Crash & Recovery: 2016 Edition


Two weeks and six days: that’s how long I’ve spent in psychiatric units this time.  Looking at it all long-term, my times in hospital have become more spread out and my recovery from them quicker, so much so with the latter that I’m almost looking over my shoulder wondering how this recovery could have taken place.

Although the warning signs were there – I was yearning for the past times I’d spent in hospital, I was neglecting my social life and becoming increasingly disconnected – I’m starting to view these times spent in care as somehow necessary, something of a release from the build-up of detrimental environmental factors in the absence of adequate problem-solving skills, things you can only really pick up after the event.

My psychiatrist, however, doesn’t take the more positive, recovery-oriented view of all this that I do.  To him, any form of ‘relapse’ is a sign of failure and yet, since 2007-8, every relapse has been followed by improved functioning and greater clarity.

It hasn’t been easy but the results may be worth it. Identifying that I was probably right in concluding that my initial – and mistaken – spell in hospital led to post-traumatic stress, I’ve had to almost apply treatment for this on my own though I’m pretty sure I’ve been successful, talking out issues which had been dancing in the back of my mind for years.

The plan had been to rework my relationship with past thinking and events so that they’re more power-balanced, losing their ability to cause disruption in the back of my mind, and to confuse by bringing them to the front.  Again, I’m pretty sure I’ve pulled this off, but time will tell, I suppose, and it’s way too early to predict whether this has been a successful venture or some Quixotic folly.

My first week and four days, at the County’s central unit, were chaos.  I was too far gone. Then, returning to home ground (where I’m writing this now) – Kidderminster’s ward – I was met with familiar faces who soon had me levelling off, stabilised, to be followed by compounding improvements in the following days to the point of a near full recovery now, though with the sense that it’s all happened so rapidly it’s a wonder any of it has.

Facebook, although the bulk of its content has become pitiful, would also provide a link to the integration of the personality, reminding me of better times and places – reacquainting me with my social self, the person I’m agreed to be.  Mental health wards used to be almost hermetically-sealed worlds with no ‘outside’. You were there, that’s all there was and, before you knew it, you, too, could find yourself policing on behalf of the powerful against the weak.

Social media has changed things and, although it’s taken the NHS and psychiatry some time to jump on board and allow common access to smartphones on many wards, access to a forum which can, while being hazardous when paranoid, for example, offers an link to the wider community and providing a counterbalance to an environment which can be so conservative and infantilising as to almost drive you insane.

Things have changed.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been admitted to various hospitals, but when I first came here 16 years ago, I was struck with how archaic psychiatry is.  All these years later, though change is traditionally slow, there are positive signs and I’m now struck with how much these people – the staff and patients – have to deal with and how well they often manage, against the odds, and usually with ideas and approaches which, although now almost taken for granted they’re so popularly – and blindly – accepted, can leave a lot to be desired. Improvements in even basic problem solving skills are needed here.

In those 16 years, services have declined, with all manner of initiatives dropped and space once used for activities now used for offices as managerialism has swept through the sector and paperwork rather than actual nursing and care have become the name of the game.  Staff have come and gone, too.  With many, because you’re meeting them at emotionally-charged times across a prolonged period, you build up an interesting and unique relationship.  When they retire, the place just isn’t the same.

That said, things have improved in the two years since I was last here.  Communication has improved greatly – staff are now not so rushed in prioritising paperwork and instead are frequently to be found making concerted efforts to reach out to patients and develop relationships, echoing the approach and personality of the new ward manager.  That said, the issues with activities and space remain so that only one communal area has been left in place and even that’s a confined, restricted and at times claustrophobic area.

As time passes, I’m becoming one of the older patients. I first noticed it the last time I was in hospital as I developed a more conciliatory partnership with staff, rather than the old confrontational approach.  The edges do tend to soften with age and I still see newbies making the same mistakes I did way back when while noticing myself making the same mistakes the oldies made when I was a newbie.

All told, though, this admission has been welcome in retrospect.  Things had built up over time which I needed to stop and think about though it was unlikely that would happen the way things were.  It’s also been good to reconnect with people I’d become way too dismissive of as I researched the background of mental health. And I can feel the difference even now, at this early stage, of having cleared out a lot of baggage to reach some new, better stage.

Following this spell in hospital, I’ve realised that I need to develop my social life, not shutting myself away like I did in the time between this and my last admission. Social media, alone, clearly isn’t enough.  I’ll go over that, and other things, in a planning meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, where I should be allowed back home for a week before being discharged from the hospital and removed off the section.

As for the future, in productive terms, there’s a project I’ve been working on for quite some time, now.  I’ve now decided to target it at a general audience, rather than a mental health one as I initially planned, but I’m also thinking of postponing it to set up some sort of drop-in centre, as current offerings just aren’t cutting it, something needs to be done and the people I’ve met on my travels need something that currently isn’t being offered to them.

The Social Media Documentation Project


The Social Media Documentation Project makes good information about social media both accessible and usable. The project isn’t just about tools and services, though. It’s also about the thinking behind them and how to make the most of the new media. The project exists to enable people to effectively use existing online social networks and even build their own by looking to increase our knowledge and key skills.

The project is intended to be informative and well-written, concise yet comprehensive and comprises three elements:

Wagwan? http://wagwan.org Wagwan? deals with the ‘social’ in social media. Most of us could do with improving our psychological and social skills for real life. But it’s also the case that we need these skills to make the most of social media, otherwise we are in danger of losing out on what the social web has to offer us. Wagwan? is a health and well-being Q&A site designed just for that purpose, to openly discuss better ways of thinking and relating to others.

Nagwan! http://nagwan.org Nagwan! concerns the ‘media’ side of social media. Many of us would benefit from brushing up on our technical and communication skills so that, when we do use social media, we can hold our own. Nagwan! is a forum-based site specialising in bridging the gap between those proficient in social media and people hoping to make more out of the social web but who may only have a rough idea of what they want to do, if they have an idea at all.

The Social Media Documentation Project http://tsmdp.org Tying it all together – the ‘social’ and the ‘media’ – is The Social Media Documentation Project. Wagwan? and Nagwan! are both quite dynamic, so the wiki provides a more static place to draw material and conclusions from contributions to the other two sites.

The Nagwan Social Media Documentation Project


I’m working on a project that’s intended to improve our approach to and uses of social media, which should, in theory, lead to better outcomes for individuals and their communities. It’s become pretty obviously recently, though, that Nagwan! has been lacking something quite important. We have a forum and a blog, but the type of process we’re hoping to achieve needed something more static and comprehensive, so we now have a wiki.The Nagwan Social Media Documentation Project, like Nagwan! itself, is still being tested and worked on (hence the current lack of content) but you’re more than welcome to use it, join and contribute.EDIT: the project has now become The Social Media Documentation Project.

How-to: Install WordPress the Easy Way


My final project for the course I’m studying – a Masters in Social Media at Birmingham City University – is a community web site mainly featuring questions and answers submitted by people offering a sort of peer-to-peer support.  Here, I’m going to give a quick demo to show how easy it is to install a powerful piece of software to your space on the net (assuming you’ve got hosting). Not only do I want a record of how I built Wagwan?, but I also want some sort of space to discuss other matters relating to the site.

The options for setting up some sort of record for how to go about creating a site like Wagwan? are many.  For example, I could have installed a wiki (e.g. MediaWiki and incorporating it into Joomla (see below) with the MediaWiki Auto-Login extension), something I may still add to the site in the future but, for now, WordPress is sufficient for what I need and in my view it’s the best and most powerful blogging software there is, hosted at Wagwan? under ‘About > Diary‘ in the main menu.

 

How to (easily) install WordPress

The main piece of software I installed for Wagwan? is Joomla, which I mentioned above.  Joomla is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) which is great for building a community site.  A lot of sites go for a separate blog when using WordPress with something like Joomla, but there is a way of making the blogging software fit better into a Joomla site: I’ve incorporated the WordPress pages into the main site’s Joomla installation by using an ‘iFrame wrapper’, which put simply means that the blog’s pages are squeezed into a frame on the Joomla pages.  This is done through the menu’s configuration in Joomla’s administrative (back-end) section.  You set up a new menu item, then choose the type of menu item you want, including a link to the page you want incorporated into the frame.

Simple enough process, but it meant that I needed to strip the WordPress theme to its basics.  With this site, I’m trying to restrict the use of any coding because I’m not the most patient coder there is and because I want to make sure this is a site pretty much anyone can build without going overboard with detail.  That said, I did have to go into the CSS files to make the page render in the frame well.  I’m quite happy with the result, or rather the potential of the result.  Nice and clean and simple, but powerful, too.

One final thing.  I messed up a bit in setting up the blog and had to use the menu name ‘Diary’, since you can’t call a Joomla menu item the same name as a directory within the root directory, which I’d set up with the name ‘Blog’.  Not very clever, eh.  A lesson learned: think ahead properly. You can see the end result at http://wagwan.org/about/diary.

How-to: create a community web site


A quick & easy look at getting space on the Internet, installing applications along with extensions and dressing it all up nicely with a theme, so for the cost of a few hundred hours of research and a few hundred pounds in money, you can have a rich and polished community web site without incurring the high costs of hiring a social media consultant or web designer. To see the web site discussed here, go to http://wagwan.org

The Social Media Survival Guide


As I’ve progressed in my studies in Social Media at Birmingham City University, I’ve come to increasingly focus on a neglected area that’s little understood – the link between social media, psychological well-being and social skills – and have set up a page on Facebook, the Social Media Survival Guide (Now called ‘Nagwan’), for people interested in this area.

It makes sense that, if we’re increasingly using the web as part of how we socialise, we can get better at using it if we improve our approach to ourselves and other people and yet, although you can find articles on the subject, they’re usually not very reliable, so are often unhelpful to people trying to make the most of social media sites.

The page is also somewhere to discuss the issues raised by such articles to get a more balanced insight into much of the reporting that’s out there at the moment, insights we can act upon more realistically than we can with the current state of knowledge. The Facebook page brings together people who may need to improve their personal skills, like some service users, for example, with social media professionals and their counterparts in health and well-being so that we can discuss the options available to all of us when we use the social web, but instead of the emphasis being on tools and services we’re aiming to improve how we think, communicate and socialise when we use those services, with potential knock-on effects for our whole lives and the groups we’re part of.

As a mental health service user, where at one stage I was on the verge of becoming a ‘revolving door’ patient, I’ve learned that an effective approach to psychological and social skills is crucial. But doesn’t the same apply online, now that social media has become such an intrinsic part of how we interact with other people?

So, whether, say, you’re experiencing Facebook angst or you’re worried about your private information leaking out, if you want to improve how you take part in online social activities or come to terms with a bad experience on a site, come and visit the page and help us to help you start making improvements in how you use social media. Nagwan! See also: The Nagwan Social Media Documentation Project