March 2, 2015

Now you’ve started reading, I first want to thank you for having the courage to make it this far. It would be wrong, and furthermore reckless, for me to try and guess where you’ve been, what you’ve suffered, and where you’re going in life. I can’t do that. What I can do is offer my blessing that you’ll never be alone in your suffering, even if that seems impossible. Even in the very darkest of moments, the greatest strength WE have is each other. The greatest strength your demons have is SILENCE. Don’t ever forget that.

No-one should ever be allowed to make you feel less of a person

The story I have to share today focuses mainly on the discrimination I suffered as a student, and the challenges I faced when I dared to speak out. I took control over my ordeal and dragged it out threefold, to prove my firmly held belief that no-one should ever be allowed to make you feel less of a person, just because of their flawed perception of mental illness.

To get the grizzly facts out of the way, I suffer with schizoaffective disorder. I got ill. I didn’t ask for help. I hurt myself. I’m still here.

I made a pledge never to stand for discrimination, against myself or anyone for that matter

In the coming days, I got plenty of valuable advice from my local crisis team, amongst which was to be open with those around me. This meant friends, employers, or really anyone who could be said to owe a duty of care. Trouble is, it takes an awful lot of courage to do something like that - courage that you don’t have when recovering from a severe depression. Reluctantly I told my law tutor – a decision I will regret for the rest of my days. She was a really sweet and honest person, someone I knew I could trust. So I told her. She was...spectacular. Were I her responsibility alone, I would be telling a different story right now. The bottom line was, she was told by the college management that I was NOT to talk to her anymore. When she told me, I was crushed: we both were. I wasn’t going to accept this, so I turned to my Senior Tutor for answers. He thought it was harsh, but insisted the decision was made with respect to her ‘as a human being’, and at that point I no longer felt human.

That weekend, a vision came to me in the vivid dreams my condition causes me to experience. It reminded me of how the Nazis dehumanised their victims by shaving their hair, and with it their individuality. At that point, I made a pledge never to stand for discrimination, against myself or anyone for that matter. Otherwise I would never recover. I would always be victim to my own ill health, and so would everyone else after me.

I was glad that I took the opportunity to challenge stigma and discrimination

No end of correspondence and meetings with staff seemed to bring any just conclusion. Trying to encourage a fairer approach to students with a mental illness I wrote a report but the principal dismissed it, leaving me feeling small and worthless. I was getting to the end of my tether, and was taking steps towards more formal action, when the principal emailed me back with a dramatic change of heart. He referred my report onto his deputy to arrange a meeting for us to discuss my thoughts and concerns. My persistence had paid off, bringing the first signs of progress throughout my six month ordeal.

I would like to say that my experience has led me not to regret. I can’t. The upside is that my speaking out secured a drastic change in the policy of the college, which means that no future students will have to suffer what I did. The downside is that my soul will forever bear the scars of how my law tutor was treated, how her loyalty was met with pitiless discipline from the senior staff who should have supported us.

I remind myself often, that whilst I can’t rewind what happened to us, the opportunity to have challenged that stigma and discrimination will always be greater than again facing the tyranny of silence.

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