Friday, 28 September 2012

Cleaning and Stuff

I am a bit skittish these days - find it hard to concentrate on doing anything in particular.  I am usually a really good sleeper, but over the last week I have not been sleeping brilliantly, which is probably a large part of the problem.   So for the last couple of days I have been making a huge effort to eat completely healthily (no sugar, no gluten) and drink plenty of herbal tea and water - things that slip if I am not strict about them.  As expected, things have improved - last night I slept much better.

I have been neglecting our home a bit - I had a mammoth tidy out in the summerhouse several weeks ago, after basically forcing Paul to sort out a lot of his clutter so that I could reclaim the place, and after that I was inspired to carry on and get the whole house organised.  Since then, though, I have just been doing the basic maintenance (which still takes several hours each day).  My little boy asked me this morning why I hadn't brought in all his Lego from the summerhouse yet (I promised he could have it back in the conservatory for the winter) and I said I have been meaning to sort it but just haven't had the time.  The truth is, I have been putting it off, because I knew I would have to tidy the conservatory first, to make space.  And I knew it was a big job.

So this morning I looked around my bedroom, which was heaving with disorder, and moaned to my son, 'I wish someone would come and clean up this mess for me' to which he said nothing.  Clearly, there was nothing to be said.  So I pulled myself together, as I usually do eventually, gritted my teeth and set to.

I think mentally I resent having to clean when I could be writing - even when I don't then sit down and write.  I tend also to think of other things I could or should be doing - which often involve getting out of the house to walk the dog or do some shopping.  I am not brilliant at staying in one place for any length of time. 

Anyway, I set to with the cleaning wipes, broom, dustpan etc, and started shifting things from the conservatory to the summer house and back, from the kitchen to the bedroom, and so on.  I got the conservatory and the front room really clean and organised in about three hours, which feels very good, although I am now very aware of the other areas which are not quite up to scratch.

Especially the bedroom.  I knew it was messy, but as I was getting tired by now I had only intended to tidy my bedside table and sort out some of the papers and stuff that I have been storing along the wall on my side of the room.  Then I decided I might sleep even better in a clean bed, so I changed the bedsheets.  Before putting the new sheets on I turned the mattress, and realised that there was a lot of dust under the bed.  So I decided to clean under there - and uncovered a nest of worms (not literally, but not far off).  Oh, the dirt and debris - the sheer horrible clutter that has been sheltering under my husband and I as we slumber.  Yuck! 

I got as far as clearing most of the dust and dirt and evacuating the stuff that has been harbouring it.  The clutter is now all on Paul's side of the room - he will not be pleased to come home to it.  Paul, bless him, is a hoarder (although he maintains that all the things he keeps are potentially useful).  He only cleared his stuff from the summer house after two full years of nagging - but hopefully now that the recent purge is fresh in his memory (and it must have made him feel better on some level although he denies it) he will sort out this latest lot straightaway.

There turned out to be several good things about cleaning this morning.  First, I had the radio on and was able to hear Goldie Hawn on Desert Island discs.  She spoke about how she had suffered panic attacks and immediately contacted her doctor and gone to see a Freudian psychologist and how much this had helped.  How wonderful to be so self-aware - to know when you need help and not to be ashamed to seek it.  She seemed like such a lovely person, and I enjoyed listening to her while on my hands and knees cleaning the grime off my floors. 

Then I had a phone call from a friend - which is always nice - we chatted about this and that for a while. 

And finally I received another phone call - from an independent publisher of mental health books.  I had sent this lady my book a while ago, and although she had only called to say that it was not suitable for their list she was really complimentary about it and we had lots to talk about on the subject of mental health generally.  She gave me some ideas of how I could branch out with my writing, and pointed me towards some organisations I can contact which undertake recovery-orientated work.  I was really pleased that I had been home to get that call - although I did think of a lot of things I could have said and asked afterwards.  But that's ok, because she said it would be great to keep in contact by email.  So I will.
So, there you go.  There is a reason for everything, and to every cloud there is a silver lining, even if the cloud is cleaning...

Oh, and BTW...
I had an email this morning too while I was cleaning - from Torsten Shaw, the director of 'Making Waves'.   He has linked to my blog on his site, so I will return the favour here - they look like a good practical bunch of people doing a decent job.  Here it is:  I will add it to my sidebar later. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Newcastle Beckons

Only a week now before I go to Newcastle Uni, to take part in the Reassembling the Self events.  I am thinking about the impending trip all the time - slightly obsessively - and the main thing on my mind is the necessity of staying calm and just enjoying the experience.  I think I will enjoy it - I have enjoyed all the similar things I have done in the last year or so; talking to the Schizophrenia Commission in London, travelling to Brighton for the Time to Change training, speaking to various groups about my book and my experiences.  But this one feels huge - I really want it to go well, because maybe it will lead on to other similar work, which would be great.  Probably the best thing I can do is try not to think about it all the time...

I started a Psychology course this week, really quite unexpectedly.  A friend of mine was studying GCSE Psychology last year, and this course is the next step for her.  We had coffee together one day last week, and she asked if I would be interested in joining her on the course.  I wasn't sure at first, but I looked at the course content and it was interesting - a lot of the stuff that I am drawn to reading about anyway - so I found myself sitting in a class yesterday afternoon! 

I felt brilliant afterwards - it felt really good to have started something new, and I am sure it is the right thing to have done.  Obviously though, it is one more thing to fit into my working week, and one more reason not to sit down and write.  I am really trying to write now - I make myself sit down every day and get on with it, although my mind keeps trying to shy away.  Once I start, I am fine - the time flies by and afterwards I feel as though I have achieved something tangible - but it takes an inordinate effort to get to that position.  A monumental amount of self-discipline.

It is really odd.  I keep thinking I must do the washing first, or the cleaning - and obviously I do have to do those things (and walk the dog).  But those things, although necessary, are all displacement activities - writing is the priority, it is my chosen career and the thing that gives me the most pleasure.  So why do I have to make such an effort to get on with it?  Anyway, I will keep plugging on - probably do a couple of hours of writing first each day, before the dog walk or other chores.  Eventually it will become a habit again.

It has been a learning experience ghost-writing a memoir over the last few months - I have seen how quickly just a few hours focused work a week can mount up, and it has made me realise that I have to put similar effort into my own work.  Otherwise the weeks and months slide past without any real progress.  I published my memoir in June last year and have not written an awful lot since - well, a lot of blog posts, but not much else.  That is going to change now!

Anyway, this is one of those blog posts that is unlikely to be of interest to anybody except myself.  I will end it now, and get on with something more productive.  Perhaps even some work on my book!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

My Medical Records

There are lies, and then there are damned lies, and then there are my medical records...

No actually, I don't know that for sure.  And there's the rub - I was mentally ill, I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and therefore I ever said or thought (and everything I ever say or think) can be discredited.  Even by me. 

I asked for my medical records a couple of months ago - I have asked on previous occasions and received no reply, but this time I got them.  I had to pay fifty pounds though - apparently the maximum charge that can be made for viewing your own medical history.  They arrived this afternoon, and I read them - not from cover to cover, but extensively enough. 

And now I want a refund. 

The worst thing is that the inconsistencies in the records, some of them really quite glaring, are in direct opposition to things I know (or thought I knew) for absolute certain.  So, for example, I clearly remember sitting opposite a group of mental health professionals, accompanied by my mother, and telling them that I was engaged to be married, wanted to get pregnant, and was concerned about the effects of the Risperidone I was taking on my ability to conceive and on any baby I did conceive.  The reply I received was that Risperidone was absolutely fine to take in both these circumstances.  There was no hesitation, no consultation.  Nothing.

I have a good memory, and I remember that meeting clearly.  However, the notes tell an entirely different story - one where my enquiry about the effects of the medication was taken seriously, and sparked off an entire series of letters - to the drug company, to my GP, to other psychiatrists...and where my medication was changed as a result!  (There are no letters back from the GP or the drug company by the way, but then the notes included a letter stating that third party material had been withheld, so I suppose that might explain that, although there are some letters from others in different parts of the notes).    

I give up.  I can't believe that I am so demented that I have fabricated a whole story without cause -and I know that I never changed from Risperidone to any other drug - but I also find it hard to believe that these discrepancies in the notes were fabricated.  That would imply some kind of conspiracy theory, and I am not paranoid, and I don't want to get that way.  So I am just going to stop thinking about it. 

There are other inconsistencies in the notes and some glaring errors (I was married three times before I met Paul?  I was twenty-three when our eldest child was born?  I think not).  The notes overall paint a picture of someone quite different from the person I have ever been - but then they were written by people who didn't know me particularly well, some of who may have had reasons of their own for wanting to obscure certain matters.  I expected that I would not agree with all I found in the notes. 

And of course, I was very ill, and I may well have forgotten certain things.  I laughed out loud at some of the notes.  I am ready to swear, for example, that I never took another patient's radio - but I do remember that the woman in question was always very angry with me - perhaps that was why.  Other parts made me feel sad - being hospitalised after my daughter was born was the worst time of my life, and reading the notes reminded me of how truly terrified I felt at the possibility that she might be taken from my care.

I almost wish I hadn't asked to see the notes - they have led me to question my sanity (although I quite quickly decided, thank goodness, that I am as sane as I need to be, and Paul has reassured me on the subject, as he always does).  OK, there are different versions of events, but so what.  Those events are all in the past, and are going to stay that way.  The good news is that I am not in hospital now, and there is no reason why I ever should be again.   

I am grateful, as I have said before, that I didn't live a hundred years ago - because I am sure that if I had I would never have got out of hospital, never have had a family.  Never been a mother - never had the joy and the responsibility of all this.  I am so lucky - the notes reminded me of how small and lonely my life was in my late teens and twenties, how few possibilities it seemed to hold, so that eventually I willingly attended a day hospital for years, gave up on ever becoming a proper member of the human race again, swallowed pills and let myself go seriously to seed. 

I escaped from all that to a situation where my life is so full it is bursting.  I gave up my Peer Specialist work recently - I wasn't able to give the children as much of my attention as they need, because the job, part-time as it was, got in the way.  I think I can help the mental health cause more by writing - although I am seriously thinking of sticking to fiction from now on.  You can tell greater truths with fiction, although that sounds like an anomaly.  Truth is important to me, as I have always said - and to find my truth denied in those notes today was hard.  With fiction, I can still tell my story - without denying others the right to tell theirs. 

I am going to be in Newcastle on the 3rd October by the way, for events around the Reassembling the Self exhibition.  I will report back in due course.  Arrivederci!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


My youngest child started school yesterday - and he didn't shed a tear.  I was so proud.  He had a lovely morning, came home full of beans and with some exciting tales to tell (he has a vivid imagination though, so I am not sure if everything happened exactly as he related it.  Stampeding elephants in the playground?  Perhaps not...)

Anyway, the tears came today.  Floods of them. 

It is hard to tell if a child is going to cry when he or she starts school - two of mine haven't, and now two have.  On the bright side, my younger daughter, who cried every morning for months for the first year, now loves school so much that she resents the holidays.  So it's not the end of the world if they cry.

It feels like it though.  The tears were falling so fast out of his beautiful blue eyes that he reminded me of the old advert for Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps with Gary Lineker (which referenced Gazza).  (

I used to wait with my daughter and calm her down.  Sometimes it would take half an hour before she stopped crying and I could leave, but I think that may have prolonged the agony - even by the end of the school year she still had to hold her teacher's hand before I could go. 

The reason why I felt that I couldn't leave her crying was because of how the teaching assistants used to try to pull her from me as she screamed.  It reminded me of being in St Anns, when I was nineteen, trying to hold on to my Mum at the end of visiting time and being restrained by the nurses.  I couldn't bear the thought of that, so I had to make sure she was ok and calm before I left.

But hey ho - he's not having a psychotic episode, just a little wobble, and he's only at school.  And I am a grown up now - I have come to terms with my past (I hope).  So I am trying it a different way this time - I just handed him over to the teaching assistants, and hurried up the road home, trying not to cry myself.  I took the dog for a long walk and felt a lot better afterwards - and I am sure he was absolutely fine as soon as I was out of the school gate.

I think I will take him for a swim this afternoon.  He'll like that... 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Writing Group

Today was the first meeting of my new writing group.  The old group, which I set up in the local village hall with a group of my friends, just to give me teaching experience, has been disbanded for now, although I was sad to see it go.  I wasn't sure I would have time to run two groups.

This new goup is held under the umbrella of the organisation I work for - a local charity which employs people who have had experience of mental health issues, to help others on the path to recovery. 

Anyway, the writing group has been in the pipeline for quite a few months.  I organised a venue, put up lots of posters in various places, spoke to several people...  Then the summer holidays intervened, and I got distracted by all that sunshine and sand and fun and games.  Then all of a sudden the holidays were over, the kids were back at school, and the group was due to start.  The contact number on the posters was that of my employers, so I called them to ask if there had been much interest. 

It was only a few days before the group was due to start, but there didn't seem to have been much interest.  So I stuck up my last few posters around and about.  A couple of days later when I called to check the situation there still didn't seem to have been much interest.  I started to wonder if anybody was going to attend this group.  But you can't advertise a group and then not turn up to run it, so I went along anyway, hoping that perhaps one or two people would be there. 


I was not really surprised, but I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed.  I started to write at the top of the blank piece of paper I had in front of me.  First writing group, 5th September 2012.  Attendees - NOBODY.  Then I doodled over and around this for a minute. 

Then I thought - well, I can sit here and feel sorry for myself, or I can do something positive.  So I made some notes on how I can garner some interest in the group.  Then I started to text all my friends, asking them to ask anyone they know who might like to attend a writing group (it is open to the public, not only those with mental health issues ). 

Pretty soon I had loads of replies to my texts, which made me feel a lot better.  Some of my friends work in related areas, and they had some practical advice.  After an hour of planning and texting I packed up and went off to collect my youngest from his Grandma, which was a good thing really because the early finish meant we got to spend a little extra time together in these precious last days before he starts school.

And just think - next week if I get even one group member I will be really happy!

Sunday, 2 September 2012


I can't believe it's September.  We have had a long, lovely summer holiday and obviously I have been aware that time is passing - but still, September. 

On the bright side, September has been one of the best months, weather-wise, in the South of England for the last few years.  So there may be a heatwave due.  On the other hand, the kids have to go back to school now, and I will miss them.  Toddler is due to start full-time school (I really must stop calling him that now) so for the first time in twelve-plus years I will have no little people at home during the daytime. 

I am not too sad about it.  School is only from nine to three, five days a week, and allowing for half terms and teacher training days and some days off for sickness and so on, I will probably not have that much child-free time.  But it is definitely the end of an era - no more toddler groups, unless I 'borrow' a young relative to wheedle my way into one (and really, what would be the point?)

I am stepping up on the work front - at least three whole days this month and several afternoons in my Peer Specialist role, which may not sound much but is considerably more than I have been doing.  And I will continue to do my ghost-writing, which is going quite well - it is amazing how quickly that book is progessing. 

The trick this term will be to use the time I have as efficiently as possible.  I will spend one afternoon each week teaching, one day ghost-writing, as much time as I can writing my new book...  I am not going to go on about it all any more, as the logisitics of it all are making my head spin. 

The funny thing is, almost everybody I know keeps telling me how I won't know myself once all the kids are at school, I will have so much free time.  And I think, yes, it could have been that way - it would have been that way, perhaps, if I hadn't written my memoir and published it just over a year ago and thus started my life spinning off in a new direction.  I could have sat at home and watched daytime TV or read novels all day, or been a lady who lunches.

Perish the thought.