Infantilising mental illness (or, I am not a child)

I’ve spoken about this before but the infantilisation of those with mental illness is incredibly unhelpful. And blame can’t lie purely at the door of therapists, although they are definitely frequent offenders. Doctors do it, friends and family do it and we do it to ourselves. Just a glimpse at the main feed of a mental health website I use shows people talking about taking their “doggies” for a walk, posting pictures of themselves with cuddly toys and sharing photos of pastel-coloured cartoons. Although it sounds judgemental, I understand it. It helps some people and that’s fine. But it doesn’t help me and that’s fine too.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that having mental health problems does result in a certain regression. There are days when, like a child, I cry at insignificant things. Once I cried because I had finally dragged myself out of bed by a sudden craving for beans on toast with cheese, cultivated for an hour or so in a bid to motivate myself out from under the covers, only to discover that I was mistaken in my belief that I had some bread. An adult would be a bit disappointed. An adult would put some shoes on and pop to the shop or would scour the cupboards for a suitable alternative meal. I wept with frustration like a small child told they cannot have an ice-cream. I react in a similar way whenever my computer, defeated by the nutty inability to focus resulting in opening and closing documents and tabs at a rate of knots, freezes and once even when my housemate headed into the bathroom just as I had decided I would finally have a shower.

There are days when I eat like a child with irresponsible parents would choose to eat – a self-destructive diet of crisps and chocolates, tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, pastries and fizzy pop all shoved down my throat without pleasure except that of recognising that there are slower ways to kill yourself.

And there are certainly days when I wish I had a responsible adult around to give me a hug and indulge my weakness, my self-pity, my sadness; in other words, someone to look after me.

But I am not a child. I know that I should eat my vegetables, that it’s important to brush my teeth and shower and wear clean clothes and get up every day and face the world. I know I should earn a living and be a productive member of society. I know I should be able to look after myself. Not being able to do that sometimes does not make a child, it makes me ill.

And yet, of course, I still berate myself every time I fall down and revert to the child-adult limbo of depression. And if I can’t convince myself, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that I can’t convince anyone else.

Image result for sad person in bed with teddy

 

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