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MadUp #7: Welcome to the Knitting Circle November 11, 2012

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

KNITTING. If you’re a knitter, you already know it’s therapeutic. But it’s also great fun, even if, like me, you’re just an observer. So there I sat with my pint of Guinness and a towering burger, watching in wide-eyed fascination as three of my mentalist friends knitted away whilst we chatted about all sorts of things. A wonderfully cute baby boot with a pink ribbon was completed and two beautiful scarves made progress until the light faded and the candles had to come out.

Along the towpath at Paddington

Along the towpath at Paddington

I didn’t do a head count but I think there were about a dozen of us there, in a bar in central London, some were fairly local, others from further afield, all brave enough to venture out and negotiate the mysteries of the latest TFL “improvement” works: has anyone ever actually had a faster or better journey as a result of these “improvements”? I found myself spewed forth from Paddington tube station via a back-entrance that I didn’t know existed, dug out my iPad and spun around in circles for several minutes to reorientate; thence to the towpath alongside Paddington Basin and so to the pub.

I took bronze as third to arrive and we nattered away as others gradually drifted in: the giveaway was the glance to the left at the main entrance, where we normally gather, followed by  a puzzled look around until a *friendly wave* and a smile came from the table at far end, where a copy of the Mental Health Act Manual was installed as a beacon, but without any flashing lights.

Conversation topics ranged from knitting (of course!) through mental health dilemmas such as surviving suicide attempts, treatments, drugs, therapy and food (mustn’t forget cheese!) to outrage at inadequate discharge procedures: all sorts of things that don’t normally get discussed over dinner, and no one batted an eyelid because all of these things are the stuff of life to the assembled company; and the wine flowed freely thanks to — you know who you are!

All in all, one of the most enjoyable afternoons out I’ve had in a while: thank you to she-who-took-the-initiative (you know who you are), to the bar for accommodating us (we all know which one it is) and to everyone who managed to get there; and commiserations to those who for various reasons (mostly health, finance or prior engagements, I believe) couldn’t join us: you were missed, and here’s hoping you can make the next one.

Journey home was a bit of a drag: the aforementioned improvement works meant it took twice as long as it should have to get from Paddington to King’s Cross so I missed one train; the next was cancelled (“no driver”) and the next one was a s-l-o-w train stopping at every piddling little station en route, due to depart from Platform 9 just as the station announcer put out a call for any police in the station to get over to Platform 9 pronto. Boris, old bean, how on earth did you manage to get London Transport running so smoothly during the Olympics — and when are you going to make it work properly again??

Well over an hour wasted faffing about at King’s Cross that I could have spent back at the MadUp, and then I wouldn’t have missed the cookies: yep, missed the train and the cookies. That’s double bad. But would I do it again? You bet; friends and mentalists, I salute you: here’s to next time!

PS: A new knitting supplies shop and workshop should be opening at a garden centre in Solihull in the new year: watch out for details!

PPS: MadUp #7? Maybe. I’ve lost count: it might’ve been MadUp #27; but I like #7

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Broken Britain, Broken People: Less than One Month Before Heartbreak January 21, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health, Watching and Waiting.
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6 comments
One Month Before Heartbreak

One Month Before Heartbreak

BRITAIN IS BROKEN. Broken from top to bottom, by the people at the top trampling over the people at the bottom. Broken by a government so obsessed with its programme of cuts that they’ve become blind to the effect those cuts are having on people’s lives. Stampeding cattle panicked by the wolves of their predecessors’ incompetence, trampling the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable underfoot as they charge headlong towards only God knows where, rewarding failed bankers and ignoring the cries of the poor.

We are a nation betrayed, betrayed by those we pay to serve us. Taxed when we earn, taxed when we spend, taxed when we travel, taxed when we die — and for some that death may well come sooner than it should, death by a thousand cuts from an axe-wielding government which takes and takes … a voracious leech, sucking the very life from its host, the British people…

Purple Noise: The beginning of the end

Purple Noise - The beginning of the end

I suppose I could go on with the purple prose, but instead I’ll give you another pointer to Purple Noise, Ali Quant‘s blog, where Ali describes the living nightmare of battling with mental illness whilst contending with the changes to Britain’s benefits system: The beginning of the end. Perhaps you’ve already read it after my earlier post: then go read it again; if you haven’t read it, prepare to be shaken; and when you’ve been shaken, I hope you’ll be stirred to action. Because Ali is just one amongst many for whom this government’s mandatory reassessment for benefits entitlement is simply too much to bear, one amongst many who have a plan to ‘delete’ themselves, as Ali has expressed it: to commit suicide rather than face the horror of having the minutiae of their lives (re)examined by people whose only interest is in number crunching and balancing the books of a failed administration.

Let’s get this straight: mental illness is real; and it debilitates. It prevents people from working not because they are unwilling to work but, as much as anything, because many employers are unwilling, unable or are simply ill-equipped to deal with the effects of mental illness in their workforce (technically, of course, employers cannot discriminate; but how is a mentally ill person going to fight suspected discrimination?). It’s not the mentally ill person’s fault that they’re unable to work any more than it’s any other ill person’s fault; and contrary to some perceptions, mentally ill people are not malingerers or skivers. Diseases of the mind are every bit as real as diseases of the body, and just as physical illness often affects our ability to think, mental illness often affects the ability to do things, even basic things such as wash yourself, get dressed or respond to a hug. Body and mind, mind and body: the two cannot be separated.

Mentally ill people need their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) every bit as much as people whose illnesses or disabilities are physically plain to see. It’s not something they should have to fight for any more than we’d expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and fight for their wheelchair. But in just three weeks’ time, that’s exactly what’s going to be expected of them as the government’s consultation about DLA reform comes to an end halfway through February: on 14th February 2011, Valentines Day, to be precise. Courtesy of the UK Government, a day for lovers to celebrate has become a day of despair, a day of fear, darkness and heartbreak for thousands of people. It seems that as a nation we can afford to maintain a nuclear arsenal big enough to ravage the planet but we can’t — or rather, under the current regime, won’t — commit to providing for some of our most vulnerable people.

So what can ordinary people like you and me do? First, it seems to me, we need to make our views known to the government: although the consultation is aimed primarily at disability organisations and disabled people, the DWP have indicated that they would like to hear from anybody who is interested. Then let’s let them know! Let’s let them know that we’re not merely “interested” — we’re outraged! Outraged at the trauma this consultation is causing amongst the Broken of Britain, amongst Britain’s disabled people. Let’s let them know that they cannot, must not, discriminate like this, that we stand in solidarity with our disabled brothers and sisters!

Another example of the trauma: DLA, Danni, and Me – By Vicky Biggs.

Second: if you, like me, don’t trust this government to listen, we need to start setting up our own safety nets for people such as Ali who may drop out of the benefits system. That’s what my ‘200 People’ campaign is about, providing a safety net, in this case specifically for mentally ill people. I say ‘my’ campaign but I am thrilled to say that it is no longer mine: I kicked it off but others have seized the initiative and we’re now well on the way to setting up an official organisation, name to be announced shortly.

Will you stand with us? Will you stand with some of Britain’s most broken people? Will you join me in enabling the mentally ill community, in helping to erase the stigma of mental illness, in what is, for many, quite literally a fight for life?

The time is now: if you’re on facebook, please join our facebook group today. Although the group is still called ‘200 People to Save Ali Quant’ its remit has grown and it should be renamed and given a new description within the next few days: please watch this space for more info.

Thank you.

5 Quid for Life? In Search of a Campaign Name January 16, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life, Mental Health.
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51 comments

FOLLOWING ON from my 200 People to Save Ali Quant post — to which the responses and enthusiasm have been amazing: thank you all — we’re now looking at a wider brief, at Ali’s request

How about if, instead of making this a let’s help Ali thing, how about a more general let’s help everyone thing? … let me explain my thinking: the reality is, as many of you will know, that I’m not the only one who’s made a deletion plan in case I fail my assessment. Over the past year or so (and obviously more in the past few days) I have heard from different sources of literally hundreds of people who feel the exact same way I do, this is just from people coming and directly telling me “I feel like this” or “I have a friend who says…” there must be thousands more that I haven’t had direct contact with. I’m nothing special, I’m not some kind of extreme case and I haven’t done anything to deserve to be singled out. All I did was write a blog post out of sheer despair, I thought I was so near the end that I had absolutely nothing to lose so I may as well write about it. So why not make some kind of central fund, not necessarily asking for a monthly donation to support people in that way but just a fund that could be used for anyone in my situation? It could be used to help people if they fall over at any stage of claiming benefits, to give people a safety net for example to help out while they’re appealing or if they haven’t been able to attend all the work-focused interviews and get sanctioned.

… and over at the facebook group we’ve been having all sorts of discussions about how to take the idea forward. The first thing we need is a campaign name, a name to grab the public imagination. This post is your invitation to help us choose one: the poll below lists some of the names suggested so far but please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments. If you’re wildly enthusiastic about a particular name, tell us why in a comment or — even better — post about it on your own blog/facebook/twitter and link to us here to encourage your friends to join in.

The poll will remain open for three days initially, but I’m happy to review that depending on how the conversation goes. Now get voting, please:

  • Special thanks to Kate White, who suggested most of these.

200 People to Save Ali Quant January 13, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life.
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comments closed
I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

YESTERDAY I was feeling frivolous and I changed my socks. Yes, it happened. Unfortunately the yeast was too strong and my bread collapsed, but that’s another story.

Today, however, I am in a more serious frame of mind and I would like you to join me in a campaign to save my friend Ali Quant.

Ali has been a victim of serious domestic abuse and is battling and blogging her way through various mental health issues, all of which you can find out about on her blog, Purple Noise. She’s also a great Scrabble player, which is one of the (admittedly more selfish) reasons why I cannot allow her to go through with her recently announced plan to commit suicide if our inglorious government (yes, David Cameron, that’s you and your crew I’m talking about) pushes her over the edge with its programme of benefit cuts that is demoralising many of the most vulnerable people in our society such as Ali. In fact, it wouldn’t be suicide: it would be murder, death by a thousand cuts from a knife wielded by the UK Government — the very people whose job it is to take care of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable on our behalf as taxpayers.

So I have a plan. It’s simple: I need 200 people who will stand with me in committing themselves to a regular monthly gift of £5 to Ali. That works out at £12,000 per year (more than I earn, as it happens) and I think Ali is worth far more than that. She may be unable to work in the conventional sense of the word, but through her blog (alongside many others: see the Madosphere links in my sidebar)  she is providing an essential service to our society: helping to erase the stigma of mental illness by telling it how it is; and exposing the shabbiness of our government’s policies and the impact those policies are having upon people’s lives.

At the same time as publishing this I’m setting up a facebook group with the same name: 200 People to Save Ali Quant. Even if you’re not in a position to make the regular financial commitment I’m asking for, please consider joining it anyway to show your solidarity with Ali — and please spread the word: between us all, between my friends and yours, we must be able to find 200 people, maybe more, who can make this level of commitment. You may be able to offer more, in which case we may not need 200 people; or less, in which case we may need more. I’m not asking for any money right now; what I’m asking for is commitment to the cause: to make the effort to pull Ali back from the brink onto which the government is pushing her and let her know what we think she’s worth, that we think her life is worth living, that we think she is making an important contribution to our society.

The world needs people like Ali Quant: people who aren’t ashamed to describe what they’ve been through, what they’re going through and who aren’t afraid to shine a light on the government’s failings. If and when those failings reach the point Ali describes and she feels she has to jump, that’s when I’ll come asking for your money: if it helps, think of this as a safety net; but please don’t commit if you’re not prepared for that safety net to be deployed — this is not a game, this is a person’s life.

I realise that in a sense doing this is precisely what Cameron wants us to do with his bleating on about the ‘Big Society’ — “Let’s get people off state benefits into community care”, or something like that. To that I say up yours to Cameron et al: the vast majority of this country didn’t vote for you and we don’t want you or need you: go back to your world of privilege and reward for failed bankers — one day it’s all going to collapse around your head. The ‘Big Society’ was here long before you were and we, the people, will continue to take care of one another with or without your help using our money (and speaking of our money, if there’s anyone reading who’s in a position to advise or help on registering the group as a charity, we should then be able to claim tax back via Gift Aid on taxpayer’s donations; and that, I think, would be a result!).

Will you stand with me? Will you spread the word? Will you help to save Ali from our cut-throat government?

Finally and very importantly: please note that I haven’t consulted Ali about this. When I hit ‘Publish’ it’s going to be as much a surprise for her as it is for everyone else. This is me, Phil Groom, asking, not Ali … because if I know Ali at all, she’d never make this request: she’d die first. But I’m not willing to sit idly by and let that happen.

And if we get more than I’m asking for, there are others out there whose blogging deserves better recognition too, starting with another of my friends, Pandora Serial Insomniac

Where Next?

Acceptance September 23, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Life, Mental Health.
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16 comments

THIS POST is for all my friends in the madosphere, those amazing people blogging, facebooking and tweeting their way through the traumas of mental illness: you know who you are and I salute you. But mostly it’s for Karita, whose recent posts DistasteStuntedHonesty and Lies – Part the Second and Honesty and Lies have set me thinking.

It’s a strange business, the way our society treats people with mental health problems, almost like lepers … perhaps even worse than lepers: leprosy is a disease that you can identify, pin down to a particular bacterium, and treat. But mental illnesses come in all sorts of guises and all too often, it seems, even health professionals don’t know how to deal with them and people struggling with mental illness find themselves sidelined or stigmatised.

Part of it comes down to fear, of course: fear of what may be lurking inside our own minds, sometimes hidden just below the surface, sometimes buried deeper within. Fear of looking into the abyss of the human mind and having to face up to the fact that when push comes to shove, we’re all the same. Then there’s pride: the foolish belief that somehow I am above these problems, that mental illness is a sign of weakness when in fact it’s simply part of being human, no more a sign of personal weakness or failure than cancer is 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. 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.

It seems to be even worse in some Christian circles: many Christians seem to think that they shouldn’t be mentally ill, shouldn’t suffer from depression or anxiety or personality disorders or any of the other 1001 or more manifestations of mental illness. They’ve been taught to believe that Jesus will make all their problems go away and if their problems don’t go away then it must be their fault somehow because if they really, truly trusted in Jesus then their problems would be solved. Sing another sycophantic “God is Great” happy song and all will be well. Forgive my bluntness, but that’s complete bullshit. In fact, it’s worse than bullshit: at least with bullshit you can use it as fertiliser — but with complete cockamamy beliefs like that, there’s nothing useful you can do at all: you just have to throw them out of the window and hope there’s no one standing underneath…

Simple fact: Christians are screwed up human beings the same as everyone else. What Jesus offers to those who can or will accept it is acceptance itself and a bit of light in the darkness. What he doesn’t do is turn the light off or walk away or snuff out a flickering candle or break off a broken reed. Instead, he sits down beside the flickering and broken ones and gently puts an arm around their shoulders and says, lean on me. Then, together, with him wearing his crown of thorns that people like me awarded him for being our champion, they weep. Maybe they struggle to their feet and stagger a few steps together … he has bloody, broken feet because people like me smashed nails through them when he wouldn’t make like the God we wanted him to be, so it’s one hell of a journey…

But the important thing is, it’s a journey; and we’re all in it together. A broken god come to the rescue of a broken humanity. An impossible journey. But one that I happen to think is worth taking — and which I count it a privilege to share with anyone who has travelled this far with me. And if you, dear reader, aren’t religiously inclined, don’t worry about it: the god I believe in isn’t religious either and doesn’t give a fig about what you believe about him — what counts is he believes in you; and he does, my friend, he does…

Did I mention his hands are broken too?

The Final Week September 13, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Watching and Waiting.
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6 comments
LST Books & Resources

LST Books & Resources

This is it. My final week as Bookshop Manager at London School of Theology. Just three days, in fact, as I’ll only be working Tuesday to Thursday and then it’s all over, left with my colleague and good friend Nick Aston to run the show.

It’s been an interesting time, these last few weeks, trying to tidy up as many loose ends as possible, notifying suppliers and others of my departure and showing Nick the tricks of the trade. For Nick it’s going to be a challenging time as he attempts to do all that I’ve been doing as well as his own job in less than half our combined hours: if you’re minded to pray, please keep him in mind as he’s going to need all the support he can get; and if you’re ever in Northwood looking for a book or a bar of fairtrade chocolate, please go pay him a visit.

It’s going to be a different shop and a different approach to running it when I’m gone, with the stock profile largely driven by faculty recommendations and course reading lists alongside a proposed increase in non-book product. Whereas I’ve always aimed to maintain an extensive backlist beyond the reading lists, perused publishers’ catalogues and met with reps to select new titles, it’s unlikely that Nick will have time for that, although time will tell, of course: who can say how things will pan out?

As for me, a part-time job in a local supermarket to keep a few pennies rolling in whilst I reorientate and focus my attention and energies on various web projects. There’s more than enough to keep me busy: the question is whether I can make it pay.

I also plan to devote some time to blogging in support of my madosphere friends: there’s far too much stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental illness where there should 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 one.

And finally: to all at LST, my friends and colleagues: it’s been a good ten years: I salute you. Or as the dolphins would say, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Some of my web projects…

Into the Madosphere: Some Mental Health Bloggers I Admire

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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