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.