Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"Not really disabled"

The other day, George Freeman (Theresa May's Policy Chief) gave some very insulting and trivialising comments about anxiety disorders. You'll find the details in this article . It seems he believes that those with anxiety disorders are "not really disabled". Apparently all we do is sit at home; taking pills.

After a lot of (very much deserved!) criticism, he responded with a feeble non-apology; where he expressed "regret" that people were offended. Now I do understand that he has had an anxiety disorder in the past & I would never invalidate his experience of that. I do think, however, he needs to educate himself on various anxiety disorders. He may then learn that the symptoms can vary in severity, are complex, and can be very debilitating.

Disability is officially defined in the Equality Act 2010 as this:

"A person (P) has a disability if-

(a) P has a physical or mental impairment, and
(b) the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."

I cannot speak for everyone with an anxiety disorder/s, but here are the ones that I have and how they affect me.

Agoraphobia

I get very anxious about leaving the house; especially if there are people outside. To travel anywhere, I rely on my dad driving me. I get far too anxious to take public transport, and can't even take a taxi on my own. I can't manage group situations where I have to stay in the room/it'd be considered rude to leave suddenly (such as a class or meeting) and have to be near the toilet or exit if I'm in a restaurant/cafe etc.

Last time I managed to take a train by myself (years ago), I had panic attacks and had to wait for a later train than the one I'd planned to take. I felt very nauseous, dizzy, shaky and sweaty for the entire journey. Once I arrived at my destination, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I found it very hard to focus, and when I had to change trains, I ended up lost for an hour and almost in tears at the train station. It's a good job the friend I was meeting was a patient one! In order to get home, I had to get my dad to pick me up (the journey takes over an hour by car).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I've had OCD since childhood, and have tried hard to hide my compulsions. On a bad day, it stops me from leaving the house. It makes me irritable, snappy, and has caused arguments in the past. I take much longer to do things than I should, and am often late for appointments because I've had to complete compulsions, or repeat them until I am "reassured" enough to leave the house. This condition makes me feel trapped and, when I did work, it caused me to miss meetings and compromised my performance at work.


Generalised Anxiety Disorder

I don't react well to changes in plans. I need to know what to expect, Usually, my anxiety flares up in response to things, but I do find that I can randomly panic and not know what has set it off. I get panicky about hypothetical situations, and cannot just wait to deal with a certain situation when it occurs. I tend to think 10 steps ahead of myself, and think of the worst case scenario. I will dwell on potential problems; even more so if I cannot think of a solution.

I find I get very paranoid as well, and I worry a lot about people's opinions of me. I worry about losing friends and look for cues that they may be annoyed at me or drifting away. I also am constantly asking for reassurance.

Phone Phobia

Recently, my phobia of this has lessened and I can now cope with making some phone calls. I still find that I get very nervous when receiving phone calls though, and most of the time I will leave it to go to voicemail. I worry about not knowing the answers to questions I may be asked on the phone. I also worry about not having details like reference numbers ready when needed. I often mishear things and get very anxious (panicky even) if I have to keep asking the other person to repeat themselves. When I worked, I had customers react angrily over the phone because of this. I would avoid answering the phone in the workplace, and have been told off by my manager. I think this contributed to decisions not to carry on my temporary contract too.

I cannot think of a job where you are not expected to use a phone, leave the house, go to meetings, cope with changes, be punctual, have good attendance or be timely with tasks. Even without my other mental health and physical health problems, I highly doubt I could manage work of any kind.

So yes, George Freeman, I may sit at home and take pills but there's so much more to anxiety than that, and yes I am "really disabled".
    

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