Monday, 29 October 2012

A Writing Weekend

I have been lucky recently - I have been out and about to various events connected with writing and with mental health.  I think I have catalogued most of them on recent posts here.  This weekend I attended two writing workshops - one co-ordinated by Cyprus Well and, I think, both run by LitUp

The Cyprus Well event was billled as a networking event for writers in residence, although attendance seemed to be fairly open to all.  The event was free.  It was aimed at those who lead writing groups connected with mental health, and particularly for those who work with people recovering from addiction.  A chap from Vita Nova running it, and he seemed very nice - modest too (he was very down to earth, said he talked from a non-academic viewpoint and you would have been forgiven for thinking he had no qualifications, but it turned out he had taken a degree as a mature student and is now doing an MA).

There were lots of interesting people there - perhaps fourteen attendees in total.  I was really impressed with the venue - Pavilion Dance in Bournemouth  That place must have had a lot of money spent on it recently.  They have really modernised the inside while keeping the outside structure intact, which is wonderful because it is a great old building that deserves to be preserved.  There is also a new modern bistro next door.  The view from the huge windows was of the Lower Gardens, and as I watched a bouncy castle was inflated on the grass below us.  It was a lovely sunny day, fresh and clear, and I couldn't help thinking of my kids, who would have loved to be with me in Bournemouth.  I hate taking myself away from them at the weekend.

I was pleased I went, though.  We talked about various ways of running writing workshops, different ice-breakers and exercises (one lady pointed out that we should use the word activity rather than exercise, so as not to intimidate those people who don't want to be reminded of their schooldays).   I met somebody called Tania Hershman, who is a writer in residence at Bristol University in the Science department.  Aha, I thought - I could learn a lot here (I am thinking of the opportunities which I hope will soon present themself from Newcastle).  I chatted briefly to Tania and gave her a copy of my book, although I have told myself  I should not keep giving them away - but in return she very kindly gave me a copy of hers 'My Mother was an Upright Piano'.  A real book - in exchange for mine!  It's fab - a book of really short stories, very original and striking.

Now I really do hate taking myself away from the kids at the weekend - and I realise it sounds quite contradictory that I attended two workshops on one weekend.  What can I say - it's like buses (and men, according to Wendy Cope) - they all come at once.  The Saturday event had only been for a couple of hours in the morning, but the Sunday one ran from ten until four pm.  It only cost five pounds (it would have been more but you got a discount if you attended more than one event). 

And it was really good too - although there were only four of us so the atmosphere was not as dynamic, the teacher was fine (John Foster, a tutor from the Media School at Bournemouth Universtiy) and he gave us lots of useful handouts to take away.  It is always good to be in the company of other writers, and I feel privileged to have been able to take part.  Although I now have plenty of domestic weekends ahead (no jaunts planned at all now) I am sure the double injection of motivation will help keep me writing more regularly from now on.  Thanks to Cyprus Well and to LitUp - and to Tania Hershmann for her lovely book!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thoughts on Thought Disorders

Just found this excellent podcast

Actually, I have not listened to the podcast myself yet, just read the excerpted chapter, from the book 'Hallucinations', which was wonderful.  I particularly liked the non-judgemental way in which the hearing voice phenomenom was discussed. 

I don't hear voices, and have only had the experience twice, shortly after I was out of hospital after my second breakdown, when I was taking a lot of psychiatric medication.  It was incredible how real the voice sounded.  It was my mother's voice, and I spun around both times, convinced that she was standing by my side, talking in my ear. 

Incidentally, it is unusual to be diagnosed with schizophrenia if one does not hear voices (as the above article states). 

But I do experience a fair amount of internal dialogue.  That is to say, I think a lot.  Not knowing how other people think, I have sometimes wondered whether my thought patterns are normal.  For example, generally I just have a milling around of ideas in my brain, some of which I follow through and think about more deeply and others which are just passing through.  But I remember on one occasion, when I was pregnant with my younger daughter, I was sitting down somewhere in town, speaking to another Mum.  I was enjoying the conversation, but not ecstatically, so when suddenly a thought manifested, 'This is fun!' it surprised and slightly alarmed me.  It was the suddenness of the thought that shocked - it was in my own voice - but the thought seemed to have come from nowhere, in the middle of an ordinary conversation.  It was not my usual pattern of thinking. 

And obviously when I was psychotic, my thoughts were so disturbed that very little of my thinking was normal.  I do occasionally wonder whether this was a separate phenomenon, because I was mentally ill, or whether all my thinking is 'wrong' but I somehow manage to function most of the time despite that fact.  I don't suppose I will ever know, or that it matters much, as long as I stay sane.

Well, having read the above article, it is obvious that all sorts of thinking patterns are normal - in that quite sizeable chunks of the population hear external voices, others have internal voices and so on, and that there are many different ways in which people organise their thoughts, or their subconscious organises the thoughts for them. 

A lot of the time my mind is busy, but I don't always pay attention to my thoughts.  This was especially the case when I was at school - my mind used to drift off all over the place, and I often found it hard to concentrate in class because I would drift off into daydreams.  I take more notice of my thoughts nowadays, because often a random thought will give me an idea for a story, or a blog post, and I so I like to catch those ideas (often I note them down on my phone).

I wonder how many others who have, or have had, thought disorders (my new term of choice for 'schizophrenia') were very shy, or suffered social anxiety when they were young.  I used to find it extremely hard - almost impossible - to verbalise my thoughts.  This was especially so in social situations - I can remember as a teenager sitting at the pub with my boyfriend and his friends, longing to join in the conversation and knowing just the right thing to say but finding it impossible to speak out.  I was paralysed by fear. 

I also remember when I was very young - four or five - when adults spoke to me I would just gaze at them, answering in my head but unable to say the words out loud.  I had to speak sometimes, because I was so scared of my father and he insisted that I talk, but I think left to my own devices I would have been an 'selective mute'.  (Selective mutism is a very interesting condition which affects children; they can usually talk to their parents and other children but to literally no other adults - I suspect that, as in my case, it is fear that holds them back.) 

I have gone the opposite way in recent years - I talk rather too much and say things which I think most people would keep quiet about, and unfortunately I don't always express myself terribly clearly.  I think because I didn't learn conversation when I was young I still have a lot of catching up to do.  I am working on improving this, and one day soon I intend to enrol on some sort of speech or conversation programme and sort it all out properly.

Maybe I will wait until I have finished the psychology.  I am really enjoying my psychology course - it is doing me good to learn something new.  We have been learning about memory, and I have discovered that mine is very visual.  In our text book was a list of ten shopping items - the idea was to mentally link the items to a route walked, and remember them that way.  That was on Tuesday and I realised this morning that I can still remember them - eggs in my letterbox, butter in the boat parked in front of a nearby house, biscuits for the dog in the next house along, tomatoes where the road bends around the corner, potatoes in a garden, cheese in the alleyway, pasta in one shop and jam in another, cornflakes in the supermarket at the end of my journey.  I have forgotten just one item, which bugs me - but still!  I will utilise that technique more now I know I can do it so easily.  Not necessarily for shopping lists - I find a pen and paper handy - but maybe for the psychology exam itself!

But I digress.  I was wondering if this is part of the initial problem with sufferers from a thought disorder - that they think too much and can't manage to express these thoughts, so internalise them and then this manifests later as disturbances in thinking.  Which helps to explain why writing is so therapeutic, because it can help a person to organise their thoughts, as well as giving a sense of pride in a created product, and perhaps too, if one is lucky, a career and income.

I have all sorts of theories about mental illness - and I am sure some of my insights could be useful.  The problem is that they remain just theories.  Earlier this week I attended a meeting at the local university - we were talking about speaking to social work and nursing students from a service user perspective.  The member of faculty staff present was worried about giving what he termed unsubstantiated information to students - he seemed to think that it would cloud their judgement.  (I am guessing that he would disapprove of me telling them that I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and yet am well and don't take or need medication, because this is not something he thinks they need to know).

I believe otherwise - that students should be taught how to learn, not what to think.  And judging from my experience at Newcastle, young people are much more discerning that we perhaps give them credit for - surely they should be allowed to access several different types of information and then decide for themselves what is the most effective, or learn it for themselves later on in the workplace?  Also, the advantage of bringing new young people into a system is that they can bring a fresh perspective - and therefore work forwards.  Wouldn't it be great if young people working in the mental health system believed in recovery and therefore could convey a sense of hope?  What could be wrong with that?

Anyway, I must thank 'Tea and Talk' on Twitter, because this is where I found the link to the Oliver Sacks piece above.  'Tea and Talk' is funded by Time to Change and looks like a brilliant initiative - I hope to see more of them in the future.  Here's the link to the twitter feed, from which you can find the website:

Friday, 19 October 2012

Community Celebration Event


Hi Rossa 

You are right - it would be certainly be healthiest for me personally to stay right away from mental health professionals - although I do think that peer recovery work is invaluable.  I went to a community mental health event 'To celebrate and explore ways to improve mental health and wellbeing'  for an hour this afternoon.  My ex-employers were there and various people from local mental health services.  I had known about it for some weeks but not particularly planned to go - but then I decided it would be a good thing to turn up and show my support for their enterprise.  But when the nice man who welcomed me at the door asked if I was 'a service user or from one of the organisations' my heart sank.

I said, 'Not really,' which sounded rude, so I elaborated that I had used services a long time ago, and that I used to work for the Dorset Mental Health Forum, which reassured him because then he knew how to classify me (basically, I had a foot in both camps).

I must emphasise that there was no malice involved at all and that these people genuinely want to be inclusive - but I just don't feel comfortable identifying myself as a service user.  (Although of course, by being there today, I became a service user). 

I chatted to a few people and then attended a talk on nutrition, which I found simplistic and slightly patronising - when the (again very nice and well-intentioned) speaker said to the group assembled 'You should not eat too much salt because it affects how your medication is absorbed in your bodies' my heart just sank (again).  He was talking at a 'mental health' event, so I suppose he assumed that everyone must be on medication. 

And when someone asked him about the link between IBS and mental health, he said that there was not really a connection there, although there is a link between IBS and anxiety.  So he does not even consider that anxiety is a mental health problem!  This guy seemed to have specialist knowledge of mental health conditions - he certainly reeled off the names of enough drugs during his talk.  But what on earth does he think anxiety is, if it is not a mental health problem?  It is at the root of all these conditions, darn it! 

I think he might have been confused by the fact that a lot of people with IBS are offended by the thought that it is 'in their mind'.  'How can it be in my mind?'  they ask.  'I feel pain!  I have symptoms!'  Well - the body is a wonderful thing.  And it houses the mind as well as the intestines and lots of other organs, and nobody quite understands the full complexity of all their interconnections.  But we should keep trying.

Anyway, I had to leave the talk early to pick the kids up from school, so it might have got a lot better after I left.  And I don't want to spend my time attending, then finding fault with, this sort of event, or picking holes in other people's speeches.  I want to improve things, but I don't think this is the way to do it. 

I am starting to think that perhaps I should not have been there today in the first place - perhaps all this stuff is actually none of my business.  I can't help wondering if I am even slightly institutionalised on some level, in that I still feel some sort of subconscious pull to these sort of environments?  After all, I did voluntarily attend a day hospital for several years!

But I will carry on.  As Chris Muirhead (the Scottish mental health activist) wrote to me recently on the Mad in America site when I expressed misgivings about being involved in the system as a 'service user', you can't put the cat back in the bag once you've let it out.  Also, in her words, 'I've started, so I'll finish, sort of thing'.  Bravo, and ditto.

I certainly don't feel as grounded as I should, this week - and yes, it's because I have been identifying myself as a person with a problem.  I didn't have these sort of concerns at Newcastle - maybe because I was in a more enlightened academic environment there, or maybe because the events I have attended this week have been literally too close to home.  Perhaps the difference is that I was invited to Newcastle, and the audience I spoke to there wanted to hear what I had to say - here, I have been trespassing on other people's parades. 

Good to hear from you, Rossa.  I will go over to your blog now - haven't been there for a few weeks.  All the best, Louise.  

Thursday, 18 October 2012

What's in a Name?

So, on Tuesday (it seems like longer ago) I attended a talk at Bournemouth University given by a nurse called Ciaran Newell, who specialises in treating eating disorders.  He spoke about labelling as it relates to stigma and discrimination, something he says he has personal experience of, being a) a male nurse, and b) Irish. 

He was an eloquent sort of chap (I suppose it would not be PC to speculate here on whether he has kissed the Blarney Stone.  I wish I could kiss the blarney stone, come to think of it...  I wonder where it actually is?  Does it exist, or is it just one of those expressions?  Anyway...)

The talk was interesting enough.  It marked the end of Mental Health Awareness Week at the University, which is a whole programme of events around World Mental Health Day, a commendable enterprise.  I attended a talk during the same programme last year - Minette Waters, the author, gave a talk relating to the charity work she does with the criminally insane (what an awful expression that is!  I don't think I have ever written it down before - can it really be the correct term for people who have committed a crime due to illness?)

So.  Ciaran talked a little about the offensive nature of labels, but then said that on the other hand, labelling helps treatment and understanding.  I hate it when mental health professionals say that!

Labelling does not help anything or anybody.  I can't be any clearer about this.  Let's take the label 'Schizophrenic'.  It does not make any difference to the treatment - because the same medications are used as in bi-polar, schizo-affective, and other disorders.  Basically, when a patient suffers psychosis a cocktail of drugs are tried in an attempt to remedy it, until something works.  Sometimes, if after several years a medication is changed and a patient responds well, the diagnosis is changed as a result.  Psychiatric treatment fundamentally operates by a process of guesswork. 

I am not making this stuff  up, although I would not blame anybody for thinking that I am.  There is a huge weight of literature on the subject of the complexity of mental health treatment - just take a look at the Mad in America website (link on the left hand side of this page) which will bust a few myths to say the least. 

(I am aware, by the way, that I may be preaching to the converted here, but I am hoping to have rustled up a few new readers recently and if there is anybody new here I want to point them in the right direction from the outset).

So that's treatment.  And as for understanding...  How can anybody possibly understand me better once they are told I am schizophrenic?  Surely it will just cause them to look at me in a different light, rather than accepting me as the human being they previously thought I was?  Not just me, obviously, but anyone.  There is no understanding of the condition, not even amoungst mental health professionals.  To them, I am schizophrenic.  Foolstop.  The fact that I have been on no medication for more than ten years and have no symptoms of mental illness, or any degeneration of the brain, counts for nothing - supposedly I am just waiting for the next breakdown.  And if it never comes?  That will prove nothing.  And if it does come?  Ah yes, then they were right.

I asked at the end  of the talk whether the speaker thought it would be beneficial to change the label of schizophrenia, and he replied that it certainly had helped to reduce stigma and discrimination by changing the name 'manic depression' to 'bi-polar disorder' but that 'Schizophrenia isn't quite there yet'.  I didn't quite understand what he was trying to say, but another member of the audience (who I have seen before, I think he is a member of the University staff) jumped in then and said that there is currently a move to change the diagnosis to 'thought disorder'. 

Now, how much good would that do?  How many people would feel that they have been given their lives back?  'You are not schizophrenic, you have a thought disorder'.  What a huge relief that would be.  Even for me, who maintains that I don't care what I am called, because the fact that I manage without medication and don't have any symptoms of mental illness is enough proof that I am not schizophrenic, even if the medics still insist that I am. 

Truth is - the label still hurts.  Nobody is that strong that calling them a lunatic, and saying they will always be one, wouldn't hurt. 

I don't want to diss Cieran - I was embarrassed after the talk because I had asked a lot of probing questions at the end.   I didn't want to show him up, but I just think this kind of stuff needs to be properly understood.  And what better opportunity could there be than during a talk about labelling?

Cieran demonstrated a high level of understanding - he spoke of how a label impacts on the identity of an individual, and can block self-realisation.  He spoke about how the individual with a label can adopt the characteristics linked with that condition.  That is exactly what happened to me during my day hospital days - I was taught what to expect from life as a 'schizophrenic' and I conformed, because by being compliant I was protected (I gained housing and state benefits, I had a place to go every day). 

Cieran spoke about how the labels can cause social exclusion because you feel unable to tell others about your condition, and then because you are forced to hide you always feel at risk of being found out.  Again, spot on.

But - he said then that this sense of shame and the resultant not-telling, was an 'adaptive response'.  He said that the fault in stigma lies with society, not with the individual.  What he failed to recognise - because he doesn't have the label 'schizophrenic' - is that not-telling is a necessary response to extreme labelling. 

Why should you tell the world that you are a 'schizophrenic'?  Because it makes things easier for others in the same position.  But in doing so you are making a personal sacrifice of yourself - of your own standing in society, perhaps compromising your family, perhaps as a result losing your hard-won peace of mind.

I do it, because I am lucky to be in a position of strength - on the days when it all gets too much I can hunker down with my family, who thank God don't see me as a 'Schizophrenic'.  Just take a few days to re-gather myself.  But I wouldn't recommend it to others.

Apart from anything else, when you stand up and say, 'I'm a Schizophrenic - but I'm better now' (knowing that this does sound mad, no matter how sane you try to look)  you are not holding out any real hope for other people.  The mental health professionals won't acknowledge that I am better - so why on earth, I wonder at times, did I ever expose myself in this way? 

I mentioned the anomoly to Cieran - that recovery from schizophrenia is supposed to be impossible without medication and yet I don't take meds and the professionals still won't accept that either I don't have the illness or that I am recovered. Another member of the University staff said that some professionals see schizophrenia as a relapse/remission syndrome - but that all of us are equally at risk of having a psychosis some time (and this was meant kindly - the implication was that therefore I should not take it personally). 

But there is a big difference between a general concept of being at risk (which would not impinge on most people's consciousness - we are all at risk of everything all the time, and we have to ignore that fact in order to function in our daily lives) and being told by professionals that you should never consider yourself mentally well because you have a brain disease that you will never recover from.  Psychologically, there is all the difference in the world.  It takes an effort some days to convince myself that I am sane - even though I am clearly not insane - because of the darned label and what they tell me I should expect from my life and from myself.  How can I expect other people to believe that I am normal under this sort of stigma? 

This is why when an enlightened mental health professional like Cieran stands up and makes enlightened statements like, 'Diagnosis can make what is transient, permanent' (a quote from Burke and Porter) or explains the faults in service provision, as he did, I can't be simply grateful, I have to keep pushing for further understanding, proper understanding. 

Yes, a diagnosis of schizophrenia can, as he points out, open the door to all sorts of services and provisions (even ensure that one is fed and housed, as I was).  But it sucks the soul out of an individual.  It makes them fear themselves.  It even makes them fear recovery (because if that happens, by some miracle, one will no longer be fed and housed, and then how will one survive in the world?)

How exactly is one suppose to survive as a schizophrenic in a world of human beings?  One is not allowed to recover - you are told that recovery is impossible, it is a lifelong condition, and you need to take medication for ever (regardless of the impact that medication has one your health).  Recovery, if it does occur, is not acknowledged - the label stands.  You must learn to live with that label - it is society's problem, not yours, apparently.

Would you employ a schizophrenic?  I don't know that I would...

Ciaran does have insight - he proposed solutions to the problem of labelling, which included re-education, use of the internet, of peer support and advocacy.  But that is just tinkering around the edges of the problem - the label itself needs addressing.  Nothing else could make as big a difference to the actual living of lives - nothing could be kinder - than simply to remove the stigma from our shoulders.  'You are not schizophrenic.  You have a thought disorder'. 

Job done.  Then people who have experienced the problems will feel more able to speak freely about the condition, the symptoms, the risk factors.  Then young people can be educated on how to be watchful for the signs, how to guard their mental health. 

I did not mean to heckle Cieran - on the other hand, I really wanted to educate those students.  (The room was packed by the way - perhaps a hundred people in the audience, in contrast to the event I attended last year, which had perhaps ten, and far more than the thirty or so I spoke to in Newcastle).  Of course, Cieran's field of expertise is eating disorders, not schizophrenia, and so I suppose I couldn't have hoped that he would understand the impact of the diagnosis that I have.  I should not have taken it personally perhaps - but throughout his talk he constantly referred to schizophrenia, and in the end I found that I could not stay quiet. 

I didn't know quite why I have felt so teary and vulnerable for the last couple of days, and why my self-esteem had suddenly plummeted.  Now, writing this, I am beginning to understand.  It has been an emotional time since Tuesday (it wasn't easy standing up and announcing that 'I have Schizophrenia' to a room full of people who were there to listen to somebody else) but I feel better already.

Writing helps, as I have been saying for a long time.  If you are new to this blog, and have suffered emotional distress or are still battling with it, try writing down how you feel about it all.  You don't have to show anybody what you have written, but just try it and see.  It helps.  The tears may come (tears of self-pity? of anger?) but afterwards you can re-read what you have written, and you can feel proud. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


If anyone logged on here earlier today and found an advert for a mature dating website, I sincerely hope you ignored it.  I have now had to remove all the social network links from the right hand side of this blog, in order to get rid of the advert.  Grrr.  I have no idea how it got on here, and I find it really annoying. 

Anyway.  I went to an event called 'What's in a Name?' at Bournemouth University on Tuesday, as part of their Mental Health Awareness Week, and had an interesting time.  I intend to blog about it very soon - probably tomorrow, as it provided much food for thought and deserves a longer post than I can manage at this time of the evening. 

I have also been active on the Rethink Talk website in the last couple of days - I find it quite addictive, so will definitely have to be stringent about limiting my time on there.  Have also been having a good look around the Mad in America website, which I think is a brilliant resource - I really can't praise it highly enough.

I walked my dog at the beach today for the first time in months - during the summer I tend to take her to the parks, as they are quieter.  We had a lovely time - I had missed the sea more than I had realised.  It seems like longer than six weeks or so since the summer holidays, when the children and I were at the beach hut and in the water most days. 

I don't know where the time is going this week.  I had got on a bit of a roll with the recovery book; worked on it a lot last week and over the weekend but have been too busy with other stuff to look at it since Monday - hopefully tomorrow will see some progress with that. 

I can't believe it is almost half term.  Little one is loving school now - no hint of tears in the morning, although he does insist that I have to wave goodbye to him through the window when I leave (he blows me kisses!)

The others are also thriving - but this is a long term, and they are all ready for a break.  I have some writing workshops and suchlike planned for the next couple of weekends, so life will continue to be hectic for a little while yet, but in a good way.  I think I will have a proper holiday over half-term - hide the computer from myself, and just concentrate on being with the kids.

So, more tomorrow about the Bournemouth Uni jaunt (or if not, definitely the day after, or if not, then most certainly over the weekend).

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir

Paul was up late last night compiling this - a list of places where my book can now be bought.  Unfortuntately, self-publishing entails marketing - not my favourite thing - but luckily for me, my husband works hard to help.  He has made the book available in many places.
Here goes:
Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir
The E-BOOK is available from...
Amazon Kindle
United Kingdom.
United States of America
The PAPERBACK is available from.....
United Kingdom
Amazon (Online).
Waterstones (Can also be ordered in store)
Also other good book shops and public libraries.
United States of America
Amazon (Online).
CreateSpace (Online).
The Book Depository (World wide).
The Nile (Australia)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Newcastle (2)

Well, I slept fantastically, so here is the new blog post as promised.  I am not sure what else to say about Newcastle though...  maybe I will just describe my visit.

I went to the hotel when I arrived, to chill out a bit.  I was lucky - they let me up to my room early (I wasn't supposed to book in until after three pm).  The girl at the desk was quite amusing though.  She asked if I had any room preferences.  Confused, I asked what choices I had.  To which she responded, 'I am sorry, we have no rooms left with river views'. 

Clearly, if I had said I had a preference for a river room, I would have got one.  I was too thick to know what she was asking, so I got lumped with the inferior room (I am guessing the receptionists are told to save the river view rooms for those visitors who ask for them).

But, to be perfectly honest, I really did not care what view was out of the hotel window.  It was not as if I was going to be sitting looking out of it for recreation.  Having worked in hotels myself, I was always surprised about the fuss certain guests made about the view from their room - their insistence on a sea view, for example.  They were out for most of the day, and at night time it was dark - so what difference did they think a view from the window would make to the enjoyment of their holiday?

Anyway.  I had lunch at the University, with Kate Hudson, the University Public Engagement Officer who had invited me up to Newcastle.  She turned out to be lovely - right on my wavelength.  She had invited a student from the new University Science magazine to interview me - and he was lovely too.  I am amazed at how articulate, confident and calm all the young people I met at the University were actually.  To be so young and yet so capable - how wonderful.

Anyway, after the interview I went straight off to give my talk, which was good as I didn't have time to think about it too much first.  My lovely daughters had helped me set up a Powerpoint presentation to go with the talk, which worked like a dream.  They are so smart (or perhaps I am just the converse)!

There's not much to say about the talk - I spoke for about half an hour and said a lot of the things I have written about on here.  I didn't read from a script, but I had notes to help me when I floundered.  Afterwards, some of the students asked questions, which I did my best to answer.

It was a really positive experience - empowering.  Or, as little daughter once said, 'I feel like - Woman can Build'. 

Afterwards, we headed off - Kate, myself and Dr Fiona Le Beau.  As I have mentioned on here before, my talk was part of a series of events around the 'Reassembling the Self' exhibition curated by Susan Aldworth.  Fiona is the Professor of Neuroscience who had initially arranged the exhibition with Susan.  At the Hatton Gallery, where part of the exhibition is currently housed, we listened to a reading by Henry and Patrick Cockburn, author's of 'Henry's Demons'.  They took questions afterwards too.

Then Patrick, Henry and Henry's younger brother, myself, Kate, Fiona, Susan and some students went for drinks and on to dinner.  I think there were about ten of us.

The next morning I had no engagements, so I went sightseeing.  I saw the Baltic - an amazing Arts Centre, and the Sage, a music centre, both of which were right by the hotel.  Then I visited the Hatton, to view the Reassembling the Self exhibition properly, to the Vane in town where the rest of the exhibition is housed, and to the Laing Gallery, where there is an exhibition of Quentin Blake's work.  I also went to the Central Library, which has been built recently and is really impressive.  All of it was actually really impressive - Newcastle was much lovelier than I had imagined.   

Then lunch at the hotel, and home.  Taxi, plane and train - from North to South in less than four hours.  Amazing.

I have used the word lovely several times in this blog post.along with various other superlatives.  Maybe my brain is disintregrating - or perhaps it was all just lovely.  I feel really priveleged to have had the experience.

There is a possibility that the Reassembling the Self exhibition may tour at some future point - and that I may be involved in some way if it does.  I think it would be a really good thing - and I am not just saying this because I enjoyed the experience.  I thought it was an excellent way to encourage dialogue about mental health, something that badly needs to be done.  The exhibition has apparently been extremely popular - so fingers crossed for a tour. 
There is also a possibility that I may be involved in the Science Festival which Newcastle are hosting next September.  This is the biggest Science Conference in Europe, with 50- 70,000 attendees, if I understood what Kate was telling me correctly.  I won't say what my role will be, as I don't know for sure if or when it will happen, but I am really excited about the chance of becoming involved.  I will keep you all posted.

So - to conclude - and to quote Miranda Hart's Mum - such fun! 

Thursday, 4 October 2012


This is going to be a really short post - I'm really tired despite (or because of) having spent a night in a lovely hotel.  Paul, who goes away for work several times a year, says that he never sleeps in hotels for the first few nights - he says he finds it hard to adapt to the new environment. 

And come to think of it, I would have traded the four lovely fat pillows for my usual rather squished one.  I missed my cherry pillow (and I somehow had forgotten to pack my pyjamas) so I suppose I didn't have my usual sleep cues.  I loved the space and solitude of the hotel room - but somehow it wasn't as relaxing as it should have been without the kids around (I missed them, obviously).  But I think the main reason I couldn't sleep much because I was just over-excited - I really had the time of my life yesterday.

I was, of course, at the University to talk about my book, and about recovery in general.  I flew up early yesterday morning.  (Yes, I am showing off.  I may never get the opportunity to boast this way again.  Sorry though).

The talk went well, I think.  There weren't a huge number of people there, which was a good thing for my first professional talk - it kept the pressure off.  I actually enjoyed myself - I had an audience, they were MY audience, they had to listen to me!  I even subjected them to one of my poems.

I also listened to Henry and Patrick Cockburn read and answer questions about their book, 'Henry's Demons' and I was interviewed by a nice boy from the student science magazine, and then later a group of us went out to dinner.  I enjoyed every minute of it, but ended the evening rather hyped up. 

Never mind, though - I have functioned ok today.  I went sight-seeing - Newcastle really has some amazing art centres and galleries.

Anyway - you know what?  This blog entry is not really short.  And it needs to be, so I am going to stop it right here in the middle, and write a proper one tomorrow, after I have had a decent sleep and feel a bit more compos mentis. 

Cherry pillow?  I hear you wondering.  It is stuffed with cherry stones - you heat it in the microwave, and they smell wonderful and the heat is really therapeutic.  Like a very lumpy hot water bottle, but far better than that sounds. 

More anon.