Exorcise the word,
The page -
a terror so beautiful,
Your fear's sweet dream
And your pain's only way home.
Today I will be part of an event at the Dragon Cafe exploring archives and heritage around mental health. This stems from my involvement with the Mental Health Recovery Archive developed at the Wellcome Trust. I am putting my story in the archive to counteract and challenge the fact in most health archives, including the current Wellcome one, the voice of lived experience takes up less than 10% of mental health archives. It has been a challenge, because I want my story to be both honest and hopeful. I haven't pulled back from criticism of the mental health system but I am also sharing what has helped me in my life.
One of the sticking points is the word 'recovery' itself, so I wrote something for the archive about it. Here is the first draft:
The problem with the Recovery Model is that it is a medical concept and term, and is expected to sit safely and warmly in the medical world. The recovery model says you need to look beyond the symptoms and see the person. But the whole relationship between service user and professional is regulated by the symptoms, depending if your symptoms go up or down, decides what treatment you get, if any at all.
It is also assumes that there is an illness to recover from. It minimises the fact that mental and emotional pain can sometimes be a very human and very appropriate response to trauma, and for it to be pathologised and turned into a sickness insults and negates the person’s story. If that wasn’t enough, it then puts you in a system where your candle is blown out or taken away, and then you are asked ‘where is your light?’ You won’t find a better example for catch 22 than in psychiatry.
I came across the idea of recovery before I came across the model, and it didn’t need to fit the model because it was truly personal, it was deep, meaningful understanding that I had the power to change things for the better. I had hope before the recovery model, it can’t claim it as its own, it shouldn’t steal my thunder or my accomplishment; the system had nothing to do with it, and in fact has made my journey harder not easier.
There is a lot to say about the Recovery Model, as it misses the point in so many places. For example, work is seen as a goal in recovery, but the model does nothing to look at stigma and discrimination in the workplace, or trying to change that. Is the world or workplace going to welcome with open arms someone who says: hello, my name is Dolly and I have got schizophrenia? The fear around mental health is still there, and the recovery model has done near to nothing to tackle that. The problem with the recovery model is that it puts all the responsibility on the service user and none onto society. YOU can change your life, but can you change how people respond to you?
Is recovery about being well enough to be thrown into the world of sharks? I can see how some people don’t want to ‘recover’ because they are suspicious of rejoining the world that hurt them or made them have a breakdown in the first place. Where is the recovery model for the society of sharks? Or is the aim of recovery to turn you into a part of a judgmental, venal cruel society that hurts you and so many others?
So is recovery the right word? Depends if it has power and meaning for you. It doesn’t for me, finding the dollyness of dolly is not a medical phenomena, it is an emotional and spiritual one, it is a human one, and humans were discovering and healing themselves long before psychiatry came along.
I have just come out of the Impact Arts Fair with a nice number of sales and a feeling of inspired invigoration. Now onto my next project, which is part of Short Circuit, a place where digital acumen and disability artistry collides, and will be platformed at the Brighton Digital Festival in September. I have been commissioned to give the internet a psychotic breakdown. I aim to create a website, with the help of Peter at Surface Impression and with sound provided by Jon Adams, that will go through several different states: such as ‘normal’, stressed and asking too many awkward questions; feeling isolated and paranoid; then the creeping up of psychosis; full-fledged psychosis; restrained and forcibly medicated; sectioned; rebellion; recovery; acceptance of difference; and peace of mind. It will be the psychotic stage that will be shown in Brighton as a prototype.
Although it will be as though the internet is experiencing psychosis, I am using my own experience to draw ideas from, including using the time I though I was Jesus. I am not knocking religion in this project but it is reflecting the psychotic experience of thinking you are someone else. Remembering that time is both painful and funny. For example, I did try to turn a bowlful of macroni cheese to feed the five thousand, and used a vacuum cleaner attachment as a biblical staff. I can't use that for this project, but I can create a webpage that thinks it is Jesus. I had my first meeting with Peter this week and something made the cutting room floor because of time and financial constraints, which is what would Jesus' Internet browser history would be. I am disappointed that it won't be in it, but here it is to consider.