Perspectives from the Mentalist's Best Friend

Good afternoon, loveliest readers. Following the success of A’s series of guest posts for Confessions on daily life with a mental, my best friend Daniel asked if he could add some thoughts of his own. Clearly I jumped at the chance to have these insights, so I fired him off a couple of questions, which, along with his answers, now follow. Enjoy ūüôā ~ Pan

What was it like growing up with a mental friend? Did you know how mental she was? Did you ‘get’ some of her weird behaviour? What, if anything, did you feel you could do about it?

An interesting question, because as a teenager, rather than consider my friend to be mental, I considered her to be interesting; as such, I chose to emulate her behaviour.

I remember running up and down streets carrying a curtain pole. I recall parading around people’s living rooms with a cushion on my head, making stupid noises. I was there when we walked home, unable to afford our bus fares [Pan – having spent our money on alcopops, if I recall], from the near-ish-but-far-to-walk-from large town (approximately eight miles, if my memory serves me correctly) – all the while pretending to be German, talking to every person we met in broken English. They were helpful in offering us directions and admitted that they had forgiven us for “the war” when we insisted on apologising for it (and yes, I’m still laughing about it now, perhaps 15 years later). [Almost literally pissing myself at that one. Ah, memories…].

Oh, almost forgot: we phoned teachers in the middle of the night pretending to aroused horses, cats and vampire bats. Good times.

This seemed to me to be completely normal, acceptable behaviour – and if I am brutally honest, it still does [agreed]. This is how we chose to spend our time and was what made us laugh as children. Of course, society may judge young people behaving like this as being weird, unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous – but this is certainly not how it seemed to be at the time.

But, in saying all that…I was also there the night Pan took her first overdose (I think we were 16). I recall watching her take the pills and I helped her mum force her to spit them out. I was still there that night in the hospital, when Pan informed the staff that if she were allowed to go home, she would kill herself. A sanctimonious A&E doctor curtly replied, “no, you won’t. Manics don’t want to kill themselves”, to which Pan calmly (bearing in mind she’d been hysterical only moments before) explained, “oh that’s interesting, because I do”. [I don’t remember this bit; I hadn’t realised I’d talked back to the supercilious bitch. Good.]

And in a moment of what should have been horror for any young person, that wry smile – infectious when around Pan – spread across my lips; here we had this suicidal teenager who, despite her suffering, still had the audacity and quick-thinking to look a doctor in the eye and calmly tell her that she didn’t understand a word of what she was talking about (though Pan’s mum was naturally mortified).

Who doesn’t love a bit of black humour?

But in all seriousness. I just went with it. When Pan got out of the hospital, we did talk through the issue that had upset her. But we never psychoanalysed her decision to overdose (on ibuprofen? [yes. That makes me cringe now.]). It wasn’t the sort of friendship we had then – again, because it was just normal for me.

If you knew me, you’d know I judge everybody. I can’t help it. It’s a cold part of an unashamedly bitchy streak of mine. I judge people on their clothes, their hair, their reading habits, what music they like, their accents, and the things they say.

With that in mind, the following may be surprising. I think Pandora’s the only person in the world other than my partner that I love unconditionally. As such, she’s one of the few who’s been immune to this cult of judgement – back in school, throughout university, and still today. For her part, she has never formed an judgemental opinion of me, despite supporting/counselling my countless foolish decisions. Perhaps these acts have been made because of some undiagnosed mentally interesting characteristic in my head, I don’t know; as such, either way, I have never formed any judgement on the way she thinks and what she does. Ever. And I never will. I can’t understand the exact thoughts in her head – and again, I probably never will – but I ‘get’ why she has them.

So – growing up with a mental friend? Every day was an adventure. Most days were fabulous. On a daily basis, Pandora painted my dull life with beautiful colours. No one has ever made me laugh as much as her. She knows me inside out – in ways that, almost terrifyingly, I do not know her [you do, my dear. Believe me, you do].

Did I know how mental she was? Yes. Definitely yes.

What could I do about it? Not a lot. But I hope I was one of the things in her life that at least didn’t exacerbate the problem. Although thinking about it…curtain pole/teacher stalking/rollerblading late at night/”Shinobi”-wise – I totally did, didn’t I? [Indubitably. But in the most hilarious and uplifting way possible ūüôā]

To what extent has a physical separation impacted upon your friendship with the mental, if at all?

I don’t like it very much. But I know “the mental”, as she so eloquently puts it, very well in different ways. Her blog outlines in detail what she is up to, so on a very cosmetic level I know how she’s getting on [or did, until I took an unannounced hiatus. Explanations and more for that next week]. And I understand a lot better now what she’s thinking. So that’s nice.

Fundamentally Pandora has always behaved exactly the same with me, so when I see her, we click back in. Since I have been away she has developed her relationship with A, who is now also a good friend, so it’s been great to get to know them as a couple and have – to an extent – a more traditionally ‘civilised’ friendship.

Mental wise? Her condition certainly seems to be to be more complicated now – but then, I read about it on a screen. If she were to talk to me about it face to face – and we have done so, on some issues – it is/would be no different to how she communicated things to me when we were children/teenagers. Still, this blog certainly allows us to have a ‘conversation’ (about mental health) that is often made more difficult in person. But I imagine that’s because of the context, therapy, drugs, triggers etc etc – inevitably, analysis of such difficult issues is more easily tackled in the written word, no matter how close the relationship.

How do you reconcile the teenager you knew with the depths of the person you now do?

Right – I have touched on this a little bit. But she’s very, very similar. Pan has always been deep, though perhaps she is much more considered now in how she speaks. I don’t witness her highs or lows, since I see her maybe only three times a year, usually in a public setting – so she comes across to me as the same girl. And often we will reminisce, so we talk a lot about us as children.

But now, what’s interesting to me is how rather than reacting angrily to her mental health difficulties in the way she might have perhaps done as a teenager – she actually uses them for something constructive. It’s quite inspiring actually.

Perhaps some of the people who read this blog have a certain schadenfreude about the terrifying thoughts that go through Pan’s head and how she reacts to them…But she’s really not a dramatic person. She’s calm, caring, thoughtful, considerate and although she does like the occasional bit of recognition for a job well done, this blog doesn’t exist to win awards or amass some sort of international recognition, or whatever. Rather, it’s to help three groups of people.

  1. Pan – to keep a diary of her progression and an archive of how she is feeling after certain therapy session and/or drug cocktails
  2. To help people like me who are ignorant about mental ill health understand that sufferers are ordinary people leading extraordinary lives
  3. To provide information and a forum for people who are suffering – so they know they are not alone.

She wouldn’t have had the balls to do this as a teenager – no one I knew would have, and most wouldn’t now. To take something like mental illness – something that can be so powerful and destructive – and harness it into something that has been described by influential types in the mental health sector as “beautiful” is, in my mind, the mark of an exceptionally gifted woman.

This side to her, although I knew it was there in ways…well. I don’t think I could have ever imagined from knowing her as a teenager that she had all the facets and experiences that led to the persona we all now know as Pan…Does that make sense? [very much so. I didn’t know this…entity, I suppose, of Pandora existed until relatively recently either]. The Ang Sang Su Chi/Eva Peron/Catherine the Great of the Madosphere? We’ll see [don’t be so melodramatic!!!].

The mental is, of course, mental. As a writing professional yourself – knowing that the mental narcissictally proclaims herself a writer – do you that think she has any realistic occupational prospects in this arena (be honest)?

Ok – she has won more awards than most well-known or full-time writers, and turns in copy that is tidier and requring less editing that the majority of journalists I work with.

But writing is a big job description.

The issue here is in confidence. I can only speak for myself in my own job. I have to attend networking events in rooms with dozens of suits I don’t know, attend dinners and sit at tables with people I’ve never met – and talk to them. I have to interview executives in their offices, over the phone, speak to PRs and have hideous corporate lunches – daily.

Pan would hate all of this shit. [I would…most assuredly, I would].

I had to write a 3,000 word feature once on bio-degradable microwavable packing (I can send you it to read if you want [I cracked up at this. Please send it. It sounds incredible!]) as a freelance piece when I was looking for a job – and I can’t imagine her ever doing this.

But, and I really don’t want to sound patronising here, she has a hell of a lot of raw talent and will dedicate herself to something – but only if she’s passionate about it.

I would LOVE to see her have a regular column in a paper or magazine, edit a serious mental health journal, or – dare I say it – write a book.

This is probably where the future lies – but I know she’s already talking to editors, making strides and breaking into the wider arena. I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. It’s just about planning a strategy and working to it, and I’m learning that Pan doesn’t necessarily tend to let things she’s terrified of stop her from doing what she wants, if she really wants something (although she doubted herself…MIND awards anyone? She was petrified of attending the ceremony, yet she threw caution to the wind and just went). [Very true – I was genuinely terrified of attending the event (fucking anxiety), but knew it would be a travesty, both personally and professionally, not to. I’m so glad now that i forced myself to go, of course – but I managed to get through my agitation and enjoy the night, in part, with Daniel’s help ūüôā].

And that, boys and girls, is a rap.

Can I just add here that I am touched and flattered and have a warm fuzzy feeling inside after reading all that Dan has written here. I know he loves me, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. I love him too ūüôā With a friend like Dan, and a partner like A (whom, obviously, I also love very much), I really have much to be thankful for. You two rock. ~ Pan

Nadine Dorries on "Nutters"

Our friend Nadine Dorries has shown herself, yet again, to be the quintessence of human decency, a Mother Theresa-like figure to whose lofty heights of loveliness we should all aspire:

Nutters

My association is an election winning machine run by my Chairman, Andy Rayment and Deputy Chair Political, Steve Male.
Both are busy men and run the association in a regimented and disciplined manner.
As focused driven individuals, neither Andy or Steve suffer fools lighlty.
So when a ‘nutter’ began bombarding my association with telephone calls and emails, this made me laugh out loud¬†http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk/Blogs/John-Balls-Diary/Monday-September-20.htm [this goes to a story reporting on how blogger Tim Ireland has contacted Mr Rayment]
I have heard that when a copy of this was leaked to my local newspapers, in indignation, it caused much mirth in the newspaper offices too.

So, my former¬†Lib Dem opponent carries handcuffs around in her handbag. I’m not even going to ask….

Please note that the quotation above is taking verbatim from Ms Dorries’ own blog. ¬†I therefore apologise for the multifarious stylistic errors. ¬†She would not have made a fabulous secretary, but then she doesn’t make a particularly good MP either, does she?

Both Seaneen (here) and I (here) have written recently on the use of humour Рwhich can include certain what seem to be pejorative terms Рin the discussion of and even in destigmatising aspects of mental illness.  By and large we both concluded that the intent of a particular term or allusion was what served as the clear demarcation between amusing and offensive.

So, if a friend who was familiar with my circumstances poked fun at my mentalism and described me as a ‘nutter’, I would probably treat it as gentle teasing. ¬†No big deal.

However, two things strike me on Dorries’ use of the term. ¬†One: Tim Ireland, with whom she has had a long-running public spat, is not to the best of my knowledge diagnosed with any mental health difficulties (not that, if he were, there is any reason for shame, and not that her imbecility would be excused). ¬†She doesn’t like Mr Ireland, and he represents a very public inconvenience for her; ergo, her terminology is evidently used in a critical fashion.

It reasonably follows, therefore, that if she uses such a term antagonistically, she feels that being a ‘nutter’ is a Bad Thing, which in turn follows that she thinks people with mental health problems are flawed people – probably lazy benefit frauds, in her estimation, as her asinine anti-Twitter rant would appear to attest. ¬†(If you can concentrate on a number of tiny messages several times a day, then there’s damn all wrong with your concentration, ability to type, yadda yadda).

Secondly, it almost doesn’t matter in what fashion Ms Dorries uses derogatory terms because she is (to the regret of many) a public figure. ¬†Even if it had been innocent and little more than a gentle dig, using a possibly offensive word whilst basking in a public limelight could potentially have the effect of normalising such thinking – “bad person = nutter // nutters = bad people”.

We’ve all heard of the headlines in The Scum screaching “schizo”, “madman” and, indeed, “nutter”, when the individuals to which they allude don’t always even have mental illnesses. ¬†In the cases where they do, reference is rarely made to what is actually wrong with the individual (unless (s)he conveniently enough has schizophrenia, which is of course totally mis-represented by the pathetic little rag) and even more uncommonly is there a discussion of the fact that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not remotely dangerous nor particularly sensationalist. ¬†But that doesn’t sell rags.

Dorries’ nonsense isn’t all that different. ¬†OK, it’s on a small-ish scale – she isn’t that well-known – and she certainly doesn’t have the influence of The Scum, but she is still in a position of responsibility, and is choosing to abuse that. ¬†She has berated the aforereferenced Mr Ireland as not being a constituent to whom she is therefore not accountable. ¬†Fair enough, but she is accountable to everyone in her constituency (regardless of whether or not they voted for her), and a proportion of those people will be certified “nutters”.

For the record, I personally am not particularly offended by Dorries’ asinine rambling, but I think that it is representative of a wider and more concerning issue.

Consider this. ¬†Try replacing the term ‘nutter’ with any one of ‘queer’, ‘nigger’, ‘kyke’, ‘mong’ etc (God, it pains me even to write those, and I’m far from ‘PC’). ¬†It’s not so long ago that some of these words (and many others) were used simply to criticise people, whether they belonged to the subset of the population to which the phraseology applied or not. ¬†I don’t think anybody but the likes of Nick cuntface Griffin would deem most of these slurs acceptable in today’s everyday parlance…so why, then, is it still considered widely acceptable to use deliberately¬†prejudicial¬†language to reference mental illness?

Certain otherwise pejorative terms are considered acceptable in this arena whenever the intent behind the statement is clearly not malicious.  Being an ignorant, self-important arsehole with an attitude problem is not, however, tolerable.  Phil summed up Dorries best to me in a blog comment yesterday: she’s the sponger, living off my taxes.

Thanks to @humphreycushion, one of Dorries’ current objects of ire, for drawing my attention to this matter. The Conservative Party Conference is ongoing in Birmingham this week, and the lurrrrr-vel-ley Nadine will be in situ. ¬†If you’re in the area, do go along and tell her what you think.

EDIT TO ADD: @humphreycushion has published a very interesting list of articles out there in the blogophere discussing Nadine Dorries’ recent comments on this post of her blog.

EDIT TO ADD II: ¬†There is an excellent post refuting Nadine Dorries’ one-sided, ill-informed opinions – specifically regarding mental illnesses – here.

marketing

'Humour', Suicide and Mental Illness

I can’t be arsed getting overly analytical on this, but tonight I’ve been reading the archives of an brilliantly written and mature blog from a girl, Mariah, (a young woman now, about 18 if my maths isn’t fucking with me) who lost her best friend to suicide, and in the wake thereof almost killed herself. ¬†She no longer maintains the blog (happily due to feeling positive enough to no longer need it), but the archives are definitely worth a read over at The Suicide List.

One thing Mariah has done extensively throughout the blog is draw attention to supposedly humourous articles and pictures that mock suicide and issues relating to it. ¬†Not that she finds them funny; she finds them unspeakably ill-informed and offensive.¬†¬†Some of the stuff is outrageous, but – and I am ashamed to admit this – there were some things she’d listed that I actually found really funny :-/

For example:

Suicide is the absolute and irreversible¬†pwnage of one’s self¬†IRL…It is the equivalent of flipping over the¬†Monopoly board. Contrary to popular belief, this also stops you from posting online.

(I’m not sourcing the link for the above, because some of the material therein is grossly offensive, ignorant bollocks, and indeed is possibly triggering. ¬†But the above paragraph actually made me laugh out loud).

I have a dark and twisted sense of humour – as most of my regular readers probably know – and I don’t make any apology for it particularly. ¬†Mental or otherwise, suicidal or otherwise, I often do find the ‘humour’ surrounding these issues – whether originally borne out of stigma, ignorance or something else entirely – to be amusing. ¬†Yet when I hear people in the pub or on a bus or something ripping the piss out of mentalism, I want to go over to them and smash their faces in.

A gay friend of mine (not Daniel nor Aaron – let’s call him Pete) once told me that he found a lot of piss-taking of gay and lesbian people to be funny, because it was ‘alright’ for him to think that. ¬†When I sought clarification on his meaning, he told me that as I am heterosexual, I didn’t have any right to ‘claim’ such humour, but that he as a homosexual did. ¬†I enquired as to whether or not Pete saw the hypocrisy of this; ‘one rule for me, one for everyone else’. ¬†He waved a hand dismissively and changed the subject.

Am I the very thing that I derided in the previous paragraph? ¬†Or is it genuinely more ‘OK’ for the mentally ill amongst us to poke fun at our conditions and their symptoms, prognoses etc than everyone else, merely because we understand the issues better? ¬†In that regard, was Pete not a hypocrite – did he simply understand gay issues more than the likes of me ever could?

Do the jokes of those not within the specific demographic represented in a punchline make the jokers ignorant or stigmatising?  Or can they too Рat least in some cases Рunderstand the issues about which they joke, and wish to laugh with us and not at us, in whatever blithe or morose kind of fashion that that may be?

If we (or I) can find justification for finding certain dark things amusing, where do we draw the line between irreverent, near-the-knuckle humour and defiling, potentially damaging, offensiveness?

This is mostly rhetorical, and I doubt I’ll ever have any answers. ¬†Still, if you have any thoughts, enquiring minds (and this one) would be glad to hear them.