A few days ago I finished editing my first poetry collection. This somewhat daunting experience has prompted me to evaluate my relationship with the form.
For many years my mental health and writing were interconnected; my moods and states of mind dictating the nature of the poems I produced. Frequently, distressing thoughts would drive me to lift a pen and pour onto paper the contents of my tormented psyche. I wrote for myself, as a means of expression and never contemplated sharing my pain. Thus, the content of my poems was paramount and form as irrelevant, to my world, as the pursuit of happiness.
Years later, I summoned the courage to submit a poem to a poetry competition. Having studied poetry at degree level and for my own pleasure, I was only too aware of my own literary ineptitude. My submission, however, seemed worthy in its employment of alliteration and metaphor and existed as a signifier of my state of being, at that time. Although I did not win the competition, my poem was published in an anthology and I was to see my name in print for the first time.
At that time, my poems acceptance for publication affirmed that I had some form of literary ability; maybe I was not the mental elf that my lack of self-confidence had betrayed me into believing.
When editing my poetry collection, I once again experienced nags of self-doubt. I can write…but…so what…half the world believe themselves potential writers or celebrities. The world is deluded, am I? A publisher had accepted my collection for publication. Nevertheless, publishers make mistakes!
Now that my poetry exists beyond the confines of my laptop, I can tell myself, with a reasonable level of conviction, that reactions to literature are subjective. Undoubtedly, some readers will dislike and criticise my work. However, there will be others for whom it is meaningful. Like the individual, a poem can be pulled apart, but will always remain a unity in-itself.
My recent preoccupation with thoughts of how I have wasted the last 20 years of my life, has led me to consider the plight of those who have been unable to pull themselves out of the abyss of despair. Like approximately 1 in 4 people, I am affected by mental health issues. I would argue that principally I am not a survivor of illness but a mental health system which, from its inception, has consciously appropriated and promoted misogynistic ideas and practices. Whilst men are equally oppressed by the tools pf psychiatry, differential narratives about sex and gender have determined differences in the nature and outcome of the treatment of women and men psychiatric patients.
Any discussion about women and mental health should be framed in a historical context. The concept of “mental illness” is the historically specific conceptualization of the notion formerly known as madness; lack of reason is re-defined by science. Men prescribe, whilst women eat the pills of their labour.
Hippocrates, the Father of medicine, first associated the notion of hysteria with female psychology. Women were perceived in relation to our biology, we were beyond the pale and out of our minds. Ironically, the first practitioner to extend the definition of hysteria into the male domain, was Freud. The founder of psychoanalysis who, correlated female hysteria with sexual dysfunction, also differentiated between neurotic and psychotic disorders, establishing the prototype for the contemporary diagnostic model of mental ill health. Whilst history indicates that features of psychotic illness have always existed, the nature of neuroses has changed in relation to socio-historic and cultural changes.
In 2013, studies in Britain and America indicate that mental health issues are more prevalent among women than men. Do wombs dictate moods? Is anxiety the product of menstruation? Why, if this is the case, do cross-cultural studies reveal that there are many societies in which mental health conditions, like anxiety and anxiety, affecting so many in western capitalist society are virtually non-existent.
I would argue that, although gender roles and expectations may nowadays appear more fluid, the contradictions and complexities of life in the western world have complicated both our social roles and the way in which we perceive ourselves. Anxiety is a reaction to life in the 21st century, the metamorphosis of hysteria and counter-point to self actualization. Thus, it is fear, that gnawing worm in the mind, that impedes our will to become. Realizing that we all have the ability to re-define, not only our own reality, but the entire social realm is the first step to recovery. No one is mere body, we are possessed of the consciousness to discover and appropriate our own hidden power.
I have finally resumed writing my new novel. Days spent without ink are days of inner torment. I am driven by an urge to create and a contradictory urge to be idle. However, when idle, the writer within nags and scolds me between my ears, like a voice echoing its distaste for a piece of human waste who simply cannot be bovvered. Today, I have not been idle and my insides are smiling, again. Sometimes, one simply has to hit the keys and move on.
Writing is not as easy as some people think; it requires not only a seed of inspiration, but a mind-set of discipline, which few can master. Why sit inside behind the mask of a laptop, when there is a world outside, populated by people consuming one another’s subjectivity, like flesh cream cake? Why? Because I have to. If I did not write, I would be in bed making love to my disease. Writing keeps me alive; it fulfils my dreams.
Inspiration has left me, I am a shell of my former nut. Lost for topics I would like to discuss, I have decided to write about the only subject in which I profess to be an expert, myself!
Born in 1968, a year in which chaos threatened to enter the love shack of 1960’s ideology, I was always a problem; a problem to my Mother who, has always loved me with the ferocity of a lioness, a problem to the world, which seeks to compartmentalise even those, like me, who resist and defy labelling but mostly, a problem to myself. I survived my acute shyness and intangible fear of life and grew-up to be a student of philosophy, English and mental flight. My world of fear was replaced by a voice which rang out loud and clear. However, after two years of studying for a degree, my voice broke.
I spent the next twenty years of my life as a patient, a user of services, a label without a name. I was mad and secretly blamed myself for my inability to survive life and retreat into psychosis. During this time, my consultant psychiatrist whom, I was subsequently to perceive as my sworn enemy and the embodiment of evil(!), made a statement which has always remained in my memory. He said, “You will always be Louise.” To many, this statement might seem trite but anyone who has been unfortunate enough to be affected by mental health issues and the savage fists of the mental health system, will understand its meaningful intent.
Silenced and sentenced to the periphery of life, I have, finally, found my voice. It speaks in the truths that I write. I wrote my first novel, not only as therapy but because I had always wanted to be a published writer, I wrote to affirm my identity and re-claim my life. I know that The General Paralysis of Sanity will make me neither rich nor famous but it has begun a process, writing is now my life. I am…Louise and welcome you all to join me in my discoveries.
Having been raised in the Christian church, I am burdened by the weight of a conscience, guilt trickling through my veins like blood. Thus, I have lived my life in pursuit of goodness and unachievable absolutes which contradict the fleshy and impure thoughts of my furtive psyche. This sense of duality has defined my adult life and persists in my vacillating moral and political principles. I think I know, then I change my mind.
As a student I found the perfect outlet for my belief in Marxism; I joined student political societies. However, although I was hungry for social change, I never felt fully connected to my comrades and lacked their single-minded drive. For over twenty years, I have remained haunted by a casual remark made by someone, whom I still respect; she said that I was “too subjective.” At the time, I was mildly offended, perceiving myself as weak. In time, however, I realised that I could not be an automaton, dedicating my life to the pursuit of the greater good. I was an individual and if I wanted to improve the world I had to be kinder to myself. Political activism preceded my breakdown of self. Henceforth, I have struggled to re-build my identity. I am, perhaps, more fragile, these days, but I am, also, more knowing.
I think I deserve a holiday so…I am having one! Tomorrow, we head off for a week in the sunny Mediterranean. The last few months have delivered a seed of potential for a new life, my novella The General Paralysis of Sanity was finally published and I have learned how to centralise self. Not at the expense of others, but purely for the sake of my own mental health. I have always found it difficult to say, “No,” but I am learning.
My experience of writing has heightened my empathy for other writers. In the past I have been too dismissive of genre fiction, perceiving it as inferior to more literary type writing. Writing can be bloody hard and earning one’s living as a writer almost impossible. Thus, I send loving vibes to all you struggling writers, out there! For, although writing should not be about money, book sales keep writers alive.
To readers who are reluctant to venture into the age of the e-book, why not put aside your prejudices and download a book by an indie or self-published writer. Available for your critical indulgence are many great books bypassed by publishers not because they are badly written, but for all sorts of reasons, including the difficulties of marketability and commercialism.
In case I am unable to blog for the next week, I beseech you all to contact me via twitter etc. I am beginning to build a very interesting “following” and my twitter door is open to all, especially other writers/wannabe writers. Until next time, keep reading…and writing.
When Kurt Cobain died in 1994, musical history became re-defined; another distorted angel had been claimed, another voice estranged. When Kurt passed, the world wondered who was to blame. The propaganda train blew smokescreens over his remains and we crowded beneath, picking-up bones of (mis)information and reassembling it into forms which suited our own particular world views. That he took his own life is all that we knew; the rest was speculation.
I was touched by Cobain’s death. However, unlike the Take That fans, who wept and wailed when their boys disbanded, I did not mourn his passing. Rather, I celebrated by buying a tee shirt on which were duplicated the words of his suicide note. I delighted in observing the bewildered expressions of older people, as they read the text on my tee shirt. I had joined an alien race, a sub-culture defined by a dead person’s face.
Kurt Cobain was the guy who put rock ‘n’ roll back into my indie sensibility. The grunge scene rendering music more accessible to the common folk than any other since the punk explosion in the 1970’s. I remember watching Matt Dillon in the film, “Singles,” and wanting not to have him, but to become him, my oversized checked shirt blowing behind me in the wind of my flatulent youthfulness. I had discovered a scene I was wanted to embrace. However, knowing no other who wanted to join me, I played, “In Utero,” and hugged myself.
In 1994, I did not realise that I shared more with Kurt than a love of music; we were both affected by a mental health issue which was to affect the way in which society perceived both of us. He had become an icon of a lost generation, I was a lost statistic of an illness, whose name I dared not speak, for fear of retribution.
Although many have questioned whether Kurt Cobain really was affected by a bipolar disorder, in my opinion the evidence is overwhelming affirmative. His much hyped struggles with alcohol and drug addiction indicate a psychopathology driven by a need for self-medication. Many studies reveal comorbidity between bipolar disorder and addictions. It is believed that Cobain’s disorder was untreated, rendering him particularly susceptible to using heroin, an opiate with anti-dysphoric qualities and, I believe, his displays of hyperthymic behaviour, provide the substance behind his attraction to alcohol.
Many addicts are affected by undiagnosed bipolar. Amy Whinehouse, another member of club 27, possibly someone whose underlying issues where, also, undermined, due to the more overt nature of her issues with addiction.
Although bipolar can kill-if untreated, it is one of the more treatable mental health issues. Once, one when surrenders to the imposition of taking tablets, for many people, life can be lived with relative ease. If you are affected by mental health issues, despair not. Salvation comes to those who truly want it and are prepared to let themselves heal.
Last night I watched the perfect date movie for manic depressives, the world over. “Silver Linings Playbook,” an Oscar winning film framed in the conventions of a Hollywood rom-com, is a story of the transcendent power of love. Pat (Bradley Cooper) returns from the horrors of mania to a world, which offers him the gifts of beauty and pain. We watch him re-adjust to life beyond the order and routine of a psychiatric hospital; a life minus his wife, his job and his own house, spent in his parents home, the bosom of familial love and contradictory realm of escape and frustration. “They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad…” (Philip Larkin). He is the bloom of their seed, the psychology of blame.
Watching the first half of the film, I was both surprised and somewhat piqued by the emotions it evoked in my irritable psyche. For the verbal “rantings” of the characters, especially those of the protagonist, annoyed me almost to the point of
contemplating turning off the noise and tuning into a more calming vibe; the space cadet of my thoughts eager to land. However, my commitment to accessing products of popular culture which centralise mental health awareness, kept me going. I am glad that it did. For, my reaction to listening to highly expressed emotion and Bradley Cooper’s pacey and urgent delivery of lines offered me insight into the difficulties encountered by the loved ones and supporters of people undergoing episodes of mania. When unwell, have I been as annoying as “Pat?” Probably. For the first time I saw myself through my Mother’s eyes. No wonder she often cries. No wonder she challenges.
The verbal battering I experienced in the first part of the film was, subsequently, replaced by a warm glow. Rom-com credentials raised their frothy heads and manipulated me into empathising with the characters. The introduction of a love interest for Pat, played with depth by Jennifer Lawrence, provided a counter-point and stressed the view that “madness” is not about chemicals and, rather, affects everyone in relative degrees.
Although the film did not say anything new and its format and structure were overwhelmingly traditional, “Silver Linings Playbook,” peeled away the mask of mental ill health and revealed that regardless of the issues we experience, people are more alike than different and possess similar needs and desires. Bipolar is a barrier to love, only if we make it. Silver linings exist for us all. In order to experience them, however, we must believe.
BOOKWORMS BEWARE-My novel, containing themes of mental health, recovery and LOVE is available on AMAZON and from other retailers. Buy THE GENERAL PARALYSIS OF SANITY by LOUISE M. HART and engage with your silver lining!
Yesterday, was my Mother’s 70th birthday. Some might argue that surviving seven decades of life on earth is a tribute to her resilience. I say, thanks Mum-without your love and support…I would not be here!
Glasgow City Centre is a beguiling place, over-powering in the heights of architectural splendour, it encompasses passers-by in heartfelt hugs and listens to the voice of difference. Self-expression is permitted, there; poverty and homelessness, however, are forever near. And, where economic destitution presents, depression often rears his head and roars, in fear. Mostly, however, Glaswegians smile and we all know that smiles are deadly in their contagiousness.
We visited Glasgow yesterday, cracking our lips with the force of a smile or a few. Mum and me, plodding the pavements like Les Dawson’s Cissy and Ada to a post-modern generation. “Ladies,” with baggage and noses looking for a bargain, appetites for pleasure and anxious to avoid the potential disaster of returning home with empty bags. Together, we browsed until my Mother, eventually chose a birthday present. She chose and I paid, happy to express my love for her and reduce my own bank balance.
Following our shopping we indulged in a taste of, “posh nosh,” fish and chips at, “The Chippy Doon the Lane,” a fish restaurant rendered aristocratic among the throng of Glasgow chippies. The meal did not merely fill a hole, but built a temple of contentment within my bruised persona. Like ointment, it soothed the inflammation and allowed me to rest my tired feet beneath a table.
Returning home in the evening, I collapsed upon the sofa. Last night, I slept well. Today, I am still smiling.
My first published novel,”The General Paralysis of Sanity,” represents the summation and completion of twenty years experience as a mental health service-user. I wrote the novel during the aftermath of, and as a reaction to, the trauma I had experienced as an in-patient of a psychiatric hospital, prisoner of mental health day-centres and (dis)charge of nurses. Sub-textually, the novel is my story-a story whose full horror will never be told. The content, however, belongs to the creation of Cat-Hater, my anti-hero, whose consciousness unfolds in the text, like the fragile wing of a butterfly released from the cruelty and inevitability of fate.
I named my character Cat-Hater, not to, “moggy bash” (my own cat features on the cover!) but, as an allusion to a character created by Philip K. Dick’s gargantuan, creative brain; “Horseloverfat,” is the star of his fantastic and mind-blowing novel, “Valis.” Ending here, however, are comparisons to Phil Dick’s work, his preoccupation with the dichotomy between madness and sanity merely reflects my own and constitutes the central theme of my book.
The reader embarks upon a psychical but bumpy ride, during which s/he glimpses the mind of someone experiencing a relapse into psychosis. Frequent lapses into interior monologues merge with depictions of an outer realm which, condemns and sentences Cat-Hater to the imprisonment of hospital. It is, however, the content of the hospital scenes, which enliven the plot and flesh-out the characters I have created. For, at this point I portray the formation of relationships between Cat-Hater and the other patients and introduce the secondary character of the novel, Nurse Parry.
Although Nurse Parry possesses all the complexities of Cat-Hater and is necessarily all flesh and blood in terms of the qualities she brings to the book, I must confess, that she was brought to life to personify the unachievable nature of complete and pure reason and rationality. The reader enters her life and inner being and experiences the illusion of being sane.
Despite its thematic darkness and painful subject matter, my psychiatrist tells me that the book is, “very funny,” and I think many people who have spent time in psychiatric hospitals will recognise elements of themselves and others in the characters and situations I describe. If you have a spare moment you can order it online from amazon or chipmunkapublishing or even request that your local book shop stocks it. Why not indulge and release your pain. Will it all end happily or will life’s imprint linger and ache?