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.  


  1. maybe you are feeling uneasy about it all because not that much -not enough-has changed in the system. Service users and service providers are not equals. A service user is not just a person who has had a breakdown in difficult circumstances. The service-providers are the "experts", a notch above you, not just somebody to lean on for a bit. They know best what's good for you and they are going to tell you. In reality the service users are the real experts because they know how it all feels and what the meds do to them. And then there is the "once a schizophrenic always a schizophrenic" thing.It is always at the back of the service provider's mind: they can't help it.There are a few exceptions but there are not many of them.

  2. Yes - the system is far from perfect, but since my foray into being a 'peer specialist' did not work out, my role in trying to change it remains undefined. I think I can probably work towards change best from a distance, through my writing, until and unless I am actually asked to contribute, as I was at Newcastle. I am still hoping to be involved with their Science Festival next year - although it may be a while before I hear any more about that.

    Meanwhile, I went to a 'mini literature festival' at the local Arts Centre today - and I felt much more at home there. One of the authors, Morag Joss, spoke of the joy she felt when she was first told by her mentor, P.D. James that, 'You are a writer, my dear'. Well, I am a writer too - I don't need anyone to tell me that any more, I have proved it to myself and I know it to be true. I am a writer. And that is the only label I believe in, and the only one I need.

  3. Yes, I think you are absolutely right and doing a great job. You definitely can write.I am in the process of rereading your book: it is even better the second time around. just finished reading "The centre cannot hold" by Elyn Saks. It is strange and interestig how things look different to a person trying to make sense of what is going on from the outside. Elyn seems to think at first that her childhood has nothing to do with her psychosis as well as the fact that she doesn't eat and sleep properly as a student; just works, works works and hasn't got a clue how to handle anxiety and panic attacks.