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
' 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