For some time now, the NHS has been rolling out the Personalised Mental Health Care Programme. Since hearing about it a few months ago, I haven't been given a clear idea of what it's about. But I do know that it enables Mental Health System Users to access funding for education and training opportunities if a professional agrees that there is benefit for your mental health.
So far, I'm really happy with this as I've been able to enrol on a one-day-a-week course with the Prince's Drawing School. I'm really enjoying the course and would strongly urge any disabled artists currently using the mental health system to look into the possibilities of this programme. Don't be put off by the vagueness you may come across from professionals. It's quite a new programme, so insist that they find out about it if they don't seem quite sure.
Find out more at www.rethink.org.
Another brilliant service I have been using since leaving the Recovery Centre earlier this year is Employment Support at St James House in Camden. This programme gives you good professional support in finding sustainable employment opportunities if, like me, you've been closed for repair for a while. Well worth checking out, if you live in Camden, and also having a look for local programmes if you don't.
I have really enjoyed the past few weeks blogging on DAO. One of the pleasures has been sharing this space with the sparkling insights of Caroline Cardus, Sophie Partridge, Rockinpaddy (move over Jojolito), Dolly Sen, Vince Laws et al. And the polemical cartooning of Dave Lupton aka Crippen. Or is that the other way around?
Dave's work reminds me of the intensely political cartoons of Naji Al-Ali. Although he was mysteriously assassinated in London in 1987 at the age of 50,
Al-Ali's work is constantly reproduced by many struggling to bring justice to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Handala - the strange man child who haunts his work - has become a symbol of exile, exclusion and injustice known all over the world, rattling not only the cages of Israeli and US regimes but also the corrupt governments who have colluded in the continuing oppression.
I believe his work is massively relevant to all those fighting for fairness and equality for disabled people. I think particularly of those of us whose exclusion from society is exacerbated by the vagaries of the mental health system.
You will see from an earlier blog post, that my own current relationship with that system is exceptionally positive. Past experience - including coercion to undergo electro-convulsive therapy (at the hands of a bullying psychiatrist who went on to become a successful conservative politician) - has been nothing short of a nightmare. And I am trying not to let my good relationship, with the mental health professionals with whom I am now in contact, ever allow me to forget the shameful abuse of neuroleptic drugs perpetrated by other parts of the same system.
I would like to extend my undying disgust for the shark-fanged shrinks (alongside all paedophile priests) to the thieving-magpie therapists. And all the bloody lot of you who earn a fecking fortune (£40 an hour and more) from preying on our insecurities and imposing your narrow bandwidth view of normality upon us. Not to mention creating a self-serving addiction to therapy to add injury to injury.
There are, of course, glowing exceptions out there as well. You know who you are. Or think you do. Analyse that shrinkos! Analyse my crippled Irish ass!
For those of you interested in Naji Al-Ali, I would recommend the excellent website www.handala.org.
In the last post, I mentioned the power of music in lifting the vibe and helping you get through when it's difficult to do anything much at all.
Listening to music seems key to what unlocked a lifetime's reticence when it came to making art. But the door had many locks and needed other keys as well: dance and movement.
At the Jules Thorn Recovery Centre, mentioned in my first post of this blog, there was a wonderful session devoted to moving mindfully to music. Some of my mates sniggered when I told them about these sessions. Probably because not having a very elegant body, I would never be associated with a love of dancing. Bollocks.
The two wonderful facilitators of this session, had us listening to some great music - sometimes slow and calming other times funky beats what would make anyone get their ass on the dancefloor - and moving in ways that were right for each of us and our different physicalities. It was the opposite of having to conform to some dance class rules of what was right. In the end, I now spend as much time as I need moving to music. It's another one of those things which seems so simple, yet can be a powerful antidote to the darkest blues.
My experience at Jules Thorn, has made me want to look into a dance and movement practice devised by Gabrielle Roth, called the 5 Ryhthms. I haven't done so yet. But here's a couple of interesting websites for anyone interested.
I mentioned the other day that my recent recovery from a year-long period of severe depression was helped by making art. This is still working for me. And many friends and colleagues are remarking that I seem better in myself than they have found in a long time.
I'm feeling so well at the moment that I have decided to slowly, over the coming months, reduce my intake of anti-psychotic drugs (currently Quetiapine) to zero. In the past, I have done this myself. And, sometimes, too abruptly. Things have gone so well this year that I'm not risking it and have asked for support from my medical/ mental health team. This has been accepted.
I fully believe that anti-psychotic medication can be helpful in getting through a crisis. But my own experience reinforced by reading The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment by Joanna Moncrief has convinced me that these drugs are not desirable in the long term.
More of this soon. But, for the meantime, I can't say it loudly enough how important it is when healing to keep the vibe up and do all you can to feel good in yourself. It sounds like a rather bland self-evident thing to say. But it is something so easily forgotten when you're not well.
On this theme, I thought it would be cool to share some of my favourite music with you. Here is my current 'top five'. This probably changes on a weekly basis. But these are some of the sounds that work for me when I can hardly get my arse off the floor. I'd be delighted if you posted-in your own 'top fives'. It seems like a good thing to share around.
Queen Latifah 'Just Another Day'
Long before the bling and Hollywood called, Queen Latifah was a great rap artistist.
Handel's 'Lascia ch'io pianga'
(Let me weep) sung by Philippe Jaroussky. I reckon many a hypogonad may be endowed with a colatura-type voice. Philippe Jaroussky - not a hypognad - has such a range and also the virtuosity to use it.
Mary J Blige singing on George Michael's 'As'
Like many Irish folk of my generation I have deep devotion for Mary. Mary J that is.
Amadou and Maryam 'Je pense a toi' (I think of you)
I LOVE music from Mali in general. From Amadou and Maryam to the late Ali Farka Toure to the magnificent Oumou Sangare, I find so much of this music, moving, uplifting and, above all, healing.
Jacques Brel 'Amsterdam'
For those days when you feel totally fucked up, it's good to listen to someone who's definitely been there. It's a shame that Brel's songs suffered such unspeakably insipid English interpretations.
The writer and performer, Julie McNamara, once advised me to 'never let the truth get in the way of a good story'. Maybe it is ironic that, with her recent humdinger of a play Crossings, Julie went on to spin a heady weave of stories fearlessly uncovering terrifying truths about the history of the world. As John Keats put it :
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' 
Wow! He wrote that to a grecian urn! Do you reckon he was bipolar? Good job the anti-psychotic pushers weren't around at the time to clip his wings isn't it?
Anyway, I have to confess to following the above advice yesterday when announcing my immediate flouncing out of Facebook. I have not done so. But this is only because I realised that in the 6 to 8 weeks i've been using the service, there's a horde of new friends, refound and rekindled old friends, not to mention dating opportunities ... that you just can't turn your back on. Can you? So I'm staying for a while to make sure I have the necessary contact details to keep in touch with this lot in my imminent exile from social networking.
Again, I don't know whet it is about all these wonderful high technology tools which are supposed to be revolutionising our lives. It just seems that there have never been such sophisticated and user-friendly communication possibilities at out disposal. And yot we seem to be living in a world where communication is disintegrating at the same pace as the ozone layer. Is it possible that one of the reasons for this is the unprecedented amounts of time that more and more people (bearing in mind that a huge amount of people have no access to such luxuries) are spending, drifting down the hallucinatory corridors of lalaland? We are drowning in a slimy sea of moronic entertainment. I think i'd prefer Quetiapine. Just joking - as anything is better than that. Unless its used to help get us through a crisis.
 Ode to a Grecian Urn
This could actually be called Joe Blogs. But the joke would run thin very quickly and must have been used many times before. That's me alright. Always joking. Partly because all my life I've had an impairment which falls into the tabernacle of taboo.
Well nowadays is there really such a thing? But if that is now, well way back then having a condition - acute hypogonadism - which meant that you hit the andropause before yer mates had even entered puberty was definitely taboo.
Drawing a discrete veil over the details, suffice it to say that this both massively fucked up my sex life and continues to present obstacles when accessing the built environment when needing to pass water. But the worse bit was you just could not talk about it.
Luckily for me I had a robust sense of humour that has more or less got me through up until now. And also some wonderful friends and creative lovers. But, every so often, Hilda Humour decides to up stumps and head for the hills. Bitch!
These are the times I hit a wall and, in the arms of the ever-caring NHS, am told that I am bipolar - some have even hinted at schizophrenia - and that a healthy whack of anti-psychotic drugs is all I need to be normal. This is on the basis, that when they see me well, I usually have quite high energy levels and when they see me unwell, I can barely move other than to share what they consider to be pretty dark delusions.
I sometimes ask them how they would be themselves, if they, all-of-a-sudden, acquired the above-mentioned physical challenges and suggest that, after a spell in A&E they would probably need a lifetime of post-traumatic shock therapy.
I feel blessed to have discovered Disability Arts (while acknowledging the ambiguity of that working title). Colin Hambrook was the first person I could ever talk to about my difference. This was because I found in his own work, and that of the artists who he has so stridently supported for countless yonks, a language which, for the first time, I could use to express the nature of being excluded from the mainstream of society.
It took me years to understand some of the concepts (social model etc). Nancy Willis, Colin, Tanya Raabe, and more recently, Rachel Gadsden are some of artists whose work explores themes that have really helped me make it through.
I wouldn't call myself an artist, but for the last six months and for the very first time, I can't stop making art. Mostly painting but some work with clay and other media as well. I have never felt better in my life. I know some of you are going to groan 'oh art therapy!' Well fuck off groaners. I'd like to use this blog to share my healing journey with you. So I hope you'll let me know what you think and that we can compare our different experiences.