Tuesday, 26 June 2007


Some months ago when I was blogging on another site I wrote about a conference I had attended the events focus being recovery which is placed high on the Scottish Parliments agenda in the area of mental health.

All of the speakers that day had their own individual story to tell and all were inspiring and moving, but one man in particular brought a hushed, stilled silence as he spoke his thoughts and experience bringing tears to many eyes including mine.

This is going to be a long post, but I cant not post it, having come across his speech published in a newsletter that is handed round service providers. It brings back memories of that day, this man I will not forget. His name is Graham Morgan who is manager of the Higlands and Islands User Group, a support network for users of mental health services across the highlands

He began

' People talk and talk about this idea ' recovery'- it's hard to find a service or a proffessional who doesnt say that they will incorporate the recovery model into the way they treat us and act with us and so on.

And yet for me the idea and the word recovery are slightly alien and I have little or no background in what it really means to those who have immersed themselves in ideas and concepts that float around so freely nowadays.

It was a few months ago that I thought that I might hav something relevant to say. I was talking at a conference and a consultant came up to me after my speech and said that she had heard me speak twice now and that from listening to me and watching me she was sure that my diagnosis of schizophrenia was wrong.

Initially I was very offended - it just seemed inappropriate to say such things. Also, I have grown so used to this diagnosis that to throw it away in a casual conversation seemed quite demeaning - but it made me think, I have hung onto the idea of illness for so long , it is a huge part of the way that I define myself and view myself- is it possible to get caught in a world that, though comfortable, traps you and smothers your growth.

My wish to speak out was confirmed a few weeks later when I recieved a call from the Royal College of Psychiatrists asking me to speak at their summer meeting. And what were they wanting me to talk about? My road to recovery and what it is like to have regained my health.

My mind turned a few cartwheels of surprise- " bing bang bong" I went and "wait a minute" since when did I recover and why didnt anyone tell me? A sort of " just excuse me for a second, but, dont I have a say in when I can be regarded as recovered as well and whole and satisfied with the journey my life takes me on".

I really was a shocked person for a time but then a little balm of soft joy slipped into my brain, all the wheels turned cautiously, frightened of unpleasant truths or skipped uncertainties about to ambush my security

This small inkling of a new world muttered about " what if I really am well?" , "what if I have recovered" What if, unknown to me , my journey has become rosy? - and I agreed to talk in the summer about that journey. So I better do my very best to achieve the joy of a world that is not mind numbingly caught up inthe world of sadness and illness and the maintenance of helplessness. The request I had found so offensive became a token to light my way and provide new invigorating ways in which to see the world, to take that giant leap in self definition and see myself as whole rather than damaged and shattered.

Since then I have enthusiastically adopted the idea that I am now well. I bubble around the office telling everyone that I never was a schizophrenic, which alarms everyone as our awareness raiser relies on my story for our awareness training and then I talk about stopping my medication, stopping seeing my psychiatrist and CPN and living free of the cloying world of lost hopes.

But that is wrong isnt it? To be well and recovered or to lead a fulfilling life doesnt have to mean that you reject your past or the world with which you are familiar or even mean tht you have to be anywhere near well.

Let me set the scene of my life for you ...Im 44 years old now and its 23 years since I was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I had spent some years piling on the adolescent angst until it became too much to bear, life leached itself of its colours that make it vibrant and my core became a place of aching sadness, tense anxiety and numb fear of those around me, the life I lived and the things I believed in, which was nothing. The only bright thing was the sting of a razor blade which helped me relax and sleep but also made me sick inside with disgust at myself - I remember the cold white fear when I finally took an overdose and failed miserable at the idea of dying.

Those years were a time of huge emptiness, a lost and lonely time, where I rejected those around me and found the idea of communication and emotion too much to handle, but then, it was finally my friends that took me out of it and of course, activity and time and finally love and meaning and purpose - these changed my world and opened up a new dimension where the world became a place I loved being part of , where, instead of being frightened of everyone I began to look forward to the meetings with strangers that can enliven life, where instead of staring at the pavement, I wanted to meet the eyes of those that I walked past.

I had a few wonderful years until with a huge bang everything around collapsed around me and my reality became so confused that it didnt even make sense to me. Those years became the years of Haliperidol and Largactil and later on the injections of Depixol, which still makes me indignant.

I now live with symptoms that bubble enough to sometimes worry but never spill over into downright alienation.

I am fortunate that I have had experiences that give me a glimpse of the abysmal hell that illness can be but, usually, I have been on the edge looking in, lucky enough to keep myself sound and whole for most of the time.

However the years have shaped me. I see myself as ill and damaged. I define myself as different- I dont trust ordinary people, instead I light up when I meet those that have been through similar experiences. I feel a bond with the world of mental illness which provides me with identity, security, friendship, acknowledgement, communion and respect. It makes my life at times wonderful- and this is where I worry about the world of recovery. I dont want to leave my world behind, my identity of illness and difference has been informed by my experiences over the past two decades. These years have reinforced the message that this is the safest place to be. Its where I find my friends, its where I earn my income, its where I meet people who understand me - I really dont want to leave it, I fear a world without illness. And yet a big part of me says take that risk, step out into the real world, engage with those normal people that you are so frightened and sceptical of, cut through the strings of restriction that you have wound so tightly about yourself, that you cant breath the bright fresh air where new worlds beckon. And then I turn back and feel confused and something Simon said brings comfort to me, because, I heard him saying that recovery is a personal journey with a personal definition. That lifts my heart because I dont in the name of a rosy future, want to reject my past or the experiences and people that are dear to me.

So for me recovery will not mean discarding the past or my experience or my friends, but, will mean that I embrace new identities. I suppose that in these last few minutes I have defined myself along the tram lines of impairment.

There is an alternitive way of looking at the last 23 years of my life. I have had the huge fortune to live a life of great richness. I have sailed across the Mediterranean twice and across the Atlantic twice, where I have seen beautiful dolphins and whales, where the phosphorescence in a gale has made the sails glow. I have sailed over seas in the Philippines where the coral beneath our boat seemed close enough to touch. I have sat mending our tent in the Sahara after a sandstorm blew it in two, next ot some lonely soldiers patrolling a deserted coast with just two camels for company. I have climbed to the top of mountains in Borneo with my son where our breath has become tight in our chest, but, across the bare rock we have seen the rising sun ant the clouds far below.

I have had the privelege of having friends that have let drunken conversations flow erratically through the night, the joy of falling in love and knowing that another person cannot wait to see me again. There is angst and agony of bringing up and growing up with my son.

I could go on for ages and ages about all those parts of my life that have nothing to do with despair and sadness, and so, I suppose, that for me my route to recovery involves opening up my world to all those experiences that have nothing to do with schizophrenia but which have shaped me just as surely as the labels our world is so keen to adopt.

When I get to my conference in the summer I hope that my message of recovery is about Graham who loves to be silly, who cant wait for the chance to talk nonsense, who loves to cook to drink and to walk by rivers and to write and to work and bask in the joy he gets from those that he loves and who love and respect him in turn. That is me too, an awkward smoker who doesnt smoke at the moment, a little puppy who basks in a hug or a compliment and a person who just wants life to be nice and friendly and for whom razor blades represent a bright escape which will hopefully never need to happen again.

I dont know where this journey will take me. I dont know whether I will become ill again, whether the world will be rosy or sad and in many ways I dont want to try and decide on the shape of my journey, but I do thank that consultant who told me that I wasnt a schizophrenic . She did me a great favour - I am going to keep that label as long as it fits my internal vision but, I do feel I have been given a liberating responsibility to look at a world that is wider than illness and disability; that embraces a fuller view of the world, and gives new perspectives to a life that is sometimes wonderful. Yet my journey has grown out of pain and that journey has only been successful because of my connection with those who have suffered even more than me. That is my past and my bedrock, and will continue to be a part of my reality and is something I will never reject, just because some people choose to see me as well rather than ill.

Graham Morgan speaking at the Scottish Recovery Conference...February 2007 Dundee, Scotland


RUTH said...

I remember your original post and read this with a smile and a tear. Such a positive outcome "against all odds"...what a catalyst that chance remark was...

Audrey said...

It very often is I have found when talking with people the one chance remark that can open the door thats needed. A very courageous,unassuming man. x Auds

Gledwood said...

... sometimes, in psychiatry, the "treatment" (and that doesn't always mean strictly medical treatment; i mean it in the widest sense of that word...) is worse than the alleged illness!
That was a great post, I'm glad things have turned out better in the end...
all the best


Audrey said...

Sadly Gleds what you say is all too often peoples experience of the system,hopefully the recovery model will change things for the better,much like the diagnostic tools its all theory and concept,but does not loose sight of the wellness thats also present as Graham Morgan so movingly points out.

Icarus said...

Hi & here's the deal. I saw this yesterday and demands on my time won't let me read anything longer than 3 Articles of a law, so..i'm going to print it out now and read it with more time and later, when I've reached my target in 13 clauses from now. OK?

Audrey said...

LOL Stewart,OK of course OK xxAuds

Leanne said...

what a heartfelt speech and a lovely story. thanku for commenting on my blog today,i left a comment on my own blog by mistake so thought i should leave one here too lol! im sad to that i do eat the leftovers even when ive had a dinner myself..whoops! x

Audrey said...

LOL Leanne a girl cant have too many dinners when there are children to look after x and lots birdie and barbie songs...lol

Icarus said...

Hi, I have now read it, while I was resting. I am feeling terribly stressed out from what I have to do, seriously not good.
I found it a little confusing - and I don't know how much my onw head is responsible for that. But he is psychiatrist who not only has been there, but is most fulfilled being around others who are in the predicament. I am sympathetic. It - as usual - makes me think, examine. History. We are who we are because of where we have been, what has made us, all of it. It is useless and a cop-out to try to to have to deny any of our history.
There is a bell ringing in this.

AintNeverScared said...

1. Who creates the little brain teasers and quotes of the day to the right of your text? Is it you or is it just the blogger you use? They're awesome, and I always do them.

2. A BILLION thank you's for my award! I haven't done much blog-reading this week and just saw it today! I'm so flattered. I posted the good news on MY blog :D

AintNeverScared said...

3. I have so much upon which I want to comment regarding this post of yours! Forgive me for venturing a guess here (and don't be offended please if I'm wrong), but it almost sounds like you feel some guilt over now being well. Like, you want to take great care not to leave your old identity behind, not to be capricious or cavalier with your new freedoms.

I don't know you very well, but I feel like I can relate if you DO feel some of that. I'm about to post about it on my blog, so I won't be redundant. I just don't want to see you beat yourself up at all over something like that. You are well now, enjoy your beautiful life! While I don't know you well, as I said, I can already tell without a doubt in the world that you are NOT the type of woman who would leave behind her old friends or responsibilities or communities just because she is better or even "cured."

Finally, my uncle suffers from a severe form of schizophrenia, so I was interested to hear that you battle this as well. I feel for you; I have seen this disorder (is it considered a disorder? disease?) at it's ugliest.

Well, please take care and continue to be well!