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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

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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