I’m An Ex-Mental Patient

…so, this is the end.

The first tagline I ever had for this blog, way back in 2007, was, “Navigating the labyrinth of the NHS Mental Health Services”. Four years and six months later, I’ve found my way out.

I had my final appointment on Friday. It was with my social worker and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist has such a fantastic name that I expected her to smash through the window on a trapeze before backflipping onto the customary blue fabric chair. She didn’t, and quite frankly I don’t know why I pay my taxes.

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My Rethink blog about the webchat with Chris Grayling MP on the subject of welfare reform

I would have blogged more about this but I only have my phone for internet access and I pretty much destroyed the data allowance by streaming half an hour’s iPlayer.

On Thursday I went to Rethink (I love Rethink!) to blog about the webchat with Chris Grayling MP. It was a fairly surreal experience. We were sitting in relative silence, save for the times we interjected his typing to press him to answer something. He was rather polite, though sometimes flustered, which was understandable as occasionally our (and my) tone turned a bit demanding and he was trying to concentrate. I’m glad he agreed to it- someone should be visibly accountable for these actions, though I understand why a lot of people over on the forum aren’t happy with his answers.

I blogged my thoughts over at the Rethink website, so you can trot over there to read them.   Here’s an excerpt:

Chris Grayling, imposingly tall and bedecked in the customary party blue tie, arrived fresh from the underground to answer questions from members of the RethinkTalk community.  As the Minister for Employment (and how do you address an MP?  “Yes, minister?”), he is best placed to respond to the myriad concerns that we have about the changes to the benefit system.

The main questions were: Why is contributory ESA time-limited, which implies that people will spontaneously recover from their mental health problems in an allocated time frame?  If they don’t, they are penalised by being shuffled onto jobseeker’s allowance, in which the “support” element of that benefit is completely withdrawn. And what about the lack of provisions in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for fluctuating conditions such as mental illness?  What about real support to help people get back to work?  And did the Minister recognise the very real risks that the stress of going through the system only to reassessed or refused can bring?

The atmosphere in the room was one of studious concentration.  I had expected for him to verbalise his answers and then for them to be typed, but he was straight in, with his head down, responding to the questions himself.  Occasionally, he was prompted by Rethink’s Lily Carter to respond to specific questions, the ones that had been posed time and time again.  Rethink staff, to my relief, did not give him an easy time. He remained polite and direct when we challenged him on a few points, and didn’t shrug off our questions. But there are no easy answers. It can’t be avoided that there are people out there who will be suicidal because of these changes.  As an activist, a blogger and someone with a mental illness, it is hard to feel equable towards welfare reform when I have seen first hand the effect it is having.   Government ministers do not see this, and while I do not envy Mr Grayling’s position, I am grateful that he took the time to speak to us.

People are afraid.  Fear, coupled with indignation, is the thread that ran through the web-chat.  I don’t know if Mr Grayling understands the true depth of that fear.  He is aware people are suffering due to the whole process, and the fact that it is difficult to identify who they are and thus support them seems to exasperate him.  For those fearing the thud of the ATOS envelope on the door mat, he has reassured them that they will be telephoned and kept up to date with what is happening, rather than shocked out of the blue.  He agreed that the system was flawed.   In his answers, he frequently referenced the Harrington Report (http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wca-review-2010.pdf), an independent review of the WCA that described the assessment as “impersonal, mechanistic and lacking in empathy”.  This may be, in part, why such a high number of assessment decisions which find someone capable of work are subsequently overturned on appeal. Other questions focused on the fact that those who carry out the assessments are neither mental health professionals, nor do they have much knowledge of mental illness.  Indeed, many of the decisions are made without – or by ignoring – the supporting evidence of psychiatrists, social workers and other professionals.  He wrote that his government will be following up the recommendations of that report, using, “mental health champions” such as charities and mental health professionals to reexamine the way people with mental illness are assessed.  But is this enough?

The webchat is, obviously, over now, but if you want to send him questions, then you can.  Details are:

Hi – we will collate and forward questions sent to campaigns@rethink.org and publish any reply sent to us by the Minister, so everyone can see the responses – however if you want an individual contact and reply, please emailministers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk – I suggest marking your email ‘For Chris Grayling MP re. Rethink live webchat’.

An update, and the last from North London


I should really post these updates on my other blog since I so extravagantly heralded my exit here. But it’s vaguely mental health related (as in, I will reference it briefly) so, er, it goes here and I kind of miss writing here sometimes.

I seem to start most of my posts with a chirpy, “Hello!” but that’s how I feel when I begin them. Like I’m kicking open a door and interupting a conversation, obliviously, outrageously rude. So,


for the even ruder.  Not as chirpy as I…well, type.  Especially right at this moment where I am in a pyjama top, pants that don’t fit and a frightwig of currently awful hair.

It’s all change here.   I’m not going to write about the world or politics here because I would just sound like a knob.  So have my tiny life instead, it’s what I know best.

So, what’s been going on:

*I rather desperately need a job.  I had an interview yesterday for one I hope I’ll get.  I’d be working in the same place as Robert and numerous friends, which would obviously be brilliant.  Part of the, “Argh!” about starting new jobs is the new girl feeling, making new friends and etc.  I’d do that, too, obviously, but it would be nice to have some friendly faces there.

*I’m enjoying studying a lot! I like going to SOAS on a Tuesday and huddle outside the giant block of windowlight and breathe smoke into the air. I like struggling, in a way (not struggling exactly, but it’s all new and shiny! Newness! Shininess!). I like staring at a page of complex diagrams of this system ticking inside me and you and everybody else and watching it all dissolve into nonsense. I still want to study mental health nursing but I’m surprised, too, at how much I’m enjoying relearning biological stuff. That said, I mostly perked up when we were going over brain structure, so my heart (which is 15cm, apparently) is still in psychology.  Brains are unwieldy, ugly things.  I really want to hold one in my hand then fwing it into the air to see what happens. On Saturday, I’m spending all day in a lab!

I’m in module 2 now. My overall grade for my first module (introductions to health, nursing and midwifery) was 74%. I did a happy jig. I had my first test last week and arsed it up due to revising absolutely the wrong thing, but I know now where I went wrong.

*Still writing, but have been astonishingly busy. I’m not used to having demands on my time and now I feel a little bit like I have wasted three years not doing enough creative stuff.

*I had my baby brother staying!  It was his birthday.

He's the one that looks like me.

That was on the way back from an abortive attempt to see the Manics.  My sister can’t count!  It was lovely to see him, and strange how grown up he is now.  I’m not very good at people staying with me, due to being viciously protective of my space.  But it was nice.  He stole salt shakers from the chinese restaurant we took him to. Robert is a bit in love with him.

*I’m moving house on Monday.  I can’t wait to get out of here.  I shall be living with Robert. Finally, he will clean a toilet (OH MEN YEAH YEAH YEAH? PSH! TSCH! ETC!) because it’s his toilet, not my shameful toilet.  I’m moving to East Dulwich- well, the slightly more cred-filled “borders” on Denmark Hill in South London.  My estate has a mascot.  LOOK AT HIM. He is fantastic.

He is a friend dog. What is his name?

We chose this area to move to on the very-off chance that I get accepted to Kings. It’ll be good, hopefully. We spend a lot of time together anyway so it won’t be a shock, and I dearly love domestication with him. After almost two years, everything is still fun with him, even going to the shop. And he is a giant idiot as well. On the 9th he’s doing a performance as his alter-ego, Wolfgang Moneypenny who now genuinely lives in South London. So, hopefully it shall all be good.

All in all, though, I’m pretty good. Stressed out, concerned about the future, but not at all unhappy.

I did a podcast with Rethink (who I love) last week, which was fantastic. There were seven of us there- three Rethink staff, then a bloke who’s doing his PhD on the Rethink Time to Change page. There was the Talk moderator, me, and a psychiatrist. I didn’t realise he was a psychiatrist for a while and we were chatting, chomping bread sticks and drinking orange juice.

The podcast was about social media and mental health (I’ll post it up when it’s, well, up). It was surprisingly balanced. With these kind of things, I sometimes anticipate blanket praise. But there was both positive commentary and criticism. Some of it from me. They asked me how blogging had helped/hindered my mental health and how it had changed my life. It has, undoubtedly, I wouldn’t be there if not for my position as a prominent ex-blogger. But I explained the reasons I have mostly stopped, and some of the things I think people need to consider carefully with mental health blogging. One is that by starting a mental health blog, you are now someone with a mental health problem and that’s the attraction. It is an identity I began to feel was dangerous towards the end.  Some blogs (none I’ve linked here) get too focused on statistics and who’s reading- that can lead to exaggeration and crisis-making when things start to wane.  Again, dangerous.

It also opens you up to criticism, which, if you’re in a bad place, can make you feel like ass. Because I’d written that I had body dysmorphic disorder, certain knobheads zeroed in on it as a way to hurt me. By sharing your life- and your past, present, feelings- then people assume ownership of them. Before I privated most of this blog, someone was going back and quoting my own 4 year old posts at me as proof as to why I should never be a nurse, despite the fact it’s not only four years later, but I’m 25 now, and rather older and wiser. That horrified me, and was a reason why I pulled the majority of my posts.  It’s my frigging life, you know?   I always appreciate advice and support, but in the end, it’s my life, my past, my future, my blog, my choices.

There’s the problem of recovery as well. I felt almost concerned about getting better because then I didn’t fit into the blogosphere anymore. I feel guilty for doing alright and not having stuff to write about. Isn’t that silly? But I know it’s how other people feel. I also know some people out there would love to see me fail, so now I feel less inclined to share when I’m not feeling so good.

That said, I wouldn’t change it, I wouldn’t go back and not write it. All the mad shit that has come from it- from the play, to doing comedy, to my friends that I’ve met- I wouldn’t change. The pros have outweighed the cons, and I’m sure I’ll be back. But it was good to discuss that and hear what other people think. Gil- the psychiatrist- actively encourages his patients to write and look up information, which is unusual, certainly with the doctors I’ve met. One great thing about blogging and the internet in general- and I wish I’d mentioned this- is that it’s a brilliant leveller. Psychiatrists and nurses hold the power balance in the relationship, but on the internet, we all comment on each other’s stuff and email each other. I don’t feel so intimidated by doctors and nurses now- and reading mental health nurse blogs is partly the reason I want to be one.

I like Facebook and Twitter as well.  I use my Mentally Interesting page to talk to people who read this blog.  I’m not so into Twitter but I’ve seen it used for great things, particularly activism, news and protests.  I just don’t really understand how it works, unfortunately.

On the internet, particularly with mental health, there’s also the problem of medication second-hand scare stories and antipsychiatry people trolling blogs. In the wrong frame of mind, it could stop someone taking their medication. Grr.

In general, it was really good. I enjoy doing stuff with Rethink. I’m blogging their webchat on the 10th, so that should be interesting. It’s with Chris Grayling on the subject of welfare reform.   Anyone can get involved so go and submit questions!

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