This entry attempts to explain why my blogs have fallen silent for the past 6 months and is therefore mainly of personal interest, although I include some cogitation on the barriers to those with MH issues getting involved in campaigning for better services etc., and also a brief summary of what I have been doing and how I intend to catch up.
The reason for my silence is, as all regular readers, friends and acquaintances will have guessed, a bout of Depression (D). This has been the longest bout for a number of years, and if it was never really dangerous (because I am no longer self-medicating and have a number of coping strategies in place) it has certainly been a serious setback. But beyond that when one considers that, as Byron wrote in his Journal entry for 7th December 1813…
When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), – sleeping, eating, and swilling – buttoning and unbuttoning – how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.
…a loss of 6 months is a serious business. Of course it would not be true to say that I have done nothing in those 6 months but I have certainly not been capable of living any of the kinds of life which I would wish to lead.
What makes this all the more galling is that the bout was my own fault. It was hubris. I took on more and more ‘real-life’ work, campaigning for better health and social care provision, culminating in being elected Chairperson of the Birmingham LINk. This meant that I was engaged in numerous meetings and a considerable degree of confrontation: social interaction and confrontation are things which I know I should avoid as they are triggers for my D. and yet I proceeded blithely on. It is really no surprise that I crashed and crashed heavily. All I can say is that I have learnt my lesson. From this point on I will retreat to my ‘garden’ – by which I mean the world of reading, writing and cyber-communication. This will not prevent me becoming ill – nothing will do that – but I hope that the bouts will be of short duration as they were 2 or 3 years ago, before I embarked on public life and gave up a mode of living which suited me as well as anything possibly could.
My experience, which is very far from unique, points up a serious problem for the involvement of those with MH issues in campaigning for better service provision and getting involved in various ‘Service User’ organisations: how can this be possible when the very involvement is detrimental to one’s MH? Part of the problem, a large part, is the absence of any proper consideration of this factor. As usual the only possible way to approach this is through analogy with those who have physical health issues. Absolutely correctly these are treated with great seriousness, and indeed written into law. I am not by any means claiming that the situation is perfect for those with hearing, sight or mobility issues (to take three of the most obvious examples) but I would say that the needs of these groups are fairly commonly recognised, even if they are not met. In contrast I would say that we have not even arrived at the stage of considering – at an institutional level anyway – the needs of those with MH issues, let alone how these might be met. And the institutions involved include those in the field of health and social care where such a recognition should surely be expected. I also realise that the lumping together of MH issues is in many ways misleading and unhelpful: the needs of those who suffer from Depression, Schizophrenia and Personality Disorders for example are very different (and that is before we start to get on to the question of Learning Disabilities). Here one can only speak to one’s own experience and situation so naturally I speak of Depression. But even there generalisation is tricky as individual trigger factors vary widely. However my impression would be that my own problems with social situations is fairly widely experienced. How one might get over this problem is a thorny issue, but if depressives are to really be given their own voice then there needs to be a real and honest effort to tackle it. Unless this happens then those with MH issues will continue to be shut out of the processes which have been established to supposedly enable them to have a voice in their own treatment and improving the services on offer.
All this might tend to read as though my experiences with the Birmingham LINk were uniformly bad which would be grotesquely misleading. I met a number of charming, inspiring, generous, friendly people some of whom I very much hope to stay in contact with. I have received several very generous and appreciative mails since announcing my retirement. So much of my personal experience was positive. Nonetheless I feel it important to highlight the institutional problem I have discussed above.
So how have the past 6 months been filled? Well I had one good week during which we managed to have a wonderful holiday in Scotland. I have managed to attend several concerts. But for the most part my time has been taken with my usual coping devices: I have spent a lot of time playing video-games, I have re-read favourite books and I have watched DVDs. About all these things I will write separately. My plan is first to catch up with past and bring my blogs up-to-date, and then to return to the lists. I will tend my garden and let the world, as far as possible, go by. This is not a courageous or progressive position; it does nothing to help anyone; but the experience of the last year has taught me, in a harsh way, that it is all I am capable of. Given that we have but ‘the summer of a dormouse’, and I have had quite a bit of that summer, I need to spend my time in as pleasurable and satisfying a way as is possible to me; and I am massively lucky in that for me the life of the mind is available to me and gives me pleasure.