Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas is coming

I have not written a word for a whole week - I know that because I just found a comment on my last blog post that I hadn't seen before and it was dated the 18th.  I can't quite believe that despite my best intentions, as documented in the last post, I still don't get on with it.

My eldest daughter loves to write, and she signed both of us up for NaNoWriMo.  The idea is that you should write a novel - a minimum of fifty thousand words - in the month of November.  My total number of words so far?  Zero.  And my daughter's?  About twenty thousand words, believe it or not.  And she is writing in her spare time, in between school work, Guides, choir and so on. 

To be fair, I am busy doing all the housework, cooking etc, and looking after the puppies.  Even the weekends pass in a blur, although I did escape to the shops for a couple of hours yesterday.  I don't really mind that I don't have time to write - it is only a couple more weeks until the puppies go to their new homes, and then I will have more time. 

Oh - except that we are keeping one puppy, so although my workload will be less I will still be busy.  And of course, it is Christmas coming up, which means I will need to start shopping for gifts, and for food and so on.  And then it will be the school holidays.

But there's always January.  Yes, I'll get back on track then.

During my sojourn at the shops, I bumped into an old friend.  We used to attend Hahnemann House - the dreaded day hospital - together.  She recognised me - I wouldn't have known who she was if she hadn't called out my name - and we stopped and chatted for several minutes.  It was good to see her looking so well.  She is working in Waitrose  (a posh supermarket, for those of you who live abroad) and she says she has put all her mental health problems behind her.  I was really encouraged by this - especially as she also had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and so many people seem to languish with this label.  She was a good person, who deserved better in life than she had, and I am pleased and relieved that things seem to be on track for her.   

That's all I have time for now - got to go and collect my eldest son from school - but hey, at least I have done some writing today!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Opportunity Knocks?

I went to an Author's Day at the local Arts Centre last weekend - there were three authors each giving an insight into their work and their method.  It was interesting, and motivational as usual.  I say 'as usual' because I have been to quite a few of these sort of events over the past five or so years.  I am hoping that eventually I will tire of hearing how other writers do it and get on with doing it myself.

Anyway.  I went with a group of friends from my book group, which was nice.  Often I can't find anyone who is interested in attending author talks, or writing workshop days, and so I go alone, and although I still enjoy myself I can't help wondering whether other people think I am a bit sad (almost certainly, yes they do).  So it made a change to go in company.

I haven't been thinking all that much about my memoir recently.  I have been making an effort to move on and write something else instead of banging the same old drum.  But at lunchtime when I was chatting with my friends (while glancing around the room thinking, 'Look at me, I have friends!') one of them suggested various ways that I could move forward with my writing and mental health activism.  She pointed out that lots of people make contacts through their blogs and thus get invited to speak on their specialist subject and that this can be quite lucrative.

Well, I don't want to be money orientated.  But I have four kids, we need a larger house, and if I don't start earning some money through my writing soon, I will have to get a proper job.  Perish the thought.  In fact, I mentioned to Paul yesterday that I was thinking of applying for a part-time post at Marks and Spencer and instead of his usual reply when I say I am thinking of getting a job, 'No, you should write,' he said something else; 'You don't have to get a job, but you can if you want'. 

Aaagh!  Because I don't want, but I feel that I should!  And I love it when he tells me that I shouldn't!  But now it seems that even my beloved husband has got fed up with me being 'a writer' who doesn't actually write, or earn, much at all.

Actually, I have just remembered I went to another author talk last week.  This one was by Lucy Clarke, who has just had her first novel recommended by Richard and Judy, completed her second which will soon be published, and just signed another two book deal with Harper Collins.  She says she writes every day from half six every morning until six in the evening.  Lucy Clarke also looks like a supermodel, by the way, and speaks like an actress, so the whole experience was a bit - how do I put it? - surreal. 

I am more in tune with Sabine Durrant (one of the weekend author speakers) who says she often prevaricates until it is half an hour from the end of her writing day, when she dashes off a thousand panic-stricken words.  The difference between the two?  Durrant has three kids, and Clarke has none of course.

So, freshly motivated, what have I done in the way of writing today?  I - er - spent a happy hour or so on Twitter, mostly twittering about mental health.  I enjoyed it - nobody can stop me blathering away, but equally nobody is forced to listen.  I think it is the perfect arena for the airing of opinions in the modern world.  And to my delight, I heard a whisper that the editor of a certain magazine might want to speak to me!  My old school magazine! 

It won't lead to fame and riches, but I love my old school and I would be absolutely honoured to write a piece for them. So, even though I may not be any further forward in one way (i.e. did not take any major or minor steps towards writing the Great British Novel today) mentally I feel so much happier and more positive now I know that something exciting might be in the pipeline.  And that may not have happened if I had not been on Twitter.

By the way - there is a reason why I have not written much in the last few weeks.  A better reason than usual.  My lovely little dog has had puppies - five gorgeous bundles.  They are five weeks old now, and as they are growing they are becoming ever more time-consuming.  Apart from having to clean around them, I have to feed them, house-train them, play with them and most importantly give them lots of cuddles.  It has been really enjoyable - so much so that I have been considering the possibility of breeding dogs rather than getting a proper job.  There are certainly a lot worse things that I could do with my time! 

More anon.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Hurrah for Sinead O'Connor!

I just read this (there was a link from the Mad in America site) and was heartened by it.  Good on you, Sinead, for claiming your own life back.  Now, where can I meet those doctors?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Mental Health Conference at Bournemouth University

I went to a mental health conference at Bournemouth Uni today - actually, I went to half a conference, because I left just after lunch.  It was a pity in a way, because the two workshops I attended were really interesting, and I am sure I would have learned more if I had stayed longer.  There were five (I think) lots of sessions taking place during the day - that is to say, whatever you went/listened to, you missed four others.  Which was a great shame - even those people who stayed until the end must have felt they'd missed out on a lot.  I think this event could easily have stretched to two, or even three, days.

And this is from someone who is trying to cut off from mental health issues!  I do enjoy these events, and still find the whole mental health thing fascinating.  The trouble is, I get more emotionally involved than I should.

I didn't sound off publicly about my various opinions - which I am wont to do in these sorts of situations.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course - plenty of others did make their views about various things known during the course of the workshops I attended.  But just listening for a change was interesting - I realised that however valid the points being made by members of the audience, I really would have preferred to be able to listen to the person who was supposed to be lecturing.

The first workshop was given by members of IMROC - I hope I have that right, I should really be consulting my notes now.  Jed Boardman and Geoff Shepherd were the speakers.  I warmed to both of them - they seemed to have the right attitude (were open minded and intelligent) and I learned some things I didn't know about the mental health system.  It was interesting when one of them made the point that often people get admitted to hospital because they have been admitted before - instead of trying to find alternative solutions, when the person presents with whatever symptoms the Mental Health Team simply apply the course of action that has been taken previously.

It is comforting to know that some people think about these things.

At the end of that workshop (which lasted an hour) there was a brief conversation about peer support workers.  The workshop had been on the subject of recovery outcomes and cost effectiveness, and Geoff Shepherd made the point that peer support workers provided very good value for money.  Partly because it makes them feel valued (and they are still seen as service users, so their wellbeing is also important). 

So one of the peer support workers present said that's great, then there should be more funding, and one of the mental health commissioners in the room said that was not going to happen in Dorset.  I waited around at the end to ask her why, but by then she was deep in conversation with somebody else.  I should then, by rights, have had a word with the speakers, who were free, and introduced myself and so on, but I came over all shy, and left to find a cup of tea instead.

So I am guessing that the reason there is not going to be more funding for peer support in Dorset was because we already receive more than the average.  And if I'd had the courage to speak with Geoff or Jed, or been able to converse with the Commissioner, I would have made the point that, in my opinion, better use could be made of that funding if peer support workers were to be employed directly by the NHS.  Not through an agency, as they are in Dorset (the Dorset Mental Health Forum).  Enough said.

So, after tea, during which I made contact with the person who had invited me to the event, and spoke to a few people from the Forum (I met many lovely people during my time there) there was another workshop, this one taken by Mark Brown of MarkOneInFour.  I amused myself during this event, which was about social media, by tweeting about the fact that I was in a social media workshop.  That made me feel very hip and trendy and down-with-the-times.  About as cool as I am ever going to get.

Then it was time for lunch.  I ate alone, because I couldn't see anyone who looked welcoming in that vast sea of faces, and because I usually prefer to eat alone anyway (I scoff, elegant it ain't).  After about five minutes I had finished my sandwiches, but I thought I would read the newspaper on my Nexus tablet and then attend the next keynote speech and one of the following talks.  Then I would have had to rush off to the school run.

By then though, I was feeling frazzled.  I couldn't be bothered finding somebody to speak to, because I knew I needed some peace and quiet, but I started to feel conspicuous sitting alone.  I suddenly realised that nobody would miss me if I left early, and that I would only be missing a couple of things to add on to all the other things I had missed (going back to my original point of only being able to attend one in five of the talks/workshops available). 

I also realised that everyone else at that conference was being paid to be there (which is part of the problem with mental health care, it is often only somebody's job).  But this meant for me that I did not have to be there - I was there because I wanted to help, and for two solid years now I have been trying to help, feeling that there must be lessons to be learned from my recovery, and wanting to pass them on.

But for a large part of that time I have felt that I have been banging my head against a wall.  Because nobody has actually asked for my help - except Newcastle University in that possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I was given last Autumn to speak to Psychology staff and students there about my experience.  Everybody else, at all the mental health conferences, events, online debates and so on that I have been to, even in my Psychology classes last year, has been subjected to my opinions - always peacefully expressed, but often too emotional, too deeply felt - without actually having expressed any desire to hear them.

I think I have more to contribute to society as a writer than as a mental health speaker, or an activist, or a peer support worker.  I can say more that way, I say it more articulately, and nobody is forced to listen.  If I can do it through fiction I will, if not then it's back to the darned 'Recovery Book' that I have been hammering away at for far too long now.

Anyway, I left the Uni early, I came home and I walked the dog.  As she frolicked and sniffed and rolled I picked blackberries, the sun came out unexpectedly and all was right with the world.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Huffington Post/TED weekend

A whole host of info here

Featuring Katy Gray, who is making an amazing recovery from her mental health problems and who is reaching out to help others who are on the same road.  Well done, Katy!

And as for me - I am enjoying the school hols.  Been spending an awful lot of time at the beach with the kids, and an awful lot more sorting out the house and garden, de-cluttering like mad.  And hardly any time writing...

The plan is that when the kids go back to school - all too soon - I will be able to write to my heart's content, because everything else will be dealt with. 

The field is clear.  The only thing I am continuing with this academic year is my writing group.  I will no longer be running it for the mental health charity though.  I have decided to run it as a 'normal' writing group, because the mental health connection put some people off, and because there will be less admin this way. 

Everything else I have been doing - helping at school, ghost-writing, psychology studies, is finished.  (I got a B for psychology by the way.  I am delighted with that - the same grade that I got for all my other A levels, all those years ago.  So the old grey cells must still be in working order). 

I might go back to helping at school one day, but for now I think it is more important to my family that I get on with my work.  And as for the ghost-writing - after fifteen months, that book is completed!  It does need editing, but I am having a bit of a break before I start on that, and I don't expect it will take me long once I do get started.  The author is happy with the book in its present form; he doesn't want me to cut out much, if anything.   

It has been a learning curve, writing someone else's autobiography.  I have found it frustrating at times, not being able to shape the book more, and for that reason I was looking forward to the editing process.  However, now it seems not much editing is called for - and I really have to step back now, take my ego out of the process and accept that this is not my book - I am simply an agent in the writing of it.

Meanwhile, I have watched in wonder for just over a year as the book has taken shape.  Between the two of us - Anton writing his bit every week, me re-shaping it, the words have added up fast.  The book now stands at well over one hundred and sixty thousand words.  And it has only taken me four hours, week on week (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more) to put it together.  I am sure it has taken Anton longer, because he has had to think about what to put in, and how to write it, but still.  Four hours times (say) sixty weeks, because we have scarcely missed a session - is only 240 hours.  That's how long this book has taken (me) to write! 

The message is that perseverance pays.  And that is what I am going to take with me for the next year - perseverance, this time on my own projects.  I vow to finish every single one of them from now on. 

I have been sorting out my writing space today, and thrown away lots of old magazines, journals, notes, etc etc.  And there are still hundreds, thousands, of pages of writing - and those are just the handwritten ones - there must be millions more words that I have typed out, somewhere on my computer or on various discs.  And yet hardly any of these words have been published, hardly any stories completed, hardly any ideas seen through to fruition.  What a waste.

And yet...perhaps not a waste.  I was reading a long letter from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes today, in the Saturday newspaper.  She poured out her heart, she wrote about all sorts of stuff.  A lot of it was in connection with her writing and some of it reminded me of myself, of my hopes and plans and aspirations as a writer.  And she achieved success of course - she forced herself to write, and she wrote good stuff... Brilliant, some of it.

And yet - she gave up.  She gave in.  She died young, by her own hand, leaving small children behind her.  She despaired.  Poor thing.

And this made me think - maybe my life is a success anyway, even if I never 'officially' succeed as a writer.  Even if I never get into the habit of finishing my work, or writing anything brilliant.  I am raising four children, and as long as I have them, and Paul, I will never despair, because I never could.  My life is happy, almost all of the time (although worry and stress do creep in a little too often I know how to combat them before they get out of hand).

Maybe I have done enough already, I thought, just by surviving.  Just by being here, and raising my children to be happy and successful.  By home-building - the ultimate career.

I feel that there is more ahead for me though, more to me.  I want there to be more.  I have written one good book (and some other short silly ones) and I see no reason why I should not write several more, perhaps better, ones.  All I need is the determination, the stubbornness and the grit, and the time.

I'm gonna do it!

(I'm gonna start by not writing any more about writing, and by writing instead!)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

No Such Word...

I changed the title of my memoir on Amazon Kindle a couple of weeks ago, hoping to generate more interest in the book.  'Surviving Schizophrenia' became 'There's No Such Word as Can't'.  I also put the book on a free promotion for two days, then kept the price really low.  I sat back and waited...

And I have been really surprised by the outcome.  The book has not had many new readers at all, despite the new neutral title.  I thought that taking the word 'Schizophrenia' out of the title would definitely encourage more people to download it, people who wouldn't want to read about mental health particularly, but who might enjoy the book and learn something useful from it.

Nope.  In fact, the reverse - I think the use of the word 'Schizophrenia' actually helped to sell the book!  It has been really interesting to see the book fail to flourish under its new title - I was so convinced that the opposite would apply.

And the key to this conundrum,  I am sure, is marketing.  That is the crucial difference between us Indie authors and the traditionally published ones.  Using the word 'Schizophrenia' may have piqued people's interest initially, which was enough to boost sales, and then the book sold well for a while through word of mouth.

Of course, there could be other reasons.  The book has already been on the market for a couple of years - perhaps its time has simply been and gone.  I could well be flogging a dead horse - just because my instinct tells me that there is still a huge untapped market for my book, doesn't mean I am right.  I probably just need to move on to something new - and I'm trying, I really am. 

It's just that I can't seem to stop pushing my memoir, because I really believe in it as a worthwhile product. Nothing else I write seems to invoke the sense of worth that book does.

I am sure though, that if I just keep on writing I will come up with something equally good, hopefully better.  I am going to look for an agent, because the prospect of attempting to interest the general public in my work for years to come is not the most inspiring vision of the future that I have ever had.  In fact, I wrote to an agent last week, and have been encouraged by the fact that I did not immediately receive a polite rejection by return email (probably because she is on holiday or my email landed in her junk box, but still, you never know).

So, I am going to give it another week or so to see if anything else happens, and then revert to the original title (which has still been out there alongside the new one anyway).

Meanwhile, I am nearing the end of my ghost-writing project.  After fifteen months of weekly meetings, and devoting several hours each week to working on someone else's autobiography, I am really close to finishing.  Just one final push over the next week, and then a huge edit (not sure how long that will take) and I'll be done.  It will be sad in a way - the end of an era - but mostly I will be really pleased to have finished what I set out to do. 

Ghost-writing has been a really interesting process - not just learning so much about another person's experience of life, but also seeing how a book can build, slowly and steadily, with just three or four hours' work each week.  It shows what can be done with perseverance - because I had no choice but to keep going, week in, week out (and of course I was getting paid for it) just those few hours have built up to a massive piece of work. 

The book stands at over 150,000 words now!  (It will be much shorter after my edit, hopefully half the length, but it was important to the author that we got every detail of his life down exactly as he wished it to be recorded.  I have been printing the writing out weekly for him, so that he will always have that record, although the book itself will have to be shorter for the sake of the readers).

So, once the children are back at school, or not too long afterwards, my time will be my own again.  I don't like to make excuses, but I did fill up the last academic year somewhat, not leaving myself a great deal of time to write.  Between helping at the kids' schools and attending every single sports day, concert etc for all of them (and taking them to various orthodontic appointments and so on) and the Psychology A level I decided to embark on, and taking into account time allocated to the ghost writing and the writing group, I really have not had much of a chance to draw breath. 

All that will be left of that come September (once I have finished the ghost writing editing work) will be the writing group.  I don't want to stop that, especially as we have a brand new venue lined up, free of charge, which will give us a nice fresh start to the new term.  And it doesn't take up too much time to prepare for the group each week.  In fact the other day I had the bright idea that I might share the responsibility next time, by asking everybody else to take a turn preparing for the session.  Clever, eh?  It will make things more interesting, and at the same time reduce the pressure on moi.  I just have to run it by the others, but they are a nice lot and I am sure they will be agreeable.  (Are any of you reading this, by any chance?!)

So - yes, I should be able to devote more time to my writing soon, and about time too.  I don't know why I threw up so many obstacles in my path last year - I suspect possibly because I felt capable of much more than I have done for a long time (perhaps ever) and I wanted to test my capabilities.  It has been fun, but now I've had enough of flitting around and I'm ready to knuckle down again.

I fear that this has been a dull post.  I try not to use this blog as I use my journal, as a kind of tedious (to others, fascinating to moi, of course) thinking-out-loud tool, but sometimes I just seem to drift that way unintentionally.

Sorry, and all that.  Hopefully I will think of something better to write about next time!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Eleanor Longden

Below is a link to a Guardian email interview with Eleanor, and it includes a link to her TED talk.  I am really excited that the talk is being broadcast at last, and look forward to watching it later this evening.  I did read through the interview and all the comments, which were very interesting.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Free Memoir

My memoir has been free today and is free all day tomorrow too.  Sorry not to have posted re this earlier, but it is the school holidays and so I rarely get the opportunity to even switch my computer on.

Here's the link:

NB - This is not a new book - it is my original memoir under a new name -  I am hoping to increase my readership  (see recent posts).  Meanwhile, I need to get on and finish the various other work I have begun in recent months/years - I will post here when I do.

Anyway - please pass the word re the free book.  Any reviews, as always, gratefully received. 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

There's No Such Word as Can't

Here it is - my (hopefully not misguided) attempt to re-market my memoir:

It's going to be free for both days this weekend, so if anybody would like to download a copy and pop a review on, I'd be grateful.  Of course, if you've already read it, you can pop a review on anyway.

NB Everyone - this is not a new book, it is an old book in new clothing!  Don't buy it if you've already bought my original memoir.

I have another book coming out very soon by the way - I will post on here when that happens.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Appeal for Help

I have recently decided to republish my autobiography under a new title - 'There's No Such Word as Can't'.  This is for various reasons.  

I have wanted a new cover picture for some time anyway, since I was fed-up of seeing my photo next to the word 'Schizophrenia'.  I no longer subscribe to the notion that I am 'Schizophrenic' and although I used the word deliberately in the title, as a kind of attention-grabbing tactic, I think that it may have backfired on me in some ways.  It is pretty hard to talk about my book and then drop into the conversation that actually I don't have schizophrenia.  There's nothing more likely to make people believe you are mad than claiming you are not.

Also, I was advised some time ago that the word 'Schizophrenia' in the title put many people off reading the book.  My memoir has been read by several thousand people already, but I feel in my guts that there is still an extensive untapped readership out there.

I want to get to those people.  I want as many people as possible to read my book and to understand more about the causes and treatment of mental illness.  I think I have an important message, and I want to be heard - I have been banging my own drum for several years now, and recently I've come to the conclusion that a simple change of title will be more effective than all my Twittering and appealing to mental health charities to help spread my message.  If only people read the book initially, I am confident that they will enjoy it and that word of mouth will spread and encourage others to read and to benefit too.

I am also going to change my author name!  This is because otherwise, people will click on the author button next to the book on Amazon, and immediately see all the details of the 'other' book,  putting me back at square one.  So from now on I will be 'Louise Johnson'.  (I already have two or three other pen-names on the go, it is going to be hard to remember who I am soon.  No, I DO NOT have multiple personality disorder...)

Another reason for the change of author name is that one of my siblings strongly objects to the use of my (our) surname in the original book - and although I still believe that this is unreasonable, I am sure that person will be relieved by the change. 

Initially the first title will run alongside the new one, but in a few weeks or months I intend to take the old title off.  Actually that may happen sooner - I am not sure how Amazon will react to a 'new' book with old content, so I may be forced to make an immediate transition of name and title.

Anyway, I wanted to state what I am doing on here, in case anyone who knows me stumbles across this 'new' book with exactly the same content as my old one, and wonders what on earth that is all about.  Or in case anyone wants to recommend my book to a friend or relative, and then can't find any trace of it.  It will still be there, it will just look different!

This is also an appeal for help.  I will take to Twitter in due course to publicise the book - but meanwhile, please can anyone who has already reviewed it, re-review it under the new title?  I know this is a big ask, and I don't mind at all if you can't be bothered, but it would be a massive help.  It will be on free promotion for several days when it's first published, and I am going to post those dates on here.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sleep, glorious sleep!

For many years now I have understood the importance of sleep in maintaining good mental health.  A good night's sleep has certainly been imperative to my own functioning, and from everything I have read and experienced over the years I know how important it is to my children too.

I curse the modern trend for sleepovers - I let my kids attend them, because I don't want them to miss out on the fun and the companionship, but I hate the fact that for children a good deal of the excitement of 'sleepovers' lies in the not sleeping element.  I always make sure that the day after, they get to bed extra early, and I never agree to two sleepovers in a row.

I would never voluntarily stay up all night myself.  Until recently, on the odd occasion when I didn't sleep well, or didn't sleep at all, I used to be close to panic the next day.  Over the last couple of years though, I have relaxed a little about this.  Last year on a two week holiday in the South of France I hardly slept a wink, due to the heat, and I survived mentally intact. 

I gave up gluten some time ago, partly because I've had stomach problems for many years (diagnosed as IBS) and partly because of the possible link between gluten and mental illness (the Beyond Meds blog is very good on this subject).  On the same French holiday I started eating gluten again too, and my stomach was fine - I guess the relaxation of being away helped (and I did relax, although we were self-catering, I decided that I was as much on holiday as the rest of the family and I pushed myself nowhere near as hard as usual). 

I don't like to be controlled in any way - and avoiding gluten totally was starting to feel oppressive.  So now I eat all foods again, although in moderation.  And as for the sleeping - I still make sure I have a regular routine.  However, I was surprised to find that about a month ago, when I started getting up at least an hour earlier in the morning (which meant that I slept for at least an hour less each night) I felt much better physically and mentally. 

Perhaps I had fallen into the habit of having too much sleep - I don't know for sure.  But I find now, if I get up as soon as I wake, no matter how early (I don't have a clock by the bed, so I can't groan and roll over if it's not yet 6am) I feel much fresher, more wide awake and positive throughout the day.  Who would have thought it?

I have always been a reluctant riser - or perhaps not always, but from a very early age, probably as a teenager, I started to sleep in late whenever possible.  I think this may have been due to the example of my mother, who would lie in bed until the last possible moment each day (she still does).  Or it may have been due to a creeping depression, which I didn't even know I had, but which would not have been surprising in the circumstances. 

I think a large part of my recovery has been due to the fact that as a mother I need to be up and about early every day with the children.  I have long since realised that keeping busy in this way has done me a lot of good - I was never lazy, but I lacked discipline and structure in my life and now I have that in spades, and I do my best to instil in it my children.  Paul sets an excellent example - he is up and out to work each morning, even if he feels unwell. 

Anyway, I just wanted to write about this because I just read an article about sleep in the Guardian, and it seemed very relevant.  I don't think my mental health problems can be attributed to any one thing - it is all part of a very big picture with many contributing factors, and that is probably why I had such major breakdowns.  But it is interesting to learn about how circadian rhythm affects mental health - I see this information as another weapon in my armoury to ensure that my own children never succumb. 

Here's a link to the article:

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Books 'n stuff

I'm reading Stephen King's book 'On Writing' and it is really very good.  The first section of the book is autobiographical (about how he was formed as a writer, he puts it).  He had a hard time growing up, but really does not make a big deal about it.  It doesn't take much to see that he wrote the horror out into his stories.  The second part of the book is actually about the nuts and bolts of writing, and I am savouring this part.  It's really very instructive.

Long ago I swore that I would never read another book by Stephen King - or James Herbert.  They are rollicking stories, but really not the best thing for those of a nervous temperament.  I read Carrie, Rats and many other books by both authors when I was young, and I really was scared out of my wits.  But this book is definitely worth breaking my promise to myself for - it's inspirational.  I have been meaning to read it for years, and am very glad that I finally got around to doing so.

 Next on my list is 'The One Thing' by Gary Keller (with Jay Papasan).  I read a review of it in the Sunday Times Style Magazine, and that has changed my life already.  The idea is that instead of writing a to-do list and trying to complete everything on it, you concentrate on the one thing in your life that will make all the others things easier or unnecessary.  And you devote at least four hours each day to your One Thing. 

So, since Monday, I have written for at least four hours each day, and I already feel so much better.  When I don't write I feel rubbish - and with so much to do in the house and for the family it is too easy to convince myself that I don't have the time to write.  But actually the time is there, I just have to choose not to do other things instead (surrender to the chaos).  And then once my one thing becomes a proper part of my life, I will see the rewards.

To be honest, I can't lose, because the writing itself brings rewards - a calmer mind and temperament, a more positive outlook. 

Anyway, because the principles of the book (as expressed in the review) made such an impact I thought I would buy the book itself, and hopefully become even more motivated and inspired.  it arrived today, I will start reading it as soon as I have finished the King, so fingers crossed for continued improvement...

I do like self-help books!  I am starting to build up quite a collection of them.  They are slightly embarrassing to have on display, so some of them tend to be squirrelled away, but one day I will stop being ashamed of my proclivity to reading about self-improvement, and let the evidence out of its secret hiding place.

Ooh - I just happened upon an article on the BBC website about a new charity called MindFull.  The article was about how the charity advocates mental health education in school.  Here's a link to the MindFull website, where young people can look for support and counselling.  It sounds good - let's hope it lives up to its promise! 

Monday, 8 July 2013


I learned a few things today, in a Times article by Michael Mosley.  The piece was about optimism.  Apparently a person with an optimistic outlook on life will live for seven and a half years longer, on average, than a pessimistic person (after adjustments have been made for life events, such as illness, that may have caused the pessimism).  He said, to put this into context, that if a cure for cancer were invented today, it would only improve average life expectancy by three and a half to four years.

'Right!' I told the family at dinner time this evening, after telling them about the article.  'From now on, we are all optimistic.  Everybody loves us, we love everybody.  We are all amazing.  We deserve the best... And,' I went on without missing a beat, 'Older son CAN get down from the table'.  (He had been providing a background refrain to my lecture that went, 'Can I get down from the table Mum?  Can I get down from the table?' ad infinitum.

The optimism thing may, I think, help to explain my recovery from schizophrenia.  Others may believe either that I am not recovered, or that I never had schizophrenia.  They may be right.  Or - as Mosley said - optimism can rewire the brain.  I am optimistic these days, and I have been for some time. 

Since I had my children, my whole attitude to life has changed.  I see how fortunate I am, I am sure that my good fortune will continue.  I even - as I said in the afterword to my memoir - since the birth of my children believe that there is a God and that He is looking after me.  (I also, slightly cynically, acknowledge the fact that I can't lose by holding this viewpoint, but it's true, I feel blessed and I feel supported and I attribute all that to faith in a higher being.  I wish I'd been able to believe in God years ago). 

I have gradually become more positive, and the positivity itself has been rewarded (the world is a better place for those who see the good in it - Mosely cites Elaine Fox's book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, to support this notion) and the upwards trajectory continues.

The good thing about the optimism theory is, you don't have to have children to benefit.  I really want to help others recover from severe mental illness - I feel that I owe it to others to them to pass on my experiences in the hope that it will help.  However, I sometimes feel that my good fortune is simply that - luck - and so as hard as I try to find a formula that will benefit others, I am destined to fail.  Many people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia will find it hard to meet a partner, or medications will stop them conceiving.  Some of those people can't cope without their medication.  Many other people would not find having children to be a therapeutic occupation - the reverse can often be the case.  My recovery was unique to me.

But here, we see, simple optimism - or hope - is enough in itself to make a change in the brain.  Mosley investigated the matter scientifically, and he was convinced.  Try it - believe it - and see what happens.  Good luck!

The other thing I learned in the article was about 'epi-genetics' - the fact that 'throughout our lives, in response to life events, our genes are constantly being switched on and off'.  I have heard this term before, I am sure, but never understood its exact meaning.  I tend to dismiss mental health theories that involve genetics, for various reasons, but am slightly unnerved by the possibility that perhaps my kids have inherited some weakness, some susceptibility to psychosis. 

Now I am thinking - maybe after all there is a gene for susceptibility to psychosis (or, so what if there is?).  Maybe my psychosis gene was switched on, but if so, it has gone off again now.  I honestly don't think I have a susceptibility to psychotic breakdown any more (although obviously I can't rule it out the possibility entirely).  Anyway, I think the more likely truth is that everyone has the gene for psychosis, if there is one, but some peoples' brains are not wired in such a way that it can be switched on as easily as others.

Mosley wrote about personality - how he had thought it was fixed in childhood and that he had a natural tendency to pessimism, but realised he could change this tendency by something as simple as mindfulness meditation.  He also recommends something called Cognitive Bias Modification (the test he tried involved training the brain to look for positive images on a computer - a skill which could then be generalised into everyday life). 

In all, it was a very enlightening and positive - and optimistic! - article.  Well done Michael Mosley, and thank you. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Back in the Big Smoke

I've been in London twice in the last couple of weeks.  The first time, on the 20th June, was for a meeting at the McPin Foundation, a new mental health research organisation which intends to use - and pay - peer researchers.  I don't know whether I will be able to help in any of their projects - they will be looking to match experiences and skills to any work they embark on, and it's all very new, so they don't know themselves yet.  I hope I can be involved though.

The Foundation paid for about thirty people with 'lived experience' of mental health problems to travel to London and participate in this meeting, which was intended to clarify their aims and objectives.  I was really pleased to take part in the event - apart from anything else, I had been feeling a bit 'stuck' and it was good to get out of the house for a day.  It was edifying as usual to meet others who had been ill and recovered and who are now using what they have learned in such a positive way.

As usual, the best thing about leaving the family, even for a day, was coming home, and that is why when I had the opportunity to go to London again yesterday I was not looking forward to it quite as much.  I felt bad about leaving the children again so soon, and Paul had to take an afternoon off work to look after them.  And in the evening I had to go out again, to my book group.  I had been home for less than an hour at that point and as I was saying goodbye to my elder son he wailed, 'But we've barely seen you!'

I did feel guilty.  But I need to remember - all Mums do - that we are people too, and that we have to balance our own needs with the demands on us.  Luckily for me, I like looking after my kids and most of the time there is nothing more useful and important that I could be doing.  But actually yesterday's trip to London turned out to be really worthwhile.  It was an event at the Rethink offices, with some officials from the DWP, who are formulating a new Disability Employment Strategy and who wanted to hear from the people who would be affected.

I managed to say my piece, as I always do, about the damage done by labelling - how people are ruled out of the workplace, out of society, by these damning diagnoses.  I thought to myself, I know this is not what the meeting is about, but it is relevant, and the more people who know about it, the more likely things are to change.  And actually the civil servant I spoke to about the damage done by a diagnosis of schizophrenia certainly seemed to understand what I was saying.  She explained to me that change is a thing of the time.  She used the example of the Wolfenden report (she had been interviewed by Lord Wolfenden when she entered the civil service).  That report seemed to change attitudes to homosexuality overnight - but really, she said, people move towards social change when the time is right. 

I took that as encouragement that it is worth agitating, worth explaining, reiterating the importance of abolishing the schizophrenia label at every opportunity.  Each little push in the right direction will add to the momentum and help it build. 

The DWP officials both seemed very understanding and knowledgeable individuals, in fact.  They listened to us all carefully and courteously and I really felt that they had people's welfare at heart, and that the issue of cost was not the only thing that mattered in their policies.  I learned a lot too - everyone around the table had stories to tell.  Some had experienced horrendous treatment but others had really positive experiences of support in the workplace.  And what everyone seemed to agree on was that they wanted work - but not any work, something that would enrich their lives, something they were suited to.

It made me look at my own situation slightly differently.  I am quite happy at the moment with what I am doing, writing from home with the odd foray out into the working world.  But if I ever do need to find a 'proper' job, I would make it a priority to find a job for which I am qualified.  As good a job as I could get.  I have spent too many years thinking of myself as less than I am, if that makes sense.  I suppose it all comes back to that missing sense of self. 

Although, in a way, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong in taking a job for which you are overly qualified.  Sometimes even the best people have to work their way up in an organisation.  And plenty of professionally qualified people from other countries work in quite menial positions here, in order to support themselves and their families.  There's no dishonour in it.  It's just that I have done enough menial work in my time, and now I'm getting older.  I need to be a role model to my kids too.  I don't want them ever putting themselves down, or allowing other people to do so.  They need to learn to value themselves.

Anyway, back to yesterday's meeting.  I was keen to make the point that while people should not be forced back into the workplace, they should definitely be helped back into it.   Work is therapeutic, not least because it gives people social standing and a place in the community.  The problem lies in judging when people are ready for work - they may not have the confidence to try it, often because of the risk of losing entitlement to benefits and the difficulties inherent in claiming them again. 

I wish that I had tried harder to find decent work after my second breakdown - but I really did not think myself capable of it.  And maybe I wasn't - it's easy now with the benefit of hindsight, to see how things might have been better, but it has taken me twenty-five years (since my first breakdown) to get to where I am today.  Perhaps I needed all that time to properly recover?

It is a fraught subject - it is horrible to see and hear about people becoming ill because of the stress caused by fear of failing work assessments.  And yet we shouldn't ignore the fact that there is another side of the coin.  I personally know several people who have stopped claiming benefits in the last year or two because they thought they would not get through the work capability assessment.  They are now working, and have grown in so many positive ways as a result. They were not deliberately malingering, they just did not know what they were capable of until they tried.

It's the same in my own case - the more I do, the more I find that I am capable of.  I don't fear embarrassment any more - sometimes in fact, I think there is a benefit to being 'mad' - my diagnosis is practically a licence to behave eccentrically so I should probably take advantage of that as an opportunity, rather than trying to prove myself sane (which is kind of a self-defeating effort.  The harder I try to appear normal, the weirder I present, I am afraid).  The key is relaxation, and learning not to care about other people's opinions. 

Repeat after me: 'What other people think of me is none of my business'.   

I am learning that most people in the world are kind, and not judgemental.  And that those people who are unkind, and who are judgemental, are not worthy of my consideration and I certainly should not try to adjust my behaviour in order to make a good impression on them.  Basically, I am learning the lessons that I am trying to teach my children.  In fact, I think they kind of know these things instinctively anyway, because they are secure in themselves.

Anyway, I don't think I will be off to the Big Smoke again for a while.  I am going to be really busy with the kids' schools for the next few weeks - concerts, assemblies, sports days, etc and etc.  Then it will be the summer holidays, which means the beach, hopefully.  And in September - back to my writing.  The thing I love best, the thing I do best, and the thing that brings me the most reward.  Apart from parenting, naturally. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Good Thing, a Bad Thing and a Bunion Update

I had a terrifying experience the other day - at the local caravan park.  When I say terrifying, remember that all my mental health problems stem from social anxiety (although I only realised this relatively recently).

So, Paul and I and the kids, plus my niece and her kids, were watching a magic show at the local holiday park.  There were quite a few people in the audience (a hundred and fifty, at a guess).  So, the magician was a comedian too.  He certainly had our boys in stitches, although our younger daughter was looking bored and disdainful (as she does at times) and she was appalled when he picked on her 'What are you looking so bored for?  It's not that bad,' and so on.  She had the grace to smile, but she was rather cross at being singled out in front of an audience. 

I could relate to her.  In fact, for many years my enjoyment of that sort of show has been marred by the fear that I might be the one to be picked on, and the embarrassment that I knew I would feel, and quite visibly show, in such a situation.  I would be feeling the physical sensations of panic, even though nothing had actually happened, just in case it did.  Our daughter was not suffering in that way at all - she just had a healthy sense of self-consciousness.

Anyway, guess what happened towards the end of the show?  I got picked on!  The guy came down from the stage and literally pulled me back up there with him.  I said no, several times, and tried to resist, but short of being really grumpy and rude there was not much I could do about the situation.

So there I was, on the stage.  Hundreds of eyes gazing at me.  And (my once worst fear) I was blushing, and the blush was deepening.  And I thought - oh no!  I am going to go redder and redder and then...  And then I thought to myself - stop.  And I thought to myself 'I am - - -' (three positive words I have learned to think about myself to replace all the negative thoughts about myself that I never even used to realise were there).

I looked out into the audience, first at my little boys who were killing themselves laughing at my predicament.  Then at Paul and our daughters, who were both filming me on their iPads.  And finally I looked at everyone else, and I realised that they were just watching the show, and not me - I was incidental.  And who were they anyway, these people that I feared would judge me for any shortcomings?  Who might read some sort of guilt into my embarrassment?  Nobody I knew.  And there was nothing to see anyway, except a blush.  It didn't signify anything awful about my character. 

It didn't matter.

These thought processes took no more than a few seconds, and I was relaxed.  I was able to stop thinking about myself, and concentrate on what was happening - which was a very funny man, about six inches shorter than me, batting his eyelashes at me while fashioning a huge flower out of balloons, which occasionally burst.  It really was quite amusing and entertaining.  And when he finally handed me the balloon flower and helped me off the stage I was quite pleased to have been involved - especially given the entertainment it afforded to my family.

What a breakthrough that was for me!

I have done so much more than I ever thought I could in the last couple of years, and that little turn on the stage really emphasised how far I have come.  Even if I get the occasional feeling of panic now, even if I start to blush, even if I became very extraordinarily red - so what?  It really doesn't matter so much, because I am not so concerned these days with trying to avoid the spotlight.  It's not any sort of damning indictment on my character.  It's just social anxiety, and it's almost gone away now!  Hurrah!

So, that was the good thing referred to in this blog title.  The bad thing - in my opinion - was the first of a new series on BBC Three last night, 'Don't Call me Crazy'.

It was - surprise! - a programme about mental health, set in an adolescent unit in Manchester.  The teenagers in there - some voluntarily, some sectioned, were filmed at length, talking about their conditions, their feelings, their experiences of stigma and so on.  The blurb I read about it - which was sent to me on an email by Time to Change - said it was brilliant.

I didn't think so.  I felt that it was intrusive and voyeuristic.  I think it was a really bad idea to film mentally ill young people, in hospital.  Obviously they must have given their consent - but if somebody is sectioned, surely their consent is deemed to be generally invalid?  So how can they consent to being filmed for a television programme?  Anybody who is emotionally disturbed, in my opinion, should be treated compassionately, with a strong emphasis on privacy.

The programme made me feel really uncomfortable - I tried to watch enough of it to form a balanced opinion, but the more I saw, the worse it made me feel.  I know the idea was to dispel stigma and so on, but I think that could be done in a better way - perhaps by showing the young people back at work or school, and talking to them about what they had been through when they were ill, how they had felt, and so on.  There was really no need for us to be watching them when they were in the throes of their illness, and it felt wrong to be doing so.

There was one sequence which showed some members of the nursing staff going round the outside of the building, commenting on all the things that had been thrown out of the patients' windows overnight - bloodstained tissues and so on.  Room searches were also shown, and the patients' reactions commented on.  Staff discussed the violence perpetrated by some of the patients - one girl, who was clearly very unwell, was shown talking and crying, and we were told that she had committed seventy-odd violent assaults on staff.

Another worrying thing, I thought, was that some teenagers, after watching this programme, might think it was cool to end up in a unit like this.  The patients were shown expressing themselves, creatively, talking and laughing together, and I realise that the intention here was to emphasise their normality, but to me this part of the programme detracted from the seriousness of their situations.  It almost glamorised it.

By the time I went to bed I felt seriously disturbed by what I had seen.  I was upset, and disappointed too - I like watching programmes on mental health usually, but this one made me feel tainted and I also felt that an opportunity had been missed.  Instead of using mental illness as entertainment - I can't think of a more backward-facing attitude - the makers of this series could have used the airspace for instruction and education. 

They could have explained, for example, that hearing voices is not uncommon in the general population.  Elaborated on the early symptoms of mental illness, so that young people and their parents would be aware of them and could guard against anything worse developing.  Talked about self-harm - something I, for one, know nothing about and would like to understand, because it seems to be so prevalent today.  Surely there could have been some attempt at therapy on air, to try to reach and counsel any teenagers watching who had similar problems.

I dread to think what the subsequent programmes in the series will be like - I honestly don't know whether to risk watching them or not. 


And finally.  I don't know whether any of you will remember me banging on about my bunion operation, almost exactly two years ago.  I wrote at length about it - I was terrified of going into hospital, but I really wanted to get my feet sorted (and needed to, I was in quite a lot of pain). 

I had a lot of ups and downs with my feet after the op - they got infected many times, which, with the benefit of hindsight is because I didn't sit still for long enough, and because I kept fiddling with them.  I was advised to use Bio-oil, but I think I used it too early on, before the scars had a chance to properly heal.

Anyway, since it is the summer now (kind of) my feet are on my mind (not literally).  I can wear flip flops now, for the first time ever, and my second toes have some strength in them for the first time in my life (they basically just used to rest on my big toes, so had never done any work). 

I still have bunions - again, probably because I did not rest enough after the op.  But my feet are better than they have ever been - I don't try to hide them now, I look after them properly.  I even wear toenail varnish. 

It is definitely a good thing to take care of all parts of our bodies and minds, when we can.  And to try and help others to take care of themselves, when we are in a position to do so.  I am so grateful for all the help and information on the web these days - Netdoctor, for example, and the mental health sites that I write about so often on here.  There seems to be a growing sense of social responsibility, of sharing the knowledge we have and using it to the advantage of others.  It gives me faith in human nature - most people, after all, are good, and thank heavens for that!  

Friday, 14 June 2013

Just Checking In

I don't write this blog much nowadays, which doesn't mean that I am not reading and thinking about mental health just as much as ever.  I have recently been privileged to make the acquaintance of another 'schizophrenic'. This chap is quite elderly, and seems very together, but has had every treatment going, including deep shock insulin therapy and 'about 40' goes of ECT.  He says that none of it has helped, but is still very much of the biological viewpoint, feeling that there is a biological cause for his condition and that therefore there must be treatment that will fix it.  He reads a lot around the subject, and if he hears of a new medication, he asks his doctor for it.  Although, he says, none of the medications fix his problems.

The odd thing is, that from what I've heard about his symptoms, they sound like extreme anxiety and not much more.  Even way back, when he was a teenager and all his problems began, he was never psychotic.  He says that he asked for a diagnosis - the psychiatrist treating him did not want to give him a label.  But he needed one, he says, because he needed to know what was wrong with him. 

Well, in my opinion, although he still has some anxiety and suffers from insomnia, there is not much wrong with this chap.  He is a fine example of a human being, if you ask me.  He has lived a full and active life, and is an upstanding member of the community.  I have no idea what would have become of him without all the treatment, but he has survived all of it remarkably well.  An inspirational chap.  Even if I don't agree with the biology thing, I totally respect him and his opinions on mental health, and I am glad to have met him.

I finally got around to writing several reviews today - of Agnes' Jacket, by Gail Hornstein, of Food as Medicine  co-authored by Patrick Holford, and a few others.  I started off the day really poorly, I started coming down with a cold yesterday and took a turn for the worse this morning.  But after hours lolling around on the sofa, I finally pulled myself together, wrote a long email and later those book reviews.  So I feel as though I achieved something, and remarkably, I also feel much better.  Hopefully I will be well for the weekend - which, if you had asked me this morning, I would have said was an impossibility.

I took my exam, hurrah!  The day afterwards, I hired a beach hut just for me (Paul was at work, and the kids all at school).  I sat and roasted, read and wrote.  It was cool (well, hot, but cool).  Paul came down in his lunch hour from work and brought me ice cream and crisps.  I will remember that day for a long time! 

Hope all of you readers are well.  Any of you with your own blogs, I will be catching up soon.  That's all for now!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Being a Writer

I went to an author talk at my local library this evening.  My local library is wonderful by the way - it has recently been refurbished at a cost of £2 million.  It is plush and comfortable - apart from anything else, at long last it boasts a toilet ( I cannot count the number of times over the years that I have had to leave the library to take the kids to the public loo over the road.  Which is more annoying than it sounds). 

It also has a coffee machine, which is a mixed blessing - I was in there the other day revising and the darned thing was broken, and the lady sent to refill it was on the phone to her employers at the top of her voice for what seemed like hours.  I like studying in the part with the coffee machine though - I sit at a big desk looking out of two huge arched windows, and it reminds me of  a kids programme I used to watch donkey's years ago, when you had to choose which window you would be looking through today; round, square or arched.  I always liked the arched window best.

Apologies for writing this drivel...why am I wittering on about arched windows?   Apologies for apologising, actually, why should I not write about whatever?  I am lacking confidence in myself at the mo.  I blame the dratted Psychology exam - I am stressed because I don't think I am going to do very well at it, although how well I do doesn't matter in the slightest, because I don't need another A level.  But I kind of think I will be letting myself down if I don't do well... 

A week or two ago I was so stressed out that I decided not to take it at all, but then that decision caused me stress too, so I decided to just get on with it.  I think it will be my last exam though - I can't imagine wanting to go through this ever again.  Funnily enough, I am studying stress at the moment, which seems to make me even more stressed than usual.  I am also studying 'abnormality' - i.e. mental illness, which is quite hard, because I don't agree with a lot of information in the text book, but if I want to pass the exam I will just have to get over myself in that respect!

A funny thing happened this evening - at the author talk I referred to at the top of this post.  I sold the author one of my books!  I was actually trying to give it to her - I was talking about how I had self-published and she was interested to know how I was doing, and I said I'd had some success but probably because I wrote for a niche market - those people with an interest in mental health.  Then she said her friend had a 23 year old son who had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar (and?!  Poor boy, hit with a double whammy.  But it was probably 'or'...)  Anyway, I handed her a copy of my book, meaning it as a gift, and then she asked if she could buy it. 

I hate selling my books!  But I had just bought hers - she was signing it while we chatted - and also I knew Paul would be pleased if I sold a copy for a change, rather than giving one away.  And also I know I need to learn to value my work properly.  So I let her buy it. 

I just hope that her friend (if she gives it to her friend, I am assuming that's why she wanted it) benefits from it - I should imagine it must be reassuring to know that you can recover from that diagnosis, if you are a mother of someone recently diagnosed.  Although everybody's story is different - but I think the experience of severe mental illness itself is surprisingly similar for a lot of people.  I was convinced, for example, that the delusion that I was being addressed personally by the television was unique to me - but I have since learned that it is quite common.  As is experience of being affected in strange ways by electricity - I got and gave massive electric shocks when I was ill, and I am pretty sure that this is surprisingly common too. 

Anyway, I told the author that I want an agent, and a proper publisher - I think I'll need those if I am going to get widely read.  So I suppose there is an outside chance - a very slim one - that if she likes my book she might recommend me to her agent....?  I am not going to hold  my breath though - I need to get on and write first of all, and regularly.  This lady has written ten novels in fifteen years - that is exactly where I want to be, a regular writer, a prolific author.  I am sure if I devote myself to my craft properly, an agent will come in due course, if that is meant to happen.  If not, there is a lot to be said for self-publishing - the control, above all.

Enough for now.  Need to get this exam done, then need to write, not write about writing!

It is half-term at the moment, and I have been having a lovely time with the children.  I have been doing more with them than I had got into the habit of, and it is great.  I had a long chat with my eldest this morning - she showed me all her art work from last September and  I was really impressed.  Usually she is at school, or at a club, or out with her friends, and we hardly see each other.  And the years slip by, and I am mostly engrossed with the younger children, and suddenly I think - how did that child get to be a teenager?  And how is that little one nearly nine years old? 

At the moment I feel that time is rushing by so fast that I just want to immerse myself in my family - and I have been indulging myself in that this week.  It's probably partly displacement activity - if I am baking biscuits, or crumbles, or helping them with their stories or projects, then I can't be revising for that darned exam, now can I?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The DSM V is Nigh

The new diagnostic and statistical manual is almost upon us - it is due to be unveiled in June, and debate about it is, and has been for some time, rife and building.  Here is a recent article in the Guardian  I am sure that there will be many more similar pieces in the coming days and weeks.

My feelings about psychiatric diagnosis have been well aired over recent years.  I feel strongly that diagnosis is not helpful - particularly the diagnosis of schizophrenia, of which I have personal experience.  I have lived enough of my life under the shadow of this label to fully understand the harm it does, and that harm is substantial. 

I have come to the conclusion that mental health is a subjective matter, and a personal one.  Of course, if someone seeks help from a doctor for a health matter, then they should be helped.  The matter is complicated for the sufferer of psychosis - I did not want to be helped when I was mentally ill, but my suffering was clear for all around me to see, and my distress and vulnerability could well have led to disaster.  The treatment I was given was wrong and damaging, but the intention of those trying to help me, at least at the outset, was to improve my condition.

What does not sit well with me is the issue of forced treatment, of forced compliance with the mental health system, because that system can only operate effectively if trust is in place - if the client truly believes that the practitioner is trying to help.

A lot of people believe that the tide is now turning - away from a perception of mental illness as a biological matter, treatable with medication only, and towards a far more practical view of it as a response to emotional trauma.  Hence the article above, and countless others that I have recently read.

I have not written on this blog for some time - due to the fact that sometimes I feel that I have said all that I need to say, or can say, on the subject of me and that I don't know all that much about other people's experiences of mental distress!   However, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, 'We can only know others by ourselves'. I know that I must continue on this path, adding my voice to those of other 'survivors' of the system and others who are seeking to improve it. 

Staying quiet cannot help anybody, but saying my bit can help and has done already.  Repeating it in the hope that a few more will hear can't do any harm.

Funnily enough, I was a bit embarrassed after my last blog post, which compared psychiatric diagnoses to star signs.  I felt that I hadn't expressed what I wanted to say clearly enough, and that readers of that piece might wonder whether I was losing the plot (I must stop worrying about that!)

So I was really relieved when I heard Richard Bentall, the esteemed psychologist, yesterday morning on 'Start the Week' saying that he had made exactly the same point (that psychiatric diagnoses are about as scientific as star signs) during a recent talk he had given.  He said that star signs appeal to people, just as psychiatric diagnoses do, 'because we like to categorise people'.

I just wish that more psychiatrists would be more open about the fact that a lot of what they do is guess work. Surely honesty is crucial, because how can they otherwise inspire the trust of their patients, the trust which is such a crucial part of healing?

Anyway, it is well worth listening to that programme too.  It was on Radio 4, it was called 'Music and the Mind' and here is the link:

Ta - ra for now!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Am I a Scorpio? Or a Schizophrenic?

A friend told me, many years ago, that it is a good idea to thoroughly clean and tidy your home before you go on holiday. Thus, on your return, even if you have post-holiday blues, you are cheered by the sight of your pristine home.

I have followed this advice ever since. It works. Although I must say, I don't ever feel down on returning from a holiday - however good it feels to be away, it always feels equally good to come home again. 

This time, the pre-holiday cleaning and tidying rather exhausted me. There was a lot to do - there always is, because when the kids are out of the house I am not usually cleaning, but rather writing or studying, and when they are home I am usually cooking or dealing with their concerns (homework and so on).

Luckily, I am a fast and thorough cleaner (those years spent working as a chambermaid were not wasted, after all. I learned humility, and I learned that the things that matter most in life are not prestige and money and I learned - how to clean!) So when I need to tidy up, I do it pretty effectively - but still, by the time I had finished I needed a holiday even more. 

It was a great break. We were only away for five days, and it was a very active break - at Center Parcs, if anyone is interested. I like it there, the quality of accommodation is always high, the staff are always friendly, and it caters for all ages of kids. We have been several times over the years and we are not done yet, although next time we might venture to one of the continental parks. 

Paul and I decided not to take our laptops on holiday, which I think definitely helped us to relax. There is a lesson there, I think to myself. As I tap away, first thing on a Saturday morning, on my daughter's iPad.

I borrowed the iPad to read the paper online. I have been dithering about stopping my subscription to The Times, but in the end I couldn't bear to. Reading the paper is the way that I relax, and anyway reading good writing helps to inform my own (each of us can talk ourselves into anything if we try hard enough, non?)

So instead I decided to go digital - read online. It will save the time it takes to physically get the paper, at least. And I have really enjoyed the experience this morning - razor sharp images, news stories that you can watch as well as read...

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I remember, this is a mental health blog. 

Writing about reading is not totally unrelated, I suppose - good mental health depends to some extent on doing the things that make us happy, surely. And since, from the earliest age, my ambition was to be a reporter (my mother says that from the age of four this is what I said I wanted to do) then reading a daily paper makes even more sense.

The beauty of blogging is that you can write, and publish immediately. Who says that I am any less of a reporter than the columnists I read in The Times? They may get more readers, and they may be paid and they may have editors who help to finesse their work - but otherwise, surely we are on a par? Some kind of a par...

Actually, I could probably do with an editor today, because I am not used to writing on this sort of equipment. It slows my writing, and my thought processes. That's my excuse anyway. 

Also, I have not figured out how to link to stuff on this machine, so I will have to come back later and put something in here:
This is it - it's an interview with a leading geneticist, who started by looking for evidence if schizophrenia in the genes, and discovered that it is not as straightforward as he thought (surprise!).

I would go further, and say that these people are still on a wild goose chase - since there is no way that people without whatever genetic link they may end up finding which 'proves susceptibility' to 'schizophrenia, autism' and whatever else they are now looking for, will not still be susceptible, given exposure to high enough levels of stress. 

I suppose all this keeps scientists busy, and something useful may eventually be uncovered.  But personally, I think their time would be better spent on discovering how to make people resilient to stress, or how to recover if and when they do break down.  Rather than looking for the causes in our genes.  Ho hum...

I was answering a text from a friend yesterday. My phone had no connection at Center Parcs, so on our way home I had several messages. This friend wanted to let me know that she had recommended my book and blog to someone with a recent mental health diagnosis, who had found them useful. So I text her a few thoughts to pass on to her friend - for example that she should not get hung up on the diagnosis, whatever it is. And it occurred to me then that a parallel can be drawn between mental health diagnoses and star signs. 

If you read your horoscope regularly - as I used to, in my mother's weekly women's magazines when I was young, you end up thinking that your star sign has application to your life. I am a Scorpio. Therefore I am - I forget exactly - mysterious, passionate, and so on. I discount the things that don't apply to me - maybe because I am on the 'cusp' with another sign - and magnify the ones that do. Similarly, when I read that 'x' is likely to happen to me this week, I forget it if it doesn't happen, but if it does, I remember and see it as proof of the accuracy of my star sign.

I saw through all that long ago. The Times has a horoscope section, but I don't look at it. I have no idea what star signs any of my children are.

And thus with psychiatry. I don't need those people to tell me what I 'am'. I don't need their drugs, I don't need their advice to consider myself disabled, to take disability benefits from the government for the rest of my life and never raise my sights above the lowly horizon that they have assigned to me, in their view of my world. That is THEIR view. Of MY world.

I am not a 'Schizophrenic' any more than I am a 'Scorpio'.

I am a human being, doing all that I can to live and to love well and wisely. I follow my own instincts and make my own decisions regarding how to become the best person I can be. 

And yah boo to anyone who thinks I should be doing otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


I am excited to have been chosen as a runner-up (one of forty!) in the Rethink Your Mind competition.  Here's the link to that:

The exciting part is that we get to collect our prizes from the House of Lords in a couple of weeks' time!  So London beckons...

Another development is that I have been featured in a new magazine, Still Here, which was set up by the incredible Katy:  Thanks Katy!

I feel I should apologise for not posting much here recently - I am far too busy at the moment, doing all sorts of things.  I need time to sit still and focus on what is important - luckily I have a holiday coming up, so hopefully that will give me a chance to think and to sort out my priorities.

I am reading a lot about mental health - just finished Agnes' Jacket by Gail Hornstein, which was an amazing book.  But sometimes I think I am reading too much - I probably need to concentrate on writing for a while now.  

Anyway, I will be back on here when I can, hopefully soon-ish.

Adieu for nieu.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Black Dog Tribe

I have been featured on the Black Dog Tribe website - I am really excited about this!  I might never have known, if Katy Gray (@SchizophrenicGB) had not told me about it on Twitter...

Thanks, Katy!

Here's the link:

Centre for Excellence in Mental Health and other resources

Here's the link to an amazing resource - the Centre of Excellence in Mental Health, based at the University of Birmingham:

I have spent the evening glued to this site, watching some amazing films, of people like Gail Hornstein, Dorothy Rowe, Richard Warner and so on.  When you come across stuff like this, it is really possible to believe that the tide is changing!

I found the CEIMH through Gail Hornstein's website:

I am reading her book, Agnes' Jacket, which is absolutely packed with information about enlightened ways of treating emotional distress.  This morning I made a huge list of  websites and other information to look up, based on references in just one short part of the book.

Here's just a few of them - the Mental Health Testimony project archived at the British Library Survivor's Poetry Network the Freedom Center

And here's another, new site, that looks really interesting - the McPin Foundation: They are interested in peer-led research, so contact them if you would like to be involved.  And please spread the word about them.


I am still only half-way through Agnes' Jacket, by the way, and will definitely post a review when I have finished, but meanwhile I can assure you it is most definitely a worthwhile and very pleasurable read.  Grab a copy as soon as you can.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Local Mum (me!) writes inspirational memoir

Here's a link to a nice article that came out in my local paper yesterday.  The headline is 'Louise's memoir will be an inspiration to all' which was lovely - it made my kids very proud!

I felt a bit weird this morning at the school - there was an Easter bonnet parade, the school and playground were crammed with people, and I couldn't help wondering how many of them had read the article!

But then, it doesn't matter - if my story helps anyone, and it has already, then it has served its purpose.  And the article did mention that I am better now, which was nice.  Just in case anyone around me was worried for their safety.

I wonder how many people still think that 'schizophrenic' is a term that describes dangerous people.  The media certainly use it less now - although there was an article in The Times this week about a violent perpetrator, and the headline was 'Schizophrenic man...' ... and then whatever he had done. 

The stigma will never go away until the name is changed, and everybody in the mental health profession knows that.  The brave and honest mental health professionals are willing to come out and say it, and that the current system is not a healing one.

Anyhow, here's the link:


Thursday, 21 March 2013


This is a post for those of you who are interested in self-publishing.  I have found it an excellent way to get heard, and to stay in control of the process of writing and editing.  I have benefitted from my memoir in numerous ways.  I have also benefitted from this blog, and from the lines of communication it has opened up with others who suffer, or have suffered, emotional distress, and with those who love them.


It has been almost two years since I published the memoir.  Since then I have written hundreds of thousands of words, most of them on here, but a fair number on other books that I have started and not finished.  This has been happening worryingly frequently - most notably with my recovery book, which I lost heart in some months ago, feeling that I was only repeating what others have said, in books and in blogs and what I myself have written here.  I have written more than fifty-five thousand words on that book, but I couldn't seem to find the heart to finish it.

I then started a novel.  I applied for Arts Council Funding so that I could find the time to write it - because in recent months my time has got taken up in sundry other ways - by the need to earn a living, by the desire to help at my kids' schools, by a Psychology course...  I thought that if I got the grant I could ring-fence my time to write.

My application was turned down.  The reason given was that I did not have an agent or a publisher, although I had undertaken to do my best to get an agent once the project was properly under way.  I said that if I failed to get a publisher (or agent) I would self-publish - I have had ample experience in the last couple of years of this, and of marketing.

I actually don't mind that I didn't get the grant - because now I can stay in command of my own work.  I was never very good at accepting the services of an editor - I had to submit to this years ago when I used to write magazine articles, and I found it really frustrating.  I think that self-publishing, for me, is the way forward.

But my problem still remained.  If I am to continue to be a writer - and I don't want to ever be anything else (apart from a wife and mother) I need to earn some money from writing.  Otherwise, as somebody famous and clever once said, I will have to go out and get a job.   

I have not published anything of significance for almost two years.  That fact irked me.   So many books started and not finished, so many words wasted.  All because of my inner critic.  Nothing I wrote, however enthused I was about it at the time of writing, ever seemed any good when I went back to it the next day, or after a gap of several days.

I vowed that the next thing I wrote, I would finish.  I had made and broken this vow several times already.  But then by chance I read a short story in this month's 'Mslexia' magazine that chimed with me.  It was one of the winners in the 'Memoir' competition category.  The story was well told, and the crux of it, or the message I took from it, was when the writer decided that she would write not for an audience but for herself, freely, just to enjoy the process of thinking and of expressing those thoughts.  Rather like I write this blog. 

 And then I read something that's been on my Kindle for a while - an e-book by JA Konrath, called the Newbie's Guide to Publishing.  He has a blog of the same name.  The book and blog are about how to make a living from writing.  So I read some of the book, and then I looked up the blog, because it's been a while since I glanced at it, and I learned that he was doing very well, self-publishing to Kindle. 

Then I went onto Amazon and looked to see what sort of books are on the Kindle Bestsellers list.  And I saw that light-hearted romances sell well, as do thrillers.  Of the two, I prefer the romances.  So I read some samples of some of them. 

And then I got stuck in.  I started writing on Tuesday afternoon, and by this evening I had written and edited almost eleven thousand words.  It is a complete story.  A novella (too long to be a short story, far too short to be a novel).

And I had the best time ever writing the thing.  It reminded me of all those years ago at Roedean, when I used to go to the bookshop in the main school and spend whatever money I had on Barbara Cartland books.  Complete escapism.  I tried to write in a light, fun way.  I edited very little, and down rather than up - in other words, if I wanted to say 'observed' I said 'looked'.  I wanted to make my work as accessible as possible.  I did not want to be too high-faluting. 

When my almost thirteen-year old came home from school at quarter to six, I gave her the manuscript to read.  I'd estimated that it was at about her level.  I wrote the novella for adults, but of course there's nothing racy in it.  My daughter likes to read all sorts of books, and I'd kept this one simple - I knew it wouldn't be beyond her understanding. 

I watched her closely for a reaction.  I was hoping for a smile or two, perhaps a chuckle.  I knew it wasn't the funniest thing I had ever written but I hoped that it would be at least amusing.  And there was a slight smile or two, and then at about a third of the way in - she laughed out loud!  Hurrah.  And when she had finished reading (after about an hour) she gave me eight out of ten.  Which for a book that took me a total of - I'm not sure, somewhere between fifteen and twenty hours - to write,  is a satisfactory outcome. 

Job done.

The book is not art, not by a long chalk.  But it's moderately entertaining, which was what I set out to achieve.  And now that I have silenced my inner critic, I intend to keep the lid firmly on it.  I am tempted to tinker with the book, to improve it, but I am not going to succumb to the temptation.  I am going to publish the book, in its present form, to Kindle, as soon as I possibly can.

And then I am going to start the next one.

I am going to write freely, and regularly, and fast and I am going to finish every single book I start from now on.  And maybe I'll get on and finish the ones I've started already too. 

Such fun!


Friday, 15 March 2013

Great interview from Mad in America

I just came across this interview from Rachel Waddingham, of the Hearing Voices Network.  This lady is really courageous and articulate.  It's only a short video, about six minutes.  Here's the link:

I also wanted to mention that I have just received a five star book review on Amazon from an American psychiatrist, Gregg L Friedman.  I got quite tearful when I read it - it says that my book is an excellent read, packed with useful information, and will be helpful to psychiatrists, patients, and their families. 

I used to be completely in awe of doctors, and suppose I do still have a sense of respect for the medical profession.  I have become disenchanted with psychiatry over the years though, because of the diagnosis I was given and how it affected my view of myself.  And as I get older I have realised that I need to be the guardian of my own health, instead of trying to hand the power over to medical professionals to help me. 

However, the fact that I got so emotional when I read this review shows that I am not as strong or as independent as I thought - because I really am grateful that a doctor - and a psychiatrist - has taken the time to read my book and review it.  And the fact that he thinks it is helpful, that seems like a real accolade to me.

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful to every person who has taken the time to read my book, whether or not they have found the opportunity to review it.  Sales have dropped recently - not surprising really, since it is about 21 months since I first published the book.  Yet still, every day this month I have sold an average of a couple of e-books and a paperback, and sometimes it seems to me not much short of a miracle, that every day there are people who spend money on a product that I have written and manufactured.  People who think that my book is worthy. 

And the very best thing is when I hear from the people who have been helped or inspired by my work.  I intend to create a folder soon, of all the emails I have had (and a few letters) from people who have appreciated my work.  And the reviews, or course.  It really is all quite incredible, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get my work published and read, and commented upon.  There can be no better career than writing in the world!

Thank you all for reading. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


We have been learning about obedience in psychology recently.  It is an interesting subject.  The main authority is a man called Milgram, who lost relatives in the Second World War and wanted to find out why the Nazis behaved as they did - was it sufficient to say that they had just been following orders?  Would anybody in that position have behaved in the same way?

Milgram's experiements (about fifty years ago) alarmingly, seem to show that almost anybody would.  He set up a situation where participants were told that they were helping with an experiment.  They were told that they could be 'learners' or 'teachers', although in reality all were 'teachers' and the 'learners' were actors.  Each participant had to ask the 'learners' a series of questions - if the answers were wrong they were told to administer an electric shock, in increasing increments, up to a limit of 450V. 

In reality, no shocks were administered, but taped responses from the 'learners' were played back to the participants, who had seen the learners strapped into chairs and wired up, but then pressed the buttons (that they believed gave the shocks) from another room.  As the shocks got greater, the taped responses started to be of pain, and then pleading for mercy and finally going silent (the implication here being that the 'learner' might be unconscious or even dead). 

The participants were clearly increasingly uneasy, but the 'professor' sitting in the room with them insisted that they should continue with the experiment, and the majority of them (65%) did so, right up to the limit of 450V.  100% actually administered shocks up to 300V - higher than the UK mains voltage. 

Well, there were mitigating factors.  The experiments took place at Yale University, so it was a reputable academic establishment and the participants clearly trusted that no harm would take place to the 'learners'.  They also believed that the 'learners' had consented to the experiment, and so on. 

In my opinion, though, there is a valuable message here.  All individuals are capable of good or bad - we need to be aware of this, and always think carefully about our actions.  I try my best to lead a good and moral life, but still find myself sometimes doing the wrong thing - making judgements about people, privately or openly, or gossiping perhaps. 

I am glad that I have never been in a position where I felt pressurised to do something that I knew would hurt another human being.  A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a friend, a psychiatric nurse, who told me about the first time she had to give an injection, while training (in the hospital where I was sectioned three times).  She said that it was discussed beforehand, very clinically - 'I'll hold his left leg, you hold his right leg, you have his left hold his head to the side in case he vomits...'  But, she said, when it came to the moment when she had to give the jab, and the boy (just nineteen years old) was crying and pleading with her not to do it, she found it really really hard to go ahead.  She did it though...  Now she doesn't work in a hospital, but in the community on a drug rehab programme. 

The problem is, I suppose, that those people who continue to work in the system become de-sensitised to the actuality of what they are doing - using force on another human being.  And that they justify it by the thought that it is for that person's ultimate good.  And then it only takes one or two rotten people within that system for things to become even worse.  It is not the fault of any individual though, it is the system that allows these things to happen that is wrong, and that needs to change.