Monday, 20 October 2014

So, How Can I Tell If My Kids Are Weird?

I am stinging a little at something that just happened over on Twitter.  Here's a little background - I was catching up on Style magazine from The Sunday Times today, and reading the second extract from India Knight's new book, which is about how to cope with middle age.  Very topical, in my case - I am about to turn 46.  Anyway, I was struck by a small part of a section about how to deal with kids - and surprised by the way the writer expressed herself.  She basically said, nobody likes kids who are weird, lots of kids are weird and if yours are more than ordinarily weird you shouldn't delay in getting a diagnosis for reasons of social embarrassment or stigma.

I mean, what?  Hang on a minute, I thought.  Does she have someone particular in mind - or, lots of someones?  Who are all these kids she thinks are weird?  Is it just kids or does she think lots of adults are weird too?  What sort of diagnoses is she referring to?  And the whole thing kind of jarred, because I have a book by India Knight and I read her columns and articles regularly and she had always previously come across as kind.  Not a pushover - a straight-talking, no nonsense, sort of person, but kind.

Anyway, I put it to the back of my mind.  I stopped subscribing to The Times a month or two ago, because I realised I could get the paper free from Waitrose.  Waitrose is an indulgence for me, but I have grown to like the routine of going there every day, getting my free cup of tea and paper, browsing the aisles to buy a few bits and pieces.  I read an article a while ago about how the regular, old-school Waitrose shoppers are upset by the likes of me, just turning up for the freebies and lowering the tone, but the staff certainly don't give any indication of thinking like that.  It's a really pleasant shopping experience. 

My point is that if I had still been subscribing to The Times, I would have commented on the website, underneath the article, and I am sure that Ms Knight would have explained her thinking.  But I don't subscribe any more, so I couldn't. 

I had forgotten all about it by this evening, when I was browsing Twitter.  I was on Twitter to link to my latest HuffPost piece, on the subject of pet therapy (here's the link by the way  And then I noticed India Knight promoting her new book, so I took the chance to ask her (by tweet) how I could tell if my kids were weird.  Silence.  I expanded.  I was asking because, I said, as far as I was concerned, anyone who thought my kids were weird would be weird.  Especially me.  Still silence.  So I realised she might be feeling attacked, and sent another tweet saying that anyway, I would buy the book, I was sure it would be an excellent read.  No reply.  Now, meanwhile, Ms Knight was still tweeting about her book and replying to others who were saying nice things about it.  And within a few minutes my tweets had been removed from her timeline (not sure if timeline is the correct term, but basically my comments had been edited out of the conversation). 

That hurt.  Mostly because I was really not trying to be unpleasant and she clearly thought that I was.  And I really have never deliberately provoked or hurt anyone in my life, and don't intend to do so.  I really just wanted to understand what she meant.  But I suppose Twitter is not the place for that sort of a conversation.

So I thought I would just air my thoughts here.  And what they amount to is this - a lot of damage is done in society by some people branding other people as weird.  I guess they do it because of fear or lack of understanding - but why they do it is not really the point.  It's wrong. 

One of my sisters often refers to other people as weird.  The funniest time was when she told me how weird she thought one of my friends was (they had just met, at a party in my garden for one of my children).  'She is a consultant psychiatrist,' I told my sister.  I thought that would stop her in her tracks, but she persisted, 'Well, she's really weird'. 

The thing is, my friend was not, and is not weird.  My sister is not an unpleasant person either.  She is just freaked out by people who are not like her - and she fails to realise that actually none of us are like anyone else in this world.  We are all different.  Society dictates that we form groups, and if we happen to be outside the group we are in danger of being ostracised.  But society is now so fragmented that the groups are increasingly small, and instead of trying to be more inclusive they tend to be getting exclusive.  And society is becoming less cohesive as a result. 

Does this make sense.  Or am I becoming incoherent?  What I am trying to say is that we should not call each other weird.  It makes people feel bad to be set apart.  And we really should not call our children, or anyone else's children, weird.  Children are different, people are different.  They can still be good, and valuable and worthwhile.  We do not all need to be the same.

I honestly think that it would be very, very wrong of anyone to consider their own child weird.  All they are really saying is that they do not understand that person, that they are different from themselves.  But they are saying it from a position of such power because they are the parent, that the child will almost certainly believe them and internalise the message.

And I do know that Ms Knight did not say 'weird' without a certain irony, or tongue-in-cheek intention.  She means - what?  Disturbed? Strange?  Different?  Not normal?  Whichever way you look at it, it's wrong.  The kids who are outcasts in the playground now will almost certainly be outcasts in adulthood.  The ones that are diagnosed - with what? - ADHD? Aspbergers?  - are marked for life.  Some children are now diagnosed with worse - schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder.  Some are medicated from a very young age.  It happens more in the USA than here, but what starts there usually follows on here, within a few years. 

And these kids are not, in fact, inherently different to anyone else.  They are simply reacting to their experience of the world.  If they are having difficulties of any kind, they need to be helped.  And the best way to help them is to make them feel safe and loved and normal.  Not to make them feel wrong.  Or different.  Or weird. 

It makes me so sad.  We need to be kind above all, and to teach our kids to be kind.  We need to be understanding, inclusive, to help others, to be non-judgemental.  I will always reassure my children that they are normal, I will always love them unconditionally.   I will do my best to be non-judgemental towards other children and adults.

I am not looking to start a witch hunt against India Knight.  I am sure she didn't really think about what she was writing and hasn't had personal experience of stigma.  Lucky for India Knight, really, if she has no knowledge of mental health issues.  I mean it.  And I know how it feels to have negative comments about something you have written so she was probably just freaked out by my comments on Twitter and that's why she didn't reply.  But I really was making a serious and very important point, so I thought I would just come and make it over here, where there is nobody to silence me.

Readers, I do hope you understand.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

How to Self-Publish Your Recovery Story

I decided to write this post on the spur of the moment, although it's quite late on a Saturday evening.  I just wanted to say a few words for anybody who wants to publish their own story, as I have done.  Recovery stories are invaluable in the mental health world (I was reminded of this recently while reading 'A Straight Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Diagnosis' by Lucy Johnstone) and publishing them in the form of a book is a very good way to disseminate them. 

So - how to do this?

You can write your story as fiction or memoir.  Both types of writing have their advantages, and I am sure you can work them out for yourself.  I would just advise you to write your story as simply and clearly as you can.  Because if you want people to read it - and you do - there is no point in making things difficult for them.  Mastery of the English language is best shown by expressing yourself as straightforwardly as possible.

You can self-publish your book as an ebook for no outlay at all.  The best way to do this is on Amazon Kindle - go to Kindle Direct Publishing and you will be talked through the process.  I say Amazon is the best because I have sold an awful lot more books through them than on any other site. If you sign exclusively to Amazon you can use their Kindle Select Program, which is really useful for promotional purposes.

Obviously you need to make sure your book is in the best possible shape before you publish - get it read by a friend, several friends if possible, get it edited if necessary, do your research on the sort of cover that would help your book sell, and think about how best to price it.  This might all sound complicated, but there are lots of blogs out there on self-publishing, or 'indie' publishing, which can point you in the right direction.

You can also set up your book to be sold as a paperback - again, the simplest way to do this is through Amazon, on their CreateSpace site.  You will have to pay a very small upfront cost - less than fifty pounds. 

Well, that's all for now.  It may not be that useful - I am not entirely sure why I suddenly felt the need to fire off a blog post about self-publishing.  And please note - Amazon are not sponsoring me to write this.  (Thought - maybe they should be!)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

New Huffington Post Blog on Anxiety

I have my friend Karen to thank for this.  I anguished all week about what to write about for my second HuffPost blog, having decided to try to publish one a week.  I overthought it, to be honest - but what I wrote for the Huffington just seemed to be more important than what I write on this blog.  I still think of this blog as private in a way, because although I get a steady number of hits - usually around two thousand a month - the Huff has a readership of seven and a half million in this country and one hundred million worldwide.  That seemed like a lot of responsibility.

Anyway, I realised eventually that not all of those people are going to read what I write, and the ones that do won't have any emotional investment in it - nobody's going to think I am letting them down if what I write is not original or ground-breaking.  So, Karen told me that anxiety is a good, current topic, and I knuckled down to writing some words about my experience of it, off the top of my head.

Here's the link to the post:

Hopefully, I won't spend the next week wondering about my next topic.  But if anyone wants to suggest anything, feel free to write it in the comment box here!


Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day - Living with Schizophrenia

I have to start this blog post with an apology.  Today was supposed to be the publication date for my 'recovery book' - unfortunately I have not been able to get it finished in time.  What happened was this - I gave the manuscript to a friend to proof-read and she told me that it needed totally re-writing.  I had written it as a memoir and she thought a self-help book would be a better format. 

Well, I was tempted to ignore my friend's advice, because I had worked really, really hard to get the book finished on time and I just wanted to get it out there.  But I knew that she was right - the book was not as good as my first memoir.  She said people would be disappointed as a result, and I really did not want that to happen. 

Anyway, that was last week and I decided just to think about it all for a while.  I also realised that I had become far too fixated on getting the book finished - my home was a tip and I was completely stressed out.  So this week I have been cleaning and tidying the house, which has helped to ground me.  I have also been catching up on some reading - I have whizzed through Julian Barnes' 'The Sense of an Ending' in the last couple of days...

So.  Sorry, everyone (anyone) who was waiting for the book.  It's still on the way.  I have the cover sorted and everything.  (Briony Hartley from Goldust Designs worked on this for me, by the way.  I highly recommend her services).   I just need a bit of distance before I decide how I am going to publish it.

Meanwhile, I had relaxed successfully.  I was starting to like living at a slower pace.  I had been spending more time with the children, and all was good.  Then, yesterday afternoon, the Huffington Post asked me to blog for them.  This was the most exciting thing I had heard since I was invited to talk at Newcastle University, almost two years ago.  I could hardly believe it was true.  They asked if I could get the first post ready for this morning, for World Mental Health Day.  They had pointed to a particular blog post here that they liked and said they would be happy to use that, so I adapted it a bit and sent it over.  I still could hardly believe that it would really be used in the Huffington Post...

But it was!  It is!  Here's the link:

It's not the best piece ever, but it's a start.  And now, they say I can continue to blog for them for as long as I like, up to twice a week.  So I will do that, and link to any blogs here.

It's odd that this happened just as I decided to stop pushing myself.  Maybe it's better sometimes to wait to be asked.  Although I suppose they asked me because they noticed me on Twitter and on this blog, so you have to be out there in the first place.

Anyway, I am going off to relax for a bit now.  Sorry again about the late/missing book.  I might try and put some extracts on here soon, just to give a flavour of where it's going and how.  As soon as I work that out for myself!