I’m wrong and my diagnosis hasn’t sunk in yet, but I do firmly believe it is a part of my personality, it’s what makes me, me, and hopefully as I learn to understand it, I can become more confident in my own abilities.
Ultimately I believe that from understanding will come acceptance and at the end of the day if I can look in a mirror and the reflection looking back is me, I’m doing ok. (Well, assuming its a good day!)
Until then, I’ll carry on wearing purple knickers every day, writing a novel a week and embracing my individuality.
Shelley can be found on twitter here