Sunday, 7 August 2011

Schizophrenia on Sunday

Hi Everyone

In case you're wondering, the title of this post means absolutely nothing at all.  I have just noticed that people read the posts more if I put 'schizophrenia' in the title - sad, but true.  Titles seem to make a huge difference.  In fact, the most read post on this blog by far is one titled 'Need to leave this stuff alone' written one day when I was stressed because of the publication of my book.  Don't know why that title makes people want to read on, but it does.

Now, as regular readers of my blog know, I hate the term 'schizophrenia', I believe that 'diagnoses' of mental health conditions are bad and wrong, and I am therefore not pleased with myself for using the word.  But in view of the fact that I have struggled with that particular label myself for seventeen years since I was diagnosed at the age of 25, I kind of think I have a right to appropriate it for my own requirements.

This blog has done me a lot of good - when I started to write it I was not challenging the diagnosis at all, just trying to find a way to live despite it (which basically meant ignoring it but being haunted in case anybody ever found out).  However, the process of thought and expression that the blog involved led me in a new direction - one day I found myself challenging the 'fact' that I was a schizophrenic at all.  Why should I be a schizophrenic just because somebody told me I was?  What if they had got it wrong?  Where was the proof of my 'illness'? 

It was a long time on from that point that I decided to be open about my diagnosis, and I am still not sure how I found the courage.  But it was a natural progression from my challenge of it, because I know that I am nobody special, no different from anybody else.  If I have recovered, so have others, and those who have not need to know about this, so that they can have hope for their own futures. 

And then an amazing thing happened - I began to stumble across other blogs and websites, and I began to realise that I was not alone in this shift against the injustices of the present mental health system.  There are a whole load of others out there, working against these diagnoses, and against the notion that people should be on medication for the rest of their lives.  Working with the assumption that people can and do get better from mental illness, and trying to show how this can happen.  There's a lot of good news out there, when you start to look for it.

But there is still a long way to go.  In the USA, children are being diagnosed as bi-polar.  What starts in America follows to here, and we already have children on medication, being diagnosed with mental disorders.  I really want to stop that particular march before it gathers force.

Anyway.  One thing at a time.  Paul and I went to a dinner party the other night, and somebody asked about my book.  So the mental health debate began.  And somebody asked whether I thought it was right that somebody with a past problem - say, a previous drug addiction, should be allowed to work in therapy, with drug users.  Is this acceptable?

Well, I think it is.  I think somebody who has conquered a particular problem is, or should be, in a good position to help others find a way through the same issue.  But, and this is crucial - I think there should be full disclosure to the patient.  And this should go right the way through the system - a psychiatrist with a diagnosis of bi-polar (you would be surprised how many there are of these) should have to tell their patient in the same way.  I am guessing that maybe nine times out of ten the patient would be grateful for the honesty, and inspired by the fact that their mentor has got better.  But the one patient out of ten who prefers to be treated by somebody without any past or present issues (although in my opinion such a paragon would be hard to find) should have that option.

If therapists are not honest, how can they expect their patient to be?  How can there be proper trust?

That's one thing I wanted to mention today.  It's only my opinion, but to me it makes perfect sense.

The other thing is that when I was younger, if I had been given a choice, I always thought I would have far preferred a physical illness to a mental one.  I was so ashamed, at the age of nineteen, to have spent three months in a mental hospital.  I felt so humiliated.  And that was before I was even told the diagnosis.  I remember wishing that I had a brain tumour rather than a mental illness, because people would have felt sympathy instead of fear.  I felt that recovery would have been so much easier without the stigma.

Now, for the first time in my life, I do have a physical incapacity.  I say for the first time, but of course I have had minor problems, such as recurrent chest infections.  But this operation on my feet is different - I am not mobile, I can't drive or walk far.  Although I am recovering well, there is a limit to what I can do.

And people do stare.  There I am on the beach, in my hospital issue mad-looking velcro shoes, and my crutches.  Hobbling along, looking peculiar.  I don't blame people for looking.  But it has made me realise that

a) Given a choice, it would be impossible to choose betweeen a physical or a mental illness - neither are fun.  Neither are easy.  And

b) there is even less division between the two than I thought.  When your body is sick, so is your mind.  And vice versa.  But when your body is sick you tend not to worry about your mind, because you just concentrate on the matter at hand.  You can see your sore feet and you can massage your scar and you can feel yourself growing stronger every day.  Whereas when your mind is unwell you panic, you bring in all sorts of unecessary calculations, such as what other people think of you.  And you flounder.  And then if the people who are supposed to be helping you through the illness inform you that you are a schizophrenic, that the prognosis is bad and you will only get worse as you get older - well, what hope do you have? And how can any human recover from anything without hope?

Mind and body are one and should only ever be treated as one.  And a person should be treated with compassion and be accorded dignity at all times.  Even a 'mad' person.

Louise x

PS  I am hoping to start a blog soon for the charity Time to Change.  I will link to it here when it is up and running.  Hopefully it will have a longer shelf life than my NHS one.  I keep meaning to check on what is happening on the NHS Choices mental health blog site - I think I had an email a while ago saying they were changing the format away from blogs towards a forum, which might suit me better.  SO I will toddle along there too soon, and keep you all updated on that.

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