When faced with my demons I clothe them and feed them…

Archive for July, 2010

Swings or Roundabouts?

When I awoke at about four this morning I might have known why and what was about to happen.

After a few days of depression I’m swinging back up.

But the depression was very mild. Relatively. No depression is ever pleasant. All depression is soul-crushing to some extent. I call it mild only to distinguish it from the suicidal hell I have experienced in the past.

I want to tell you about a couple of things that happened yesterday to illustrate that this ‘demonisation’ thing is not all in my head!

I received a letter by Special Delivery. I thought uh-oh. I wonder what that’s about. It crossed my mind it could be a letter from the police as a result of Equals’ complaint about me. I somehow knew it would be something unsavoury.

It was a letter from a project that I did some training for. The ‘WISE’ study, a substantial piece of user-led research being carried out by Camden and Islington Council. We were being taken on as service user researchers, to interview other service users who are receiving a particular type of help into work. While at Uni I actually did a presentation on this topic. Now I can’t even remember what it’s called!

The point is, the letter was to tell me that my CRB check had been found ‘unsatisfactory’ owing to a caution, the only blemish on my record, for ‘criminal damage’.

At the time I was ‘floridly’ manic, and receiving the usual inadequate ‘help’ from the Home Treatment Team, having been refused a bed in the hospital.

It was obvious even to the police that I was off my head. I don’t know why I was charged as a criminal. I had been to visit a crack user with whom I had a whole history of financial and other exploitation (by him, of me). Smoking crack is something I have only ever done while manic. The pain and pressure of mania I found could be relieved, however temporarily, by smoking crack.

I never became addicted. I didn’t have time to, and in any case, the kind of pain and pressure that I’m talking about is only ever fairly short-lived.

He had told me to come round that day at a certain time, with money for the drug. As so often this proved unreliable, though I showed up with money at the stated time.

When I found he did not respond to repeated knocking and calling, I did what, in my manic state, seemed a perfectly logical thing to do. I found an implement on the pavement and caved in the glass of the front door, so as to open it from the inside.

Irony upon irony, this ex-con crack user/dealer then phoned the police. Introduced himself as ‘James Bond’. The cops showed up, addressing him as ‘James’. I was carted off in the police van, thence to a cell in Hornsey Police Station.

This is the source of my ‘criminal’ record.

I was released later on, still manic and vulnerable as ever, having been fingerprinted and so on. No mental health professionals were contacted, even though I stripped off in my cell (is that ever a classic ‘mental’ piece of behaviour!)

Anyway, all that is just for the record. It wasn’t pleasant to be turned down, even for a job I had decided I didn’t want, on this basis. They advised me in the letter to always disclose convictions in advance in future, so they can be explained. I didn’t really know it counted as a conviction, but I guess that I was ‘charged’ and convicted, even though I got to go home with no further action taken.

Demonisation one.

Demonisation two. My son is in foster care. We are due to have contact, and it has been arranged for him to stay at my mother’s house for a few days. That’s OK. What is not OK, with Haringey Social Services, is for me to stay overnight with them.

I am mental. Dangerous. Beyond the pale of ordinary folk. A danger to my own son (in some strange, always unspecified way).

Demonisation is not good for the health. Human beings have an inherent need to belong, we are social animals. Feeling like outcasts will affect us physically, emotionally, spiritually. Duh.

Like I said in the previous post, all of that baggage is way worse for us than the ‘illness’ itself.

But, with that WISE letter in hand I reflected that I have now come to a point in my life where I no longer aspire to a ‘normal’ job. I am an artist. Words are my medium. There is no earthly reason why I should not exercise that skill and attempt to earn a living at it. I would have been useless on the WISE study, because I simply cannot plan ahead of time to be available to work on certain days.

Fuck the WISE study!

While I was undergoing my own ‘demonisation day’ (that’ll teach me to tell the world to ‘bring it on’!) a friend was struggling to access a certain facility which has been the subject of a critical post on this blog.

The team in charge of this facility (who are exhibiting paranoiac group dynamics) seemed to be doing everything they could to obstruct her admission, although she was at the end of her tether and very vulnerable indeed. They don’t like her, because she makes them feel uncomfortable about themselves and their own modus operandi.

Like me she has the unfortunate knack of ‘seeing through’ people and their strange behaviours. When people are engaged in something dodgy, and not standing on firm moral ground, they fear the light. They will not love the person who makes them feel exposed.

Equals did not love me for that self-same reason. I was not sure why I had to be the one with the most alert bullshit-detector in the whole group. I certainly was not the only one detecting a certain amount of bullshit. But I was commander-in-chief of the bullshit detectors. And still am. Bullshitters of Haringey, beware! Your number is legion, but Zoe will find you out. Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

The sharper your radar, the worse the consequences for you. However, I was strong enough to weather the consequences and even grow from the experience. There is no question that none of the Equals Team will forget about me in a hurry. Maybe they’ll even be convinced that I have ruined their livelihood. Sadly they are more than capable of ruining it all by themselves.

Incompetent, inadequate people with little psychological insight into themselves and a sense that integrity is a moveable feast or may be dispensed with altogether when the situation requires. They get a little bit of power. Just a little. Then suddenly we see Stalinist tendencies emerging.

OK, total change of topic. When is it going to rain peeps? I mean proper rain? Not this ‘light showers’ shit? I’m missing the wealth of different sorts of English rain. And if it rains on your barbecue, meat-munchers…good!

I know, I’m a horrid person. It’s well documented…Lotsa love, Zoe xxx

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Higher Power

Yesterday was a tough one. Having been low in energy and mood I went into a proper tailspin with depression.

Desperate for a bit of  help I texted a few friends and R. Naturally I suppose, R was the one I looked to for the most support. But instead I got the usual ‘you’re angry, stop taking it out on me’, inflammatory remarks. I responded with ‘I’m depressed, will you kindly stop telling me what I’m feeling? Concentrate on what you yourself are feeling, because half the time you don’t seem to know.’

I started several texts and then didn’t send them. I realised I now couldn’t openly voice my feelings to R, out of fear of his response. Having been ‘told’ for several months now by several people that I’m some kind of angry, aggressive and abusive monster my ‘demonisation’ radar is as sharp and sensitive as a razor.

Forget about the months. What about the years of stigmatisation as a lunatic? My human feelings pathologised? Being considered ‘beyond the pale’? Written off…dismissed…discarded…condemned to a marginal life?

Anyone who has been in the mental health system for a long time will know what I’m talking about. And here I am, in a situation where the two closest and most trusted people in my life turn around and appear to demonise me too.

And then I realised that in actual fact all that ex-friend A and the Equals Training experience had really done was highlight the dynamic between me and R, which had been going on for years.

It was a transaction, a trade-off. By my agreeing to be the ‘demon’, he got to be the ‘saint’.

Then with all the pressure of the Equals situation the worm decided to turn. I fought back against the demonisation and dehumanisation. I identified it as bullying and scapegoating, with a shedload of psychological projection from others.

I went through the proverbial wringer over this. But my Higher Power gave me the strength to stand up to the bullying. As if my life depended on it, I analysed the situation from my point of view and insisted on my right to have an opinion of my own.

I some ways my life DID depend on it.

As a result of this experience I felt myself put on a massive growth spurt. My perception of this so-called mental illness changed. I stopped pathologising myself. I recognised the potential of my condition to bring about great insight, vision and creativity.

What I said in the Equals Training course was essentially this. I believe that the experience of being at rock bottom in life is a strength and not a weakness. Far from a disability it can impart great ability.

I honestly and truly do not aspire to be ‘normal’. I do not look to the run of human beings with ‘normal’ lives…jobs, mortgages, children etc, as role models.

I look to myself. I have self-belief. I trust my own judgment, and I trust in the amazing experiences I have had in the course of my ‘illness’.

All illness, according to Caroline Myss and many other healers, teachers and writers on spirituality, is an opportunity for healing the human psyche and attaining spiritual growth.

A political element also enters in when you are dealing with mental illness, because we face additional stigmatisation and demonisation by society as a whole. The effects of this are probably more painful and worse for our overall health, than the ‘illness’ itself.

It’s not for me to know all the reasons why my views did not go down well with the Equals team. Though my guess would be this. They are telling us to aspire to something that I could never in a million years aspire to. Normality.

I am resonating to the sound of Scott Peck’s ‘different drum’ and travelling down his ‘road less travelled’.

I see my life as a spiritual journey. I have been offered the privilege of not having to live a normal ‘householder’s’ life, as the Hindus would put it. I have not had to bring up children, work in order to keep a roof over my head, worry about where the next meal is coming from. Those circumstances have come about for a reason. This is the life I chose.

What I haven’t been able to choose, is to accept the presence of a Higher Power in my life. He/She/It is there whether I like it or not.

And to return to the much-vexed subject of ‘demons’ (interesting that I mention them in the tagline to this blog!) I am putting my size eight foot down now, and refusing to tolerate any more demonisation, either by others or by myself.

I am claiming humanity. And that has naturally resulted in a change in the dynamic between me and R.

Yesterday I had to face the prospect of a split from R. In fact I’ve been looking at this prospect pretty much daily since the whole Equals saga, which, as I say, simply highlighted the roles we played in our relationship.

The insecurity has been excruciating. Of course most people fear just this kind of insight, growth and change! That is only human. We are an animal species, as well as having divine potential. We cling to our familiar human comforts. Central among these are our fellow human beings, our family and close friends.

But the thought of losing R was unbearable. Then I realised that there were three in this relationship, like Diana’s ‘crowded marriage’.

Me, R and the Higher Power.

I prayed for strength to release him if this was what I must do.

I did not want to face the rest of my life without an intimate relationship, and for some reason, R was and is my choice for that intimate relationship. I have had many other offers and opportunities, but I always come back to wanting R.

I saw R yesterday. We sat on a park bench together near his home. I prayed out loud, holding his hand. Prayed for the guidance to both of us to do the right thing and for us to have the strength to do the divine will…whatever that was.

The spiritual life is very hard. But once you have embarked on it there is no turning back, because the joys and glimpses of another world that it affords you become almost like an addiction that you can never put down.

You are in this together. Not you and your human partner. He or she will always be peripheral to some extent, however much loved. No. You and your Higher Power.

Just as I thought…

Have now met with my Mum’s friend C and the young Afghan. He is a lovely and quite impressive young man with about a ton more drive, ambition and general sorted-ness about him than I had at the same age.

I’d made a shedload of assumptions about him that were not borne out in reality. I just didn’t get ‘desperation’. What he has going in his favour is also that irrepressible youthful energy, dynamism and can-do optimism.

No doubt there is plenty vulnerability there. He wouldn’t be human otherwise, given what he’s been through. But he keeps it well hidden and seems to be coping well. He also knows what he wants to do! Menswear design. He’s quite focussed. They’ve gone off now to look at a few other possible places to live.

My Care Coordinator helped us out by giving us a ‘predestination form’ or some such. This is where the Housing Benefit will tell you how much they can pay,  so that you can then approach letting agencies etc.

I was very grateful for his help and so, I’m sure, were they.

After they all left I had a major feeling of anticlimax. It just wasn’t at all as I’d expected. Also considerable relief, because at the rate he’s going I very much doubt he will be with me for very long, indeed, if at all. He’s very driven and ambitious, and quite determined.

Another tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. And also very humbling.

Love x

Fear

I’ve been a little ‘down’ of late. No more benzos needed to sleep. No more racing mind. I’m aware of fear of the unknown trying to dominate my thinking patterns. I’m scared of this new ‘test’. I’m meeting the young refugee today who will be staying with me until he can get sorted with housing, benefits, occupation etc.

Probably I’m rushing into a sense of ‘total responsibility’. This is as illusory as the complete opposite. I’m basically going into a neurosis about it. Everything stands and falls on whether I can hack it. A young vulnerable person is depending completely on me.

I’m being silly. I think meeting him and my Mum’s friend C today (they are coming to my house) will probably kick my monkey mind into touch with the reality of the situation.

What hasn’t helped is an attack of fatigue, which is something I suffer from periodically. Thank God it never lasts too long…maybe a week or two tops usually.

Nothing looks that bright from ‘comatose on bed’ position. It’s hard to envisage having the emotional energy to cope with someone else’s issues. I’m also pretty scared about having someone living with me in my house.

Well there, I’ve ‘confessed’. Like everything else, it will pass.

At any rate, I got the housework done. I’m not being perfectionist about it. It only took a few hours but the sweat was pouring from my brow, what with the hoover belching out heat and the humid weather.

I’m going to see my son on Saturday. Tomorrow he goes to stay with my Mum in Kent, and on Saturday I go down to join them, and then bring him back to London. On Sunday his foster mum will pick him up and take him back.

I’m hoping he’ll agree to come with me and R to the HUN Family and Friends Picnic at Ally Pally. At least for a bit.

I’m reading ‘Anatomy of the Spirit’ by Caroline Myss. She’s an intuitive healer. Lotsa stuff ’bout chakras. I recommend her.

Quivering in my boots folks. Remembering what fear is. Next time I observe it in others I will be more humble and less judgmental.

Love, Zoe xxx

Housework Day

Today’s the day, folks. After weeks of procrastination the moment of truth arrives when I have to get the Hoover out, empty it, and set to with it. Have bought a new mop to replace the one that gave up the ghost. Housework blitz time.

Some good news and some not so good, this morning. After a few days of slight fear and trembling over the prospect of having a young man stay in my house with me, I received an email saying that he will just come for two hours to meet me tomorrow, in the first instance.

He didn’t want to arrive to a stranger with a suitcase. Totally understandable. Much better this way and I am grateful for it as I have been feeling so tired and quite daunted by what I’ve taken on.

I’ve also put a limited time frame on how long he will be staying with me. We will make it a priority to find him a place of this own. I simply cannot contemplate the idea of sharing my house long term. My need for quiet and privacy is huge.

Because he is a vulnerable young man with complex needs, I want to go on helping him for as long as he needs and continue to be a friend he can turn to for assistance. That will be way easier for me once he is settled in his own place.

And now the not-so-good news. Haringey User Network is being decommissioned. This does not come as a total shock in the current climate. A friend even said as much to me, whether on hunch or information I don’t know, some weeks ago.

Fellow service users. We do not need to depend on commissioners in order to build a solid network and be a force for change in our Borough. As I am always saying, the quality of our links and personal bonds with one another is way more important. I have not been impressed by the kind of people who think you need money for everything (that’s well documented!)

What you need is passion, creativity, friendship and the ability to follow through.

This is not the end of Haringey User Network. We may end up with a different name, but there are more than enough talented, creative people in this Borough to build our own organisation which won’t be so easily sidelined, patronised and generally belittled by those in ‘power’.

Real power comes from within folks.

Wish me luck with the housework! My refugee friend is coming with my Mum’s friend C tomorrow. I have to impress both of them that this is at least a place fit to live in!

Lots of love, Zoe xxx

The Shady Influence of Hip Hop

I wonder what y’all thought when I announced a couple of posts ago that I believe I am ‘way more intelligent than most people’?

I acknowledged in a comment in response to CBTish that, particularly in traditional British culture, this is simply not done. We are all programmed to seek approval by putting ourselves down, self-deprecating, even if we have to fake it (false modesty). In addition Britain is an anti-intellectual culture. We don’t like clever-clogs.

Today, as I was listening to Eminem’s ‘Recovery’, an almost religious ritual at the moment as I take my morning bath, it occurred to me that hip hop is pretty much all about bragging, one-upping, competing, dissing others and so on.

Aha, I thought to myself. This, way more than all the ripe language and political incorrectness it contains, could be what marks hop hop as a truly counter-culture, in fact deeply subversive form. Well, at least in the UK!

What, my gentle reader asks, could be the spiritual or political value of the ‘lyrical diss’ and the ‘art of brag’?

Not an easy problem to pick apart. But I will give you my take on it anyway.

Discernment comes into it. The use of the critical faculty to say, well ‘this is wack’ (crap), ‘this is dope’ (good). And then to elucidate somewhat in your rap lyrics as to why said hip hop tune or rapper is ‘wack’ or ‘dope’. And to demonstrate in said rap lyrics your own superiority.

Aggression is closely linked to creativity. You don’t get to be a major artist (whether commercially successful or not) of any sort, in any medium, without a very healthy dose of self-belief. Said self-belief often has to fly in the face of certain cultural taboos, such as the British one on ‘blowing your own trumpet’.

Truly great and innovative artists have learned not to be ‘people pleasers’. Their creative vision impels them onward, not primarily the approval of critics or fans.

Said creative vision doesn’t come from other people, but from the inner voice, the creative Muse or even what some term the ‘higher power’, or God.

Why do I love hip hop, even though I know better than to ever attempt to rap myself, as I have no talent for it?

It’s an outlet for my own rage at the world. It affirms my own emotions, not just aggression, but the whole range. Sadness, grief, loneliness, anger, passion, lust etc. It’s deeply energising and at the same time grounding as I stagger out of my house of a morning, often physically and mentally tired, struggling with an almost permanent sense of dislocation and even unreality, to listen to an inspired hip hop track.

Sometimes what I need is encouragement to keep battling on. Hip hop is all about battling. Traditionally you would quite literally have hip hop artists battling each other on stage, and the audience would largely decide who the winner was.

What makes hip hop such an intimate and deeply human, even transpersonal form, is that rappers spark off each other all the time. They constantly refer directly to other rappers in their lyrics, often to diss them, but also to show their appreciation of and debt to them. Most rappers will have a ‘list’ of some sort, of the hip hop artists whose shoulders they have stood on in building their own careers.

It’s a bit like a sibling rivalry. That’s how close and passionate it is. A hip hop artist or track can mean the world to the listener at a given time in their life. Young people (predominantly, I am hardly young!) worship their favourite rappers as demigods, and look to them as role models.

If I had to come back to this world (and I devoutly hope I won’t, I’m going full-tilt for full spiritual enlightenment this time around and not sure if I even believe in reincarnation in any case) I would come back as a superstar rapper.

Not because I particularly want to be a man! Certainly not because I want the ‘bling’ lifestyle and to be able to shag a shedload of women!

But because I believe it is very bliss itself to be able to ‘spit out a rhyme’ that will go out to millions of eager and attentive listeners and quite literally inspire them with the strength and courage they need to reach for the stars.

Hip hop is energy, hip hop is power. Hip hop is full of wisdom, hip hop connects you to a world wide family. Hip hop lets you know you are not alone, hip hop is ‘you and them against the world’. And best of all (if you’re me) hip hop at its best is deeply subversive, even revolutionary. It wants to turn the world upside down, and for the duration of the track you’re listening to, you can believe that it will happen, is even happening right now.

So next time you catch Zoe in the act of bragging (and then apologising for it) remember she may have no talent for rap whatsoever, but she’s hip hop to the core! Call it brainwashing if you like. My life is a battle, I have confidence and faith in my skills and my ability to win out, every single time.

Discernment. Passion. Honing a critical faculty. Deep spiritual wisdom. Energy. Power. Knowing you are never really alone. Inspiration. A healthy outlet for your natural human anger, aggression, even rage.

Just a few of the reasons you should give hip hop a listen if you don’t already. And if you have been ‘mentally interesting’ in your life (to quote Seaneen), all the more reason.

You’d better believe it that young people are growing up being thoroughly indoctrinated by hip hop culture in a way that would probably horrify their parents. To these young people, hip hop is better than God. It is God in Man (or Woman). The world is changing folks. And you’d better believe it.

Lots of love and happy listening! Zoe xxx

Ooer blimey gosh golly…

My mum texted me this morning saying she had ‘an important proposition’ to make! I thought this unusual and interesting. So I called her straight back.

My God folks. I may be taking into my home a young gay Afghan refugee. He is a protege of a good friend of hers who has been looking after him for years while he did an art degree in Rochester. He desperately needs a place to stay in London so he can look for work, and a bit of help and guidance as his written English is not good and he’ll need to be shown the ropes and introduced to people.

I found myself waxing enthusiastic about the idea, even while at the back of my head I was going ‘bloody hell my life will never be the same again!’ But it won’t anyway, so y’know, what do I have to lose?

I’ve got a lovely spare room, only small but all kitted out for a young person, as I had my son in mind when I got the wardrobe and put in a desk.

But, uh, wh wh wh what am I DOING!

It’s not all finalised yet as I have to speak to my Mum’s friend. She probably wants to check me out as much as anything, She doesn’t want her young protege to stay with a mad old bint who’ll mess with his head.

I told my Mum ‘I need a project!’ though, and it’s true enough. I also need someone to look after, a young vulnerable gay man sounds perfect.

But this means that all this talk about being ‘recovered’ or at the very least ‘recovering’ from my mental illness had better not be a load of old toss, because I’m about to take my first test of sanity. Can I share my house with someone who needs my help?

I believe I can. Let’s hope I’m not grandiose and deluded, for the poor boy’s sake.

Lots love and trepidation as I wait to be ‘interviewed’ for the job by my Mum’s friend. Zoe xxx