Today has reminded me of one of the most useless and hurtful things someone said to me. Picture the scene, if you will. I had been referred to a CPN (community psychiatric nurse) after attempting suicide. It was our first meeting and I was being assessed to see what help and support I needed. Part of that involved a risk assessment and part of it involved talking about why I had tried to kill myself. I'd just finished talking about the child abuse, the rapes, the eating disorders and the anxiety about everything ever. It was at this point that my CPN reached out, placed a comforting hand on my arm and looked into my eyes, her own brimming with sincerity and stated 'if I had your life I'd try to kill myself too.'
I think she was trying to express sympathy with the way I was feeling, trying to let me know that she understood where I was coming from and that it was OK for me to feel that way. I get it, she had the best of intentions. Yet here's the thing. I already knew how bad my situation was - that's why I was there, trying to find another better option than suicide to change it. What I didn't need to be told was that actually, my life really was so appalling it wasn't worth living. Thankfully she was able to arrange for me to see people better equipped than she was to help me out.
So, why has this whole experience reared it's ugly head again? I'll tell you. It's because of this post. It's because today I was reminded that we live in a society where a large number of people think being disabled is so awful they'd rather be dead than live with a disability. It's because we live in a society where people think it's OK to tell other people that they think they'd be better of dead. OK, so I don't think most people realise that's what they're saying, but it is.
If you tell someone you'd rather be dead than live their life then you're saying you don't think their life is one worth living. I can tell you first hand that being told that hurts. That being made to feel you should want to be dead is no fun at all - particularly if you already feel that way.
I was lucky. There were people around who felt that my life was worth saving, there were services around which provided me with the help and support I needed to realise that myself. To help me get to a point where I could look at my life and say 'well, I live in pain everyday which sucks but there are benefits to being alive which make dealing with the pain worthwhile.' Without that help and support, from mental health services and from friends and family I wouldn't be here today. I absolutely believe that.
Now I can't help but wonder what the situation would have been if I was not only severely depressed but also had a physical impairment. Would those services still have helped me? Would people still have been so supportive and determined to help me see I had reasons to live? Or would the combination of mental illness and physical impairment have been considered too much for anyone to live with?
Human beings are amazingly adaptive. Seriously. We do all kinds of things every day to make our lives work. If we move to another country we learn the language to enable better communication. If we find ourselves in pain we take medication to ease it. If we lose someone close to us we grieve, but we survive their loss. As a teen and well into adulthood I experienced a lot of emotional distress and I dealt with it, not always in ways that other people would recognise as healthy or well adapted but in ways that nonetheless allowed me to keep going. When those ways became problematic, I was given help to find new ways of coping and was able to carry on with my life.
If you have a disability, you might need to find ways to manage it. Such as using mobility aids, having your house adapted or taking medication to help with pain and bodily functions. The point is that it's possible to manage your disability and live with it. We know this because people do it every single day. People lead productive, fulfilling and worth while lives AND have a disability. Because a disability doesn't mean your life isn't worth living. Except when people make it so, by denying access to places, services or necessary equipment and treatment. By treating people like they aren't people because they have a disability. Or by telling someone they are better off dead.
Rant over for now. Thanks for reading.