I learned a few days ago via The NewYorkerTimes on twitter that pop laureate of the welfare generation, Morrissey had cancelled his U.S. tour. Subject to bouts of ill health, he had been denied insurance to continue his onstage performances. It is not without irony that a music icon famed for his vegetarianism and anti-drug stance is confronting a physical demise, when other musicians, like the Rolling Stones, who have embraced a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, are blossoming, even, into old age!
Before becoming immersed in the works of Woolf and Joyce, I discovered the lyrics of Morrissey and a human truth; that the pen is a sharper tool than the knife. In the Thatcherite 1980’s, when British popular culture was ruled by the escapism of the new romantics and the ideology of greed, Morrissey represented an attractive “other.” He was an anti-hero, whose counter-cultural credentials reached beyond his sartorial inelegance to the cultural references presented in his lyrics and “The Smiths” record covers. Like his shirt, his image did not quite fit. I was a teenage outsider with only my imagination and a record player for friends and, when I heard Morrissey sing I felt less alone.
I saw Morrissey perform in 1991 and although it was not a classic performance, the image of him trying to sing whilst drenched in the bodies of boy fans eager to touch genius, will always remain for me a definitive statement about the life I lived at that point; a symbol of willowy beauty destined to fade. Get well soon, Morrissey and I shall watch you perform again, zimmer-frames ready!
…scared! In accord with pussy-cat law, my faithful companion has woken me at four o’clock in the morning. Outside, the world is the colour of purity, snow illuminating the darkness, like a force of nature in the wake of human transgression disguised as progress. Even the house is shivering cold. Inside, a young, old lady feels older now, than before the snow had fallen. Her cat scratches the door hoping that she will open it; he is innocent of the horrors beyond and the potential hazards of snow. The wind screams in pain, embracing all with persistent lashes of its lustful tongue. There are screaming banshees, out there; I know, for I have seen them…in the eye of my mind, wearing sexy underwear and the pouts of witches. And windows vibrate like the bedevilled soul of Heathcliff caressed by Cathy’s ghostly presence. I imagine the wuthering heights of Kate Bush’s voice and am reassured by my knowledge that bush is enjoyed by nearly all. Currently defining the western world is a crisis of ideas. I think I shall go back to bed and pretend that it is summer.
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?
Having completed a regular shift at a charity bookshop, I, now, feel cold and tired. The wind on the west coast of Scotland is a savage beast which can almost knock even the sturdiest of citizens off their feet and bites into the very hearts of our resilience. In the Wintertime, when the pestilence of chill and rain consumes all, but those possessed of fur coats and an iron will, it is easy to let depression strike. I shall resist; when he raises his hand, I will retaliate with blows to the keys of my laptop. I laugh within, when I consider the change in my disposition.
Twenty years wasted as a mental health service-user. Twenty years in which I experienced a side of life many either do, or wish that they did, not understand. These twenty years have taught me many lessons, some of which I would like to share.
1. Medication helps ease the symptoms of mental distress, it does not cure. Uncovering the causes of distress is hard work but, not impossible. Although psychological interventions can be useful for many people, ultimately, one has to want to recover and master the skills of mental independence.
2. Psychiatrists are as fucked-up as the rest of the human race. They have merely learned the skills of presentation.
3. Mental health workers do not REALLY care (they are doing a job, some of them very well) but can be very useful to talk to and fill-in forms!
4. Most day-centres/hospitals operate a policy of containment. They exist to monitor service-users, ensuring that we do not cross those deadly lines of demarcation. In the short-term, they can open-up the possibility of peer support. However, in the long-term, they perpetuate apathy which, is often misinterpreted to be a consequence of negative symptomology.
5. Mental health service users often flock together, like birds with tarnished wings. This is because they are socially excluded. Many have little or no family support and the companionship of friends. They do not deserve your pity or ridicule, their group friendships are indicative of a truly human (and rational) need to counteract loneliness and be accepted.
6. Recovery from mental health issues is a relative concept. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you are doing okay. You do not need to be earn 100,000 a year or train to run a marathon. The book which you have always planned to write, can be written tomorrow, next year or even…never. For, even possessing the wish to write, is suggestive of the will to live. LEARN TO EXIST AND YOU WILL START TO LIVE.
I have been humbled by the support for my blog and would like to thank my followers for reading and commenting. If you have been affected by anything I have written, please contact me. I am available on facebook and twitter or you could simply subscribe to my blog. I intend to write my next post on my novel and invite you all you to learn about its themes and contents.
There is a widely held conception that everybody, “has a book, in them.” Whilst this could not be more true, most people do not write that book. I have spent my life desirous to fulfil my ambition to become a writer. Never content to be a just a person who scribbled poems upon the backs of envelopes and delineated my thoughts in notebooks framed in psychedelic doodles, I yearned for the validation of my creative spirit and to see my name in print. Now, that I have achieved this, I know that I will do so many more times. This is the beginning of a new stage in my life, a life from which I used to hide, in shame.
My first novel, “The General Paralysis of Sanity,” started life as an exercise in catharsis. Years ago, after my last and particularly traumatic admission to a psychiatric hospital, I released my pain in literary productivity. Writing my novel became a forum for encoding my negative experiences in the guise of the creation of a character who was blatantly not myself. Although not autobiographical, my novel borrowed and reconstituted elements of myself. Writing it was not always easy but, after each session on my laptop I felt rewarded and more self-confident than before I had started.
Lifestyle changes meant that I moved location and ended up living across the borders in Scotland, where serendipity surfaced and I started to see a psychiatrist who was unusually literary in his interests. Not only was Dr H interested in my novel, he actually wanted to read it. Thus, began the tides of change…
He seemed genuinely surprised that someone with my history of psychiatric suffering should be capable of writing with lucid insight about the nature of mental distress. I have always believed that he suspected that cognitive impairment would undermine my literary ability but, I have been determined not to allow my “illness” to destroy, “the real me.” Dr H claimed that my work should be published and, subsequently, gave me the details of the foremost publisher of books by people who have experienced mental health problems. I emailed my book to Chipmunkapublishing and, the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, I not only await the imminent publication of my first collection of poetry, I am, also, engaged in writing another novel. In fact I am re-engaged with life.
Discovering this week that my first novel has finally been published has elevated my spirits upon an air of equanimity. What, now that my destiny has been fulfilled, should I do next?
I shall endeavour to reinforce my belief that we all people deserve a platform for self expression. This, for some, may derive from their experience of producing a child or working for their community. For others self expression constitutes involvement in politics or the affirmation that others are listening to them. My own means of self expression has always been guided by the pen. For, even when rendered voiceless in psychiatric institutions I have managed to write. Although, the nature of my writing has, sometimes, withered under the strain of depression or hit the heights of florid over-expressiveness, it will always remain an authentic transposition of MY own psyche.
Having written a book I have challenged my debilitating sense of under-confidence and defeated the disease of lethargy, which like a cancer, has infected my ability to function, during the twenty years I have spent stoned on prescribed anti-psychotic medication. What ever the future holds I shall always write.
My novel is about the process of psychotic relapse; it depicts suffering from the inside out. Although it is not autobiographical it is informed by my own experiences and, like me, stands aside and laughs at the silly profundity of it own insights. Do not be too dismayed, I have, also, been told that it is very funny!
Out now, “THE GENERAL PARALYSIS OF SANITY,” by Louise M. Hart. Available from CHIPMUNKAPUBLISHING.