Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Bipolar heredity gene

I wrote a book about my son who has Bipolar disorder. This is not news. It's out there for all to see. Interestingly, and as a consequence of my having written the book, I've had some interesting feedback from various people. 'You were opening yourself to be judged' said one. Another said that he couldn't recommend the book to a friend whose son is going through almost the identical mood swings and bizarre behaviour patterns as my son, because, he opined, 'It has no happy ending...' Well, there is no 'ending' or, as some people would prefer, 'no closure.'

This is an on-going illness and, for Zach particularly, one that we hope would have a 'happy ending', only that's for the future. At the moment he's fine. When I finished the book, things weren't so clear cut.

I don't mind being judged. We are all judged one way or another for whatever we do. I wrote the book to bring the subject to light and as an aid for those families who are specifically going through the trauma and stress of seeing someone they love change personality so dramatically because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. I think it somewhat disengenuous to proscribe it for the very reasons that people need to read it: the recognition that their friend or family member is experiencing symptoms of a ghastly illness but that they are not unique in their suffering and that other families have experienced almost the identical emotional stress and anxieties.

This brings me to the heredity factor. I found out this week that a cousin's son is suffering from chronic mental health problems. I don't feel that I need give chapter and verse on the rest of the family, save to say that if I lined them all up, on both sides and going back a couple of generations, then the Priory would have plenty of fodder for full-time occupancy! There has to be a heredity gene. How it comes about is cause for research, especially among race/religious backgrounds. All I know is that there is a great reserve in my own family that could be used for specific research protocols.

Will I be judged for proclaiming this? Will it make more people recommend the book because they feel that realistically they should? Who knows... Maybe when these same people come to terms with the fact that they, too, could experience mental health disorders in their own families, then they may reconsider their high and mighty positions.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Of BBC Radio, Trisha Goddard, Sport and Telford

It's been an interesting but frustrating week - interesting because I've done something different in terms of publicity but frustrating because I want more of it!

Monday night and it was Talk Sport. Yes, even Talk Sport has a radio programme that allows a very impassioned and intelligent presenter - David Prevor - to conduct a programme the way he wishes to. So I had my fifteen minutes of fame with him. Again it went out live but this time I responded to the questions and, I do hope, didn't go off on a limb the same way that I did at BBC Radio Leicester. Whether it sold any books, I don't know.

However, I do know that people were listening to the broadcast because so many callers rang in to speak to David after my stint, describing their problems with mental illnesses. David has told me that whenever he runs a programme that has mental illness as its topic, the switchboard will go into overdrive. Everyone has an issue, or knows someone with an issue. As one in four people suffer from some kind of emotional/mental disorder, then it's hardly surprising that once the subject's out there, they want to talk about it!

The following morning I made my way to the BBC at Western House, where I was being interviewed for BBC Radio Shropshire. Having managed to get past security and the two very jolly receptionists who appeared to be having the time of their lives, I was shown to a studio where I, alone, and with earphones and a red clown's nose for a mike, was put 'down the line' to Clare Ashford. This was indeed an interesting experience. She was late. She apologised after I'd waited in there for what seemed like ages and wondered whether I would ever get out again - more of that later. Eventually, and with great mirth, I heard her laugh. The traffic, the congestion and the weather... 'Can't be as bad as London,' I managed. 'Yes,' she replied, still laughing, 'I know. I used to live there...' I think it went well. I think she'd read the book - maybe knew the press release really well!

It's pretty much the same questions every time but I'm trying to make the answers pertinent as well as compelling to the listener. Clare and I spoke for about twenty minutes. She's a very easy interviewer. There's definitely a skill and a technique. I'm jealous.

I'm not sure when the programme will go out but she'll let me know. So I'll note that here - just in case anyone wishes to hear me. At the end of the broadcast and after having said many goodbyes, I tried to escape but the door appeared to be stuck. I tugged and tugged and the guy outside didn't see me and I had visions of being incarcerated in that tiny, soundproofed room, until my feeble cries would finally be answered. Then, as if by magic, the door opened and I tumbled out! Pathetic...

Tuesday evening and it's the Trisha Goddard Radio Show from Liverpool. She's delightful and knowledgable and describes what it was like for her when her schizophrenic sister behaved manically. She's obviously passionate about her work with the mentally ill and made the point that part of the proceeds from her programme are dedicated to Mind. We spoke for about half an hour. It all went by so quickly. The programme is broadcast this Sunday evening, so this time I should be able to listen to myself and see how it can all be improved.

Next week I'm speaking with Radio Mediterraneo, the largest English speaking radio station in, I believe, Spain, if not all of Europe. Can they buy the book there though?

The nice thing about radio is that once hooked, the listener will continue to listen to whatever programme is being broadcast, irrespective of subject matter. I think it's always been the same. I can't say that I've ever been an avid gardener or scientist but the amount of programmes that I continue to listen to in the car once I have arrived at my destination will not necessarily correspond to a hitherto deep interest in the topic! There's something about radio that essentially sends you to another stratosphere where your imagination, unneeded for television, works once more and you morph into one of 'the audience.'

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sodden English summers, SAD and NICE

I feel sun deprived, one day after arriving back from sunbleached Spain. I woke up this morning to hear torrential rain falling onto the garden. This gave way to the fine spray that soaks even the deepest foliage. I don't think that I can remember a 'summer' like this. How is it possible that there won't be an epidemic of SAD, when large numbers of newspapers will recount in great detail the exploits of English, Scots and Welsh throwing themselves off bridges or overdosing on prescription drugs because of an overwhelming depression that follows the old-fashioned 'typical' English summer?

I only say this because the Elephant in the Room is now beginning to make himself visible - only slightly, of course. You don't want to expose him too quickly. I've noted with a kind of ironic humour just how many plays this year made it to the boards at Edinburgh that dealt with some kind of mental affliction. Looks like quite a number. And how many new books are being published that offer up some kind of depression or addiction problems as the main subject? Bill Oddie is about to have his autobiography on the shelves and there's Ruby Wax and her one-woman show. So it's there and it's kinda not there... We'll try to talk about it but really don't want to and the discussion shows will skirt around it and I'll try not to do a Radio Leicester too often, when the so-called experts tell us that no one actually dies because of mental illness - well, not any more, of course...

Which leads us back to the English summer and downpours and grey evenings and getting wet walking the mutt and my hang-dog expression when I lead him home, envisaging drying him off and brushing him down - and this shouldn't be happening yet. It should be happening at the end of October when the leaves are carpeting the streets and there's something quite heartening about the shorter days and crisper mornings. But it's still only August and crisp freckled leaves are already making their presence on the Heath and I can see the blackberries - those that haven't turned to mush on the sodden bushes - aching to be picked.

Time goes too quickly. It was just Wimbledon and the hopes of long sunlit days and evenings having a drink on the terrace in the summer heat; now it's practically autumn and we're thinking of winter clothes and, no doubt, the Christmas decorations will show their faces in stores desperate for any sales in this media induced recession. So the families who are literally having to tighten their belts because food is so expensive and who will be unable to pay their gas and electricity bills or their mortgages will consider another year without sun, hoping that NICE will extend payment for anti-depressants and the whole shebang begins again but no one will notice the Elephant.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Mitch Winehouse, crazy Amy and new found celebrity

Does Mitch Winehouse need a crazy Amy in order to justify his new found celebrity? What would he be were she not to be so often photographed the worse for wear and apparently under the influence of drink and drugs? He'd not be asked to be the font of all knowledge relating to his now out-of-control but highly lucrative and influential daughter.

Where's Mitch's self-respect? He's certainly not the first celebrity parent who's forged a career from the success of their offspring. However, isn't there something here that speaks of some kind of desperation, where he seeks the limelight on the back of a huge talent, while, with macabre fascination the world watches the slow but sure demise of that very same talent?

Wouldn't a more concerned and loving parent try anything available to help their child at whatever the cost to them? But that doesn't appear to be happening. In fact it's the absolute reverse. The sicker Amy becomes, the more Mitch's star is in the ascendant.

Mitch's assertions that 'his' Amy is 'getting better', 'putting on weight' or 'getting help' don't appear to hold water. You only have to look at her. All the signs point to her suffering from mental health problems with the attendant and symbiotic addiction to drugs and alcohol.

In many other instances when artists have drunk and drugged themselves into oblivion, fingers have been pointed towards a manager or a svengali who insists that their artist perform, so long as he/she draws in the crowds at concerts or sells millions of records. But the case does not seem to be so in this instance.

How often has Amy shown up this summer and, when she does, has it been worthwhile for the fan to spend hard earned cash to hear her? Many concert-goers will agree that, more often than not, she has been wasted and unable to hold it together sufficiently to sustain even a reasonable performance. And as to recording, even Mark Ronson, the man who produced so much of her finest material, has indicated that he can't work with her while she is in her current, seemingly manic, state of mind.

So why isn't Amy in a hospital somewhere - possibly sectioned for her own good and with someone independent caring for her, so that the inevitable packet of draw or the bottle of methodone isn't smuggled in to her? Perhaps if Mitch stopped to consider that his fame will be worthless if Amy disintegrates much further and perhaps if he started to act more like a parent, then maybe, just maybe, his daughter would better be able to take the much wanted first step to recovery.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

In Spain where it's supposed to shine...

We're here to escape cold, grey, cloudy,depressing London. Only today it was cold, grey and cloudy Spain. It follows me. I seem to spend my life looking up at the sky and hope that this cloud is the last in the seemingly endless succession of cold, grey clouds that blot out the sun. I suffer SAD in the summer. I need the warmth and sunlight and blue skies and I live in a climate where you have to search out heat and not the heat from electric fires or the hugely expensive boiler system.

Tomorrow is supposed to be better. I'll just have to check out the latest news and deal with the blog and plans of being 'the' talking head of talking heads about Bipolar disorder and young people and young people and drugs. Which is prescient really, especially since there were many pieces in the news yesterday evaluating how much of a rise there is in the incidence of drug induced mental illness. I know it's summer and there was a dearth of 'news' - until today that is and the news is that the Russians now have Poland in their sights when they want to drop their bombs. But I still have to argue that mental illness and drug addiction go hand in hand. So, of course, it's really not 'news' at all.

I've written the piece that I shall circulate and hope that someone wants to pick me up on it. It's a taster really but I know that there's plenty of life in the subject and, god knows, there really has to be a way of informing the public so that they really begin to understand that the substances their kids are ingesting are not nice in any way, shape or form.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Update on Zach and the hopeful demise of the green parasites

I was asked how Zach is doing now and especially since I had originally designed this blog because of having written the book, then I should really write something new about him!

So he's fine at the moment. That's not to say that he's out there in a suit and tie trying to get a job in the City. That's not how it works. He's writing music and lyrics and has got together with some other guys and he's in a band, once more. There's someone interested in them and let's just leave it at that. He's not homeless or on the streets or using anything prolifically - from what I know. We have intelligent conversations and still disagree from the same political viewpoints but what's new in that? It's pretty normal.

Zach's still not read the book. I doubt that he reads this blog. Conversely he wants the book to do well and understands my frustrations vis a vis its lack of presence and the vagaries of publicity. I think he'd like to see me on 'Richard and Judy'! It's an interesting conumdrum.

Tomorrow we are off to, hopefully, sunny Spain for a week. Can the weather here get any worse? Biblical rain and wind yesterday and heat in the form of central heating last night. In August? Yes. How depressing. How awful it's going to be for those folk who can't go off to sunnier climes and have to stick it out here with the rubbish weather and the credit crunch and the foretaste of 'recession' biting at their heels. Maybe all the traffic attendants will drown in a sea of green garments. That will make us all a bit happier...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Stuff happens in the August doldrums - August 1914?

Stuff happens. 1914 and a war broke out and all the generals thought it would be over by Christmas. Others used the excuse to try out new tanks. Formations dating back to the Crimean War that were then tried and tested were utilised by these same generals to create a mass genocide of young men in trenches. Stuff happens in 2008 too. Only this time its pipelines and oil and middle aged men in suits in offices throughout the 'free' world worrying about their pensions. And all this is set against the 2008 Olympics. What a sad excuse for humanity. Competitors vying against one another to win medals and young men and old women and children are being killed and for what? Why do it now? Is the world asleep? Well, probably, if you consider the silence from the brilliant humanists at the UN downwards. Supine, supine... Let's not go there.

Other stuff happens too in my small cosmos. A feature here, a piece on the radio there and tomorrow participating in a documentary. A first time for me to be filmed. What do I wear? Is it important? In the short term, obviously it is. Set against another unheeded war, then no. It's not important. But let's not be disengenuous here. I care about what I look like and because people are being murdered for no reason other than one man's obsession with his place in the pantheon of murdering despotic leaders, I realise that I can't do anything about it. So I'll primp myself and have my hair done and worry about whether I wear white or if black is going to be slimming enough.

All this happened against the backdrop of the Holocaust too, when films in colour were shot in Warsaw. These films are now being shown again and they bring home the reality that in colour people existed. Being part of a documentary shot in black and white, one is distanced from the concept that those shown actually lived and breathed and did the same things as us. Young women worried about their hair, their clothes, their jobs and their boyfriends. No one being filmed smiling and chatting had a clue that they were about to be made a party to possibly the worst atrocity that they could ever envisage. So I'll smile to the camera and the athletes and acrobats and swimmers and shooters will win medals and stand on podiums and listen to their national anthems with pride and an army will march across a burnt landscape and kill with impunity and no one will care.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Old habits are nothing new

For some reason, there's the received wisdom that it's 'news' that middle-class parents use drugs - once they'd put the kids to bed. Journalists write this? Where have they been hiding these last years? Or is it the case that this really isn't new 'news' but, with the August doldrums, newspapers have to find something 'new' to rehash? (Do excuse the pun...)

I wrote in the book that 'Sam' used to have the occasional puff, when the kids were small. But it was all pretty harmless then - almost twenty-five years ago. He stopped when his overriding concern was for his children and his reputation. However, it was nothing like the stuff out there now: the skunk and the ketamine and the ecstasy. A small joint of canabis resin, and all that resulted was a fit of the giggles and an attack of the chocolate munchies.

I was at a party on Friday night and, talking with no doubt soon-to-be parents, one of the guys told me, 'Well, yeah. Everybody takes something or other...' So, of course, nothing has changed. Then why is it news?

What has changed are the drugs themselves. I must admit that I'd considered that this generation's so-called middle-classes would know that there's nothing clever in using drugs. They do terrible things to their brains. Don't they know this? Isn't there enough out there to educate them fully that even one toke of skunk can render someone paranoid? That if there's a predisposition to mental illness, ecstasy and ketamine aren't exactly bedmates?

So why is it acceptable that drugs should be deemed 'cool' to use? Is it because our cultural icons are all using abundently but consequently not vilified for same? Surely an in depth examination of the results of their abuse is timely - especially since it will show what extent their habits will have had on their minds. There's nothing new in that.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Is this Batman the most insane ever?

I saw 'The Dark Knight' today and wondered how anyone with a fragile state of mind could ever possibly recover from a paranoid comedown that the making of this movie could induce. It is an all-encompassing, full-frontal attack on the nervous system and very painful to watch. Its nihilistic violence is frameworked by a screenplay that lays bare the dichotomy between good and bad and, consequently, no one comes out squeaky clean. But it's the insanity that's contagious.

Heath Ledger must no doubt have been a fragile, vulnerable human being. It's hardly surprising that he was left in a state whereby each and every day must have been tortuous to contemplate and the only recourse to oblivion was a drug induced haze. His portrayal of The Joker demonstrated what could only have been Ledger's internal demons being brought to the fore and then, having done all that for the camera, he was left to contemplate scripts where he would have been employed as the foil for a giddy Cameron Diaz or ditzy Sienna Miller.

You can't play around with the mad. You can't utilise their creative talent and then discard them once they've fulfilled what a controlling director has in his view finder. There's more than a tragic irony that the psychotic and amoral Joker uses the paranoid schizophrenics to carry out his orders. What does it say about writers, directors and producers that they write parts for people who normally would be considered terminally ill members of society? Would they be so glib with people suffering Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's?

Brilliant to watch for its visual impact, it was hugely uncomfortable to note to what extent Ledger was immersed in his character. You have to hope that it didn't become him; that he didn't fear that he would eventually somehow resemble what he had been paid to portray. But it's hard to believe that it didn't - and that's why he succumbed to such an early and unneccessary death.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Going overboard on BBC Radio Leicester to get things straight!

Yesterday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester. I thought that I would have a couple of minutes with a BBC journalist beforehand but no, I was led straight into the interview with the very nice Tony Wadsworth.

Tony had done his homework - or someone had done it for him. He began the interview by asking his audience rhetorically how they would feel if their son faced what ours had done and then I was introduced and it was straight into me. Fortunately he asked the right questions. I'm useless, on the whole, on streams of consciousness. I much prefer the 'in conversation' bit. However, Radio Leicester had also brought in a local psychiatrist to 'balance' the piece.

'It's classic Bipolar disorder,' he stated, 'no one dies of Bipolar disorder these days. Not like they used to. We have new medications, so no one dies...' Well, red rag to a bull. Poor Tony Wadsworth.

'So how is Zach now?' he asked me, 'I understand that he's well, now that he takes his medication...' 'Actually no,' I countered. 'He's well at the moment but he doesn't take medication. He's still in denial...' A gasp from Tony. 'Hasn't he learned then?'he asked in horror. I laughed. 'No, he's got this hole where the consequences of his actions don't appear to reach his thought processes...' (or something like that). 'And,' I continued, because Tony didn't, 'I have to disagree with your psychiatrist. People DO continue to die from Bipolar disorder. Zach nearly did. Last year. We had to go and bring him back from Thailand where he had been put into a cage. And we brought him back here and the NHS in their wisdom decided that he didn't fit their "criteria", so they wouldn't section him. And he nearly died...'

So Tony let me speak. He didn't stop me. I just ranted on (well, in retrospect it feels like a rant) and he didn't interject and maybe he should've. I don't know. It was the first time that I had been on the radio and I guess I don't know the protocol of interviews.

He thanked me at the end of the piece. I thanked him for having me on the show. I'd mentioned the book (not by name) twice; Razorlight and Johnny Borrell were mentioned too (not, it has to be said by me in the first instance); the band and 'Tosh' (although not by name). 'You have to read the book', I said twice! And I even put in the link to my blog... Was I pushy? I think that maybe I was just taking advantage of the opportunity. That's what I tell myself.

Will I be on Radio Leicester's Play It Again? I wonder...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Katie Price, getting wasted and The Sunday Telegraph

In today's Sunday Telegraph, Jenny McCartney writes that young people, besotted with celebrity, now regard the likes of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty as icons because of their self-destructive inclinations. 'It is the prolonged pageant of self-destruction that draws the crowds,' the writes. She posits the view that the younger generation are not put off by the way these guys look. '...ugly, scary self-destruction is precisely the point at which the fans' admiration escalates.'

Not at all. Young people are not so shallow as all that. They peer with horror at La Winehouse. They look at her skin, her filthy nails, her bloodied feet and her blank visage with the curiosity of a voyeur watching with baited breath the demise of a stricken liner flailing tormentedly in a hurricane. They've no interest in 'using' until they look like that. They're fascinated that this is what drugs can do to a talent. They certainly don't want to emulate her.

Amy Winehouse seeks out and uses drugs because of her mental health problems, not because she loves to have scabies, live in squalor or wishes to end up sleeping in a pile outside her favourite pub. I know from 'Zach's' experiences, that suffering from Bipolar disorder means that the continuing symptoms of the condition presage an urge to 'cure' them in any way possible. Drugs and alcohol are medications, easily obtained and without prescription that do, to some extent, alleviate the horrors that the illness forces sufferers to experience on a day to day, night by night basis.

Tattoos and piercings are not sought out for the pain that they inflict. They are sought out so that they inform who the wearer is and what he or she stands for. Drugs are not sought out to prove that the user is 'an angst ridden teen'. What a shallow concept! If only it were that simple... You've got it wrong Jenny. If you read 'Don't Wait for Me', you'll realise that getting wasted/drugs/mental illness go hand in hand and no one overdoses on heroin to prove their notoriety.

As an addendum to a previous post: I see that Katie Price is now the number one bestseller in 'original fiction'. Well, that's a nice oxymoron...!

Friday, 1 August 2008

No post-book-tour despair for novice authors

An article in The Atlantic Online by a writer called Ann Patchett caught my eye. She writes about how it was for her when, as a new author, she was required to publicise her book. She writes about her $3,000 budget and how she covered 25 cities, going from one hotel to another, one bookstore to another in order make her book well known to the public. She became her own intrepid saleswoman. 'This was my book' she writes, '...the rock-solid embodiment of all my dreams. I wanted to do anything to help it make its way in the world.'

Well, it would appear that writers in this country, unless, of course, they are nickel-plated celebrities, do not 'do' book-tours. Maybe Rose Tremain does, or Paul Theroux. There's no budget for anything to do with actually promoting the book. The public are to learn by osmosis that there's a new book out there that's not actually by Colleen or Katie or Ian.

Ann Patchett suffered from 'post-book-tour-despair'. I suffered from 'post-book-launch-despair' when I found out that notwithstanding having sold out of books that first night, the bookstore wasn't encouraged to order in more or even to display the book so that the eyes of the public would fall upon the cover and want to read my words.

I, too, want to do anything to help it make its way in the world but I'm stymied. It's not as though it hasn't been distributed. I just think it's languishing in storerooms where staff too complacent can't be bothered to put it out on shelves or even bother to spend the time to open it and read the first few words.

It's a friendly paperback. It's not Flaubert but the sentences are strung together in what have been described as 'compelling'. I received a letter this week from an eminent psychiatrist who congratulated me in having managed to 'portray pain in beautiful, even poetic words.' I wish that I could disseminate this - even by osmosis.

I've turned into this publicity junkie, looking for angles, asking everyone I know for help but I really think that I would've relished the chance to have had a go at the book tour. Ann Patchett makes the point that it's a goodwill gesture in more ways than one. Even if there's hardly anyone there to meet you, at least you can have a chat with the girl at the check out or the store manager and they, having liked you, would bother themselves to read the book and then, having done so and liking it, would wish to 'hand-sell it to people for months or even years to come.' Would that have been the case here though? I don't know. They liked me well enough at the bookstore where I held my launch and made the point that they would have me back at any time. But have they pushed the book? No, I don't even think that anyone even bothered to pick it up and read it. It's just not their style.