Saturday, 4 April 2015


Let's talk about 'pro ana', shall we?

'Ana', for the uninitiated, is the personification of my good (bad) friend, and hopefully not yours - Ms anorexia herself. Sites named in her honour, touting hints and tips for how to starve oneself to death, were rife at one time, until someone quite rightly decided that they'd be culled, along with their sister, 'Pro-mia' (bulimia) sites. 

After the cull, nothing changed. Ana sites just added in transparent disclaimers:

"This is a site dedicated to the support or recovery of those suffering from eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorders. Please be sensitive to this fact when creating an account and contributing to the board."

This seems a little out of place at the top of a forum which in its description on Google calls itself 'the leading pro-ana forum and community to discuss diets, thinspiration, results and find pro ana support groups'. We'll move on to 'thinspiration' later. Be prepared for that, don't sit down with a nice meal in front of you and save that bit to read, will you.

As a 30-something woman, I'd guess the majority of the writers and posters on these sites to be early teens, which makes them even more scary, but the content also raises some interesting considerations. There is usually one board for the oldies, but the language is very different as you might expect. We know how dangerous it is, but we do it anyway. It seems hopeless. I use these forums when I feel hungry. People have visible 'tickers' showing their weight loss, many of them for BMI (body mass index) with a goal of 16. We're grown ups, yet we want our bodies to shrink to the size of children. 

The fact that most of the users are children only adds to the mystery - I think a lot of the problem comes from the medical professionals dealing with eating disorders. At what point does someone become anorexic? How can a body mass index (BMI) be an accurate measure of illness? Weight is deceiving after all. If you find reading about weight triggering, please don't continue reading - the very last thing I want is for something I've written to add to another's misery. That's definitely not the point of this blog. The competitive element of these forums is what bothers me the most - it draws me in and makes me take part to be the thinnest. You'd be surprised how it IS about being thin. Not just control, as we're told so often in the media. 

Psychiatry often relies on several shaky pointers to diagnose anorexia and other EDs or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified - catchy name huh!), all of which I deem to be completely unreliable. Body mass index - my consultant gets out his little cardboard wheel of weight vs height, and as long as I stay above a certain number that's outside the normal range but not considered 'critical' I'm fine to just go back out into the world. If I don't, I get shut into a big house full of other people who may or may not have similarly chosen to lose a lot of weight. So why am I the odd one out again? I feel like an ana-fraud. This system also relies on me being honest about my weight - thus far nobody's made me stand on the scales. 

To be technical, I don't have 'an eating disorder', I have 'disordered eating'. Apparently I'm standing at the crossroads, trying to decide whether to have an ED and relinquish all the DBT skills I've learned by choosing that path - because 'DBT doesn't work for anorexia'. Sucks for me then that I can't see where I vote on this at all. We're told that no mental illness is a choice, aren't we? But I know I'm definitely not the only one who restricts what they eat to be thin. I like feeling my hip bones. I like wearing size 6 clothes and being able to slot myself into small spaces. I can't let go of my illness easily.

The first time ana reared her ugly thin head, I was still at school. Cue arguments over the dinner table and smashed plates as my mother despaired at my refusal to sit down and eat with the family. The second time I was 21 and in the midst of the break up from hell. I was taken to the Priory by my mother after being asked not to keep coming to the local gym, because they were worried about how thin I was and how much exercise I was doing. After a successful ana diagnosis (does that label stick for life, or do you need to get a new one each time you relapse?) I decided I didn't want to put on the required stone to meet the goal they'd set for me, and went to university instead. Probably a big mistake, but what's done is done.

So, do I think the 'pro-ana' sites serve a purpose? Well, yes they do if you want to look at 'thinspiration' - it's like porn for people with anorexia. Images of very thin people, and I mean VERY thin, skeletons with skin. It's how we get off. But there're also plenty of fellow crazies with big eyes who can validate your craziness and get you through when things get really dark. People you can be completely honest with. They know it, they live it too. 

Right now I'm hanging by a thread. I'm not standing at any crossroads. This is just happening to me, and then one day it'll stop. It always does.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Anger management

In recent weeks I’ve seen a lot of so-called awareness pages/groups on social media posting factually incorrect articles with no scientific basis about the horrific traits of people with borderline personality disorder (my diagnosis). I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this not only unhelpful, but actually pretty upsetting. It’s definitely not a good way to raise awareness, unless the aim is to warn people about how awful people who have BPD are. 

This sort of ‘BPD bashing’ tends to be kept alive by people who’ve been in a relationship with someone who has BPD, and have pinned all the blame for the breakdown of their relationship on their ex-partner’s mental illness. This is convenient for them I suppose, but it doesn’t absolve them of blame and it probably doesn’t make them feel any better either. I’m the child of a parent with this much misunderstood disorder (although it went undiagnosed), and it’s a safe bet that I inherited it, but what’s the point in ruminating on that? It is what it is – so deal with the here and now. After all the present is all we have. 

Let me blind you with a bit of science:

Emotions are key to our ability to reason, plan and make decisions and they’re controlled by the emotional nervous system in the brain, which also contributes to memory formation and a whole lot of other magical intangible things. Not bad for a lump of soggy tissue and electrical activity. You keep your neural pathways to yourself. In people with BPD, physical differences in the part of the brain that would normally regulate emotion remain inactive when the person is exposed to something very emotionally provoking. This means that the reaction is likely to be very extreme in BPD sufferers. We know this because we can see it using FMRI scanning. My brain is broken.

Biosocial theory says that this double whammy of biological dysfunction in emotional regulation (i.e. not having the skills to recognise and deal with emotions in the usual way), plus an invalidating environment (where feelings are denied or made out to be ‘wrong’) results in pervasive emotional dysregulation. It’s not difficult to see how things might get messy. Assigning blame to someone with BPD for their inability to navigate something as emotionally complex as a romantic relationship is akin to chastising someone who has epilepsy for having a seizure. It’s about time this ‘neurodiversity’ was accepted – some brains work differently; we provide tools for people with dyslexia, but there’s no software to help someone regulate their emotions. Yet.

It is possible to learn how to regulate emotion and start to behave differently, in a similar way to how people with ASD can – we can adapt to living and interacting with neurotypicals (that’s basically the rest of humanity), because we can’t expect neurotypicals to allow for our neurodiversity can we? No we can’t. That would just be silly! ‘How would we know where you were to avoid you?!’ I hear you cry. 

At this point, let me reinforce the severity of these effects – 10% of people with BPD complete suicide. We’re far more likely to harm ourselves than anyone else, especially because of the combination of a high suicide risk with sometimes reckless or self-harming behaviours (anorexia is also very high risk for suicide and common in BPD). 

We (and by ‘we’ of course I mean the ‘royal we’ because no two people with BPD are the same, we’re not a homogenous tag team of emotionally inept troublemakers) are likely to attempt to ‘jump off’ when a wave of emotion comes, using so called ‘target behaviours’ which provide the coping mechanism we don’t have through normal emotional regulation. These target behaviours are troublesome at best and life-threatening at worst.

Another problem is recognising what emotion one is feeling. Imagine that! Not only feeling something really extreme, but not even being able to name the emotion? Apparently there are 6 basic emotions, but the only one I can recognise is anger. Anger’s the kind of emotion that tends to hurt the person feeling it more than it hurts whatever has made them angry. It’s destructive by nature. I can vouch for the fact that it really doesn’t take prisoners. Just now I was told that only butter, not margarine, was free with the jacket potato I bought for lunch. You have to pay 10p to choose a healthy option. THAT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!!

So funnily enough, at the end of a typical day all I want to do is SWITCH IT ALL OFF, but instead I get a guilt trip courtesy of good old social media. 

I’m feeling… angry?

Friday, 13 February 2015

'The successful candidate will have proven experience of making it up as they go along'

By now I'm sure it's fairly obvious that nothing is safe from this blog. No subject is taboo, and you're right - I have no shame. But I know others with much less shame. 

I've always foolishly lived through the ideation that one always reaps the rewards of hard work. But year upon frustrating/punishing/soul destroying (delete as appropriate) year, it's become increasingly clear that no matter how many times one reads 'Lean In', one who has a CV that looks like someone dropped a scrabble set and picked all the letters up at random before arranging them in one line across the middle of the board is not going to succeed in convincing an employer that those 'transferrable skills' are something they want to touch with a barge pole (or even a Scrabble dictionary).

This is how a line of questioning during a recent job interview went:

"Tell me about a time when you managed a project, end to end?"

"Erm, well, I got a phone call from the studio engineer saying we had 24 hours so could I write something to a rough cut of the film."

"So, how did you plan the project?"

"Well... I didn't I just stayed up all night and wrote the music, and then booked the musicians to come in on whatever days they could."

"How did you manage your time?"

"I don't know really, we just stayed there until it was done."

Needless to say I didn't get the job. 

Now, I know that I do actually have some skills, but in a situation like that where it's in no way representative of or similar to any other situation I've found myself in, for any job, I just go blank. The problem is a combination of the following factors:

1. I take a shitload of medication - this means my short-term memory is awful. I can't remember the conversation we had 5 minutes ago, unless it covers something I can pin to an older memory. I have to write everything down (or type it into an iPad, because my neurological issues have scuppered my previously gorgeously neat handwriting).

2. Job interviews don't actually give people a chance to showcase what they're capable of; even those who don't have any sort of disability are just talking - and there are very few jobs where one just has to talk (OK - maybe politicians).

3. Having the questions in advance so you can prepare, or papers with you to refer to are both frowned upon. If you have dyslexia, you can have more time to think, and you can have pretty much any physical adjustment you like, but it's the format of the interview that is prohibitive to those with memory problems, difficulty with communication, or anxiety. 

To help prove my point, I've been put in many many challenging situations, and I've always risen to them. Here are some examples:

1. I arrived to my new teaching job in a sixth form college, having got the job by talking about music, and taught a class of 20 students - every single one of whom had additional needs. Some didn't speak English, and I mean they didn't speak it AT ALL. One student tragically died during the year, she was knocked down by a car right outside the building. Despite having no teacher training, any advance notice of the needs of the class (and one had asperger's meaning the role playing element of the course was just completely out of the question for him), and having to deliver the news of their comrade's death, all of them passed the year. I have no idea how it happened, I barely remember a thing about the actual content. What I do remember is the feeling of pride swelling in my belly and bring a lump to my throat. There is nothing in the corporate world that even comes close to teaching. 

2. After a year of another job teaching music at degree level, the studio manager I worked with to deliver a performance assessment mentioned to the head of course that she should have let me know what we had available to do this beforehand. She didn't like having her shortcomings pointed out, so she got her revenge by ending my contract. That's some warped logic. I held back from doing what I should've done to be reinstated, and just left quietly because I knew the politics would never work in my favour. My students all passed the module and many of them have done much better than I have in the music industry. Many of them stayed in touch and I've also worked with some of them professionally. Not bad for someone who only graduated a couple of years before.

3. I successfully delivered a music theory lecture to 30 strangers on a degree course at another university, despite only having scraped a pass in music theory grade 5. One of them nearly caught me out, but I pulled the old 'I wanted to see if you'd notice the mistake' trick. I'm a talented fraud.

4. I've delivered more speeches this year than ever before, even though I suffer from sometimes crippling anxiety and I don't like to hold any prompt sheets because people will be able to see I'm trembling. I stand up in front of my peers and my superiors (in grade but definitely not in character) and I talk about my mental health condition, about self-harm, and about my eating disorder. The most important part of this is that none of the senior execs are brave enough to show they're human by talking as openly as I have. This is the one area where I get recognition - just one person saying it touched them makes this painful honesty worthwhile.

You get the idea. I'm good at making something out of nothing - I can wing it in most situations, but I can't get through a sodding job interview. I've got all my previous jobs based solely on merit, not on what lines I've learned to churn out for a performance with no script. It's about time people realised that just because it's 'what we've always done', doesn't make it right.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

What's mine isn't yours

I've noticed a phenomenon. One that I find particularly annoying; I'd say on a par with waiting in a queue for a day, only to find that whatever it is you're queuing for runs out just as you get there. It's like a wasted day, when we all know time is precious. Probably as annoying as the constant references to 'stress, depression and anxiety' when people talk about mental health problems. Notice I say 'mental health problems' and not 'mental illnesses'. Because they're different, right? A problem can be solved, but once it's an illness you're no longer a functional human. I have an illness, not a problem. I make it not a problem, even though I'm ill.

Let me begin with an example of the aforementioned phenomenon - I attended an event based around handling difficult conversations with employees with mental illnesses. The keynote speaker was our very own, very publicly alcoholic, Alistair Campbell. He regaled us with the story of his downward spiral into the gutter, and his subsequent rise back to health, with the help of a lot of money and a lot of meditation dahling. Let's be honest here, when the police pull up to a drunken man swimming on the pavement and they see that in fact he's a public figure, they are bound to treat him well. He got respect, dignity and an easy transition into medical care, whereas Joe Bloggs would've got bruises from being roughly manhandled and a night in a concrete room with no daylight, with no even an alka-seltzer for his hangover. Of course, I'm not belittling the level of depravity Mr. Campbell reached - in fact I'd imagine that just spending time amongst some of the biggest liars in the land would result in one soaking in depravity simply by osmosis - but what I am saying is that for him, the experience had some cushioning peculiar to his level of celebrity.

What I've realised is this: people feel that if they've had a mental illness, that means they understand what it's like for everybody else who's had a mental illness. It gives them carte blanche to put on their judgy pants (please forgive me Mumsnet, for I have sinned) and set themselves in a class above anyone who has made decisions they don't understand, or behaved badly when they were unwell. And to illustrate this, I give you Alistair Campbell.

At the beginning of the evening, I was prepared to have an uplifting shared experience of breaking down barriers, of acknowledging that no matter who we are, we're all vulnerable - anyone can have a mental illness, blah blah blah etc. During Alastair's speech, as he reclined in his chair and slurred only slightly less than I imagine he might have when he was drinking, it became clear that he was sharing nothing that resonated with those of us for whom treatment had been a mystical land we would never reach. He'd been politely and tidily nurtured back to health and sobriety in the Priory. Believe me when I say that it's a far cry from the corridors of an NHS acute ward. They keep a game of charades in a glass fronted dresser rather than an emergency hammer in a break glass box by the window.

After the performance (and yes it was), we retired to the networking area, and whilst he pointedly (and whilst looking around to make sure people were noticing) chose an orange juice, I went for wine - a large one. I was halfway through it, when Mr. Campbell sidled up to me and the group I was talking to, with an incredulous and sneering middle class expression on his purple vein-laced face. 

"What's with the tattoos?"

"I got them to cover up scars."

"Oh... Right."

And then he disappeared as fast as his addled legs would carry him. 

This is a textbook example. It's all well and good talking about mental health, until someone says something that 'even you' in your position of being cool about all mental health, just because you've done time as an alcoholic in psychosis, has no understanding of. I can guarantee that in his head he thought: 

"You mean you actually got tattoos, like some sort of prison hard nut, and even though you're a woman? And.... You... Cut yourself so badly that you needed full sleeves of tattoos to cover them?! What am I meant to do with that?!"

Well, I'll tell you what; it doesn't matter that some reputable organisation invited you to deliver your story and plug your book - the fact you're in the enviable position of being able to down tools and write a book in the first place gives you a chance that most normal people don't get. The man sitting on the bench outside Tescos conversing with his voices whilst drinking cider, unwashed and unshaven for years will never write a book. He may not even live beyond this winter. Average Joe with chronic anxiety walks past him every week with his shopping, thinking "Ugh, what a disgusting tramp", before driving to his CBT session paid for by his private medical insurance. There's a shortage of clients at my DBT group, because although the treatment is proven to be successful for even the most challenging clients, it's costly. Please someone tell me - which part of 40 hours of therapy costs £60000? Yes, it works, the therapists know their shit. But really, this could change people's lives and yet the cost is prohibitive and it's very existence is kept under wraps. What the fuck are we doing?

The moral of the story is this - talk all you like, be open about your experiences, because it helps facilitate conversation rather than sweeping them under the rug, but your codeine addiction is the same as that tramp's heroin habit, cheaper perhaps. Do you control your kidney function? You don't? Ok, well your brain does a bunch of stuff you can't control, including ordering your other organs around. You might end up living on the streets as a drunk and dying of cold and gangrene, or you might end up spending 2 months in a nice hospital where you kick your alcoholism using drugs that stop the withdrawal killing you. Oh, and enjoy charades.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Conversations with my brain

"Listen, brain - I need you to be normal tomorrow - please, I really need to be normal. I've got work to do tonight and it has to still make sense when I have to show it to other people. Ok?"

"Ok, sure. Of course it does depend on whether I wake up when you tell me to though. You know I can't just switch myself off and on at your beck and call. I need to ease myself in to the day gently, especially because your stupid nerve compression wakes me up in the night. Plus there's those 'mood stabilisers' or whatever they are. Let me tell you lady, they have no business getting involved. If I want to sleep, I will. If you drug me I'll just make you feel sick in retaliation." 

"Seriously brain - the lift is still broken and I'm on my own tonight so I can't drug you anyway - I have to be up at 6am to get ready (make my face look less like a clown did my makeup) and try and convince a toddler to walk down 8 flights of stairs in under 20 minutes, when one of my hands is already buggered from carrying the buggy down this morning. Breakfast at nursery finishes at 8.30am and I have to spend at least ten minutes prizing him off my leg so I can get to work before 9am. Just try and act normal, please?"

"But what's in it for me? Where are the nice warming emotions you promised me? It's been nothing but want want want for the last 20 years. You know I'm still 16, but yet you try to force me to be a grown up. You want to drive cars, impress important people and be responsible for a child; I don't have the right qualifications for any of that - you're bloody useless at that stuff. And well you know it."

"Yes brain, I realise it's tough for you to be expected to function like a grown up when you've got stuck at 16, but haven't we practised this enough by now? How are those new neural pathways shaping up, huh? I know you can do a pretty convincing performance of being 34 now - sometimes I could swear people actually think I know what I'm talking about. Just try doing that?"

"I don't know what you mean. Everybody expects you to fail anyway, what's the difference?"

"The difference is, brain, that right now things are actually not a total mess. I'm not living in chaos - and I know that makes you jumpy, but it's time to stop fucking around now. It's not just you and me anymore. This is what we talked about, remember? In DBT? I'm giving you a full day a week to learn all this stuff. It's not easy for me either. You try explaining to your boss that you need a day off every week for 18 weeks so you can stay un-mental. It's not like saying you've got cancer so you need chemotherapy - you can't just do a scan to show you're all fixed. People will forever think you're incapable, no matter how much you prove yourself. They don't even think they're doing it most of the time. The mind's not like a kidney, you can't get a decent one transplanted in."

"God, always so melodramatic aren't you?! What's your problem, eh? It's not like I haven't warned you before - you always push it a step too far. Disaster follows you around like a bad smell, and yet you want me to act normal! None of this is my fault, and it's about time you acknowledged that."

"Alright alright - I get that - you got damaged. It wasn't your fault. And then you got damaged some more. So you thought that was the normal way of things, am I right? You didn't get taught about the emotional stuff, so you got stuck. And now you don't want to be normal because damaged is all you know how to be. But I need you to try - please brain - just try and work with me here?"

"You used to be good at stuff at school; remember that time when we got 100% in a SATS test? We were a team then. That's where I want to be."

"Brain, it's been almost 20 years since we left school! Nobody cares about SATS anymore - they care about me doing my job!"

"But I want to stay in the past, with all the things that make me feel safe. Where your mum used to put lavender oil under your pillow when you were ill and you felt like you mattered."

"I know brain. I miss her more and more every day, and sometimes I can't even remember what her voice sounded like. But now it's my turn to do what she couldn't do for me and break the cycle for the next generation. He deserves to get a shot at a normal life. I need you to function tomorrow. I need to be able to think straight without all the noise."

"Yeah, I guess so. I am trying. I didn't really mean to get stuck - I just didn't get what I needed."

"I know brain. I understand why. But I need you to work when I ask you to, so I can keep working and prove that we can be a team again. I know it's not going to be easy but we can do it."

"Ok. I won't promise anything, but I'll try. All these drugs make me feel weird."

"I know and I'm sorry. All of this is for your own good - just trust me, ok?"

"That chair looks weird."

"Shut up. The chair is fine."

"I just saw a spider."


"What if you die during the night?"

"For christ's sake brain....!"


"Goodnight brain - 6am, ok?"

"We'll see..."

Monday, 29 December 2014

Customer services - music - business

"Please state your current location?" "I'm standing on the edge". "Sorry - did you say 'Orpington?"

The only 'soul' I have is just psychology at it's most mysterious. This is not my belief, I just know it's the truth. The truth is difficult most of the time, and insurmountable the rest of the time. We all know it deep down, below the layers of derma, subcutaneous tissue, fat, muscle, or whatever 'deep' means. We all know we're ultimately alone. 

Music makes me melancholy. It can be simultaneously my saviour, and my assassin. It leads me into the woods and leaves me alone in the dark with only the wind in the leaves for company. When I'm flashing back to what happened, and when I'm lying awake, staring into the darkness, I hear it mocking me. It persuades me I have power over the emotions of others whilst having no power over my own; that things I write could make others feel as lost as I do. I get caught up in the story that isn't; it isn't, and it never was. 

This wasn't how I imagined my life to be when I was a child - I thought I was destined for something great - something that mattered. I was dragged away on residential courses for 'able' children, studying rocks in quarries and reaching new heights of disengagement in knowing I'd pay for my ability upon my return to school, where the 'normal' kids would be busy not being in quarries. I remember being summoned to the headmaster's office to explain why my report on sandstone didn't live up to expectations. I was always at a loss as to what those expectations were, which as it turns out, was a running theme in my life. Maybe everyone feels special - I read somewhere it was a phenomenon of children brought up in the 80s, but I think perhaps it's just in us. Some of us get to live it out, most don't. Many live it out vicariously through their own children. I had already begun to retreat inside my mind for comfort, foolishly assuming this would one day give me super powers.

I discovered music very early on. Both of my parents dabbled, and my mum gave piano and guitar lessons whilst I was still in utero. It's odd how people sing songs to children as if they were vital to normal development - if you don't have a song for everything from nappy changing to cleaning the sick off the wall, you're not nurturing their psyches, yet if you announce to your careers advisor (aka the ex-military history teacher with the metal plates on the bottoms of his shoes that puts the fear of god into all children just by approaching the classroom) that you want to be a musician, you're informed that music isn't a proper job, so you should do maths instead. In all fairness, it's not really a proper job - at least not like most other jobs. Being a fuck-up is expected in music, rather than tolerated. A certain story in the Daily Mail was based around my fucked-up-ness purely because that's the only version they'd accept. 

Half my school peers busied themselves identifying new ways to reduce me to tears (although I never once cried), whilst the other half was lauding my performances as leader of the orchestra, jazz singer in the spotlight, soloist in the school play, processional leader in the cathedral carol concert. I imagine now that experience would be similar to 'Glee' (the TV show about teens trying to form their own identities as members of a club specialising in overly camp singing performances, hated by everyone else at the school, and used as a target, even by the principal). 

Even now I'm not exactly textbook chart fodder - I sing like an 8 year old boy and look like Kate Bush on a bad day. 'We don't know where you fit you in the market. What's the concept?'. Well, there isn't a concept - I'm a person, who writes songs and sings them, y'know, like err Charlotte Church? Oh no, sorry, she sings other people's songs doesn't she - ok, like Elton John? Hmm, he wears glasses though... gosh, maybe I do need a concept. How's this - I'm a classical crossover artist who DOES write their own music - all of it, every single tiny part. No? So many people in the creative world have mental health problems; being expected to live up to a superficial ideal in order to succeed is not conducive to good mental health. 

People don't actually mean it when they say it's ok to talk. "It's ok to talk" (but only if I'm not the one listening). "It's ok to talk" (but only if what you say doesn't make me uncomfortable). "Talk to me", (but only if you get these tasks done at the same time). What are the words I need to use to make you hear me when I'm saying "I'm not ok! I'm not ok and I'm falling - I'm falling - and I want to fall - out of the race, out of sight and out of my mind - I have nothing left to give." People need a stiff drink before they can listen to that. How do you deal with someone who goes from ambitious and driven, to wounded and burnt, in the space of 5 minutes?

It's ok to talk when you're well, when you can offer up amusing anecdotes, messages about strength and resilience, heroic stories and the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel. But what if this journey doesn't have a light? Nobody wants to go with me down that particular tunnel. I don't blame them - as soon I start to really talk, people back away. 

But if you do it through music, it becomes 'tortured genius'; the 'voice of a generation', and other such sickeningly plastic sentiments. Right place, right time - right? Or maybe it's time to grow the fuck up and start giving people music they'll like for music's sake. Christ, even I struggle to imagine a world where that could happen.

The most painful part is the imagining. Imagining what I could've been. Who I could've been. And what makes someone a 'who' anyway? When people reinforce the idea that you're in some way gifted, failure to live up those expectations is (soul) destroying. Many of my friends have achieved massive notoriety in music; they've toured the world, headlined festivals and lived the life I worked my arse off for, for almost twenty years, before I finally gave in to plan B and forged some semblance of a career in a world where I'm a metaphorical square peg. If I could fully give myself over to plan B, I probably could succeed, but there'll always be that nagging feeling I'm missing something. 

Someone at work recently told me that once you get above a certain corporate grade, the pay off is that the things that were the reason you're doing it all start to suffer. You might be choosing between buying a yacht and a canal boat, but you've got nobody left to enjoy it with. So how do you choose? You can plod through life with a settled family life, but with a lot of 'what if's, or you can live the dream and die alone. 

We love playing games. But some of us just don't want to play.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Merry 'Stigmas'

Today dear readers, let me lead you gently but firmly back to our old familiar favourite, stigma. Let's explore the phenomenon of stigma disguised as acceptance. A particularly slippery fish, this one. Alright, alright yes - it's Christmas. Not exactly a time to be ruminating on our various daily bugbears, right? Categorically and emphatically, NO. I laugh in the face of Chris and his mate T'mas. Coming round here every year, bringing Pound Shop glitter trodden into the carpet and Iceland 'canapes'. I'm sneering as I write this obviously. I'll tell you more about my issues with this particular festival another time, as I imagine if you're actually reading this on Christmas eve you probably feel similarly. NOw back to the point (I'm sure there was one somewhere).

Picture, if you will, a feature in a mostly decent and for the most part objective newspaper. Inset, is a photograph of a middle-aged woman gazing knowingly half into the lens of the camera, against a backdrop of art and bookshelves stuffed full of respectable looking texts. She appears aloof, and slightly troubled. The headline reads: 

"Academic, historian and feminist. She is also a former psychiatric patient."

She's obviously very well educated, intelligent and well-respected, but - ooh... hmm - bit of a 'blip' in the past should we say?

Another newspaper, this time one with a little less in the way of, shall we say, 'factual analysis' for the discerning reader. A picture of a leather-faced sexagenarian smiling wryly from a comfortable armchair, surrounded by expensive looking nik naks; his wife tenderly cradling his hand as she attempts to force her surgically paralysed lips into a smile. Another headline:

"Successful property magnate, politician and father. He is also a former convict." 

Well this guy's certainly successful considering he had a bad start - look how well he's done for himself after being in prison! Impressive. Just goes to show how people come good in the end. 

Now you may point out, perfectly understandably, that there's a certain gender dynamic at work here. Men are often lauded for succeeding despite wrongdoings, but women are charity cases. Women can't succeed alone. Deeper still into our social psyche - and we find that in contrast to someone with a criminal past, a person with a stint in a mental hospital under their belt comes off worst. The messages are subtle - subliminal even. Pick a card, any card... as long as it's not the one with a woman with any sort of mental illness.

Now imagine that mental illness was thought of in the same way as physical illness. If that were true, this headline could have ended with: "She also once saw her GP about a wart on her toe". Ridiculous, quite obviously. Lately we've heard disability and mental health mentioned more than usual by the powers that be; more beds, parity, targets, blaaaah blaaaah. But the reality is that the government are just ticking off the list - they do it because it makes them look good, and it saves money. I hope most of you will know this anyway, but these are of course the wrong reasons.

I have a cardiac arrhythmia for which I see a consultant every 6 months. It's a benign condition that causes very little discomfort day to day. In stark contrast, I only see a doctor for my mental health when I beg, and by begging I actually mean daily calls to either my GP or my private medical insurers and a bloody-mindedness that leaves me utterly exhausted. I have a 20+ year history of mental illness, but I've only managed to see 3 psychiatrists in that time and I only got the correct diagnosis this year. 

After I gave birth I had very severe post-natal depression, only I didn't tell anyone because I was afraid my child would be taken from me. You only need to have been in the UK five minutes to have seen the horrific story of a mother with schizophrenia who took drastic action in fear that her newborn would be taken from her; tragically they both lost their lives. I felt so deeply sad that this had happened when I know she could've lived with the right treatment at the right time. Mental illness kills, and contrary to popular belief, it kills in exactly the same way as cancer does. Suicide is not a choice. It's an outcome - an outcome resulting from a terminal illness. Sometimes the treatment is too late, sometimes it doesn't work, there is NO DIFFERENCE between this, and a physical illness.

I find it particularly surprising that this disparity exists, given the cost of untreated mental illness. A government, a society and a system that so vehemently pursues capital should be falling over themselves to avoid footing the bill for the sort of complex treatment required when Jonny Commoner's been left to his own devices for too long.

Around 2% of the population have my diagnosis - borderline personality disorder - and 10% of these people complete suicide. That's a scary statistic. I'm one of the lucky ones, so far. As such, I try to recognise the things about me that I wouldn't have if it wasn't for my illness. I have no idea how I ended up where I am, with a job I love, a new family and the wherewithal to understand myself and recognise that things are going wrong in time to avoid disaster. I tick every box of the DSMV, which gives a combination of 256 presentations (read the last linked article from my Facebook page at Anger is the only thing I know I'm feeling when it happens. It happened just today - some cretinous twat upon rounding a corner at the same time as a postman was coming round said corner from the opposite direction gave the poor guy a mouthful of abuse. My body was telling me to say something, punch him in the face, bring justice to an unfair situation. I don't know why I didn't do anything, but it was exactly the sort of situation that in the past would've got me into danger.

Stigma has become so ingrained in us that it can sneak in unnoticed. I do it myself - I use the word 'mental' interchangeably with 'crazy' and both to mean something is not right, annoying, unstable. I, like most others, give myself the excuse of being able to reference a label because I'm affected by it. 

There's talk of changing the name of BPD to 'complex trauma', or 'emotional regulation disorder'. I prefer the former. When a psychiatrist tells you you're hitting the top end of the severity chart, it becomes even more baffling to think that one might have so much insight, yet still be unable to overcome the dialectical tension. That I'm so willing to talk honestly about my faulty mind bears testament to my level of understanding (oh, and my narcissism of course). People don't trust the label, and neither do I.

"Can you imagine if mental health was still a taboo?! I mean... just... wow."

"Hmmm? Oh, like back in 2014 when people still thought the mind was simultaneously the most beautiful, important thing, and yet still something not worth bothering to look after?"

"Yeah. Yep. That was mental."