Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Ross, Brand and the nation's reaction

I drove by Jonathan Ross's place yesterday, via a throng of reporters and tv vans. I presume that he had gone to ground somewhere. Maybe a hole underneath one of the many trees in his garden would be suitable. I have to say that I don't understand him. I thought that he was overpaid (highly) and over-exposed (mainly) but he made me laugh sometimes because he is quick witted. Who I simply don't get at all is Russell Brand. I've not 'got' him.

Be good if someone over the age of thirteen could actually explain why the BBC had to feel that they should employ Brand. Ok, so he's an ex-heroin addict (as if one can be an 'ex' heroin addict. You're like an alcoholic. Once addicted, always addicted), and ex-con and ex-whatever. I think that he has an ex-brain. He certainly has had any common sense, loyalty and common decency excised.

Why would a man consider it amusing to boast on air that he had ****ed the granddaughter of a well respected and generally liked 80 year-old grandfather? Why was this remotely funny? What was it that these two highly remunerated 'celebrities' had been sniffing/snorting/drinking while this 'prank' was taking place? Do they really believe that they should be able to get away with everything that they do - whatever it is that their immature, irresponsible and puerile 'brains' tell them?

It is generally the case, I believe, that BBC radio programmes broadcasts are vetted apart from those aimed at the 'younger' market. Is everything now acceptable, whatever it is? Whether it's the foulest language, sexual innuendo or pornographic imagery?

What kind of moral vacuum do the 'stars' of the BBC now reside? I wonder whether Jonathan Ross's daughter will beg her father to prosecute someone were they to broadcast their having had sex with her in the same unspeakable manner. What does Mrs. Ross say about this? Is she proud of her husband? And Brand? Still giggling like the silly adolescent he is. What a shambles.

Friday, 24 October 2008

'Mum, Heroin and Me' and me...

I watched 'Mum, Heroin and Me' this morning. I'd recorded it so that I could watch it without the ads that detract so much from anything that has any substance. Sorry for the pun. I thought that it gave a pretty good demonstration on how love can kill. Do you think that this is too severe an assessment of Hannah's mother and her, at any cost, desire to be a part of her daughter's life?

The point her mother made at so many times during the documentary was that Hannah hadn't fallen far enough, so that there was nothing that would make her stop her heroin addiction. In this case mum would help her whenever she could. Ok. I know that I'm making a judgement here and that I, of all people, have no right to do so. Was I any different to her? I certainly empathised with her frustration, irritation, anger and pure exhaustion at having someone in your life who was so egocentric and self-destructive that nothing was going to stand in their way, so long as they had their next hit. Except that, as far as I know, 'Zach' never actually used needles. One thing he hasn't got is a 'needle fixation.' His little fixation is the whole other paraphenalia - the papers, the rolling and the smoking.

hat I couldn't get my head around was the fact that Hannah's mum literally enabled her daughter to be a heroin addict, even so far as giving her the money and driving her to her dealer so that she could take her to her hair appointment! What was more important here? The pretty daughter or the girl who is fixated on the next needle print in arms, legs and feet? She's already spent £10,000 in one year on gear, I guess that another £10 worth won't make much of a difference.

Almost until the end, amidst my empathetic anger and irritation with Hannah, I believed that there was almost something here that would be of use to kids watching the programme. 'Don't use, kids. You may end up like Hannah...' But then the programme makers had to give us a happy ending. Notwithstanding that throughout the documentary Hannah had shown absolutely no itention of getting off heroin, her apathy and self-indulgance paramount, she's now gone off to South Africa to rehab for five months! Oh, yes. She did say at one time that she wanted to go away to get clean. Where was it? Somewhere like Arizona or South Africa but each other time that she'd actually made the pretence of going into rehab here, she'd lasted no time at all because she 'wasn't ready'

So when did this epiphany occur? The viewer wasn't prepared for this. It was added almost as an addendum at the very end of the programme. What was the catharsis? Did Hannah spend any real time looking after herself on the streets? Was she jailed or beaten senseless? Did she 'come to her senses' and realise that life wasn't worth living like this? At no time were we, the viewers, made aware that she had even considered that she had finally come to the conclusion that she wanted more from life than squalor or the next hit.

Well, I look forward to the next instalment. I wonder how soon Hannah will be back, looking for Rickie (who disappeared like a bad smell) and after the needles, the spoons and the silver foil. She's already ruined her parents' marriage, driven her mother to a mental breakdown and, no doubt, demonstrates very little emotional empathy for having destroyed her family. I'd be interested in what the programme makers have to say if she does indeed manage to remain in rehab and continue along the path to fulfillment. I'm afraid to say though, that from having watched the documentary, there's little hope in that. Such a pity.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Worksop, World Mental Health Day and lesson number one

Worksop, somewhere in the middle of England, declared that 'World Mental Health Day' was a 'great success.' Not wishing to belittle Worksop, I'm glad that the inhabitants of that small town believed the spin. However, I don't believe that such an emotive reaction was embraced by the rest of the population of the world.

When I went in to speak with my GCSE class the very day of WMHD, I was informed by 'M' that "The class are pretty restless today. It's Friday... You know, start of the weekend and all..." After they had sat themselves down and put their mobiles and i-Pods away, I prefaced my talk with a question: "Did you guys know that today is World Mental Health Day.?" Blank faces. Disbelieving stares. Boredom. "Effective, isn't it?" I laughed. They settled down a bit. "I've come in," I explained to them, "to speak to you today about drugs and mental illness..." A couple of sly glances between the girls, 'Who's this old biddy come in to talk to us about drugs?' but when I actually began to speak and then to read from the book, you could've heard a pin drop.

I think that I probably spoke for about twenty-five minutes and then we had a question and answer session. The kids were interested. There were some very considered questions. They had obviously been listening. I had told them that I wasn't going to lecture them about drugs. I also said that there was no point in my telling them not to 'use' in any shape or form. I'm too late for that. I simply wanted to impress on maybe one of them - there were about twenty odd in the room - that the 'gateway' drugs lead to a far more dangerous scenario. The one where, at some stage, one in four of them will have a mental health problem and that those problems may well be as a direct result of their drug taking. I'm sure that there will be plenty of health 'professionals' who will disagree with me here, but I stand by that statistic.

So, by the end my hour and at the end of the questioning, I think that maybe I had made them aware of the correlation between drugs and mental illness and the axiomatic increase of patients on psychiatric wards but I doubt whether they will be interested in October 10th, year on year. Why? What's that? World Mental Health Day. Of course!

Friday, 17 October 2008

The lithium cosh of the deadly psychiatrist

I may have mentioned before that I have recently signed on to a Google group. It's an array of people who suffer from Bipolar disorder. I guess that I'm some kind of reluctant voyeur as I don't personally have the condition but know someone who has. Reading their extraordinary stories make me shiver. The men and women who subscribe to the group mostly appear to live in the USA but the resemblance to what happens here and elsewhere in the world is tangible. How they manage to survive is beyond me. What I simply don't understand is the medication culture.

Is there any other illness where doctors regularly play around with the dosages of various toxic medications in such an arbitrary and irresponsible manner? I read of the case of one woman who was prescribed such an array of anti-psychotics that she was bedridden for three years. The amount of pills, tablets, you name it, were given out in such enormous quantities that it is surprising that she ever managed to move her head from a pillow. This being the case, the psychiatrist refused - yes, refused - to reduce the dosage. Surely this is far and beyond what constitutes 'care'?

I do believe that medication, when it works properly, is the only way to manage Bipolar disorder. I don't believe in talking therapies or CBT or acupuncture or omega-3 or neurolinguistic if they are not used in tandem with medications that work. However, for a doctor to prescribe any kind of medicine in the quantities that they do in ever increasing cases, is criminal. I remember the time that 'Zach' was shackled to the rusty bed in Athens and when I demanded why, the answer was 'because we've given him so much medication, he might collapse if he gets out of bed...! My exclaimation point. The other instance was Ecuador. He couldn't even stand up to go to the bathroom.

So why is it that mental health patients are given the chemical cosh? Lazy doctors, arrogant psychiatrists, reluctant health authorities? It's a disgrace and one that, in all likelihood, is liable to never change - wherever you are.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Sunday Telegraph, Stella magazine and The Dark Side of the Son

The following article appeared in The Sunday Telegraph Stella magazine at the end of June. I can now publish it again here. Thought that those of you who follow the blog may be interested in seeing it.

'The Dark Side of the Son'

"The first time I noticed that there was something different with Zach was when my husband, Sam, and I returned from India. The charming teenage boy we had left on the front porch, the dog lead grasped in one palm, the other sweaty hand patting me on my back telling me 'not to worry' and to 'have the best time', was now in the midst of a protracted argument with the man in the video shop.

"I looked around me, puzzled, noting with astonishment the faces of the other customers. Was I the mother of this skinny 18-year old who spewed venom when the man demanded that Zach hand over more late fees than Zach felt was his due? I brusquely shoved my son out of the way, slammed a £20 note down on the counter and marched him out of the shop.

"This was the first, but certainly not the last time that I wished the ground would gobble me up. I have lost count of the occasions when, over the past 11 years, Zach has put me in a position where his manic moods have led to the overwhelming desire to be anywhere but within his orbit. His form of bipolar disorder, with its attendant drug abuse, shows us no mercy. No one in the family has been unaffected, but I'm the one at whom the most poisonous behaviour is directed. From being a happy and bright-eyed teen, Zach was transformed unrecognisably by the illness. Between the highs and lows he would resurface and we would attempt to rebuild our relationship.

"One summer, when I was compelled at short notice to travel to Athens and bring him back home - out of the fetid hospital where he had been shackled by the ankle to a rusting metal bed - he leaped around the airport, darting from one passenger to the next, demanding Coca-Cola, sandwiches and cigarettes. I scuttled after him, calling him back as if he were a rebellious toddler. The accompanying psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse were themselves caught up in this insanity, with no recourse but to batten him down and administer more medication. Back in London and sectioned under the Mental Health Act, Zach retaliated by dying his hair blue and styling it into a mohican, the viscous dye running in rivulets around his face and shoulders.

"The war of attrition between us only abates when he returns to normality - a precurser to the period before he takes another journey, when, inevitably, police or mental-health experts are called in to restrain and incarcerate him. Then the wild goose-chase repeats itself and I'm off on a mission to save him and repatriate him to London's crisis teams and medications, and away from the crack, heroin or ketamine hits.

"For four years we endured the onslaught to our senses. My husband avoided confrontation by immersing himself in his work, but our daughter, Beth, idolised her big brother, and the manner of his breakdowns terrified her. Their relationship suffered - especially when we finally made the heart-rending decision to throw him out.

"My tears, my despair, my enduring love for my son were irrelevant. He had to go. The never-ending nights accompanied by crashing doors, incessant shouting, drug binges and a pathalogical refusal to deal with his issues almost destroyed us. For some weeks he had lived on the streets or in squalid bedsits until, racked with remorse, we bought him a flat - only for him to destroy it. So we threw him out again and now he lives nearby, benefit-aided, turning up for frequent visits, long-haired, bearded and hungry.

"Zach demonstrates no wish for our patronage other than for the financial opportunities it offers him. He refutes his diagnosis. He refuses medication. His illness seems linked to the seasons. He gets sick in the spring and autumn. Inevitably, I am drawn in to his mood and the hostilities recommence.

"From time to time clarity resurfaces. Zach tells me that he cares about his future. He recently said he's sick of the drugs spiral and, of course, I can only support him in his endeavours, hopeful for the day that he turns up, bright-eyed and smiling: 'I'm on the meds!' "

Right click on the article to see it in full.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Radio 4 Woman's Hour and World Mental Health Day

I must be living on another planet. For some reason I didn't know that tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. Indeed today, in the USA, it's Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. Amazing, two specific days dedicated to our mental health. Howcome therefore that no one knows about it?

Some time ago I was told that BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour wanted me to be a guest. Be an 'expert'. They were going to run, I was told, a series of programmes about mental illness. Well they did - this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday to be precise. On Tuesday there was, apparently, a programme dedicated to mental health issues and on Wednesday, a phone-in. The problem was that I wasn't informed about it, so didn't take part. A really wasted opportunity. I could at least have phoned in but I didn't know about the broadcast. I guess that I shouldn't be surprised. There's competition in this field too.

Tomorrow I'm doing my first talk to my GCSE group. I think that I'll bring up the fact that it's World Mental Health Day. I wonder how they'll feel about that? I suppose that my actually being at their school and speaking about Bipolar disorder and the effect that the condition has on families will be apposite. I just wonder what else is happening around the country. Increased funding for new psychiatric wards? Unlikely in this financial climate. A rethink as to what 'care in the community' should really entail? Again unlikely. Who wants to suggest that the job description doesn't fit what is actually a lie.

I suppose that someone once had the bright idea - sometime in 1992 I believe - that a day be dedicated to enlightening the public about mental illness. Doesn't look like it has succeeded too well, does it? So Radio 4 had the usual suspects in the studio - Ruby Wax et al - but it doesn't appear that there was too much depth to the discussion. Such a wide topic, it would take a week's worth of programmes to simply touch upon each symptom but that shouldn't stymie further broadcasts and they shouldn't simply take place during the week when the world is meant to be aware of madness.

Monday, 6 October 2008

'Brideshead Revisited', depression induced alcoholism and Ben Whishaw

We went to see 'Brideshead Revisited' on Saturday. Well, actually, 'Bridshead Revisited', according to the sign outside of the Screen on Baker Street. You'd think that they could find someone who could spell!

We're 'Bridshead virgins', not having seen the 1981 version on tv here or having read the book. But I liked the film. Hated the revolting music. Not one scene was safe from the saccharine infested 'score' and thought the guy playing Charles Ryder a wee bit wet. But loved Ben Whishaw. I've thought highly of him since the first time that I saw him in 'Hamlet' on the stage in London. He was a revelation - probably because everything that he portrayed reminded us of 'Zach'. It was a brilliant depiction of a manic young man.

Obviously, not having read Evelyn Waugh's novel, I don't know why Sebastian Flyte was an alcoholic. Was it simply because he loathed and hated the all-encompassing religion that was imposed on him? Or was it because he hated himself for his homosexuality? Or the more Freudian questions: love of mother or desire for sister? I don't know. In any event, Whishaw once again gave a revealing performance of the utterly depressed, existential young man, whose contempt for life created within him a negation of joy, to the extent that he wished to blot it out by drowning himself in wine, wine and more wine. It certainly made me long for a glass though, so guess that he didn't make it as unattractive a proposition as Amy W. does drugs.

Back to drugs: I'm preparing for my first 'talk' on Friday. Thirty sixteen and seventeen year olds. 'Don't do drugs' is the thrust, although of course I can't actually say that. How do I leave them with one message out of the whole? Difficult to know where to start. Before and after photos? A chapter or two from the book? The knowledge that one in four of them will at some stage of their lives develop a mental health problem - and that invariably these days as a result of some kind of 'recreational' drug? Whoever thought of that nomenclature? I'll ask them to look around at one another and ask themselves who it will be? Difficult at that age when the idea of 'actions resulting in consquences' is anathema to them.

So nothing really changes over the years. Poor Sebastian Flyte probably drunk himself to death because of his deep and overriding depression and a quarter of the population will develop if not depression, then some other mental illness, and maybe a quarter of those will self-medicate with drugs of some kind and I'm supposed to use my experience as a guide why it's not a particularly good thing so to do. More like 'Hampstead Revisited...'

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Patrick Cockburn, schizophrenia and the Daily Mail's intransigence

Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry were interviewed in The Independent this week. The article was reprinted in The Daily Mail. Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Patrick believed that it was because he had used cannabis. Patrick was/is a well known correspondent. It's pretty sad and the story, obviously, is not new. I added my bit to the feedback on the Mail's site. I wrote that I had written a book about this very subject and that more people needed to know about mental health problems, Bipolar disorder and substance abuse. I also wrote that I'll be going into schools and speaking with mental health groups about it.

Did they print my response? Well, of course not! They printed the writings of those who believed that it was Patrick's fault that Henry developed the illness. "If Dad wasn't there, then it's not surprising..." and the others who believed that there's no correlation between taking drugs and mental illness. Oh, oh... And others who felt that he deserved his fate because he was "so weak" that he "used"...

Among the responses, however, were gems from social workers and psychiatric nurses and family members and sufferers who had first hand experience of the fall-out of the now ubiquitous drugs abuse here. But they didn't print my few sentences because, presumably, I didn't fit their criteria. I was somehow publicising myself!

One of the responses read thus:

"Please keep on publishing articles like this to give others an understanding of mental illness and the strain and heartache it places on the families involved. Patrick is so right in what he says about peoples attitudes to mental illness."

You see, I do keep on trying to do just that but it seems to be flogging the old dead horse - unless you're well known to some degree, then the newspapers will simply not print it! It's so frustrating - what do you have to DO!

Then I read that Gerri Halliwell, the famous 'writer' of children's books, is the number one best-seller. She has sold a staggering 250,000 copies of her latest 'ouevre.' Maybe it's simply a reflection of our society as a whole: give them only the names of those they know where marketing is king because otherwise you won't sell anything. Have you seen how many books are being published this week alone? 800 new titles on Thursday. How on earth can anyone do anything with that?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Jools Oliver's intimate love-life but the dismissal of mental illness

Isn't it the case sometimes that too much information is information overload? Do we really know how Jools Oliver (the wife of the omnipresent 'cook' Jamie) followed her husband around the country so that she could get pregnant? I mean, sometimes isn't it rather becoming tasteless that these 'celebrities' have to bare all in order for their publicity? Isn't it enough that we know that she's pregnant without having to be given the exact dates and times that they performed the act?

There's not too much detail here but I thought that I should explain that I've had problems with my PC. It died on me. No emails. No blog. No going online to see how the book was doing. Don't ask about that! Appalling predicament. Pathetic really. How did we manage beforehand? Of course, there was no Amazon then. But even so. I think it's been infected by some kind of virus and I'll have to get it fixed but until then... I'll try my best and hope that nothing so dramatic happens.

I've recently joined a group blog. A Bipolar group. I thought that it had been pretty bad for me. Reading their stories and their questions, I think that I had it easy. At least they have each other, something that I didn't have in the past when 'Zach' was in extremis. You have to wonder how they manage each day. It's a mostly North American group but what I find is quite how similar the situations are - especially the problems that many of the sufferers have with their parents and their peers and their employers. The same denial of the illness, the same lack of care from the people who should be caring for them. They too complain about how Bipolar disorder, indeed any mental illness is ignored. For them the detail is absolutely necessary. But they still don't get the recognition that they truely deserve.

While we are continually bombarded with the intimate details of Jools Oliver's attempts at pregnancy or Fern's shrinking waistline (does anybody really care?) or Lindsay Lohan's lesbian lovelife, no one is informed in any realistic and compassionate detail about the one in four of us who suffers from mental illness. Will this ever change?