Saturday, 30 July 2011

Time to Change

Hi Everyone

I have a lot to write about this evening.  It has been a busy couple of days - after spending huge tracts of time at home in recent weeks, me and my feet (my feet and I!) have finally got out and about. 

Yesterday Paul took an afternoon off work and he and I attended a training session set up by the charity Time to Change.  This was because we had volunteered to help at one of their roadshows today - the charity has been set up to combat the stigma and discrimation around mental health issues, and the roadshows are to take this message to the people.  I heard about it through Rethink.

Anyway, the training session was well organised and interesting.  I was able to put my feet up throughout (in my attractive outsized velcro footwear) and Paul brought me several cups of tea during the afternoon.  We watched a film, did some role play (something I would once have found excruciatingly painful, but I did a short counselling course a few years ago which involved mostly role play and this kind of immunized me to it).  In fact, I felt relaxed for almost the whole of the afternoon - probably because I was so engaged with what was going on. 

I remember reading years ago, when I was at my most nervous and anxious, that nerves are a kind of narcissism - we are nervous in company because we are thinking about ourselves so much, and because we assume that everyone else must be thinking about us too.  The narcissism view made sense to me, but didn't help at all - just added the burden of guilt for being narcissistic to my already over-burdened mind!

Anyway, I have learned to be kinder to myself these days, also growing older has made me calmer and less anxious (aided by other coping techniques I have been investigating) and the training session was fine.  And so was this afternoon - I found I had very few qualms about approaching members of the public and raising the subject of mental wellbeing (especially since I was not required to divulge anything about myself).

In fact, I overdid things at one point - realised I had been on my feet for over an hour (my poor feet) and had got totally carried away with these conversations.  I heard myself telling one couple that I would rather have been diagnosed with a brain tumour than schizophrenia when I was nineteen years old, and from their expressions of alarm I then deduced that it might be time to sit down for a nice cup of tea.  Then I stayed sitting down chatting to various people for the next hour, and then it was almost time to stop and go home.

I talked to the most amazing old man.  He was lovely, but the conversation made me feel so sad.  He said he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 23.  He had spent most of his life in institutions - he said that for a long time he was made to go to bed at seven in the evening and not allowed to get up until eight o'clock the next morning.  Now he says he is happy enough - he is living in sheltered housing and the inhabitants have support in the daytime but are left alone at night, with emergency numbers in case they need help. 

This man wasn't resentful about any of his experiences, but did say that it had been impossible ever to work - nobody would take him.  And he said that one time he had told the psychiatrist that he had been on medication for forty years, and the psychiatrist had stayed silent for ten minutes.  The psychiatrist didn't know what to say, this old man told me.  This made me so cross on his behalf - psychiatrists are just so useless.  So unhelpful.  So rude, to just say nothing to this poor mild mannered man, who has taken medical advice for the whole of his life - and this medical advice has got him precisely nowhere.

He told me about thought field therapy which he had learned about in a book he had read called 'How to Stay Calm'.  He has found that this helps his anxiety.  He has also learned a calming technique from this book which involves counting backwards, from 16 to 3, say, visualising the numbers as he goes.  His only worry at the moment is that he feels so tired at night - he can't move off his bed once he has taken his medication.  (My guess is that the residents are all over-sedated because there are no staff in their accommodation at night, but this is just a wild guess). 

He was such a nice man - so normal.  And his whole life has been wasted.  Or maybe just changed.  What do I know?  But I do know that it is not fair to treat anybody as if they are not a real person or proper person for the whole of their life, just because they became ill once when they were young.

This lovely old man had so little confidence.  He was so sure that he was worthless.  When I got up (only because I needed to move around a bit) he thanked me so sincerely for talking to him.  He was so grateful. I got the impression he thought I was only being polite when I said I had really enjoyed talking to him.  But I really had.  He was so interesting and so nice.  He spoke beautifully.  He had contributed so much more, and so much better to our conversation than I did.  But he had no sense of that at all.  No self-belief.  Because he had never been allowed to gain any.

I don't know what the answer to mental health problems is, but it seems to me that counselling - therapy, just talking, would be a really good place to start.  In my view, anybody with mental health issues, past or present, should have open access to counselling services.  In the same way that you can go to the GP and get an appointment, you should be able to walk into a surgery and get counselling whenever you need it. 

I am going to join the local NHS trust ASAP and start putting my views forward.  I have so many views these days - I may be way off track with this one, but I think I have a point.  I know from my own experience when I have a crisis - you can never talk to someone professionally unless there is a psychiatric emergency.  A 'wobble' is not enough to qualify.  This just doesn't make sense - I am sure a lot of emergencies could be avoided by counselling, or just talking, at a much earlier stage.

And even if people needed ongoing counselling for years, it would cost a lot less than putting them in hospital even for a short time.  When will we learn from the Finnish Open Dialogue system?  It seems so straightforward and so humane.  In Finland, schizophrenia has almost been eradicated, because people are treated so effectively when they have their first psychotic epsiode that the problem never becomes acute.

Slight digression there.  Back to the events of this afternoon.  Meanwhile Paul had been on his feet for hours, and got stung by a wasp into the bargain.  He was very good at handing out leaflets and postcards - not sure how many meaningful conversations he managed, but I think a lot of the people we leafleted will have gone home and thought further about the subject, maybe even looked up the campaign on Facebook or other social media. 

Which reminds me - Facebook

Twitter @TimeToChange

YouTube TTCnow2008

So - a lot to write about.  Now I think I have earned an evening off.  And a shower - I managed a shower for the first time in three weeks yesterday and it was fab.  Even if I did have to sit on a stool, and several times nearly slipped over...  I am definitely on the mend.

Hope all of you are well and happy too.

Louise x

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