Monday, 24 September 2007

Fighting the good fight

At the end of my street - a typical, London, Victorian terraced street - lies a fairly main road, full of hustle and bustle at any given hour of any given morning. People coming and going, running with cardboard cups of overpriced coffee in one hand while the other wrestles simultaneously with an umbrella and an Oyster Card as the bus approaches.

Sometimes I sit in the cafe at the end of my road and watch, and wonder. Where are they going? What are they doing with their day? Why is it so important, and what could possibly be so pressing? And is it OK that life is different for me?

Modern medicine is all about the conventional. The success of a treatment for a mental health issue is judged not in terms of quality of life for the patient, but on how well a suited and bespectacled consultant, who only knows you by a series of medical notes passed to him by someone else who may have seen you for ten minutes in the past year, judges you to have 'returned to normal life'.

This usually means 'returning to work.'

"Oh yes, he made it back to work within five months - isn't that marvellous?!?!"

Well yes, of course, if that's what the patient wants. But why? Who is it that decides the benchmark by which a normal life should be measured?

Maybe I've been 'better' all along. Maybe it's OK that I live my life like this. Maybe I don't have to force myself to take part in something into which I do not feel I fit, as long as I do not hurt another human being, morally or financially, by not doing so.

Maybe I don't need to earn all that money to live, to be content. Maybe all I need to do is the bare minimum in order to get by.

How many people, I wonder, entertain fantasies of living on a desert island, away from civilisation and with reposibility for no-one and nothing other than oneself? "Hermit" and "recluse" take on an air of the glamourous, while "agoraphobe" does not have quite the same ring.

But really, where's the difference?

The difference is the giving of the diagnostic label and the medicalisation of the vast variety of the human condition, whereupon that idyllic lifestyle that we all seek becomes something to be treated, to be drugged, to be ridiculed.

Maybe, to the man on the street juggling the coffee and the umbrella and the Oyster card, it's not normal to want to spend every day cocooned in your flat, writing, conversing with people you care about, avoiding the gut-wrenching fear of day-to-day responsibility, but maybe it's normal for me. I am not sitting here every hour of every day, tearing my hair out in frustration at the restrictions my condition places upon me - until I have occasion to have to fight against them - and maybe that's because that's just who I am. And maybe fighting against them is what is feeding the anxiety.

And I wonder - what would happen if I just stopped fighting?


Anonymous said...

I was told that I've been living 'as a recluse' recently - in a way, it hurt more than if I'd been told I was agoraphobic, perhaps because I've learned from this blog that agoraphobia is far more real than I suppose I originally thought. To be called a recluse or a hermit somehow seems a bit 'pathetic' - there's no actual reason for not being a part of society, tempting as it sounds.

I find that giving up and not fighting only tends to make things worse. However, I can't really talk. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Hermit" and "recluse" take on an air of the glamourous, while "agoraphobe" does not have quite the same ring.

But really, where's the difference?

It seems to me, though I may be wrong, that the difference in perception between someone who buys a tropical island and lives alone there and an agoraphobe stems from the idea that the 'hermit' chose to stay there. There is a sense that they could be one of the coffee-carrying rushers if they wanted to in a way that the agoraphobe can't.

That's not at all to say that you shouldn't stay in your room if you want and work just enough to keep yourself going. There is no need or reason why everyone shuld be fulfilled by the same things - some people work to live and some live to work. I could rant for hours on 'normal' and what that is, but perhaps you should rephrase it as what's 'helpful' or 'healthy' for you. So whilst it might not be helpful or healthy for you to work 12 hour days in a high-flying company (fr'instance), it's probably not helpful or healthy either if you can't go outside, meet new people, go shopping. There's a middle way there somewhere.



An Unreliable Witness said...

"... it's not normal to want to spend every day cocooned in your flat, writing, conversing with people you care about, avoiding the gut-wrenching fear of day-to-day responsibility, but maybe it's normal for me."

I am trying to think of something to say, but at the moment all I can do is *sigh*.

Right, okay. Pull myself together.

This not only chimes with so many of my thoughts - the ones that occupy my mind when I am busy getting stressed out by the demands of another day behind a desk (significantly, of course, not my desk at home, in my room, in my cocoon), but also takes me back to that month and a half I spent trying to fight to get out of hospital and return home.

"But you won't be able to get out of your room if you're at home, not until you have your prosthetic leg."

"Well, doctor. I'm a borderline recluse. I'll have books, the internet, music, online friends and visiting friends, home comforts, proper food - what sounds so wrong with that?"

"But what about socialising? You'll go stir crazy. Now if you went to this nice residential home, you'd be able to go out in your wheelchair and look round the main street of Stockwell."

[Pause, whilst I remember the joys of Stockwell with a nauseous feeling of doom]

"Er. Thanks."

Ani said...

I think Sxx got it right. The difference is that a recluse is considered merely eccentric and usually has more than enough wealth to fund their chosen 'lifestyle'. And in our society, as long as you have the funds to pay for it, well you can do a lot of things, can't you?

I think the difficulty is in knowing which "quirks" are simply a part of your personality and which are being hoisted upon you by whatever mental condition you happen to have. I am usually quite comfortable being a hermit but when I want to (for example) go shopping and find that I just can't, I know there's something wrong.

Oh dear. I fear your encouraging and though-provoking writing has led me to say too much. :)

[But seriously, thank you.]

Migraineur said...

Oh, Ani hit it on the head: the difference is money. If you were rich enough that you didn't need to work for a living, people would envy you instead of pitying you.

Sad, ain't it?

bohémienne said...

Okay, yes, I understand what others have said about money making that choice possible, but we see every day people opting out, getting by without earning money. Does that mean that they depend on social programs? Maybe. It certainly means that they make do with less. Is this a valid way to live? I really don't see why not. Because something is not conventional doesn't mean it's not right for someone.

I'm not a recluse; I'm not agoraphobic. I am shy and occasionally socially awkward, but I realize that is not the same at all. On the other hand, the idea of a deserted island has great appeal to me... but it isn't money that stops my escape, it's not choosing to go against expectations.

You have a choice. Neither answer is wrong, in my opinion. If you decide to opt out and stop fighting, why not?

Ani said...

It's not just that money makes the choice to become a recluse possible, it's that it also influences the perceptions of others for better or worse. That is not to say that any choice is right or wrong, just that all choices have consequences you then have to deal with.

I imagine that when you are agoraphobic (and Miss V, please correct me if I'm wrong) some choices are no longer an option for you. I think that's when the default option feels thrust upon you and it becomes a fight. At which point, I think the question at the end of this post is a really, really good one to ask.

Anonymous said...

I got married so I could live a reclusive lifestyle. I quit my job, I stay at home with the curtains closed. I do a lot of reading, researching various topics on the internet, and thinking up excuses to avoid social situations. I don't have panic attacks. I just don't want to be around anyone. When I have to be, I can manage, but it leaves me totally wiped out, and I have to have total alone time or a lot of sleep to recover. Yet, I'm happy with my life. I feel safe here.

Anonymous said...

Now the previous post (married person) has started to touch on the introvert & extrovert topic. I don't think that can be ignored in the context of this post ...