There I was, I had planned my trip to the PRIMARY HEALTHCARE Clinic. The Government Service. The supposed to be free one. The one in AFRICA one. You would be forgiven for imaginging lions and elephants trawling about the yards of the clinic, because if that were true, it would simply capacitate you to function BETTER in the system. A) If you’d been mauled, you would get pushed up the queue (and be taken more seriously than JUST a chronic mental illness) and B) You’d have a “funny” story to tell an otherwise disinterested and very tired, healthworker. And whilst there aren’t lions and elephants serving as gate keepers to mental health services, there are many other um, hairy hindrances that do.
In the country that I live in, the first challenge that we confront is that there are far, far too few psychiatrists in practice, particularly in the public health sector. It takes weeks / months to access a psychiatrist in the public sector, which is in fact life-threatening for a person with chronic mental illness. Now I’m well aware that medication is not the only thing a person with mental illness requires, but in my case (and I recommend this) it’s a huge part. Not being able to see a doctor that could give you medication. Well, the mind boggles. Thereafter the other very real reality is that there will be medication stockouts, or that the medication you are on is not seen as ‘necessary’ by Government. For example they think that some anti-depressants aren’t necessary. Grimace.
But before I complain about the shortcomings of the health system, the very real challenge – and the reason why I ended up NOT going – is the horrible, disabling stigma that exists in our communities and which in my case – and I’m sure many others – results in the worst form of stigma: believing what people tell you about you. You see even if I had jumped the hurdles of waiting forever, expecting to have to come back for appointments numerous times, I was most worried about what each tier of the public healthcare system would require of me: telling “the story” that informed my diagnosis. Having to “speak up” and contend with much “and how did that make you feel” is both frustrating but also heartbreaking to have to recall and retell – again and again and again. Honestly, being a slightly clever girl, one would have thought that I would have taped the “how did I get crazy” convo by now, so I could just press play and have the healthworker informed. But funnily enough, each time I’ve needed to outline the top ten reasons why I’m mentally ill, I haven’t had the candour or humour to record it.
So the truth is that this mental health detective went as far as playing out going to the clinic in her mind, and retreated immediately to the couch to eat the snacks she had packed for the trip (and as many others as she could carry in a single trip from kitchen to couch, but hey who’s counting). Oh, and she may have had a little cry, an anxiety tab or two, and a nap. Because I don’t want to do that right now. Explore how broken I am in order to be slightly fixed with medication I may only get six weeks / months later thing. No thanks. I’m an expert in roasting myself, I don’t need help or reminders of the cracks and creaks my being holds or has a lack of. This is the coward way out, I know, I am paying for medication I can’t afford, but am too chicken to attain from the Government Service. Ok, I will work on going to the Government Service. I think I may try and convince myself that I’m doing a public service so I can feel heroic about it. Ok, a couple levels lower than heroic, but a lot levels higher than chicken. Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t. I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.