Thursday 18 October 2012

If it worked for me, it might work for him...

Back in 1975 when I was in the Lower Sixth Form at school my own mental health took a nose dive, although in those days it went undiagnosed. For two whole terms I hid from the world, unable to interact with my peers. I was rock bottom depressed, suicidal at times, and used to self-harm (not a lot, but a bit).

I'd flee from social situations and lock myself in my bedroom. I'd avoid school wherever possible with a long list of "illnesses" that meant I had to stay at home. And when I had no choice but to go to school, I pleaded with my mum to let me come home at dinnertime so I didn't have to face socialising. At break times I'd hide behind the lockers or take refuge in the art room. It got to the stage where I couldn't even sit in class comfortably - the urge to flee and hide was so very strong.

As the months went on things became even worse. I'd have sudden extreme angst outbursts - at home and at school - a bit (or a lot) like ED rages. I remember my mum collapsing in a heap of tears, several times, with my dad shouting: "Look what you've done to your mother!"

In those days, I was accused of being selfish - of being too introspective and self-obsessed. That, according to the GP, was the problem.

I drove my family to distraction - and in the end they brought in a counsellor who visited our home in an attempt to turn things around and take my mind off my "own problems and think of other people" instead of myself.

I don't remember any of what she said or did - except the suggestion that I join a club called Phab, for physically handicapped and able bodied young people. As their current website says: "It is a social gathering for people with a physical or mild learning disability together with able-bodied friends... Phab’s aim is to promote and encourage people of all abilities to come together on equal terms, to achieve complete inclusion within the wider community."

So, extremely reluctantly, I went along to Phab for their Friday evening get-together.

It wasn't a success. Not at first, at any rate.

The urge to flee was so strong I'd charge across the large meeting hall and lock myself in the toilets (bathroom) for the rest of the evening. And I did this week after week, until the person in charge persuaded me to come out.

I remember pouring my heart out to her in her office. Everything that had been going on with me over the past months. I felt hugely vulnerable and almost 'naked' confessing everything to a complete stranger. Depressive illnesses like this are such a private thing.

Within no time she'd discovered I played the guitar and arranged for me to teach a group of disabled girls for half an hour every Friday. After that, I could flee back to the toilets if I wanted. But, hey, actually I notice you're good at art - and we need someone to take charge of publicity. How about joining our committee and getting involved? Or maybe you could sit on the door and take subscriptions at the start of the evening? We're desperate for help...

And the rest, as they say, was history.

Of course it wasn't an instant transformation - but gradually transform I did.

By the summer I was part of the 'in crowd' that sat on the table at the back of the hall. We took turns in taking subscriptions. I organised publicity and helped with fund-raising. One of the older girls who had her own flat threw an 18th birthday party for me. I went from strength to strength.

Phab still meets on a Friday evening - same time, same place. And at 3am it came to me that it wouldn't do Ben any harm to give it a go. And, like I was, he would be required to stick it out. Back in 1975 if I'd have had a choice I'd have done a runner after my first visit, 2nd visit, 3rd... But I was told I had to stick it out. And I did.

Now I'm not saying that I think Phab would be good so "selfish" Ben can "think of other people's problems instead of his own". I know that's an out-dated way of thinking. I think it might be good because places like Phab are far more accepting of people with 'issues', whatever those issues may be. And, if it's anything like it was in my day, they'll work actively to help the young person integrate and be useful. Plus, it will get Ben out of the house and into a social situation.

It might just work. Worth a try at any rate...

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