Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Read this - by Terry Lynch

I came across this today, thanks to Julie Leonovs, a Facebook friend...  It's really interesting, and fresh - have a read:


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Cannabis - it's for Dopes

I had a bit of an argument on Twitter with someone today - well, not an argument exactly, but I was annoyed with her.  She (can't remember her name now) had posted some stuff about Big Pharma and what crooks they were - but her message, in other tweets, was how good cannabis is for you, in comparison.  I took issue with that - explained that my psychotic breakdowns were in part due to smoking dope, although of course it does not have that effect on anyone.  I really do not think cannabis is an appropriate tool for healing of any sort.

She replied that she did not think my problems were due to cannabis, but that she could not help me as she did not have access to my medical records.  What?!

I explained that I know what my problems were, and that I have dealt with them satisfactorily, and was certainly not asking for her help.  So far, it was a weird exchange, but not unduly upsetting.

But then it went on a bit - she continued to extol the virtues of cannabis and I said that she was wrong and that I would do the utmost to keep everyone I care about well away from the stuff.

And then - she said she hoped my friends and family would not take my word for it, but would do their own research.  Their own research?  Just in the interests of science, to see if they went mad or not?  I was thinking about my kids of course - which is why I got so annoyed, although obviously there was no need.  I stopped replying to her. 

But when I got 'Followed' later by 'ProCannabis' I reacted by blocking and reporting them for spam. I don't think they were connected to that woman - they had just somehow picked up 'cannabis' in my tweets and thought I might be on their side, but still.  I am all for free speech, but still.

This is a subject that does rile me - every so often the issue of legalising cannabis is raised, and I know how harmful it can be, and how anybody with any sense should keep well away.  I hate dope!

(Incidentally, since I met Henry Cockburn of 'Henry's Demons' I've been even more angry about the dope thing.  The book makes it clear that Henry smoked a lot of dope in the period leading up to his illness.  And Henry is a lovely chap, but a casualty of cannabis if ever I saw one - I couldn't help adding a comment under my review of the book on Amazon that he should keep away from the stuff for the rest of his life, because otherwise he will not have a chance.  It's just one of those things that you know, and can see...)

I had forgotten about it all by this evening, but have just been flicking through the Saturday Times magazine, and came across an article by Robert Crampton about an addiction clinic in Switzerland.  The place sounds amazing - but is far too expensive for most people. 

Anyway, the guy who runs it says that addiction to cannabis is the hardest of all addictions to break.  Crampton goes on to write that, 'Cannabis - certain strains at least - is also the drug that can cause the most profound and the least reversible neurological damage, often quickly, often in very young and otherwise healthy adults.  The drug many people people think of as harmless can send you mad, swiftly and permanently'. 

Case proven.

Another thing I have read today is Hilary Mantel's memoir, 'Giving up the Ghost'.  A friend lent it to me this afternoon, and I would never have expected to finish it by this evening.  I have a good opinion of Mantel - her rant about how badly treated royal women are has brought her all sorts of unfair criticism from people who got the wrong end of the stick, and yet she seems to have dealt with the outcry with dignity and stoicism.

I have not read Mantel's work before, and was kind of spoiled for it a bit by Hugo Rifkind's mickey-taking in the Times today.  He writes 'A week in the life of..' or some such weekly column, which is supposed' to be 'by' whoever has been in the news that week, and it is sometimes very funny.  This week Mantel bore the brunt of his humour - he wrote the column about his imagined version of her week, in what was supposed to be her style.

I can't remember if Rifkind's column was funny or not - or even what was in it - and it is too late tonight for me to bother to check.  But anyway, I realised as soon as I started to read Mantel's memoir that she has a splendid writing style - as I said, though, the memoir was a little spoiled by my prior conception of it.  Does that make sense? 

And I didn't read the book through properly, I must admit.  I read and savoured up to page 68 or so, about her childhood, then I got distracted by wanting to know what happened to her Dad, and flicked through the book to find out...  And after that I got immersed in her description of an illness that began at University and couldn't put the book down then until I had finished.

I will go back to it, very soon, and read the middle section, and review the book on Amazon or somewhere else.  I found it an excellent, enlightening read - and without wanting to give the plot away, for those who are interested in medical, and especially psychiatric treatment in this country, it raises some fascinating issues.  It's a short and easy read.

So go on - read it, you know you want to!  (I especially admire her fondness for semi-colons; I feel it makes us kindred spirits, although I am often not sure if I use them correctly, and sometimes resort to dashes instead).

And one more thing - I got an email this evening from the World Book Night organisers, to say that I will be given 20 copies of my chosen book - The Road Home by Rose Tremain - to disseminate on the 23rd April.  I am really pleased - it was my first choice of books, and a really good read, one that I will be delighted to pass on. 

Lucky me!

And I can't help thinking that maybe - just maybe - many years in the future - one of my as-yet-unwritten books might be on the list to be given away on World Book Night.  I know I should not voice this thought - or write it - it seems vain, and futile, and may jinx all my hopes.  But I often do and say things that I might be wiser to have left undone or unsaid. 

Will I ever learn?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A sane response to DSM 5.

I hope this link works - it's to an article in today's Times, written by Anna Maxted, which points out the stupidity of including grief in psychiatric labelling.  I have commented, using the article as a platform to pointing out the errors inherent in all the DSMs... 


I have only commented briefly, because it's half term and I have more important things to do, like playing!

Friday, 15 February 2013


Grrr!  So annoying when things don't go to plan!

Last night I spent about six hours trying to write a poem - or adapt one I had already written - for the Rethink Your Mind competition.  I was shattered by the end of it.  And not that happy with my work - I sent in a poem that I had massacred just to fit the remit 'With good mental health, I have...'

The first two verses of the poem were ok - I've put them on here before, when the rest of the poem took a completely different form  - but the subsequent three verses were trite, rhyming doggerel.  Still, I really wanted to win - the prize is an iPad and a trip to the House of Lords - and there weren't a lot of entries so I hoped I was in with a chance.

Nope, the poem was rejected.  The last three stanzas were apparently ok, but the first two were not positive enough!  But then, if the poem had started off positive, it would have been even more trite - and the whole point of what I wrote was that I had overcome my troubles, and triumphed...  Here it is, judge for yourselves.


(A poem on the theme 'With good mental health I have')

A festival, when I was young, meant drugs and mud

Wine to numb the mind, and love to stir the blood

Outlandishness or individuality, fun tinged with fear

Singing, dancing, portaloos and paranoia; campfires, beer

But then the balance tipped, the fear outweighed the fun

And madness loomed, and peace took far too long to follow on

For 'Schizophrenia' sapped my spirit, froze my brain

I switched my Self to 'Off', and thought I'd never laugh or love again

Yet now, twenty years on, I'm whole and strong

The shadows in my mind have long since flown

And, tamed by age, I've found an antidote to gloom

I've learned to celebrate the spectre in the room

I've learned to hold no shame, to conquer fear

I've found that drugs may help, but love can cure

I know that 'Schizophrenia' has no ring

Once love becomes a settled, settling thing

I've learned that when I want to talk and laugh

To sing and dance, and act completely mad

That I should never care what others think

I only wish now that I never had.

Not exactly disturbing, is it?  Was it the use of the word 'Madness' that didn't pass muster?  To be fair, the chap who wrote to me did say that, on a personal level, he liked the poem.  But then for all I know he says that to everyone whose poetry gets rejected - I know that Katy, who writes to me on here, had one of her entries rejected for the same reason as mine, and she couldn't see what was wrong with it either - but she adapted it and sent it in again and it was okay.  I have only got ten minutes left before the deadline, and I don't want to make the poem any worse than it already is!

Oh well.

So that was one frustration.

The next was that I took my daughter to the hospital this morning for an ultrasound scan.  She was off school anyway, for the start of half term, but to get her to the hospital I still had to organise and juggle various things - for example, one of my sons, who was also off school, went off swimming with his friend so that he didn't have to tag along with us.

It took me forty-five minutes to get to the hospital, and parking was a nightmare.  In the end, I had to use the multi-storey car park, which I hate.  Little daughter (I call her that because she is the younger daughter) was convinced that our car was too big for the car park, and that we would get stuck - the roof was very low.  I just hated hving to manouvre the vehicle - we have a seven seater car and these places are so tightly built.  And parking, when I finally found a space on the eighth floor, was hard too - it took ages, and I had to put up with a grumpy woman, who couldn't get past until I had parked, shouting and swearing at me for taking so long. 

It was not actually ages - it seemed so, but it was less than a minute.  The woman had a child in the car, and as I said to my daughter, I felt sorry for that child, whose mother was so close to the edge that she could not control her impatience.  And I was not just incompetent, the parking space was small - I could not even get out of my door once I had parked (it was next to a pillar) - I had to climb over and get out of the passenger side.

Anyhow, miraculously, we arrived in the Ultrasound Department at ten o'clock, right on time.  I hadn't been able to find the hospital letter before we'd left, and I would have liked to check it, but luckily I had got the time and place of the appointment right.  (I thought I had, it was on my calendar, but usually I would have brought the letter with me to be sure).
So.  On time.  But then, disaster struck.  The receptionist told me that my daughter should have an empty stomach to be tested.  She'd had breakfast.  I told the receptionist - and the nurse who came to see us about fifteen minutes later - that there had been nothing on the appointment letter about not eating, but they wouldn't do the scan.  It took half an hour for us to be told this, though.  They asked us to go to the desk to rebook the appointment, but the receptionists were busy and I said I would phone in later.
I went off steaming.  I was polite in the hospital, even said thank you before I left (for what?!) but it was a struggle to be pleasant.  I felt that my time had been wasted.  I had to then pay one pound eighty to get out of the nightmare car park, and so by the time we were on our way home I was even more annoyed.   One pound eighty (on top of wasted fuel).  Grrr!

I calmed myself down though.  I pointed out to my daughter that the sun was shining, we had time together to chat, we were going for a drive in our lovely car.  I was pleased that I had not vented my frustration in the hospital - the attitude of the receptionist and sonographer was not particularly polite, but I knew that getting cross would not have helped.  And when I got home and found the hospital letter - which did actually say that my daughter should have had nothing to eat for at least six hours previously, I was even more pleased that I had not made a fuss!

We have been studying stress in psychology for the last few weeks, and what it boils down to is that what you perceive as stressful, causes stress and has associated implications for the health of your body (and mind, surely).  So my mission is to learn to cope with the hassles of life in a sanguine fashion.  Which I suppose I have done this morning - I was mildly annoyed about the poetry, and about the waste of time and money at the hospital, but now I have moved on.

I do so love the company of my little daughter.  We are going to walk the dog together now, and then I am going to treat her to a nice lunch out.  (She has tummy troubles, hence the ultrasound scan, so we will have to choose food that doesn't set her off, although it can be hard to tell).  My son is doubtless having a lovely time with his friend, so everyone is happy.  Plus, no actual harm was done by the frustrations of the day, etc etc.

And it's always good to be able to write about these things!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

What does it Feel like to go Mad?

I am very enthusiastic just now about writing a novel.  I have not quite finished my recovery book, but I think a break from it might not be a bad thing - the more perspective the better, for a book of that sort.  I will finish it though - there's nothing more annoying than leaving loose ends.

Anyway, the novel hopefully will do a similar job to the recovery book, only more subtly - show people that there is hope for a fulfilling life after serious mental illness.  The advantage of fiction of course, is that you can reach a larger audience - or to put it a different way, preach without appearing to do so. 

The novel is coming on beautifully - or it was the last time I looked at it, several days ago...  It is light-hearted in tone - at least it is intended to be.  I think everything in life benefits from being leavened with humour.  And it is certainly more enjoyable to write a funny book for a change.

I am still trying to juggle several other tasks at the same time.  I don't mind this though - I like variety in life, it makes me feel more free.  Hopefully a couple of my other projects will be tied up soon, and I will have more time to devote to this one.  Although I am taking on something else new in a couple of weeks' time - a writing group, which I will be co-ordinating for Rethink, the mental health charity.  I am looking forward to running another writing group. 

Back to the title of this post.  I was thinking about questions, about how questions from children especially can somehow get to the nub of what matters.  And I thought this question - what does it feel like to go mad? - is something that a child might ask, and that the answer, honestly given, might be illuminating.

This is how it felt when I went mad when I was nineteen years old:

I was very scared.  I thought the world was literally caving in around me, and that I was powerless to prevent this happening.  At other times I felt that I had superhuman power, and that everything which happened was about me. 

I thought I was being followed.  I also thought I was a spy.  When I looked at the newspaper I could not read it - when I did eventually manage to decipher the words, they made no sense.  But on occasions I felt that I understood everything about Life and the World. 

I was a very quiet person.  Yet suddenly, with the onset of madness, I talked non-stop.  At times I knew I was incoherent, and yet I could not regain control of myself.  But sometimes I enjoyed suddenly possessing the power of speech - the ability to speak loudly, and to make other people laugh (because I was funny some of the time, quite deliberately so)  pleased me, after feeling so hemmed in and shy for so long. 

Some of the sensations were quite physical.  For example, I was convinced that I had been shot, and my heart would flutter painfully whenever I thought about this, for a long time afterwards.  But in some ways, my body was silenced - I didn't need to eat (unusually for me, I'd always had a huge appetite) and I don't remember paying any attention to my other physical needs. 

So, being mad is strange, and contradictory.  It is not a constant state - even in my maddest days I had some lucid moments.  Madness was a terrifying state, and yet an exhiliarating one too.  It was not all bad.

It only became all bad when I was hospitalised.  The brutality of the treatment, and the pain, and the sheer shock of it all - there was no up side to all that.

I keep going back to something Chrys Muirhead wrote on Mad in America - that people can't bear to see others suffering and not try to help, which is why those who have mental breakdowns are treated forcibly in hospital.  I think she is right.

But if only more people realised that the suffering in mental hospitals is worse than the suffering outside them.  If only there was better understanding, and more proper therapy in these places.

If only mental hospitals were not places of fear and shame, but of listening and learning; therapeutic environments where people could acquire the life skills that they lacked.  Safe havens that people would leave healthier happier, and better equipped to face the world.  

Failing that (and maybe it is a big ask for any institution, especially government-run ones) if only people did not have to be incarcerated in these places at all. 

It would help if the issue of violence was separated from that of mental illness - as it should be.  If people are violent then they should be treated in the criminal justice system.  Those who are 'just' mad can be treated in the community - it has been done in the USA in the Soteria houses, it is being done in Nothern Finland under the Open Dialogue system.  In Finland, mental hospitals are now practically non-existent - I've said it before and I'll say it again - because first episodes of psychosis are treated so effectively that they never recur.

A country without 'schizophrenia' is a reality.  How long will it take our country to acknowledge that reality and to learn from it, and to implement such a system here?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Direct Link to Psychiatric Times Comp - prepare to be shocked!

Here's a direct link to the competition I referred to in my earlier post today.  It is hard to believe that such a competition is for real!  I suppose the psychiatrists involved would say that it is a lighthearted test of their diagnostic knowledge - but to someone who has been scarred by a diagnosis of schizophrenia it seems highly inappropriate, to say the least!


Almost unbelievable

Sometimes you hear or read of things which are almost unbelievable...  Like this, a 'speed diagnosis' competition run by the Psychiatric Times.  As if speed should ever be of the essence when making a psychiatric diagnosis that is likely to change the course of a person's life, almost certainly for the worse.

What do you think?


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Mind freedom - my story

I just went to the Mind Freedom site 'I Got Better' and posted my story - as I said I would, on my post here of the 8th January.  I did it quite quickly, and felt that my writing was a bit stilted, but at least it was another job done.

Afterwards, I scrolled down the list of stories, to see how much it had grown since I last looked (it had grown a lot).  And I saw my story.  Wow, I thought, that was quick, they had said it would take a few days to get it up on the site, if it was approved. 

Then I clicked on the story - and yes, it was mine, but not the one I just wrote, something that I must have submitted a while ago, and then forgotten about.  I vaguely remember actually - it was on a form, not on this new site.  They must have collated the stories to put them on the site, and last time I looked mine wasn't on there. 

Now it is, and it's written a lot better than the subsequent one.  Now I will have to email to ask them to disregard this one - half an hour wasted, what with writing the story and then writing to apologise because I had already done it!  Oh well... serves me right for going online.  I had only stopped my ghost-writing project for a quick snack - that was an hour and a half ago, because it turned into browsing the web, and then into commenting on another blog, and now this. 

You live and learn...  Here's the link to my story on Mind Freedom, anyway.