Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Time to Change

I have had a few long conversations on the subject of mental health recently - the Time to Change people would be proud of me...

They are a sterling organisation, doing extremely valuable work.  Here is a link to more information:

Of course, most of the time I get really positive feedback, especially when I am confiding to friends, and I feel that both they and I have benefitted from opening up.  Because it is a two way process - every single friend I have spoken to has told me about mental health issues that they, or a close family member or friend, has had. 

There have been one or two occasions when things have not turned out exactly as I would have wished from telling people all this.  Sometimes I wish I hadn't emailed everybody I know about my book when it first came out... Paul did say it might not be a good idea at the time.  I suppose I was over-excited at the thought of finally having a book published and I hoped that my friends and acquaintances would read it and understand - whereas some people might have just been frightened off by the title.  'Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir' - could have been quite a shock I guess.  In fact, when I first published, the book was called 'Surviving Schizophrenia: A Tale of Sound and Fury' which has even less of a cheery ring to it.

But if there have been one or two people I haven't heard from much since, I am too busy to really notice who they are.  And the reason for their silence is as likely to be embarrasssment as distaste.  And actually some people have read it and been in touch, and they have been just wonderful.  If I hadn't emailed everyone I know at the beginning I might never have got around to telling some people, so no regrets really.

I think if people do get as far as reading the book then they will understand more.  I was a bit disappointed yesterday to find that somebody I had told about it had not read it, and yet clearly had a different opinion of me as a result of just knowing the title of a book I have written.  But that is their loss, not mine.

Sometimes I still don't have the courage to come out with it.  I was talking to a lady just this morning and got a bit stuck at the usual questions of what do you do (I'm a writer) and then what do you write (ah...nervous laughter).  I explained that I write on the subject of mental health, and then we had a really good conversation about a member of her family.  I felt able to contribute usefully, but I couldn't help worrying that I had cheated somewhat by not explaining that I had experienced bad mental health myself.  She was consulting me as an expert, and I felt she might have viewed me rather differently if she knew the title of my book...

Then again, maybe it is a lesson to me that sometimes a little information is enough.  After all, I am rather an expert on mental health - from the inside, which does not make me any less knowledgeable, I just have a different sort of knowledge.  And I try to be dispassionate (although I couldn't help saying that I thought she should keep her sister out of the local mental hospital at all costs!).  I was able to help this lady by providing a listening ear, which will help her to think more clearly now about the situation.  And a listening ear was clearly what she needed - a lot came tumbling out...  She probably didn't need to know the details of my own experience at that point - I will tell her next time we meet of course, but maybe try not to blurt out too much information even then.

In the summer I helped on a Time to Change roadshow.  You may remember me writing about it here.  We had a stand at Bournemouth Pier, and the idea was to involve as many members of the public in conversations about mental health.  We had some training the day before, and were expressly advised not to open up too much - not to put ourselves at risk of stress by over-exposing personal details.  I did overstep the mark on one occasion - told a lovely couple that I wished as a teenager that I had suffered a brain tumour than mental illness - and their expressions clearly told me that I had imparted rather too much information.  Poor things!

The worst criticism that can be levelled at me - and has been - is that what I am doing is not fair on my children, and will negatively impact on them in the future.  I have thought this through, and it has actually made me more determined to continue with my course of action.  I am doing this for the children, as much as for myself.  If anybody does not want to know them as a result of my writing, then I am helping them weed out the wrong sort of people from their lives.  And in fact, I don't think there will be any such deleterious effect on my kids. 

The point of what I am doing is to help to de-stigmatise mental health issues, so my being open now will enable more people to be open in the future, until eventually the Time to Change campaign will have worked and mental health will be as respectable a topic of discussion as physical health.  Which will help people so much - if fear is taken out of the equation, the problem can be tackled so much more easily.

So, I am becoming more open now, rather than less.  I don't resent the feedback about the kids - it helped me to focus more clearly on what I am doing and why, and I am now able to dismiss niggling doubts with added certainty that I am on the right path.

And my book is doing really well - reviews are continuing to come in, slower than I would like, but from members of the public who say that I am changing their view of mental health and helping people - which is exactly what I wanted my memoir to achieve.  Look at this:  I am currently in the top 2,000 (out of an awful lot of books on Amazon).  Here's the link to prove it:   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Surviving-Schizophrenia-A-Memoir-ebook/dp/B0057P6M46

Although if you don't look until tomorrow things may change - ratings are fickle, which is why I try not to obessively check them more than - oh, about twenty times a day.  Guess what I am going to do next...

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