Thoughts On: ‘Diaries Of A Broken Mind’

First of all I should explain that I’m going to split this post into my usual ‘thoughts on…’ section and then a section where I answer the prompt questions asked in the programme, hope that makes sense for you!

Secondly I have to say that this was a brilliant, brilliant documentary and I’m only annoyed that it didn’t go on for longer- it completely lived up to my expectations and I’m so glad, honestly I was pretty worried that it would fall short and it didn’t.

I would however like to bring up a point I think I made in my ‘Thoughts on: ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’’ post about how ‘acceptable’ mental illnesses are portrayed more- for example depression and eating disorders over more unusual and stigmatised ones like schizophrenia- I’m obviously not saying that there isn’t stigma for people with depression, just that it’s not got as bad an image as schizophrenia and isn’t as hard for non-mentalists to empathise with.

I also would have loved it even more if there had been more men featured and more psychosis, but I don’t know if those were creative decisions or because mood/eating disorders are more common and women like to talk more (I’m not just being randomly sexist there, it’s a genuine thing- trust me, I actually have qualifications in psychology… yeah, that’s right- be afraid, be very afraid!)

Also interesting to see the partners of the participants and hear what they had to say, there wasn’t a large enough sample to make a proper judgement on how mental illness affects partners and it’s far too subjective- but the guilt felt by the sufferers appeared to be the most negative aspect.

A common theme echoed throughout the programme was that no-one understands mental illness and that the biggest problem with being mentally ill the stigma that you have to face… if people take away anything from this programme I really hope it’s this, if we could just eradicate stigma then we’d take a huge weight off the shoulders of everyone who suffers from a mental illness. It’s so powerful and so, so simple.

My favourite part of the programme was hearing Jess talk about her DID- it’s a condition that I’ve heard of before but it’s the sort of thing that you have to really see to understand, I was completely riveted and found it so genuinely interesting- if you have even the tiniest interest in psychology or human beings just watch it for this.

Again the motif of medication only treating the symptoms was explored/mentioned, something that I think became really apparent in this was the reliance on medication in order to treat symptoms- it made me glad for the first time in a while that the psychiatrists decided not to put me on meds.

The thing that this programme did really well was give a glimpse of how it is to live day-to-day with a mental illness, showing the daily highs and lows of people and showing them candidly talking the camera through their break-downs was something that you really couldn’t find anywhere else and I really hope this honest, personal edge helps some people to understand mental illness.

I just want to finish this one off by saying that if this doesn’t inspire empathy, education and understanding in the general public then I really don’t know what will. Open your eyes, make an effort- you have no idea how much making the simplest little effort to understand what we’re going through could help us.

 

PROMPT QUESTIONS: MY RESPONSE

Throughout the programme the participants were given prompt questions, I think I managed to record all of them… so I’m going to give the questions and my answers here:

If you blog and have mental health problems feel free to answer these questions yourself in a post- I’d love to see it!

WHEN DID YOU FIRST NOTICE SOMETHING WRONG?

I could say ‘always’… there were a couple of false starts, probably when I was being molested aged thirteen and I got so low I lost the energy to get out of bed. That lead to my first suicide attempt.

The start of the last four years came probably a year after that when I just lost all my energy- it happened slowly, creeping up on me until I stopped sleeping, eating, washing… pretty much everything.

IS THERE STIGMA AROUND MENTAL ILLNESS?

Hell yeah.

Okay, yes- there is A LOT of stigma, more than I can properly describe. I mean, my parents told me I’d be better off dead when I was first diagnosed, so I think that was probably the introduction to a life of secrecy, lies and discrimination.

IS THERE ENOUGH SUPPORT?

Hell no.

Just… no, not enough, not by half. The system is fucked people- I mean, I was trapped in it for three years being shunted from treatment to treatment, getting diagnosis ranging from ‘nothing’s wrong’ to ‘brain tumour/schizophrenia’ and being repeatedly let down and patronised. I eventually told my psychiatrist to fuck off (and no, I’m not paraphrasing) and I’ve been doing much better since (though that’s really a matter of opinion.)

WHAT DO YOU MISS OUT ON BECAUSE OF YOUR DISORDER?

Whew, because I’ve had it since I was 13/14 it’s hard to have an accurate picture of this- but I think the most obvious one is proper relationships/friendships. It’s hard to have a relationship of any kind when you’re hiding something as big and life-defining as that, obviously the other person doesn’t really notice, but I feel like I’m cheating them.

Other things such as being able to be around loud noises (screaming) which is really hard as an actress. I can’t deal with raised voices, planes (all the voices in a small space make me think of hallucinations) I can’t push myself emotionally, I always have to be super-careful that I’m not too stressed or tired or taking on too much as it can lead to psychotic symptoms flaring up.

I also miss out on alcohol, caffeine and weed… joy.

DO YOU TAKE MEDICATION?

No… and I think this makes me strange, they’d never let me go on meds even though my mother repeatedly lobbied them. To be honest I’d bet my entire month’s wages that I could walk into any GPs surgery, describe my symptoms and come away with drugs were I to choose to. So it really comes down to the fact that I chose not to.

WOULD YOU GET RID OF YOUR CONDITION IF YOU COULD?

Oh this is a good one- it’s not a simple answer, not for anyone so I’ll break it down:

YES: I could live my life with total freedom, I wouldn’t need to hide with anyone- I could have proper relationships with everyone. I could push myself to the limit for my career, I could eat and drink and smoke what I wanted- I’d be able to look to the future without fear.

NO: it’s made me who I am- and continues to do so, it teaches me every single day that I’m a good, strong person because I can battle it and keep it under control. It gives me wisdom, maturity and empathy. I can help people because of it and that’s something that I will always be glad about.

So, to summarise- I basically have no idea how to answer that question. I think I may veer more towards ‘no’ but it changes all the time.

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Once again, thanks for reading- feel free to comment or email me if you’d like to,

’til next time,

Wren x

Updates

Hey there! Okay, so who’s excited for ‘Diaries of a Broken Mind’ tonight?!

… Just me?

I’m really excited for this, it seems like the kind of programme that I’ve wanted to see for SO LONG, lets just hope it lives up to my expectations- the only thing that annoys me about it is the dodgy grammar in the title (and I’m not usually fussed about that, which is an indicator that something’s really gone wrong with the English language.)

(I’m going to talk about the weather now, apologies in advance. One day I swear I’ll curb my insatiable need to blog about the forecast.)

Oh my goodness it’s warm! I think the air seems to be made out of water and hellfire, I’ve had to spend the last couple of days walking to and from my old school to talk to my drama teachers about monologues and it’s almost killed me.

I’ve had a couple of little blips with self harm recently, not because I’ve felt a need, but just because I wanted something old and comforting and I felt pretty rough mentally. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it (eg, should I try and abstain when the urge comes again or not?) but as I’ve found that not thinking about my self harm tends to help, I’m going to go back to ignoring it.

In other news I have a big random audition for something next week, it’s pretty much the most complex audition I’ve ever been asked to do and I’ve had just over a weeks notice… oh joy.

I would foist pictures of sunshine onto you but the batteries in my camera have died (the fact that my camera needs batteries is an indicator of how old it is… poor little camera.)

Wherever you are, enjoy the start of summer and stay safe!

Wren x

Thoughts On ‘Football’s Suicide Secret’

For those of you who haven’t already twigged, this is the latest in my instalments of ‘Thoughts On: BBC3’s It’s A Mad World Season’.

I was in two minds about whether or not to write something about this as I know absolutely nothing about football- however in the end I decided that I was going to be a good blogger and give it a go, after all, what’s life but a massive learning curve?

I thought the programme was very interesting and potentially useful due to its focus on men and mental illness- stigma generally affects men more than women due to the ‘tough guy’ image that most blokes feel forced into living up to and as most men (please forgive my generalisations here!) look up to footballers as their role models it would have been very beneficial for them to see them talking openly about psychiatric problems.

I’m honestly kind of annoyed that this programme didn’t get better advertising- it was on the day after the last episode of ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’ and so was kind of overshadowed by it. I think that they should have waited a little while before showing it and done some better publicity, getting men to open up about mental illness is a hard job and something that this programme could really help with- but that was really my only disappointment.

Like I said before, I know almost nothing about football, but what little I gleaned from watching the programme lead me to draw parallels with acting and careers in the performing arts industry.

Both are high pressure with little chance of overall success; however I think that the world of football is much more unrealistic. Actors know (or should know) that they have little chance of succeeding- from what I gathered about football academies it seems that they encourage an unhealthy and unrealistic level of optimism.

As well as this footballers have incredibly short careers than can easily go wrong- I can keep on acting for pretty much as long as I live, there will always be parts for me, and probably more parts the older I get as others drop out and I have less competition- but footballers only have a limited time period in which they’re at their physical peak, something that only serves to increase the levels of stress that they must be under. Added onto this is the fact that those who do make it have very little control over their own lives, what they do, what they eat, who they talk to where they go…all of this sort of piles together to make the perfect storm.

In the last few years there have been several high profile football suicides- the programme argues that there isn’t enough being done to help sportspeople with mental illnesses and I completely agree- but then again I think that not enough is being done to help anyone who suffers from a mental illness.

After a tragedy there always seems to be a campaign to stop something similar from happening again… but that doesn’t seem to happen with suicides. It’s not because we can’t do anything to stop it- research has shown that when barriers are placed along popular suicide hotspots such as bridges to make it impossible to jump the suicide rate for the area drops… in other words, if people can’t kill themselves they don’t go somewhere else or find another method- they don’t do it.

Some of you may remember that a friend of mine killed herself before Christmas, every year my school nominate a charity to raise money for. Last year a student sadly died from (I believe) complications caused by his diabetes, so the school chose to raise money for Diabetes UK.

I’d put a hell of a lot of money on the fact that next year the school won’t be raising money for the Samaritans, or Mind or any other mental health charity… and that’s something that makes me furious beyond belief. We live in a society where these things just aren’t talked about- and by not talking about them we are killing people.

I don’t care how hard it is, I don’t care how scared you feel- we have to talk about mental illness and we have to talk about suicide because by pretending that it doesn’t exist we are costing people their lives and destroying families.

Thanks for reading, as always feel free to leave your thoughts below!

Wren x

Thoughts on ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy; Episode Three’

The third and final episode of ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’ tackles something that I found noticeably lacking from the series so far:

Men.

I was expecting to see some boys last episode and was honestly a little put off when they didn’t appear- but never fear, the men are here!

I was glad that they did tackle the issue of males and mental illness and also kind of explained why they hadn’t even mentioned them sooner.

The basic fact is that there are not as many male inpatients as female ones- the programme explains this by saying that men are more likely to firstly bottle up their problems and secondly reach a point where they cannot be helped- because women deal with problems by talking it means that the people around them can pick up on the warning signs and get them help- men don’t generally do that.

One patient, George, put it best when he said that he just didn’t know there was any other option- depression and mental illness feel like they can only have one outcome, and that outcome is the suicide of the sufferer.

On a personal level I completely empathise with this- I know that as my depression plodded on and on  and my self harm escalated beyond what I could have ever foreseen I found myself only able to see a future full of my own death, it was just inevitable for me- something that’s terrifying in retrospect.

This outlook could also help explain why successful suicide attempts are much higher in men- more men that women die by suicide, although women are three times more likely to attempt. What this says about gender differences and mental health I don’t know- I’ll leave it up to you to speculate.

Another issue that this programme tackles is the big one- violence, voices and mental health.

It’s the ultimate stereotype- the mentally ill are violent.

Okay, so maybe some of us are- but wouldn’t you be if you had twenty or thirty or even forty voices screaming and whispering at you all day and night, filling your head with all sorts of horrible, paranoid crap- to be honest I think that if you take that into account you’ll find that we’re a lot less violent that you’d expect.

I’m really glad that the series actually tackled this and didn’t just stick to showing depression and eating disorders- both illnesses that are easier for the general public to deal with.

I’m also glad that they dealt with the impact hat mental illness can have in the long term and how it can affect the future, especially for young people. It’s hard to explain to someone what it’s like to have to give up your dream or even put it on hold because of you mental health. As an actress I can completely empathise with this- I’m in a very stressful profession and I have to put my health first. This means having to make horrible decisions all the time, when you have a mental health problem it can feel incredibly restricting. You’re constantly having to assess what you can and can’t do and because it’s not a physical problem it’s hard to know your limits.

The final thing that I want to talk about is the idea of the unit becoming a ‘safety blanket’ and anxiety around discharge. For someone with a mental health problem, especially a young person, the idea of having to go back into a world that is not only difficult but may judge them is a frightening one. Another factor that a lot of people don’t get is the worry about having to explain where they’ve been for the last few weeks/months. It’s no wonder that the unit can become like a safety blanket, protecting them from the worst aspects of the outside world and the things that triggered their illness in the first place.

Well, that concludes our three week expedition through the annals of ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’ hope you enjoyed my insights and pop back again soon for my thoughts on the up-coming programmes in BBC3’s ‘Mad World’ season.

Take care,

Wren

Thoughts on ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy; Episode Two’

… Better late than never!

This little review/response/reaction comes a little late due to the fact that I didn’t actually see the episode when it was first broadcast last night, I was busy becoming a Pagan cliché.

The first thing that jumped out to me about this episode was the portrayal of hallucinations (note that I’m not using the term ‘psychosis’ as the patient in question was not diagnosed as psychotic) it wasn’t the way they were portrayed that got me, it was just the fact that they were shown at all.

I think it’s very easy for ‘normal’ people to see people with depression, eating disorders or even OCD as they’ve been acclimatised to it through films and TV, but hallucinations are something completely different. They’re very rarely seen outside the context of drugs and therefore it makes pretty uncomfortable viewing- even for someone like me, who actually suffers from them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this sort of thing on TV before, and I felt incredibly uncomfortable whilst watching it.

I can imagine that for someone who has never encountered someone suffering from hallucinations before this must have been pretty tough viewing.

Something that educated me a little bit was the way that the psychiatrists and mental health professionals went about finding the causes of the hallucinations- I think in society we generally equate hallucinations with schizophrenia, which is something that I did when I first watched this, but the psychiatrists first looked for a biological cause and then started to deconstruct the patient’s childhood to try and understand what she was seeing. I found this really interesting both as a mentalist and a psychology student, my brain sort of assumed that the only cure for hallucinations was medication- but after seeing this I think slightly differently.

Another issue that this episode explored was sectioning and the Mental Health Act- sectioning basically involves taking away power and rights from the patient when they are deemed a danger to themselves and others. This act means that patients can’t make decisions for themselves, must be contained in a unit/hospital and can have treatment forcefully administered to them.

For most of us this seems unthinkable, but for people who are mentally ill this is basic reality- we all live knowing that one day something could go wrong, we could snap and be sectioned.

It brings up a whole range of questions about what sanity and judgement are- when can the state step in and decide that we’re too thin, or too quiet or that the world we see is too weird for us to be allowed out. And yes, I’m being deliberately non-contextual here in trying to make a point. I’m not against sectioning, I just think that the majority of people see it as something that only happens to the ‘murderous lunatics’ and not that it could potentially happen to them… yes ‘normal’ men and women of the United Kingdom, you too could end up sectioned!

Another thing highlighted by the programme was the benefit of a diagnosis- having a name to put to something is incredibly beneficial, not only does it help massively in getting treatment but it gives the patient a hell of a lot of validation- something that I think is very helpful to the mentally ill. Due to the stigma in society and the fact that we don’t have physical symptoms having a diagnosis, a name for what’s going on in our heads and our lives is incredibly validating.

Finally this episode touches once again on something first brought up in the first one- curing or coping? It again reiterates the point that they are not there to cure the teenagers, and that’s not the approach they take, they’re just trying to teach them how to cope in society… all of this begging the question; are they teaching them how to cope, or how to fit in?