Sorry I haven’t posted much in ages not been massively busy or anything (school holidays atm) but brain has been a bit of a sieve recently and finding it hard to keep up with basically anything that isn’t running so been half-planning blog posts then never getting round to finishing them so if this is a bit disjointed, that’s why! Thanks for still reading though if you are 🙂
The main thing I wanted to write about in this blog post is frustration about ‘recovery’ (or not being clinically ‘recovered’) and how that impacts over and over on what you want to do with your life but in order to write about that, it would be important to understand exactly what recovery ‘is’ and I realised I still don’t really know. On one level, it’s simple- the OED defines it as “A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength” but that requires an implicit understanding of what ‘normal’ means and anyone with any experience at all of mental health issues in any context will know that that’s impossible to apply universally and doesn’t even exist as a yardstick to measure from.
Another definition would be the absence of symptoms or ‘illness’ but again that’s really difficult with mental health because everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety, depression, paranoia etc at some point and there’s no real way to decide what’s ‘normal’ and what’s ‘illness’. I heard someone say recently that recovery isn’t the absence of symptoms but it’s when your symptoms don’t bother you any more, which I like as a concept and in everyday life that’s probably the most useful definition I’ve come across but it still doesn’t help when you’re got a clinical diagnosis (or diagnoses) of specific mental health issues that you still show enough symptoms of to meet the criteria so can’t be classified as ‘recovered’ even if you have managed to build up enough coping strategies or techniques that it doesn’t significantly impact your day-to-day life. I wrote a blog post about similar ideas a few months ago- see 21/05/07: probably the most significant day of my life. Reflections a decade on… if you’re interested. So complicated and frustrating!!
The reason I’m thinking about this so much at the moment (and this week in particular) is because I applied to foster a couple of months ago and found out yesterday that the application was unsuccessful because of my medical reference which wasn’t that surprising as I’ve had issues with occupational health before when I’ve applied for certain jobs and had the job offer withdrawn due to medical references, but it’s still really frustrating and disappointing. It’s partly the frustration of medical (mental health) issues continually getting in the way of things I’m really, genuinely passionate about and want to do with my life but also anger because I know I’m mentally more stable over the last few years than I have ever been and I really don’t know what more I can do to prove that to people. Anger at myself for not having managed to ‘recover’ from a clinical perspective but also (horribly, because I hate feeling angry at other people) anger at the whole system and how restrictive it is. I know I could be a good foster carer and I genuinely would put the child’s needs above anything else. It’s what I try to do in every job I’ve ever had- child/young person/service user’s needs are absolute priority and that’s the main ‘rule’ in my life and being totally honest, it’s the main reason I’m still trying to get rid of the horrible parts of my brain because it would be so much easier just to accept it and go along with everything the bitch in my head tells me but I try so hard not to and to be ‘normal’ as much as I can because of the impact that could have on kids I work with or who I’m close to. Which makes it doubly frustrating when as far as health professionals are concerned, it’s like I’ve not managed anything at all.
The other side to the situation is the fact that I really, really, REALLY want to have kids. I know it’s something most people want at some point in their lives and sometimes it doesn’t work out for various reasons, but since I was really little I’ve wanted lots of kids and I’d give up anything else to be able to have them. To me, it’s the point of being an adult and probably the only benefit to it. There’s already the complication of being asexual and never being in a relationship which is something I can’t see ever changing because I’ve genuinely never experienced sexual or romantic attraction to anyone, and the idea of having sex with anyone makes me feel physically sick. Then there’s the other problem of having had an eating disorder for 17 years; I still have very irregular periods, I’m not sure how fertile I would be even if I was sexually active and I also know that with my current food intake, it could be potentially dangerous for an unborn baby so would have to make some drastic changes although I think that pregnancy would be a massive motivator for this because the baby would have to come first.
Adoption or fostering seemed the only option which is why it’s so upsetting that it’s not a possibility. The woman who assessed me was lovely and suggested voluntary organisations which support young people in care and I have applied to volunteer for, but it’s not the same as actually having the parent-style responsibility and relationship with the young person which is what I really, really want. It’s hard to describe because I don’t really know what the feeling is it’s like an intense need to ‘give’ to and care for another person in a way that’s more than childcare or friendship- I want to be able to fully support someone and for their needs to be my absolute priority, which I know sounds weird and it’s not exactly what I’m trying to say but I have no idea how to phrase it.
I work with kids and have done for years which I absolutely love and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to develop very close bonds with kids and young people, but it’s not the same as being the main caregiver for someone and having that sort of bond with them even though I know that parenting in any form is hard and isn’t always a positive experience. But even if it’s not, I still want to give it a try- I get really upset when people say things like ‘it’s hard being a parent, you’re lucky you can give the kids back, you wouldn’t feel like that if you had your own’ etc because actually I WANT the challenges of parenthood, I hate having to ‘give kids back’ and (I know this is horrible) I get really, really jealous of parents’ relationships with their kids even when they’re arguing because I really want that sort of bond and to know that even if someone is angry at you at that particular moment, you’re still their parent and there’s still an unconditional bond there which won’t go away just because they’re upset. I’m not being naive or thinking that parenting is easy or anything like that; I just really, really want to be a parent. I’m 30 now and have wanted kids for years, and I’m starting to realise I probably won’t ever have them which hurts so much just to think about and I really, really don’t want it to be true.
I also know though that it would be selfish to go through with the fostering application knowing that it could be potentially damaging for a child or young person who’s already vulnerable to have a foster carer with (apparently) clinically significant mental health issues so I have to respect and accept the decision of fostering services even though I am really upset about it. I’m not angry with them at all- they need to prioritise the needs of young people and I completely understand that, but I am frustrated about the system and how I’m seen as not “mentally stable” enough to be a foster carer. The main issues brought up in the medical report and in discussion with fostering services were emotion regulation issues relating to ASD (the GP said that he wasn’t confident I’d be able to have enough emotional empathy or understanding to fully support a child with emotional issues) and having a “long-standing eating disorder” which is a factor that has impacted on occupational health in the past and I have no idea what I’m meant to be about it. Yes, I have had an eating disorder for the last 17 years but I haven’t been an inpatient in ten years, I eat regularly even if it is only certain foods and I am a ‘healthy’ weight.
I know I still have some issues around food and eating but it’s definitely not obvious and it’s mostly the bitch in my head shouting at me 24/7 which is the problem and not the actual behavioural/physical side which I’ve learnt to manage pretty well over the last few years and I’m not exactly going to vocalise the bitch’s words to a young person I’m caring for. And to me, it’s not as potentially risky as someone who drinks alcohol regularly or smokes (for example) which is totally socially acceptable. It’s also frustrating because ED services won’t work with me anymore because it’s ‘chronic’ and my weight’s stable so I don’t meet the criteria for ED services but it’s still seen as a medical issue that stops me from being able to do things that I’m most passionate about like having/looking after children, working with young people in mental health services or being a teacher? I have no idea what the solution is and if anyone has any experience of this, please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org!
Really sorry that this seems to have been a mostly ranting post and haven’t even got round to trying to define ‘recovery’ properly yet. Will shut up now and save that for another post… Thanks for reading 🙂