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. 

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