Monday, 17 December 2007

Hearing Voices: Suppressed and displaced positive or meaningful actions, desires, and intentions.

Some months ago, after a fairly heavy drinking session a previous night, and whilst in the middle of writing my thoughts and perceptions down in the pub the next day in-between a few pints of beer, following some thoughts and desires, I became aware of some anxious or strong feelings of needing to do something - a desire for positive activity or meaningful action; but having this intention or urge displaced in my mind, it led to a voluntary perception or shift, and which led to, or was, the slowed-down stages, of the creation or manifestation of auditory hallucinations/hearing voices.

I just about felt the intention and mode-switch, for the voice to manifest itself, and caught the midstream area between an intention, desire, and a voice-creation or perception. I then tried to repeat or push this activity, mode, or method further, and the voice I deliberately created, this time got a bit louder, and the third and fourth time around, a bit more displaced or fragmented. The second, third, and fourth time around, the method of it was verifiable and repeatable in this discovery and experiment.

The content of the voice, what it was saying, was at first exactly what I was thinking, or wanted to think, and then the third and fourth time, it was pretty meaningless and unimportant - I think the content of it then said my name after a while, or asked me a short and simple, banal, and meaningless question. I'm sure that the manner of questioning, interrogation, and assessment, that goes on by some social workers and psychiatrists towards diagnosed patients, and some of the defence or provocation involved in some of it, actually gives some of us as diagnosed people, a bit of a complex or fear, about other answer-and-question situations and dialogues, and which is part of the causes of hearing voices. Perhaps finding strategies for dealing with these situations, is one way of preventing auditory hallucinations, or one way of diminishing or coping with them.

I was in full awareness and control of this discovery and experiment, although I didn't keep on doing it more than three or four times, for fear that the created-voice might become completely displaced or fragmented. Why and how the content of the voice changes, from what we're thinking, to what we're not deliberately thinking, I also think I know the reasons for, and will write about in the future.

It was as if I willed, experienced, and perceived all this happening in slow-motion, whereas 8 years or so before, it had been too fast or instantaneous to realise what was happening, and with too many distractions to be in control of or understand this activity, experience, and behaviour. Because the volume, consistency, and content of the voices has decreased, sometimes if I think hard, I can actually voluntarily create the voices in my head. In my pub experience, I became aware of the behaviour or process, personally and collectively, that leads to hearing voices, and felt the evasion of my will and mind, to switch into a 'different intention' or modality, and as this happened, I scribbled it down in my notes.

This slowing down of the voice hearing experience, was not due to psychiatric medication, which in anything but a very low dose, would have most probably blotted-out and slowed-down that awareness and realisation completely, and I was medication-free at the time of this discovery, although I was medicated by alcohol I suppose. I'm also older now, freer or free from cannabis misuse and discrimination, and in a different social situation and stage of my life.

I agree with The Hearing Voices Network, that hearing voices, are actually a behaviour, comparable to other different behaviours in the past, such as homosexuality, which have up until fairly recently, been falsely, one-sidedly, and discriminatorily labelled as mental illnesses by psychiatry. These days, when I hear voices, it very occasionally takes the form of a faint whisper, or very rarely a short loud radio transmission type-noise, from inside my ear and head, which usually happens when I'm tired or half awake, and is made worse by some constant drinking or over-drinking. Alcohol, is in my experience, and from what some other voice-hearers have said, an anti-psychotic drug in moderation; but like any drug, if taken too much, it distorts the mind, and actually induces psychosis or severe depression.

I went through three stages of hearing voices, over 8 years up to the present day: 1. An involuntary onset of voices beyond my understanding or control, 2. A phase of some of the content of the voices becoming less negative, and a more intelligent narrative, (one voice was very positive, of a female counsellor I knew, describing the root of my problems to the nasty voice, and jumping to my defence), and 3. A diminishing of both the volume, consistency and content, and an ability to voluntarily self-create voices, which might be dangerous or foolish to keep on doing this, but which has on that odd occasion, helped me to understand what voices really are, and how they are actively created.

The Hearing Voices Network
in their booklet The Voice Within by Paul Baker, describes these phases as: 1. The startling phase, 2. The phase of organisation: coping with voices, and 3. The phase of stabilisation. Originally the nasty voices were mostly female, but during the second phase, I suppose about 5 or 6 years ago, this gender structure was added to or reversed - the nasty voice this time was male, and the positive or supportive voice that newly manifested was female.

So it is clear to me from my awareness of how voices are self-created, or become split-off from conscious activity or control, that voices are displaced meaningful intentions, desires, or actions, that have been twisted or distorted in the past or throughout our lives, and that perhaps this behaviour and mechanism has been internalised or transformed. Some of the contradictory behaviours and methods we are subjected to in the mental health system, combined with a narrow and rigid authoritarian plan of action, that disregards and ignores our desires and intentions for meaningful action, also resembles and primarily creates this behaviour and experience of hearing voices in ourselves.

Medical psychiatry has a deterministic habit of over focusing on isolated perceptions, psychological metaphysics, or abstract states of mind, at the exclusion of acknowledging volition, and the social consciousness and intentions behind the desire for positive or meaningful activity.

Hearing Voices - Our relationships with others speaking through us

I recently started attending a local Hearing Voices Group, facilitated by an occupational therapist, a community psychiatric nurse, and a social worker, and more or less following the Romme and Escher model or philosophy of a hearing voices group. I'd missed the first session, but as not much was said in the first session, other explaining the basic principles and agreed ground-rules of the group, I hadn't missed much, and we were given a couple of articles on the Romme and Escher approach to hearing voices; which is the original philosophy of the national and international Hearing Voices Network.

Romme and Escher's approach to hearing voices does not regard hearing voices as an illness, but regards it as a human variation like sexual differences, or being left-handed. It accepts that the voices are real to us as an experience, and encourages us to accept our voices, learn the meanings in them for ourselves and others, and share and develop effective coping-strategies. I agree with the Romme and Escher model, that voices are often about people's life-experiences and situations, and that hearing voices are about people's past and present relationships with others speaking through them.

I also see voices as a disability or positive ability - whichever way you look at it - at experiencing the various relationships we have with different people in different contexts and situations, and how those experiences and situations might delude or enlighten us by being experienced as mutli-contextual or overlapping. I'd like to see the constructive use of this recognised as a cultural and literary style, which is used constructively by poets, playwrights, and artists, and used by such novelists as E. L. Doctorow, who gave factual historical events a personal, interpersonal, social and human meaning, by creatively mixing historical fact with fiction; and I think this aspect of hearing voices is better understood as something that might get stuck in a creative process, or get stuck within the three phases of understanding and coping that Romme and Escher's philosophy and approach describes. The three phases of understanding, accepting, and coping with voices are: 1. The startling phase, 2. The organisational phase, 3. The stabilisation phase.

It came out in the local Hearing Voices Group, from one persons experiences, that negative voices could be about the defences, social pressures, or inadequate social or work roles that have been imposed upon us; about our past or present life-changes; and in terms of our social interactions or relatedness with other people. It also came out that negative voices could be about social alienation, powerlessness, feelings of hopelessness, and how we see ourselves in terms of self-esteem or in relation to other people.

It was suggested by one of the facilitators of the group, that if we get negative or aggressive voices, telling us to harm ourselves or others, then this could be due to the fact that others haven't accepted or believed us about the voice hearing experience, or if they've responded negatively or aggressively to our voices experiences, making it harder for us to accept, understand, and positively cope with it. She said that accepting the voices is about accepting your actual self in that sense, that this is what the group is partly about, and it brought up issues in relation to negative voices, of how we respect ourselves in relation to others, and whether we should respond aggressively, assertively, or passively to the ways in which how other people treat or mistreat us.

If a person has been abused or bullied, for example, and they have been pressurised or forced to fight back aggressively or violently, then they might have been continuously caste in that passive, victim, or aggressive role in their life, occupation, or identity with others, due to those pressures and defences, and in terms of social and self-identification. In that sense then, how we interpret or respond to the voices, might be a displacement of those feelings and problems, which we otherwise need to deal with and look at.

Using that as an example, hearing voices might also be about how we communicate or express our feelings or problems to other people, perhaps in a situation or context where we would otherwise not be understood or listened to, and how this is made problematic if others are superimposing the defences or negative identities that have been imposed upon us, or if they are incapable or unwilling to understanding these realities and experiences.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Hearing Voices - The Romme and Escher model as an Organisational Phase

Hearing voices can be a creative way of thinking about or experiencing other people, situations, or events, as interrelated or overlapping, as if other people are watching you, or with you, in different places or situations, and as if different situation contexts are re-arranging or overlapping. No one finds this strange within the fields of creative writing, fictional writing, drama, psychotherapy, dream analysis, advanced mathematics, national or global historical interpretation, or lateral thinking, and yet it seems strange to anyone who hasn't experienced it or doesn't understand it as a voice hearing experience. The fictional writer E. L. Doctorow, and author of the excellent novel and film Ragtime, had a writing style that used this method of inter-relating historical events of his time with fictional events and narratives, and he used this to integrate a personal, interpersonal, social and human dimension to historical events and happenings.

There are three phases to hearing voices as described by the Romme and Escher model: 1. The startling phase: the initial onset of voices experienced as startling and anxiety-provoking. 2. The phase of organisation: strategies for ignoring, listening to, entering into willing dialogue, or making appointments with voices. 3. The phase of stabilisation, where the voices are accepted as part of ourselves, and are able to become a positive influence upon our lives.
I don't agree that the so-called initial onset of hearing voices, as described in Romme and Escher's startling phase, that this is necessarily startling and anxiety-provoking, because if hearing voices is a human variation like left-handedness or sexual differences, then it might just be social prejudice and discrimination that makes the experiences of it negative or disturbing, along with the negative view of some professionals that we are either hallucinating or lying. We also can't rule out the fact that there might have been a prior existence or process to it, similar to what R. D. Laing described in his first book The Divided Self, and again that this becomes subject to prejudice and negative discrimination - cut off from its creative and learning potential, and stunted from its positive influence, as described in Romme and Escher's stabilisation phase. Laing described this splitting or dividing of the self, as he called it, as both an internal process, and something which is caused or influenced by bad family and social environments.

Experiencing persons, situations, and events, within re-arranging or overlapping narrative or situational contexts, through hearing voices experiences, might come under the area of the organisational phase under the Romme and Escher hearing voices model and approach, because willing dialogue with the voices is often very much a part of it, and it can be part of a stabilisation phase as well. The stabilisation phase may be understood in terms of the content or structure of voice hearing experiences, in context to the personal, interpersonal, and social problems that are related to it, but I think it's much better understood if we also look at the creative and learning process of it, and the Romme and Escher model describes it in terms of a creative process or phases, and that we are perhaps misled if we just focus on the structure and content of the voices.

The initial onset of voices, or the startling phase, is not always startling or negative, unless others respond aggressively or negatively to our experiences of it, and hearing voices are not always an involuntary experience, or brought about by external events out of our control. To assume these causes, is to regard hearing voices as an effect, and not a cause or human variation subject to effects, and it takes away our experiences as both responsible and unique in terms of hearing voices being a human variation like left-handedness. Whilst I agree with the basics of the Romme and Escher model, to simply refer to the Romme and Escher research and methods as an approach or a philosophy, rather than a model, is in some ways misleading, because it abstracts the methods or philosophy from the Hearing Voices Networks or organisations, and doesn't allow challenges or progressions of the pre-existing Romme and Escher model. This is also detrimental to the actual approach or philosophy of Romme and Escher, which is still quite new or in its early phase, and which is supposed to be a very progressive approach, involving discussions, and being inclusive to a wide range of knowledge, research, and experiences.

There's also the Joan of Arc syndrome, where if our hearing voice experiences are in line with present social and cultural myth, dogma, and the established powers of authority, then our experiences will be understood or accepted, but if they're not in conformity with pre-existing myths and explanations, then our experiences will be invalidated, undermined, misunderstood, vilified, or regarded as an illness. Joan of Arc's voice hearing experiences where initially in line with the local oral tradition of rural and illiterate people spreading knowledge, and fulfilling prophesies by means of hearing voices, story-telling, myth-making, and so on, and her voice hearing experiences were initially in conformity to the male authority and powers she made a pact with. When her voices went against those male powers and authorities and their outdated myths, she was then accused of heresy, treason, and demonic influence, and she was executed by a quite evil method of burning her alive. 

Whilst it's necessary to have a basic model for a local hearing voices group, in order for it to be easy and accessible, it seems to me that whatever model or approach is presented, that there's a danger it could be used in a manner that's dogmatic or which abstracts its progressive forms and principles, and that this is counter-productive to the actual philosophy of the hearing voices network as an inclusive, progressive, and diverse network of organisations. Joan of Arc is an historical example of discrepancy, negative discrimination and oppression within fundamentalist or dogmatic interpretations, and Joan of Arc's fate is a case which should never be forgotten.

A Summarisation of the book Understanding Voices by Marius Romme

I just managed to read Understanding Voices by Marius Romme. It was easy to read, and the claims and conclusions in it were backed-up by much social research and statistics. One of the main points in the book were that people who coped better with their hearing voices experiences, were those who identified the voices as coming from themselves, rather than coming from an external source.
Marius Romme also said that biological psychiatry wasn't helpful, because it interpreted the voices as being beyond the persons control and grasp (as a result of illness), much like very delusional thinking does about voices coming from an external source like technology. Biological psychiatry was also seen as unhelpful, because it suppressed hearing voices with psychiatric drugs, instead of allowing the person to work through the problems brought out by the voices with their messages and meaning.
The book said that people who coped better with hearing voices, were those who felt less powerless, more supported, and less threatened in their environment, and those who felt less powerless after traumatic events or circumstances. The book also said that as voices are often the result of personal and social problems in the persons lives, that gaining self-determination and control over problems in daily living were conducive to recovery from hearing voices. It was also concluded that in order to cope with voices and to overcome confusing problems, it is important to be allowed to develop one's own identity, making choices, solving dilemma's.
The book listed the three phases of hearing voices: 1. The Startling Phase: This is when the onset of the voices are frightening and anxiety-provoking. At this stage, the voice hearer often goes into denial of the experience. 2. The Organisational Phase: This is where the person accepts the voices, and tries to understand them. 3. The Phase of Stabilisation: This is where the voices are accepted as a part of oneself, where they have a positive influence, and when the voice hearer is able to choose between following the advice of the voices or his or her own ideas. These people are able to say "I hear voices, and I am happy for that".
I thought that it was a good book, but my main criticism of it, was that it was too much of a social or group approach and analysis, and it didn't focus enough on the actual individual psychological process of recovery. The social and group research was interesting and enlightening, but I would have liked to have read more personal approaches and perspectives.

Friday, 14 December 2007

How I cured myself of Negative Hearing Voices

I first started hearing voices when I was 23. At least that was when I started hearing negative voices, as I have vague memories of being lonely as a child of 5 years of age, and of sitting outside and talking to a positive and friendly female voice in the sky who responded to me. If I thought hard, I could hear a positive female voice, and to me this was like a trick I could achieve with my mind. I didn't think that the voice was God/Goddess or any supernatural force.
The voices I first heard when I was 23, were brought about and triggered by abuse, harassment, and stress, and after I had been using cannabis quite heavily, and I heard negative voices, one of which was a junior school teacher who used to pull my hair and shout at me for no reason. I took Stelazine for the hearing voices, but it didn't do much to alleviate them. When I told my social worker that I was hearing voices, she said that I was lying. Then when I did convince her that I heard voices, she said that I was psychotic, and she told me to go onto a very high dosage of Stelazine, and which I did for a few years.
There were no hearing voices groups available at that time, although if there had of been they would have been a great help to me. Some years later, I wrote my voices down to analyse the content and structure of them. One negative voice was of another child at secondary school who used to bully me. Previous to experiencing this I'd had counselling, and the negative voice existed alongside two positive voices, and which were of the counsellors standing up for me and defending me against the child who bullied me.
After writing the voices down, I was able to separate the negative from the positive voices in my mind, and after this I only heard positive voices. I'm not sure exactly how this process worked for me, but it did work. I achieved it mostly by ignoring the negative voices, and talking with the positive ones and developing good loving and respectful relationships with them. Maybe this was my way of achieving good self esteem, or of establishing good relationships with the opposite sex, and which didn't exist in my social life in terms of having love-relationships.
Now I only hear positive voices, and which are always one, two, or three female voices. The voices don't have names and wish to remain anonymous to me in that respect, but they are very intimate and friendly with me. One female voice is quite assertive, although not domineering, but a bit questioning and sceptical, and another female voice is softer and more receptive and reassuring, but they all make suggestions and ask questions. The voices speak both separately, and in unison at the same time.
What is interesting to me, is that the positive voices are intelligent, but not intellectual voices, although they are more down to earth and pragmatic, and they ask me more practical questions in terms of my thoughts, writings, and articles. Maybe this is a side of me which is unconscious, or which I have suppressed with my more lateral and intellectual thinking.
I received a year of psychotherapy from two different female counsellors, and their voices became internalised and which I heard as positive voices too. This is why I am convinced that positive therapeutic relationships, with professionals or non-professionals such as family, friends, or lovers, are essential to changing voices from negative into positive. Good friendships and relationships are essential to some kind of recovery.
For a few years, I actually stopped hearing voices altogether. This was not a good thing for me though, as my voices care for me and help me to think about things more practically and clearly. Without positive voices I would be devastated. So I had to focus my mind, in order to re-create the voices. I still don't know exactly how I did this, other than setting up a dialogue in my mind, and talking to my own thoughts, and then imagining hearing them (like thinking of a tune or music), and then I could hear them with my ears, and they became somewhat independent of my conscious thoughts. Thus, I combined my thoughts and integrated them with my imagination and senses.
I would like to know more about how the mind creates hearing voices, and more importantly teach others how to hear positive voices, because I believe that hearing positive voices is a gift, and that it is hugely beneficial to having good thinking and good mental health.

Changes to the Mental Health System

In the past ten or fifteen years, the mental health system has improved. I'm glad that the old asylums, out in the middle of nowhere, were closed down, and replaced with modern mental health units in more or less every local area.

Now every psychiatric patient has their own room, and doesn't have to sleep in a shared dormitory. This change was very much needed. Also, t is good now that we have hearing voices groups, and that there has been a shift of change in the mental health system how voices are interpreted and understood. I still feel that more psychiatrists could learn from different approaches to hearing voices, and that a hearing voices group should exist in every local area. The nearest hearing voices group to me is eight miles away, but I don't have any transport and it's difficult for me to get there and back.

The mental health system needs to change more for the better. For one thing, we need trained counsellors in psychiatric hospitals, because often the psychiatric patients need to talk to somebody whilst in psychiatric hospital, but the psychiatric nurses are not talkative or communicative. Maybe counselling and listening and communication skills could be part of their training.

When I was a psychiatric patient in an old asylum in 92, I was in pain, suffering, and in distress, and very much needed to talk to somebody for understanding and reassurance, and just to make contact with another human being, to bring me out of my self and keep my mind and emotions in action. I asked to speak to the psychiatric nurses, but they said 'Go away and we'll talk later', then I went away and came back in ten minutes and they'd say the same thing again. When a psychiatric nurse did finally agree with me she was very defensive and just sat in silence, saying yes or no.

I got so desperate that I actually phoned the Samaritans from the phone booth in the corridor and spoke to them, and they helped me tremendously. What I needed was someone to talk to in psychiatric hospital, and who was a trained therapist and listener. We now have CPN's and Occupational Therapists in psychiatric units, but it's high time we had trained counsellors too. This very much needs to change within the mental health system.

There should also be a day centre in every local area, and every patient should have a social worker or a CPN. My GP promised to get me a CPN, but he did not keep his promise. There is a day centre in town, but there should also be one in my local area. The day centre in town is very badly run, and when I went there a few years ago, none of the activities that were supposed to be running were actually running. People were just sitting round drinking tea or coffee, or watching television. Annother day centre thirty miles away is a much better day centre, as they have art, reflexology, and counselling there. Every day centre should have free counselling available too.

These are the changes that are needed to make the mental health system better and more conducive to recovery.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Beautiful Strangeness

I'm interested in the idea of strangeness.  I think strangeness can be hypnotic, beautiful, and receptive.  I have met some women with so-called mental health problems who are like this.  Strangeness can mean anything from which is beyond our idea of the ordinary.  Being radical could be considered as strange, as by conventional standards it is beyond the norm. I'm also very fond of surrealism and weirdness.  I like weird ideas and things because they are more creative and interesting.

Strangeness is often thought of as related to ugliness or to something which is frightening, worrying, and disturbing, but from listening to avant-garde classical and modern music and appreciating modern art, I wonder if there is such a thing as a beautiful and intelligent strangeness and how this can be described in human and other terms.

To be strange, can mean relating differently to the way others relate, or it can mean having a sense of detachment, receptivity, or an intelligent and sensitive sense of awareness.  Maybe there is also a wise strangeness which is accompanied by a knowing yet unexclaming presence about a person.

These are all matters that interest me, as some people's expectation or judgement about people who are diagnosed with mental health problems are that we are "strange".  Strangeness in music or art is usually described as a positive thing - even in surrealism where strangeness is there to disturb, it is still valued as a positive quality - yet in other fields like psychiatry all human strangeness is suspect in being seen as a negative thing or an indication of a symptom of a mental health problem.

I like the way Jim Morrison describes people as strange in the track People are Strange, as when you're a stranger, faces seem ugly, when you're alone. This identifies strangeness with marginalisation and alienation, whilst Billie Holiday uses the metaphor of Strange Fruit as being black human bodies hung from tress, and so racism is equated with strangeness, again as a negative connotation.

There are also ways that strangeness can just be a way of saying we don't understand, or that we dislike somebody, even though no such real strangeness actually exists about a person or racial group.  Sometimes strange can simply be equated with being offensive, even though no such offence is neither witnessed nor intended.  Strangeness is also just that which is by it's very definition unfamiliar or unusual, and can be a way of describing a different cultural, personal, or social perspective.

Strangeness is also innovation, and it strikes a chord for that which is unexplored of our emotional and intellectual capacities and functioning. The strange goes beyond the narrow and conservative ideas and concepts of normality, and goes beyond the mundane into the new or radical.  As love is also a spiritual concept, I wonder if strangeness can be can be related to wonder and openness, which are surely normal human and spiritual qualities.


Madness, Psychotherapy, the Avant-garde and Mental Health

I'm very interested in both psychotherapy and avant-garde art and music, as well as mental health. When I was in psychiatric hospital as a diagnosed patient in 2000, I met a guy called James who was a patient from another ward, and who used to come down into the smoking room in our ward, to chat with the other diagnosed patients. Some of the psychiatric nurses let him do this, because they considered that he was very intelligent and good at mixing with people, and that this might help himself and others. This was good that some of the psychiatric nurses, realised that sometimes as psychiatric diagnosed patients, we can sometimes help and understand each other a lot better than the psychiatrists or other professionals can.

 James told me about a friend of his, who was locked up in psychiatric hospital, because in his words, the guy was "too avant-garde for the system and considered mad". This made me think about what the connections are, between the avant-garde and so-called madness. Are having strange ideas necessarily mad?, or can they be a form of avant-garde art and thinking? I'm not saying that madness doesn't exist, but that sometimes the avant-garde and madness can go together or be combined, and that sometimes the avant-garde is a separate thing but which gets misdiagnosed as madness.

In 2004, I had psychotherapy for a year, from two different female psychotherapists, and which helped me tremendously. The first psychotherapist was a very creative thinker, and from some of my own way of thinking that was considered mad, and from her personal way of thinking as a psychotherapist, I realised that there were some similarities.

One major similarity, was that we both had a way of thinking which involved overlapping contexts of meaning, interpretation, and knowledge. I would say a sentence or a word to the psychotherapist, and she would go off onto a stream of metaphors and would ask questions in relation to them.

For example, if I said that I had dreamt about a cave, the psychotherapist asked me if I had hidden or empty feelings, or had I caved in. If I said there was treasure in the cave, she'd say that maybe I had treasured thoughts, that I was treasured by others, or that I was holding something back. Her metaphorical way of thinking, was similar to the metaphorical way of thinking, of a diagnosed manic-depressive or schizophrenic.

The female psychotherapist, would also interpret things that I was saying to her, as if I was saying this to my friends and family, and I interpreted some of her remarks and questions in much the same way. There were therefore overlapping contexts of relatedness in meaning. This was also similar to the way that I interpreted hearing voices, as overlapping situation contexts, of talking with people in different times or different circumstances, but jumbled up with another present context or situation.

One aspect, technique, or method of the avant-garde, is to put very ordinary, mundane, or simple things into an unusual or extraordinary context. This is a method used my many avant-garde artists and musicians and also used in some comedy. It is also used in some psychotherapy.

Another method used in avant-garde art and music, is to put one context of meaning, conversation, or theory, along side or over and above another very different context of meaning, conversation, or theory, and to associate and compare the two as if they are related, when they are not related in an obvious or direct way. This can be simply an art form, or it can be a more scientific method. It can also be political.

I sometimes notice that this can be the nature of much ordinary everyday conversation to some extent, and also the language or method that a lot of diagnosed mad people make use of, especially when talking to one another. In this respect, mad conversation is not that different to everyday ordinary conversation, although the overlapping contexts are more exaggerated or prominent.

The methods of avant-garde art and thinking, can very easily be misinterpreted as madness, especially seeing as anything which is "out of context" is seen as mad in psychiatry and mental health.

However, all these avant-garde methods and approaches, are both more creative and scientific than very conventional methods, lead to a better and wider understanding, and make for a much more sane perspective and a firmer grasp of reality. They also enable us to form an awareness of details, apply other models to these details, and to filter the details down into simple ideas, relate them to another context, put them into a coherent whole, and apply a new understanding of their meaning and significance.

This article is written from an avant-garde approach, and which combines my simplicity with my treasured borderline genius.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Voices of Human Nature (poem)

There is a voice that travels
Ten billion light years away
From shore to shore
Filtering the harsh sea waves
Slipping through the shells and weeds
And blending and dispersing
Over the silky silver surface of the tide.

It says "All is well"
And brings the spirit of the goddess to mortal minds
Leads the blind to see
And brings peace and harmony to the freed.

It lifts up the lemon sky
Breezing with a thirst most satisfied
As the clouds serenade the mind
And the stars bow and fall to the sunset eyes.

Then the almighty ear of the goddess
In the centre of the human brain
Uplifts a golden notion
And spreads its prayer and verse
Like a soft and delicate thunder.

If Music was Life (poem)

Tolling dancing words
rolling lips
breath patterning
straight and compassionate
re-experiencing and swooping.

The television bleeps and I answer,
it asks me what I want,
but you phoned me I say,
it replies the time is 6.30
and the pictures start to dissolve themselves into pips.
I hang up or switch over,
then switch off as I get an engagement tone.

Tolling dancing words
rolling lips
breath patterning
straight and compassionate
re-experiencing and swooping.

Someone appears in front of me
and asks me to turn over.
I say they've had the remote for a long time,
they tune into the other station
and then advertise themselves to me.

Nice notions passing like a return
it positively raises to great highs and follows down
enthusiastically and slowly it glides
it gives directions and talks to itself
hushing and enhancing
and building its foundations.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

To be ourselves - challenging the abuses of psychiatry

This article came from Survivors Speak Out:


Psychiatry can be used to reinforce oppression and limit our expectations of ourselves and others.  In this article Jim Read, writing from the perspective of an ex-patient, looks at this problem and at ways it is now being challenged.

The day Tony Benn was elected MP for Chesterfield, in 1984, the Sun newspaper tried to discredit him by publishing an analysis of his character by a "top American psychiatrist".  The psychiatrist concluded that Benn was greedy for power and would do anything to satisfy his hunger; he was driven by his own self-interest and thought of himself as god-like.

As the Greenham women and many Labour councillors know, this is not the only time that the language of psychiatry has been used by the political establishment in an attempt to discredit idealists who have gained popular support.


It was during the industrial revolution with its increased demand for conformity, that people started being labelled "mad" on a large scale. Nearly sixteen times as many people were institutionalised at the end of the 19th century as at the beginning.  Since then "medicalising dissent" has happened in a variety of ways.  At its most blatant, behaviour which is seen as threatening to the established order is simply given a fancy-sounding name and dismissed as an illness.   What are we to make of "transient situation disturbance" applied to a man who was in the navy during the Falklands War?  According to his psychiatrist (quoted in the Guardian), "he was suffering from reactive psychosis - losing touch with reality and a conflict of ideology.  He had a strong feeling that the war should not have been allowed to happen.  He could never manage to identify the Argentineans sufficiently as the enemy."   This pseudo-scientific labelling has been backed up by brutal practices presented as medical treatments: strapping people into freezing cold baths for hours on end; injecting them with insulin so that their blood sugar levels become so low they go into a coma; electric shock treatment; and leucotomies - operations to destroy part of the brain.   These "treatments" have frequently been supplemented by kickings, beatings and sexual exploitation as mental health workers have abused their positions of power.


The development of mind-altering drugs has enabled psychiatry to spread its wings more widely.  Half the women in Britain have taken a minor tranquilliser; many have become addicted and gone through withdrawal. People on major tranquillisers risk permanent damage to the central nervous system, but are often offered no alternative but to stay on them for life.   And the influence of the mental health system reaches far beyond the hospital wards, the GP's surgery and the pharmacy.  As we grow up we all learn to fear being carried off by the "men in white coats".  We hear references to dotty vegetarians, we're called weird if we love the "wrong" people, and loopy if we believe in the "wrong" things.  We learn to suppress our fantasies and dreams and to hide our feelings.  We even convince ourselves that we believe in the thoughts and the behaviour we learn to adopt in order to fit in and to avoid becoming a target of mental health oppression.   Of course it is nonsense to suggest that everyone who is put on tranquillisers is a heroic political dissident who is being silenced by evil political forces.  What is true though is that most, if not all, are victims of s society which constantly forces us to accept and believe things about ourselves and others which are not true, and to behave accordingly, which makes us feel there is something wrong with us for wanting more and which won't listen when we cry out for help.   It is easy and comfortable to blame psychiatrists for the abuses of the mental health system, but unproductive.  We need to remember that they probably grew up scared of "madness" and that they frequently lack the knowledge, skills and resources to care effectively for people who are expressing emotional agony.   And there are many thoughtful, loving people to be found working in the mental health system, and many acts of courage and humanity.  I remember a friend telling me how she was in a classic "Catch-22" situation: a voluntary patient who would be made a compulsory patient if she tried to leave the hospital.  A senior nurse helped her to escape by arranging for her husband to wait outside in a car and smuggling her out during a change of shift.


Until there are massive changes in society we will need a mental health system, where people can seek refuge and be helped to recover from painful experiences.  But it needs to be very different from what is currently on offer.  It needs to be a service which asks people what they need and tries to provide it; which offers choices; which encourages people to express their feelings - to cry, to laugh, to get angry - in a loving environment; and which assists people to identify and challenge oppression.   Recent years gave seen an upsurge of activity among patients, ex-patients and allies, as we begin to challenge to patronising attitudes of many mental health workers, to take power into our own hands and even set up our own services.   For instance, in Nottingham patients are setting up committees in every hospital ward; in Greenwich, users of a day centre elect people from their own ranks to form the majority of the management committee; Hackney Mental Health Action Group, a campaigning group led by patients and ex-patients, has drawn up a Charter of Rights for People with Mental Distress, and is represented on the planning group for mental health services in the area.


Just as people who become patients are not the only ones to suffer from mental health oppression, it is equally true that we are not the only ones who can benefit from fighting back.  Learning to lock our feelings in, to hide our love or to grit our teeth and struggle on in isolation is hurtful to all of us.  It limits our capacity to live life to the full, to overcome oppression and to be ourselves.



Mentalist Language and Thinking.

This article is not written by me, Peter H. Donnelly, although I wanted to post it since it is good:
Language shapes how we think and can distort what is happening.  It can make it difficult for an individual to DEFINE and OWN their experience.  If an explanatory framework is forced upon a person in the name of medicine then how can people define themselves?  And if people are not allowed to define themselves and their experiences, then words like "choice", "self-determination", "empowerment", and "participation" become irrelevant.

If I used phrases like "wog", "paki", "yid", "bit of skirt", or "cunt", you would feel rightly offended and outraged,.  Yet service workers use words like "mental health", "mental illness", "mental distress", "sick", and "chronic" without a second thought.

Diagnostic labels have been replaced by euphemisms like "mental health problems".  Chronic and "long-term" have been replaced by "Continued Care Client".  Professionals talk in these terms often interchanging them in the same sentence for example; saying "mental distress and mental illness" on the one hand, then "people who have mental health problems" on the other. Do you know what they mean and how it feels to be called by these terms? Probably not.  So you need to think about it.  You also need to leave your preconceived ideas and training outside of this building.  That will be quite difficult for you as your training will have disabled you.  Disabled your ability to perceive.  Most service workers, particularly the medical and nursing disciplines are taught to see certain kinds of pictures. Every person you see is compared to the set of pictures you have been taught.  You don't see different pictures with different interpretations.  This process leads to treating people as homogeneous groups, and it is unhelpful and damaging to group together peoples distress.

PEOPLE are not studied by psychiatry and psychology CATEGORIES are.  In categorising distress the distress itself is not acknowledged.  The individuals right to OWN the experience has been stolen.

I looked up several words in the dictionary - mental, health, illness, mind, insane, mad, crazy, and lunatic.  Many of these words are self-referential. Under LUNATIC it said, "an informal or archaic word for insane".  Under CRAZY it said "Insane".  Under MAD it said "mentally deranged and insane". Under INSANE it said "mentally deranged, crazy of unsound mind".  These words exist only in relation to each other.  So what is the mind?  The dictionary defines it as; "the entity in an individual RESPONSIBLE for thought, feelings, and speech".  ENTITY is defined as "something having or distinct existence".  Well we all know what we are talking about now!  There are no exact, tangible meanings.  I am particularly interested in the use of the word RESPONSIBLE in the definition of MIND.  According to the Mental Health Act people deemed to be "mentally ill" may not be responsible for anything - least of all their thoughts, feelings, and speech.

It is common amongst people who have used or been used by the mental health services to feel that they are not responsible because they are incompetent and inadequate.  Where do these feelings of incompetence come from?  It would be easy to say that they are inherent.  Certainly low self esteem and confidence fosters these feelings, but it doesn't start and end there. People become dependant and helpless with treatments and labels.  The fight to retain yourself is harder when your body and will is weakened by chemicals.  When your choice is crushed with assertions such as "If you want to stay out there, you MUST stay on your injections".  When you are given options not choice and your whole identity is defined by their label.  Then we only see what people CAN'T do - not what people CAN do.  Low expectations are lived down to.  Forced and amended "normalisation" is also a recipe for incompetency.  What do "expertise" and "professionalism" do to help people retain personal power?  Yet again unidentifiable words - but these words command immense power.  The professional is there as an "expert" to find a way of solving or curing the distress.  The recipient receives.  There is no understanding on the subjective level.  There is no acceptance of the persons reality.  No common language.  Even on surviving the services I had to look long and hard to find my OWN words - as I had been so saturated with the language of labels and categories.  The language of objectification and MENTALISM.  This is probably a new term for you.  It isn't difficult to understand.  If you understand racism and sexism then you can understand mentalism.  "ism" merely means to "indicate an action, process or result".

Mentalism is a process of not allowing people to express themselves. Society allows a very narrow range of expression.  On boarding a tour of the mental health services one discovers that the range is narrowed.  Not only that but every inch of the range is defined in negative terms.  A persons behaviour is never labelled in a positive way, it is always negative. Illness equals unwanted, bad, and abnormal.  Something that should be eradicated or cured.  However "normal" is not defined, so how can "abnormal" be determined?

Can anyone tell me when the whole population were tested and how, to determine, for example the normal amount of grief to express on the death of your mother?

Some people would say that "mental health" is the absence of "mental illness".  About as logical as saying that happiness is the absence of sadness!!!  This does not hold up as something scientific, something that should be taken seriously.  Sadly our society does take the unquantified, flimsy, notions of "mental health/mental illness", and diagnostic labels seriously.  These terms devalue and demean people on a fundamental level which is hard to rid oneself of.  Once past the "relief response" to learning a name for the described distress - the label itself does not alleviate pain.  The acceptance of the label is often borne out of desperation.  It does not help the worker or the individual to understand what is happening or what is needed to assist the individual.  Most importantly it stops the individual from being able to find their own language and acceptable meaning.  It stops the individual from owning the experience.  Ownership goes to the worker and case-notes.  Disempowerment of this kind drives people crazy.  It causes people to BE and STAY "mentally ill".  If people accept their labels - and I don't condemn this - I feel sad that this acceptance prevents an individual from discovering their own description.  The description is paragraph 8, page 2, as dictated by the expert.  Along with labels comes myth and stereotypes which are perpetuated by the services and continued in society.  So-called "Schizophrenics" are supposed to not be able to make a decision.  So-called "Personality-disordered" are not meant to be able to hold "normal" social relationships.  These stereotypes mean that the labelled people are seen as inferior, less competent.  In the same way that stereotypes of Afro-Caribbean and Asian people equal inferiority.  There is legislation to address racism and sexism, but not mentalism.  Equal Opportunities Policies rarely include mentalism.  It's as though it doesn't matter.  Mentalism hurts just as much as racism and sexism.  I would like to see Equal Opportunity Policies to include mentalist language - for "mental illness" to be on a par with "nigger, and wog".  It is often said to me that it all depends on what meaning you attach to these words.  I don't accept that.  If a worker calls me a "person with mental health problems" in a nice, right-on, radical way - it still feels the same, as I haven't chosen the term or meaning.  You may attach your meanings to words but society as a whole may attach others; I will give you three examples; Phil Cool recently sang a song on his comedy show about the split personality of the schizophrenic; The tabloid press have attached the Loony to left-wing for at least the last ten years.  Can you imagine if this was cripple or spastic instead?? Does the word Psychopath make you think of the patient shuffling around or the crazy behind your shower curtain with the knife a la Hitchcock??

I refer to myself as a survivor of the mental health services, an ex-binliner, and a loony.  These words I have chosen and have my meaning which is not derogatory but empowering.  Whereas "mental illness", or "schizophrenic" merely make me feel sub-human.  It's quite simple - drop the expertise and let everybody draw their own pictures.

Louise Roxanne Penbroke, User Involvement Course, Kings Fund Centre 1991. April.


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Positive Chaos and Confusion, Sanity, and Creativity

Whilst a lot of chaos and disorder, socially, emotionally, or intellectually, is not conducive to creativity (especially if it involves a lot of stress or anxiety), some chaos, confusion, and incoherence, can be conducive to sanity and creativity if this involves some receptiveness, randomness, and selectivity.  This is what I mean by positive chaos and confusion and which is creative.

Even though a lot of activity is going on, one can still meditate upon this and be very mindful and receptive, and in control of what one creates and produces, but the mind also needs breaks and times of calmness and relaxation.  Too much order creates negative chaos and confusion where one is unable to be productive and creative.

When improvising on a musical instrument, it is sometimes necessary to by-pass the ordering and ordered aspect of the rational mind, in order to go deeper into the intellect and the emotions, and to put things together in different ways and form new orders of things.  In this way, one is open to more ideas and possibilities, whilst if chaos and confusion take over completely, it leads to blocks, disarray, and repetition.

This can be experienced and realised by listening to the American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane's music.  Where he uses both melody and chaos or fluidity-and-breaks, he produces some very complex, interesting, varied, and beautiful music, but where he uses too much chaos and disorder, his music becomes very messy, predictable, rigid, and very repetitive.  What is needed in improvising, writing, and playing well, is a balance between chaos and order.

One good way of describing positive confusion and disorder, is to imagine a box of various shapes to put together to make a whole picture.  If one is very selective, then only certain shapes with be picked out and put together, but if some confusion and randomness exists in the process, one will see more shapes, and be able to put them in different orders to make different patterns or music, and to present a more complete and coherent picture.  Some positive chaos, confusion, and disorder can therefore open up our awareness and perceptions and enable us to see things in a greater and wider perspective.

This is also one way of understanding the chaos, randomness, incoherence, and disorder of so-called madness, that it is something necessary for better rational thinking and sanity, but that it can become stuck in the stage of randomness and confusion and become blocked.  Creative blocks can lead to anger or violence, but some anger is just the creative process and its way of working through creative problems.

Chaos, confusion, and disorder can be positive, if they are freely chosen and not imposed upon us by others, and contrary to conventional knowledge and wisdom, these things can involve the intellect and reason, and are therefore our most golden treasure in jazz improvisation, greater reason, and wider understanding.

Jazz to me is not only an art form, but a complete way of understanding, and a way of life.

Let the music guide us and liberate our hearts, minds, and senses.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

The three stages of semiotics, schizoanalysis, and objective social and cultural critique.

There is a common assumption amongst most people, that if you have a psychiatric diagnosis, then not only must you be completely mad, like the tabloid, ignorant, or black and white images they have of people with mental health problems, but you must also be mentally deficient, or have an absence of mental faculties.  Usually, the opposite is the case, in that we have a higher social awareness, or an extra mental function, added onto what is the usual mediocre way of thinking and perceiving things, without much depth or analysis at all.  The fact that we are often discriminated or misunderstood for this special or higher social awareness, is what can cause or add to our frustration and mental distress.

In one of his less socially credible books, The politics of experience, R. D. Laing spoke about so-called schizophrenia, as being a special or higher function of awareness or understanding, which in his time at least, he thought couldn't be fully understood or explained, until one day it would be proved to be true, and then, as he put it, "the joke would be on the psychiatric profession, and not on the diagnosed patients".  But our higher social awareness can be understood now, as it could always have been, and in a wider rational, social, and objective context, it has such unrealised huge potential and possibilities, for the progress of humanity and society.  My own higher social awareness and understanding, is part of a much wider objective process of: 1. subjective semiotics, 2. rational schizoanalysis, and 3. objective political, social, and cultural awareness and critique.

Part of this higher social awareness, on the level of other people's social communication, is that I am very much aware of the shifting contexts of social conversation and communication, both visual, emotional, and verbal, and the fact that whilst most of the verbal content of the shared social conversation of other people is rational, the overlapping and shifting contexts of it, are by no means rational or logical, and in fact tend to follow a very specific pattern of contexts repeating or overlapping, whilst verbal meanings exchanged, naturally change, progress, or digress.  This means that there is often an incongruent or slightly off-course nature to most verbal and other social communication between people, which is also completely both unrealised and misunderstood.

The basic rational content of communication, is of course very important, and I'm not undervaluing or ignoring the social or linguistic importance of this at all; nor am I intending to separate these content-meanings, from the contexts and functions I've described, which would be getting into the realms of something similar to avant-garde art, but this more functional and dialectical aspect of social communication, which is also based-upon the rational meanings that are exchanged, is an extra mental and social faculty that we have, and which is hardly ever realised, acknowledged, or understood by other people, or by the mental health or psychiatric profession.

I believe and know that as diagnosed psychiatric people, for whatever social, mental learning, brain structure, or genetically unique/different reasons, most of us have a higher or special awareness of this, which we don't often talk about, or even acknowledge ourselves, because, like the skills or extra abilities of other marginalised or oppressed groups in society, such as children, blacks, or women, it isn't actually acknowledged as an extra social skill, or an extra or added ability, and therefore it is completely unrecognised, misunderstood, or completely devalued for what it really is.

People diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychiatric diagnoses, have perhaps somehow internalised these shifting contextual meanings of shared verbal, emotional, and physical social communication, perhaps from their families, peers, or wider society, and by some means of abuse, deprivation, separation, or denial, have become separated or cut-off from the wider or real social context of it.  In this light, part of their or our healing or recovery, might be an acknowledgement, integration, progress, and realisation of this, by ourselves and others.

A great deal of radical or modern mental health thinking, and community psychiatric methods, more appropriately focuses on active strategies and empowerment, of diagnosed-people's ability to take control of situations, which the lack of these social skills, is accurately seen to be at the root of most or all vulnerability, exploitation of, and mental distress.  This is an accurate and appropriate social shift in some therapy and community psychiatric thinking, which as a starter I welcome, but it can also be rooted in some very basic and ignorant dogma, which can lead to very deliberate or thoughtless ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination.

To not learn about, or to ignore or deny us our higher social awareness, whether it is in our full power, knowledge, and control, fully socially integrated, or not, is like some of the ignorant, derogatory, and discriminatory attitudes towards the higher mental and emotional social awareness, of other groups in society, such as children, or women, which in the outcome or end-result, logically and politically leads to more inequalities, disadvantages, and continued ignorance, of what we have to offer, what we're about, and who we really are as psychiatric diagnosed-people, service users, or survivors of psychiatry.


A Critique of Nihilism

"Freedom is the freedom to believe that two and two are four" George Orwell (Taken from 1984)

Whilst ideologies and beliefs can be said to be dangerous, the freedom to hold beliefs other than the state or mass public opinion are very important.  Most people will say that they don't believe in anything, and these days nihilism is very fashionable, and which is why it's hard to say whether nihilism stems from genuine dissent and scepticism, or whether it is just conforming to mass public opinion.  Such mass public opinion may be simply the hegemony of ideas passed down by the ruling classes to the middle and working classes, justifying ones own dissolution, ignorance, and oppression.

Whilst nihilism seeks to deny all social beliefs and values, in the process of denying it may set up its own personal ideology and dogma, and thus seek to impose this upon others, restricting personal or collective freedom and freedom of thought.  Nihilism denies social beliefs and values, but often doesn't take into account things which are related to beliefs and values, but which are also not synonymous and are separate aspects - things such as faith, creative imagination, integrity, conviction, solidarity, and mutual trust and love.

Nihilism is therefore is a form of egocentrism.  Such individualism or egocentrism could be the basis of libertarian and democratic thinking, but it could also be the basis for right-wing views such as Thatcherism or even Nazism.  Personally, I think that whilst it's foolish to throw the baby out with the bath water, and because there is some truth in everything, there are also contradictions in everything - including nihilism.  To be a thorough nihilist, one also has to be self-critical, but most nihilists are not prepared to do this.

So rather than rejecting everything and hypocritically setting personal belief systems up in the process, I'd rather focus on the positive side of nihilism, and which is about finding truths in all systems, whilst realising and taking into account social, political, and personal contradictions.

One critique of nihilism is that it is a bourgeois consciousness, and embodies the anti-values of the ruling classes, that there is no such thing as society and so on.  The ruling classes and those who support them don't have to have shared values and beliefs in order to organise and change society, because they are content with the system staying as it is to keep them in power.

Also, because nihilism supposedly elevates the individual above all social and shared values, and because it sets up its own dogma and lacks the corresponding self-criticism to be a thorough nihilist, it can very easily lead to being destructive, and very easily lead to being self-opinionated and to personal bigotry.

Nihilism can be conditioned or influenced by social, political, and psychological factors.  I'm also interested in where nihilism stands in terms of freewill and determinism.  On the basis on freewill everything is a choice, and so therefore even not choosing, or rejecting, is still a belief and a choice.  This is somewhat reductionist, as nihilism doesn't have to be destructive, and it can be a form of genuine and moderate scepticism; but I would also add that nihilism ends up becoming deterministic in its personal dogma and ideology, and so again, it ends up becoming the very thing that it is rejecting, albeit in a personalised form.


Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Olfactory Hallucinations

Emotions that burn and smolder through the nose and brow

Olfactory hallucinations are hallucinated smells, and in some ways are similar to hearing voices hallucinations, except they function or are experienced as smells or nasty smells, and are therefore called olfactory, which means the sense of smell.  Like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) olfactory hallucinations are a very neglected area of therapy, and there seems to be no specific therapy treatment for these things in the Thanet area on the mental health NHS.

When I had an acute breakdown about nine years ago, I experienced amongst anxiety and the unreality-feelings of very severe depression, some olfactory hallucinations.  The olfactory hallucinations were very disturbing and painful to me, partly because nothing about them was ever addressed in any therapy context, and I had no idea what it was I was really experiencing.  I managed to self-manage these experiences whilst I was in psychiatric hospital for nearly two weeks as a so-called voluntary patient, and about five years ago, by re-experiencing olfactory hallucinations with a new understanding, I was able to realize what olfactory hallucinations really were, and how to deal with it.

When I was in psychiatric hospital, along with olfactory hallucinations went a severe burning-sensation in the center of my forehead, which was my suppressed passion and anger coming out, and I had some identity disturbance as well, where I couldn't see my reflection in the mirror, it didn't look like me, or I looked physically distorted.  To be ourselves, and not to have our social, sexual, human, and personal struggles distorted and twisted by psychiatry and mental and social health professionals, is a huge struggle we all face in society as users and survivors of services.

I had a breakthrough in understanding what olfactory hallucinations really were about five years ago, after considering the views of the American psychiatrists Peter Breggin, and especially of Thomas Szasz, who are both critical of their own psychiatric professions.  Peter Breggin prefers to say that people have unusual or strange ideas, rather than the more derogatory description of "bizarre ideation" used by psychiatrists, and I think that psychiatric definitions of mental ill-health symptoms are often collusive and unhelpful to a greater understanding of what those things really are. Drugs that blot out these experiences completely, are not helpful or constructive to cure or healing.

Thomas Szasz has a semantic method of therapy that he uses as a private therapist, which I think is an excellent and socially constructive approach, if used with intelligence, candour, and sensitivity.  This semantic method is about understanding that language is the sea in which we swim, and if you take us out of that sea, we are often lost, because we get into a habit of applying fixed-meanings to what symptoms we are experiencing or describing, and in return, those descriptions get attached to influence how we re-experience those symptoms, and how we interpret and respond to them.

So in effect, we adopt certain psychiatric or personal definitions and terms for our symptoms or experiences, which have sometimes been passed down to us, and which need to be challenged or explored with many other terms considered, for what symptoms we are experiencing.  This might also mean as Wilhelm Reich and others believed, to explore our feelings and emotions, and to realize how they become blocked and repressed by our political and social conditioning.  So a combination of these methods, plus my own unique overview and understanding, are the way I go about understanding and healing myself and others who have so-called mental health problems.

So about five years ago now, I was getting some mild olfactory hallucinations, and I very gently but deeply focused on what I was actually feeling, discarding the surface descriptions and experience of it as a hallucinated smell, and trying to work my way towards the root of what it was I was actually feeling, and what emotions had been suppressed.  What emotions had been blocked, suppressed, and repressed, were anger, revulsion, and disgust, and I was then able to address those feelings in a more positive light without suppressing them.

When I did this, the experience of those things displaced as a nasty smell decreased, and I was able to nip it in the bud before I perpetuated the negative cycle of false or limited descriptions and responses.  This is how I deal with my olfactory hallucinations now, and as with my OCD and auditory hallucinations, I have had to be my own therapist, although this has also helped me to help my friends who have mental ill-health symptoms, to have a greater understanding and healing of themselves.

Synaesthesia means a positive mixing or muddling of the senses, and there's some connection between olfactory hallucinations and synaesthesia on one level.  People who experience synaesthesia, often experience sounds of music as certain shapes, patterns, or colours (and colours that can be visualised, tasted, or smelt), and as a very blissful and beautifully creative experience, many classical composers like Scriabin were synaesthesiacs.

I experience a form of synaesthesia when I listen to jazz, classical, and rock music, and as a musician I play guitar and bass, and what I produce is both created from, and experienced as, certain combinations of shapes and patterns.  These shapes and patterns of chords, rhythms, musical keys and notations, have an abstract logic, and there is a freely constructed creative method to it.

So there is a creative connection with olfactory hallucinations and synaesthesia, although olfactory hallucinations unlike synaesthesia, are on the whole not a pleasant experience.  Literal comparisons between creativity and mental health problems can be dangerous and misleading, although there are some similarities which can add to our healing and understanding.


Violence and Creative Blocks

"Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm interested in to what extent creativity is violent, and how much a high level of creativity uses or requires force.  Some people who appear to be very creative are also very violent.  This is due to creative blocks.  A creative block can occur, when the mind becomes fixated on a feeling or an idea, and what occurs to me is that violence is very deterministic, because it believes that determined actions of violence will come from predicted and determined violent results.

It is much better to focus on freedom, liberty, and equality or democracy, rather than focus on violence and force, whilst it is understandable for people to defend themselves physically if they are under physical attack.

A creative block occurs, when the mind cannot think of new ideas, and when the randomness aspect of creativity takes over the receptiveness and reordering, filtering, and restructuring.  Randomness then becomes fixed and turns into repetition and a suppressed flow of energy, feelings, or ideas, and which can then lead to frustration, aggression, and violence.  This is also how many mental health problems can occur too.  Negative thinking and cynicism can also lead to violence, as people can see no positive way out of a situation, or positive ways to change themselves, a situation, or society.

Some of the films of the director Peter Greenaway are very creative, but also very violent.  However, mental violence, anxiety, and stress, are not conducive to creativity, and the violence in Peter Greenaway's films are coincidental to the creative aspect of them.  One thing his films do show though, is how creative blocks occur, within the context of so-called crimes of passion, oppression, and exploitation.

As people with diagnosed mental health problems, many of us have suffered from bullying and abuse.  We need government polices to tackle these problems, otherwise they will continue, destroying self esteem, creativity, and individual and human potential.  It is important that we don't act out the oppression and violence which has been done upon us, and learn how to overthrow the creative blocks which can lead to aggression and violence, and ruin our own and other people's lives.


Saturday, 1 September 2007

Hearing Voices with Intimacy and Acknowledging Thoughts

I have got to the stage where I regularly talk with, debate, and negotiate with my voices, and which I have been doing for some years now.  Even though I am male, my voices are very female: nurturing, sensitive, and caring, and they talk like women.  Maybe I am a very feminine man, although I think that we all have both masculine and feminine character traits, and that it's unhealthy to have too much of either gender trait.

Like women, my voices like to talk a lot, and very rarely do they let me have any silence.  They sometimes protest if they think I am ignoring them, and they demand some sort of attention or response.  Ignoring the voices is not an option really, as they just get louder if I ignore them.  The voices sometimes ask me if I want some silence, and when I say yes, they then say OK, but then start talking again.  However, I have found some ways of silencing them.

As I have conversed with my voices for a long time, I think that I have achieved a degree of intimacy with them.  This can only be achieved after a person develops a close relationship with the voices.  By intimacy, I mean that I am very close to the voices, and I know when they will say something and can predict what they will say before they have said it.  This usually means, that by doing this, I am more closely having a conversation with my own conscious thoughts, rather than having thoughts which are independent of my consciousness.

Another way of silencing the voices, is by acknowledging my own thoughts which were otherwise to become voices.  This means that I can identify the thoughts as my own before they become voices.  When I think a thought that could become a voice, I say yes to myself out loud and acknowledge my own thought.  Maybe I need to do this affirmation because my thoughts and emotions were not acknowledged by others when I was a child.

I hope this, and my other articles, will help others to understand their own voices.  By developing a close relationship with the voices, and then analysing and understanding the thought patterns and processes behind them, I am slowly but surely getting closer to having more and more control over the voices, or of possibly curing myself of them.  I don't think I want to be cured of the voices entirely though, because if I was entirely cured of the voices I would miss them.  It's better that I develop coping mechanisms and strategies for controlling and silencing them though when the need arises.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Reality Testing and Reality Assumption

 There are many reasons why I am critical of the term and label "psychotic". Firstly, because it is a term, or similar term, sometimes referred to in an argument to invalidate or suppress another persons point of view or perspective.  The term or label of "psychotic", could therefore be being used simply to deny and suppress the other persons valid point of view or perspective, personally, interpersonally, socially, politically, and so on.

The label of "psychotic" is therefore a perspective controlling machine, and like a machine, it often operates mechanically, and without it's own true or unique perspective or consciousness.

I am also in some ways critical of the meaning of the term and label "psychotic", which means, "out of touch with and not corresponding to reality".

There are many different philosophical, political, and theological interpretations of reality, but where psychiatric social and mental health is concerned, anything which differs from the professional medical psychiatric and social or mental health perspective, can therefore be deemed to be out of touch with and not corresponding to reality, and therefore "psychotic".

In fact, this mentalist labelling of "psychotic", is in itself exclusive, and is in itself out of touch with other interpretations of reality - which are just as corresponding to reality - and just as realistic.  Thus, the absence of the knowledge of the mentalism of the term, process, and label "psychosis", could itself be said to be "psychotic" in some ways.  It is "psychotic" in the sense that it is trying to suppress another point of view or perspective, as in this way, it is out of touch with and not corresponding to another person's living reality.

The other main reason why I am critical of the term "psychotic", is that whilst I accept that a person can be hallucinating and having delusions of people, things, and forces which are unreal and untrue, on some deeper level of social interpretation their ideas might fit reality in a different way, and their ideas might make a lot of sense, in context to the person's past and present social and life-experiences, and in context to the voices social and cultural meaning.

Reality testing, can also often make assumptions about another person's grasp of reality, in order to feel superior and to feel more in touch with reality.  The main assumption this makes, is to assume that just because in some part of the person's brain, the person is hallucinating voices or whatever, then to assume that whole person's brain and consciousness must be out of touch with reality and therefore hallucinating.

From personal experience, I know that is possible to be both hallucinating voices, and agreeing or colluding with some of the delusions of those voices, and yet to still to be in touch with reality, and still be in touch with the knowledge and awareness that the voices and their content are not real.  This complex configuration is very difficult for psychiatrists to grasp and understand, partly because medical psychiatry - and which is a very linear thinking - fails to grasp or understand dialectical thinking, and which can operate differently, and somewhat paradoxically, on many different levels.

In order to understand madness, it helps if you have experienced it, or experienced something similar to it.  There is indeed a point which the delusions of hearing voices, can take over completely, as in the throes of a mental breakdown, but otherwise it is quite possible to experience both delusion and reality at the same time.

This dialectical thinking is in some ways much better than the exclusive reality perspective, because it can grasp reality and have a firm grip on real people and things, and yet it still has the creativity and imagination to receive other interpersonal, social, and cultural meanings of things. The voice hearer can therefore sometimes be an interpersonal, social, and cultural filter, which takes interpersonal, social, and cultural meanings, and places them together in different patterns, in order to have a much wider dialogue and understanding of society and reality.

Friday, 1 June 2007

My responses to Peter the Buddhist's Question

After sending my latest article on Socialisation and the Spirit of Internet Mental Health Chat Rooms to a Buddhist acquaintance of mine, he wrote back saying that he was left wondering what my impression might be of group therapy, face to face.  I wrote back saying that this was a very good question, but also a subtle and complex one.

To answer his question in very simple terms, yes I am in favour of group therapy face-to-face.  I did say in my article that Internet chat wasn't as good as face-to-face social interaction, but I just thought that Internet mental health chat rooms have a uniqueness and spirituality to them, and which is what I was trying to say about it.  I'm in favour of mutual aid, and my impression of free and equal group therapy face-to-face, is that it is a very good thing, and conducive to spirituality and well-being.

It also all depends on what he meant by group therapy, because there are two types of group therapy - psychiatric and non-psychiatric.  As Thomas Szasz points out, there are also two different types of psychiatry - coercion, and psychiatry between consenting adults.  I'm all in favour of non-psychiatric group therapy and psychiatric group therapy between consenting adults, but not coercion.  I found the group socialisation interesting and therapeutic in the Shoshu Buddhist group meetings, because people actually talk about and learn from their own and other people's experiences, but this is not the nature of most psychiatric group therapy.

On the more complex matters, I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness of things from being within a group, and because I'm a socialist, I believe in some collectivism and solidarity.  On the other hand, I'm also a libertarian, and I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness as being an outsider of a group, and sometimes outsiders can have a better and much more imaginative and clearer vision and understanding of things.  Nichiren Daishonin was such an outsider in his time and society as I understand it, as was Jesus Christ, and as are most very creative people.

I don't believe that all so-called delusions are merely individual, because there can also be mass delusion and mass deception, and which are even more dangerous than the occasional dictator who comes along (R. D. Laing in The Self and Others, and Noam Chomsky, talk about this).

The trouble is with outright capitalist society, is that it tends to use and exploit people as non-participants in the system, but I believe that it's beneficial to have a society that doesn't create marginalisation, and which tries to socially integrate everyone, and with respect to the persons privacy and solitude as well.

I've always been very interested in Buddhism, chanting, and meditation.  I used to meditate a lot, and I found it necessary to completely empty my mind in order to be mentally and emotionally free of all forced information and indoctrination, and I could then think and feel for myself.  Maybe if I was in a Buddhist monastery then I could meditate successfully, but a lot of ignorant people in society don't want an individual to have a free heart and mind.  It's the education system which makes people ignorant, and it forces an overload of information upon the mind, without acknowledging the need for a much more calmer or higher and creative awareness.

As Shoshu Buddhism says, I also found the world of Tranquility in traditional Buddhist meditation to be a very fragile state of mind, and one which was very vulnerable to stress and could easily turn into chaos and Hell, although it also gave me a lot of inner strength, even though I couldn't maintain it in the face of the threat of violence, state terrorism, and oppression.  This is why I think that chanting is better, and because it is a form of what some traditional Buddhists call "mindfulness" (meditating on thoughts, sounds, and actual activity).  Music is also a form of mindfulness for me.

Shoshu Buddhism is also less monastic and more socially integrative.  Group therapy is the main therapy used in psychiatric hospitals to treat patients, but from both knowledge and experience, I know that it can often be used to reinforce the prevalent ideas and ideology of society and those in power, and used for oppression, repression, and social control, whilst at the same time any protest about the type of neglect or bad treatment that exists within the psychiatric and mental health system, is suppressed and dismissed by those in psychiatric authority and power.  The film One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest shows some good examples of this.

Group therapy should be there for democracy, and to enable diagnosed patients and people to assert their rights for better and more humane treatment.  I also think that therapy should be interpersonal, as well as a purely individual or group thing, and that one-to-one counselling and therapy are very important.  Just ask yourself why there are no counsellors or psychotherapists in psychiatric hospitals, and why the staff hardly ever actually talk to the patients.  Psychiatric hospitals are not places of therapy, but places of medicalisation and control.

I have been in a situation in psychiatric hospital where I knew exactly what another patient was experiencing, and knew exactly how to help her, yet I was prevented from doing so by psychiatric nurses, just because the woman was very desperate for help and was holding my arm.  I had spoken to her previously, and knew that she was suffering from the agony of severe depersonalisation (something which most psychiatrists still don't acknowledge or understand), and all she really wanted to do was talk to me. She also needed a sense of physical contact to hold onto the idea of the physical and material world, and which was why she was clinging onto my arm.


Socialisation and the Spirit of Internet Mental Health Chat Rooms

I find that living in my local area I am somewhat socially isolated, and I sometimes think that I would have been better off living in London where I was born, where I lived the first five years of my life, and where there are more people, and the people are much more sociable and friendly.  Still, not everyone in Thanet are cold and unfriendly, and I have met and befriended some very nice, progressive, friendly, and sociable people here. 

Up until a year ago, I also made some friends with some other people with mental health problems in another town thrity miles away, most of whom were intellectuals such as myself, but due to my agoraphobia playing up again, and because I have concentrated on my local friends more, I have not been to this other town for over a year. 

Amongst my friends in this other town, were Bob, Jerry, and Jon, all of whom are very friendly and sociable people with a mutual interest in books, films, and writing.  I met Bob, Jerry, and Jon through thier local mental health service users forumForum, and after receiving psychotherapy twice from their local day-centre, organised by a female Forum worker, I used the cafe where Bob and the crew all meet up and socialise.  The cafe was a great place to meet up, have a good meal, socialise, and chat.  We met in the cafe once a week, and I must at some stage get back into meeting up in Canterbury with these friends, because I like this other town as a place, and I like the people there. 

When I was in my early teens I had a CB (Citizens Band) Radio, and through chatting on CB Radio I made some friends with some older boys at my secondary school, who I would not usually have befriended and socialised with.  One person that I met and befriended on CB Radio was Paul, who was a couple of years older than me, but he was very good at organising us all and getting us all together, and we used to socialise and meet up in pubs with his other four friends who I also befriended.  This meant that I was a drinker at an early age, and which later led to an alcohol addiction, but which I am now cured of, thanks to therapy, and to personal strength and will power that has led me into much more moderate drinking. 

Whilst Paul was very friendly and good at organising and getting us all together, I also found him a bit petty, bossy and domineering, and our friendship drifted apart over the years.  I stopped seeing these normal or non-diagnosed friends, and through my friend Steve I was introduced to Bill and Luke, who also have mental health problems, and who have remained close and dear friends of mine. 

I find it hard to find places to socialise and make friends, partly because I am an intellectual and seek mutual intellectual friendships, although I also like ordinary people and ordinary conversation.  I have checked out my local day centre, and whilst the workers there who also had mental health problems, were very nice, warm, and friendly people, there was no actual organised activities going on there, and the people were all sitting around drinking tea or coffee or watching TV. 

I now socialise with my friends Luke and Bill, and with their friends too, but another place I go to now for my socialisation are Internet mental health chat rooms.  These chat rooms are not as good as face-to-face social interaction and friendships, but they have a unique ethereal quality, and are places where I find I can find some solace and friendship with others, and places where I can talk about my problems without being misunderstood or judged for it.  I can talk about my mental health problems there and receive sympathy, understanding, and empathy from others who have similar problems. 

The conversation in mental health chat rooms can sometimes be a bit fragmented, but at the best of times it's like stream-of-consciousness communication, I have got to know people in mental health chat, and there most definitely is a kind of non-material love and friendship between us. Internet chat is much more ethereal and spiritual, because you can't see hear or see the person, and it all goes on in cyberspace, and so it's much more of a mental and in some ways a creative thing.  Also, because the conversation in mental health chat rooms is very disorganised and fragmented, it still can have a comprehensible stream, flow, and exchange of communication, and the nature and spirit of it can help one understand and interact with diagnosed madness. 

In some ways, CB Radio was a lot better because you actually hear the persons voice, and talk to local people who you could meet up with, but mental health chat is also different and better in a way because it's more international, not restricted by distance, and many people can talk at once without interrupting each other or blotting each other out.  Mental health chat is much more of a group experience than CB Radio, because you get more than two or three people talking, and the words are written down and don't overlap like they would do in spoken conversation.  Many people can be in the room and all talking at once with one another, and which is another thing that makes it unique. 

One problem with mental health chat rooms, is that most of the chat - however creative - is small talk, and I don't really get any intellectual or very interesting conversations.  (I found one chat room for intellectuals which was also a conservative chat room, but I found that many of the people there were racist, very nationalistic, and illiberal, and I am not a conservative by nature or by experience, creativity, and learning).  Still mental health chat is creative and unique, and it is paradoxically a part of my privacy with others that I share and socialise with as a safe haven, and a place of ordinary and unusual conversation. 

One thing that occurs to me about mental health chat, is that it helps a person be more attentive and fluid in ordinary mundane everyday conversation, and it can help improve ones sense of humour and mood, because the abbreviation 'lol' (and which means 'laugh out loud') can be used more easily and spontaneously, thus making it easier to share and interact with humourous remarks and realisations.  At first this may manifest just as a written abbreviation and idea, but can after a while lead to smiles, happiness, or laughter.  This doesn't improve wit, but it can improve a sense of an everyday ordinary sense of humour, happiness, and well being. 


Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Rush Song Vital Signs - an interpretation

Vital Signs

Unstable condition
A symptom of life
In mental and environmental change
Atmospheric disturbance
The feverish flux
Of human interface and interchange

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence

A tired mind become a shape-shifter
Everybody need a mood lifter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to deviate from the norm

An ounce of perception
A pound of obscure
Process information at half speed
Pause, rewind, replay
Warm memory chip
Random sample, hold the one you need

Leave out the fiction
The fact is, this friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions
Courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence

A tired mind become a shape-shifter
Everybody need a soft filter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to elevate from the norm...

(Written and performed by the band Rush and taken from the album Moving


I agree with the first line in the Rush song Vital Signs, that an unstable condition mentally and emotionally, is a symptom of life, and in mental and environmental change, although it also depends on whether mental and environmental change is supportive, loving, and creative.

I agree that so-called mental illness is a symptom of life, but one which some psychiatrists try to medicalise with psychiatric drugs, and by saying that it is all due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The medical model is often used by psychiatry, instead of looking at creativity and social and life skills, although sometimes the two methods and models can be applied simultaneously in mental health and by psychiatry.

I don't agree with the next line in the song, that atmospheric disturbance, and what is described very metaphorically as the feverish flux, are of human interface and interchange, because feverish flux seems to suggest that creativity is static and opposed to change, and I think that some human interface and interchange are conducive to creativity and mental health, and that creativity can embrace and create change.

The next paragraph describes the creative impulse as pure, and by saying that our circuits get shorted by external interference, seems to suggest that social and human interaction are not conducive to creativity, when I think that they are or can be.  The external can become an interference though when there is a lot of stress, and which is not very conducive to creativity and mental health.

The next line says that signals get crossed and the balance distorted by internal incoherence.  I agree that socially and internally signals can get crossed, and that balance is very important to creativity, but I don't agree that incoherence is purely internal, because it can also be external and social.  I agree with the next paragraph that everyone needs reverse polarity.  Simple reverse polarity is sleep, entertainment, or relaxation for most people, but for very creative people it can mean connecting to the unconsciousness or the imagination, but which, like meditation, is still a knowable, explainable, and conscious method and process.

I like the line that says everybody has got mixed feelings about the function and the form, because people do have different views on what is creative, and it's important to listen to those views, discuss and debate about them, and have some tolerance and moderation.  I agree that some deviation from the norm is necessary with creativity, and because we don't have a very creative education system, culture, or society.

An ounce of perception, and a pound of obscure, suggest that creativity is somewhat mysterious and unknowable, but I think that whilst a sense of mystery is sometimes a good thing, that creativity is still very knowable, explainable, and conscious.

Process information at half speed, seems to suggest that it's conducive for creativity if the mind slows down or relaxes, because it needs times when it is receptive to the other areas of the mind, reality, and to the imagination.  Stress is not really conducive to this process.  Random sample, hold the one you need, is a very accurate description of part of the creative process, and which very much relies on some randomness, filtering, flowing, and restructuring of information.  This is also necessary for improvisation in music and for creative writing.

In the next paragraph, Rush say that courageous convictions will drag the dream into existence.  This raises the matter of whether creativity is just idealism.  I think that creativity can be courageous and realistic, and can be about reordering, and about social and political change, as well as idealism, and I think that reality can interact with creativity in the creative process.  I don't believe that creativity is all just pure imagination.

The next paragraph says that everyone needs a soft filter.  I can relate to this, because creativity very much works through a soft process of selecting, flowing, filtering and processing information.  I also agree with the song that everybody has to elevate from the norm, and I like this verse and the song in general, because it talks about everybody's creativity and not just gifted individuals.