*Edit* – The latest edition of This Week in Mentalists was written by yours truly 🙂 I am feeling pleased with myself, because I’ve always been a bit in awe of the group of bloggers responsible for previous editions. Whoo.
Over the last couple of days I’ve been engaged in a friendly yet slightly frustrating email conversation with my dad – him accusing me of silly things which I’m not guilty of (not intending to get travel insurance for my trip to the USA, for example. I was actually just waiting until my next pay day this week!) and trying to inform me of things I’m already quite aware of, and me insisting that I’m nearly 27 and am quite competent at handling practical matters.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me to realise that this is true. When I was younger my mum used to say that I had the common sense of a cornflake, a statement which seemed nonsensical to me as cornflakes are an eminently sensible breakfast cereal. Even so, I was thrust into the role of the clever-yet-absent-minded one, and any responsibility was usually given to my sister, who is two-and-a-half years younger than me. I suppose I eventually internalised this message, especially since the self destructive behaviours associated with my various illnesses never seemed terribly practical or responsible to either my family or myself. Now I understand them better I would argue otherwise – I was doing my best to survive intolerable stress and pain with the resources I had, and it obviously worked for a while (until it started killing me, that is) because I’m still here – but trying explaining that to someone who hasn’t been there and done that. Especially to my father, who I could (unfairly?) accuse of having an emotional range which seems limited to angry-with-the-state-of-the-country and stressed-out-about-money. I don’t know, maybe he has hidden depths. He’s a nice person and he loves me, we just find each other difficult to understand.
But anyway, that surprising development of practical skills I mentioned. I think this is probably part of the process of catching up on everything I missed when I was ill. People are “supposed” to learn the skills of independent living in their late teens and early 20s, but being an agoraphobic anorexic kind of gets in the way of that sort of thing. It was only last year that I learnt about paying bills, contacting landlords with problems, dealing with difficult housemates, making friends with people I’d not met online, taking care of myself when unwell and alone, taking care of myself when depressed and alone, creatively draping wet clothes on radiators in the absence of a tumble-drier, using google maps to find unknown places rather than freaking out and hyperventilating when lost, finding a new house to move into, dealing with an infestation of slugs in the bathroom (okay, this is an important life skill which no one even hinted might be necessary) and so on. Being quite a logical person in the first place – when it came to physics and maths, if not the rest of life – I seem to have picked these things up quite quickly.
My boss believes I am up to the responsibility of entertaining 40 residents with an average age of 90 by myself. I work to my own schedule, think up my own activities, I get to plan Christmas and other major holidays, I made nearly £300 on the summer fayre which again, was my responsibility. The charity I work for think I’m responsible enough to go into schools and give teenagers accurate and safe information about eating disorders. They thought enough of me to have me as a speaker at their AGM. The carer’s organisation I help out values my thoughts enough to put me on one of the panels at their conference in November. And I trust myself enough to be responsible for my mental health – to know when I can cope with a problem by myself and when it’s time to ask for help. For the longest time I couldn’t look after myself, let alone keep a paid job, three voluntary positions, a flat and a host of professional and personal relationships.
I don’t think of it as growing up, because that implies that unwell-Katie was immature. The presence of mental illness in a person does not mean they are fundamentally lacking in maturity, and would recover if they would just learn a few skills and think about things differently – although in terms of effect rather than cause, any kind of chronic condition can interfere with social and emotional development. No – I think it’s more that now my brain isn’t preoccupied with surviving until tomorrow it has enough energy and space to deal with all those less essential issues, like making sure there’s enough toilet paper in the house, remembering to set the alarm clock and being a kick-ass activist.
I’m a responsible, practical, valuable person. I don’t think my dad will ever quite get used to that 😉