Anxiety and Privilege

This morning I was drinking my smoothie while listening to BBC Radio Leicester and reading some of your news and my news through Flipboard – you know, that app that shows stories shared both on your favourite topics and on your social media accounts. I stumbled upon an article from The Guardian (well, The Observer, as it was published last Sunday) called Living with anxiety: Britain’s silent epidemic. I have very mixed feelings about The Guardian, but as an “infected” member of this silent “epidemic”, I had to read it just to see what it made us look like.

I was right to have mixed feelings and being cautious about this. While it is well-researched, speaks to a figure of authority (Nicky Lidbetter, from Anxiety UK) and has some vintage references (Kafka’s description is spot-on), I can’t help it but feel disenfranchised and awkward.

Anxiety, as portrayed by MorgueFile
Anxiety, as portrayed by MorgueFile

First, it talks about Claire Eastham like she’s a character from a Woody Allen film or a model from a Linkin Park video: beautiful, settled, in a job she loves (and which makes me want to smash a window because it’s an environment I would love to work in), intelligent, yet doomed by anxiety. She has to take weeks off to recover from panic attacks. Her GP told her to drink camomile tea and take antidepressants.

But then she says something very dangerous:

It does calm you down a bit, but I didn’t like the idea of having to rely on pills for the rest of my life, and that’s when I realised: I’m going to have to get myself out of this.

She can do whatever she wants with her body, sure. If she doesn’t like the idea of taking medication and wants to go full naturist chanting “OHM” in the mountains, fine. However, it’s quite irresponsible to say this without rectifying that this is your solution to your problem. Some people do need to take medication. Some people feel like their lives have been saved by medication. Sure, there are downfalls now and then, especially when we have lorries all over our bridges (borrowing Dr Dimitriou’s metaphor), but if medication can help you handle cars better, keep it up. Remember that anxiety can have chemical origins (especially if your life is as perfect as Eastham’s, Jade’s and Lidbetter’s and there are no obvious signs of PTSD or cruel childhood), and chemistry battles chemistry.

Then, there’s this appraisal of CBT. While (along medication) it made wonders for me doing my Master’s degree and the techniques are still helpful now and then, it’s not the cure-it-all happy-ever-after that everyone talks about. Lidbetter is clear about this:

“CBT is very much flavour of the month. It’s Nice-approved. But you have to bear in mind that the NHS provides only six sessions per patient, and waiting times do vary. Also, that it doesn’t suit everyone. It has an 80% success rate. What about the 20% it can’t help?”

It might be the jewels of the crown, but the NHS is not as royal as it could be concerning mental illness. Fit For Work, anyone?

I understand Rachel Cooke wanted to prove that anxiety disorder can happen to anyone regardless of their past and present situation, but one can’t help but notice that all the interviewed subjects are fair, white, gorgeous, British born-and-bred, Native English speakers, thin, middle class (except Claire, from a working-class Northern family), cis-gendered, femme-presenting, without any visible mobile disabilities. They’re also portrayed in an almost glamorous manner, like Pre-Raphaelite muses or Tennyson characters. Ladies of Shalott, all of them.

What happens when anxiety patients are actual underdogs? Eastham is loved and supported by her partner during her wobbly days and Lidbetter is challenged by her children, but what do you do when you have no one next to you? When your family has disowned you, you’re single, childless and not even the social worker pays you a visit? What do you do with no love and support?

Also, what happens when you’re unemployed, or your current employer will not put up with your condition? When you have to get a job or else you’ll lose the scarce-to-none support you get (remember, Fit For Work)?

What about the trans* community, queers, working-class citizens, Black and Ethnic Minorities, the “unconventional”-looking, people with visible and mobility impairments? I have a friend who is deaf AND has social anxiety. What about him?

When you’re not a member of the über-privileged and you happen to have anxiety, the “toxic society” Oliver James talks about is very toxic indeed. So toxic, it can be lethal. During the same weekend that article was published, an unarmed black man was shot dead by the police just for asking for help.

We need media and society to take care of everyone with mental conditions. Yes, they are mostly caused by chemical reactions, but our environment doesn’t help. We need to shut up and listen when the disadvantaged speak out. I applaud the bravery of everyone involved in this article, but I’m also begging for mercy and consideration of the full grasp of British – and international – civilisation.

But what would you expect from the same newspaper that published this privilege-denying furball?

Help in Leicester

Besides Anxiety UK, Mind, LAMP and others, you can talk to specific organisations to cater your needs:

  • Akwaaba Ayeh Advocacy Project, previously known as The Black Mental Health Shop. Offering advocacy services for African/African Caribbean and South Asian people who struggle with mental health. 40 Chandos Street, LE2 1BL. Call 0116 247 1525.
  • Leicester LGBT Centre now offers psychological therapies aimed at Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in Leicester. The service takes place at the LGB&T Open Mind Clinic, 29-31 Bowling Green Street, LE1 6AS. You can call 0116 295 2151 or pick up a self-referral form at the Centre or at Trade Sexual Health, both based in 15 Wellington Street, LE1 6HH.

Cynthia writes this week

  • This week’s Reporte UK at La Pop Life is dedicated to Tom Milsom, as wild and free as his trademark blue hair. Somebody tell him he’s big in Mexico now. (En Español)
  • Workwise, I wrote a biography for Dymonde, an upcoming afrobeat sensation. Also, I’ve been working with Claire Gallear swapping coaching for content feedback; and I’m currently writing a press release for Adam Stuart Pick, artist and owner of ArtBox Designs.

4 thoughts on “Anxiety and Privilege

  1. This is a great post, Cynthia. My anxiety is at its worst for many years, although I recognise I’m in probably the strongest position to deal with it right now, my employers, family and friends are supportive. (And that likely comes from being cis-gender, white, English native with no physical disability)

    The representation in this article is so skewed, but I guess the Grauniad were doing their usual thing of approaching an article like a dinner party full of similar people to them.

    Like

  2. Creo que tenemos un enorme prejuicio respecto a las medicinas. Si tienes hipertensión y debes tomar un medicamento por el resto de tu vida para no morir, ¿dudas si debes tomarlo? Quien depende de una silla de ruedas para moverse tampoco se pregunta si debe usarla. Una mujer menopáusica no se cuestiona si debe tomar calcio. De igual manera, si tu cerebro no segrega suficiente serotonina, tienes que suplir esa deficiencia, porque sufrir depresión es horrible y debilitante. Yo me libré de la ansiedad y la depresión básicamente gracias a 4 años de terapia psicoanalítica 2 o 3 veces por semana, pero esa opción no es viable económicamente para todo el mundo ni todos son sujetos de psicoanálisis. Para eso están las medicinas que, por cierto, son muy distintas a las que existían, por ejemplo, hace 50 años, que crearon un prejuicio porque creaban adicciones y su eficiencia era muy baja.

    Mi opinión es que quien sufre ansiedad no debería tener que enfrentarse, encima de todo, a prejuicios propios y menos ajenos. Si un medicamento posibilita una vida mejor, bienvenida.

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  3. Hi Cynthia, it’s certainly been a while since you posted this.
    I’m sorry you thought so badly of The Observer article. I can see why you might’ve found it offensive.

    However, if I may, I’d like to correct you on a few things.
    1. I’m sadly not middle class, far from it! My parents are humble working class people from the North. They certainly didn’t have the money to pay for expensive therapy. I paid for it myself.
    2. The reason I’m currently in the environment that you would ‘love to work in’ is because of the following: i did an MA in publishing and worked full time in a job that I hated to pay for it. (I lived off 5 hours sleep for a year to keep up with the work!) I then used all my holidays from said hated job to complete a 4 week internship. I stayed in a dormitory in a filthy hostel because I couldn’t afford anything else. But I didn’t complain, I’m from a family of grafters. So I just got on with it.
    Being from Bolton didn’t help either. Harsh speaking northerners don’t belong in a posh office! But I kept travelling for interviews (£50 a trip) until somebody gave me a chance. I take great pride in the struggle I had.
    3. I don’t believe that what I said about medication was particularly irresponsible. I still take mine and I certainly wasn’t criticising others. In fairness I did tell Rachel about my long term solutions, but not everything can be printed. FYI, I have no intention of chanting OMH on a mountain top (bit cheeky there love!)
    4. I don’t think that it was fair to take a personal shot at the subjects involved. I can’t help being fair or thin I’m afraid.. But I’m not a Pre-Raphaelite! Anxiety UK can only advise journalists of members of the charity who are willing to be interviewed. You might be surprised to hear that people with anxiety often don’t like to talk about it. This naturally lowers the demographic of people available.

    Ok now that’s done, I would like to say that I really liked your article.
    I completely agree with your argument in regards to people who don’t have a support system. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed. Anxiety UK is a charity that seeks to help everyone find support. Nobody should have to go through it alone.
    Or check out my blog. Weallmadhere.com I’d be genuinely interested to hear your thoughts (good or bad!)
    Best Wishes

    Like

    • Thank you very much for your message and for clearing out stuff, Claire! My problem is mostly with The Guardian and their white-British-middle class approach to many things. We need more people from all walks of life talking about their experiences, but we also need wide mainstream platforms making these experiences be known. It doesn’t help that when sometimes we try to speak the world won’t listen! That’s why I write from my experience. Maybe the editors didn’t make a good job in setting it clear that medication and CBT can work for some people (they certainly failed to mention that you were still on medication!). The last thing we need is discouragement from one thing or another. All solutions are valid, as long as they work.

      Once again, thanks for your comment. Thanks for reading and speaking out. The problem is not with you, but in the lack of variety that The Guardian shows. Keep doing what you do and keep staying alive!

      Like

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