May 30, 2012

The last time I felt stigmatised was when I went to the opticians! The conversation below may well make your hair curl so I’ll write it as a script protecting his name.

The Opticians

Me:  Morning. I’m here to see Mr James. 9.30

I walk over to the chairs and the optician Mr James arrives. He seemed a friendly soul.

Mr James: Would you like to come this way? He ushers me into the ophthalmic room.

Me:  Do you need me to take out my contact lenses?

Mr James: Well, in a moment but first I need to take your current details. What brings you here?

Me: I’ve come here to see if you can help me with migraines. Looking at light is painful – traffic lights, car lights – even break lights. The migraine goes to my stomach. I can get a migraine even if I inadvertently catch a glint of light from cutlery!

Mr James: Let me just have a look at your eyes. Hmm. You’re pupils look quite large to me. Can I have your full name and date of birth? And any health issues, medication?

Me:  I’ve brought my repeat prescription list to help.

Mr James: Good God! What a lot of medication!! Right so ... Lithium. That sounds familiar – what’s it for?

Me:  They are all for bipolar.

Mr James: Oh what’s that?

Me:  It’s defined as a mood disorder.

Mr James: Oh Manic-depression. Oh I know all about mental illness! You don’t have to tell me. When I was training we had a lecture on mental illness. Yes, it was taken by a lovely woman. Yes it lasted an hour or so and, yes – it had a funny title … it was something like Two Stops Short of Dagenham. Two stops short of Dagenham. Do you get it? (I shake my head) Don’t you know? Well I thought you would. Well, it’s Barking! Do you get it? Barking. Barking is the station two stops short of Dagenham … as in ‘barking mad’. Get it? Ha!

Now what else have we got? Quet-eee-pine? What’s that?

He does not wait for an answer.

Oh I know what else she said, yes … do you know the phrase ‘round the bend’? You must know. Well, do you know what it means? Well she told us at the lecture. She told us everything we needed to know. Well the sick people who are taken to the mental institute … well their family drive them up the drive to the institute … and of course there is a member of staff to greet them and they are asked if they are visitors or if they were staying … and ... this is great … if they are staying, the member of staff would tell them to go round the back: ‘round the bend’. Because there’s a different entrance you see for the sick people so they have to go ‘round the bend’. Do you get it? Oh yes, I know all about mental illness.

Now you’ve got Kit-aly-pram here.

Me:  Citalopram

Mr James: Humm. And what’s the next one, zop-eye-clone

Me:  Zopiclone

Mr James: Oh yes. Well you are in safe hands. I am retired but I am affiliated to the local university and I train the new up and coming opticians, you see? So we have to know all about these things … oh yes, I know all about mental illness. Now, let’s have a look at those pupils.


I knew he was unable to cope with me disclosing that I was bipolar but what upset me the most was that, yet again, I had made an excuse for someone else’s prejudice and used that as a reason for not standing against it. It was as if I couldn’t recognise it as prejudice even though, now when I read the script above, it is obvious! I walked quickly home. I think I was stunned yet also quite bemused.

At that time, I was very involved in a drama therapy group where the therapist has always encouraged us to use people as a sounding board; go and “check it out”. This means checking an event, thought or feeling out with another person to get another perspective.

I checked it out with my Granny and her reaction gave me a helpful benchmark. She didn’t minimise it as I thought she would. She was fuming. If I am honest, I am not really comfortable with displaying anger or even feeling angry so someone else showing me rightful anger was very helpful!

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C.C Neish is the author of 'The Flight of the Bumblebee', a online book about stress-related illness. 

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