“Oiii, you, you mental fat c*nt” she shouted and I thought, ‘wow people swear in the street, how common’. Not because I never swear, just because I never swear in the streets. What surprisingly didn’t occur to me immediately as I walked away, smarting from the embarrassment, was that this person, my neighbour, a woman then in her late forties, thought it was acceptable to abuse me because of my mental health diagnosis.
I imagine you thinking what did she do to bring about such a vicious comment, and I would hope you would be shocked to learn that I’d merely confided in another neighbour, telling her that that I was recovering from depression, a symptom of my ‘bipolar’ illness. This evidently scandalous revelation found it’s way into the lounges, bedrooms and dining rooms of the street faster than scalded cat and suddenly I was topic of the year.
What followed my sharing a confidence lead to an unprecedented assault on my character, and which would shock my family to the core, forcing us to give up our first ever social housing property, vowing ‘never again’!
Prior the the outburst above I’d been active on the local Resident’s Association, my legal background and office skills proving useful when liaising with the local authority. Having three children of my own and living in an area filled with families, I’d helped campaign for a safe play area; had dangerous paving slabs replaced; arranged and paid for Halloween parties and Easter Egg hunts and encouraged the locals to organise fundraising events to continue providing community based activities on the Estate which did suffer from high unemployment levels and social problems.
My house was an open door for neighbourhood kids, and I’d regularly bake cakes or during winter have ‘chip shop night’ where I’d make homemade chips and wrap them in newspaper for them to eat whilst playing out. It wasn’t serendipity, there were problems in the area but as a family we were making the best of a bad deal, because it was a bad deal…we’d been made homeless, and forced to take very poor emergency accommodation, which the children and I found difficult to adjust to.
I thought I’d made friends, hence my sharing my juicy titbit about a brush with depression, therefor the speed at which the tide of friendliness turned against me was particularly shocking .
At the next Residents Association meeting the issue of my fitness to represent them as Secretary was raised, with many referring to ‘my problems’ in a hushed, but not sympathetic tone. Any agreed that I may be unfit because I may not understand what was going on, despite my history of having been apparently invaluable prior to my revelation. It was proposed that the local authority should be approached for clarification on the issue. I was hurt and humiliated, and furious.
People began to snub me in the school playground, and my children were asked whether their Mum was crazy.
The name calling became more common. When the local authority effectively backed my position as Secretary by stating my illness had nothing to do with my ability to undertake my duties some were furious. One chap openly came to my door to discuss it and said “we don’t want psychos around here, or near our kids.”
When I refused to lend the next door neighbour a tenner until “my dole comes through” he walked away and shouted “selfish nutter”.
I tried to defend my position on the Residents Association, not particularly because I wanted to be involved any more, but out of principal. I did, after all, have council backing and there were a few residents who were supportive, if not vocally, of me. It was my persistence which lead the the opening comment of this article, and became the reason I decided enough was enough, and threw the towel in.
We moved away not long after, and even now, as someone with such a public profile, I very rarely, and still with reluctance, reveal the true severity of my encounters with my illness to my neighbours.
An illness which people cannot see yet it can still mean those affected and trying to manage their symptoms face vile and cruel abuse. The British Public are outraged over instances of racism, ageism, sexism, but are quite content to quietly observe disablism and worse still, to applaud the policing of the most severely ill within their own society by a manipulative government and a demonising press.
Copyright: Dawn Willis 1 May 2012