Tuesday, 30 April 2013

This Spring We've Been ...


Kate: Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, set in East London in the 1950s. I love the combination of Jenny Agutter, Vanessa Redgrave, Pam Ferris and Miranda Hart, and also the fact that it’s so pro-NHS; I hope Jeremy hunt watches it!

Anthony: I’ve been forced to watch Teen Mum and One Born Every Minute against my will, when I’d prefer to be watching Arnold Schwarzenegger! 

Ian: A range of arts programmes on BBC4, particularly enjoying the ones on painter’s lives.  

Pumla: Searching for inspiration, but finding it hard to settle with anything. Any recommendations for something to follow? Routine can be good for the soul!

Dev: I like to watch a lot of comedy, from South Park and Family Guy, to The Two Ronnies. I recently watched a film called Sometimes in April, a historical drama about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which was very affecting. The only thing I can’t stand is horror movies – my brother made me watch The Day of Reckoning, which was really scary! 

Polly: The Challenger – a one-off drama about the enquiry into the 1986 space-shuttle disaster 

Marcia: I loved watching Mr Selridge – I couldn’t get enough of it! Lots of funny moments, affairs, secrets coming to light, and a bit of the history of the time.  


Ian: Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell, the second book in the Alexandria Quartet. 

Anthony: Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Kate: Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot; also enjoy my free weekly copy of Stylist on the tube, and reading the satirical articles on The Daily Mash (current favourite: ‘Spring thinks it’s too late to start now’, http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/environment/spring-thinks-its-too-late-to-start-now-2013040564772)

Pumla: Bits of The Guardian I find on the 144 – beats the Metro!

Polly: Gardens of Stone – cracking autobiography of somebody in the French Resistance. 

Marcia: Yesterday I read an interesting article in Mature Times, which is about issues that affect older people, about health risks for over 60s, including some information about Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. As more than 8 in 10 bowel cancer cases are in people over 60. 


Kate: Dilemma on Radio 4, a panel show chaired by Sue Perkins, discussing moral conundrums; some great music suggested on the blogs Yes Miss Fox (http://yesmissfox.wordpress.com/) and Creativise (http://creativise.wordpress.com/) – their ‘Tuesday Tunes’ and ‘Mid-week Melodies’, respectively, have been introducing me to some new favourites 

Anthony: Bollywood singing – we’ve broken the car radio and it’s stuck on a random station!

Ian: Mark Knofler & Emmy Lou Harris’ new CD

Dev: ‘80s/90s disco, classical, Indian music – all sorts! I like to mix things up and swap between genres. 

Polly: A lot of baroque! 

Marcia: ‘Adorn’ by Miguel. At first I liked it for the soul sound, and now I really like the lyrics too.  


Kate: I’ve been going to yoga for about 6 months now and love it! I’ve also been for a weekend in Prague with my mum, and to the theatre loads – I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing Spymonkey’s Cooped, National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors, and Snuff Box Theatre’s Bitch Boxer. 

Anthony: Life-drawing classes. Lots of naked bodies, which I obviously look at in a very objective and professional way. It’s nice to keep in touch with the basics. 

Ian: Group meditation, run by the Meditation Trust, where I’ve been discussing experiences of meditation and enjoyed the opportunity to meditate together with others, which can result in a more profound experience. 

Polly: Macbeth with James Macavoy and Claire Foy, and The Trial a site-specific journey in Shoreditch by Retz Theatre Company. 
Marcia: The cinema to see Django Unchained, which was really good. 

An Evening of Anti-Psychiatry Nottingham Contemporary Gallery - Polly Mortimer

In February, I went to an Anti-Psychiatry evening at Nottingham Contemporary Gallery, for a selection of excellent events and discussion. 

First, there was a film by Dora Garcia (The Deviant Majority (From Basaglia to Brazil) 2010) flipping from Basaglia’s Triests/Gorizia anti-asylum movement, to powerful theatre sessions with ‘service users’ in Trieste, punctuated by stark text-on-screen in the film The Inadequate. There were interviews with ‘70s protest leader Carmen Roll from the SPK (Socialist Patients Collective, later allied with the Red Army Faction). Strong stuff. Anti-psychiatry then seemed to be anti-asylum, anti-capitalism, grown from the student protests and other protest groups sweeping parts of Europe.

Then there was a fabulous discussion: First John Foot, a UCL (University College London) historian who has developed a special interest in Basaglia, Turin and Gorizia and the Italian movement to close asylums (without much thought of what would come after). Next, Howard Caygill – a philosopher from Kingston inter alia – who gave a powerful talk about a particular statue in Arezzo, Italy, commemorating those with mental distress,  closely examining where it was in the garden of the old asylum, which way it faced, how it juxtaposed against an old statue hidden in the shrubbery. Next David Reggio – also from Kingston – a Brazil expert.  Well mediated by Isobel Whitelegg.

To catch up with this and the night after (Duncan Double and others at the core of the critical psychiatry movement) go to: 

http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/anti-psychiatry-part-1 and watch the filmed events.

Exercise (your self control)

As a former professional athlete, and current service-user, my single most important piece of fitness advice to other service users is abstinence and moderation.

The service-user community has a high level of social drug use, particularly nicotine and alcohol (as well as some prevalence of illegal drug use). Prescription medication is not yet sufficiently advanced to avoid the occurrence of debilitating – not to mention embarrassing – side effects. To overcome extrapyramidal side-effects such as tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements), obesity and low mood, may I recommend or introduce service-users to moderate exercise, such as walking, cycling and low-resistance weight training, yoga, tai chi or similar; if you’re brave enough, not to mention young enough (I’m 52 years old in 2013) you can also try dancing. Mental illness can be considered to age service-users prematurely, so don’t forget the tried and tested rules of training for strength, stamina and suppleness (the 3Ss): 

- Avoid excess in known hazardous – even socially acceptable – drugs, like nicotine and alcohol. 
- Maintain a well-balanced, high protein, diet, avoiding carbohydrates, the commonest source of obesity.
- Try to enjoy well-prepared, regular meals; for further dietary advice contact the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (http://www.ion.ac.uk/) or speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Also remember, taking a little bit of what you like and simply enjoying eating does you good.

Vitamin supplements and secondary treatments, such as Chinese herbal medicine, massage, saunas, and maintaining the most achievable level of personal care in terms of clothing and self-presentation will also lift mood, especially if you enjoy shopping! 

To end this piece, I offer this advice: if you can’t exercise your body, exercise your mind.

Allan Malik Dennis-Smith is a former personal fitness instructor and employee at London Sports Forum for Disabled People.

Mindfulness - Kate Massey-Chase

On 28th March, I joined a staggering 1000 other people at the Friend’s House on the Euston Road for An evening with John Kabat-Zinn. Famed for bringing Mindfulness to the West, 35 years ago, the evening was a celebration and further investigation into this practice: ‘an adventure into the art of conscious living’. The event was run by Action for Happiness, and introduced by their chair, Mark Williamson, an organisation whose prime concern is to take action to try and create a happier world. They do this by looking both outside – calling on political leaders and those with the power to change policy – and inside at the self, in an endeavour to maximise human wellbeing. 

Photo: Sarah Lines
JKZ (as I shall call him, for ease) was welcomed to the stage by Lord Richard Layard, the economist – and Labour peer – who made the economic case for IAPT (Improving Access for Psychological Therapy) to the Labour government in 2006. I was thrilled to hear Layard had not only been involved in JKZ’s mindfulness course for parliamentarians (I wish they’d make it compulsory in Whitehall!), but will also be involved in a pilot study to reform PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education) in schools, including adding mindfulness to the curriculum. But, rather than going off on a tangential rant about the need for cohesive, consistent and relevant emotional and social education in our schools (a matter close to my heart), I shall try and stick to JKZ and mindfulness for the moment – and mindfulness is all about the moment! 

Mindfulness – a practice rather than a technique, as it is something you cannot simply learn and store away somewhere, but more a way of living in the world, ideally a way of living that is practised and observed daily – is drawn from the principles of Buddhist meditation, and is essentially the act of being with our experience as it is unfolding, moment by moment. JKZ described it as ‘the awareness that arises intentionally, in the present moment, non-judgementally’. Or something like that – it was quite hard to be in the moment, listen, and frantically scribble notes all at the same time! But breaking it down into its necessary components, it is: 

Awareness: This is not ‘doing nothing’, but ‘non-doing’: waking up to the world around us; being present without an agenda.

Intentional: Interestingly, he described it as ‘a radical act to wake up early and take your seat every morning’, particularly in a world where distractions seem everywhere; intentionally being in the moment, rather than the past or future. 

Present: Right now, this very moment.

Non-judgemental: He talked about the importance of cultivating an ‘affectionate attention’; ‘putting the welcome mat out for things as they are’.

Mindfulness is essentially being fully mindful, physically, emotionally, mentally of the now; my favourite thing he said was ‘Now is the now. Check your watch – it’s now again’. As a group of over 1000 individuals we all came together in a moment of formal meditation, quite early on in the evening, which JKZ instigated by rolling his sleeves up and saying, ‘Let’s arrive’. Mindfulness is complex in its simplicity and very hard to explain in a few paragraphs or pages, and thus actually doing it was important to the discussion. I found myself repeatedly trying to explain it in my head throughout the evening, knowing my partner would ask when I go home what it had been about. And, pre-emptive of her questioning, trying to answer: But what purpose does it serve? And, as I was trying to be mindful, my thoughts were going: Yes, it’s all very nice to have some quiet time, to reflect, but… although, hang on, we’re in the now, aren’t we? So, we’re not reflecting, we’re….what are we doing again? Oh yes, trying not to think. Eek, I’ve ruined it: I’m thinking. And now I’m worrying about thinking. Which is even worse! Arghhh, I’m really bad at this! So goes the mind chatter. 

JKZ says: ‘We need to get out of our own way, to the silence underneath and between every sound’. But, as a relative novice, it’s hard not to want to shout: ‘How?!!’ Yet – and as an educationalist, this is something I hold true for many things – he says we should covet a beginner’s mind, the place where we see things newly, freshly, and non-judgmentally. He also repeatedly reinforced that you can’t develop muscles without resistance, so the fact that trying to be a human being, rather than a human doing, is hard is part of the process. And part of why this is a practice, rather than a technique. He used the analogy of thoughts as weather patterns in the mind, drifting across, which is a metaphor I find really helpful, and will certainly use to calm my chattering mind. 

I worried that it could be seen as ego-centric and self-absorbed to dedicate that much time to yourself (which is indicative of both my own hang ups regarding guilt over self-compassion, and that I find any talk of ‘cultivating the garden of the heart’ flips my sceptical switch on). But – and really there doesn’t need to be a ‘but’ to justify it, but I’ll slip one in for other sceptics out there – mindfulness looks out as well as in, and is also about ‘being in wise relationship with the suffering and happiness around us’, learning self-compassion and compassion for others. JKZ also highlighted the urgency of it: destruction is woven into our human nature, and we need to take action – radical, sitting down in silence action it may be – to transform the world we live it. And although he told us, ‘You’re fine the way you are’, none of us would be worse for being mindful of the world in which we live, at this moment, exactly as it is and we are. Interestingly, in all Asian languages the word for heart and mind is the same thing; mindfulness is also heartfulness. 

If you need more convincing to take a quiet seat every morning and attune yourself to the cosmos, there is also some amazing sciencey stuff to do with epi-genetics, biochemistry, enzymes and things, which I’m probably not clever enough to explain, so you might want to google. Although the crux of it was that daily practice of mindfulness leads to greater emotional balance, caused by more left than right brain activation in the pre-frontal cortex, and greater anti-body production. 

If mindfulness is therefore an ‘act of love, sanity and self-compassion’, which has a positive impact on not just my emotional but also my physical wellbeing, and which also builds compassion for others, then I’m sold. And you can do it sitting down – brilliant! 

A Portrait of James - BP Submission - Anthony J. Parke

I’ve always been interested in painting people, mainly because I’ve always been awe-struck by the capabilities of so many portrait artists I’ve come across over the years. My initial attempts at portraits (reaching back some twenty years or so), were what I harshly regard as second-rate; but over the years I’ve gradually improved and this is mainly due to researching a myriad of techniques until I found one that suited. So with gradual improvements I find myself entering the BP Portrait Awards for the third consecutive year (all previous submissions rejected).

On previous occasions I’d submitted quite conventional portraits, usually female, looking quite classical, and tightly cropped to the head. I noticed what I took to be a difference between my paintings and those being selected. It was by no means something which appeared across the board, but certainly in many instances: a) many portraits had a narrative element, sometimes subtle, sometimes prominent, and b) the portraits were usually three-quarter length or full length.

The setup for the narrative was the environment, usually a living room, a work place, an outdoor backdrop. It could be the way the sitter was seated or standing, the clothes they were wearing. In some way these aspects added to the understanding of the sitter, offered a gateway into that person’s life. Of course this gateway can be found by many other means too, through the features (though I don’t believe mine ever did), something about the way the paint is handled, the colour, the line, in fact the list is endless. But those two aspects mentioned above, for me at least, stood out. 

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule (and this may not even be the rule!): notably Michael Gaskell’s tempera portraits which are free of any narrative element. One could hardly say that anything in his exceptional portraits offered an overt insight into the sitter’s psyche; there is no narrative at play. However the majority of submissions seem to me to both carry a narrative and be three-quarter or full length.

This is not an exact science, and nor should it be. But considering these aspects at least allowed me to come up with what I now regard as my most successful portrait. (Am I allowed to say that?)  

This years portrait of my brother James is by no means a choreographed painting solely designed to cynically meet some covert criteria of the BP Awards. No doubt many artists to some degree tailor their work to try and ‘fit’ the awards. And why not. I simply felt a narrative context and three-quarter size pose would allow me a greater prospect of selection. This is of course an international stage for portrait artists, and commissions can come off the back of exhibiting here. 

I knew a portrait of James would generate an image which would be striking, which would have that narrative element; and of course, I wanted to ensure it would be three-quarter length. I also wanted it to be a painting which represented the journey I’m currently on as a painter, which is one of not limiting myself. And having completed this submission I feel my painterly toolkit is far broader than it was prior to the submission.

My submission this year is of my brother, James. Now James was diagnosed with a severe mental illness at the ridiculously young age of fourteen. He is now 51. Suffering from Schizophrenia for that length of time, all the various drugs that have been pumped through his system, takes a toll, and that history becomes evident and etched into the features. His face stands out as being the face that belongs to a life that has been less than ordinary. But I guess it’s not enough to paint a face that is different. It’s about painting that person’s life, sensing their life through their features and posture and physical context – and in doing so striving to come closer to capturing a fairer, more rounded representation that person.

Whether the portrait gets in this year is perhaps not the important thing. Perhaps the real award for this year’s submission has been stepping outside of a very comfortable way of painting portraits, and exploring something a little more provocative. It’s essentially the difference between paintings done for commission, and paintings which I may choose to do for myself. I now have a clearer understanding of what I might like to paint for myself. Which is a small reward in itself.

Literature and the Brain - Ian Stewart

According to research, so an article in the Telegraph reports (Julie Henry, 17/01/13), reading the classics can give the brain a boost in terms of producing more electrical activity.

Reading more challenging subjects such as the poetry of Wordsworth or the work of Shakespeare caused the monitoring of brain activity to light up, more so than less challenging material. An English professor working on the study is quoted as saying: “Serious literature acts like a rocket booster to the brain. The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and staid alike.”

The research involving 30 volunteers showed that unfamiliar words caused brain activity to peak and primed the brain “for more attention.” Later the researchers intend to try to understand how psychology can be affected and whether or not there is any therapeutic benefit. Ian Stewart

Brain synchronicity and the Neanderthals - Ian Stewart

There is a theory that Neanderthals, ‘who flourished between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago and who share 99.84% of their DNA with us’, may have had some sort of language which they used to enable themselves to hunt together; indeed it would have been difficult without it. Living in groups of four or five and having to deal with the technology they had of shaping stone heads for their spears or dealing with the incidents of being injured during their hunting, communication would have been vital. They therefore could have been exposed to ‘problems that modern humans face, such as schizophrenia’. Interestingly, the theory ‘puts the disease down to brain coordination problems between the brains left and right hemispheres’ (The Inner Neanderthal: New Scientist 14 January 2012). This draws an interesting parallel with a point I picked up on in a previous article that illustrated the way that people who practise Transcendental Meditation techniques have shown increased brain synchronicity and a decrease in stress levels. This in turn is an example of the utility of becoming more aware of our individual evolutionary paths and how nature allows for a solution that helps man reach ever upwards to the potential he has for greater happiness. Ian Stewart

A Funding Fog - Kate Massey-Chase

From September to July last year, CoolTan Arts, a charity run by and for adults with mental distress, ran a women’s poetry group which I facilitated. With a strong belief that mental wellbeing is enhanced by the power of creativity, their chief executive Michelle Baharier identified two reasons in particular to set up a women’s poetry group: “The cathartic nature of words and because in a male-dominated society women’s spaces remain important.” At the end of the project they published an anthology of the participants’ work, a platform for the women’s voices and recognition of their talent.

Since March 2011, however, CoolTan has lost 100% of its service-level agreement with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in the wake of the ‘Personalisation’ programme of personal budgets, introduced by the Department of Health (DoH). Personal budgets are an allocation of funding given to someone based on an assessment of their needs, intended to help them design a package of social care support so that they gain more control over the support they access. Rolled out in England since 2008, although the original target of having all council-funded service-users on personal budgets has now been pushed back from April 2013 to 2015, personalisation remains the future of social care funding. However, although intended to empower those in need of community care services through greater choice and control, in practice it is hard to determine whether personalisation is triggering more service-user involvement or estrangement.

Applying for a personal health budget can be a daunting process - a 30-page assessment form, with different criteria for eligibility in different boroughs. Speaking to Edward Omeni, a researcher from King’s College London who ran a focus group on personalisation with CoolTan participants, he suggested that the complexity of the application process – and the problem of professionals still not knowing enough themselves – has meant that service-users are trying to be their own social workers, navigate the system and ultimately lose services. As one participant said in a podcast on the subject: “God knows what it really does mean! With all bureaucratic words you sometimes feel that something is getting a bit worse or more complicated.”

The women’s poetry group at CoolTan Arts was partly funded by the Big Lottery’s Reaching Communities fund as a provision for those missing out on personal budgets. That has now ended and the remaining poetry group is only open to men and women who pay for their participation from their personal budget or other sources. Unfortunately several women who attended our workshops last year are not in receipt of this funding and are not in a financial position to attend, despite the benefits to their health and wellbeing. 

Staying abreast of changes in policy and provision is fundamental to preparing for any arts work in the margins, in order to both respond to the needs of participants and map out where the furrows are in the ever-changing terrain – holes and gullies through which the vulnerable can fall, depending on where they sit in the hierarchy of need, or indeed which borough they live in. We know that the arts can make a difference to the lives of those who engage with them. After her first workshop, one poet said: “When I started the class today I couldn’t even read the poem. And now, in two hours, I’ve not only read and understood all of them, but I’ve also written my own - and it’s going to be published! I finally feel like the grey fog in my brain has started to lift for the first time in two years.” Her care support had not been ‘personalised’ by policy, and without alternative funding, she might still be in the fog. 

First published by Arts Professional, in Issue 263, Thursday 11 April 2013

Jacqui Dillon and the Hearing Voices Network - Poly Mortimer

Jacqui took to the little platform stage and talked ad hoc for an hour to a full house on a snowy January night in East London. It’s hard to summarise the pindrop atmosphere and attentive audience at her feet.

Starting by name-checking the great Judith Hermann and those Dutch pioneers of the HVN, Marius Romme and Sandra Escher, she took us straight to the heart – voice-hearing makes complete sense. 

In the wider world voices are seen as ‘symptoms’ with an 80% chance of a ‘schizophrenia’ diagnosis, and those hearing voices who visit a psychiatrist will be given neuroleptics to eradicate them. It’s said this ‘works’ for 33% of these people, and 67% ‘benefit’. Before psychiatry voice hearing was seen very differently. It’s a common experience with up to 10% of people hearing voices. 2/3 of these never see psychiatrists. Jacqui explained that hearing voices is a reaction to extreme things happening, (PM - or which have happened), in people’s lives.  The HVN is the polar opposite of the traditional approach; they understand and listen and enable survival. They support people to listen and understand the voices.  Voices are on a continuum of human experience.  This supportive and person-centred approach has spread to 26 countries with a US network kicking off – on a continent dominated by profit-driven big pharma & the stranglehold of the insurance companies. Different cultural backgrounds are much more accepting of voice-hearing and hearers, far from the taboo culture which equate voices with mad to bad to dangerous to unpredictable. 

The 180 or so groups in England provide, above all, a safe space to share experiences. Voice-hearers talk about their voices ‘knowing their Achilles Heel’ and their personal taboos. Theses groups give expertise and share expertise. ‘You are the expert in your own experience’. It is a process of empowerment – divorced from the dominant ‘expert’ doctor and passive patient model. Those who are labeled ‘psychotic’ are frequently those who are overwhelmed by distressing life experiences, which are uncomfortable for people to hear, often abuse, racism and/or poverty.  People need to be asked ‘what’s your story?’ ‘What’s happened to you?’

HVN is not pointing the finger at the psychiatric profession but creating alternatives and moving beyond the status quo. Jacqui’s own experience of voices has led  her to feel they are ‘communications from the unconscious’ – they talk to each other and even dictate what she needs to write. She hears many voices: women, children, different accents. That begs to question: what is the difference between a voice and a thought?

Psychiatrists are quick to dub voices ‘misattributed inner speech’ and pathologies the experience. This does voices a disservice. The whole ‘thought’ and ‘voice’ area is a knotty one – which is a thought, which is a voice?  She has heard voices telling her to kill, but does not act on them; one is responsible for one’s actions.  Treatment reduces risk.

Threatening voices need to be heard more about and engaged with. The hearer must be kept safe.

Her definition of a good psychiatrist is one not subscribing to DSM, someone who does not pathologies and recognizes distress as an ordinary human reaction. Someone who listens, is humble and curious. They are more existential – concerned with the meaning of life. Jacqui’s voices used to tell her to cut herself; through therapy she could untangle the cutting. It was a shame, anger and rage release. 

At the HVN meetings all explanations for hearing voices are accepted. There is a respect for all in the group – whether they say their voices are aliens or neighbours or anything. She has developed a working relationship with her voices and renegotiated power, and punctured their omnipotence. 

Where do ideas come from and what does it mean metaphorically? She feels that those on drugs who develop a psychosis ‘reveal’ through drugs rather than have the psychosis ‘induced’. There are other things going on that lead someone to take drugs – there are reasons. Recovery is finding one’s own knowledge and power.

So much has been done: creating safe spaces, training professionals, allying with academics and professionals, writing, speaking, talking, tweeting. There is no need to prove anything; she believes the evidence is before our eyes.  The evidence that someone has recovered. The qualitative evidence is the most important. ‘The Masters tools will not dismantle the Masters House’. The system is out of date and the training of psychiatrists out of date. Everything needs to be more humane.

This was such an inspiring evening and questions could have flown here and there for hours. I greatly admire Jacqui and the work she is doing. Here’s hoping HVN will go from strength to strength.

Divas: Girly Talk - Angela

As a young person, some girls are given the talk about the facts of life (i.e. ‘Where do babies come from?’). What I was told from home and school, emphasized how not to have unwanted pregnancies. 

At school there was a girl who got pregnant at 15 years old. This young girl told a teacher everything. All the teachers and children were eventually told. She remained anonymous (they did not say her name), but it was obvious who it was. There was no objection to her returning to school but she did not feel she could cope.
My best friend has a teenage daughter. When she was about 14 the first thing I told her about men, is not to bring an idiotic man to the house. I also gave her a card that said ’When is the best time to kiss a man? The card said WHEN HE’S RICH!’ The whole family found it very funny. Is this right or is this right? I wrote in the card ‘Make sure you get a good man when you get big.’

Then I noticed what some black Divas were singing about men. A Diva is a celebrated female singer. The term is used to describe a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera and by extension in theatre, cinema and popular music (Wikipedia). 

There was a diva called Gwen Guthrie who sang a song called ‘There ain’t nothing going on but the rent’. This song is basically saying she does not want a man with no money.

Gloria Gaynor sang a song called ‘I will survive’, which is very famous. This song is basically telling the man that she does like anymore, to get out of her life. Alesha Dixon sang a song called ‘The boy does nothing’.  This song is talking about a man who does not do the housework. Janet Jackson sang a song called ‘What have you done for me lately? ‘Sunshine Anderson sang a song called ‘Heard it all before’, which is saying that she is fed up of her man’s lies.

The above Divas are talking about the relationships they’ve had with men that are no good. Then I had to look at the other side of the coin and told her about some positive examples from Divas.

The first example I told her about was the Tina Turner song called ‘Simply the Best’. It is a beautiful song and I like the words. I am surprised that she did not write a song about her former husband Ike Turner. Maybe she was too scared to sing about what she really thought about him. Or maybe it hurt too much.

Chaka Khan sang a song called ‘Ain’t nobody loves me better’.  She is basically singing a song about a man that made her very happy.

I would like my friend’s daughter to be choosey when it comes to having a relationship with the opposite sex. It’s best not to rush into things you will later regret, especially when you are young. I was born in the 60’s (don’t tell anyone!).  If you are not careful love can be just a four letter word.

The UK has the most under aged pregnancies in Europe, with 2.9 out of every 100 girls aged between 15 and 19 giving birth every year (‘UK tops league of teenage pregnancy’, Steve Dougherty, Daily Mail). I think this is quite negative for all concerned. Tina Turner asks ‘What’s Love got to do with it?’ These under aged pregnancies must be affecting the economy because these young girls did not get a career, and the government has to support mother and baby.

Has the way that men treat women changed negatively? Maybe it’s because women are now more career-orientated. Have the roles reversed?

Haringey Cuts - Dev

The cuts and their impact on mental health services in Haringey.  

Since the current government being sworn in 2011, Haringey council has made massive cuts to the mental health services. Within the last two years much needed centres like the 684 (day centre), Alexandra Road Crisis Unit (a respite care centre) and other services have been axed. This could be due to the double-dip recession. 

Presumably, the Clarington Centre will be left to take on some members from those centres. This means the centre staff will have to take on and manage larger numbers of members. Saying this, the centre is turning into a wellbeing college and a cafĂ© from a day centre, so things are changing anyway. Also, as it stands, some people may not be able to access some services because they don’t have ‘secondary support’ or have a personal budget.

When people say ‘Mental Health Problems’ they don’t mean that he or she is having a mood swing or being moody, but is unable to control their condition. This could be a terrifying ordeal and have side effects. One of the reasons why these services are needed is because people with this condition need regular support and a place to go where they can meet people with similar problems and a safe place where they are not judged as being mad or out of control. 

With the cuts to the services, it makes it more difficult to control or find places for them to go for support on a regular basis. As well as meaning ever-reducing support to people with mental health conditions. This could be due to ‘lack of service support’ and staff to handle these situations.  

Sometimes at the emergency drop-in centres where you come in desperately to get help, you are sent back with some stronger doses of medicine and assigned to a ‘home care support team’. Sometimes this does not work but makes it worse. Saying that, some medicines do work and help them feel calmer and may cause some relief for the person or help some of their symptoms.

According to Haringey council and central government, GPs will have more control over local services. To deal with mental health conditions you would need trained professionals, so I wonder: how would a GP who deals primarily with physical health deal with a non-physical condition?

The council has also suggested that other members be involved in their care. In other 

words you help yourself. This could work two ways 1. Other people with same difficulties help people with the same problems, i.e. peer support.  2. Charities might help. This might take some pressure of the under-staffed and resourced services. Charities, and any services like Mind, Canning Crescent, provide valuable support to people with mental health problems. 

I hope the existing services, including charities, are able to support all those who need them. 

Middle of the Storm - Alyssa Grace Sorresso

For me, 2010 was the year of The Risk. I had uprooted myself from my home, work and life in Chicago, Illinois to study abroad for a year in London, England. I was lost back in the states, not knowing who I was or what I wanted, a result of several years of job burn-out and multiple, drama-ridden relationships. Some of my friends had hinted that I was actually running away from my problems; but I knew that even if that were the case, I wasn’t happy where I was. I had to risk everything for my wellbeing or regret doing nothing. And that attitude is what ultimately landed me on a bike, cycling 280 miles in 3 days, in the middle of a storm. 

I am pedalling furiously on my bicycle on a high bridge in the Netherlands. Rain is hitting my sunglasses and soaking through the layers of body armor and an all-weather jacket. At 30 mph, I have only one thought: do not fall. 

32 other cyclists are in various positions and speeds around me, all riding to raise money for a non-profit theatre company called Cardboard Citizens.  I have worked for the Citz as an intern to fulfil a requirement for my Masters degree in London.  At this moment, I am supposed to be in London, holed up in my flat, researching and writing my dissertation that is due in two weeks. Instead, I have raised £1500 to cycle to Amsterdam through a total of 4 countries and 280 miles in 3 days. We are on day 3. My breath is steady as I concentrate through the droplets. I have never in my life ridden this far on a bike. 

A week before our departure, I started flipping out. What the hell was I thinking? Leaving in the middle of my dissertation for a 280-mile bike ride? I couldn’t even conceptually understand that number, much less imagine myself completing the journey. My “training” had consisted of cycling around London, visiting the Notting Hill area once a week to go up what I considered a really steep incline. I had missed my only opportunity to do a long distance practice ride due to illness.  And despite taking all precautions by purchasing absolutely every item on our guide’s “to-pack” list, including 2 extra tubes of chamie cream, I was seriously doubting myself and my sanity. 

As Day 1 began, I started off in the “slow” group (10-15 mph), as I wasn’t sure I could keep up a higher speed. However, by the first stop on our trip, I had moved up to the middle or “fast” group (20-25 mph).  As we travelled down through southern England, I fought my way up truly steep inclines that bitch-slapped Notting Hill, and relished in the freefall of a well-earned decline. I felt the actual purpose of energy bars, gels and drinks coursing through my body, and swore never again to just eat them because I was hungry at 3 p.m.  By the end of the first day, I was knackered, refusing to climb the last hill in the middle of lush Dover foliage, instead opting for a ride to our accommodations.  But I had made it through the first day of cycling about 80 miles.  London and my doubts seemed so much smaller. 

Our agenda for the Day 2 was at least 100 miles through three countries: starting in Dunkerque, France (to which we took a ferry from Dover in the morning), through Belgium, and ending in Middelburg, The Netherlands. The journey was expected to be grueling, but the near-perfect weather softened the miles. We cycled along Belgium’s canals with a surprise pub stop by a picturesque windmill. We sang Beatles songs while enjoying the ease of our slipstreams. We even laughed at carrying our bikes through the mud and darkness to the hotel, where we finished off the last of our 120 miles with wine and chicken dinner.
Now in Day 3, we are firmly planted in the southern Netherlands. The weather is threatening rain, but we are spared for the morning. So we fly along the Noordzee Cycle Route, topping 36 miles an hour. I receive the gift of a tailwind and effortlessly sail along the path. The sun peaks out and lights up the environment around me: rolling blue ocean backed by opulent sand and lush prairie grasses. As I pedal, I remove a camera from the back pocket of my jacket, hold it at arm’s length, and snap a picture of myself. My smile is huge. I feel great. Here I am in the home stretch, Day 3, almost to Amsterdam. I don’t really care that I left in the middle of my dissertation or that I double-packed all the suggested items; nothing of that matters here. I gaze up at some thickening clouds in the distance and realize I am truly content.

Within an hour, the thickening clouds turn into a downpour, and everyone is immediately soaked to the bone. We break for a light mid-morning snack, but it’s quick.  Our guides say we don’t want to stop for long, but rather try and outride the weather. I huddle inside the food van that follows us, attempting to dry out a little before getting back on my seat. As our group takes off, I realize that I hate cycling in the rain more than anything. 

Getting ahead of the weather starts to seem like an impossible task.  The showers won’t let up, and we approach a long stretch of a tram bridge. The rain has made the concrete slick like glass. Deeply embedded tracks run down the middle of the bridge. I feel anxiety rise up in my chest.  I bring my concentration back to pedalling and breath, settling into a tense, meditative state.  The rain starts coming down harder as I work to keep pace.  With each spin of my feet I chant, Do not fall, Do not fall, Do not fall.

Everyone around me is struggling.  We should stop, but there is no cover.  One of our guides has ridden further up and doubled back, shouting to let us know that the rain is clearing near the end of the bridge. Only a couple miles or so to go. I register his words with a slight nod of my head. I don’t want to chance any unnecessary movement. 

I watch our guide position himself in front to lead our group to safety when I feel my handlebars twist sharply out of my hands. In mere seconds I realize my front tire is caught in the tram tracks, and that I am hurtling towards the hard, wet cement. Then there is no more thinking. The left side of my body hits the ground, chest first, with a jarring impact. The bouncing of my helmet follows as I slide a few feet from my bike and lay motionless. 

I cannot breathe. My first coherent thought is that I’m having a heart attack. The second is that a rib has punctured my lung. I am paralyzed. Our guide and several other cyclemates surround me, asking if I can hear them. I lie there telling them I am having trouble breathing and they say the doctor is on the way. They tell me to stay with them, talking to me about anything. I learn I was the first of four cyclists to fall independently; we went down, one after the other, like dominos.  

The doctor comes. I am able to breathe a little more easily, but still feel numb. Shock and disassociation are strong, and I only respond with mumbles and nods, staring up at the clouded sky. Rain falls silently on my face and it is cold. After a few minutes, my fellow cyclists carefully move me to the side of the bridge where I can sit and be further evaluated. The doctor finds some bloodied scrapes on my legs and arms, but not many. My layers of clothing saved my skin from being shorn off. There are no broken bones or unbearable pains when moving my limbs. I just feel stiff and achy.  The doctor says the worst thing I seem to be suffering from is shock. 

They put me in the doctor’s van and wrap me in a blanket.  I shiver violently, unable to generate any warmth. Outside the van our guide discusses the multiple accidents with the doctor. The other cyclists are back on their bikes – I was the worst fall of the four. They decide the weather has cleared up enough, and the group should continue on. I am told to rest as much as I need, eat a lot of sugar and drink water. 

I ride with the doctor in the passenger side seat. Eventually, I start feeling grounded again, back in my body, but I am exhausted.  About 3 hours go by and we arrive at a dock where we need to take a ferry into the northern Netherlands. I get out of the van and slowly walk to what looks like a nearby restaurant to change my clothes.  The restaurant turns out to be a combination casino and strip club, but flashing lights and naked women are the least of my concerns. I’m focused more on removing my clothing that I haven’t changed since the fall. In the bathroom I begin to peel the layers of body armour off my skin, inspecting the newly formed bruises and abrasions.  Along with a dry set of clothing, I brought talcum powder to soak up any wetness.  The white powder scatters all over the bathroom floor, spilling out from underneath the door.  A woman enters, pushes the powder suspiciously with her foot and leaves. She must have thought it was cocaine. 

Back in the van, I fall asleep as we cross on the ferry.  When I wake up, I feel tested but resilient. I want to get back on my bike and ride the rest of the way to Amsterdam. The group is taking a lunch break while the doctor checks me over and gives me his approval. I wander back into my cycling group, greeted enthusiastically by my friends. Our guide hands me a peanut butter sandwich and a banana, both of which I devour immediately. The food makes me feel somewhat human again. My friends are concerned about me riding, but I assure them it’s ok, that I can do it. I shake off the last of my fall and push off with 32 other bikes, 32 other comrades who had stumbled, fallen and gotten back up again just like me. And when we end our ride in Dam Square that night, I cheer with everyone, ringing my bell, knowing the risk was worth the fall.