It’s the early hours and I’m awake. On a psychiatric ward for about two and a half weeks, I’m suffering from broken sleep and in the ward’s lounge as a new patient is admitted to the unit.
Middle class, she clashes with a system designed around power and prestige applied to an often infantilised working class. The system isn’t ready for people like her – ‘it’s like some sort of fucking school’ – and she isn’t ready for the system. Staff are trying to negotiate their powers into realisation. She’s being assertive. I know how this will play out in the staff’s observation notes the psychiatrist will consult as he decides on medication.
Sectioned (legally detained in hospital for observation and/or treatment), she’s facing a culture shock and isn’t sure she’s going to be able to survive the experience. She has a story while being aware that everyone has, but hers is compelling and it looks at this early stage as if she’ll get off the section. I hope so. She’s edgy but that’s understandable having experienced for the first time the effects of the State’s power to remove your liberty and mind. But she’s nothing more than edgy.
With our traditional focus on key indicators like race and ethnicity, sex and gender, class from a working class perspective, and so on, we sometimes overlook the needs of the middle class in these scenarios, but if we’re going to champion equality in services, it surely makes sense to see and work around our blind spots. The system being largely designed around a rigidly patriarchal hierarchy engineering the conformity of an often infantilised working class, people can be unprepared for the challenges such a structure throws up where everyday behaviour can be pathologised for no adequate reason whatsoever.
Current campaigns around mental health stigma tend to focus too heavily on persuading the general public to be more accepting of people with diagnoses by tackling common myths via public campaigns, but there’s little in the way of strategies for managing how those of us who are diagnosed deal with a dominant culture which is often prejudicial and discriminatory while also acknowledging that it isn’t only the dominant culture, but also we ourselves, along with the systems intended to care for us, which contribute to the problem.
While the myths in society do need to be addressed in the interests of social inclusion – though the evidence is that such campaigns achieve little, if anything – this shouldn’t be at the expense of developing an awareness of a community’s shortcomings, along with strategies for addressing them, when it comes to understanding mental health, not least if that may result in improvements.
Likewise, health services, while their very existence is contested, offer solace to many people, while they also stigmatise those they purport to care for with merely theoretical notions of such things as incurable diseases, chemical imbalances in the brain and genetic deficiencies all pointing to some internal and inevitable fault the evidence of which is still to be discovered.
We need a strategy which brings about the best in the stigmatised and the stigmatisers. It isn’t enough to be casually and conveniently dismissive of anyone, sacrificing a comprehensive and constructive understanding. We need to think creatively around how society and psychiatry positions us to think, behave and interact in key ways about certain conditions.
We need to understand how culture works us in order to redress the balance of power at a micro and macro level between ourselves and the societies we’re part of, to recognise that stigma isn’t a deficiency on the part of the stigmatised, but one of the stigmatiser or, better still, of our society and culture, embracing a more empowered way of life accordingly.
During the 16 years I was AWOL, I had a pseudo-relationship with someone given the name Faye. I’ve got to admit, I still like the chick or may do. To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s disappointing that she was a nightmare and I’m genuinely quite sad about that on her part. Let’s say – and it won’t happen – I got back together with her and she ditched the act and the name. Am I really cut out for long-term romantic relationships? Also, wouldn’t it be better to just move on completely from those 16 years, even though everyone else seems so obsessed about them? I have already, but with everyone seemingly so obsessed about them, what can you do?
Thing is, though, I’ve moved on and, even if I went with this speculation and got back with whoever she was, there really are plenty more fish in the sea and I’m quite content with the life of a singleton, to be honest.
16 years have passed. 16 years during which I’d no effective consciousness of my own. Now, returning to normal, though it’s proving to be a gradual process, what do I do now? Right now, I haven’t got much of a clue.
The general idea I had of returning to old ground to re-engineer my relationship with those years threw up a problem I hadn’t envisioned: those years had kept me from addressing the key questions of life from a realistic perspective. Now, faced with what should be an unrealistic environment, those questions remain to be addressed and so made more difficult, though not insurmountably so. The signs are already evident that time should be a great healer.
Do I pick up the pieces of where I left off 16 years ago, do I incorporate any of the past 16 years, even though they seem so remote, do I somehow start afresh? What exactly do you do when you emerge from such a time when all the people you know seem obsessed with that time while you are at a loss of how to take your life forward now?
What exactly is my consciousness? As yet, that’s unclear. There’s not been enough time beyond the frequent druggings I’ve received for a stable personality to emerge, though enough, perhaps, to point to something worthwhile, something to look forward to, however unclear that vision currently is. Impatient as I am, after losing 16 years, the time ahead needs to be made use of, but how and when? It will take time to adjust to a mind not clouded by druggings and it will take time to adjust to an environment I haven’t really been familiar with for over a decade-and-a-half, whether that’s an unrealistic one or not.
Who do I mix with and how do I mix with them? What are my interests? How do I conduct my daily life? The thing with all this is that, though the answers are currently fairly obscure and, despite my impatience, they’ll emerge in time, sure enough.
Someone from my hometown of Kidderminster left a comment on one of my latest videos last night, questioning whether I liked the area and its people. I mulled it over and thought that it signalled that the time is now right to republish the Flickr blog posts I ran years ago during what I called ‘the Smartphone Era’, a brief time where smartphones were available, but not widespread in certain areas, like my hometown of Kidderminster and when social media was hitting its peak in terms of its quality, thought not in the number of users.
These Flickr posts cover an all too brief and unique period where social media wasn’t quite mainstream and when smartphones were, to many, still somewhat mysterious devices. I would experience hassle in my hometown for using the new tech, though since I had links with a local university at the time, I could compare my hometown’s approach with attitudes in Birmingham, a nearby city, where tech use was openly encouraged and even celebrated. It was quite an interesting comparison to make, showing how lives lived so close in proximity can still be worlds apart.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Kidderminster and its county of Worcestershire are fairly backward and socially conservative areas, something of the UK’s ‘bible belt’, suffering many of the social problems you might expect of such an area. Birmingham, a city, is more progressive and politically aware in outlook – or at least the Birmingham I was exposed to.
What I found in Birmingham was a more relaxed atmosphere, with a population generally more open and friendly. Kidderminster, on the other hand, for reasons I see partly as cultural and material, has a general population which is hostile and suspicious, especially of new things and new people (to them ‘outsiders’). There is a widespread and thorough imposition of numerous restricting norms, imposing limitations not least on creative expression, especially when it includes analysis of the area, making those who try to be creative, in the thinking of one relevant professional, especially vulnerable to adverse reactions.
At the time, I was exploring such norms partly by defamiliarising myself with what had become the everyday over time. I was seeking to get to the heart of what made the place tick, though aware of how hostile people around here can become with such things as analysis and exposure, especially if it looks like word might get ‘out’. To be fair to the people here, they tend to be politically ignorant and unaware, limited by a damaging, blinkered, myopic conservatism, and don’t really know any better, which is why they’re essentially powerless to address issues with themselves and the area. Regardless, though, it was a stressful period for me, at times, but it was also an interesting one, which I hope comes across in the content.
To me, though this doesn’t always come across, it was an attempt to use social media in its best use: to do a job of improving things, somehow, by highlighting what hadn’t been publicly highlighted before. Again, though, in such an area, this approach carries a number of risks.
Which is why, I suppose, there were things that I didn’t mention even back then. It was obvious that the time would soon come when online activity would become more the norm than the exception and that what you could get away with posting openly and freely would become more limited. So, for example, not enough mention of the sadistic little character who ran the social scene at the coffee shop in town, an individual psychiatric services believes fits the bill of a sociopath. There are many other examples where, because I knew this time of openness would be brief, I had to hold back and maybe wisely so.
There were also comments left almost certainly by locals. It’s possible that you have to have experience of such people to know how they operate, trying to corrupt not only their direct audience, but the wider one, and anyone else they can assimilate into their ‘ways’. Specialising in a toxic approach of ‘divide and conquer’, it’s in the water of the place for many of its inhabitants to play people (including unwitting officials) off one another to win at all costs, which is another reason why the mindset of the place, according to one official, hasn’t essentially changed for 500 years – they’re very effective at it. The tragedy is that, as is possibly the case with the comment left last night, the very methods such people use highlight the issues which urgently need to be addressed for the well-being of the locals, with their blind spots to matters of self and place, issues which are yet again left in place – as they no doubt have been for centuries – by people adept at cutting off their nose to spite their face.
In the subsequent years since these posts I’ve developed the sort of education I wish I’d always had, leading to a level of awareness that’s a world away from what was, a breath of fresh air, even though it has the potential to distance me from the bulk of the local population. But, thinking back to the posts, I was already starting on a journey which would develop with the disciplined and sharpened lens a thorough appreciation of theory and research can provide. Linked with having had the experience of seeing the place play out what it was always going to play out (once its key participants got it in their collective mind to do so), you have a powerful and informative combination which may, one day, be of some positive use if not in the specific area, then perhaps somewhere.
I’m split. Part of me wants to do something; the other part wants to relax and think, taking stock of what’s happened and what it signals for the future. Let’s compromise: I’ll write something, something that won’t make sense, but that’s not the point.
It feels like the end of the school year – all your work’s done, there’s nothing left to do after putting all your effort into something that’s now reached its natural conclusion. Feelings of accomplishment mixed with exhaustion, loss, finality but also possibility.
It’s too early to say whether or not I’ve been entirely successful, but the signs are good, even though that’s possibly not the vibe I’m giving off in this. Again, that’s not the point. What I set out to do, I think I’ve achieved. That didn’t come into clear view until late in the process, appearing only gradually and in different forms until, layer upon layer, in the final moments of the whole thing, what I needed to do and why I needed to do it became evident. It finally all made sense.
Last night I could have died. It wouldn’t have mattered. Smashed by a succession of illnesses and severe sleep-loss, it was one of those rare moments when you’re so fucked you realise there’s nothing left to do because you’ve already done everything you set out to do. Your meaning’s been realised and your life’s seen out its course. This never lasts long and it suggests life’s some sort of road with staging posts, not uncomfortable places to be while they last.
This year – this staging post – was always going to be difficult, though. It’s 20 years since I first started having it really tough in life and, though such anniversaries shouldn’t really mean that much, we’re human, and we often replay key moments. Within that were a whole host of more recent memories, clouding my mind even further for not far off a decade. And yet, last night, because of how things had gone, it all made sense, it was all packaged up and put away once and for all.
Different place, this world, now, with a different outlook. The structure I’m putting on these events makes them all look almost pre-determined, as if there’s some great scheme of things, some intelligent design to it all. Maybe there is. I don’t know and I’m not sure it matters. What I do know is that life’s different all of a sudden. I’m still me and the experiences I’ve had are still part of my make-up, but it’s an evolved me where the events have taken on a new meaning and place in life. ‘That Moment,’ my last post, wasn’t what I thought it was at the time. Again, the layers were being revealed as something which would become much more substantial and important to me. Now that post means something different, something better.
I don’t use a lot of the social media I use for the usual reasons. I don’t see that kind of use as serving much of a purpose. Social media at the moment isn’t really going anywhere and we seem to be in some sort of limbo. I’ve also not got a lot to benefit from in building a ‘social media reputation’ or in fostering primarily networked relationships.
Some time ago my usage evolved into me going to the ropes and using social media in a way which suited me and what I wanted out of it. There’s not much conversation on many of these networks, so I use my imaginary friends instead. Because my Twitter account is so bad in number-crunching, status-seeking terms, I’m generally blocked or otherwise ignored, certainly not taken seriously most of the time, if at all.
Better, then, to have an imaginary audience, one which performs for you. My imaginary audience isn’t too petty (but just enough) and has a highly-developed bullshit detector. It’s knowledgeable in a variety of relevant topics and sees things, not in a temporary fashion, but as part of an ongoing process, leading somewhere. It sees social media, in the short and the long-term, as a tool for personal and social change. My imaginary audience, obviously, is me during my better moments.
I’m not entirely sure why, but I tend to throw out a lot of highly personal stuff – stuff which my follower-count suggests I shouldn’t in the manner in which I do. But that’s not enough to stop me from doing it. It’s become almost a compulsion, partly because the rewards have been so worthwhile over time. I don’t throw around everything – there’s a few things even I wouldn’t – but enough to be a cause of embarrassment, if I saw it all that way (I don’t, though I’ve got to take into account other people can).
It’s a bad strategy for social media use as we’ve come to think of strategy. So bad, I’m probably the only person who’ll ever use social media in such a way to talk to himself. That might end, now, as I’ve reached some sort of conclusion with a particular approach to life. If it does, I’ll miss it a bit, though I’m sure other approaches will take its place, as they tend to. It seems to have served its purpose, now, and if it’s time to move on, then it’s time.
Does the same apply to other things? YouTube, for example? I don’t know. I’m once more starting to make videos I actually like, videos which are getting closer to my voice, rather than one too heavily reliant on existing media influences. That comes across in how I’m talking to camera, too, as the power of the lens and the world behind it have balanced, with me coming more to the fore from beneath the avalanche of memories which has buried too much in the back of my mind for too long.
I can still vividly remember the day, about 20 years ago – the where, the when, the who – when I told a friend I was getting too cynical, pretending I didn’t know why, but understanding all too well that things were going drastically wrong. Even without, at that time, a thorough understanding of my local culture, I somehow knew they would in ways which told me that in small, cut-off communities, crazes around archaic subjects like witchcraft and wizardry may have changed their overt subject matter, but the characterisations, bizarre beliefs and motivations retain their ability to consume even while their victims are convinced of their sanity and modernity. The craziest of times would last a long time, fuelled by the type of characters you can possibly imagine.
You don’t want to hear it. You really don’t. Even if you did, you wouldn’t believe a lot of it and no-one would admit enough to verify what I can say about it all. But I no longer need to verify or even tell it. It’s done. The craziest of times were over a long time ago and in not processing it all properly, they lingered in my memory, retaining a sort of relevance. But in taking the longer route, I now understand it all even more, and in exposing their true meaning, they’ve lost their power to haunt. They’re very dead ghosts.
There. There’s a bit of writing. I’ll post this. A few people might read it and I’m even dumb enough to check the stats. Double-figures mean party time, let’s put it that way. It’ll probably read bizarrely, but my imaginary audience will work away on it and all the rest of everything else to seal in place this peculiar, but successful method of progress, which is opening up the world again on more peaceful terms. For the first time in about 20 years, I can feel the soil beneath my feet and, if only you knew, you’d know that that’s some achievement.