wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

Mental illness – a history of madness. . . and the purple raccoon

Next week is MHAW (Mental Health Awareness week) so I’ve decided to devote this post to the history of mental health.

Notions of insanity arouse when the world began to question behaviour, and what is considered normal. This ultimately comes down to what is deemed to be acceptable or indeed unacceptable.
At primary school we’re trained to abide the norms and values of society. Conform as your peers do, share with others and most importantly, respect authority without question. These core values don’t vary that much throughout life.
I don’t disagree. Every community needs a strong code in order to function. But I also think that there should be shades of grey. Strict rules expose those who are slightly different, without mercy or shame.

Tell me, historically what happens to people who are different?. . . They are separated from the rest of the ‘normal’ population. Hence, asylums were introduced as a place to house the unfortunate ones. Treatment was either moral of medical depending on how lucky you were.

The Victorian era of domestic bliss gave great focus to mental illness and coined my favourite word of all time ‘HYSTERIA.’ A woman who rebelled against the standard family ideal risked being declared insane. Refusing to submit to her husband or undertake maternal duties would land her in an asylum, and she had no right to contest or appeal. In fact, she lost all of her rights once committed. But what kinds of rebellious and hysterical behaviour did these women display? Well it depends.  According to J Goldstein;

Hysteria, from the ancient Greek word for uterus, was a nervous illness. Symptoms differed from patient to patient, but they always involved both the body and the mind. Some characteristic symptoms included shortness of breath, heaviness in the abdomen, muscular spasms and fainting. Anxiety, irritability and embarrassing or unusual behaviour were also noted.

So basically ME on an average day.

The cure? Simple – find a husband. Or if you already had one, then have a baby. Domestic bliss was the ultimate treatment for hysteria. Fortunately I’m engaged, so maybe this time next year I’ll be cured. I’ll keep you updated. I could also go into Plato’s theory of the floating uterus, but I’ll leave that for another time!

I would like to say that this ridiculous notion of insanity died after the Victorian period, but the basic principles continued well into the 1970s. ‘Mother’s little helpers,’ does this phrase ring a bell? Women who did not stay at home and behave properly, risked being thrown into psychiatric care. The cure? Tranquilisers – to suppress all of those pesky emotions.

So let us summarise – if a woman doesn’t want to stay at home, clean, cook and have babies then there is clearly something wrong with her. She’s insane and must be locked away.

If a woman cannot alter her personality to be sweet, quiet and happy 100% of the time, then she must be unstable.

Trying to live up to the world’s ideal of perfection? No wonder so many struggled to the point of a melt-down.

The 1950s actress Frances Farmer was incarcerated for five years because she didn’t want to be famous and wouldn’t conform to the ideals of the Hollywood starlet, (her life story is both epic and tragic.) Marilyn Monroe also found herself banged up for a period after a ‘break down.’

Fast forward to the noughties and asylums have been replaced by psychiatric wards. Funnily enough I ended up next to one after an office Christmas party. A colleague got so drunk that she needed to be taken to hospital. Being the mug who volunteered because nobody else would leave the party a nice person, I accompanied her. Every time the Doctor came by I used really big words to seem intelligent and completely sober, (which always works. NOT). Yes she’s inebriated Doctor and hasn’t said anything coherent at this stage.
For over an hour a woman in the next room was screaming I’m a racoon and everything I see is purple – on loop. It was like Chinese water torture! When I looked at the security guard he just shrugged and said psych ward. Eventually she tired herself out.

Ironically, these days it’s often a challenge to gain the necessary help. One could even argue that personal care has been replaced by drugs. Why spend countless hours listening to a patient when you can sedate them? Or perhaps that’s unfair? The world has changed faster than the medical industry could keep up.  Is a two month waiting list for CBT acceptable? No it isn’t, but the health budget can only stretch so far. Let us hope that the next government will bridge the gap.

When I think of the future I look forward to the complete abolishment of stigma. The stereotypes associated with mental health will vanish, and I hope that one day anxiety or depression will be spoken about with the same level of indifference as a headache.

Next week I shall be celebrating MHAW with a party and a donation to the charity Mind. Granted, the party might just consist of me in my pyjamas watching Dare Devil and eating pizza, but it’s still a party dammit. I’ll bring the roof down!

Categories: Anxiety

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13 replies

  1. Sane are doing one of those rather fetching wrist bands which I swore I would never wear after Lance Alrmstong started the fashion and turned out to be a complete f@king liar. Anyway, 10 quid donated to sane gets you a wrist band and gives them the possibility to, for example, text or phone people who are really struggling on a daily basis. Ŵ worthwhile cause in itself, but I’ve lost count of the number Of people who have asked about it, we’ve had a chat amd 8 times out of 10 they “know” someone who has also suffered. Well, statistically it’s 1 in for 4 but I guess there are more willing to talk about it. Anyway, 10 quid will go a long way to helping people if you have it it spare.


  2. Hey Clair,

    As always excellent post! I am typing this as I am having a panic attack, as always it is nice to read your blog to calm me and distract me. It is hard! Honestly this is my first panic attack post medicine and therapy 😪 so it is hard! I just need to stay positive and remember it is JUST anxiety and it CANNOT harm me!

    Thanks again! I’ll definitely look into the mental health awareness week and share things on social media so at least my friends and family can understand!

    Take care

    • Hi Clair,

      I have a question! When you get a panic attack randomly (as they’re all random anyway!), and you succumb to it! How do you stop feeling guilty about it afterwards? I cannot shed my guilt, as I think “I know and understand” this, so WHY react that way to a panic attack (reaction – SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ME!).
      Anyway, I am feeling shaky and jittery and cannot calm down as I think I’m back to square one and what if…. What if…. What if….. – erghhhhhh!

      😪😪😪😪 Ayesha

      • My panic attacks started again a few weeks ago and when I described the situation to my therapist she said something that got me thinking: ” Maybe this is a way your mind tells you that your current situation is too much for you right now “( exams and my apartment etc.) I can’t change the situation itself that much but I can change a few small things for example save an hour or two where I do nothing else than sip tea and watch a movie.
        I felt exactly like you described it at first but then I was reminded that it is nothing else than getting a headache or sneezing, it will pass. During the panic attack I try to endure it and afterwards I treat myself to something like hot chocolate or I simply distract myself until I can be sure it won’t immediately come back. I tend to forget that as well but there’s no actual reason to be ashamed or feel guilty about panic attacks, same as there is no reason to be ashamed of a headache.
        If you get through a panic attack you have every reason to be proud of yourself and treat yourself kindly, cause what people don’t get is that we experience life-threatening fear during these moments and also one of the most important things is you want to do something about it, your comment and that you’re reading this blog shows that. Sorry for the lengthy answer and throwing my opinion at you like that, hope you don’t mind: )

      • You took the words right out of my mouth Lexi 🙂

      • Hi Ayesha, sorry for the delay. It’s easy for me to say this, but there is absolutely no shame in having a panic attack. The guilt you feel afterwards is your rational brain kicking in. It can’t understand why your body reacted that way because there was nothing wrong. Next time just say to yourself ‘I had a panic attack & that’s ok. I handled it well & now it’s over. I’m proud of myself.’ Do this in the mirror if you can (I know it seems lame)!

  3. Today before one of my courses when people started entering and chatting with each other it was that time again, I could hear that anxiety tiger creeping up ,I felt the weight on my chest getting heavier and my hands started shaking, the tiger launched and…… slammed straight into my wall of laughter when I read the title of this post. ( By the time I was through with reading, the tiger limped away with its tail between its legs.( I know that is more of a dog thing but you get the point ) So from now on this day shall be celebrated by me as “The day a purple raccoon saved me from a panic attack ” Thank you once again Claire, for continually sharing your thoughts and experiences with us, it is much appreciated .

    Also, I couldn’t agree with you more on the topic of this post !! Why should anxiety disorder or any other mental illness for that matter, be anything different than a broken wrist or a chronical headache??

    • This comment made my day… It’s the reason why I write. I’m so glad that it helped.
      Sounds like you handled the experience like a pro too, well done! 🙂

    • Hi Lexi,

      I did not mind your comment one but! Thank you!
      I comment on here so we can all support each other, of course Claire is to thank for it all.
      I am trying hard to not feel guilty for feeling this way, and I shall succeed! ☺️☺️☺️!

      Take care.

      • I landed at this post once again because I’m really not feeling good right now and it made me smile. It is a comforting thought that there are people out there that go through similar things. I sometimes think of it this way: We may be divided by different countries and continents etc. but in numbers we’re like an army. Like comrades that support each other in the fight against whatever it is we’re up against. Sorry had to get rid of that. Claire dunno if you’ll read this but 1) sorry for commenting over and over again and 2)if you have another foto of a cute animal in a cup can you please share it next time >.<

      • Don’t you dare apologise for commenting Lexi. I love hearing from you! I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through a rough patch. I’ve just come out of one myself. It’s shit, there’s no other way to describe it. But it always ends… remember that. That phrase gets me through it.
        We are an army.. a wonderful army of nutters who support each other 🙂 xx
        Ps – I’ll work on the cute photo thing!

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