More mental health stuff…..

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Some of the people who read my blog will already know, last year my grandson had a crisis in his mental health which was triggered by drugs, in his case a mixture of cocaine (cut with who knows what,) very high strength weed and we know not what else. He was extremely unwell and one year later slips in and out of different states of ok-ness and not ok-ness. He cannot settle anywhere for very long so he has become a serial transient which makes it more difficult for us to help him. His mother has bust a gut to sort out accommodation for him, but he reports back that it is always unsatisfactory and the places are full of “the dark side.” She has researched mental health services in depth and offered him various options of therapy none of which he tries. We flit from one idea to another already knowing he probably won`t do anything we suggest. He has taken himself off all medication and struggles a lot, to achieve a sense of normality in his life. We`re at an impasse and have sometimes come to blows, as a family, over how we should proceed from here. Mental health impacts not just on the person who is unwell, it impacts on their whole family. Services across the UK are sparse and certainly in our experience, not terribly helpful, so it is unsurprising that our homeless hostels and prisons are full of men and women who cannot find a way to `get better` and manage their symptoms, whatever they may be. Lots of people self-medicate with drink or drugs or both and for many this will work and for the rest it will exacerbate those very symptoms that trouble them the most.

I recently had an interesting conversation with the matron of Oleaster Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham. A lovely, warm, engaging and compassionate man he said that most of the people who come into the hospital on a mental health section are young men who are often so high from street drugs, the hospital has to first manage their come down and then wait, often for weeks for individuals to have settled enough to begin to work with them in any kind of useful way.  He explained that many dealers are manufacturing new and increasingly stronger chemical highs usually in their own houses.  It is almost impossible for health staff to keep up with what new drugs are being designed or their chemical content, how they will affect the individual`s thoughts and behaviours and so it is inceasingly difficult to offer antidotes that will help.  It terrifies me, drugs terrify me, but legalising drugs would reduce the need for people who want to use drugs to have to approach dodgy dealers and would certainly be helpful to extremely vulnerable people like my grandson who are currently preyed upon by those who are pretending to be their friend. “The drugs are free, go on mate have some, you can pay me back when you next get your benefits.” Dealers rely on people running up huge debts of hundreds of pounds to ensure their money keeps on rolling in. The people they prey upon then are then coerced to commit crimes of various degrees of seriousness in order to get more money for more drugs.  It`s a horrible scenario.

Our family has sometimes begun to fragment under the weight of worry and there are very few services for families like us so we have to remain strong and hold each other. Oleaster run a family support group and when we visited it, there was only us and one other regular but it still helps to get other perspectives on the issues we are facing with our grandson. So I don`t know what the future holds for our beloved boy-man, it often seems rather bleak, we are certainly not in a sprint, we are in a marathon but I was heartened by the matron who said as we were leaving,  “Many people will go on to work out quite a lot for themselves simply by trial and error. So eventually they moderate the habits and behaviours that repeatedly make them unwell, unpopular, broke and unhappy, so take heart, the likelihood is that it will eventually pass.”

A holiday in Bulgaria…..

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Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay with a friend`s family, all expenses paid at their home in Bulgaria. How lucky am I! My brother has been to Bulgaria two or three times before and he was considering buying a house there, however he felt at the time that the presence of the mafia was too great and decided against it, so I wasn`t sure what to expect. There is still a mafia presence in Bulgaria but as a visitor or ordinary resident there, it is most unlikely you will become involved or influenced by them or even notice them at all.

Houses in the villages in Bulgaria are extremely cheap if you don`t mind putting in the graft. I found a place on the `net today for £2,800 euros which included a 2 roomed house, a large (and convertible) barn and quite a big swathe of land. It`s out in the sticks but with amazing potential, water and electricity is already in supply and it is situated by a large and beautiful lake. You would need to install windows, doors, floors, probably a new roof and a septic tank but how lovely it will be if someone eventually purchases it. As you would expect, houses will go up and up in price, the nearer your residence is to a large town or city and they range from under £10,000 euro`s for a proper do-er upper to a lot of dosh for something fabulous overlooking the sea or the mountains.

My friend Mike and I began our stay in the capital Sofia, named in the fourteenth century after Saint Sophia, the saint of wisdom. Sofia is a busy, bustling city similar to Berlin with buses and trams travelling along wide boulevards lined with trees, statues,  shops and hotels and where to the west, you can see the peak of Mount Vitosha. We spent the night at Hotel Lion which is a beautiful, old and elegant hotel with rounded walls and balconies overlooking the town. The décor is greys and beiges and very calming. We ate our breakfast in the dining area and I was amused to see on the menu, “eye of egg” which is a Bulgarian description for scrambled egg. We noticed the hotel welcomed evidently very poor people, to collect small parcels of food from the dining area to start their day and discovered this is a common practice, to share food with those less fortunate. Sofia has a food bank, the first of its kind in the country and is attempting to address the massive 620 tonnes of food currently wasted in the country each year, by sharing it with those people who are poor and hungry. Every year through a network of social agencies, the food bank collects and distributes around 850 tonnes of food to thousands of Bulgarians who are living below the poverty line.

Mike drove me over three hundred miles across the country to arrive in Rudnik, a village in the municipality of Burgas where he and his sister Jackie`s home is situated. We drove up high to reach the village, the roads can become treacherous in winter conditions but while we were there, the weather was a sunny and very hot 28 degrees, with stunning views of the Rhodope mountain range along the way. The Rhodopes span an enormous area of Bulgarian land and the remaining part of the range sits in Greece. On the drive up to Rudnik, Mike pointed out pull ins where young girls stand alone in the hot sun. You might wonder what they are doing half way up a mountain but they are sex workers, waiting for customers and I felt sorry for them, they will no doubt have to hand over the cash at the end of the day.

There are several Unesco world heritage sites near to Rudnik. The closest is the ancient city of Nessebar which we visited, it is unspoilt, beautiful and charming with cobbled streets and houses with windows that overhang the street below, it reminded me of The Shambles in York. There are also very pretty public gardens running alongside gorgeous, panoramic views of the Black Sea. Places of archaeological interest are being discovered all the time in Bulgaria and it`s important to consider this if you are buying, renovating or building property because in many areas you will be expected to foot the bill for an archaeological survey to be carried out prior to the work beginning and then there is the wait.

Wherever you drive in this part of Bulgaria you will find lots of roadside stalls along the way selling fresh fruit, vegetables, honey and jams. All produce is home grown and much of it is organic. The tomatoes are the best I have ever tasted and HUGE! I found the Bulgarian people I met extremely friendly, helpful and genuine and language did not prove to be a barrier, we communicated with nods and gestures and my understanding the lev currency. It was roughly speaking, two levs to the British pound but of course that is changing at the moment because of all the uncertainty around Brexit. In any event, it is still incredibly cheap to eat out in Bulgaria. A typical dinner for four people would be around 35 – 40 lev or less than twenty pounds depending on where you eat. You can add on around 70p for an alcoholic drink. Bulgarian gin is delicious and their single measure is the equivalent of about three shots in the UK so I was squiffy on one drink!

We visited some lovely places, somewhere different every day. Varna city is majestic with lots of churches, clothes shops, fountains, street markets, lovely architecture and a very beautiful cathedral. I was surprised to see fur on sale there but there are many fur and leather goods outlets in the larger cities so there is still a massive market for fur. The country`s main faith is orthodox Christianity but Bulgaria is tolerant of all beliefs including atheism and you will see mosques, temples and synagogues in many of the large towns and cities. We visited Sunny Beach which is an area a little bit like our Blackpool and which attracts mainly young people. Unlike other beaches I visited, Sunny Beach is very commercial and there are lots of massive hotels there, a big waterpark as well as some interesting galleries and lots of supermarkets. We had dinner on Sunny Beach and it was lovely and quiet as it was the end of the season so we could look out over the sea, very pleasant.

Wherever we went, we had to first consider the needs of Jackie`s son Andrew. Andrew is a young, cheerful, disabled man who uses a wheelchair and has a very entertaining sense of humour. He works with a personal assistant, a very nice man called Mick. Bulgaria still has a way to go in planning for the needs of people with disabilities and there are loads of places Andrew would very much enjoy visiting but the lack of provision makes that an impossibility for him at the moment. Even in the cities, there are steep verges with no wheelchair access but hopefully that will be addressed over time. In spite of these challenges for Andrew and his family, we all went out together as a large party every day which was great. We visited friends in other towns and other villages, we visited lots of different places to eat, we had some lovely drives through stunning, mountainous scenery with occasional, breath taking views of the ocean. Mike and Jackie drove me all over the place, they are both super drivers and took me to two other beaches, a harbour, very different to Sunny beach, quiet and picturesque and for the final part of our stay, to Plovdiv, the second city which is roughly half way between Rudnik and the airport at Sofia.

We stayed at the Hotel Leipzig in Plovdiv, a unique experience in a delightfully idiosyncratic building. Each room a different colour, knock your eye out orange, purple, lime green with fake leopard skin sofas and in my case, a silver armchair. I absolutely loved it and breakfast there is fabulous, an array of cold meats, bread, croissants, jams, cheeses, eggs, sausage, fried bread, toast and fruit with fresh coffee. Lovely!  The hotel is next door to a really impressive shopping mall with lots of nice places inside to mooch and eat such as The Cake Shop café and The Victoria restaurant which I can highly recommend.  If you ask for tea in Bulgaria you will be given chamomile. Ask for black tea with milk and you`ll get a familiar cup of tea.

Bulgaria has been taken over and occupied so many times in its centuries of history. It is bordered by many other countries and this has made it vulnerable but it has a history of friendship with Russia and we noticed references to Russia in lots of street names, cities and buildings. It was the Russian Empire who made liberation from Turkish occupation possible in 1878, however the relationship between Russia and Bulgaria went awry during WW2 when the Soviet Union`s Red Army marched into the country in 1943 and declared war. They voted to abolish the monarchy who promptly went into exile. King Boris the third whose reign spanned WW2, had already infuriated Hitler by refusing to allow the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to the death camps in Germany.  Even though he eventually allied with Germany and declared war on Britain and the USA, he also eventually suffered a mysterious illness and death probably brought about by a slow acting poison slipped to him by someone in the Nazi party. Today Bulgaria is a Republic and it seems to me, remains a democratic country in its attitudes. Having said that, there is a razor wire fence on the border with Turkey spanning over one hundred miles. Commissioned in 2013 by the then president, there are plans to put up more fences at the borders with other countries to stop illegal immigration and to hinder so-called ISIS sympathisers from making their way into Europe from Iraq and Syria.

Above Plovdiv standing tall on a high hill is an enormous statue of “The Russian Soldier.” Some people want it taken down as they see The Red Army as their oppressors, some wish it to remain as they view the Red Army as their liberators.

So – what a fascinating and sometimes tragic history this beautiful country has. Mike asked me if I would go back and at the time, I paused because the experience was so full on, I needed time to process it all. Now I have, I hope I do get to visit again for I am hooked and if you go down to the woods in Bulgaria, you might indeed be confronted by a bear, a boar or a wolf, so watch out!

Review. KD Lang Ingenue Redux tour, July 2019. Birmingham Symphony Hall.

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I have always adored KD Lang and I have seen her twice before in the UK. The first time was many years ago at Nottingham`s Royal Theatre where I met up with my sister Sue and we had a wonderful night. Ingenue, possibly KD`s best known album, had been released just a couple of years before this. The second time was within Birmingham`s NIA complex in the small theatre there. It only seats around 200 people so it was a very intimate experience.

Last night it was at Symphony Hall in Birmingham where the acoustics are so good, it is always a pleasure to visit.

We were offered a splendid supporting act in the shape of the Grigoryan Brothers, Australian musicians who play beautiful classical guitar. Their final piece Jango, by Brazilian composer Elias Álvares Lobo was truly stunning, KD announced at the end of the show that the brothers have just won Best Independent Classical Album at this year’s AIR Awards in Australia.

When the curtains opened after the interval and KD was up on stage, there was a rapturous and noisy welcome for her even before she began. I teared up because my sister passed away in 2007 and she would have loved to have been there with me, hey ho.

KD, shoeless, dressed in her signature grey suit and white shirt kicked off with “Save me,” it was fantastic. Her voice is as pure and as powerful as it was 25 years ago. She sang the entire Ingenue album, my favourite song by far is “Wash Me Clean,” such a haunting melody I get lost in that song. “Miss Chatelaine” was of course hugely welcomed, lots of people up and clapping by now, adoring women clustered around the front of the stage. KD floating around and posing and laughing at herself. She has such a good connection with her audience and makes everyone feel special.

KD has recently returned to live in her native homeland of Canada having left LA. She made it clear she is not a Trump admirer and cracked a joke about the UK now being not far behind America, politically speaking. She cracked lots of jokes, she was great. She introduced her band members and each one took centre stage for a glorious moment, playing on their own, she has been making music with one of them, her bass player for thirty years.

For her finale, KD chose three songs by some of her favourite composers. The first she introduced as a song written by “a scary woman because she is a genius, whose name is tattooed onto my soul,” and then sang Joni Mitchell`s “Help Me,” which was lovely especially as Joni Mitchell`s name is tattooed onto my soul also. She then sang Crosby Stills Nash and Young, “Helpless,” also beautiful and putting entirely her own stamp onto it. She finished with Leonard Cohen`s “Hallelujah”. Not a massive favourite of mine but she sang it perfectly and so movingly.

KD also gave a shout out to Bittersweet Catering who are a Birmingham based team of caterers and she said their food was outstanding and urged us all to use them for any catering requirements and I thought that was also really nice of her.

All this for £45. The best forty-five quid`s worth I have enjoyed in many a long time.

I can`t smile without you.

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An old friend of my family passed away just over two years ago. Ours was not a close relationship however, I was very sorry to witness her demise as she became terribly frail with dementia.

It had been problematic for her family to organise the scattering of her ashes since her grandchildren wanted to be there as did her great grandchildren and all of them are scattered to the four winds, pardon the pun. As a result, the ashes were safely kept, until everyone could attend. Actually, I`m not sure where they were kept, I just Googled it and Google says at the Cricket Museum at Lords so that wasn`t terribly helpful. Anyway, with the patient and thoughtful arrangements of a member of her family, a date was finally arranged. I kept out of the proceedings.

There was some discord around the final date of the scattering as it fell on a school day meaning great grandchildren could not come along to say goodbye. No matter, the morning arrived and as it happened owing to unexpected circumstances, it had to be cancelled.

Another week went by and finally with everyone in agreement, a new date was arranged. The difficulties around school days remained the same, so a separate, small urn of ashes had been prepared for them so that the great grandchildren could celebrate their great grandma`s life and say their goodbyes in their own time.

I only came to understand these proceedings as I am friends with the deceased person`s son. I asked him one day recently if he would kindly take me to our local tip with some garden rubbish which was duly bagged and good to go in the back of his van. As I got ready to get into the vehicle he said, “Oh, don`t sit on that Sainsburys shopping bag,” (which was on the passenger seat,) “my mother`s inside it, can`t have you sitting on mother,” and that is how the story has unfolded to me.

Now I am a rather irreverent person and I found this quite an amusing tale but not as amusing as when he went on further to say, “yes, I have her false teeth somewhere in the back of this van, I really must clear it out.”  (I knew his van had become a holding place for all manner of items as he was somewhat of a hoarder but this revelation surprised even me.)

I said, “You have your mother`s false teeth in the back of the van. Why? Why do you have your mother`s false teeth in the back of your van?”

He replied, “Oh, I suppose it`s from when we cleared out her house and they were just in a pot amongst all her possessions.”

I said, “Most people would have thrown them away,” and off we drove to the tip.

He`s had his mum`s false teeth in the back of his van, for two years. You couldn`t really make it up could you……………

 

Today I woke up and felt like a table. (And other tales of transition…..)

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A close friend tells me I am obsessed with transgender issues and that I must “stop” and find another interest.   I think they are concerned that I will drive myself potty and lose my sense of humour.

When they said this to me, all my defences immediately shot up, their comment reminded me of a cartoon I once spotted on Facebook which read something like,  “Oh – so my political posts on Facebook annoy you do they? Well why don`t you hurry away and post another photograph of your dinner,”  and then I had a good think about what my friend had said.

It is true, I post and re-post a lot of comments relating to transgender issues and opinions on social media. But it isn`t transgender issues per se that I take to task. I am fortunate to know a number of transgender people who enrich my life and who I respect and admire.  Way back in the nineteen nineties I ran workshops for transgender people when I was employed by Body Positive in Birmingham and during that time I helped a transgender woman find a place of refuge so that she was able to leave a horrifically violent relationship.  So – I have had a lot of time to consider all of everything relating to transgender and consider myself to be informed, supportive and empathetic to transgender people. What I take issue with are other matters. Matters for example, that face children who are currently being offered invasive and highly damaging treatments having been “diagnosed” as transgender. Sometimes children as young as four or five. If you want to know more then begin by reading this article published in January in The Sunday Times…..

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/schools-rushing-on-whisper-to-label-pupils-as-transgender-0d8zm53qs

I also take issue with the practice of stone walling or refusing to take part in debate and far more insidious than even that, the practice of no platforming.    No platforming is a policy or stance whereby individuals holding views regarded as unacceptable or offensive are prevented from speaking out and contributing to public debates or meetings. If you keep up with the press then you will know that many eminent speakers have been no platformed by universities in the UK and across the globe, like Julie Bindel`s case highlighted below.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/09/no-platform-universities-julie-bindel-exclusion-anti-feminist-crusade

Germaine Greer who, amongst other things is the acclaimed author of The Female Eunuch, has also experienced being `no platformed` and while for many reasons I am no longer a huge fan of hers, we all have the right to free speech in a democratic society. So it is the abhorrent nature, the turn of events relating to transgender issues that I find deeply worrying.  Not for me, I`m heading towards seventy so I can take a bit of a back seat, God knows I have earned it!  No, it is the young people I worry about; male, female, he she or they, it is their uncertain future that is so troubling to me. When I read The Handmaid`s Tale I thought, “Well we are on our way to Gilead already!” What an astute writer Margaret Attwood is.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38447.The_Handmaid_s_Tale

While we have people in politics who support transgender people without proper understanding, knowledge or education around the underlying issues, the attitudes and venom spat out on these matters, is becoming so threatening, it is serving to silence concerned women and men.   I imagine the women haters rubbing their hands in glee and muttering,  “Job done.”

It is this hateful and intolerant approach towards people and especially women who want to debate and wish to speak out, that is so very unacceptable. Women who have their own, lived herstory, views and opinions are labelled as TERFs. TERF is an acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Sometimes, exclusionary is expanded as eliminationist instead and a small section of the transgender community suggest that TERFs advocate for harm towards trans people, specifically trans people who were born male.  But in my view, the objectors are projecting and transferring their hatred to detract from their own misogynistic views!

Meanwhile, some of those very protestors spew out vile messages on social media, suggesting that TERFS should be “punched in the throat, raped, tortured or stabbed to death,” simply because of their experience of being born a woman and objecting to for example, shared gender changing rooms in shops and swimming pools and male sex offenders identifying as female, being transferred to women`s prisons where they can more easily reoffend.   It has already happened.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5964539/Transgender-prisoner-female-jail-sexually-assaulted-four-women.html

Some people working in politics or education have been forced to resign or have been sacked because they have spoken out about their concerns and have been judged transphobic.   So – what with that and bloody, BLOODY Brexit, perhaps my friend is right. Perhaps I should give it a rest and focus on animals and children for a while and lighten up a bit. Yet I would hate to lose my passion, I think if I lose my passion then I may as well go home.

If my old mum were still with us she would say, “It`s just a silly phrase they`re going through Hel. And then she`d laugh and lifting a cold G & T to her old lady lips she would say,   “and anyway, they`ll still be arguing the toss long after I have gone!  Cheers my darling!”

Cheers ma! I think you had a nice balanced view.        🙂

The disconcerting person.

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Two weeks` ago I spent some days away by the seaside at Minehead, accompanied by my lovely son who was visiting us from Vienna. We stopped at a smashing (and cheap) traditional pub called The Britannia Inn which I can highly recommend if you are ever passing through. Lovely place, lovely staff, anyway….. while we were there, we tripped to Porlock Weir and on the way back, stopped for lunch in Porlock itself. We enjoyed a tasty meal and then decided to mooch about the few shops that were open at this winter time of the year, one of them was a gift shop.

I browsed the items on sale and found a lovely pair of earrings. They were in the shape of a carp and inlaid with abalone shell which you may know is a very pretty, iridescent bluey, green colour. I decide to buy them for a friend of mine who has painted some very stunning pictures including a wonderful fish painting. Her name is Anne Nicholls and she is on Facebook or here:

http://www.annenichollsart.co.uk/home-page

I went to make my purchase, I had noticed a person busying themselves behind the counter, they had their back to me. Hearing my approach, they turned around to face me. “Can I help you?” they enquired in a dark brown voice. I was so startled by their appearance, I honestly had to stop myself from issuing a sharp intake of breath for I figured it would most likely have offended them. I shall refer to this person as her for she was indeed dressed as a woman.

She was statuesque in build, at least six foot five with broad shoulders. She wore what had once been a white cardigan and which now displayed stains of various descriptions all over her front. Her hair was long and unwashed, it was pulled back into a pony tail, I think she would be in her fifties. A few inches of greying hair at the roots, led down to a sort of brassy ginger. Around her chin she sprouted a beard of curly, ginger hairs. She wore pebble lens glasses. I tried not to stare.

As she picked up my purchase to wrap, I could not help but gaze at her enormous hands. Each fingernail painted in what was once glittery, silver nail polish it had been resident on her nails for so long it was a sort of translucent grey colour, chipped and had lost all of its glitter. Her nails were long and pointy and several of her digits were embellished with a massive coating of nicotine. I didn`t know whether to be horrified or fascinated.

My son had also noticed her and rather worryingly, was now outside waiting for me.
In any event I made my purchase, they are beautiful earrings and I couldn`t help but wonder how a person can allow their appearance to become so startling. She reminded me of the sort of character you might find in a Roald Dahl book, the sort of character that gives small children nightmares. My son and I exchanged telepathic glances before scurrying away to the car park.

I am not writing this to be cruel or poke fun at somebody, I just find people endlessly interesting and I wondered how many customers she may have scared away, or indeed attracted!

English eccentricity is one of the things that makes the world keep turning, I guess.

I should know!

Medication time.

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As many of you know by now, it`s not a secret, the young chap I wrote about in a previous blog is my grandson.

https://anightinwithnelly.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/mental-health-services-in-birmingham-are-woefully-lacking/

Since that time, he has returned to live at home.

From when he was first sectioned nearly four months ago, he has had a whole conglomerate of anti-psychotic drugs and mood enhancers, none of which have really improved his mood very much at all although he does have some better days from time to time. Drugs he has been prescribed and occasionally made to take without his consent include Risperidone, Depakote, Haloperidol which incidentally, he was given too high a dose of and this resulted in him being “wired” and unable to properly relax or sleep for about five days, Procyclidine, Lorazepam, Olanzapine, Propranolol, the list goes on. In spite of his family suggesting he is lucid and wishes to engage in talking therapies, so far our suggestions have not been accepted as a good way to go by the team “supporting” his recovery. They say that he is unable to attend talking therapies while he is being medicated.

Catch 22.

Our dear boy struggles a great deal with his condition. The anti-pyschotic medication sedates him to the point where he feels immobilised and despairing of ever getting better. He is fortunate though and tells us that some of the young people he met in hospital have no-one, no family loving them and helping them as they try to get through it. I can only imagine how lonely and isolating an experience this must be.

Last Wednesday, he was taken off the current anti-psychotic and also Lorazepam, which is a strong sedative, for a period of five days to “see how he would cope.” He has suffered withdrawal from Lorazepam, which is a highly addictive drug as well as whatever his brain is experiencing as it wakes up from the last round of anti-psychotics. He is managing with PRN medication (as and when needed) mostly Depakote which stops him from sleeping and Propranolol which is an anti-anxiety drug. He takes them in a fairly haphazard fashion and his greatest desire is not to take them at all. Unfortunately, he is still ill and becomes very anxious and `pacey` without them.

I fail to see how this treatment resembles anything like a recovery or as one of the women I supported some years ago recently said to me, “I got better IN SPITE OF mental health services, not because of.”  She is in her mid-sixties and has spent several years of her life in hospitals under a Section 3. It doesn’t bode well does it.  I hope one day we will be able to look back as a family on this time and laugh and say, “fuck me that was shit wasn`t it!”

The problem with mental health issues is that they don`t show and people can mask their symptoms sometimes for years living in a kind of hell and with no support or anyone to talk to. The effects and impact that mental health breakdown has on individuals and families is major and the episode my grandson experienced and is trying very hard to recover from, has fractured us as a family. We`ve cried, we`ve sometimes laughed at his idiosyncratic behaviours, we`ve disagreed with one another and argued, we have gradually concluded that heavy drugs do not really help, certainly not in his case. They contain the issue, they do not heal. We are hopeful that natural therapies, diet in particular; talking therapies, patience, innovative distraction ideas and plain old love, will get him through this.

If anyone reading my blog can make any suggestions as to a way forward, then do please feel free to comment. I`ll warmly respond to all comments.

Mental Health services in Birmingham are woefully lacking.

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I`​d like to tell you about a young​ adult of 23. who I know.  Recently, he has been significantly troubled by a lack of clarity, balance and joy in his life. Over time he has become seriously off kilter, depressed and like many young people, disillusioned with life, the universe and everything. He tried to purge himself of his morose thoughts by commencing various diets such as gluten free, low carb`, low protein etc. or by not eating at all. He sometimes binged and then vomited. Over time he lost quite a lot weight and became very pale and withdrawn and further down the line, he was clearly very unwell.  Eventually he became delusional and paranoid, he started to hear voices, he believed he was being pursued by people who wanted to harm him, he thought everyone was talking about him.

A recent global study evidenced that 72% of people who experience psychotic episodes have a single experience. https://www.nationalelfservice.net/mental-health/psychosis/psychotic-experiences-how-common-are-they-and-how-can-we-predict-their-onset-course-and-consequences/

In the UK, it is generally recognised that about 50 percent of young people who have a psychotic episode will not have a further episode throughout the remainder of their lives. We do not understand why, or what triggers these events and there are many schools of thought as to why they happen relating to hormones, inherited likelihood, diet, stress, street drugs, head injury as a child and imbalances of chemicals which affect the way the brain behaves, amongst other factors.

One night this young person finally hit his crisis point and had to be taken to A and E. The event was inevitable really since he had managed to hide or “mask” his symptoms and cope alone possibly for several years. After much persuasion at A and E, his parents finally got agreement for their son to have a psychiatric assessment. By now he was utterly exhausted by the thoughts that constantly harangued him and even he had some insight that he was unwell. He was kept waiting 18 hours to be assessed by which time he had become so agitated that in the early hours of the morning he ran away from the hospital. The police became involved. He was found in the city centre by his father and the police helped him to a nearby secure unit where he would be properly assessed. He was placed under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act which meant he could be detained for up to 28 days for a full assessment. His parents were relieved to know that their son would be safe and that they would be able to get their first decent night`s sleep for some days. After just five days the section was lifted and the family received an excited call from their son saying that he was coming home.

The family went into shock. They could not see how an authentic assessment could possibly have taken place in such a short period of time. During visits, their child still seemed rambling and delusional, they were terribly worried. After much to-ing and fro-ing, they finally spoke to a consultant. He said, “I spent an hour with your son today, he was rational, articulate, he made plenty of eye contact, he was not agitated, I cannot in all conscience keep him sectioned.”

The family were concerned that returning home would be a further “trigger”. They spent two days in negotiation with mental health services while their son remained on the ward and finally it was agreed that he would go to a half-way house for a period of respite. Here he would allegedly be supported by a psychiatric team, keeping an eye on his med`s and his moods until he was able to leave and live independently.

The half way house was pleasant enough but not in a great part of the city. His father negotiated with a mental health housing charity to move him to a shared house nearer to various relatives and in a much nicer area that he was familiar with. For a few days the arrangement went well however, the young man was not always compliant with his medication and the view of the house manager was that his mood was becoming flat and deflated. He had become quite rude which is unlike him and so it was decided that he would have an assessment by the Community Psychiatric Team. He waited all day for the assessment team to arrive and no-one turned up.

At 10.30pm the following night, he was woken up and taken from his bed to be sectioned again on a Section 2. His family could not see how on earth a social worker and two doctors can possibly have made an accurate assessment of him in, it appears, no time at all. He was driven to a unit in another county and arrived after 11pm where it was noted that he was “extremely angry.” This is hardly surprising; we would expect any person to be angry if treated in this way. It is shocking and disgraceful.

The following morning he was still angry, thumping walls and slamming doors. The response to this was to restrain him, in other words, pin him down while Lorazapam was administered via an injection, against his will. This is an unacceptable and archaic way to treat someone. It is 2018 and we would hope that in these more enlightened times, staff would be trained in creative ways of assisting people who are upset but apparently not. The ward manager told his family that staff “could not handle” his anger and so it was recommended he be moved yet again to a high security ward about thirty miles away.

Since being at the unit and in fact since the original section took place five weeks ago, at no time has he received any treatment other than being drugged with Olanzapine and other medications that have a tranquilising effect. He is not being treated he is being contained and his family are deeply concerned about this and very unhappy. It was their hope when he was clearly unwell, that he would receive proactive help and support. He hasn`t. Every-one has simply been reacting around him. Their increasing concern is that he will develop an addiction to the current medication and will then have to endure withdrawal symptoms when he is deemed well enough to reduce or cease the dosage.

In spite of this, he is now making small progress towards recovery and feeling better. He has had some anger issues on the secure unit and again we would suggest that this is entirely to be expected.

His family would like to understand if there is a medical reason why talking therapies and psychological support has not yet commenced? Does he meet the criteria to be kept on a section? He does not pose a threat of injury to himself and in twenty- three years he has never hit another person. He may well have made threats on the ward, but they are empty threats born of frustration at being constantly drugged and although I do not condone his bad behaviour, I can understand it. Does he have a mental health disorder? As far as I am aware, he has not yet been diagnosed.

The family is aware that their involvement is crucial to their son`s recovery. They would like him to be released so that he is free to come and go and spend quality time with them.

The family believes that many of the recommendations in the Mental Health Code of Practice have already been contravened. Four overarching principles are:

  1. Least restrictive option and maximising independence Where it is possible to treat a patient safely and lawfully without detaining them under the Act, the patient should not be detained. Wherever possible a patient’s independence should be encouraged and supported with a focus on promoting recovery wherever possible.
  2. Empowerment and involvement Patients should be fully involved in decisions about care, support and treatment. The views of families, carers and others, if appropriate, should be fully considered when taking decisions. Where decisions are taken which are contradictory to views expressed, professionals should explain the reasons for this.
  3. Respect and dignity Patients, their families and carers should be treated with respect and dignity and listened to by professionals.
  4. Purpose and effectiveness Decisions about care and treatment should be appropriate to the patient, with clear therapeutic aims, promote recovery and should be performed to current national guidelines and/or current, available best practice guidelines.

It is their intention as a family to put forward their complaints and concerns to the appropriate authority in the strongest way available to them.

Their son will attend his tribunal this week to appeal to have the section lifted. Should the panel make the decision that his section cannot be lifted at this time, then they will appeal again. They would like to ask how are our mental health services intending to help their son recover because after this experience, they are naturally finding it difficult to believe that they will.

One final point, I hate to sound ageist but I question how appropriate is it to appoint nurses who are barely out of school, to comment to tribunal panel and make life changing recommendations on such complex matters?

The old girls` reunion.

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When I was a girl, I attended King Edwards V1 Camp Hill School for girls. The school was once situated just a few minutes from Birmingham city centre but in 1958, it was relocated to a new build in Vicarage Road in Kings Heath. Yesterday the girls` school celebrated its 60th anniversary and I decided to go for old time`s sake. I wasn`t quite sure what to expect but when I arrived the place was already buzzing with about 200 old gals turning up to see what changes had taken place over the decades, many of them using zimmer frames, walking sticks and wheelchairs as their mode of transport.

In the assembly hall, the impressive sliding doors that used to open up every morning while we took our seats, had gone and been replaced by solid walls. Echoes of `Friday Songs` rang in my head and memories of the sixth form girls up on the balcony singing `Ring Out Ye Crystal Spheres` and all of us assembled singing `The Night Song` as a round from The Little Sweep, came flooding in to my mind. Our music teacher Miss Flowers would be on the stage in one of her enormous variety of home-made dresses, every one created from an identical pattern to show off her rather curvaceous figure, swinging her baton and stamping her kitten heeled foot on the parquet flooring.

We eventually sat down for a dinner which was served to us in the old dining hall by ladies who looked like Mrs. Overall, after which  I had a good old explore. The gym and changing rooms area hadn`t altered much. I recalled the gym teacher Miss Howard who some girls loved but I loathed, reading a letter I had written excusing me from hockey because of period pains.  I would tell any lie to get out of hockey.  She examined it and said,  “Are you sure your mother wrote this Helen?”  and I responded with all the haughtiness that I could muster, “Are you insinuating that my mother is a liar Miss Howard?”  Oh the cheek of me!

King Edwards was and remains, a terribly privileged place to be. In those days we had to sit the Eleven Plus exam and if your marks were high enough it secured your scholarship which is what happened in my case. My father who was a socialist was horrified, my mother, always a true blue, was over the moon. I think she was proud because King Edwards boasted at the time that their pupils represented the top two percent of the country`s intellects, the crème de la creme. However I struggled there for all kinds of reasons and at dinner I sat opposite a woman who had also struggled. Our parents had never been wealthy, the majority of King Edwards` pupils that I went to school with came from wealthy to extremely wealthy backgrounds. We shared how we had never really fitted in and how the uniform cost our parents an arm and a leg. I never went on school trips abroad, it would have been impossible for my mother and father to find the money.  I always felt on the outside and I could not wait to leave.

I was thought of as a bit of a rebel and I think this was because I often questioned the teachers and challenged their views, something that was not encouraged at King Edwards in those days of pupil subservience.  In spite of this, I made some good friends there, two of whom have been my lifelong friends so if I can take anything from school, that would be the most valuable thing for me. Many of the teachers did not like me, I still don`t really understand why. Perhaps some of them were jealous, I was pretty and popular with the boys who were schooled next door, I was vocal and I liked to entertain my schoolfriends by being amusing (no change there then.)  Perhaps I made them feel ancient.  I especially loathed Miss crump the art teacher who was a midget with cropped ginger hair. It was a mutual loathing.  She wore tweed jackets and skirts with woollen ankle socks and brogues and always smelt of old fags. She wrote notes on packets of Park Drive, she was vile and she always marked me down in art, even though I was very good at pencil sketching particularly. She described me as lazy which I am not and she said so frequently to the art class. I was so happy when I finally got a new and handsome art teacher, what was his name?  He had a beard and he was lovely and in my fourth year my Crump days were finally over!

For any of my old pals reading this, you may recall Miss Lacy (geography) who had an enormous tumour in her stomach, she looked permanently nine months pregnant and initially would not have it removed as she was a Christian Scientist.  I am reliably informed in the end, Miss Lacy underwent the knife so that must have been quite an operation.

Miss Howard (sports) developed bone cancer and lost her battle for life. When I found out in my adulthood I regretted how horrible I had been to her as a kid. Especially at shower time after sports when I always refused to take my kit off in front of her and only ever washed my feet as Miss Howard was reputed to be a lesbian and as a result, many of us judgmental and extremely naïve young girls, kept a wide berth. Poor Miss Howard!  I would probably like her now.

Mr. Letch who used to sit on the desk and write on the board with his feet because he had no hands, moved to become Lord Mayor down on the south coast somewhere.

Miss Miller, the terribly upper class and scarily intimidating head mistress who spoke with a plum in her mouth, retired and was replaced by Miss Manderville who was the exact opposite apparently and was incredibly loved from all the accounts I heard yesterday. There were also many tales of raising money for the swimming pool. The penny races up the school drive and other fund-raising activities went on for years. I left the year it was being built and went there to swim a few times after I had left school, but it was a disappointing pool, very small after all that effort.

I left the reunion during the after-dinner speeches. I was getting to the point where I remembered all the reasons why I was so unhappy at grammar school and why I left the moment I was legally allowed to. I looked around the assembly hall at the audience gathered there yesterday. The entire audience was white and I would hazard most of the women there were quite well off judging from the designer dresses and handbags evident all over the shop.  I am happy to report that from walking around the corridors it is also very evident from photographs everywhere that the school now reflects the diversity of Birmingham`s BAME communities but I wonder how it supports those pupils who do not come from wealthy backgrounds and how it makes them feel included and valued.

Oh! The old stagnant pond is still there at the front of the school. As I drove away I recalled us being instructed to get a water snail for a biology lesson and I brought mine in and placed it in clean tap water where, during the course of the lesson the poor thing died. The teacher spoke to me as though I were the most imbecilic person she had ever met because I had not understood that this major change to the snail`s environment would finish it off.

So! Cheers King Edwards. My time there taught me to broaden my view of the world and eventually took my politics to the left. It made me realise that you can be as intelligent as Pythagoras however, this does not necessarily mean you have emotional intelligence. Most of all it has taught me how important inclusion is, it would be a sad, dull and deprived world without it.

So take that and shove it up your jacksy Donald.

Gardening is GOOD for you!

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When I got home from work on Friday a letter was waiting for me. I could see straight away it was an NHS letter, the blue franking on the front of the envelope, the letter I had been waiting for and dreading, the appointment for my yearly check-up, year two following treatment for breast cancer.

The chances of the return of the kind of cancer that I had are highest in the first three years, and then the risk drops down quite significantly. If I make it to five years then the chances of it returning are lower than that of all the other types of breast cancer.

So on Friday night, fear paid me a visit.

Fear is a horrible thing. In my case I panic and start to think about the ways in which I might become ill and die at any moment soon. Fear makes me feel sick, it makes me tearful, fear makes me angry and it makes me want to drink a lot and blot it all out. So on Friday night that is exactly what I did.

When I woke up on Saturday morning I thought, “This is no good, I can`t be ruled by fear and spend my time worrying about something that might never happen……” so I told fear to fuck off.  I decided to tackle my garden which as some of you know, resembles a miniature jungle at the moment. I worked hard from 1pm and did not stop until tea time.  An entire wheelie bin packed with weeds and brambles later and after a long period of neglect the front garden is once again looking pretty.

Front garden

I can see the individual plants, I am so pleased, they were being choked by brambles, the lawn was two feet high. By the end of the day, I was so stiff I was hobbling around like an old aged pensioner – oh hang on a minute, I am an old aged pensioner hah! But fear had left me, hurrah!

Today I am starting on the back garden, it is a mammoth undertaking as it is about sixty feet long. A few years ago, a well-meaning neighbour had most of it chipped for me. She hoped it would cut down on maintenance but unfortunately the weeds have grown through the poor quality liner and now the grass is about four feet high. Bind weed chokes many of the plants in the border, it is a huge task yet one which I shall embrace with joy and pleasure. I have my gardening mojo back and I have a plan.

As for fear, well when fear buggered off, fear left something behind.  Fear left hope, positivity and delight in the things that matter to me most like nature and nurture and love.

While we are on the subject of love; my friend Carol Hands who lives across the water in America, is ailing at the moment. Carol writes some of the most awe inspiring, intelligent and truly beautiful blogs here that I have ever read.  Her blog page is called “Voices from the margins.” I have shared many of them, Carol is a poet, an academic and a propagator of peace and balance in these difficult times. Carol if you read this, I know you are in pain. My love is bouncing over the ocean to find its way to you, accompanied by hope and positivity.

Happy Sunday.