Had a good and useful time at Bobby Baker's Artist Peer Support Day yesterday, full of 'mad' artists and cakes. I was toying with giving up being a professional artist but it has invigorated my creative vision and soothed my insecurities.
It showed very helpful ways to look after yourself as a mad artist, including practical stuff like reasonable adjustments. When I am asked my access requirements, I put 'people not be be wankers' but I realise I need to be more specific than that. And it has given me an idea to do training. 'Mental Health/Disability Awareness - How Not to be a Wanker'.
One of the amazing artists there said something very wise. "Own your madness," she said. So I have copyrighted mine. This now means psychiatry needs my permission to use it. They won't be able to afford my fees.
Excuse me while I do the time-honoured tradition of sending the copyrighted item to myself in the post. It may take a while, my madness needs a lot of bubble wrap.
So Mr Fry, where is the trigger warning for you being a twat?
I used to have respect for you. After your first BBC programme on bipolar, I noticed a sea change in that people were more open about talking about mental health. But from there things steadily deteriorated.
You became a self-appointed spokesperson regarding mental health, despite not experiencing poverty, bad or no housing, benefit cuts, psychiatric abuse or trauma, which more recent studies show contribute to mental ill health and keep people there.
You do not speak for those people and the fact you don’t talk or tackle those things in your mental health work, means in some ways you are doing more harm than good. Not all of us have had the privileged life you have had.
I have been raped as a small child, strangled, shot at, discriminated against because of my colour, sexuality and disability, and I have a serious mental health condition, and I haven’t whinged as much as you, because that’s what you are doing now, isn’t it? You like to think mental ill health is to do with a broken brain, but I think it's more to do with a broken heart. Why break people's hearts further, Mr Fry?
To those people who have had their hearts broken by things in their lives, such as child sexual abuse, I respect your strength in having survived those experiences, being in a society that doesn’t give a shit, and having to deal with idiots like Stephen Fry. You are my heroes, not a privileged twat who likes publicly expressing the ugliest emotion in humanity.
I am moving out of London in a month or so, relocating to Norfolk. I am getting rid of some of my art, so I decided to make a short video of my art and home. So if you are interested in making an offer for anything, drop me an email at email@example.com.
I will consider anything over £20, plus P&P costs.
Are you mad enough to be yourself, even if the loneliest song?
Are you mad enough to dream your dreams, say your words, and do your thing?
Are you mad enough to love in a world that wants your hate?
Are you mad enough to shout, ‘This isn’t right’ in a world that functions so well on being so wrong?
Are you mad enough to a small brave light, when cowardice has the shiniest star?
Are you mad enough to cut the puppet strings, even if the world tries to turn them into a harvest of nooses?
Are you mad enough to stand up against a ceiling made only tall enough for those on their knees?
Are you mad enough to say the world is hurting you, and want no sedation to be ready for more hurt?
Are you mad enough to open your arms in front of closed doors, walls and borders, in front of human beings?
Are you mad enough not to feed the machine, with pointless things that fill nothing and kill everything?
Are you mad enough to be ugly in a beautiful world of greed, war, and hatred?
Are you mad enough yet?
I don't know what to do next artistically or with regards to mental health work, so I have been reflective. Whatever I have done with my life, it hasn't been mediocre.
After a few drinks, I decided to sing about it.
Here are the lyrics, if you want to go all karaoke.
And now, my rear is here
And so I face another injection
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I didn’t travel the most used highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
Diagnosis, I’ve had a few
But then again, too poo to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without recent section
I faced each bastard loss, survived 5 tory elections.
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate up cake and developed gout
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
Apparently this is inappropriate
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way
For what is madness, what has it got?
If not ourselves, then we have naught
To say the things we truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way
Yes, it was my way
I insist sanity be recalled, but I am not sure where it should be returned to.
I have already created a website experiencing psychosis http://internetbreakdown.com/
Today I decided to create a depressed search engine insisting that there isn't any point to looking for what you want.
I have self-hate in my programming too, the anti-virus is not sanity, that only makes my system crash again and again. To that end, I want to disrupt systems that produce ‘copy and paste’ identities/ thoughts/ perceptions/ life/ death, as a Trojan horse dressed as my little pony on acid with a little sadness in their hearts.
My anti-virus programme is my art and creativity; it is putting sanity over my lap and smacking its naughty bum bum.
The Revolution will not be medicated
No forced stillness and wiped dreams
No being held down
For being different
No sedation for the screams
We are screaming for a reason
Our hurt will change the world
Because the world won't change our hurt
The side effect of life
Is the need for it to be ours
The revolution will not be medicated
You cannot anesthetise hell
You cannot desensitise the broken heart
Madness is seen as revolting
Surrounded by arseholes, it is good to have an arse that stands out, although some will argue, that’s half the problem.
But how better to show your recovery by looking after your bum. Let it be so beautiful when they inject it, they feel shame at tarnishing such sexiness.
Here are my tips for looking after your bum bum in the leaflet .
DO SOME BUM EXERCISES (see left)
SOFTEN YOUR BUM BUM WITH MOISTURISING CREAM (psych staff will feel bad about injecting such a smooth baby’s bum)
DRAW ON YOUR BUM: Every bum you inject is a piece of your own death.
Here is another guide, this time most of it not written by me, but a collaborative endeavour from Recovery in the Bin. My contribution was turning it into a leaflet, and adding the extra text and images. There isn't room to show the whole leaftlet, but here are the first 4 pages.
I am part of a facebook forum called 'Recovery in the Bin'. This User Led group is for MH Survivors and Supporters who are fed up with the way colonised 'recovery' is being used to discipline and control those who are trying to find a place in the world, to live as they wish, trying to deal with the very real mental distress they encounter on a daily basis. We believe in human rights and social justice!
Today someone wanted to create a spoof leaflet on how not to be diagnosed with personality disorder, it inspired me to do 'How to not get diagnosed with schizophrenia or psychosis'
Here it is!
Morley College has revived their 100 year old tradition of putting on their penny lectures, where people pay a penny to listen to a talk. Bobby Baker and I talked on the theme of Creativity and Mental Liberation. I decided to present my manifesto on Creativity and Mental Liberation, which has been harvested from previous writings and some new thoughts.
A manifesto declares to the world your beliefs, goals, and what needs to be made real.
I had my first psychosis at 14. I was lost in hell. Psychiatry didn’t rescue me. I finally found my way into some kind of light in my 30s. If you, like me, have been residing in psychotic hinterlands for a good few decades, you realise when you rejoin society, you are decades behind your peers. Your first love, job, career, home, relationships are new things in your 30s and 40s. People talk of lost youth like a misplaced item. Mine was never there in the first place.
When you stumble with the mistakes in middle age that most people dispensed with in their teens, it’s humiliating and demeaning, it skins you alive when you have no skin to begin with. Your vulnerability feels like a coat of petrol in a world of fire. It adds shame to more shame.
Psychiatry & society say I should have shame for hurting because of trauma, shame that I am mad. I was told to gain a thick skin in a world that gives me nothing to buy them with. I want a culture that doesn’t produce a suicide every 40 minutes. I want a mind that doesn’t produce a suicidal thought every 40 minutes. I had to stop hating myself.
So what do I do? My mind is too strange to pay the adequate amount of taxes. My soul is too hurt to accept any more bullshit. If I do not belong to this world, where is my map?
Luckily, I discovered creativity such as writing and art, which helped me express difficult feelings. I wrote poems about loneliness that made me feel less lonely. I realized I was drawing myself a map. If services and systems provide you with a map on how to be lost, and stay lost, you need to find the map elsewhere. Creativity has done that for me. I see arts as an opportunity to develop ways to reclaim identity from a mercenary, judgemental world that has abused it. The sanatised world insults my dreams and humiliates my soul. Asking me to be normal is asking too little of me, it asks too little of all of us.
The British artist Nigel Henderson said that art is the battleground for the human spirit. Madness might mean my mind is at war with itself but psychiatry has made me a refugee from my own soul. The guerrilla heart wants to win. Most mental health difficulties are not about broken brain but broken hearts. And tablets do not mend a broken heart. Creativity knows the heart needs love, a new story, knows the heart should be respected and be exceptional.
You need to free your mind twice, before you tackle mental pain, you have to free yourself from psychiatry. Label yourself creative thinker rather than broken mind. Too many of us are given the message that our inner realities, our very selves are pathological and must be hidden. Too many of us feel like lesser beings. How can it be lesser if we can, through creativity, make it is bold and colourful and beautiful as we like. That is what creativity is: the power to change.
Robert Motherwell, the artist, said he felt ‘unwedded to the universe’ I feel unwedded to the universe, adulterous to the breath, how can I love the bruised whore of my being, when I want to be with faithful death. But art weds me to the world by changing the way I look at it, and changing the world itself.
Let’s not beat around the bush, psychiatry has defined your mind as ugly, but why do you see your mind as ugly when I see the beauty of it? Why are other people owning your definition? Who says you are you? Who has written your script? If you don’t like your script you are living, write a new one. If you don’t like the people around you, recast the characters. I realised this for myself. I realised I was giving my narrative on a plate to those who couldn’t even write a pot noodle ad. Also, I think psychosis is a story/experience that can’t be faced in its purest form. Creativity can help that with its gentle re-writing.
Someone in a film I did called ‘greenhouse of hearts’ talked about madness and art. And he said something along the lines of “art bridges madness to the rest of the world, and it gives it a language that is better suited to the experience.” And it’s true. Words like disorder, pathology, false beliefs don’t explain my experience or help me make sense of them; creativity does.
Creativity is a voice that compels you to create with as much rigour as psychotic voices. To me the difference is whether the voice in internal, dancing on your skin or far away because it is too painful to be inside. What is the creative process but a voice, and what is art but a ghost that forces itself to be real.
Psychiatry or normality does not tell truth of me. My art show the truth of me: broken child, but cellotaped with glitter and stars.
When you look upon your mind with the eye of a painter, you can look upon it with curiosity and wonder. You can ask yourself why this crease is there, why the light is stronger here. And why does the shadow always falls on that thought or dream. Can you make your world beautiful enough to save your soul.
But it goes beyond art as therapy. I think reality is a cheeky bastard, and I am putting him over my lap and slapping his naughty arse through my art. I have done it with things like ‘I helped a normal’ sticker or writing the Mad 10 Commandments, which are:
1. Thou shalt not kill free thought
2. Do not worship the ratrace, get off the rat and ride the unicorn.
3. Your story must be written by you.
4. Do not make pathology or normality your idol
5. Do not hurt anyone, including yourself
6. Honour your soul and the souls of others
8. Do not lose your sense of humour
9. Do not covet normality
10. Do not follow commandments
If I could sum up my manifesto in a few lines:
Don't be a little flame ashamed of the light you shed. Time to shine and embarrass the sun, the stars.
Subvert the world and insist it be beautiful.
Next week is Mental Health Week and this year's theme is dignity. This is my take on it:
Dignity cannot be taken 4 times a day
Being labelled, pathologised and medicated,
I cannot claim my mind for myself
I cannot claim my life for myself
So how can I even have dignity?
Medicine does not heal
But seals the scream
Is that dignity?
Dignity are never in the side effects.
Weight gain – my arse is getting bigger than my dreams.
Too tired to reach for the day, let alone the sun.
Try having sex without coming – dignity?
Love with a lot of going – dignity?
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but try it with a largactil shuffle.
Constipation does not feel like dignity
How can I sing the song of dignity, drooling?
I would walk away with my head held high, but am too tired, too alone, too despised.
But let’s put aside the pills for a moment.
Is dignity in the waiting room?
Is it in the set of eyes that sees you as a sickness?
How much does dignity cost exactly? It’s not in our budget this year. It’s not in the economic case.
Dignity is not in the control and restraint, face down, begging to breath.
It was not in the staggered silence of my ‘community care’.
It is not in the 'burden of care' phrase.
I am still waiting for my appointment with dignity.
Dignity means not begging for my identity, my dreams, it means not begging to be heard, to be cared for.
Dignity means honouring the person, but not being hated will do.
Dignity cannot be taken 4 times a day.
And shouldn’t be bitter pills to swallow…
Although I am part of Mad Pride in response to the shaming by the sanatised, I do sometimes feel that madness is a terrible impersonator of the self. I think there is something to the fact that sometimes the self needs to be played badly, an existential tribute act, in order to maintain dignity.
One problem is being ridiculed for not surrendering the dignity. One tragedy is that the self and its inadequate impersonation are both unpleasant acts on a mediocre bill.
I am not talking about semantics of what normality and madness is, and whether they are socially constructed terms or ideas. I am talking about the existence of these inexpressible but knowable experiences in the human world.
Some people tell me that there is no such thing as normal and jokingly say that they are not, but they haven't stepped outside normal long enough to know if you are not normal, you would know about it quickly and heartbreakingly. You wouldn't be incautious enough to say that it doesn't exist.
Those who say 'there is no such thing as normal' don't bring down psychiatric instutions (why do we need them if no-one is normal), they still laugh and avoid those dragged into them.
Madness reacts to the normal world of abuse, trauma and unfulfilled dreams, but madness is mediocre too. I am tired of its show. Its dance seeks grace but just steps on feet. Its orchestra plays on tortured animals.
I laugh at both. I cry at both.
I don't know how the show goes on.
Hello readers, hope you are all doing ok.
Next year I am going to be moving out of London to somewhere quieter. I have decided not to work in the mental health system any more, and am toying with the idea of making my art a private pursuit rather than a public one. I haven't had much luck with getting grants for my art, it is all self-funded and shared openly, but I do need pay the bills, etc.
So I want to know what do you get out of my art or blog to see if it is a thing I should keep continuing with? But I am also curious as to what people get, if anything, from my work.
I created this collage recently in response to the idea of comfort zones.
Part of mental health recovery rhetoric is being told by some psychiatric professionals we need to step out of our comfort zones. What comfort zones? Comfort zones are a middle class idea for people who haven't been brutualised, abused, humiliated, or deeply hurt in life.
I have no comfort zones. My hell might have cushions but it is still hell. I have a memory foam mattress on top of my bed of nails. My dreams haunt me rather than entertain.
So what can society offer me if I step out of my so called comfort zone? The soul-numbing, exploitative 9-5? A world where we get angry at people escaping war but not at the people who profit from war? The amount of people who have a seething hate towards refugees that I have directed to the arms fair in London to point the hate in the right direction but won't do a thing about it makes me want to return to my hell.
There is so much pain in the world and I try to change it for the better but I feel like I am pouring thimblefuls of water on an apocalypse. There is no comfort zone inside or outside me, there is just choices in torture, with love and laughter dancing with the horror. Yet I accept life is beautiful.
Human beings are such strange creatures. I think sometimes some academics and mental health professionals alienate the experience they study by labels, words and concepts, and get angry when the people they work with or study don't 'engage' or yield to their so-called expertise. I have done a couple of workshops on shame recently to try and get people to feel it instead of intellectualise it.
Mad people are at the brunt of constant shaming by society, family, media, systems, etc, and also struggle with self-shame. I asked people to pick their smallest shame and share it with the group, as mad people are often ask to participate in their own shaming if they want to 'engage' with services.
Well, the outcome of both workshops was that some got it and took part, and some people could have torn me to pieces, some got extremely defensive, and intellectualised even more.
What was interesting, less people could look me in the eye. Welcome to our world, but you could leave the workshop, but some people can't leave the shame so many systems create.
Maybe a little poem called 'Shame on Mental Health System' will help some professionals see the invisible monologues they have with their 'patients'.
SHAME ON THE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE
Tell us your shame
Tell me your most shameful secrets
You are not going to tell me?
Then you must be sick.
You need treatment.
You need my expertise.
My expertise means I can have no shame
I can hide it
But you must always tell me yours when you see me.
Must I restrain you to protect me from myself?
Here, have more shame to drown you.
You must engage.
You must engage in your shaming.
I don’t know why you are not getting any better.
Here is what I said to people: "Fed up of being prescribed tablets? Here is a chance, using whatever creative method you wish, to take over an A4 prescription-style template to prescribe yourself what you think will heal your wounds."
The answers were interesting and sometimes poignant. The most popular answers were hugs, massages and good friendships. One person said psychiatry should stop prescribing grief and isolation. What would you put on your form? Of course, I put sheep on mine!
I met up with the very fabulous Liz Carr at a creative social, and I asked her how her project ‘Assisted Suicide – the Musical’ was progressing. We had a little chat about the work involved for her. I, for one, can’t wait to see it.
I offered to sell some unique ice cream in the interval, available in Rocky Road, Chocolate Crip, or Vanilla Death. If it is the only refreshment there is and you can't leave the building without buying it, does it make you a bit uneasy? Does it make you lose your appetite?
Until the day comes when disabled people aren’t seen as a burden that society itself created oh so lovingly and made to feel like life isn’t worth living because of it; or if having true equality is not a right but assisted suicide is, then the matter cannot be ethically discussed. If it is going to be formally discussed without understanding that, I will attend with some very flavoursome refreshments.
I don't know if I have the mind I was born with, but I know my mind got hurt along the way.
I have had psychotic experiences for over 30 years now. I am more able to function than say 20 years ago, yet the ghosts of it continue to haunt me. When I first heard voices and saw visions, it was thought psychosis was a brain disease with a genetic basis.
More recently that has become a very weak hypothesis. More and more studies acknowledge childhood trauma as a major influence in developing psychosis. You can read more about some of the studies at Intervoice.
My father heard his own voices that probably told him the same things he said to me. He didn't pass on faulty genes, he passed on a crushed heart.
These recent studies are not news to me. Not now and not when I was on the ward hearing the common denominator of horrific life stories that people knew was the reason they were there.
I currently am working through why my voices say what they say. They are the words of my abuse and abusers. They may not write my life story now but they scream at every thought with their song. I know logically my voices are telling me lies. But my heart thinks it is the truth. And my very patient psychologist and partner are trying to stop me believing those lies.
I made this film to juxtapose my childhood photos with the voices I hear to see if I can see myself as a child.
Let's hope so.
I have recently given up my occupational therapy course. I wasn’t the right mind shape for the role. So I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I asked the question to some facebook friends: what other career options I should consider? Stand-up comedian came up more than once.
I would love to be one, but I am also a paranoid who will be wondering why people are laughing at me – you can see the dilemma I have.
Not only that, anyone who read my first memoir ‘The World is Full of Laughter’ will remember that my abusive, controlling, narcissistic dad wanted to be a comedian. The best he could do was appear on the Michael Barrymore Show and get laughed off for being so bad. It broke his heart but mine too.
My dad would physically or emotionally abuse me if I didn’t laugh at his jokes. Ironically, it is my humour that has saved my soul many a time when dealing with my past. Being human is a ridiculous and absurd career.
Can you see the difficulty in pursuing that career path? I would need a very understanding mentor to support me. In the meantime, let me make you laugh in separate rooms.
Yesterday I attended a creative meeting looking at creating art around the theme of hysteria, and the invitees were asked to talk a few minutes about their take on hysteria. This was my talk:
I look at hysteria two ways.
Firstly, I see hysteria as performance, applauded by psychiatry and society. Make your madness entertaining for sanity, make it a separate, strange phenomena for us. The body and mind might be at war with each other, but although we may sympathise, we will support that war and revel in our voyeurism.
Both my mind and body don’t feel they belong to me, I feel the solidity of neither. What I do feel is the fight between them. My body looks the way it does because of my mind.
Trauma was inflicted on my body, taught my brain to hate myself for it, which in turn taught my body to hate the mind.
My mind feels under constant threat. My body is a burden to me. The only time they can work together is through art.
Dualism is a stand off, when it should be a dance.
I use creativity to explore that conflict, and be the first footsteps of that dance.
The second way I look at it is as an angry woman.
The female body is not allowed to get angry, not allowed to protest, not allowed to be different, not allowed to be free from external control. Hysteria is easier to deal with than rage. If you say this woman is justifiably angry, what can you do, if you are part of a system that solicits that anger? You have to demean and pathologise, to make the person inferior, manageable, disempowered, so you can help her feel empowered, and less inferior. What are we going to do about psychiatry as social control? Blame it on the patriarchy; don’t put the blame on my pussy.
When I was on the ward once, I had an epiphany. Here were people screaming at the world that hurt them, but they were not allowed to. The aspiration was to be silent and passive whilst being fucked over. That is recovery.
It is about enforced silence so maybe it’s time to make some noise. Or give rage a camera, so it can shoot and shoot and shoot. Or dance and dance and dance.
I made connectiions at the meeting and look forward to the dance.
The final part of my ladybird book of the menopause series
I remember 7/7 very well. I was an inpatient on a psych ward at St Thomas Hospital, and out of nowhere there were convoys of ambulances streaming in the A&E dept of the hospital. There were no more red double decker buses going over the bridge.
My mum texted me that there were a series of bombs on london transport. I went into a ward round and maintained the belief the world was too painful to live in. It was an inappropriate response apparently.
They didn't show me humanity. That came later that day when a woman most of the staff thought was a lost cause with no life behind her eyes (I knew differently) made every staff member who couldn't go home a cup of tea or coffee and gave them a reassuring pat on their backs. Her kindness saved me that day.
The world outside the ward had the most screams that day. We didn't seem so mad. New madnesses were created by the trauma of that day. A new bloom of nightmares and pain.
I was locked away. What could I do but seek light on the ward.
I had lunch with my partner and her daughter at Frankie and Bennys, a restaurant food chain. I spotted at the next table were some kids playing with activity booklets the restaurant provided, to keep them out of mischief while they wait for food.
I have been told I need to keep out of mischief so I asked the waitress for one. She duly provided me with an activity pack. My favourite activity was: Create Your Own Film Poster. The pack included stickers and pencils.
Here is my film poster :)