Quiet Madness

Yes I’ve been inactive on here for a while: work has taken over more and more of my time and energy. Things came to a head this Monday however. I took an overdose of lorazepam.

The following day I wrote this, as my attempt to iron out my thoughts. Put simply, I don’t understand why I did it. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.

Earlier my GP asked if I was depressed. Honestly I wasn’t. I most definitely did not want to return to work, so that’s something to stab at. But as my mother pointed out, I’ve been coming home from work for weeks, stating how I’m enjoying bookselling again. And I have been. However none of this changes the fact that there’s the parallel dimension – this alternate universe within my head saturated with white noise and hyper-thought and erratic compulsions.

I’ve been drinking more and more. Self-medication is the prevalent term I believe. The sense of release, the comfort; but also the trangression. Acting normal, functioning while under the influence. What’s fascinating/scary is that I can go off piste stone cold.

I call it the “Cold Flame”. Inside of me there’s this energy; something wondrous and beautiful and beneficial. But its most definitely a dangerous gift – sometimes my mind works every angle, turning things over and over and over and over. Simulating things which have happened, haven’t happened, could happen, can’t.

My eyes glow. Flames emanate from my hands. I’ll look over my shoulder and converse with my thoughts rather than merely think them. We are an army a million as many as your own (though there is sometimes sedition in the ranks). That “crazy” guy rambling to himself on the street? Hello. There’s a little more subtlety in my discourse, but if the lift door opens at the right time I’ll be there running my nails down the walls; clutching my head and waiting out the latest cacophony.

You may hear “We” instead of “I.”

I register people’s eye movements, lip twitches, the way they shuffle their feet or move their arms. The thoughts, concerns, opinions and emotions of others flood torrentially into my mind. I’m not deluded or arrogant enough to claim telepathy but hey, just because you’re not a bat, doesn’t mean you can’t hang upside down.

The other thing about Cold Flame? There’s colours inside of you too.

RFYW

Going off piste a bit here. I’ve been asked to help out on an upcoming film review channel. Honestly, working on something creative – something besides my day job – has really helped my moods.

This is a format demo I’ve submitted: a review of one of the most wretched movies ever made…

More Palettes than Many

No two people can inhabit the same world. Beliefs, opinions and prejudices distort reality the way mass warps the path of light. Circumstance can mean that, though we might agree that chair is red; it’s green to someone with a specific form of colour blindness. They may concede that an absence or dysfunction of long wavelength cones in the eye causes deuteranopia; but ultimately to them, the chair is green.

I’m no philosopher and I’m certainly no scientist. I simply cannot escape the significance of an analogy like this. The chair is green in the subjective. It is only red by consensus. Let’s find an alternate dimension where deutans are in the majority – now what are you sitting on?

Colour Blind Awareness states that, globally, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women live with some form of this condition. 8% of my gender live their lives with dissonant chroma. My cousin ranks amongst them, as did my maternal grandfather. That we’re not inundated with stories of cars piling through traffic lights because of misread signals is deeply encouraging. A mutation which could dramatically impact upon the day-to-day of a great many people has become well managed and almost completely anonymous.

In 2005 researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne used multidimensional scaling (MDS) to explore ‘the colour dimension that is private to the deuteranomalous observer.’  The study emphasised an important correlation between “colour normal” and deuteranomalous observers – that they are both formally trichromatic (requiring three primary lights to ‘match all possible spectral power distributions.’) Despite the differences in colour perception, there is no inherent deficit or dysfunction:

 

MDS studies of anomalous trichromats have, however, always had a phenotypic bias: stimuli have been selected to be discriminable for the normal observer and the anomalous space has typically been found to be contracted compared to the normal. Such results reinforce the categorization of anomalous trichromats as ‘color deficient’, but this represents the viewpoint of the majority phenotype.

Interestingly the study refers to a potential evolutionary advantage gifted to anomalous/alternative trichromats. Research suggests that the efficacy of camouflage is threatened by ATs, particularly when it resembles natural foliage or terrain. Food sources and predators may become easier to clock; practical applications expressed in some primate species. Genetic drift may have allowed such individuals to make an advantageous contribution to our earliest, socialised ancestors. Hunter/gatherer parties including, though not wholly comprising ATs may have been ahead of the curve.

As expressions of the worth and wonder of re-thinking how we determine what is and isn’t a disability – as well as opening eyes to the potential benefits of any “anomaly” – discussions of colour blindness offer a delightful elegance and simplicity. Clearly, on the spectrum of what we consider disabilities, disorders, diseases…et cetera, not all animals are going to be equal. Issues will never be (ahem) black and white.

All I would say is consider the alternatives whenever you consider or encounter anyone with anomalous expressions or characteristics. Maybe you’ll find yourself ahead of the curve too.

Vlogbrothers – Giving it 1200%

On JJ’s advice I have begun watching the entertaining and hugely informative Nerdfighteria vlogs produced by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and his brother Hank. Presented for your consideration – Big Pharma in theory and practice:

Attend

I had a psych appointment at 12.30. Having crash landed into the NHS Mental Health Trust 13 years ago, today came the novelty of having to produce my passport, a recent bank statement and a fully completed “Pre-Attendance Form.” To discuss these documents at the start of a health assessment, then having to wait as they were photocopied at the end.

Immigration and public services are hot button issues right now, perhaps in ways they haven’t been since the 1980s. As Chris Addison noted, we accidentally elected a Conservative government four years; and the rise of UKIP has ratcheted up every tension. Still, I’ve been in the goddamn system long enough to prove my entitlement status. And, crucially, personally, I don’t consider the PAF in the spirit of socialised medicine.

NHS funding principally comes from taxation. I am a tax payer. That illegal immigrants may be using the service has never pissed on my pancakes. Individual health benefits everyone. If you have to drive without a license, its better you don’t fall into a diabetic coma at an intersection. I’ll concede that our borders need policing, that immigration must be handled responsibly, but I can’t help but shudder when I read how information from the PAF can be passed to the UK Border Agency ‘…if it is deemed necessary by the trust.’ Patient information. I had to answer questions about the number of residents in my house. Number of hours I work a week. 13 years. The first time in 13 goddamn years.

Please note non presentation of the above documentation on the first appointment could delay your assessment and subsequent treatment.

I’ve contacted these people because I want to keep my options open, given my recent spikes in hypomania and bouts of whip-spin paranoia. I am relatively stable right now, so a delay wouldn’t do much harm. But I have to compare my current state of mind to Me at 17. Late teens, consistent self-injury, potent depression culminating in a dramatic suicide attempt that – while not taking my life – could have left me paralysed. My 17 year old self couldn’t wait. It was my mother stressing this that actually got me into the clinic. The trust wanted to release me back into the wild.

Everything about the NHS, particularly the mental health sector, just feels paradoxical and contrary and kind of frustrated. Even Dr Sri; the very paradigm of a dedicated, intelligent, sympathetic professional bemoaned this. That he couldn’t do more for his patients. I refuse to accept that the NHS, or socialised medicine of any stripe, is inherently doomed to fail. Any ill fate comes from incompetence and mis-management, hackneyed bureaucracy and financial derangement. Manipulation and greed.

A recent case centres on a Basildon man forced to pay £2000 per week to treat his brain tumours. ‘Avastin is not licensed by the manufacturer for treatment of brain cancers in England’, an NHS teeth-piece explained. As noted in the article, cosmetic surgery and gastric bands are readily available on the NHS. I don’t really object to these, but clearly we’re forced to come down on either side of this issue. That force is economic.

The devil is always in the unnerving machinations when it comes to Big Pharma. In the excellent Cracked.com article 5 Terrible Secrets Big Drug Companies Don’t Want You to Know, writer Andrew Munro recalls the curious history of Sarafem. Marketed by drug firm Eli Lilly as a treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), Sarafem was a breakthrough in the fight against an ‘…exaggerated form of PMT.’ The typical symptoms of PMDD (fatigue, emotional instability, anxiety, disinterest in daily activities and difficulty concentrating) may be familiar to those receiving treatment for depression, which is handy, considering Sarafem is Prozac by another name. And a pretty colour palette.

Munro: ‘…by releasing a new drug identical to Prozac, Eli Lilly managed to extend their patent by a few years, allowing the price of Prozac to remain nice and high.’ This is what we have to contend with, as “service users”. The administrative locust horde, frenzied by persistent interference from mandarins, transient politicians and “business managers”; whilst being undermined by low-quoting contractors and manipulated by opportunist corporations who’s spreadsheets can determine who lives and who dies. Now we can add crossing guards to the roll call.

I fear for the NHS. For all my criticisms, for all my ideological stances against the dominant psychiatric models, I have to accept that it has helped keep me alive. Given the sense of disquiet and violation I feel after today’s meeting, I fear for others like me, especially those younger than me, who now have another swamp of uncertainty to wade through. We have an increasing Eastern European presence in this part of the world. Whole new generations who may need access to mental health services. Young people, older people who’s misery, fear, torment, doubt, self-loathing, anger – the whole bloody rainbow of psychiatric crises – may now be compounded by a fear of incriminating themselves or those they love.

Read All About It

Apologies for the radio silence. To say things are hectic is lowballing it. From August 1st I will not be working for 3 months. Put simply, I’m exhausted. Emotionally, psychologically, spiritually even. Some days I dread walking into the building, to a job I once loved.

My inspiration is gone. I am very good at what I do, but now I do it mechanically. I’ve become obsessed with making sure my guys can waltz into any position they want. I want my brother and mother and sister and now nephew to be proud of me. I feel responsible for all those I know who cannot work, who can’t defy the demons and limitations forced upon them. I don’t want to die the way my father did; but everything I’m doing holds a mirror up to him.

He cared about his guys but couldn’t bridge the divide when it came to his family. I didn’t really know him at the end, but my impression was always that we withdrew to the point of implosion. Pushing with some vision of an ideal that couldn’t help but crumble.

The consensus is my stepping away is a good decision. One of my guys is taking over from me, and my faith in her is unbound. I have faith in so many people, but deny it to myself. She tells me that its time for me to start thinking about myself.

Part of me is afraid I’m putting a bullet in my career. At least I know that I’ve been judged on my performance, rather than any machinations or schmoozing, and I haven’t been found wanting. Yet again, I’m not engaged in any way I’d describe as healthy. Given the panic attacks, manic freakouts, paranoia, forgetfulness, suicidality, and seizures; I could easily be signed off on medical. I want to take a sabbatical because I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want the company to pay for me while I’m not working. Sitting at home playing video games would consume most of my time, because I would assume the role of a patient.

‘The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates’. A great many debates can coalescence around words like that. Thomas Szasz said many things, but this stuck with me. Remaining passive, a victim of bastard luck and circumstance, rather than asserting your moral right to exist on your own terms. I can’t always get my head around the principles of the Mad Pride movement; but I engage with the notion that “We” have the right to our own cultural identity. That we’re bound by similar threads and so have a right to highlight and explore the potential therein. I’m kooky enough to think like a Mutant, to want what the X-Men have, because their stories help me quantify my experience of my life and the world we all share.

The immortal Christopher Hitchens described how his father claimed his service during the Second World War constituted ‘the only time he knew what he was doing”. I’ve always felt that about the Clinic. 13 years ago; a teen who nearly sheared his spine leaping from a bridge. Once I could limp from the orthopaedic ward I was transported to a place where I was surrounded by people who understood, one way or another. We talked and we ate together. We played music and made art together. No topic was off limits, because if you can’t share in your darkest hours then all you’ll ever know are shadows.

While we’re dropping names and paraphrasing, I’ll recall something Brody Dalle said in an interview with The Face about 4000 years ago. Her interviewer lightheartedly called her insane. Dalle retorted: ‘sometimes I feel like the most sane person in the world.’ If you’ve ever been in any positions like mine, you’ll get where she was coming from. I don’t want to pontificate or stake a claim to some hidden truth or grand narrative. I’ll say that when you’ve cut down to the bone, the meat and the seed and the rot of it all gives you some perspective.

I have a little time to assess and recreate. I’m going to travel a little, often on a whim I hope, because spontaneity is something I’ve defied. I want to see things, I want to attempt adventures and meet new people. And reconnect with those I’ve missed, for one reason or another. I want to write and I hope you’ll find something worth reading. Because I want an audience; ego does come into it of course, but also because I’ve been told I might have something to say. And, I hope, it’ll prompt people to say something back.

I want to leave y’all with something for now. It says a lot. Some art bleeds from the edge between inspiration, emotion, power and truth. Art like this:

 

Prescription Schism

“Pay £10 to see your GP…” today’s Daily Mirror exclaims, reporting the Royal College of Nursing’s vote to back charges for GP appointments. Beyond the understandably provocative headline, lesser informed cynics such as I aren’t surprised that this has come to pass. Not only because we’re under a Conservative administration, but because the state of the NHS has long emulated the level of basket case.

In England, as of April 1st 2014, the NHS prescription charge stood at £8.05 per item. My repeat script requires coverage for both lithium carbonate (Priadel) at 800mg per day and lamotrigine (Lamictal) at 200mg twice daily . Were it not for my Medical Exemption certificate I would be paying £16 per month for medication that has, arguably, kept me alive.

Curiously I’ve managed a kind of “3 for 2” deal – Lamictal was prescribed for my idiopathic epilepsy, but its often used to alleviate depressive episodes in bipolar affective “disorder”, for which I was prescribed Priadel many years after. In November 2012 Dr Sri wrote a script for an atypical antipsychotic, olanzapine. A third medication addressing the white noise paranoia hissing away in the background, and ultimately a fridge too far in terms of my pharmacotherapy.

That I declined to take the olanzapine is besides the point. My circumstances permit the expense of £24.15 a month, but chronic means chronic, and circumstances can change. I am grateful, I am humbled by the generosity of the British tax payer and, speaking as one of them; I am happy, I am proud that my taxes help provide coverage for others in turn.

But as noble as the National Health Service is, contemplation of its future is likely promote instances of immeasurable terror. I no longer see bipolarism as a disorder, a disease. Living with this disposition, and all of its nuances, I’m inclined to consider it more an immune response than a disease entity in its own right. Dr Sri and I disagree on this point, but his decency and intellect enabled us to work together for my benefit. A calm, reasonable and charismatic man; but also one who – in a stark moment I will never forget – expressed a morbid despair at the limits of the care he was able to provide.

To paraphrase comedian and practising GP Phil Hammond: the best thing the government can do is get out of the NHS. Dr Hammond has turned his hands to many things over the years, including a joint investigation into the disturbing treatment of NHS whistleblowers. Private Eye has, passim, reflected on the disastrously wasteful National Programme for IT – the biggest civilian IT of its kind anywhere in the world, and one reported to have squandered in excess of £12 billion or (as Mail Online noted) ‘…the salaries of more 60,000 nurses for a decade.’

I won’t calculate how many prescriptions that amount would cover. One wonders what Nye Bevan would make of the NHS today, especially since his party, of which I’m a lifelong supporter, has steered it into so many walls.  One expects a Conservative government to screw with the NHS, but its legacy as a force for the greater good is a jewel in Labour’s crown. Tony Blair’s grasp on the NHS suffered a snowballing degeneration, much like his sanity; and after Gordon’s reign of inanity the duty of care and restoration resides with David Cameron.

Or more specifically Jeremy Hunt. A Health Secretary who wanted to exclude celebrations of the NHS from Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, has confidence in homeopathy, takes conspicuously ideological positions on abortion and privatisation and was – in the greatest Freudian slip in British broadcasting history – rightly identified as a cunt.

The NHS is in crisis. Depressingly, I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t in crisis. However I can also recall the many acts of dedication and professionalism and kindness that have shined through when it mattered the most. The rapid response of paramedics last week when I suffered one of my worst seizures. The home visits and mobility improvements my grandmother enjoyed. The extraordinary palliative care my aunt received last year as she was consumed by cancerous tumours.

There are practical benefits to the RCN’s considerations. For my part, however, I cannot escape the feeling that such a notion will afflict those the vision of a National Health Service best serves. Those of the most limited means, the poor, the disadvantaged, the disregarded. Those with mental health concerns can require a greater percentage of visits to the GP often long before any diagnosis is forthcoming.

Thankfully a follow up on the Mirror website reported the overwhelming rejection of the proposed motion. The cynic rises in me yet again. What comes next?

Rightfully, Bevan deserves the last word: