I was about 10 or 11 when I first felt so misunderstood it stung. Somewhere between what we’d now call year 5 and year 6 I missed a memo. Suddenly being sensible and being able to answer questions in class and being trustworthy enough to take the register to the office were no longer good things to be. All at once everything about me was wrong. My inability to dress in the kind of clothes I saw in Mizz and Just Seventeen magazines, my deeply unfashionable hair, the fact that I hadn’t seen Ghostbusters. It was my behaviour though that was most uncool. I had always enjoyed being clever, knowing answers, being able to work things out, but now speaking up in class engendered a collective sigh and mass eye rolling, especially from the boys. And so I became known as the swot, the teacher’s pet, the boffin, the walking dictionary (actually I thought that last one would be a pretty awesome thing to be). After that came words that were really hurtful: I was, apparently, a snob and arrogant.
Arrogant? I could not fathom how there could be such a gulf between my classmates’ perception and my internal reality. Inside I was a fragile as a songbird’s egg. I was so sensitive that I felt crushed almost hourly by the exaggerated yawning and the eye rolling and the name calling. Inside I was shy. I was anxious and insecure. I was frequently baffled by my peers’ interactions, observing rather than participating, convinced of my own inadequacy. Nobody seemed to realise that being able to perform certain classroom tasks confidently was absolutely no indication of confidence in and about myself.
Thirty years on and I’m still dogged by the misunderstanding that because I can do certain things with confidence, I am a confident person. Last week I was given my care plan, a document I had been told should have been coproduced with my lead nurse. My lead nurse had been on leave since the day after my admission and I had never spoken to me, but here was my plan in hard copy. Don’t get me wrong; I completed goodness how many assessments of probation clients I had never met in order to hit the timeliness standard. I can well imagine that it would feel crappy and tedious to have to draw up a care plan for an unknown someone right before you went on leave. But when I looked at it I became distressed right from page one, which stated: “Charlotte, you are a confident and capable lady who has been through a dark time.”
I burst into tears. It was insulting enough to be told by a stranger who I was, but more importantly my decades of suffering and loss had been erased. My problems had been boiled down to a single spell of difficulty, despite Trust records of five years of continuous consultant care and frequent Home Treatment Team interventions in this very building. I felt the words “confident” and “capable” had eclipsed the pain and also the risk of my recent situation. A judgment had been made about what was going on inside my head based on – what? I’m still really not sure, since I was so timid and anxious when I was admitted and the plan was being compiled.
I’m still rapid cycling and on my well or up days, yes, I am capable of doing stuff. I have been able to order box sets and persuade the shift manager to let us sit in the lounge watching our DVD sharing popcorn and Coca-cola with the lights out. I’ve been sharing colouring books and giving out Sharpies and buying stuff on Amazon so we can make cards.
On bad days like today I sit on the floor by the nurses’ station, sobbing. The idea of getting everyone together and getting the lounge and the nurse to sit with us so we can watch episode 2 of Prison Break (I know, I know) made me cry. I feel guilty and embarrassed and that I am letting all my ward mates down, that I am a failure as a human being because what I could do yesterday, I cannot do today. Strong friendships spring up quickly on the ward but I fear getting things wrong with my ward buddies, getting in their faces too much or not supporting them enough. This makes me hugely anxious as I care about them a lot. I am also obsessing, fearfully, about the fact I will most likely be moved from the triage ward to a treatment ward before too long. On my worst my days I want curl up under the nurses’ desk forever. I want to gnaw and claw at myself to get the desperation out.
I can DO apparently confident things – arranging, planing, supporting, purchasing, deciding, sharing, requesting, suggesting, complaining, etc. I cannot BE confident. I do not have the stability or sense of emotional safety required. I am not robust. I am not resilient. A tetchy word from a busy nurse or a frustrated friend sends me into a tailspin. I fear I am not likeable, that I am too pushy in arranging things, bug the nurses too much and intrude upon others’ pain. On bad days I am utterly raw, yet what sticks in people’s minds is the Charlotte who invited everyone to craft activities and writes it up on the whiteboard. I don’t know how to make people see my fragility. Maybe this is just the standard lot of the bipolar person, writ large because my cycling is so rapid and I’m on the ward? Tonight I am not confident or capable. I am an egg, rolled away into the corner beneath the desk, full of self-loathing for not making DVD night happen. I still have no idea how to bridge the perception/internal reality gap. I’ll have to go to bed now, my eyes are sore from crying.