Restart

Some realisations wait in the wings; quietly murmuring their lines until some mysterious stage hand points towards the lights. An aroused audience of one bristles as our player stumbles across the boards. Flowering at last, a bloom of gestures and revelatory dialogue which can tranquilize or incinerate with a pyroclastic fervour.

Its been quite some time since I’ve posted on this site. Sat down and tried to fulfil the promise and purpose of this little domain which I long ago intended to discuss the aspects of, and issues around, “my illness.” A nebulous term which draws its authority from a peculiar and potentially dangerous branch of pseudo-science. Considering bipolarity a disorder has never helped me. Lithium reigned me in, though I cannot say that there isn’t an alternative method for equalising my moods. To my great shame a vein of cowardice – or worse apathy – makes it unlikely that I’ll ever seek one out.

Epilepsy has given me a metric by which to measure the pathology of my psyche. Epilepsy is quantifiable. EEGs can demonstrate wiring faults as effectively as any halfway competent electrician. The MRI sketches poured over and waved triumphantly above the heads of psychopharmacologists appear to suffer from an a certain object impermanence. Traction subsides, and the diagnoses and treatment plans of every mental health professional I’ve ever encountered comes from defaulting to a sort of conventional wisdom; perhaps characterised by instincts which would be familiar to Witchfinders General.

The last 36 words aren’t necessarily dismissive. Perception is everything after all. If you treat bipolarity as an illness – if that helps keep you as healthy and happy as can be – then that is the reality as it applies to you. My experiences (within and without mental “illness”) have instilled a Ballardian appreciation of unreality and dominant fictions of the world around me. The recalibration of my mind and moods comes from repeat attempts to calculate and reconcile the contradictions and inverted logic of the suspicious and deliciously perverted “real”.

From here on in, my thoughts and attempts to make my way through this world, will hopefully hinge upon a more conscious appreciation of these dim repressions. The human body is a mechanical wonder driven by powerful and adaptive OSs. To drive the mechanism onwards, to maintain its inward integrity whilst engaging with competitive systems, requires flexibility and mutation. Consciousness, the imagination, the psyche: all crucial constructs which can neither function nor exist within fixated boundaries.

The query has become: how do I function? The query has become: why do I function? The query has become: how and why don’t we function the same?

Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

News about the loss of Robin Williams has opened a deep well of mourning for and gratitude to a remarkable performer. His diversity and talent won him plaudits and affection the world over. I’ve often found that people have a particular Robin Williams they love – for some he’s Mork from Ork, my sister-in-law adores Mrs Doubtfire. For me he will always be Genie.

His family have rightly asked for their privacy to be respected at this difficult time. A statement referring to his recent struggles with depression remains the wellspring of speculation about what has happened. Further details will emerge, the news cycle will endure a little longer and many debates will be had.

One thought came to my mind when I heard the news: wealth and fame offer no guarantees against misery and torment. A commonly held notion amongst those with mental health challenges is that their lot would improve if they could afford private treatment and regular sessions with an independent therapist. Access to medication would no longer carry any financial penalties.

The logic holds, overall, but a story like this is important because it reminds us there are no quick fixes, and no one cookie-cutter strategies can be expected to work. We don’t know how Williams coped with his condition, and personally I feel it a little ghoulish to speculate in this forum.

All I will say is that we must be mindful of the fact that sometimes we can only fight so hard. But the fight is worth it, and their are so many pathways and approaches to pursue. And we cannot forget that sharing any suicide’s fate is never guaranteed either.

Remember the good, remember the joy they brought into your life:

 

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.

Where It’s Spent

“That’s inhuman!” a colleague of mine exclaimed last week. I’m consistently waking around 5.30am, which is abhorrent to most people. Further down the spiral – it skips, morning to morning, between 5.23 and 5.25. An unnerving recurrence; a triumph of chaos theory over mundanity.

I like having more of the day to play with. Early breakfast, cup of tea, washed with clean teeth before the paper arrives. Ready for a productive day, beginning with at least two hours of Warframe. Youtube on in the background, playing old episodes of Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. My wellspring of political thought.

When I’m not killing Grineer, I’d like to be doing this. Typing. Hopefully something worth reading, by myself and by others. Activism is becoming a significant part of my Me, but a consistent failing, as my untrained eye can observe, is when one occupies a single issue, denying the prismatic facets of simply being here.

So being here. 11.53am. Awake for 6 hours, 28 minutes. Waking and reaching for Marina Keegan’s wondrous The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. Statistically not my thing, but the quality of her writing, the vibrancy of her personality and intellect shine through. Mournfully, so does the significance of her frustrated promise.

I finished Emma Forrest’s Your Voice in my Head. A memoir of mental illness and recovery which doesn’t entrench itself in the minutiae of mental illness and recovery. Love and sex and family and animals and opportunity and self harm and suicide. The tapestry. Take a tapestry and focus upon several threads. If you’ve lived the way I have these past 30 years, you’ll know how well this works.

Read, write, repeat. I need, I want, to fall in love with words again. Actually this is deceitful – I want to love the words of others, which is why (at the start of 4.0) these authors are wellsprings of optimism.

30 years. 6.5 hours. What’s inhuman is not the time you’ve lost. There’s no inherent glory in any time you might have gained. Just don’t frustrate the promise of every second you collapse into.

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:

 

Rolls like water…

We returned home around 1pm yesterday. Would have been at least an hour and a half earlier if the baggage handlers at Gatwick could distinguish arse from elbow. You know when you’re back in England: temperature drops, skies turn grey and suddenly you’re drowning in phone shops and coffee concessions.

The long journey on the district line wasn’t as bad as I feared. I hate sitting still for too long, which is strange because I have no trouble with long plane flights. Sometimes the destination justifies the weight of the way travelled. We were so tired by that point as to be effectively anaesthetised. I even got to play some ‘wise owl’ thing – discussing hair dye with some bright eyed teen proto-goth.

And so here I am now. Funny how a brief change of pace can give someone a fresh perspective. Those nights on the balcony; warm breeze, rolling seas, typing by starlight. I want that. More of that. I work in a business where every third person you talk to has aspirations to be A Writer. Hell, put enough of us in a room, throw a bucket of water and you’ll drown dozens of ’em. But I’m not talking about The Novel. I’ve tried fiction and I don’t have the size for it. No focus; a struggle to draw something from the bottom up.

I’m also quite the egomaniac. I love the sound of my own voice or the, er, sound of my own words. Maybe I can type and do something with it too. Another thing I did while sitting on that balcony was look at Journalism MA courses. I have a degree, so getting onto a course is largely a matter of money. What seals the deal is whether or not another degree would actually do any good.

I’m young, but crossing the threshold. If I want to make changes, this is the time to put it in motion. When I was studying film, the best people on my course were the mature students. The most naturally capable was in his 40s, and he put every other one of us to shame. It’s early, but I’ve already been thinking about things Liam could be asking me in the future. One of them is going to be about university. My advice? Leave it a few years. Finish school then get a job. Or travel. Or both. Figure out what you want to do, what feels right; rather than the vague notions and delusions your uncle had.

I was 19. Making life decisions barely 18 month after getting out of a psychiatric hospital. I had no clue what to do, so I went with the path of least resistance. And it feels like I’ve been doing that ever since.

 

Whether I stick with it or not, I need to get out of this place. Out of B&D, probably out of London. Too many old ghosts, and sometimes I just feel like all motivations and concerns are out of whack. I was 19 and now I’m thinking back on that and, more importantly, the kids I knew when I was 17. Tacitly, Icarus implies that we are A People. United by mad gifts. I want to write and I want to do something. Certainly for those who are written off, hurting, abused, left feeling like a voice and a life are more than they’re worth.

There’s one week left to go on Meat Free May. Do something amazing today – donate just a little to the important work of Friends of the Earth.

 

Tobago – Signal

And so to you, my last night on the island of Tobago. My apologies for any typos you may encounter herein – been drinking the local brew, Carib, solidly for the last few hours. I also spent 230 TTD on a single shot of Johnnie Walker Blue. I am very proud of myself.

The ocean’s a little rough this side of the Atlantic tonight. Got a lot of crashing waves, rolling beneath an astonishingly beautiful array of stars. I want to call this view ‘heartbreaking’, because its beauty touches you in places there may not even be names for. ‘Heartbreaking’ isn’t appropriate at all however, because this view is one of those things which reminds you how wonderful this world can be.

That’s a bold load of letters for someone like me to hammer out. Or so I’m told. Or so I tell myself. I think I’m supposed to be some kind of cynical old fuck, but I don’t think my heart’s in it anymore. I’m a romantic at heart, always have been, but you slap enough damage onto something and it hardens. Deadens even, in the right/wrong places.

“Bipolar” is the term on all the medical documents. “Psychotic” is the ‘reclaimed term’ I’ve been using for a while. Now I’m leaning towards “Polarist”, but even that’s wrong. “Person” comes closest I imagine, but any term is riddled with inadequacies.

I refer to it as a ‘signal.’ Its always there in the background; my own private CMB. Its like a conversation you can’t quite listen to, a station you can’t pull from all the static. I love the term “Hall of Mirrors” – its one of my cyphers, riding high alongside Cause. HoM fits here, because anything I read in the sound of the waves or the whispers in these palm trees or the searing beauty of my stars is ultimately born from within me. Within you.

Reflected light is all we are.  Imprinting wants and desires, ideas and definitions and self-assigned certainties onto anything and anyone around us. Maybe it is all about me. From your perspective: you. Seeking something warm, something beautiful or good is ultimately a pursuit of what is better within us all. If we can find something to believe in, something which inspires or gives us reason to hope; then every one of us comes within reach of infinity.