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.