Tag Archives: Blogging

How’s your day been? A Day in the Life

15 Nov

How are you cartoon

How’s your day been? That’s a question you’ve probably asked many times, and been asked a fair few too. It’s part of the normal everyday engagement between people that oils the social wheels. Often it’s not a genuine enquiry in the sense that a detailed response is not expected: instead, it’s a baton being passed, with you expected to pass it back and say, “Fine thanks. How about you?” That “fine” can mask a lot of days that aren’t fine, whether better or worse, but we’re all expected to join in the general cheerleading, pretending to be “fine” too.

For people struggling with mental health problems or managing a long-term mental health condition, how our day has been is probably a bit of a mystery to the general public. This can be a source of assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice, whether that’s the “lazy faker” of depression who just needs to take themselves in hand and go for a brisk walk; or the “dangerous maniac” of schizophrenia who should be monitored and contained for public safety. These prejudices and stereotypes can feed into self-stigma that brings about a sense of isolation.

Our daily lives are also likely to be a bit of a mystery to the professionals who provide our care, whether that’s a therapist an hour a week, 20 minutes with a psychiatrist every 3 months or 10 minutes with a GP every few weeks. What it’s actually like to live with a mental health problem can be pretty uncharted territory unless you’re doing it yourself or living with someone who is. There’s so much more to good mental health, and to good mental health services and support, than the NHS, drugs and talking treatments. People just like me are out there, living our lives, quietly getting on with things day to day, and there’s a new project that aims to capture that reality. It’s called A Day in the Life.Beatles A Day in the Life yellow

A Day in the Life (the mental health project, not the Beatles song) asks people with mental health problems to share what their day has been like – and what has helped or made the day worse – on four set days over a year.

The project aims to shine a light on the everyday lives of people with mental health problems to raise awareness and to help the general public better gain a better understanding: to challenge myths and bust some stigma. It also aims to get people who may never have blogged before writing about how their day went – and perhaps then finding an online voice they never knew they had. There’s guidance on how beginner bloggers can start writing.

But another objective – and the reason the project is funded by Public Health England – is to help policy-makers understand what makes a difference – good or bad – to the lives of people with mental health problems. Although not a scientific study, the project will provide an insight to help influence policy decisions on services provided in future. The online snapshot diaries will also help to highlight emerging themes and suggest future areas for investigation.

I’ve signed up to take part in the project and have already posted my entry for the first day, Friday 7th November. The remaining three days will be in winter, spring and summer 2015.

Follow the project on twitter using hashtag #DayInTheLifeMH and scroll down to find out more about the project and how you can take part.

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Below is my entry for 7th November, which will appear on the Day in the Life website when everyone’s contributions so far – totalling around 370 – go live on Monday 17th.

Please note: I chose to speak very candidly about what I experienced that day, so please read with care if you’ve been affected by suicide, suicidal thoughts or depression – or simply scroll down to the bottom where you’ll find useful links.

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I’m on Twitter – a lot! So, as usual, after turning off my alarm, the first thing I did this morning was to check what tweeps I follow had posted, to catch up on news in the mental health world. Then, returning to bed with breakfast and my pet, as it was the last day to sign up to #ADayintheLifeMH, I sent out a series of tweets to encourage as many people as possible to sign up. The more sign-ups, the more varied a picture of living with mental health problems it will provide.

Next, I checked what had been happening on the #SamaritansRadar hashtag. Samaritans Radar was launched by the Samaritans in October and, ironically, had had a disastrous impact on the Twitter mental health community. Numerous tweeps had contacted the Samaritans by Twitter, email, phone and letter to beg them to take the secret automated surveillance and alert app offline. Experts in various different professions had written about legal and ethical concerns. Mental health experts by experience had blogged about their pain and distress. There was an online petition, an investigation by the Information Commission and even a group proposing legal action against the Samaritans. I was involved in the campaign to have the app taken offline till it could be made safe.

On checking Twitter, it was clear that the outcry was continuing. And the Samaritans had tweeted their followers about A Day in The Life Mental Health!

Next, I tried to work on a blog post about the app. The powerful psychiatric medications I take have an impact on motivation, focus and concentration and, since I’d started taking them, I couldn’t quite connect the dots. It was cripplingly frustrating and is one reason I spend so much time on Twitter: 140 characters just about matches my attention span! Being sedated so your higher functions no longer work properly makes it hard to manage a home and get everyday tasks done, let alone get anywhere near organising your own healthcare in a system that relies on people being pushy. Being a sedated blob doesn’t get you very far and is one reason I haven’t been able to get proper treatment for myself over 3 years since I was discharged from hospital. Here I am, still parked on welfare benefits.

I struggled for a while to try to gather together my thoughts on Radar down on paper, but was unable to do so. I tried to make an overdue phone call, but couldn’t. So I had lunch, then caught the bus to a medical appointment.

Later, as I walked back through a tree-lined park on a beautiful autumn afternoon listening to the radio, I heard a trailer for this evening’s BBC Radio 4 Any Questions saying that one of the topics the panel would discuss was the Assisted Dying Bill. This caused my own “suicide radar” to go off.

Ever since getting notice of eviction from my home so my landlord could sell it (2 months’ notice, out of the blue, after over a decade), I’d been tipped into a deep, debilitating depression. At times, I was utterly tortured by suicidal thoughts. My home had been my security and stability and now I was losing that. And the awful Radar app had thrown a spotlight on suicide, meaning my Twitter feed was full of intellectual suicide talk.

Suicide was being discussed as a fascinating concept, rather than what it was to me and many other mental health folks using twitter: a very real mental pain we were struggling with at that very moment. At times, it seems as if there’s a part of my mind monitoring everything just in case it might be useful in some way in despatching myself – my own “suicide radar”. That’s why the Assisted Suicide Bill caught my attention. Being able to die with dignity alongside friends and family – rather than experience years of unalleviated suffering or go for a secret and uncertain DIY method –  was an option I’d like to have available too.

I’ve had thoughts about suicide in all sorts of places, with all sorts of people and whilst doing all sorts of things. Sometimes I’ll be plagued by all-consuming thoughts of suicide; other times they’d be a background hum, like a reflex response to every turn of events, a mental tic; and sometimes, as today, there’d be calm planning. These thoughts were going through my mind as I walked through the warm autumn afternoon, kicking up piles of fallen leaves. No-one looking at me would have known.

Back home, I checked Twitter again. At 6pm, the Samaritans tweeted to say that, after 10 days of uproar, the Radar app had been suspended! It was a begrudging statement which did not acknowledge the distress the app had caused, and the so-called apology was an example of how not to apologise. But, nevertheless, the announcement meant that mental health folks could sleep easier in their beds over the weekend. I continue to feel uneasy as to what “suspension” means in practice. Whilst no-one doubts the app was developed with good intensions, the way it was imposed on everyone had damaged trust in the Samaritans.

I spent the evening debating with people on Twitter about Samaritans Radar, listening to Any Questions, then retiring to bed to read Everyday Medical Ethics and Law. It didn’t use to be my sort of book at all, but that was before I was unlawfully arrested, sectioned, held in seclusion and treated by force. Nowadays, chapters on patient autonomy and choice and how they are glibly brushed aside for mental health patients concern me deeply.Close quotes

Sadly, lack of concentration scuppered my attempts to read the book – so it was back to Twitter.

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Using mental illness as an insult – Mick Philpott, Jon Snow & lunatics

4 Apr

Jon Snow twitter profile pic

We’ve all done it: casually thrown around as insults terms related to mental illness. This evening, Jon Snow, Channel 4’s lead news anchor, posted a blog in which he used the term “lunatic” as an insult in the tragic Philpott case. When picked up on it, Snow swiftly apologised and earned brownie points for doing so. At present, however, Snow’s blog post still contains the term.

The problem with calling someone convicted of manslaughter a lunatic is that lunacy is a synonym for insanity, a legal defence to murder; its use in relation to the Philpott case is sloppy and inaccurate. And the trouble with casually using terms related to mental illness to insult people is that it turns mental illness into an insult.

As background, Snow’s blog post was in reference to distasteful and misleading political posturing reported during the day. Various pundits and politicians (in particular the Chancellor, George Osborne, later endorsed by the Prime Minster, David Campbell) sought to capitalise on the sentencing of the Philpotts and their friend for the manslaughter of 6 children. (Take a look at the links at the foot of this page to explore the subject further.) To take one example of the coverage, the Telegraph newspaper said:

“The Chancellor has questioned why British taxpayers should be “subsidising lifestyles” such as those of Mick Philpott, who was today sentenced to life in prison for killing six children. Mr Osborne made the controversial comments during a visit to Derby shortly after Philpott and his wife Mairead were handed their sentences for intentionally setting fire to their home. Asked whether the Philpotts were a product of Britain’s benefit system, Mr Osborne said: “It’s right we ask questions as a Government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.”

Jon Snow has, in addition to his platform on a national broadcaster, nearly 300,000 twitter followers. He also introduced Channel 4’s 4 Goes Mad mental health season. He’s influential. Earlier this evening, I saw a tweet of his containing a link to a post on his Snow Blog about the tragic Philpott case. Snow’s post was titled: Can abnormal behaviour affect the welfare policy debate?

Snow, in a strongly worded rebuttal, asked whether there really was a case for regarding Mick Philpott’s behaviour as a valid ground for reforming welfare policy. He referenced, amongst others, statistics showing there were just 50 families in the UK with the same number of children as the Philpotts.

Philpott is not representative of people who are currently in need of the state safety net due to ill health, lack of private pension or inability to find paid work. And of course it is highly distasteful to use the tragedy of the deaths of 6 children for political purposes. Snow’s blog was robust and well-written, apart from this, which caught my eye:

“The idea that an entire system should be re-jigged to cope with a lunatic who burnt to death half the children he’d fathered seems questionable at the least.”

Here, Snow uses the word “lunatic” as an insult, in order very deliberately to convey the deepest disapproval. The trouble with using terms related to mental illness as insults – especially when it’s done by a figure as prominent as Snow – is that it’s just this sort of casual stigma that adds to the big fat stigma pie we’re being served extra helpings of at the moment.

As I then tweeted:

Disappointed @jonsnowC4 refers to Philpott as a “lunatic” when he was judged criminally responsible #casualstigma

Snow swiftly responded:

I apologise..that was sloppy of me.

And, in a response to another tweep, Snow tweeted:

I’m sorry the word ‘lunatic’ was very absuive [sic] usage..thoughtless..I should know better

I tweeted in response:

Credit to @jonsnowC4 for apologising so quickly for calling Philpott a lunatic. (Wish I was so good at apologising when I stuff up.)

Snow received plaudits for his quick apology, as my Storify of tweets shows. His fans hold him in even more affection now. For example, Rich Humphrey (@RichMHumphrey) tweeted:

“completely agree! Few in the media would hold their hands up like that. Even more respect for him now”

Finally, I also asked Snow:

Could you tweak the blog to remove the reference to lunatic? That’d be good.

At present, the blog has yet to be revised. Fingers crossed. There are so many expressive insults in the English language that there’s really no need to resort to using references to mental health as insults.

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web links 5Links related to the story above

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Links on the debate about what (if anything) the Philpott case tells us about welfare benefits, in light of the notorious Daily Mail headline (pictured below right) and George Osborne’s subsequent comments:

Firstly, coverage on 4th April:

Coverage from later dates (added to this blog subsequently):

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A year of blogging – my little secret (part 1)

23 Feb

Top secret

In January, I marked the end of my first year on Twitter so now I’m marking my first anniversary of blogging. My little secret is that it’s a bit of a fake anniversary. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, I really don’t “write” blog posts so I don’t feel I can call myself a blogger. Second, until November, I kept this blog a secret – so hardly anyone has actually read it. In this first part, I write about the secrets of my awesome writing technique (!) and how that might help you if you’re thinking you might want to start writing your own blog.

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I wrote in my first blog post, “I joined Twitter in January 2012 [and] set up this blog account 6 weeks later because I thought that sometimes I’d want to say something that would take more than 140 characters.” So I just sort of saved the name, just in case, then left the blog alone and wrote nothing. The blog was dormant.

For a long time, I was happy tweeting and connecting with others using Twitter’s 140 character limit. If I had a lot to say, I’d send a series of tweets. Planning and writing seemed impossible, but tweeting as a stream of consciousness helped me to process and develop ideas. It still does. I had no need to use a blog.

In April, Nurse with Glasses (@Nurse_w_glasses) tweeted her awesome 20 commandments for mental health workers. I retweeted them then badgered her to start a blog and give her commandments a home of their own. So I blogged about that. Or rather, I listed her 20 commandments with a few words of my own added on. Then she set up her blog. So I blogged about that. Or rather, I wrote one sentence, with a link to her new blog. I’d started my blogging journey … just.

At the same time, I was invited by Ella Shaw (of what was then called the Diagnosis LOB blog now Trying My Patients) to contribute a mini guest blog to a piece she was writing. So I wrestled with writing the piece for two weeks and ended up with 17 pages! I wrote too much, rambled on and couldn’t seem to edit it down to a decent length. I eventually came up with 800 words I was pleased with and Ella promptly chopped it in half. But I was finally published online in her blog.

However, the struggle I’d  had writing the post had shown me very clearly that writing was not for me! So I went back to tweeting.

Then in August I discovered Storify. This enabled me to save strings of tweets – mine and the responses of others – as Twitter conversations. To date, I’ve saved 101 stories in Storify. Very occasionally I’d tweet a link to one of my Storify stories and then, in September, I started to post some blog posts which consisted of a paragraph plus a link to a Storify story. And that’s how I started to blog more regularly – by posting Storify stories.

In November, Mark Brown of One in Four magazine saw a series tweets I’d sent and asked me to use them as the basis for an article for his magazine. Ed Miliband (leader of the opposition Labour party) had made a speech on Monday 29th October at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in which he announced the establishment of a new mental health task force. I’d started with this tweet:

Dear @Ed_Miliband, good start, but remember there’s much more to good mental health than the NHS, drugs & treatment.

After the difficulty I’d had writing the mini guest blog back in April, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to write a whole magazine article. So Mark suggested I just put what I’d tweeted into an email. So that’s what I did. I saved the tweets into a Storify story, then copied and pasted the words into a document. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as that as the story did still take me quite a bit of effort to turn it into an article and I needed help from Mark with editing. However, it did make it into the winter edition of the magazine, which means I’m now a published (and paid) writer. Woo hoo!

Writing that article helped me to find the technique which forms the foundation of all my blog posts, ie:

  • Tweet – if there’s a subject that grabs my attention, I write a series of tweets, just as they pop into my mind; there’s no planning or drafting; it’s just a stream of consciousness
  • Storify – if the tweet rant turns out to make some sort of sense, I save it in a Storify story for later
  • Copy and paste – I copy the text of the tweets and paste it  into a Word document, so the words of the tweets are saved
  • Edit – I try not to get too bogged down in editing as I find that difficult, but some refining is usually needed
  • Blog – post it in a blog with a couple of cheerful pictures

And that’s it. The advantage for me in using this method to blog is that I am still tweeting – rather than having to try to concentrate on writing a long post. The blog post writes itself from my tweets.

A disadvantage I suppose is that there’s no plan about what goes in the blog. It just consists of whatever has grabbed my attention on any given day and what I’ve had time to put into a Storify story. If there’s a topic on the news or in my life that moves me to a stream of tweets (a Twitter rant) then, sure enough, it becomes a Storify story and, if I have time, a blog post. So far I’ve saved 101 Storify stories but have written only 42 blog posts.

Why am I sharing this? Because, simple as the technique seems, it has enabled me to collate my thoughts and share them with others in the form of a blog, despite not having much of an ability to plan, focus or concentrate. There are lots of blogs out there where people have clearly been working on drafts for a while and include literary, musical and historical references. But there is room for all sorts of blogs – even those by people who, like me, can’t really write. I suppose I’m saying that, if I can do it, anyone can.

I’ve gradually found a way to write, despite my restrictions. Over time, I’ve stumbled across things (like Storify) that have helped me. I’ve had the encouragement and assistance of other kind tweeps. And that’s helped me find my voice. So I’m also saying don’t think you need to write perfect 600 word posts from the outset. Over time, you too may find other ways to enable you to express yourself that work for you. Why not give it a go and set up your own blog?

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My one year Twitter anniversary!

7 Jan

Twitter anniversary egg

Today is the first anniversary of the date I joined Twitter – my Twanniversary! So I’m celebrating with a blog post about my year on Twitter.

I tweet as @Sectioned_ (please remember the underscore) and, since joining Twitter on 7th January last year,  I’ve been on a journey I’d never have anticipated.I had no expectations of Twitter when I joined. I just wanted to see if it would be helpful to me in my journey towards better mental health.

So what has this past year on Twitter been like for me? And what have I learned? Here are some thoughts:

  • When I first joined Twitter, there were lots of fantastic Twitter people (“tweeps”) willing to help and guide me. That continues to be the case.
  • There’s a lot of humour on Twitter. You can always find something to make you smile or even laugh.
  • Twitter is a great way to engage directly with people you might otherwise never meet. I’ve  met some fantastic tweeps.
  • Twitter is also a great way to learn information you might otherwise never stumble across.
  • Hashtags – searchable key words preceded by the hash or number symbol # – are useful (such as #mentalhealth) and can also be fun (such as last year’s #EssexLion).
  • Twitter chats are a fast-moving and exciting way to get to know new tweeps and get involved in a discussion, though you can “lurk” (watch but not contribute) as well as participating.
  • When I express and stand behind an opinion on a controversial topic – such as forced medication, physical restraint or including mental health history information in criminal records checks – I’m going to be on the receiving end of some strong comments.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary to block tweeps.
  • I need to keep good boundaries on Twitter so as not to be steamrollered by forceful tweeps and by the volume of information. I’m still vulnerable.
  • Sometimes I need to take a break from Twitter. I took a whole month off in May after after receiving an overwhelming amount of tweets including some very negative ones (I’d raised a controversial topic), and often take off a week here and there.Twitter follow me
  • 140 characters is an excellent means of self-expression and is also a really useful introduction to writing, especially if your concentration or focus isn’t currently sufficient to enable you to write longer posts.

Some fantastic opportunities have come to me through Twitter that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Highlights include:

  • Being invited to be a guest blogger for paramedic Ella Shaw’s (@DiagnosisLOB) popular blog which, in June 2012, became Trying My Patients
  • Being commissioned to write an article for national aspirational lifestyle magazine for people with mental health problems One in Four (see the current edition, Winter 2012/2013) (@MarkOneinFour)
  • Being invited to be a judge in the World of Mentalists blog 2012 TWIM Awards (@TWOM_blog) alongside an amazing panel of judges
  • Being asked by a national charity to be part of their campaign to improve inpatient care
  • Becoming a blogger for the first time

Lowlights:

  • Discovering on Twitter that my previously spotless criminal record now contained an “arrest” by police when they took me from my home to the psychiatric hospital as well as a reference to my stay in hospital (here‘s a relevant blog post).
  • Discovering the level of ignorance and prejudice there is – both in the media and from the general public – around mental health and the number of myths that surround it (hence my “Top 10 Myths about Mental Health” post).

Here’s my Twitter year in numbers:

  • 365: days since I joined Twitter
  • 10 million: number of active Twitter accounts in the UK
  • 11,121: number of tweets sent
  • 2,685: number of followers on Twitter
  • 70: number of stories published by me on Storify
  • 32: number of posts on this blog
  • 16: number of countries where my blog has been read
  • 6: number of people who’ve commented on my blog

So what do Twitter and blogging have in store for me in the year ahead? I don’t know. If the blog appears to be read and what I tweet appears to be engaging people in a positive way, that will be a good thing. But I have no plans for either.

I have no product to sell, no agenda to push. My only agenda is an internal one: if Twitter proves useful and positive  to me in my journey towards better mental health then I will continue to use it. Likewise the blog. Otherwise I will not.

On reflection, it might help me to improve my use of Twitter, which has developed in a haphazard way so far. I could follow more people, make more connections and learn new stuff. Lists would definitely be something I’d need to look into if I were to follow more tweeps.  Perhaps that’s something I could look into this year. Or perhaps I will continue to ramble along in a random way.

Thank you for reading.

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The TWIM awards 2012 – the best in mental health blogging

17 Nov

Now’s the time to nominate your favourite mental health blogs for the TWIM awards 2012. Don’t be shy!

If you know a good blog or 3, click on this link to nominate them for an award:

Nominate your favourite blogs for TWIM awards

Please share what you know so others can enjoy excellent mental health writing too!

Here’s the embarrassing bit, the TWIM awards “meet the judges” page. Guess who’s on this year’s judging panel? Little ol’ me. Aw shucks.

Here’s a link to the Storify story I put together explaining the TWIM Awards 20112.

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First post …

19 Feb

I’m thinking about writing some blog posts, having recently set up a Twitter account. I guess if I change my mind I can just delete this .Sectioned_2011..

I joined Twitter in January 2012. You’ll find me at @Sectioned_ (please remember the underscore). I sometimes tweet a lot, sometimes a little. I set up this blog account 6 weeks later because I thought that sometimes I’d want to say something that would take more than 140 characters.

As my Twitter bio says:

“In 2011, I was detained in one of the UK’s busiest acute psychiatric hospitals, a brutal & sometimes hilarious introduction to NHS mental health care. You’ve gotta laugh!”

Generally I tweet about quite serious stuff to do with mental illness & being sectioned. But I like to laugh too & find lots of things funny. I also like the absurd, including the occasional pomposity & ivory-toweriness of clinicians and academics on Twitter.

I’m not a psychiatric nay-sayer, despite my own traumatising experience on a locked ward (which I liken to being kidnapped by terrorists and repeatedly gang-raped, just so you know how awful the experience was for me). I’m really interested in finding out about and disseminating best practice, & write about that too, because I want mental healthcare to be a healing experience.

I try not to tweet about things like having just made a cheese sandwich, but that sort of thing sometimes creeps in too, especially if it’s particularly good cheese.

My Twitter profile photo is of the nicest bathroom on ward. It was my sanctuary, where I would bath twice a day. It helped pass the time & was relaxing. It was also the one place I wasn’t observed. Small pleasures become so important when your liberty, dignity and bodily integrity have been taken away.

I was discharged from hospital in summer 2011. I came out brutalised, traumatised & pretty helpless. I was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the ward experience. It wasn’t until 6 months later that I was able to start dealing with the issues that got me taken into hospital in the first place, let alone everyday life. I’m still some way off being a tax payer again.

I don’t know how much I will use this blog, because there are so many strong bloggers’ voices out there already. But at least it’s here for now, in case there are some things I want to share that won’t fit on Twitter.