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This post was nearly called “The Gasman Cometh”.

Twas on a Tuesday morning that I tried to make a call

Wanted to see a doctor, since my moods had took a fall

The receptionist wasn’t helpful, she just hurried me along

And I can’t get to the walk in, so I must call “One one one”.

Oh it all costs money so the Tories can complain…

Twas by the Tuesday dinner time, I reached NHS Direct

They’re not always good on mental, so I didn’t know what to expect

The dispatcher was pleasant, but he didn’t have a clue

So he passed to to a specialist, since she’d know what to do

Oh it all costs money so the Tories can complain…

Twas Tuesday after dinner when the specialist replied

“I have to ask the questions, love” she said “My hands are tied”

I answered pretty truthfully, I wasn’t at my worst

But she sent the paramedics, without even asking first!

Oh it all costs money so the Tories can complain…

Twas Tuesday afternoon the Paramedic reached my door

I apologised for all the fuss, but she’d seen it all before

She believed that I was safe, and that Direct had got it wrong

But a second ambulance arrived – we’d talked for too damn long.

Oh it all costs money so the Tories can complain…

Twas Tuesday afternoon again, a little before three

The paramedic volunteered to phone my bloody GP

It took her half an hour and she had to raise her voice

But they’ll call me back this evening, ’cause they didn’t have much choice

Oh it all costs money so the Tories can complain…

And now it’s Tuesday evening, and although I hate to moan

I’m right back where I started, bloody waiting by the phone.

Normal service resumed

And finally this morning a letter arrived in the post from the Community Pain Team, talking about their waiting list for psychotherapy/CBT for pain (Yes, that waiting list that I’ve been on since before this blog started).

No, it’s not a letter saying “You are now definitely getting an appointment, here’s the date!” it’s a letter saying “Please ring us and tell us if you still want to be on this waiting list.”

Yes, I do still want to be on this waiting list. I am currently on a LOT of ambiguously long waiting lists;

CBT for pain

Specialist surgeon, hips

Physiotherapy, hands

Physiotherapy, general

Getting a pre-A+E checklist

Stanmore

And that’s just the ones I can remember.

Some sort of psychotherapy will definitely do me good. This week has been lost in a blur of nothingness and self-harm and feeling guilty about needing to be cared for. Disturbingly, non-suicidal self harm seems to temporarily numb the pain I’m experiencing in my joints. I don’t want it to be my coping mechanism. I need to work on it. My seasonal issues are in full-swing right now (The clocks go back tonight, so this isn’t a shock. It’s still sad.) Very difficult reminding myself that I want to be alive right now.

In other news – My disability bus pass has arrived, and thus I’ve got my council card to get cheap swimming (£2.20 per session now, to spend forty-five minutes to an hour in the local pool, which never has more than about seven people in it, and is never less than a pleasant 30 degrees (written as 86 Fahrenheit on its ancient pool thermometer). For two nights a week, I swim lengths in the open sessions, and as the lanes begin to empty near the end of the hours, I begin to walk instead of swimming, slowing down and working harder, the water taking most of my weight and making falls an inconvenience rather than a nightmare, reminding my back how to carry my weight and my knees how to progress without buckling. After that, when I get out, I shake for hours and need morphine to get as far as wrapping myself in a towel. On a Sunday afternoon, I either spend forty five minutes being privately coached in technique on the four main strokes, or share the pool with at most three other people. On a Friday night, the lane ropes are taken out, and I have the chance to float gently or turn cartwheels in four-metre-deep water. I’ve been going regularly since Spring, and I can feel myself getting better. I still can’t walk on land, and I’m getting no closer to that, but my hundred metre freestyle is creeping down below the 1-minute mark, and I’m looking fitter again. I may be horribly underweight and never more than ten feet from enough morphine to kill myself, but my shoulders and thighs are looking fuller, and my stomach and back radiate clean heat when I curl up in bed after a long swim.

And the final bit of news, I suppose, is that my disability benefits have arrived. I was awarded higher rate for both mobility and home living, meaning that in the eyes of the government I am a very, very ill pigeon. And I can use that to pay for the things that I need most to make my life worthwhile – First, better bedding and better lighting (An electric blanket and a SAD light of my own), then a cleaner and possibly a carer, cheap and edible food, and, absolutely definitely, taxi fares to go places. To meet my friends. To go to the pub. To get to the fifty-metre international pool outside the city and absolutely cane it.

And an old friend from Before has got in touch, which is bizarrely reminding me that I am still me, despite feeling like an empty shell nowadays.

I’m a psycho, get me out of here.

Ah, Halloween is coming up, and the usual bullshit-go-round is springing into action. Every year, there’s dozens of costumes, theme park events, haunted houses and the like based around the idea of the “Scary mental patient”. And every year mental health charities, people with mental illnesses, service users, doctors and other mental health professionals step in and say something along the lines of the following;

“Please, stop making ‘scary mental patient’ costumes. Mental illness is a real issue affecting real people, and one of the things which makes mental ill-health so difficult to deal with is the fact that the most popular mental image of someone with a mental illness is a man in an anti-bite mask and a straitjacket. You know the look;

[Image: Man in an orange jumpsuit with a barcode, with shackles and a rubber mask with bars over the mouth, captioned “Adult Skitzo Costume”

skitzo

And there’s plenty more;

thumbnailps

[Image of five men, one in an orange boiler suit with a rubber mask, two in black and white straitjackts and masks, two in white strait jackets]

There’s plenty of examples (These are all from one site) for both binary genders;

abby

[Picture of a woman in a white dress with a black wig, a poppet, and a hospital wristband. The text says;

Our creepy Abby Normal Costume is the perfect choice for Halloween and even comes complete with a stuffed doll! Costume includes wristband, dress, stuffed doll. The Abby Normal Costume includes a white dress printed with grey stains and black biohazard symbols. The dress is decorated with black ribbon bows down the front and a black waistband.

Also included is a wristband with the name ‘Abby Normal’ printed on it and a stuffed doll.”]

So, you know, this is a conceit that the website selling them, Joke.co.uk, is quite behind. The original section they were in was called “Psychos and schizos” and was helpfully labelled with;

“Welcome to our asylum of Lunatics and Psychos costumes, all waiting to escape from the grips of our warehouse this Halloween. Away from the fictional world of zombies and werewolves, the human character can be terrifying or even more so than any other monster seen at Halloween. Make a change from your standard ghost and devil outfits, which people are just not scared of any more, by choosing a piece from this great collection of psychological horror costumes. You may know twisted characters you want to become, or you may just be looking for a little inspiration, whatever your reason for looking through this category you can be reassured that you will be getting one of the most innovative and up to date costume designs on the market today. Release your crazy side for an unforgettable fright night this Halloween.”

Which they’ve now, sensitively, changed to;

Psycho Costumes

Welcome to our collection of Psycho costumes, all waiting to escape from the grips of our warehouse this Halloween. Make a change from your standard ghost and devil outfits, which people are just not scared of any more, by choosing a piece from this great collection of psychological horror costumes. You may know which character you want to become, or you may just be looking for a little inspiration, whatever your reason for looking through this category you can be reassured that you will be getting a costume for an unforgettable fright night this Halloween.”

Though they do still have all the same costumes in place.

A petition was started, which has drawn the support of Joke’s local MP, Norman Lamb, which Joke have responded to with;

“Since Sunday, Jokers’ Masquerade has received a rifled attack of disrespectful tweets, emails and phone calls, attacking the business and staff members. As a company, we feel this is wholly unacceptable. Personnel have had to contend with abusive comments, blasphemous and expletive remarks. Why? The simple fact that over the early part of this week, a core of incestuous Tweeters who parade as “Activists”, a “Masked vigilante” and one Bio which boasts “Angry on the Internet since 1997”, among professional doctors, teachers and charities have taken it upon themselves to voice discontent via Twitter in the name of mental health. Their concern? They take offence at the so called “straitjackets” and “psycho” themed outfits stocked within our Halloween portfolio.”

And in the rest of their “apology” they proudly state that they still sell Golliwog costumes and Jimmy Saville costumes, because, well, some members of the public still want them. And anyone who is actually hurt by these costumes can… Well, they’re not too clear on that. Maybe just stop worrying about their own safety, and instead feel incredibly sorry for Joke who might not make as much money.

And then the personal attacks started, which at first seemed to be all by members of Joke’s staff, but are now just general-purpose trolls who are horrified at the fact that people might prefer not to have an unalterable part of their identity turned into a halloween costume.

Let me start again, on a bit of a “why this bothers me” note;

I’m psychotic. I’ve had several episodes over the past few years of serious psychosis, in which I’ve seen, heard, felt and believed things that weren’t really there. I’ve hallucinated, in short. I’ve been convinced that everyone I know is planning to replace me. I’ve seen rats where there can be no rats. I’ve dug into my hip socket with a scalpel, to try to cut out the pain caused by my EDS. I’ve drank whole bottles of morphine and dug into my wrists, in an attempt to die.

I’ve sat in a taxi after being discharged from hospital into the care of my best friend, bandaged up to the elbows, wearing the pyjamas I was found in, wrapped in a blanket to keep the chill out, desperately trying to hide the hospital wristband that marked me out as a suicide risk, which I’d not been able to cut off because I wasn’t allowed scissors, so that the driver wouldn’t see it and know I was a psycho.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves to be forward-thinking and tolerant describe hateful people as “bipolar” and belligerent ones as “schizo”. I’ve heard “And then he WENT MAD” as a plot device to indicate that someone has become more dangerous or more evil so many times that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’ve heard “Well, he was a bit touched in the head” as the sole explanation for so many violent crimes, that I find it difficult to remember that I am not an evil, hateful person.

Hate crimes against the mentally ill are increasing. Yes, you can’t “see” what’s wrong with us, not in our faces and our bodies, but you all asume that you knkow what “mental” looks like, and you vilify it at every turn. You cross the road to avoid the man talking to himself. You stare at the woman crying in public. You hurry your children past the person with visible self-harm scars, and tell them later that that person was a terrible tragedy, and should be pitied, or that that person is dangerous and should be avoided. Or you mockingly pretend to cut yourself with a butter knife and say “I’m so emo!” These aren’t the big problem though – The big problem is when you spit at us in the street, or throw bricks through our windows, or spraypaint “SKITZO” on our front doors, or surround us in packs and beat us. When you prefer not to hire us as employees and assume that we can’t care for our own children.

To enough of you, we’re close enough to the silver screen caricature of a “psycho” that you can’t even think of us as human.

I have days sometimes where I look in the mirror and think “Christ almighty, I look like a mental patient”. It’s never a good thing. It’s when my hair is a mess, and my eyes are lost in dark circles, and my clothes are filthy. I know what a mental patient looks like, because I’ve seen them on TV. I never think of my old co-worker at the university, who took citalopram every day for as long as I knew her, and loved Newfoundland dogs and 60s fashion. I never think of my old sensei, forcibly sectioned for months at a stretch, who drove like a boy racer despite her three kids and her job as a schools inspector. I never think of the dozens of perfectly normal, loving, supportive, sweet people who have, over the years, vouched to me that they’ve been there, that I’m not the worst they’ve seen, and that they can speak from firsthand experience about how awful the thing is that I’m going through, and have all the empathy and sorrow in the world for me.

Costumes like the ones above reinforce the stigma. That means that they reinforce the idea that “mentals” are frightening people who aren’t quite like “us”, by continuing to propogate the image of a “mental patient” as someone who is dangerous and frightening, but also ridiculous. By doing that, they make actual people with mental health issues – especially the “frightening” mental health issues, like schizophrenia, psychosis (not actually a condition – a symptom of a lot of them), personality disorders and bipolar – less likely to be open about their problems, for fear of backlash, and they make people who have no contact at all with the mentally ill more likely to assume (even if only subconciously) that people with mental illnesses are dangerous.

Joke.co.uk assures us that “When Jokers’ Masquerade think of straitjackets and asylums we think of the novel “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” by Ken Kesey, Batman’s chief antagonist ‘The Joker’ being confined to Arkham Asylum and Harry Houdini performing superhuman escapology feats. We certainly do not see mental patients and we believe our customers can tell the difference too!”

But, let’s be honest – The Joker wouldn’t have been confined in an asylum if the public when he was created didn’t already think of asylums and mental patients as being frightening (The idea of asylum-as-freakshow has been around since the Victorians paid a few pennies a time to watch the inmates at Bedlam), One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was a protest, to an extent, about how mental patients were treated and portrayed (Does anyone else get the feeling that they had just vaguely heard of the film, googled it, and then decided to cite the book to sound more classy?) and none of the straitjacket costumes are actually marketed as “Escapologist costumes”.

In short – Costumes of caricatured mental patients make sense, as costumes, because there are strong cultural connotations attached. Nobody dresses up as an electrician for halloween, because there is no stigma attached to being an electrician. Nobody dresses up as a kidney transplant candidate, because there’s no public consensus as to what someone in acute renal failure looks like. Mental patient costumes work because people think that mental patients are frightening, funny, and notably “not just like other people”. This perception, obviously, harms real people with mental illnesses.

So these are some of the conversations I’ve had lately with, well, trolls. People who firmly believe that they are in the “right”, to be fighting all the way to the knuckle to defend their right to dress up as psychos, against a nasty, oppressive cabal of mental health service users who want to be able to walk down the street without being spat at by teenagers.

mavisstott

Which is basically “It’s not illegal! So I’m going to do it!”

A bit of “I can’t tell the difference between someone’s identity, and mocking someone’s identity!” or possibly “My identity is being offensive! Nyah!”

blueboi87

And the absolute nadir;

actual harrassment

Which, well, it pretty much sums it up really.

These are people who are crude unto the point of tedium, and if Joke.co.uk and their ilk want to be a ” law abiding, ethical and honest family run business” (That’s from their own press release) they have to consider if they really want to be represented by people who say things like;

deadbeat

Our arguments;

1) Costumes like these are harmful to the mentally ill, because they encourage people to attack/other us.

2) Costumes like these are harmful to the mentally ill, because they make it more difficult for us to seek help.

3) Costumes like these are harmful to society, as they posit that the mentally ill aren’t part of society.

Their arguments;

1) But my freedom of speech!

2) It’s funny! Get a life!

3) If you say we can’t dress up as psychos, next you’ll be saying we can’t wear blackface!

Anyway, I’m just rambling now. It’s late, I’m annoyed, and I’ll fix this later.