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!