Sunday, 19 August 2012

Radio 4 programme about mental health

Here's the link to what I found to be a really valuable programme about mental health on the radio yesterday:

The thing I found most interesting was when the presenter and guests spoke about the usefulness of narrative in healing.  It is so true - by writing one's story, ordering it and making it as clear and comprehensible as possible, you come to understand it all so much better.  And what is more, you achieve ownership of it.  When the first copy of my paperback arrived from CreateSpace, for me to check and edit if necessary, it came printed diagnonally across the back page with a single word in huge black capital letters 'PROOF'. 

I knew, of course this meant that it was a proof copy, not for resale, but to me it meant more - it symbolised the fact that seeing my book in print was real, actual proof.  Proof of what I had been through, proof that I had rallied enough to be able to deal with it - proof that I had made a book out of it.  Proof that I was able to tell my story and that other people would be able to read it and understand.  PROOF.

Since I have written and published my story I have got so much better.  I have realised that I am not fatally flawed - that there were valid reasons for my breakdown, that I have been well for many years and that there is no reason why I should not remain well.  I have realised that I am not, in fact, schizophrenic.  I am merely human.  (One of the speakers on the programme I linked to above says that when speaking in public about what is usually termed mental illness he refers to it as human frailty.  I certainly had my share of that - but in some ways I was very strong.  I had no support at all from the age of sixteen - financial or emotional - and yet I was always pushing myself onto do things that I found really hard and that anyone else would have had the sense not to attempt - eventually I cracked). 

My eldest daughter is twelve years old now, and she is a really sensible and strong character.  But I cannot conceive, how she, or any other young person would have coped in my shoes.  By the time I was twelve years old the curcumstances of my childhood were almost inconceivably hard.  Anybody in that position would have cracked.  (There were some things I didn't even put in the book, because I didn't want to point the finger or seem bitter and twisted - but in some ways it was all even worse than I described.  In other ways I was fortunate - even during the years when I was 'mentally frail' I had several kind and caring boyfriends for example, and I made some friends during college and university years who I am still close to today.  I also had the kind of freedom from my earliest teenaged years that a lot of teenagers would have been really pleased about- although it is nowhere near such a good thing as it might seem from the other side).

Anyway, enough about me.  I have recovered, and I am extremely grateful for that fact.  And  what I have been trying to do now is to help others to find a way through difficult times - mostly by writing, because that is after all my special subject.  I held a writing group earlier this year, not for profit but just to learn how to teach, and I really enjoyed it.  In a few weeks' time I am scheduled to run another group, mainly for people with mental health problems - a creative writing group but with therapeutic undertones (on behalf of the peer-led charity that I work for part-time).  And later this year I am due to co-lead a 'Recovery Narrative' course, which hopefully will continue the good work - help people to help themselves by ordering their thoughts, clarifying their stories and just enjoy setting the record straight. 

Talking about setting the record straight, I have asked to see my medical records for the third time, and finally I am getting close.  The first two occasions I wrote to ask to see them, I did not even receive a reply.  This time I did, but was told I would have to pay £50 for copies of the electronic and written notes, or ten pounds just for the electronic ones.  I guess this sum of money puts a lot of people off - but I am blundering on, have now received an invoice for the amount and once I have paid it I should hopefully get the paperwork through. 

I have already had the electronic notes and they actually make fairly innocuous reading - there is really not much to them at all, especially now that I am so used to terms like psychosis and schizophrenia.  In fact, I was a little touched by the kindness that somehow seemed implicit in the very sparse notes - reading them actually felt like somebody had been making an attempt to care for me, something that unfortunately did not come across much at all during the actual periods of supposed care in hospital.

The recent conversation I had with the psychiatrist is recorded - he writes that, 'There is a likelihood that she could be in remission, but that the initial diagnosis could have been something different'.

Anyway, whatever.  I honestly don't think the label thing matters anymore.  I don't even think that the mental health problems I suffered have any relevance to my current life - I was so different at that time, everything was so different back then.  I just want to understand it all as fully as I can - the treatment, the written notes, the angle the mental health professionals were or are coming from. 

Then I can get on and finish my 'Recovery book' to the best of my ability and after that I can start (or complete) another book.  Because one thing I have learnt for sure from my journey so far is that as long as I continue to write, life will always be good.

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