Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Mind film

I have not done a lot of mental health based activism recently.  I have had other fish to fry (I will write more about my other projects in due course).  Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I had an email from the McPin Foundation asking if I wanted to take part in a film that Mind, the charity, were making about schizophrenia.  Apparently they were having trouble finding people, particularly women, with the diagnosis who would agree to be filmed (I wonder why that would be?  I can't imagine why anybody wouldn't wish to 'fess up to being a schizophrenic on film!)

I wasn't sure either at first.  So I spoke to my husband, who said straight away that he thought I should do it.  I hesitated, but soon realised that being on film saying I have the diagnosis is not really any different from what I have been doing for the last four or five years (writing about it).  I wrote the book under my maiden name in an effort to protect my children from the stigma of being associated with and tainted by the 'schizophrenia' word but my photo is already out there - in fact it was on the front of my memoir for the first couple of years of its publication. 

I checked with my daughters as well though, before contacting Mind.  The older one said immediately that it would be fine.  The younger one said it would be fine as long as none of her friends saw the film.  I said that was unlikely but I couldn't guarantee it.  Then I pointed out that I really don't have anything to be ashamed of and nor does she - I was ill, I am now better, and if the film helped other people to see that there is a life after this awful, stigmatizing and damaging diagnosis then it was kind of my duty to go ahead and take part. 

She agreed.  I was pleased that she had questioned it, though, because it made me realise that I really should do the film.  So I contacted Mind - and within three days I found myself in a café in Stratford, sitting at a table, talking and pretending to drink coffee with four other people who have the same diagnosis.

It all happened so quickly, it was a rather surreal experience in some ways.  Our filming overran, so the next groups had appeared by the time our session was finished - I think these others had diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Or to look at it differently, we had all suffered from emotional distress at one time or another, which had manifested in different ways.

Paul had driven us to London and he stayed in the café when we were filming, so he got to talk to quite a few of the others involved in the subsequent sessions while he was waiting.  I envied him that - I love meeting people who have been through similar experiences to my own and find that I always learn a lot from them. 

I did get to talk to 'my' group at length, of course, and one thing in particular struck me: each of us had been using cannabis at the time of our first breakdowns.  I always knew cannabis was a factor in my own breakdown and I will never forget the psychiatric nurse who told me that it featured in every single set of medical notes he had ever seen - this, as I saw it, was further proof of the damage done by that substance.

The whole experience was fascinating, in fact.  It was also exhausting - the drive to London took almost four hours and the time to get home was only slightly shorter.  plus, of course, filming itself was pretty intense - quite a departure from anything I have done before.

I feel lucky to have been involved.  I am getting nervous now, though, about how I came across on film and I am becoming increasingly keen to see the finished product.  We spoke for well over an hour and the film will be edited down to less than ten minutes in length so I know I lot of what I said will be edited out.  Before I did the film though, I made it clear that I wanted to talk about how unjust I feel the diagnosis is, and how people can recover fully without medication, so I do hope those points remain in the edited version.

If anyone wants to see the films that Mind have made so far - on topics ranging from post-natal depression to bi-polar disorder - you can look them up on their YouTube channel, or follow the link from the Mind website.  Our film will be number sixteen in the series - the others are all very well made and interesting to watch so hopefully ours won't let the side down.  I will link to it here when it is up online. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Writing a Journal in Hospital

Well, my medical law course has started - the distance learning aspect of it, in that I have begun reading some material that has been sent out to 'us students' - mostly case law. I just came across some mental health cases and was reading about consent to treatment, capacity and so on.  As a once-patient I know how hard it is to convince people who are convinced otherwise that you are not in fact, mad...  The thing that I will always remember is being told that I had to take anti-psychotics after my third child was born.  I was not mentally ill in any way but a doctor who had never met me before decided that I was and I knew from previous experience that there was no point arguing.

And I also remember (and am sure I have written here before about it) a psychiatric nurse friend telling me that when she was a trainee in hospital, she was in a ward round with a consultant and some other mental health workers and a young man was brought in who seemed to be catatonic.  The consultant stated that he wished to start ECT, at which the chap woke up from his 'trance' and started shouting, 'No, no, not ECT!' and so on and so forth until he was removed from the room (and probably then forcibly sedated).  The consultant turned to my friend, who was understandably alarmed at this  development and said to her, 'Don't worry, we'll just say that he doesn't have capacity to consent'. 

This is how the mental health law operates in practice.  It is intended to protect the rights of the patient but all too often it fails.  Of course, professionals might say they knew the ECT would benefit this particular patient and so on...I won't go into all that here because I hope I have said enough to make my point.

Anyway, what I would like to say to anyone who is in hospital now, or who may be in the future - keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences!  I wrote one after the birth of my first child when I was hospitalised - I used to leave it open on a table in my room and I often saw the nurses reading it.  I am sure that it played an important part in the fact that I was eventually allowed to leave the hospital and to keep my child, because it was evidence that my thought processes were rational at least some of the time, despite what anybody else observed or considered about me.

I am going to tweet about this too later - maybe it is an obvious point, but reading about the administration of justice makes me want to play a part in it!  The trouble is, justice is a complex thing.  The case that set me off thinking about capacity was awful, involving a patient in Broadmoor who had committed the most heinous crime.  I have said before that I would not wish involuntary mental health treatment on my worst enemy but I might make an exception in the case of this person and others who have offended in similar ways.  Which is why I think mental health and criminal justice should not be confused, as I have said before.  But how would or could they be disentangled after all this time? 

It is a huge subject area.  In a way it might be better for me not to concentrate on mental health law because I still get riled by it - although at my age it would probably be good to be involved in things I feel strongly about.  Why waste time on things I don't care about?  Fortunately, all the cases and other material I have been reading over the last week on different topics are very interesting too, so if and when I do specialise in one subject (at least for my dissertation) I will have loads of choice.

Right, am off now...  But remember, if you or anyone you know is or may be in a mental hospital ever - keep a written record while you are there of what is happening to you and what you are thinking.  You can always destroy it later, but it may prove to be a very valuable resource.  Apart from anything else, writing things down helps you think clearly (I knew that already but read it recently too, in a book of advice written for law students.  I am taking my new studies very seriously, you see!)

Right, am definitely off now. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Big News

The Big News is that I have been accepted onto an LLM - a Masters degree course in Law - to start in just three weeks' time!  I will be studying healthcare law, which covers mental health but also subjects such as family law, the law relating to reproduction, consent in general and all sorts of other interesting topics. 

I do find the law fascinating and I am looking forward to studying it again.  There are, hopefully, all sorts of career possibilities leading from the course (I dream of a life in academia but if that doesn't materialise there are plenty of other options).  It will certainly be a life-enhancing experience.  And I am not giving up on my dream of becoming a writer - as the course is only part-time over two years I should be able to continue writing, if I am disciplined.  I suspect that my writing might actually benefit if I have less time to devote to it as I will be less inclined to fritter away the time I do have. 

I am not giving up on mental health campaigning either.  The further law studies should help me to approach this from a more professional standpoint, because I feel that as someone who has personal experience of the mental health system I am not taken seriously when I campaign for change - at a basic level someone who has been diagnosed as I have will always suffer prejudice and there are many other connected issues which I have written about at length in the past.

So - it's all new and exciting and positive.  I am relishing the prospect of it all. 

Watch this space! 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Piece for the Huff Post on Laser Eye Surgery

Here's something I wrote for the Huffington Post about my laser eye surgery.  It's not on the Huff yet, I'm going to post it there tonight so it'll probably be visible tomorrow.  I have to find a picture to go with it and the kids are home now so I'll leave it until later.  But anyway, here's the piece - it summarises my experiences since I had the surgery, which I think was about five months ago.

Huff Post

I Had Laser Eye Surgery to Correct My Vision – Should You? 

I have been short-sighted for as long as I can remember.  I was thirteen before I or anybody else realised it - a teacher noticed me squinting at the blackboard, my mother took me off to the optician and I found out what I had been missing all those years (just about everything).  Still, with unfathomable vanity, I refused to wear the National Health glasses I was given, so I only had the benefit of corrected vision when I got contact lenses several years later. I wore them pretty much every waking hour for the next thirty years. 

I became gradually more short-sighted over the years and as middle age encroached I became long-sighted too - I struggled to see things close to me as well as further away.  When the optician suggested either bifocals, or reading glasses to be worn on top of my contact lenses, I realised I had to take action. 

I had considered laser eye surgery in the past but not gone ahead with it because of a combination of cowardice and prohibitive cost.  But about five months ago, I had Lasik Wavefront surgery to correct my vision.  The procedure took less than one minute per eye.  I went home to rest and the next morning I could already see well enough to drive.  My vision improved further over the following weeks.

The operation was a bargain - it cost just under £2000, although I did haggle a bit to get this price.  I paid a small deposit on the day and I will pay the rest on interest-free credit – just one hundred pounds a month for eighteen months.  My husband has calculated that after four years, based on the cost of contact lenses and glasses, the operation will have paid for itself.  Everyone should do this, surely?  It’s a no-brainer, yes?

Not exactly.  I am a bargain hunter, but even I wouldn’t have laser eye surgery because it was cheap.  In this case, the surgeon who carried out my procedure had been personally recommended by a girl who worked at my optician and that was why I put my trust in him. 

I am grateful to be able to see so clearly and I don’t regret undergoing the procedure but I am not sure that I could, or would, undergo it again.  I was so scared in the operating theatre that I had a panic attack which was terrifying as well as embarrassing.  You are not supposed to have laser eye surgery if you suffer from anxiety (I fibbed on the pre-op form).  I would advise anyone else who decides to push through the procedure despite their nerves that they should at the very least visit their doctor and ask for a tranquiliser to take on the morning of the operation.  Generally, I am anti-medication, but in this case I wish I had made an exception.

I had to take a lot of eye drops (anti-inflammatories, artificial tears and antibiotic drops) in the days and weeks after the operation, and for the first week I had to sleep wearing eye shields.  This didn’t bother me much and nor did not being able to wear make-up for a fortnight but I know some people might find this hard to cope with.   The operation itself was unnerving but not actually painful, but there were vivid, unsightly red marks on the whites of my eyes for several weeks afterwards.  My eyes were quite sensitive to light at first but that has also stopped now.  And I did still need eye drops to lubricate my eyes for a while after the operation but I don’t use these any more.  What did take me by surprise was that I felt sick and dizzy on occasions for a week or two after the operation.  I came to the conclusion that this was to do with the change to my vision, and like the other symptoms it soon subsided but it was unsettling and unpleasant while it lasted.

Surprisingly, just a few months on, I don’t often think about my vision.  Occasionally it dawns on me that it really is something of a miracle.  The first time that I went swimming was rather wonderful.  Another benefit is that I had a much greater risk of problems or infections in my eye from wearing contact lenses than I do now, having had the surgery.  In fact, the potential risks and side effects from the surgery were minimal statistically compared to the danger of wearing lenses (I only ever had a few minor eye infections due to my contacts but some people do suffer serious complications). 

I was told that I would need reading glasses after the operation, but actually I don’t yet.  I do have a small book light to help me read in the evenings but in the daytime, in good light, I can see to read very well.  In any case, I won’t mind wearing glasses just for reading.  That’s normal, after all.

So, the operation really has been a revelation. Sometimes I feel like the bionic woman.  But would I go through it again?  I honestly don’t know.  Should you?  Sorry, can’t help.  I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s eyesight-related decisions.  Which is why I don’t like the fact that the clinic (which will remain unnamed) has given me money off vouchers to hand out to those who are considering the option.  If you want to go ahead, haggle over the price because it is flexible.  (I was originally quoted £3400).

Good luck, whatever you decide!

Applied for a Masters in Healthcare Law - get me!

I have been a bit frantic recently (probably explains the panic attacks I was referring to on the last post).  There are a variety of reasons why I feel I need to move on with my life - my youngest child is starting at the Junior School soon, my oldest is almost grown up (more grown up than me in some ways).  Some of my friends are thinking about going back to work, a lot of them are already working and have worked throughout the process of raising their children.  Partly it's economic necessity - the reason why most people go to work.  The writing is not paying - admittedly I have not been writing a great deal because I have been too busy mulling over my future.  There's also a rather narcissistic element in the mix of wanting the respect that comes with having a professional job - narcissistic but normal, or so I tell myself. 

I don't see the sixteen years that I have spent bringing up the kids as time lost - apart from anything else I need to remember that I really wasn't capable of doing more than being a stay at home Mum for a lot of that time.  The fact that I was at home did me, and them, a lot of good too (or so, again, I tell myself.  I enjoyed it, anyway).

But now it's time to move on.  I know it, and yet part of me is still reluctant to get out there and find myself a place in the world.  So I take a step forward, enquire about job or study opportunities, mull over the possibilities for a day or two and then convince myself I am not capable of this or that.  I have to battle my unconscious which is telling me that change is uncomfortable and dangerous (I have been reading Dorothea Brande's book Wake Up and Live! - a beautifully written self-help tome, dating back almost a century.  That's how I know what my unconscious is thinking...  I like self-help, it's one of my guilty secrets though because it feels a bit self-indulgent.  Sometimes, though, people need lifelines, and I seem to need them quite regularly).

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having worked out what is going on (that part of me is trying to avoid change) I am determined to find a course and stick to it.  Literally.  I have applied for an LLM (a Masters in Law) and am really hopeful and excited.  I have been reading around my chosen subject in preparation.  Yesterday I attended a lecture (or rather a panel and round table discussion) at Southampton University -  I had resolved to make the most of any opportunity that presented itself and so when I was invited to this event I realised I had to attend, to start as I mean to go on. 

It was really interesting.  One of the panel member is, I think, a lawyer who began his professional life as a doctor and specialised in liver disease.  He got so angry about the fact that the drinks industry encourage irresponsible drinking or don't do enough to prevent it - that his patients were dying unnecessarily - that he decided to switch careers, and now spends a lot of his time and effort lobbying Parliament to raise the minimum price per unit of alcohol.  (This particularly grabbed my attention because I could see parallels with the behaviour of Big Pharma.  And it occurred to me that as a lawyer (once I become a lawyer) my opinions on that subject will command a lot more respect than they do as someone who has been through the mental health system.  Anyone agree with that?)

The room was full of people like that - people who are passionate about their subject (the discussion was multi-disciplinary) - people who are trying to further understanding or battle injustice or generally improve the world.  I want to be a part of all that.  So I made a big effort afterwards, while everyone was 'mingling' (weird word) to join in and meet people and make connections.  I am not the most socially adept person, but I guess that everything improves with practice - at least I hope so, because I often walk away from these things feeling that I have made a complete idiot of myself.  But hey ho.

What does matter is that if I get on the course (please, please!) I focus on my studies and do as well as I can, learn as much as possible.  I may never be as clear and articulate as these other academics - I really wish I could speak in a less muddly fashion.  But most academic work is done on the page and that is my forte - I can communicate that way with relative ease (sounds boastful, but it's true).   I actually think I could fit in to a University role quite well  - once I have learned to cultivate a more professional manner - i.e. to talk about the subject in hand rather than myself.  And to relax a bit.

This is hopefully just the start.  The plan is to enrol on a PhD after the Masters, and then to work as an academic - a researcher or lecturer or a bit of both.  I am hoping to specialise in mental health law.  But it's all flexible - I may find a job in a related field, I might become more interested in other aspects of healthcare law.  Who knows?  I am just pleased that I have found a path and I am looking forward to following it and seeing where it leads.  I will keep you all posted. 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Panic Attack Advice

A friend was telling me today about another friend of hers, somebody who I once met but don't really know.  This woman has a mental health diagnosis (I think schizophrenia) and, without going into details, she is one of those people who have become a victim of the system. She is unlikely to recover, probably because she has lost the will to recover or the belief that there is any hope of recovery (this is what I gather from my friend's recounting of her tale). 

I was really surprised to hear that the council are in charge of this woman's financial affairs - she had to sell her flat many years ago (I forget why, something to do with benefits perhaps?) and they have not given her the money from the sale because she is deemed incapable of acting sensibly with it. 

My friend said that it is for this woman's own protection - that she might spend it on a new car or a holiday.  But to me this just illustrated the injustice in the mental health system - a gambler or an alcoholic can do what he wishes with his own money, sell his home and destroy his family...  But somebody with a diagnosis of mental ill health can not have charge of their own financial affairs.  I had no idea this situation existed before today and it made me really cross. 

As I say, I don't know the woman concerned well - I don't really know her at all, in fact.  But when I think about her - which I do quite often, because my friend is fond of her - I think in terms of, 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'.  (I like the poetry in that saying).  Her final breakdown, which she never recovered from, was after she had a miscarriage and separated from her then partner.  And I think - I might never have recovered from such a loss either.  My family have been my lifeline and I am not sure that without them - without Paul's belief in me, without Anna to hold the two of us in place after that rocky start - I could have pulled myself back into the real world.

I would like to help this woman, have suggested to my friend that we should meet.  But she doesn't want to meet me, which is fair enough, and anyway I am not sure if anything I could say would actually help.  She will get better, maybe, one day when she is ready.  I hope. 

In the meantime, why on earth shouldn't she have her own money?  Why shouldn't she splash out on a new car?  Or a holiday?  Maybe those things might be the trigger that would make her start to feel like a real person again.  Why would it be a waste, any more than it would be if anybody else treated themselves to the things they wanted?  Aren't most people's decisions about how to spend their money reckless, unnecessary, in literal terms? 

Anyway, I probably shouldn't write any more about somebody else's business.  The woman concerned is not complaining, or not officially so.  She is too used to being 'looked after', treated like a child, or more accurately, like a mad person. She has given up on any hope or expectation of leading a normal life.  Which is ridiculous - she was unwell and there really is no reason why she shouldn't get better.  It is just a shame that so few people realise that. 

The story made me cross and more determined to keep on fighting the injustice that is meted out to the mentally ill - or, the emotionally distressed. 

All this is a complete digression.  So, to get to my final point, which is the thing that made me want to write this post.  The panic attacks.  My friend told me that her friend - this same woman - has panic attacks and so I passed on the advice the GP recently gave me on this matter.  I went to see the GP after suffering episodes of chest pain that I knew were caused by panic but which still made me feel as though I was going to die however much I tried to reason myself out of it.  I think I wrote about it all on here, but I can't remember if I wrote in detail about my visit to the GP and what he said.  And I realised that if I haven't, I should, because after listening to his words of advice I have not had a panic attack since.

I told the GP that I thought the attacks might be some sort of reaction to food, because it often (not always) happened after I had eaten.  I said I had cut out various foods, notably nuts, because they seemed to be a trigger and he said that I could just end up with a really restricted diet that way and that I really needed to re-introduce those foods, so that I knew if they had actually caused the problem.  Also, he said that pain was not usually associated with panic attacks, which I knew, but I still thought panic was the problem.  He suggested medication, but he was almost smiling when he said it - I think he must know I am rather anti-medication, although he is not the GP I usually see at that surgery. 

Anyway, he then said that I should pay attention to my breathing.  He said that breathing is key - usually when we have panic attacks we have been over-breathing - breathing in too much - and the action we need to take is to breathe out.  So that is what I do now, if I have any inkling that a panic attack might be starting.  I breathe out.  And it has worked!  Simple advice but very effective.  It deserves to be shared.

I don't feel at risk of these episodes any more and I suppose that is part of the reason why they are not happening - I am not anticipating them, I am not fearful.  I think also the breathing out thing might work for me partly because the GP told me it would and I believed him - I am quite suggestible!  But whatever the reason, it works, so I passed the info on to my friend today and I hope she passes it on to her friend, and I thought I would share it here too if I haven't already.

Please pass it on to anyone you know who suffers in this way.  I hope it helps.    

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Debate in the Huffington Post

I have not kept up this blog very regularly over the last year or two.  Sometimes I feel I have said all I need to say on the subject of mental health, and that by continuing to delve into it I am not doing myself any favours.  An example - during the last few days I have made a few comments on the Canadian Huffington Post, under an article which bemoans the state of 'mental illness literacy'.  The last thing I wrote was in reply to someone who said that I am dangerously trying to persuade people to stop taking their medication, and that 'mentally ill' patients need their drugs in the same way as a diabetic needs insulin. 

I replied that I am not trying to persuade anyone to do anything but that I do believe people should have a choice about their treatment.  The science just does not support the link between psychotropic medication and insulin.  I was once told that I needed my meds like a diabetic needed insulin and I have been free of them for more than fourteen years now without ill effects.

I also said in my comment that I think anyone who is violent should be treated in the criminal justice system and not in the mental health system, regardless of their state of mind.  I am sure that will upset people so I just wanted to explain my thinking here.  (I actually started to write this blog post yesterday but held off from publishing it because I didn't want to upset anyone.  Then I read a comment on another Huff Post piece by Toby Chapman which propounded the same point of view regarding prison v hospital, and which gave me strength).

I understand that people whose loved one has committed an atrocity while psychotic will be convinced that the person could not have behaved in that way while they were in their right mind.  However, in my opinion, it is the fact that the mental health system has become tangled up with the criminal justice system that has caused a lot of the stigma around mental illness, especially schizophrenia. 

If someone commits a crime, as Toby Chapman said, the matter of why they did it is irrelevant - it is how we respond that matters.  The purposes of prison, as I recall from the law degree I took about a hundred years ago, are punishment, retribution and rehabilitation.  Which purpose is uppermost in individual cases, and how the prisoner should be dealt with in prison, depends on the particular circumstances.  Judges are very good at whittling out the facts and dealing with people appropriately. 

I suppose the idea that somebody shouldn't be punished if they are mentally ill makes sense in some ways.  However, many people are mentally ill and are not violent - they shouldn't be treated in the same place as those who are.  It just causes confusion and leads to institutional abuse in hospitals.  People are treated with force when they shouldn't be and this negatively affects their chances of recovery.  Also, the whole 'mental illness' thing is open to discussion and debate - what exactly is mental illness?  How do we define it?  I read a bit about this when I did a Psychology A level recently - it's an interesting subject. 

Only yesterday I saw a small piece in The Times which said that a schizophrenic had been detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act.  He had stabbed a prostitute in the neck.  The treating psychiatrist said that the man was responding slowly to treatment but that he was worried about a relapse.  He was sent to a medium secure hospital. 

The thing is, in that hospital there will be a lot of other people being treated who have not committed crimes, some of whom have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Leaving aside the fact that such diagnosis is a subjective matter, based on observation of behaviour not, as is thought by many people, a scientific process, it is easy to see how stigma developed and is being fed.  (It also concerns me that violent people are only treated in medium secure facilities - surely the public need to be better protected from people like this?  And if the 'schizophrenic' guy does recover, he can be paroled, only if all the necessary safeguards are in place, and only after he has been punished for what he did and rehabilitated, under the same criteria that are used for all criminals).

I know it might seem unfair to imprison a person who acted out of character when they were psychotic.  However, many people are psychotic and do not commit crimes.  Some of these people are provoked by their treatment in hospital - if you have ever seen someone being forcibly medicated, or experienced it yourself, you will know what I mean. 

Also, I met a woman once whose son had been treated in prison and in hospital and she said prison was much more humane.  I trust the criminal justice system to do the right thing by people - the mental hospitals mete out their own version of justice and there is too much opportunity for abuse. 

I have been thinking of returning to study recently. It has occurred to me that a relevant subject for a thesis might be how people who have not committed crimes are deprived of their liberty in mental hospitals, outside the judicial process and outside any proper legal review.  I have long thought that this is a human rights issue.  At the same time I could research how the law could be changed so that all criminals are treated the same, not differently because they are 'mentally ill'.  'Mental illness' is easy to feign and easy to conceal.  It is such a nebulous concept.  (As was shown by the famous experiment in which a group of professional people feigned symptoms and were duly incarcerated in hospitals but then were not released when they said they felt better.  I would look up the name of this experiment, but I don't want to be writing this for too much longer.  Was it Laing who masterminded it?  I am sure lots of you out there will know!)  

I don't know if I have the stomach for all this though.  I have just spent an hour or so re-writing this and replying to other people on that original Huff Post piece, then reading and responding to another one by the same author.  It seems to me that too many people refuse to see the other side of the argument when it comes to mental health issues.  I have read a lot of literature on this subject and come to my own conclusions, but other people will have had their own experiences and will never agree with my point of view, however I put it. 

In some ways it seems to be a waste of my time - although actually I have enjoyed the intellectual side of the debate.  Also, because I have had to sit at the kitchen table with my laptop, there has been a lot of interaction with the kids during this hour - my younger daughter has come in with her revision and her music and she has been playing me clips of Pitch Fever 2, which she saw at the cinema the other day with friends.  Her company has made me laugh and distracted me from the nastier comments online (some people get personal about all this, it would be better if we could all discuss things civilly and kindly).   

I do think that the mental health system and its interface with the law needs a huge shake up and that I would be well-placed to do some proper academic research on the subject.  I have been reading some academic papers and books over the last week and I had forgotten how much I enjoy thinking and writing about legal matters.  It has been a long, long time since I took my degree (although not quite a hundred years) and I am surprised that some of it is slowly drifting back to me.

So what do you think, everyone?  Do I go back to study?  Might I be able to make a difference?  Or should I just keep battling on with the fiction (I must have started ten novels in the last few months, haven't finished any of them, but maybe, you know, one day...?)

All advice gratefully considered.       

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mslexia Advert

STOP PRESS - My book - the original memoir - is going to be featured in the next issue of Mslexia magazine!  Only because I have paid for an advert, but still...

A couple of years ago, when I was invited up to Newcastle Uni to talk to staff and students there about Surviving Schizophrenia, the Public Engagement Officer there told me that she had called Mslexia (who are based in Newcastle) and tried to get them to cover the event and feature the book in their magazine. They told her that this would not be possible and she was quite indignant on my behalf.  

I understood though.  I told her that although Mslexia is only a small, women-only literary magazine, it is REALLY prestigious.  Top authors are featured in Mslexia, not first-time, self-published ones.  I would never have expected such an honour.  Anyhow, I was confident that my book would get the recognition it deserved as and when the time was right.  I knew I had written something that mattered.  Newcastle University was just the first step, I believed. 

Two years on from Newcastle (or is it three?) I am still waiting for the world to sit up and notice my book.  I have been really lucky in lots of ways - I have loads of wonderful reviews on Amazon.  Other authors have read my book and loved it.  Raymond Briggs praised my writing, for goodness sake!  That should be enough for ever, for anyone, and in many ways it is for me.

And yet.  I have to admit it, I still yearn for a wider readership.  There is still something in me that feels I have missed out.  And not just that, but that more people could benefit from reading this book.  There is so much injustice, still, in the mental health system and so much potential in so many people who are labelled, wrongly, with brain disorders.  I have found my way through but I am still held back by the label of schizophrenia, and I know that people are still being diagnosed with this spurious condition.  I know of several recent cases personally, and I don't go out of my way to look for them!

Perhaps I need to acknowledge that my memoir is just one more book in a sea of others - sometimes, when I read a really brilliant book, I think I must be delusional to think mine is any good, any use at all.  (Recently, I was blown away by Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, an incredible read).  Sometimes I think, okay, move on, write something else, something better, keep working.  And I do that, although not always as regularly or in as a disciplined way as I could, maybe because inside me some sulky child is still waiting to be noticed for that memoir. 

So, I have placed an advert in Mslexia, hoping that more people will read my first book, Surviving Schizophrenia, that perhaps an agent will notice it, see the Amazon reviews, sit up and pay attention.  I might be flogging a dead horse, but the same instinct that told me to write the book tells me that it still has potential, that something good will happen in relation to it, perhaps soon.

The sequel, Surfacing, is more about recovery and mostly about how the label itself stands as a barrier to that recovery.  I still wish it was better written, as in more entertaining - I could have done with an editor there and perhaps I should have paid for one.  But mental health often seems like a serious business - the system as it stands is not doing an awful lot to help people in severe emotional distress and lives are, literally, at stake. It's hard to be funny about that. 

Ah well.  I need to go now.  I am working on an entry for the Bridport First Novel Prize.  Maybe this will be the break I have been looking for... if I can get my entry in by the end of this month.  Which is actually really soon...Right, definitely going now! 


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Should the Mental Health of our Children be an Election Issue?

Below is the article on child mental health which I wrote for the Huff Post.  I haven't got around to putting it up on there yet, for various reasons (not least, apathy) and because it is linked in with the election I thought I might as well publish it here meanwhile - although here I am largely preaching to the converted.  Anyway, I didn't want it to go to waste.
Yesterday's blog post seemed to be a bit open-ended, waffling.  I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't want to be too precise - ie I didn't want to name the persons and situations that have recently upset me.  After I published the blog post, I clicked on Rossa Forbes' blog, Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia, and to my delight I found several new posts on there that I hadn't realised existed.  Rossa had migrated from Blogger to Wordpress, and her new posts had not updated on my sidebar. It was a very welcome surprise to find them - anybody who has not read Rossa's blog recently really should. 
Anyway, here's the article:

Should the Mental Health of our Children be an Election Issue?

Child mental health seems to have become a bit of a buzz topic in the build-up to the general election.  ‘Vote for us and we’ll see that this is improved,’ all the main parties promise.  Is it appropriate though, to use child mental health as a bargaining chip?  Apart from anything else, how are these promises to be fulfilled?  When a new Government is formed, will there be enough counsellors and therapists in place to provide a better service?  If not, however much funding is allocated, things won’t change in a hurry.  Also, mental ill-health is notoriously difficult to treat.  I am not sure that pouring more money into the current system can ever really help, because psychiatry, which is based on a medical model, does not address the problem of what is wrong, of why the person, or the child, feels unable to cope.   

Parenting is hard and there is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer.   I think we, as parents, need to concentrate on preventing emotional distress, on bringing up our children to make them feel safe and to foster resilience in them.  I think it would be helpful to address the issue of why so many young people currently have mental health problems.  I honestly don’t think there was so much of it around when I was young – although personally I did have quite major difficulties.  Perhaps mental health issues were just not as visible then or maybe I didn’t notice the suffering of others because I was so wrapped up in my own troubles.  But self-harm, for instance, was certainly not as prevalent.   

It seems that society is much more child orientated these days.  When I was young, children seemed to be incidental to the lives of the adults around them, now they are central to their existence and this should be a good thing.  However, wanting the best for our kids and being concerned about their future lives means that often we can inadvertently put pressure on them.  Kids are very sensitive to the burden of parental expectations and as a parent it can be hard to find a balance. 

There are excellent grammar schools in our area and because my husband and I believe that a good education will give them more choices in life, we have helped our children to gain places in these institutions.  They have never struggled with their studies, perhaps because they are lucky, possibly also because we have brought them up to believe that they are capable.  And we don’t pressurise our kids at all – on the contrary, we assure them that even if they failed all their exams, things would still work out fine. 

I hold myself up as an example of someone who despite having a good degree has never held a professional job.  I am very happy to be a stay at home Mum (and now a writer too) but I am well aware that this would not work for everybody.  I do think, though that we should teach our kids that we have choices in life and always be positive and upbeat about the path we choose to follow.  Vicky Pryce (Chris Hume’s ex-wife) is a role model for working mothers.  ‘Don’t look back’, she said in a recent interview in The Times, ‘Don’t start feeling guilty, or you’re sunk’. 

I think all of us, as adults, should do our best to be good role models to our kids.  For a start, we could stop pursuing materialistic goals, show that we value ourselves for who we are, not for what we possess.  Yes, we all need to earn a living and there is pleasure to be had in a career and in the rewards it brings, but we need to find that elusive balance between work and leisure.  We need to value our relationships, to be kind to ourselves and to others.  We need to show our children that life is not a competition but a journey, a precious gift that can be and should be enjoyed.  Then our kids will grow to be strong, capable and resilient.  My hope is that as time goes on the current mental health system will require far less investment of public funds, not increasingly more.    


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

New Huff Post blog and other stuff

I have just written a piece for the Huff Post about child mental health and about how, instead of pouring more money into the current, very imperfect, mental health system (as all the main political parties are promising to do if we should vote for them in the coming Election) we might be better to focus on preventing the manifestation of emotional distress in our kids, for example by teaching them resilience. 

The piece should be up in the next day or two, and when it is I will link to it on here.  I wrote it more than a week ago and Paul (my rock of support and number one Fan) has been pestering me to upload it to the Huff, but I have been hesitant because I find it hard to keep telling people how I think things should be done.  I am only an expert in my own mental health, I keep saying apologetically. 

But I have been thinking about that and I have come to the conclusion that nobody, regardless of how many qualifications they hold, can really claim to be more that an expert in their own mental condition.  And having had three psychotic breakdowns in my youth and spent many of the subsequent years puzzling over the hows and whys of these manifestations of emotional distress means that I do understand more about these issues than a lot of people. 

I have been feeling quite isolated recently.  I have experienced quite a few stressful events in recent months and although I am dealing with them it has not always been easy.  I have suffered a crisis of confidence, and what I have learned from that is that I need to be stronger.  There have always been people in my life who misunderstood me and who criticized me, and because of the books I have written and the stance I hold on mental health (basically, that medication is not the answer to alleviating human distress) there seem to be increasing numbers of these people as I grow older.  I have always been over-sensitive to the opinions of others, always suffered from low self-esteem and always wanted people to like me, so I do not often stand up for myself - rather, I tend to stay quiet in the face of opposition, or to give in to it. 

However - I am getting older.  Life is too short to waste on people who don't care about me, who have only their own interests at heart.  I also need to be a role model to my kids.  I want to show them an example of strength, I need them to learn that they should always put themselves first, never let themselves be bullied or cowed by others. 

So I am not going to opt out of the debate on mental health.  I will continue to write fiction, but I will also continue my mental health writing, because I know that I have helped a lot of people already and that I will continue to help more. 

'It's never too late to become the person you were meant to be,' I read somewhere the other day.  I may be long in the tooth, but I am going to give it a try.   

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Foray into Fiction

Hi.  A reminder and link to my free books, as promised:

First, Topp Girl.  It's a kids' book, I wrote it under a pen name because it's such a different genre from my other books.  It got a couple of good reviews, which was encouraging, so I revised it and doubled the length.  But very few people were buying this book (or downloading it when it's free) because nobody knew it was there.  So I decided to start by blogging about it here, rather than setting up a whole new blog, Twitter account etc.  I might do that, under my pen name, once I have written a couple more in the series.

So, here's the link

Please pass the word if you can!

The other book which is free all weekend is Surfacing, my second memoir.  You can find that easily by searching Louise Gillett on Amazon.  Sorry, I know that's not a link, but it's Saturday and I should be with the family not on the computer and that's quicker than linking because I am a bit of an amateur on my iPad, which is where I am now...

Anyway, have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, 27 February 2015

New Eyes

Well, it's now almost 24 hours since my laser eye surgery. 

How do I feel?  I feel like the Bionic Woman.

I mean, none of it was fun.  The clinic was running about two hours late, so Paul and I sat around waiting for most of the day in a room full of other nervous people.  (Paul wasn't having the procedure, he was there to support me).  Luckily I had brought sandwiches with us because I always like to be sure of where my next meal is coming from.

We had arrived at the clinic just before eleven and I finally got called into surgery at about two o'clock.  I panicked halfway through the op and nearly didn't let them do my second eye.  Thank goodness I managed to psyche my way through it, because I didn't realise at that point that they hadn't even lasered my left eye, only cut the flap in preparation.  So I would have been left worse than when I had come in.  Anyway, I did it, and by about quarter to three it was all over and we were on our way home.  (The actual procedure took less than a minute on each eye).

It's a long story.  My eyes have not settled down totally and the glare from the computer is not entirely comfortable, so I am not going to write about all of it now.  But suffice it to say that I am really pleased I had it done.  It is going to change my life - it has already - in the biggest and best way.  Hurrah!

But there is a reason why they ask prospective patients whether they suffer from, or have ever suffered from, anxiety and tell you that you are not a suitable candidate for laser eye surgery if you do.  (I lied).  Having a panic attack in the middle of eye laser surgery was probably one of the worst things I have experienced (although not the worst, and it was worth it).  I would really not recommend having the surgery done if you are of a nervous disposition.  Or, if you decide to push ahead like I did, get a Valium from the doctor to take on the morning of the procedure.  Yes, it is me saying that, and yes, I am totally anti-medication (anti unnecessary medication, that is).

I am going to write more about this in a few days, probably in the Huffington Post, and I'll link to it here.  I am definitely going to become a laser eye bore (in fact I might have become one already).  It is all just so mind-boggling and enormous and amazing that it's hard to stay quiet about it. 

I am not out of the woods yet.  I guess part of my current elation is just due to relief that nothing awful happened during or just after the surgery.  I had a check up today and everything is going very smoothly but I will have to keep putting drops in my eyes and sleep with shields on them for another six days. 

For the first time since I remember, I can see clearly, naturally.  I don't think I realised how much my poor eyesight bothered me.  I had got used to contact lenses and glasses and I knew I was lucky to be able to see at all.  But now that my vision is - I have to say it - almost perfect - I feel fantastic!   

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

New Blog on Huffington Post today

Here's a link to my blog post on 'How to Recover from a Nervous Breakdown' in the UK Huffington Post today:

And the other thing is - I am having laser eye surgery - tomorrow!

I can hardly believe it, but in 24 hours from now I should have no further need for contact lenses or glasses.  I have been wearing my contacts for thirty years!  Yes, I am THAT old....

I have thought about having this done for a long time.  The main reasons I have not gone ahead before now are cowardice and cost.

But as for the cost - I am having the surgery with the help of interest-free credit, it's not a huge expense (about ten per cent of what it would have cost when I was young) and it's spread out over eighteen months.  Factoring in the cost of lenses and glasses the surgery will have paid for itself in about five years.

As for the cowardice - well, sometimes I feel the need to face my fears.  I think the result will be worth it.

I will post on here about the surgery after it's done.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Free Books all Weekend!

I just wanted to say, to anyone who is interested, that my new book, Surfacing, is free on Amazon all weekend.  I'll link to it on here first thing on Saturday morning - and, as usual, please pass the word if you know anyone who might be interested.

There is a reason why the title of this blog post is 'Free Books' and not 'Free Book'.  I have recently published a children's book, under a new pen name.  The reason for the pen name is that the book is such a different genre from my mental health ones.

But then it occurred to me that I was going to have trouble publicising the new book, unless I set up a new blog, Twitter account and so on.  Which I might do in due course.  Meanwhile, though, I thought I would tell you guys about it - again, do pass the word if you know anyone who might be interested.  It's also free all weekend, in the USA and the UK.  It's called Topp Girl, by Jenny Bell.  I'll create a proper link to that too on Saturday and also put the word out on Twitter etc.  Please review it if you can (read it first!) - all feedback would be very welcome as I am new to fiction and still learning what works and what does not. 

I have also just submitted a new blog post to HuffPost UK and I'll link to that too as soon as it's live.

More soon!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

My new memoir, free on Amazon all weekend

Well, I said I'd link to here when the book went live on Amazon - I didn't, because of various technical issues (which boil down to the fact that I am not very technically minded.  Note to self: must try harder). 

Anyway, it turns out to be a good thing that I didn't link to the book earlier.  Because now it is FREE all weekend on Amazon, in the UK and the USA.  So please download a copy, anyone who is interested, and please pass the word on to anybody else you think might be interested.

I really would like to know what people think of this book, so please take the time to review it if you can.  It's not a gripping story (because there's no drama in recovery, that's a large part of the reason why you recover).  But hopefully it's readable, and hopefully it will help some people on their own path to wellness.  Which is why I would like as many people as possible to download it for free this weekend!

Here's the link to the book:

Have a great weekend!

Monday, 19 January 2015


When I think about my blog these days, I have a sense of dissatisfaction with it.  I seem to have spent a lot of the last year or so dithering - starting to write fiction but never really finishing any of it to my satisfaction, promising a recovery book that then doesn't materialise, having panic attacks...  Also, I haven't written on here nearly as much as I used to, so I feel that there has ceased to be much sense of continuity or coherence to the blog.

But from now on I am going to be more focused.  And, as the lovely David just commented on my last post, I am going to remember to befriend myself. Because for all my shortcomings, I write this blog with a good and genuine intent, of helping others who have suffered emotional distress to find a way to wellness.  Even if they increasingly have to sift back through the years to find some useful information. 

And I have finally published my recovery book!  I didn't end up publishing the eight thousand word version that I said I was going to in my last post though.  It would have been such a waste of the lovely cover that Briony from Goldust Design created for me, right back at the end of last summer.  This version is forty thousand words (about two thirds the length of 'Surviving Schizophenia').  It's from one of my previous drafts, but with the most boring bits edited out.  It really is hard writing a memoir when nothing much has happened to me in the last few years.  But hopefully it explains some of the things that have enabled me to move on with my life and it may prove to be useful to other people.  I hope so.

It's called, 'Surfacing, a Memoir' and it mostly is memoir, but there is a section at the end (about ten thousand words long) which is a more straightforward recovery manual.  Just in case anybody can't be bothered to read through the memoir bit and draw their own conclusions as to what helped. 

So, finally I have done what I set out to do, years ago, just after I finished Surviving.  I always had a sense that I should have written more about the nuts and bolts of recovery, and now I have.  I have put down pretty much everything I can think of that might help and I have tried to make it as readable as possible.  I am almost certain that I couldn't have done more - not at this point in time anyhow.

I'll link to the book on here as soon as it is approved by Amazon, which should happen in the next day or so.  And I'll do the whole Twitter and Facebook thing too (I have shied away from self-publicity recently, but the sad fact is that nobody else is going to blow my trumpet for me so I might as well get on and do it myself).

A new book out - how exciting!