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Meeting the Mentalists August 25, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Mental Health.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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:


1. talkingtocactus - August 25, 2010

i like this post a lot 🙂 if i’d known you were all londoners i’d have tagged along (well, assuming you’d have had me!). the bit about god and self harm is inspired 🙂

Phil Groom - August 25, 2010

Hey – not all Londoners by a long way: London’s just where we met. People came from all over, even Northern Ireland; and I’m sure we’d’ve had you. Let’s connect on fb, coz there’s another mad-up coming up, oh yes! 🙂

Phil Groom - August 25, 2010

PS: If my thoughts on self-harm are inspired, you owe that to my friend fragz: check out her some thoughts on self harm and the church – Part 1

2. pianomaths - August 25, 2010

I love this post. As a self-harmer who is also fairly involved in church stuff, it is something that some people in the church (or simply “the church”) don’t really understand.
God was there, for me certainly. And yes, God is crazy, but crazy isn’t always bad! (I remember once when sitting alone in church when I felt completed alone and called God crazy out of spite. A few years later, I realise that it isn’t out of spite I do it anymore!)
Anyway, I’m rambling and need to get to church before I get rained on, a brilliant post. 🙂

Phil Groom - August 25, 2010

It was lovely to meet you, pianomaths: thanks for stopping by; look forward to getting to know you better 🙂

3. Daniel Cooling - August 25, 2010

Thanks for the post Phil. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental ill-health at some point in their lives (admittedly not all of this being of the chronic type), it’s remarkable that there is relatively little Christian writing on it.

Phil Groom - August 25, 2010

It’s a strange business, isn’t it, Daniel? I think if more of us were prepared to be more honest about all the stuff going on in our heads the world would be a much healthier place.

But we don’t, we keep it under wraps until it explodes: the pressure cooker of the human mind needs a release valve and the Christian community, the very community that should be capable of recognising how broken we all are, the community that surely should be providing that release valve, doesn’t … oh, how the church loves its middle-class values and faked up finery! Jesus: is this really what you died for??

4. Karita - August 25, 2010

Great post Phil. And the take on self-harm could certainly give many Christians something to think about. 🙂

5. fromthesamesky - August 25, 2010

What a wonderful post! I am so sad that I couldn’t be there, it would have been awesome.

6. Phil Groom - August 25, 2010

@Karita, @fromthesamesky: thanks lovelies 🙂

You’re both awesome and I hope that somewhere inside you both know that. Here’s to mad-up #2!

7. David Marriott - August 25, 2010

Mr Groom – thanks. You do indeed get the grey cells moving. Blessings be upon your shiny head.

Phil Groom - August 26, 2010

Thanks for stopping by, Your Eminence. My shiny head certainly needs something: more polish, probably 🙂

8. Louise - August 29, 2010

I was too scared to come ’cause I is fugly.

Phil Groom - August 29, 2010

There once was a fugly duckling
With feathers all stubby and brown
And the other birds said in so many words,
“Quack! Get out of town!
Get out, get out, get out of town!”
And she went with a quack
and a waddle and a quack
In a flurry of eiderdown
That poor little ugly duckling
Went wandering far and near
But at every place they said to her face,
“Now get out, get out, get out of here!”
And she went with a quack
and a waddle and a quack
And a very unhappy tear
All through the wintertime she hid herself away
Ashamed to show her face,
afraid of what others might say
All through the winter
in her lonely clump of wheat
Till a flock of swans spied her there
and very soon agreed
“You’re a very fine swan indeed!”
“A swan? Me a swan? Ah, go on!”
And they said, “Yes, you’re a swan
Take a look at yourself
in the lake and you’ll see.”
And she looked, and she saw, and she said
“I am a swan! Wheeeeeeee!
I’m not such a fugly duckling
No feathers all stubby and brown
For in fact these birds
in so many words said
‘The best in town, the best, the best,
The best in town’
Not a quack, not a quack,
not a waddle or a quack
But a glide and a whistle
and a snowy white back
And a head so noble and high
Say who’s a fugly duckling?
Not I!
Not I!”

Say who’s fugly? Not you, Louise, not you!

9. The Final Week « Phil's Boring Blog - September 13, 2010

[…] be respect and support for those who are battling these traumas. If you missed it, go read my post Meeting the Mentalists: awesome people, each and every […]

10. WonderingSoul - September 14, 2010

I’ve never been to your blog before but wantedto tell you that it is a long way from ‘boring’.
I read this post with great interest and, i suppose, some degree of ‘wow… Now THAT is an example of acceptance’.

I am just a little bit speechless about the part where you mention where Jesus was in the midst of your meet up… I can’t tell you how moved I am by that.

Thank you for being so open to the pain of others. There aren’t that many who can face it I suspect.


11. a broader mark - September 15, 2010

I used to think that there aren’t that many who can face the pain of others too, WonderingSoul. But I’m not so sure anymore. Now I’m beginning to suspect it’s their own pain that people can’t accept. Maybe they avoid looking at the pain of others because it reminds them of their own pain – forces them to see that they’re just as human as the next guy. Everyone hurts (almost always more than other people know, I suspect); it’s the human condition – there ain’t no escaping it.

Oh, and hello Phil. I saw your comment on WS’s blog, and popped over to have a look at yours. I have to agree with WonderingSoul – it’s not boring at all.

fromthesamesky - September 15, 2010

Wow, I love this comment! It is something I’ve been thinking for a while too now, that those people who can’t face or accept the pain of others are really just afraid of their own pain. Thankyou for saying this!

WonderingSoul - September 15, 2010

Yes ABM, I suspect that you’re right. Perhaps everyone is just running scared. And the fact that it’s the human condition? Well, I’m not sure I have the strength for it to be a long term thing…

Phil. Thanks so much for stopping by. I will find the energy to write some responses there soon!

Samesky, abroadermark is an extremely thoughtful and wise person whose comments are often profound!

Hope you’re all doing ok


Phil Groom - September 17, 2010

Thank you for wandering back, Wondering Soul 🙂 and thank you, ABM, for that observation … I guess it’s true of all of us: we run from our own reflections…

Tonight I am running from mine, but by tomorrow I hope the running will stop: I simply don’t have the energy for it…

fromthesamesky - September 17, 2010

I think it is ok to check out once in a while, when things get too much. It’s the people who don’t admit they have inner selves and would never think of looking inwards that tend to have the problem.

So take some time, recoup some energy. You deserve to be looking after yourself after the day you’ve had.


Phil Groom - September 17, 2010

Aw, thanks lovely.

How’s this for timing? Literally the very moment I started typing this, itunes switched to Coldplay’s “The Hardest Part” for me. Amazing.

fromthesamesky - September 17, 2010

Oh wow, that does seem a bit coincidental. Speaking of which, I’m just about to go and read your latest post …

12. Acceptance « Phil's Boring Blog - September 23, 2010

[…] a sign of physical weakness or failure. I think A Broader Mark summed things up well when she left this comment here the other day: I’m beginning to suspect it’s their own pain that people can’t accept. […]

13. Mel Menzies - October 4, 2010

I have to confess to knowing very little about madness, fugliness or self harm – other than the sort that’s one of the effects of heroin abuse (not mine but my daughter’s.) However, I do know, as an INFP on the Myers’ Briggs table, what it’s like to be a minority; to think differently to others; sometimes to upset them by posing controversial questions or statements. And I certainly know what it is to feel pain, physical, mental and emotional. Hey – even spiritual. Acutely! And I am, therefore, qualified, I think, to say that I agree with you, Phil. God is where the pain is, because he deliberately and compassionately put himself there. If that’s self-harm, then yes, he’s a self-harming God. Daily. And moment by moment. Just because he loves you. And he loves me.

14. titflasher - January 13, 2011

Actually, Phil I think there is a lot of mental illness in the bible – think about the prophets (particularly the hermits) and the people who went out into the desert for inspiration – not necessarily the sanest or safest place to be. They were part of “general humanity” and yet also set apart. They seemed to be the brightest, most sensitive and most visionary. I hold a view that “mental illness” is not so divorced from “sane-ness”, I think it is a matter of degree and also perception … and the lines are blurred.

Phil Groom - January 13, 2011

Definitely. Consider Ezekiel’s visions and Isaiah parading about naked for three years. These guys were not sane by anyone’s standards, yet they wrote some of the most inspirational literature of all time. As you say, a matter of degree and perception…

15. Challenges and Changes « 5 Quid for Life - November 15, 2011

[…] And finally: for those who missed it, here’s my account of MadUp #1 … which, if the truth be told, is where the original seed for 5 Quid for Life was sown: • Meeting the Mentalists […]

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