I realised as a child that there was something bad happening in my family from an outside source. And it was to do with my mother. We lived in Dunsinane Drive, Letham, Perth, at the time. My grandparents were at number 81 and we were at number 57. Prior to this we had all lived in a house at Kingswell Terrace.
I would be about 7, old enough to go on the back of my Uncle Ian’s scooter, holding on tight around corners. Making me forget the distress back in my granny’s house, the family confab.
My Uncle was a sailor and had brought back a tape recorder from his travels. Wooden Heart by Elvis Presley was one of the tunes played:
And I stayed with my grandparents for a while. Then later when my parents went to London in preparation for the three of us going there, to be near my dad in his job with the Daily Express, scriptwriting Jeff Hawke with creator Sydney Jordan. I remember telling all my friends at school that we were moving to London. However I don’t think my mother took to the big city although she did try it out and told me stories of her experiences.
When they were away I broke my left leg, dancing on wet grass, ended up in Bridge of Earn Hospital with a full leg plaster (my right leg got a fractured fibula 3 places 2005, titanium plate). Didn’t get crutches, I was very disappointed, just a stick and a rubber shoe which slowed me down at Caledonian Road Primary School, going up the girls’ stairs to the P3 class. My parents got me a black and white cat, Tubby, to cheer me up. But after we moved to Pomarium flats, 4th floor, it wasn’t suitable for a cat. Also I used to dress him up in doll’s clothes and he used to hide. So my grandparents got Tubby and he got tubby with porridge and milk every morning for breakfast. They also had Fergus the Scottie dog who I took for walks, stopping at every lamppost. I soon got bored and preferred the large brown poodle belonging to someone in Paradise Place.
About 6 months after my youngest sister was born, in 1966, I was 14 and a half, my mother became unwell again, wasn’t sleeping, and my father also was distressed. I think because by that time he’d also been a psychiatric patient in Murray Royal Hospital, Perth, and knew the score. What happened behind the closed doors. The shame, the force, the ritual humiliation of mad women and their consorts, the men. Shock treatment over many courses, drugs and agency taken away. Psychiatric workers complicit. Becoming mad themselves in the process. A community of mad people. So that society could feel safe.
My father said to me, what should we do? We were in a 4th floor flat and my mother’s perceptions were altered. There was nothing else for it. I said that she would have to go to hospital. The decision was made, by me. Because I have always thought that people in an altered mind state, or psychosis, need support as soon as possible. The issue is that we need alternative ways of supporting people in psychoses. But until that is available we have no choice but to enter the psychiatric system and try to withstand the force, emerge with our dignity intact, regardless of what has been done to us. Or that’s how I look at it.
In 1970 I made my first visit to Murray Royal, aged 17, and saw the locked women’s ward Kinnoull, the distressed women, and met with male psychiatrists who said I had an old head on young shoulders. I just thought they were mad like the patients. And didn’t think I would ever be a mental patient. Because I was resilient and had insight. But painful, tortured childbirths, meant I did have to go through the psychiatric system. In solidarity with my mother and sisters. Similarly my 3 sons.
Forty-five years of engaging with and resisting psychiatric treatment, the shame and the force. It hasn’t got easier and in fact in some ways it’s much worse. Care in the community or coercion and control (Prof Tom Szasz wrote of this). More recently I had a real fight on my hands, against NHS Fife and their use of a seclusion room at Stratheden Hospital, to “manage” patients. No toilet, no water to drink, locked in for hours and left. A disgrace and an abuse of human rights. That had been going on for decades. Unchecked.
I eventually “won” an Ombudsman case 30 months after starting to complain and got a grudging one line apology in a letter from Dr Brian Montgomery, interim CEO at the Fife Health Board (BUT they didn’t stop using the seclusion room until after the SPSO judgement, and NHS Fife were awarded £4.4million from Scottish Government for a new psychiatric unit. We got nothing.).
Despite the indignity and disrespect I continued to spectate at board meetings until June this year when I got scunnered off by an attempted invasion of my space, in full view of others, a senior male demanding a hug. A step too far. No doubt a planned manoevre to be rid of me. It worked.
Space invaders. Takeovers. Abductions. Betrayals. Battles. Resistance fighting. Recovery. Remission. Mental Illness. Psychiatric drugs. Big pharma. Profit. Money. Victims. Pain. Justice. Reparation. Reconciliation. Take your pick.
I got involved in January 2008 because I believed that people in the Scottish Recovery movement were serious about shifting the paradigm and creating a fairer system, giving psychiatric survivors and people who use mental health services their rightful place. At the centre. Unfortunately it only took a few months for me to cotton on that it was more about money, fame, position and hierarchical shenanigans.
Good luck to them.