There are times when I find myself bewildered by events and today was one of those days when I really wasn’t expecting events to unfold in the way they did. I had seen a few weeks ago an invite on social media to an open day at a peer led user support organisation in the city close to where I live. It immediately attracted my attention as I really feel it’s the right time for me to start engaging with such services in my own area.
The organisation were keen to promote their day and I was keen to attend, so this morning I ventured 14 miles from my village to Chester. After difficulties finding the venue which had resulted in my going around in circles for a good half an hour as I dealt with Chester’s roads and it’s one way system I managed to make my way in.
I expected I guess to be welcomed at the door, that people would be chatty and helpful. I hoped I would find out more about the services they offered and other organisations which use the venue. I didn’t expect to feel ignored, judged and isolated but that’s exactly how I felt within a very short time.
There was no one greeting people as they arrived and no one to talk too either, some people who clearly knew one another sat engrossed in conversations as they ate their lunch at the far end of the room seeming somehow distant. Whilst the professionals stood huddled together hovering nearer to the exits, as if service users and mental health and social care professionals couldn’t mix. They eyed me with an air of caution, I did wonder if I had three heads that made me stand out as they looked so concerned.
In the end after studying the display boards and looking at service users art I decided it was time to leave. I felt so upset that no one wanted to even talk to me, what was wrong with me that people couldn’t even say hello. As I walked down the street I felt the tears begin to flow down my face and had to try and deal with so many mixed emotions of various parts of me.
I sat on a nearby street for quite a while, trying hard to ensure that those parts of me who were clearly very upset felt reassured and safe. I also needed to feel settled and less distressed before I could venture home. If I’m honest I was quite shocked by how this situation had made me feel, why should the fact people ignored me make me so distressed. I kept trying to think had something reminded me of past events, was there any other trigger, but I couldn’t make sense of things.
I thought perhaps people saw me as different, I mean I might not have three heads visible but I do have a complex dissociative disorder and most people I meet for the very first time, well they’ve never heard of this diagnosis before. I know I have found in the past that there is a fear of the unknown and part of the reasons behind starting this blog was to dispel the myths and scepticism that surround Dissociative Identity Disorder. But I didn’t even get chance to say my name, let alone discuss any mental health related topic. So unless I had literally grown three heads suddenly or switched in a very obvious manner I realised it wasn’t my diagnosis that had caused this situation.
As I made my way home I began to reflect on the split between service users and professionals, why is it that the two groups find it so hard to be seen as one collective body interested in Mental Health services. I thought about the service users who were in that room who didn’t engage with me either, were they struggling or feeling as isolated as I was. Most service users I have met have been far more friendly, more engaging, but I also know it’s not always easy if you’re feeling nervous or more vulnerable.
Perhaps some of the professionals lack of engagement is as a result of situations like today, I’m sure if people had encouraged and initiated an interactive dialogue between the groups of service users and professionals in that room today we’d see a change in attitudes. Professionals wouldn’t be so blinkered and service users like me would be less likely to fear the people, who many of us feel hold far too much power. The medicalised model of Mental Health has led me to fear many doctors, nurses and other professionals who at one point in my life controlled everything. I’m even anxious currently at facing my upcoming CPA simply because it’s being held on NHS territory.
Today’s events bothered me and they could have been avoided I’m certain of that, if only a bit more thought and consideration of people’s needs had been taken into account by those organising the event. If only I’d been welcomed, greeted at the door and even introduced to others in the room. Then I would have felt welcome and I’d have wanted to use this service week in and week out, I’d have contributed too. I’m keen to expand my involvement in such organisations not just to take out but to give back too. I’m sure those who run this service tried hard to organise their event and yet sadly failed to think about a simple greeting system.
I know organising an event like this isn’t easy, I’m a trustee of a charity and we make sure we welcome every new and existing member at each and every event we hold. It’s just a natural part of what the charity does and maybe that’s why it hit me so hard today when things went array. My expectations were perhaps of the same kind of welcome I know I give out to people who attend any event I’m involved in facilitating.
I doubt I will get the chance to go back to this organisation it will certainly be hard given parts of me feel rejected and judged by them. I doubt my tweets about what happened will even get a response as organisations rarely take criticism well, even if it’s constructive feedback. I feel that’s a shame my views are honest and fair and I’m not judging anyone, it’s just what happened and perhaps this was an oversight. But I can’t help wondering how many other people ventured into that building today as prospective new users of a valuable service and walked away feeling more isolated, distressed and hurt.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014