Unthinking America

This Political Pagan has been silent for some time not only because of end-of-semester exhaustion but also due to despair and depression about recent events in the USA. First, the April 5th explosion and 29 deaths in the West Virginia coal mine operated by the Massey Energy Company, which investigators have found to possess a disgusting record of violations of safety practices that practically guaranteed that a disaster like this would come to pass sooner or later.

Then came the fiery collapse of British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, with equally brazen corporate carelessness causing 11 deaths and a hellish future of environmental devastation through the spreading plume of poisonous oil and the equally poisonous chemicals being poured into the Gulf to disperse the oil.

Then came April 23rd, when Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law a set of measures empowering state police to interrogate any person suspected of being an undocumented alien or "illegal immigrant," and to arrest any such person found to be without proper identification papers. This controversial law split the country down the middle between those in favor of such harsh treatment of suspected illegal immigrants, and those who oppose this legislation for promoting anti-Hispanic prejudice and whittling away at the Fourth Amendment constitutional protection against "unreasonable search and seizure." The passage of what was widely felt by Hispanics, and others concerned with civil rights and the country's sad legacy of racial prejudice, to be essentially anti-Hispanic legislation echoed Arizona's earlier history of resisting accepting the designation of a holiday for the slain Civil Rights hero Martin Luther King.

Next came the Rachel Maddow interview on May 19th with Republican primary winner and presumed Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, son of the past libertarian Presidential candidate Ron Paul and named for the libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. In this interview, Paul expressed reservations about the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits private businesses from discriminating against people on the basis of race, creed, national origin and so forth. Though Rand claimed to support the concept of opposing racial discrimination, he felt bound by libertarian principle to reject government intervention in the economic sphere, such as the government requiring restaurants to serve African-America or other minority patrons, as mandated by civil rights legislation. To Rand and his libertarian compatriots, it is more important to allow private businesses total freedom, including the freedom to discriminate, than for government authorities to take action to prevent abuses perpetrated by private businesses.

Finally, just a few days later, Rand applied similar reasoning to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, arguing that it was "un-American" for President Obama to harshly criticize BP for the ecological holocaust that it had unleashed through its carelessness. Freedom of business trumps government regulation and protection every time, for Rand and his followers. "America" seems to be synonymous with business and corporate interests, not the needs and rights of others in American society.

In my analysis, this depressing sequence of events has a common denominator of cruel and selfish thoughtlessness, which I fear is becoming the default setting for American morality. The corporate masters of Massey Energy and BP clearly were not thinking about the safety of their workers when they pushed for faster production and skirted the limits of legal guidelines and accepted practices within their respective industries, nor were they thinking carefully about the environmental consequences of their extractive procedures. They were only thinking about how to maximize profits in the short term.

According to Rand Paul, this is as it should be. In the old Calvin Coolidge adage, "The business of America is business." Civil rights and environmental concerns may have their place, but their place is not to stand in the way of private business or corporate profits. The question of what kind of America we will have if our civil rights are trampled upon and our environment fouled into toxicity is irrelevant. If the corporations make profit, if quarterly dividends are positive, if the Dow Jones index goes up three hundred points instead of down three hundred points, this is all that matters.

The ruthless nature of the American economy, its tendency to divide society into winners and losers, with many more losers than winners, invites resentment, scapegoating and paranoia. Even as corporate profits for companies like BP swell to mind-boggling proportions, many Americans find themselves out of work, and even those who are employed often enjoy little job security and dwindling job benefits, their debt level rising much faster than their wages, with the interest on their debt swelling the profits of bank and credit card companies. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, millions unemployed, and huge profits for Wall Street.

With such storm clouds on the horizon, what is the solution of political leaders like the governor of Arizona? Direct people's attention elsewhere; find the vulnerable scapegoat; prepare the sacrificial victim. Blame it on the immigrants. Blame it on those dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking Latinos. They did it all. They brought down the economy in 2007-08. They created the financial regulations that give much greater protection to corporate interests than average citizens. It was those damned wetbacks risking their lives to cross the border who caused the stock market to crash. It was the Mexicans who loosened up the regulations on oil drilling that led to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. That's right, Gulf of MEXICO. The name says it all... It's all their fault....let's arrest them, put them in prison, OK to rough them up a little bit, hey, no one's watching; let's separate fathers from mothers, mothers from children; let's ship them all back to Mexico. With rising budget deficits that make some in Washington reluctant to provide unemployment compensation to the millions unemployed, now is the time to spend millions or billions on a "Fence" between Mexico and the US.

Why is the governor of Arizona supporting this legislation? I can't see inside the workings of her mind, but to me it seems pure political calculation. She is a Republican, dependent mainly on white votes, with Arizona having a large number of retired white senior citizens who form her political base. Latinos are more likely to vote Democratic. Many of the white retirees hate and fear the Hispanics they pay to mow their lawns and perform other physically demanding tasks that they are unable or unwilling to do. For a Republican candidate who is not too concerned about civil rights, morality or basic human decency, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by beating up on Hispanics and romancing the racists. The same calcuation may apply to Rand Paul as a Republican candidate in Kentucky, though in his case, there does seem to be an actual ideology involved, that of Ayn Rand-style libertarianism. However, as that ideology is totally blind to and disinterested in issues like racial inequality and social injustice, which are irrelevant to the overriding libertarian concern with private property and individualism, that ideology, when applied to real life in ethnically diverse and socially unequal American society, is always borderline racist or potentially racist.

Whether it's the corporate pigs of BP or the politicians happy to cater to racism, I see the same common denominator of utter thoughtlessness and selfishness. No regard for what kind of environment we will have down the road, nor what kind of society. The Gulf of Mexico could become an ecological dead zone, a Gulf of Mordor. What does BP care? Current law limits their liability to $75 billion. They can write that off, pull out of the Gulf region, and set up new operations elsewhere. Note that one thing BP and its associated businesses did with great care and speed following the initial accident was to rush around with liability forms and try to get the traumatized, lucky-to-be-alive workers coming off the Deep Horizon rig to sign away their right to sue for damages. Massey did much the same. These fellows are very thoughtful indeed when it comes to protecting their profits; they just don't waste a lot of brain cells when it comes to thinking about protecting their workers or the world we live in.

This exposes one of the worst dangers of the "privatizing" trend that began with Reagan of turning over more and more functions and responsibilities to corporate control. Corporations and most businesses do not think long term. They think only of short term gain. To trust your environment, your planet, your health or your country's economic future to corporate good will is a horrible mistake, whose ramifications we can begin to see in these recent incidents. This is also true on the local level. To trust your town's landscape and natural resources to the tender mercies of real estate developers is to invite devastation of the land that brings short-term profit but long-term waste. The fact that human beings can be greedy, selfish, and thoughtless about the future is why we have a public sphere, why we have democratic governments instead of corporate government, why our ancestors talked in terms like "commonwealth" and "the common good." This has been forgotten and it needs to be renewed.

To trust your society to the whims of businessmen and corporations is likewise short-sighted. They think only of profit, not justice. The poor interest them only as potential low-cost labor, and they are quick to oppose any effort by poor citizens to improve their lot by community organizing or labor union formation. Their financial DNA is oriented to serving up whatever the most profitable demographic group wants. So if the key market group is white racist, no need to worry about other groups like African Americans or Latinos. If you want a good, safe and humane society where everyone can prosper and thrive, it will not come from giving in to the profit motives of businessmen, because they do not believe in society, only "The Market." Ronald Reagan's soulmate Margaret Thatcher famously declared, "There is no such thing as society...only individuals." The prison and armaments industries in the USA are thriving, and have been since the Reagan era, but few would say that we or the world are safer or fairer as a result. But not to worry: new fears create a profitable market for new forms of repression, called "security," whether it is fear of crime driving people to seek the luxury prisons known as "gated communities," or our endless wars against people who we are afraid might take up arms against us, overlooking the fact that our repeated bombings and invasions of other lands might just be a factor in others wanting to get revenge against the USA.

I am sad that many people I know in the American Asatru-Heathen community seem to subscribe to some version of the libertarian political philosophy. Dan Halloran, Theodish Heathen elected to the City Council in New York, who some Republicans would like to see try for higher office, is of the libertarian stripe, I believe. As I understand it, love of Libertarianism among American Asatruar has come about because they see individualism and tribalism, with no concern for any larger social unity or humanity in general, as values encoded in ancient Germanic lore, and find libertarianism in accord with this. I would dispute this reading, but that is an argument for another day. For today, I would note that the racial composition of American Asatru is nearly 100% white, and the disdain that many conservative Asatru followers seem to hold for government efforts to combat racism and reduce social inequality in the USA does seems to be more in line with the race-baiting of politicians like George Wallace, Jan Brewer, and perhaps Rand Paul, than with the thinking of individuals more commonly understood as intellectual and moral heroes like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Odin, the god of wisdom in Norse-Germanic mythology, is famed for thinking long-term about the future fate of the world, ALL the world, not just tribe X in region Z or rugged individual Q swinging his ax on a raid on village Y. To me this points the way forward. We must raise not our axes, but our minds up to think about the welfare of ALL, for the long-term future, not just short-term gain and selfish individualism.

If you think I am wrong, go swing your ax at the Gulf of Mordor...I mean Mexico.

Living with it

I’m going to Ikea today, this evening I am going to a friends house where I can assume wine will be taken and nibbles consumed. So today I am doing the kind of things everyone else is doing on a Saturday (hoping they won’t all be in Ikea, Edinburgh). So what has brought about this normalcy?

Have my moods stabilised?- no

Am I less anxious about these events than I was?- no

Am I now ‘getting back to normal’?- no

I’ve simply realised that this isn’t going away, I have got various mental illnesses and I am mentally ill. But I need to figure out how to live with my mental illness instead of fighting it all the time.

So what has forced this change in outlook? Well the realisation that I am fast approaching the eighth month of my illness has ‘helped’. I also had to suffer the indignity of the DLA form last night. I’m don’t feel applying for DLA is undignified, it was listing all the things I can’t do and scrutinising how my illness gets in the way of every aspect of my life that really ‘helped’.

So this morning as I dropped half a bag of sugar and half a pint of milk on my bedroom carpet, I was reminded of my dizziness and shakiness. My trip to Ikea was to be a secret solo one but a loving protective friend has intervened to do the driving and help support me through it.

I am totally dependant on others to do the simplest things- even the crappy things I hate- grocery shopping, school runs, dealing with mail, getting to and through various medical appointments. My memory is very poor so I have a heavy dependence on post-its.

So my life and my appearance appear normal, inside I am as chaotic as ever. My conditions can be treated and my brain chemistry can be stabilised but I doubt I will ever be cured. So I need to put things in place to help me live with it I haven't given up the fight, just chosen a different opponent and amassed a team to help. I'm always looking for new team members so if you see me today, say hi.

If you’re another 1 in 4 I hope you have some things to help you through the next couple of days, I know how hard weekends can be.

PS I ordered my T-shirt!

Art?

Since my illness hit I have created many pieces, in many different ways, most are safely locked away but here is an example from today. I have the feeling it may be a prolific day art wise!


This one uses acrylics, pencil, pva glue and Hama beads stolen from the children (actually Pyssla cheap IKEA equavilant of Hama beads!)

It's called

Bursting out, Seeping in



I'd like to say it's not one of the finest examples of my work but the standard is pretty typical!


Mid Week Medication Musings

Today is Wednesday; I had to consult the calendar to confirm it as I still live in the unstructured days blending into days that is mental ill health.


It’s the middle of the week and it’s been a middling kind of day.

I was high this morning, determined to buy a bike and learn to paint with oils so I could create the masterpiece that my brain has been formulating.

I was persuaded not to buy the bike (not safe to drive = not safe to cycle) and persuaded to try acrylics for the painting. My masterpiece is still locked mostly in my head as I discovered yet again that my actual talent does not match my ambition when it comes to art. I should’ve stuck with my usual medium of crayons.

Feeling restless agitated and fruitlessly creative I turned to Lorazepam.

The Lorazepam calmed me sufficiently that the rest of my day was spent in a kind boring suspension, aside from a trip to the pharmacists to collect my prescriptions.

The pharmacist felt it was his duty to warn me that the drugs I was collecting had some potentially dangerous interactions with each other- my reply “yes I know” it’s amazing how quickly one becomes accepting of such things.

Way back in November 09 when I initially approached my GP about my illness I was adamant that I wasn’t depressed and therefore didn’t need anti-depressant medication. Little did I know that I’d soon be downing anti-psychotics, mood-stabilisers, benzodiazepines and the rather charmingly classified hypnotics in order to get me up in the morning, help me through the day and help me get to sleep again at the end of it.

Each of these drugs brings it’s own information leaflet that at first you read hungrily, looking for hope, answers, reasons to or not to try the drugs. By the second week you know which end of the box to open to avoid coming into contact with the leaflet at all.

At the start of your treatment you are an active patient-

“So you recommend I try and SSRI then? Well I’d like some time to consider it”

A few months later you’re grabbing off-label prescriptions desperate that this one might just be the one that helps you get your life back.

Each new drug or dose increase brings a special little gift- shaky hands (eyeliner is a no-no), dizziness, weight gain, insomnia, drowsiness, hair loss- I believe anything is possible after witnessing my own face double in size after a reaction to one particular medication. Yet I continue popping pills ever-hopeful that one day I’ll just have a day.

So that was Wednesday, it was rubbish but way better than Tuesday which was awful. Tomorrow must be Thursday or as we call it round here ‘bin day’ because that’s the day the bin gets emptied and it doesn’t get more normal than that. I’ll keep taking my medication in the hope that ‘eyeliner day’ is just around the corner.

Ever wish you hadn't asked?

So I saw my psychiatrist yesterday; it was a brief encounter but enough was said to again leave me with more questions than answers.


Those of you who had read my previous posts will know I intended to ask what my diagnosis(es) is(are)- well I did.

So I have a mood disorder (aka Bipolar disorder) which I knew and was obvious but the words “dissociative” and “personality” were also touted. The entire consultation took around 15 minutes so it was left up to Dr’s Google and Wikipedia to fill in the blanks.

So I came home and looked it up and I found me here.

On one hand everything is clear and everything is a mess again. I'm literate and have access to the internet so It’s no surprise but it is a shock.

I am a keen subscriber to the "my illness doesn't define my personality" school of thought, but I find it harder to argue with this one.

I’ve thought long and hard over whether to publish this post or not but my only reasons for not doing so are shame and embarrassment so publish it I will. I stopped stigmatising myself a long time ago.

Given the way the news was delivered I figure anyone else with a similar diagnosis will be desperate to find kindred spirits and if I can help one person feel less alone then it's a job well done.

Yesterday was like being told “yes your leg is broken which you know but you also have a bit of cancer and toothache” and I went away thinking “did she say cancer?!”

I came away without so much as a pamphlet to read so Amazon are delighted to have me back and I eagerly await the postman when he comes to deliver my latest addition to my ever-growing mental health library.

Using my marbles

Last night I couldn't sleep, I got out of bed at 1am and realised ‘the fear’ was back; the fear that finally sent me into the hospital as I didn't feel safe at home. Last night I actually wished I was back inside and initially was at a loss as to what to do.

Unfortunately these kinds of things tend to happen at night and during the weekend so had to I deal with it- and deal with it I did.

My first action was to put the kettle on, naturally.


After two cups of tea and 5mg of diazepam the fear remained. I needed to break out plan B.


Not long after I met my (wonderful, fantastic, life-saving) CPN she introduced the concept of mindfulness. Being a horribly sceptical, cynical kind of girl I scoffed at her handouts but over time I have become a big fan.


Last night, after tea and diazepam I got out my mindful marbles- about 100 marbles in a plastic mesh bag. My mindful marbles are probably my favourite mindfulness tool (not least because I can have the occasional snigger to myself about losing them). They feel nice, they are all different sizes, I can count them, they make a lovely noise, they are cold but can be warmed up and they look great.



I 'totally get' mindfulness now I see my discovery of it as one of the upsides of becoming mentally ill.


My discovery of mindfulness brings me to something else I’ve discovered on my journey- quite appropriate for a Sunday blog post too.


I am not a religious person, have no belief in a god or gods and trust myself sufficiently to create a moral code of my own that is not dictated by any one dogma. My children are raised in a truly atheist house (though we do celebrate the Christian festivals that include gifts and chocolate) and I take a factual intellectual approach to discussions on religion, usually using them as an opportunity to discuss tolerance and acceptance. Since becoming ill I have realised we also live in a house that sadly has no spiritual dimension.


We are a very matter of fact kind of family- well most of us.


One of our family walks takes us past a Willow tree. I comment on the tree “oh that Willow tree is lovely”, my daughter comments on the tree “it’s a great colour”; my eldest son doesn’t notice the tree as he is in a huff having been dragged out for a walk but my youngest child comments on the tree “that tree is sad”. The tree does look sad, weeping, as Willows do.


Now the tree probably isn’t sad, it looks healthy enough and appears to have everything it needs. My youngest sons observation however jolted me into realising that being spiritual doesn’t have to mean being religious.


I struggle to define spirituality and I’m not really sure that it needs explaining- it is whatever you need it to be. For me it’s a kind of ‘stopping to smell the flowers’ kind of approach. It’s about stopping and thinking about situations, it’s about being grateful for who and what you have and are. It’s about seeing things differently and trusting your own, wise mind to do the right thing.


It’s not about wearing tie-dye, doing yoga or becoming a vegan, it’s about being a whole person.


Looking after your spirit is an essential tool in the pursuit of good mental health. The very fact that no-nonsense, matter-of-fact, considers the Periodic Table and a world map as legitimate works of art me is saying that is testament to how important it is.


So there are upsides to mental illness and my realisation that I need to stop and think a bit more is an upside. The rest of it still sucks though!


So today I am grateful for mindfulness and glad that I haven’t lost my marbles.

The East Sands, St Andrews, a view I'd really miss

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I walked along here this afternoon- wearing my factor 50, feeling like I wanted it all to stop (again) and I wondered where, in amongst the throng, all the other 1 in 4's were, shame we don't wear badges, a hug would've been good

See Label for Care Instructions

I usually do or think something then think I should blog about it, today I just feel like blogging.


Today is Saturday; I've been at home just short of a full week.


So how's it going?


Well the beginning of the week nearly saw me "back inside" but my lovely GP deemed me well enough not to be sectioned. I politely declined the many invitations to return to the hospital. I have evened out a little as the week has gone on though still seem to be stuck in fast-forward. It's 8.42am on a Saturday morning and I am up, ready and raring to go, I was the same yesterday and ended up very frustrated that none of the shops opened at 8.30am (I needed ant traps!). 


My days are very productive and non-stop but I think it's largely because they can be- at home there's always something to do.


I've still not officially been discharged from hospital; I have an appointment with my psychiatrist on Monday that should see me "released back into the community".


I never know quite how to prepare for a psychiatrist appointment- had it been yesterday at 4pm she would've been amazed at my progress- not high or low, no agitation but by 8pm I was doing a drugs inventory again "just in case".


On Monday I intend to ask just what is wrong with me. I only have one diagnosis on paper as the consultant "doesn't like to label people". I understand that the issue of labels is a sticky one, some people like them, others don’t- I do.

How do you know what's in something if there is no label? I know what's in me is mostly me but there are a few other things in there too and if I know what they are, I stand some chance of beating them or at least living in some sort of harmony with them.


In the absence of officially sanctioned labels, Dr Google FRCP is only too happy to step in and as anyone with mental illness knows- any illness can see you fitting the diagnostic criteria for everything in DSMIV. (In fact I am convinced the DSM has a photo of me on every page)


So Monday should bring some clarification (and a need to shop for specific self-help books) and an idea of what the future may hold in terms of my mental health.


I don’t have any fear of what Monday may bring labels wise- I’m more scared of being told I’m just me and am being discharged and having my support withdrawn.

Taking Responsibility

Last night I discharged myself from hospital- technically I'm on a 'weekend pass' but I know I'm not going back.

Today I am enjoying the very simple pleasures of which I have been deprived and which are rather lame when I think about it, namely cups of tea when I want them and a little bit of housework.

I am aware that I am in great danger of overdoing in and the elastic between myself and the hospital is probably a little overstretched right now.

I need to get better, I need to be well again but I need to allow myself to recover and that's very different from making myself recover.

I have a great team of friends and health professionals "in the community" and I think between us we can do it.

The next few days, weeks and months are going to be very challenging but I have plenty to keep me occupied, not least the hundreds of letters I need to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon.

I'm glad to be home, I think and as usual I crave external validation for my decision but at the moment I'm aware that in spite of the tears the hitherto unseen anger and upset I displayed in front of hospital staff last night, no-one tried to talk me out of going.

My blog has proved to be a source of great comfort and support and now that I'm back in the lovely land of Wi-Fi I can update it more easily so I'll let you all know what's going on.

And finally, the treatment of Mental Illness in this country is shameful. I am many things now but I still remain political and when I'm back to full strength I really hope to do something about it. I started yesterday with my own very ignorant relative who enquired whether "the rest of the people in here are *circles finger round side of head*" I replied "no they're all just like me, mentally ill".

Mania or me?

I’ve woken this morning to sunny skies and I feel good. Over my morning cup of tea I have formulated a number of plans and great ideas for activities to fill my day. Being under the psychiatric microscope as I am I’m left questioning whether I am simply in a good mood or on the verge of a manic episode.

So far this week- not just “the black dog” but a whole pack of black dogs have chased me down until even making eye contact was impossible- let alone sustaining a conversation. I had no desire to be around others anyway so it didn’t really matter.

Today I don’t feel depressed and there mere fact that I’m writing a blog post at 7.28am suggests I have renewed vim and vigour coming from somewhere.

Now it’s possible the drugs are doing their thing but the problem is I just don’t know- and neither does anyone else really.

One of the issues with mental illness is that your healthcare team don’t meet you until you’re ill. If you have a good GP (as I do) who has seen you in the past with the kind of ailments you see a GP about, they can often see how different you are when mental illness strikes. My current team however only know me ill so they have no point of reference in terms of where my mood should be. Nobody knows your baseline and when you’re ill you don’t either, I suspect, until you find it again.

I have always considered myself a naturally high person, enthusiastic, productive and engaging. Now even I can’t separate my personality from the pathology. With hindsight now being applied to my life before I became ill by various health professionals there is a tendency to see all my previous activities in terms of depressive or manic episodes.

I was the sort of person who felt completely comfortable getting up in front of a room full of people and talking- about whatever I was required to talk about. I was busy and had many fingers in many pies and I could leaflet a tower block in record time! I was often “high” when I think about it but only in a way that was appropriate and useful to get the job in hand completed.

So I’m still no wiser as to whether I will spend my day juggling up and down the hospital corridor or whether I will simply have a “good” day. Anyone who has bipolar disorder will know what I yearn for- whatever the price.

There is no way to tell, no test, though there are a few indicators. When I feel like this- I get all my drawing materials out and if I go for crayons I know I’m heading up. When I’m depressed I draw with pencils or black biro. (I have become a prolific artist of late although I can only produce dark, disturbing work or pieces that would be best described as “na├»ve”)



Thanks to Amazons very good “we know you want to buy this and we were waiting for you to feel good before we send you this direct link which will allow you to spend money in just one click” email I am also able to shop from my hospital bed. Mania has already stolen my savings and I used to be the most frugal person I knew- never buying anything without being sure I was getting the best available deal- even then I rarely bought anything for myself but I now have enough shoes for all the black dogs to be well shod for a while!

So in the time it’s taken me to write this post, my mood has continued to climb, I’m at the stage where I can “feel” my blood rushing through my body and I’ve just entertained everyone in the meds queue so I suspect I’m heading up. I will no doubt be back to blog the period of reflection and insight that comes after the juggling.

Recovery

So today, I feel a little better.


The temptation as always is to rush to “get back to normal” but normal is a very long way away. I need to be mindful not to set myself up for failure or a return to poor mental health.

I am so far removed from my normal everyday life; it all seems a little overwhelming when I think about it.

I have been a psychiatric inpatient for three weeks now and in that time there’s a lot of things I obviously haven’t done- worked, looked after my own children, driven my car but it’s the little things, that all combine to form the bigger picture of “normal life” that I’ve missed that are more difficult to come to terms with.

I am going home on Friday- for an hour. In this time I will make myself a cup of tea, in a proper cup for the first time in three weeks. I will sit on my own sofa for the first time in three weeks, I will be alone in my own home, for the first time in three weeks, I will wash, dry and put away my own cup and return to the sanctuary from normal that the hospital has unexpectedly become.

When I first came into hospital I couldn’t imagine that it would soon become the only place I felt safe, but it is and I suspect the piece of elastic joining the two of us together will be broken by continued stretching, rather than a quick snip with a pair of scissors.

Going back to the semantics again, this psychiatric hospital has become my asylum.

Anyone who knows me knows I am my own worst enemy and in the absence of external pressure to get things done, I can deliver it from within in bucket loads. I’m getting better and I have discovered self-compassion and I think I am ready to be a little easier on myself.

My wonderful CPN described my experience as a “mental health car crash” and she’s right (again), I need and deserve time to recover fully and in a way that ensures the elastic doesn’t get stretched too far- though I struggle daily with my need to have a nap! My body knows it needs one, my head knows it needs one but I’m never sure whether the same allowances that are made for people recovering from physical illness are extended to those of us recovering from mental illness. I think I just need to decide that yes, they are.

So today is better than yesterday, aside from the shocking infrequency of cups of tea, non-existent wi-fi and the 1970’s catering, this place isn’t too bad; it’s a good place to start my journey.

Semantics

I bought some Lovehearts the other day, two of them said “crazy” on them. I ate the offending confectionary whilst I mulled over the use of language and mental health.


It occurred to me that the manufacturers of Lovehearts would never print “myeloid leukaemia” or “heart disease” on a sweetie, so why write crazy?

Mental illness is often referred to as a taboo subject, the truth is we all talk about it everyday. “I was stuck in traffic, going mental”, “I was watching the football but it was too depressing”, “look at the dog, running round like a lunatic”.

Modern music contains many references- my own personal favourite of the moment being the great philosopher Dizee Rascal “some people think I’m bonkers, but I just think I’m free”. Patsy Cline was "Crazy", The rolling Stones sang about someones "19th Nervous Breakdown". As I mulled this over my initial (political) reaction was that this needs to change but then I thought about the alternative, clinical terms-

Manic
Psychotic
Delusional
Obsessive
Paranoid


All correct, but no less evocative or negative than the everyday parlance. I came to the conclusion that as a society we are just negative about mental illness, whatever the context.

The portrayal of mental illness in popular culture- films, soaps, art, poetry and music is always extreme. Better to portray an episode of an illness than all the boring bits that happen in between, it’s much more enjoyable to read about someone in the depths of despair than it is to read about the days in between where they did grocery shopping or went to work, paid some bills and cooked the dinner.

Manic episodes make great TV and eating disorders swing in and out of fashion but often show up in the back stories of Casualty characters or thin teen soap characters. Suicide is often the best, cleanest way to get rid of a character whose actor doesn’t want or isn’t getting his contract renewed.

TV shows often get praised by the mainstream press for demystifying disability and homosexuality though sensitive portrayal but with mental illness it’s all about impact and extremes.

I’ve discovered the truth is always scarier than the fiction.

Many mental illnesses are lifelong, enduring conditions that are often not obvious, except in their extremes. A lot of us walk around with a pocket full of labels, dished out by various health professionals along the way. Some labels are like T-Shirt slogans and can’t be hidden but most of them stay unseen. Perhaps this is why I continue to insist “I’m not ill”.

The WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". I am ill. I am also many of the things listed above, but you’d never guess which ones just by looking.

I don’t want the world to start being careful what they say, but I’m going to and I will never take my son back to our local soft play (Bonkers Playbarn)...........

............and I’m not buying Lovehearts again either.



Psychiatric Patient

Today, election day, I am facing my 16th day as a psychiatric inpatient. It's been a very different and difficult 16 days.

There's no need for me to go into the medical reasons why I'm here, I'm safer here, it's better for my children if I am here. It's not the kind of place I would choose to be.

My mental health took a significant turn for the worse and I'm waiting for modern medicine and the system to patch me up sufficiently so I can return home and start rebuilding my shattered life.

I knew very little about this side of mental healthcare provision and again I am ashamed at the state some parts of it are in. Everyday I get the same message from staff- "we'd like to do X /Y/Z but we're too busy/short of staff. In fact I am all to aware of the pressures the staff here face and at times I feel like an inconvenience.

From time to time, when I dare to think one day I might be able to cope with the relative stress of going out alone, living in my own house, managing my own pain in a healing and healthy way, I plan my future and the changes I think I could make to the perception and treatment of mental health in society. I also have a number of letters already mentally written to Ms Sturgeon. When I'm well enough she'll be sick of the sight of me.

At this stage I struggle to be witty at all but I have designed a range of T-shirts including one with "do I look like the cabinet secretary for health?" written on it.

Today is going to be difficult for me, you all know how hard I worked in the past but for this election I have been largely absent. It's easier for me to pretend it's just not happening.

I do not know what I'm going to do today, I don't know whether I can face watching election coverage on TV- I've hidden from news in all formats for at least 16 days. I've steered clear of Twitter and Facebook and put myself in an electionless bubble. It'll be the first election night I haven't spent at a count or sat up, feet aching, glued to the TV.

I nearly lost my right to vote yesterday but after considering my future career (whatever that is) the psychiatrist decided to hold off. The truth is I don't think I can vote, not for somebody else, not in "my" seat. I am ashamed to even say it but in terms of a triggering event I can't imagine anything more difficult than going to the polling station and putting an X next to where my name should've been and could've been had other shown the enduring loyalty I often extend to others.

So I will keep myself occupied today agonising over whether I think I can use my right to vote and vote for someone else in my seat in my election.

I wish everyone well for today, especially Labour comrades. I wish I was out there with you, I wish I was who I was but I hope that this episode will have made a new improved version and I hope to unleash her on the world soon.

So I will now go back to being the patient, I hope to 'return to the community' before my birthday in June but in the meantime would like readers to shower me with friendly emails and in fact cards and gifts (cd's are good)!

Zoe Smith
c/o Lomond Ward
Stratheden Hospital
Cupar
Fife
KY15 5RR

My little girl will be 13 tomorrow, she doesn't want a Tory goverment and neither do I but I've ressured her that should that happen, she's in the best place- I won't stand for it for long.

I'm not sure that I'm the only person who cannot predict the outcome of today, from the snippets of news that sneaks in off the soles of visitors shoes it's all a bit up in the air. I'm too up in the air myself to care much. I hope we win but I know if we don't I'm ready for a fight, well, almost ready.