Download Speaking Our Minds: An Anthology of Personal Experiences of Mental Distress and its Consequences PDF

TitleSpeaking Our Minds: An Anthology of Personal Experiences of Mental Distress and its Consequences
File Size30.3 MB
Total Pages234
Document Text Contents
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Page 117

Jimmy Laing 99

always knew I would get out and that fence was not going to stand in my

All my problems at Carstairs were now behind me. I was leaving and I
was determined never to return. I didn't even look back at the place as I

Page 118

Stay Calm and Charm Them

Some names and other identifying details have been changed to protect the
privacy of the individuals involved.

3 December

When Graham, the consultant psychiatrist, came, uninvited, to my house
that Thursday morning, 2 September 1993, 1 feIt even my private space
had been invaded. He talked to me for a while and said I had to go to
Ward 20, the psychiatrie depCl!tment of the general hospital.

I' d been a patient on that particular ward before. 1 knew staff on 20 as
colleagues as 1 worked for Social Serviees at the Mental Health Project
which provided day care and individual support work with mentally ill
people who were living in the community.

1 didn't want to go into hospital, but Graham said he was going to call
for an ambulance and if 1 didn't go voluntarily then he would get my GP
and 1 would be sectioned under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act. He
said if 1 didn't go into hospital 1 would be dead quite soon. 1 said 1 needed
to see a physieal doctor about the maggots in my stornach and he said it
was a psychiatrist 1 needed. He said there was no negotiation; 1 had to go,
and the sooner the better. 1 asked if 1 could go in the car with Rob, a work
colleague, but he said 1 might try to get out of the car on the way. The
ambulance came and 1 feIt very scared. 1 was also conscious that it
wouldn't go unnoticed by the local villagers. Rob said he would come in
the ambulance with me and 1 was very glad of his support. Walking the
short distance from my gate to the ambulance made me feel very
humiliated and 1 dared not look around to see if 1 was being watched by


Page 233

Beyond Rage

The first thing that really helped me start to get over my experiences as an
in-patient on a psychiatrie ward was to realise the depth of my anger
about the experience. 1 think the whole subject of forced treatment is one
that has been little researched, and one of the things that happened to me
was a deep feeling of shame and humiliation. When 1 hear accounts of
people who've experienced sexual abuse as children, some of the things
they say - 'I feit 1 must have deserved it in some way /1 feIt it was my
fault' - ring true for my experience of being treated against my will in the
mental heaIth system.

About six years after the first hospital admission, when 1 was having a
hard time in a relationship, 1 sat down knowing Iwanted to write
something to express my feelings, but not knowing what it was Iwanted
to write. About thirty lines of white-hot anger about the mental health
system came pouring out. I was amazed at myself to discover how
enraged I still was after all that time, and at how I' d somehow lived with
that level of anger completely suppressed.

I did have other admissions after this, but I was always clearer about
who I was and what the system was, and I nt:!ver got so completely lost as
I did during that first admission.

I needed to talk about how it all was for me, but mostly I didn't. On the
few occasions I did, I found I met with one of two responses. If people
weren't themselves survivors, they were acutely embarrassed and shut
me up. ('It was a long time ago. It's all behind you now. Try to think of
something pleasant instead.') If they were survivors, they usually had so
many of their own feelings about the experience that 1 would end up
listening to their outrage or justifications. It was all pretty frustrating.

What tumed it around for me was the discovery of a group of survivors
meeting in my town to co-counsel. 1 joined the group, and once a month
I'd go and spend the evening with these people. This was the only time I


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216 Beyond Rage

ever saw them. We'd take it in turns to tell our stories, which process at
first seemed very awkward and contrived. However, two things began to

At last there was a place to bring the the thoughts and feelings I'd had
for the last ten years without anyone telling me to shut up. Within a short
space of time, I began to feel better about the whole thing and far less
demoralised about it. Just having space to talk and think about it (or cry
and rage, or just yawn away as I recalled the effects of drugs) meant I had
new perspectives. I didn't feel so disempowered, and I began to see ways
I could act and change the way the system operates (instead of just feeling
bad about it).

The second thing was that I could hear how similar our stories were,
and this helped me to see that I wasn't a freak.

When I started to get active in local user groups, it helped to have
worked through some of the anger and negativity. It meant I didn't
immediately have to jump and start attacking professionals, even when
they were being provocative - especially when they were being
provocative. I could think - 'What's the best way to handle this? What do
I want to happen in this situation?'

It was specially useful if some big event was coming up, such as
speaking at a meeting or conference, to have a time to be able to think
about it and feel the feelings - all the terror and Tm not really any good'
stuff. Acknowledging this and thinking about it in an environment that's
safe means that those feelings have far less of a hold on you when you get
out into the real situation.

As time goes on, I see that no one working in mental health gets enough
support or is properly listened to. The impact of a well-organised system
of peer support groups would be incalculable.

Recipe for a support group

1. Decide a few basic rules:
• What's said is confidential, is not to be referred to outside the group or

outside a particular person's 'time'.
• People get the chance to talk without interruptions or having to hear

someone else's views. The others can be supportive or encouraging if
you get stuck.

2. Decide how much time you've got to spend on this and divide it
between the nurnber of you there are.

3. Listen to the others, enjoy their attention when it gets to your turn.

Good luck.

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