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Meeting the Mentalists August 25, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Mental Health.
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28 comments

I’m sane, apparently. Well, I’m not on any sort of meds for a mental disorder, and so far I’ve always got on the train rather than thrown myself under it, although the thought does pass through my mind fairly frequently. And I don’t do self-harm either, though I’ve often wanted to take hold of a sharp knife and carve parts of my body away, but when it comes down to it, I don’t like pain: I’m just plain chicken, I guess.

But why am I telling you this? Because on Saturday I had the awesome privilege of meeting a group of my online friends from the madosphere: a group of people who blog, tweet and facebook their way through the traumas of mental health issues; and I fitted right in.

We met up at Baker Street tube station: @serial_insomnia, @magicplum@FindingMelissa and a few others, then went a-wandering in search of our fellow crazies in Regents Park, and we found them sitting in a circle under a tree. They opened up the circle for us and we sat looking at each other across the vast distances of our lives. Some talked, some listened, some did both and I guess some probably did neither but were simply glad to be, to be in a group of people who didn’t mind whether or not they were bipolar, clinically depressed or self-harmers or any combination of several dozen other disorders, who wouldn’t condemn them for having suicidal thoughts and wild mood swings or for suffering social anxiety or for having multiple personalities and imaginary friends or whatever.

Where was God in all this? Right there in the midst of us, weeping for all the traumas and all the might have beens and shouldn’t have beens and ought to have beens … screaming at the madness of humanity’s inhumanity and insanities … but not condemning, never that: only forgiving where forgiveness was wanted and offering peace and leaving space where space was needed. Or maybe that’s just me with my own imaginary friend? Why is it OK to have an invisible friend called Jesus but not other invisible friends? Why does our society treat people with mental illnesses like lepers?

And what about self-harm? Why does the church at large struggle to understand or relate to self-harmers? We have a God who’s big on self-harm: let’s face it, you can’t get more self-harming than God, can you? You’re all alone in the universe: you are the universe; and one day you have this crazy idea of creating Other … that’s just asking for trouble, surely? You know it’s going to end in tears and pain and bloodshed — most of it your own — and you go ahead and do it anyway, you give yourself away and you give yourself away and eventually you kill yourself by walking into a situation where there’s no escape and you get crucified. That’s self-harm big time and somehow it becomes humanity’s only hope and you throw everything, absolutely everything you’ve got, into this crazy plan and then entrust it to the likes of me to see it through. Crazy God: 100% certifiable.

The sitting-in-a-circle routine wasn’t really my scene, but I’m happy to say some of us managed to break away and find a pub whilst some others went boating then found the pub and we were all reunited in a more civilised atmosphere of Guinness, mutual empathy and connectedness. Unfortunately I had to leave before the evening was over — another party was calling — but my abiding memory is of meeting a group of incredibly courageous, lovely and likeable people who were (and are) brave enough to contend with their problems despite the failings and inadequacies of the NHS’s provision.

Anyway, that’s just some of the stuff that my brain has distilled out of the experience. If it gels with anyone else’s thoughts, great; but if not, no worries. To my amazing madosphere friends: I salute you!

A few reports elsewhere:

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Tears of Joy in Northwood as Deranged Christian Bookshop Manager’s Ten Year Reign of Terror Draws to a Close August 18, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Knockabout, News.
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11 comments

From the Northwood and Pinner Herald:

TEARS OF JOY were shed in Northwood yesterday as news broke that Phil Groom, Bookshop Manager at London School of Theology, had handed in his notice. Hearing the noise from the street outside, our undercover reporter sneaked in to interview staff and students who were celebrating raucously in the corridors.

“He’s definitely insane,” said one student, who did not wish to be named. “He entices people into the shop with special offers then sells them something completely different. I came to LST with a healthy bank balance but by the time I’d visited his shop I had a massive overdraft and was walking with a limp caused by the weight of the books I ended up carrying. And that was just after the first day!”

“He’s a heretic,” said another. “I asked him a question about the Bible and he said, ‘It’s all true apart from the bits they made up.’ Then I asked him to to help me choose a book about the parables and he recommended Hans Christian Andersen. I said, ‘But that’s a book of fairy tales,’ and he told me to read between the lines. Then I asked him about the resurrection and he said, ‘Which resurrection?’ Finally I asked him about the story of Creation and he said, ‘That’s right, it’s a story.’ Every question I asked him, he dodged.”

“He was the biggest source of temptation in my life,” said a member of staff, who also requested anonymity. “It was terrible: I’d walk into the shop, planning to offer him some words of encouragement, but I’m sure he saw me coming because as I approached the counter he’d whip out a newly published book that was exactly what I’d been looking for. It was impossible to leave without buying it!”

“It was his jokes that were the killer,” explained another staff member. “Him and that other guy, Nick Aston, they sparked off one another. It was worse than the two Ronnies. You couldn’t hold a sensible conversation with them when they were on duty together.”

So why did he quit? No one knows, but rumour has it that he’s going to be working in a supermarket part-time terrorising the general public in much the same way as he used to terrorise the LST community, and when he isn’t in the supermarket he’ll be drinking coffee and working on some top secret web development projects.

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