I am pleased the way that the blog section of DAO has taken off in the past few months. Having the opportunity to publish work continues to be a pleasure that I am very grateful for.
When you've grown up with the idea that you need fixing in some way it makes parenthood even more of a challenge...
This baby place
and a way of holding
the little finger
as if grasping an invisible
cup of tea
at a garden party.
you transformed lives;
brought the seemingly
eager to climb rocks,
when even crawling
I grew several
heads in a bid
face for self-belief
as a father.
Love was easy
in the woods
of our soft
fall into you -
a place of stories
plain as pudding -
not like now,
shun a mans' suit;
without hands or feet;
and barely a mouth
to describe the new
to grow into the gap
© Colin Hambrook
In the 1990s I put together a visual arts exhibition called 'Dreams of the Absurd' which got shown in various galleries in the UK and abroad.
It was an extension of a series of large-scale paintings, prints and writing about experience of mental health issues. During research I did whilst still at college I connected the work with the representation of 'madness' within the history of art.
I've been trying to get back into making and showing my own work since the those days... With encouragement from other artists engaged with DAO I'm putting tentative feet back in the water...
So here is a poem that relates to my experience of growing up in a psychotic household and dealing with issues of psychosis personally from a tender age...
On Healing my Childhood
On RD Laings' fit of promise
I gave you a magic potion, hidden
in a steaming plate of baked beans.
You held your demons in suspension
for a while. I hoped you would find forgiveness
in the small hours and learn to be kinder.
Building a time machine with sticky
back plastic, you concocted a
spell; attempted to undo our births.
I put a band-aid on each moment that hurt you;
went to the moon for help, but couldn't find
my way past the myriad of therapists
who crowded the path to the place of no pain.
The universe exploded with nazi meditators
surrounded in light oozing from every orifice.
I travelled to the end of London and back
to find a potent enough medicine to calm your
nerves; put schizophrenia in remission;
denied its existence to release the guilt.
I tried remembering everything you had ever said;
confessed to the time doctor who gave you yet more
electricity in the name of healing. When
you blamed the next-door-neighbours
I wrapped myself in a ball and sent myself to the talisman.
Calling on blood and stone; I found the faces of change
in the place where the gods live and empowered
each memory with a prayer for healing.
You listened to my heart, made promises for every secret
and bound our love to the four corners of the wind
before your white blood cells dried up and died
of largatyl, chlorpramazine, depixol and modicate.
Living with disability can get extreme sometimes. For me, living in the wake of so-called 'schizophrenia' has meant a lifetime of juggling the darkest emotions like tennis balls. My relationship with the illness has been a lifelong struggle... one of those things you are not meant to own up to.
It's a guaranteed conversation-stopper. Even within the disability community you are not guaranteed an empowering response. Reference to the illness can be a great way of losing acquaintances you are not particularly keen on in the first place.
The best you can expect is a conversation about how much better the medication is these days... as if the pharmaceutical companies were engaged in quality control of the neurological issues, heart problems and effects on the central nervous system which are endemic to all the anti-psychotics.
In an interview about definition and language on BBC Radio 4s Word of Mouth, Francesca Martinez asked "why not redefine people with schizophrenia as 'overly imaginative.'" In context she meant it as an understatement challenging the media's tendency to capitalise on the instant shock value to be gained from adding the 'schizo' word to a headline.
I saw a great ad at a multi-screen cinema recently... 30 seconds of blurry camera and dramatic sound introduce the oft-used cipher 'schizo' - leading you into thinking you're about to see a trailer for a violent horror movie. And then the image is cut with an ordinary family situation. A middle-aged man addresses the camera, telling the audience how he has lived with 'schizoprenia' for 12 years and has been able to live a full life with support from his family.
There needs to be more responsible open discussion of so-called 'schizophrenia'. As an illness it is all about irrational fear - as effect and as a cipher. Living with overly developed fear responses, is incredibly debilitating and hard work for those around you.
Societies mindless, sensation-grabbing responses don't help. Alison Wilde sent me an interesting analaysis of the nature of fear's companion, evil - in an article on a book titled On Evil by Terry Eagleton in The Independent.
It seems that we've never quite recovered from the boring name goodness and virtue made for themselves during the Victorian period. Despite the banality that accompanies evil; we have become obsessed by painting evil as romantic and glamorous.
During the Thatcher years we saw a reinvention of selfishness as 'altruism', in the desperate game of justifying greed. It set us up for a lot of fighting... and of course, we were the evil ones in demanding that support of our communities was a necessary part of finding strength to lead fulfilling lives.
But our community does continue to thrive... and will continue to thrive as the going gets tough...
I’ve been away for the past week, staying in Dunbar with friends. I thought I’d pop in on the Edinburgh Festival to see what disability-related arts I could find in the theatre section. From looking through the brochure it seems there is some mental health-related work amongst the enormous panoply of shows, exhibitions etc, happening this year.
So I made it into town to see Steve Walter’s An Acute Psychotic Episode (II) – billed as “a good-humoured, confessional, raw, honest, sometimes shocking account of breakdown, setting out to challenge common perceptions.” It did everything they said it would do on the tin – although from personal experience, I wouldn’t have called it ‘shocking.’ In fact, if anything, it impressed on me that maybe there is some hope that we are moving away from the punishment model of psychiatric care, that I grew up to fear and loathe.
Accompanied by singer/ song writer Steve Antoni An Acute Psychotic Episode (II) was a moving and powerful piece of dramatic storytelling. It was deliberately paced to take you on what felt like an urban train ride through the writer / performers’ life-story. It began appropriately with Brain Damage and Wish You Were Here – two songs written by Pink Floyds’ Roger Waters for and about Syd Barrett who died last year after 40 years of being labelled insane.
Steve Walter’s prose was filled with the pacing of hospital corridors and questioning of what happens when you become psychotic; how scary that sense is, of not daring to believe what your own mind is telling you. It is very hard to put into words what that fear is like – when everything your mind and senses are telling you is true, you know rationally cannot be true. Where do you turn? How do you gauge reality? And if you are unfortunate enough to get locked up for having ideas others don’t agree with, how do you contain the frustration?
I felt not a little admiration for Steve Walter as I have personally been trying to write my own life story, in an attempt to make sense of it, for some years. It is not just that the writing down is incredibly painful, if you are totally honest. But there is also the fear of making yourself even more vulnerable, by opening up to others. Even those you think you can trust, cannot be trusted to use your honesty against you. Such is the stigma of mental health.
I feel passionately that this kind of clear, concise storytelling, breaking through the silence – is needed more in theatre, and in the arts in general. I bought a copy of Steve Walter’s book Fast Train Approaching, which contains a lot of the poetry and prose from the theatre piece.
I’d recommend the website Making Connections Matter . Here Steve explains a lot of his search, research, poetry and ramblings on all things from spiritual awakening to a request to hear from others who have had experience of mental illness for a new book in the pipeline.