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.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Interesting article on the subject of a name change for schizophrenia

I just came across this article, which I found fascinating.  Really well written.  The writer has the diagnosis - 'the' diagnosis, as I still think of it, and yet has clearly achieved a great deal in his life.  The comments section below the article looks fascinating too - there is a link to a film about a man with schizophrenia who is a street artist, which I am going to have a look at in a mo.  The trouble is, one could spend all day following links on this subject...

My writing group met today - there were seven of us (compared to four last week, which was our first meeting).  I think that is fab - I really enjoyed the afternoon, although I was a little nervous (I'm not as tough as I like to think sometimes...).  

Hopefully next week we will also have a good turnout. 

Re-naming of Schizophrenia in Japan

Rossa Forbes asked me, in a comment on my last post, to find the research I quoted about the effects of the name change of schizophrenia in Japan.  I have just made a very quick search, and this is what I've found:

I am very sure about the fact that in the very short space of time after the name change, about three times as many patients as usual were diagnosed with the new term.  (Much more sure than I was about New Zealand!)  But I just haven't got time to unearth the source of that info right now - sorry!  I am sure that links on one or both of the above articles, or a Google search, would get you there.

Thanks for raising the subject though, Rossa - it has made me realise that if ever I do carry out formal research in the area, I will need to carefully note my sources as I find them.  I think I will start that habit now, anyway.

Have a good day. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

'Schizophrenia' in New Zealand

After I sent out the 'Scrap the Schizo' press release yesterday I had a niggling doubt about the veracity of what I had written - I wanted to check the status of 'schizophrenia' in New Zealand.  I know they have changed the name of the condition in Japan - the result has been that many more people have been diagnosed now that the stigma has been removed from the label (which just goes to show that schizophrenia is the sort of illness that is not easy to categorise and that there is a lot of crossover with other types of mental illness, or manifestations of emotional distress depending on how you look at it).  Phew, that was a sentence and a half...

Are you still with me?  Well, I was not so sure about the situation in New Zealand - I knew I should have checked my facts before I put the press release out.  So I emailed the Mental Health Foundation in New Zealand last night to check on the situation, and their Information Officer, Rachel Evans, got back to me this morning.  She said that the term schizophrenia is indeed still in use there, although young people are usually diagnosed with 'early psychosis' rather than 'schizophrenia', due to the desire not to stigmatise and the fact that the conditon may only be transitory.  I believe that is the situation here in the UK too.

So - slightly embarrassing, but if anyone gets back to me about the press release, I will just have to tell them that I got that detail about the name change in New Zealand wrong.

And, by the way, here's a really comprehensive article on the subject which I just came across while I was trying to find out whether any other countries have effected a name change for the condition:

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Scrap the Schizo

I have a friend who is a journalist (or was, before she gave in to motherhood) and she showed me today, via email, how to send a press release - and wrote one for me!  I am really taking a big step out into the open now - but one that I feel is very necessary.

I linked the article from the Western Daily Press to Twitter the other day, and Katy, who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, responded with a comment  of 'If people read it and realise that schizophrenia does not equal dangerous, we'll be laughing!'

Karen's press release chimes with that, and makes a really important point about the damage done by labelling.  Here it is:

Scrap the Schizo

In a week when schizophrenia once again hits the headlines, author and mental health campaigner, Louise Gillett, says it’s time to scrap the label.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia 25 years ago,” says Louise, “and I’m not mad, bad or dangerous to know. I’m just an ordinary mum doing the school run.”

The headlines are wrong when they say someone has killed because of ‘schizophrenia’. These people kill because they are violent, and violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. Yes, voices in your head can tell you to do some pretty crazy things, but the vast majority of people with schizophrenia do not act upon them. It is time to distinguish between the criminals with mental illness and those who are just ill, and because the association between schizophrenia and violence has become part of the public consciousness, this can only be done by changing the label of schizophrenia.”

If the diagnosis was changed tosomething less damaging – such as ‘thought disorder’ – then people could get on with the business of recovery without being held back by the shame and stigma of the word itself. It would be a quick and easy change to make and a very humane one.Many other countries, such as Japan and New Zealand, have already taken this step, and it has revolutionized treatment there.”

Louise was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late teens, but has now fully recovered.“Schizophrenia is supposed to be an illness that people do not recover from, so officially I'm simply “in remission”. But I am confident that I’m not much more at risk of mental ill health than any other member of the public. The only unusual thing about me is that I’ve stuck my head above the parapet. I may have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but I’m neither insane nor violent. There are so many people out there like me – good mums, useful members of society, terrified to reveal their diagnosis in case they get shunned at the school gate.”

Monday, 4 March 2013

Why Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of

Here's an article I wrote for a local paper last week.  I'm pleased with how it came out (apart from the picture, but I think I'm going to have to accept that's just what I look like these days).  Comments appreciated (not on the photo, on the article!)

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Intervoice and TED

Here is a link to the site of Intervoice - a valuable organisation, working to improve the rights of the emotionally distressed (AKA mentally ill) in society.  I have just signed up to their 'One in a Million' campaign to help to get the word out about their work.  Please take a look:

Also, over the last few years I have listened to various TED talks, usually from psychiatric survivors.  These talks, on many different subjects, are an absolutely invaluable resource, so I am linking to that site too:

Fill your boots!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Rethink Writing

I have been trying to reproduce the newspaper article that ran in my local paper - but my limited computer skills are not up to the job.  I found this just now though  - it is the same wording as the article, but without the massive photo that went alongside... I did not write the article myself (hence the term 'Dorset born' when I was actually born in London)  but I was asked for suggestions and did manage to insert the term 'emotional distress' instead of 'mental illness'  in a couple of places.

We had our first group meeting this afternoon - it went well (I certainly enjoyed it) although we chatted much more than we wrote - I am going to get a grip on that next time.

Onwards and upwards (I've cheered up a bit now)....  Here's the link to the article:

And here's some more (optional) reading - a well-argued case for reform of the mental health law (thanks to @sectioned on Twitter):

Chrys Muirhead - 'Stigma begins and ends with psychiatry'

I have been getting increasingly bothered about the label of schizophrenia recently.  Probably because I have become so open about it - starting with the publication of my book, and building slowly since. 

There was an article about me in the local paper last week, to publicise the writing group that I am starting for Rethink Mental Illness, and there is another this week.  This was done at my instigation, but to be honest it has freaked me out a bit - the thought that any and everybody in my local town might now think of me as a schizophrenic, without knowing anything much about the condition, or without having read my book. 

Ah well, what's done is done.  But this morning I came across a piece by Chrys Muirhead which put into words how I feel about the label, and about how unfair it is that having recovered from any symptoms of mental illness, this recovery is doomed to remain unacknowledged.

Chrys is a brilliant mental health activist - she writes as a correspondent for Mad in America, and I have been in touch with her before. So it was nice to read her thoughts chiming more or less exactly with mine.   What is worrying is that in Chrys' case, the stigma has also passed down through the generations - but I will cross that bridge if and when I come to it.  I still maintain that my kids will be okay as far as mental health goes - and that if they are not I will not resort to psychiatry to treat them.  I will take out a second mortgage to pay for a psychologist if I have to - or train to become one myself!

What particularly annoys me is the failure of otherwise well-meaning people to understand the lasting damage done by diagnosis.  I am sick of being told that a name change would detract from the seriousness of the condition, and such like... and sometimes I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall, trying to educate people about the realities of mental health from a patient's perspective.

Sometimes it feels as though people just don't want to learn, just don't care whether people recover...

Anyway, apologies, I am a bit tired today, as my elder son was very poorly in the night.  And now the only GP appointment I have been able to get for him clashes with the first meeting of the new writing group.  My friend is going to get things started for  me, and I then have another friend coming to sit with my son when I get back from the doctor, so hopefully I will make it to the group at some point.

So, here's Chrys' article.  Please take a look: