The Weight of Experience
Experience is one of those things that we seem plagued with in life. Often, it can be beneficial because there are situations we go through and we know what to do or not do because experience has taught us. Sometimes, though, experience can be a problem. Take, for example, a job interview. Nowadays, a lot of companies want previous experience – something which you, as a fresh-out-of-uni/college student, might not have. Getting that experience can be difficult, especially if no one will give you a chance without you having previous experience. It can be extremely frustrating!
Another thing that usually goes hand in hand with experience is qualifications. If you are going for a job as a translator, for example, employers will look to see if you have the experience (ie, living in the country of the language you are translating to/from) and whether or not you have the qualifications (ie a degree or equivalent). Qualifications are something that can be hard to come by, though at the same time a lot of people nowadays go to university to get degrees and an emphasis is put on getting higher education. Sometimes, though, things happen, plans change and qualifications become a little redundant.
Take me, for example. I trained as a linguist, getting a degree in French and Linguistics. I didn’t do too badly and languages open a lot of doors, as it provides opportunities in translation but also in different countries if I wanted to move. Having a background in Czech as well from the time I lived in the Czech Republic with my family, you’d think I would have gone into a career in languages.
Then depression happened.
Granted, getting a job in those fields was rather difficult and I ended up first in a wholesaler warehouse and then a bank, but depression knocked my career aspirations completely off. Instead of looking at translation or language teaching or a career in France, I looked into blogging. Specifically, mental health blogging and writing.
Which, as you know, is what I do now.
Experience…Or Lack Thereof
From that bit of my background, you’ll have seen I don’t have any qualifications in mental health. In fact, you’ll see on every page of this website the words: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified. Always seek medical advice in the first instance. I put that because, no matter what I write, I am not qualified.
But I have experience.
Now, one thing I’ve noticed during my walk with depression, anxiety and insomnia is that people seem to look more for the qualifications. When I first started posting content from this website on Facebook, a psycologist that I know immediately started commenting telling me she was surprised I was doing this and how “in her experience” these were the arguments against what I was saying. She also went to great lengths, at one point, to make sure I knew exactly how long she had studied and how long she had been a psycologist. Similarly, in my post about the So-Called Professional, I went with my friend to speak to that doctor after that disasterous appointment and she was equally dismissive of the things I had to say.
In more recent weeks, I’ve had similar struggles with my own GP. I believe the things I’m feeling and experiencing, such as the vast swinging of my mood, to be symptomatic of Rapid Cycling Bipolar or Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar. It’s taken a couple of months but I’ve finally managed to get a GP to listen. It took both my partner and I fighting, where the GP refused to entertain the notion based on “his experience”. It seems my lack of any qualifications and my lesser experience than his was simply not good enough for me to have an opinion, as it seems to be with a lot of other people.
But is experience all that it’s cracked up to be? Is it the be all and end all?
One thing that I find to be true is that those of us who have personal experience of mental health seem to relate to it far better. I know this is like the majority of things in life but hear me out. Where doctors see us as patients who have X condition and need treatment A, therapy B and department C to be successfully treated, we take it to a more personal level. We interact with each other, we look at how things affect us and apply that to other situations.
My prime example would be my blog. Specifically, things like my Understanding Self-Harm guide. Imagine a doctor whose only experience of self-harm is the patients in front of him and what they’ve done. Explaining self-harm the way I have would be difficult, if not impossible. Would he understand all the innate needs and desires that we feel when we want to do it? Could he imagine just how different all those needs or desires would be? After all, no two mental health struggles are exactly the same.
Is not my experience, in this instance, far more valuable than his years of training, his qualifications and then his subsequent years of qualification? Am I not able to explain the phenomenon of self-harm better than the doctor might? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my opinion is so much better than the professional, qualified opinion. What I’m saying is that my opinion is different and that that can be a good thing! You see, the professionals, with all their years of study, qualification and experience, will have all the technicalities, the medical and physiological answers down to a T. Me, standing in for the lay person Joe Public, will have the whys, the hows and some of the reasoning behind what I do.
Is that so difficult to imagine?
That I, Alex Davies, lay person with no qualifications in the mental health sector whatsoever, might actually have a different, yet just as important, understanding of mental health?
The Power of Our Experiences
Unlike the professionals, as not all of them will have lived with these conditions, we know what’s going on inside our heads. We know where we fall on categorisations. Mood charts and on everything else that would come under our diagnosis, we understand. We know how we feel. Don’t we? We know if something isn’t right. Does that mean we should always bow to the professional opinion because they have their qualifications?
I don’t think so.
Professionals are great, as they have the technical side of things nailed, this is true. But we understand what’s actually going on inside our heads. My opinion may not be a learned, qualified one but, instead, it’s one brought through first-hand experience and one that, in its own way, is just as valuable.
What do you think? Are our experiences and our opinions just as valid as the professional one? I’d like to know!
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