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!