When my daughter was sixteen and battling chronic anxiety which made school practically impossible for her, our GP referred her for counselling. She took her time to do her make up and dress in her unique, slightly goth/punk style and sat in front of three female mental health professionals to answer their questions and thus, she fooled them all.
Poised, articulate, appearing calm, the team did not look past this and after her ‘gateway consultation’ pronounced her ‘perfectly fine’. Asperger’s Syndrome did not even enter their vocabulary. They did not understand the storm raging beneath my daughter’s rigidly stiff exterior as she faced three strangers with all eyes on her.
Instead, they decided that she would ‘get over’ her teenage angst (no doubt due to her parents divorcing, they said), and told her that she certainly didn’t need to be ‘stigmatised’ with any kind of mental health label.
My daughter’s response was to vehemently disagree with them, protesting that she had ‘always felt different’ and knew that ‘something wasn’t right’. She wanted help but they offered none.
And so my daughter slipped through the cracks and struggled on for another nightmare two years. By the time she was eighteen and by no small miracle having completed sixth form college, yet sufficiently broken that she was unable to attend university or look for work, she was forced to attend the Job Centre.
It was a Work Psychologist there who identified her as needing referral for further evaluation; at last, our GP took us seriously and referred my daughter to the Asperger Specialist Team. After an almost six month-long diagnostic process, my daughter was ‘stigmatised’ with the label of having Asperger’s Syndrome.
But for us it was a relief, because with her diagnosis, she was able to gain access to a system designed to provide her with the benefits and support she so desperately needs.
Yes, a good, strong family life is all important, but financial limitations need practical solutions too. The stigma of having a mental health condition should not exist in the first place. But it does, even in our educated and should-know-better society.
Not everyone on benefits is a work-shy, lazy, good for nothing welfare scrounger, Mr Prime Minister.
For this week’s flash fiction challenge, Charli writes about her diagnosed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and that of her husband, ‘Ranger Mills’, who fought for his country in Grenada as a parachutist in the Army and who also suffers from PTSD.
The difference for him is that the American VA (Veteran’s Administration) has not given him his formal diagnosis and without that, he cannot access the benefits to which he is entitled. Charli is his advocate, and she has his back. She will fight for and with him and won’t let go.
Her prompt, therefore, asks:
‘August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another. What circumstances led up to this moment? What are the character motives? Think about the interaction, the setting, the tone. What does it look like to have another’s back?’
I won’t let go either. But sometimes it gets lonely as a carer and an advocate. Sometimes we too need help and support, someone to come alongside, take our hand, and guide us through when we are overwhelmed. Mental and physical exhaustion afflicts us too, but we don’t like to say too much about that because we have to be strong for the person we love and care for.
Help, however, can come in surprising ways, reminding us that someone is looking out for us, whether or not it’s their job to do so. I hope Mr & Mrs Ranger Mills find that help along the way, just as I have, from time to time.
With this in mind, here is my flash, in 99 words no more, no less (needless to say, it’s another BOTS – Based On A True Story):
The questions had started out basic but became more complex with every turn of the page.
Write in as much detail as possible the applicant’s difficulties with everyday tasks.
She sighed and ran her hands through her unwashed hair as she glanced up at her kitchen clock. Damn. Already noon and still she hadn’t showered.
Her phone vibrated, she jumped.
“Mrs Martin? This is Dee Caldwell, the Council Welfare Officer. I had a message to call you about helping fill out some forms for your daughter. When can I visit?”
Someone had her back. Someone cared just enough.