A glass of wine at Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave in Brompton Cemetery, London. Photo taken with my trusty iPhone 5s, October 2018.
Enough of this lolling about, I need to organise my psychosis, shape up and get with the programme.
In March 2017 I experienced a six-week episode of improved motivation. For several years until then I had been subject to such a degree of Schizoaffective-induced lack of interest and anhedonia that I rarely left my flat. I’m frequently the same again now.
This window of desire and inclination coincided with me receiving therapy.
I am fortunate that I live in the South of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Regarding service provision, it is arguably the best place to be a mental patient in Britain. I have had extended periods of psychological intervention and haven’t just been fobbed-off with the usual short course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): 12 weeks, or ten weeks, or 6 weeks, or twenty minutes. Dr Jay Watts (Shrink at Large on Twitter) has written that GPs in East London are being trained to administer 10-minute slices of CBT. It’s so miraculous that just a short burst of it with a family doctor and you’ll be as ripe as ninepence. It can cure everything from the blues to boredom to baldness.
Understandably, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) are very keen on CBT. Mind doctors will be present wherever poor people gather – in health centres, in Greggs, down the bookies – ready to dispense work-related mercies and performance-enhancing kindness. Psychologists will be placed on every street corner as a precaution, available to spot any behaviour that can be used to diagnose a person as “fit-for-work”.
The video And This time It’s Personal, Psychocompulsion & Workfare looks at the use of the use of psychology in mandatory back-to-work schemes.
On the Psychotic & proud page, I refer to Therapy Types. I use this vague classification as I’m not clear what sort of therapy/counselling I received. I’m not convinced the therapists/counsellors were entirely sure what that they were administrating. It goes to the heart of the problem. How do you deal with someone who turns up one day engaged and reasonably articulate and the next day is all but mute and can’t make eye contact? Added to that is my need to cancel things at short notice because I believe people are trying to control my thoughts using a force called sonic or I’m going through a hefty session of visual hallucinations and don’t want to leave the house.
There seemed to be a constant ebb and flow of optimism as to what could be achieved, but in my most recent course of therapy, we settled on dealing with some of the most elemental problems resulting from my Schizoaffective-induced lack of get-up-and-go. I think the therapist started out with loftier ambitions but was a realist. I’m pointing this out as there are more militant Therapy Types out there who’ll want people in catatonic states to talk about their childhood, while others dismiss Anorexics who refuse to eat a burger and chips as being unwilling to engage with the process and beyond help.
We talked about me setting goals, a set of ambitions and daily destinations. I wondered if my having targets might be pitching it a bit high. We spoke about objectives and missions but settled on aspirations because for most of the time I can’t do more than just hope to achieve things. Even the most modest tasks can be distant dreams.
It took several weeks, but we managed to distil my bashful yearnings down to a prudent list.
Eight months later and I’ve edged slowly forward. It now contains broad areas combined with micromanagement.
I have some hours of the day allocated to “activity”. This includes the voluntary work I do, learning new things and creative endeavours such as writing this blog. There’s time set aside each day for reading and another block of time earmarked for art gallery visits.
The micromanagement would be better described as nano-management: I have reminders to record how much gas and electric I use each week, to check the carbon monoxide alarm and even to put a note next to the kettle on Thursday night to make sure I don’t forget to weigh myself on Friday mornings. I aspire to cut my toenails on Tuesday evenings.
My aspirations are in a Microsoft Word document called typicalweek.doc. I resave a copy of every Tuesday evening and plan my aspirations for the coming week, with my week beginning on Thursday as I get my Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) every other Thursday and that’s the day of the week that my care worker/cleaner comes.
You’ll be thinking this sounds amazing and that I must get so much done. That’s not how things pan out.
I have an idealised version of my life where I undertake a few light hours of activity in the morning – say, voluntary work – visit an art gallery in the afternoon, and come home and do some reading in the evening. In reality, I go for days or sometimes weeks at a time when if I manage to take my medication, brush my teeth and change my underpants I consider myself a high achiever.
No voluntary work gets done most weeks, and I had to publish the “Schizosomething is Unwell” post to explain the lack of updates on this site, and I have been nowhere near a gallery for more than a month now (the aim is to visit one three times a week).
The Sonic Phenomenon continues to dominate my life. For at least a third of the week, I struggle with the idea that people are trying to insert a force called sonic into my head and that they are trying to control my thoughts. This can often take up the whole of the week. At a low level, it can go on for weeks at a time. I have to consider myself lucky that overall I retain a fair degree of insight.
The Sonic Phenomenon is closely linked to motivation. You could set flat on fire, and I’d still lie in bed, and I procrastinate to an unfathomable degree. I thought I was becoming very ill again at the start of November 2017 as I kept saying to myself. “I’ll feed Schizo in ten minutes… I’ll feed Schizo in ten minutes”. Poor cat went unfed for a long time. Recovery in the bin on Twitter advised me to get an automatic cat feeder.
I don’t like leaving the flat during one of my hallucination jam sessions. It’s not that I find these frightening – I know that some people experience terrifying visual hallucinations – I just have a sense of wariness of being around people. They can tell that I’m not in the present and that I’m mentally otherwise engaged.
Then there is my anxiety.
I saw my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) a few weeks ago and told him I never experienced anxiety like this before, though I speculated that I may have been too busy being mental in other ways to notice. Now when I leave home, I experience soaring dread. I feel jumpy and hypervigilant and constantly look around. I think I attract attention to myself as a result. For several weeks I haven’t felt equal to running the gauntlet of the motley collection of misfits who guard our palaces of art, especially the oddballs at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A).
In the street, on the tube and walking around Tesco I am terrified to make eye contact. I momentarily caught someone’s gaze while sitting in the local Tesco cafe. I thought they gave me a sour look. It was only when I glanced back at them that I realised it was their countenance. They just had one of those faces. Often I don’t spot these things and instead return to my digs thinking the world hates me.
Talking aloud in public and at home continues to be a problem. Outdoors, naturally, this attracts attention.
The only good news in all this is that I am reading more. For the first time in my life, I have a reading list in preference to ambling along from one book to another. It’s full of things I think I should have read (mostly fiction). It’s in a Word document, and I would put it here to download, but I’m too embarrassed for it to be publically known that I have such huge gaps in my fancy book learning.
There is a long-term quest. Apart from the weekly prompting to check my carbon monoxide alarm, my aspirations are primarily geared towards acquiring the skills required for greater self-expression. The learning aspect of the activity I described above includes web design stuff, making videos/podcasts and general digital tomfoolery. It will allow me to develop more of a voice. I bought a copy of Grammar for Writers to help me on my journey.
If I ever become well enough to think about paid work, maybe I will be able to go back to web design. If I end up washing dishes, at least I’ll have some sort of intellectual outlet to stop me going even more mental than I am already.
“Schizosomething is Unwell” is a play on “Jeffery Bernard is Unwell” the statement which famously appeared when Jeffery Bernard was unable to produce his weekly column for The Spectator Magazine: unwell being a euphemism for worse the wear for drink, or downright drunk.
Bernard was a literary legend of London’s Soho who fraternized with the likes of Dylan Thomas, Nina Hamnett, Francis Bacon and other bohemians but was almost as well known for his feckless, chaotic lifestyle and inability to stay sober.
My lifestyle may be shambolic, but I am, however, sober. Haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since December 2016. I didn’t have a drink problem. I had a fat bastard problem. I needed to lose weight.
If you’re reading this, it means I have been unable to meet the demands of a “punishing” schedule producing 500-750 words a fortnight. I’m unwell with the Schizoaffective-induced lack of motivation I experience or one of the other symptoms that make my life such jolly japes.
There’s no need to send a get well soon email or leave a comment with a similar thought.
What am I doing? Probably lolling about half-heartedly listening to music or trying to read. I might still be up to playing with my accounts on Twitter or Instagram. At the very least I should be able to play with my cat, Schizo. If you’re reading this in Summer, I might be in St James’s Park.
This page will be posted whenever I don’t manage to write something new once a fortnight. Hopefully not very often. It will serve as a reminder for you to look at some previously published content – a shrewd editorial move – and I’m praying I’ll get it together enough to add some links to things elsewhere on the web to keep you entertained in my absence.
Obviously, you’ll wonder how I managed to produce this post. I worked on it for six months and just about had the wherewithal to (re)publish it now.
Psychotic & proud: If you fancy a longer read, try this page. It includes my symptoms, medication, relationship with The Staff, my brilliant career and adventures in homelessness.
Patti Smith: This interview was undertaken by New York Public Library (NYPL) in 2010. She talks about youth, friendships and the artists and authors who inspired her. She sounds like an awestruck teen. She turned 71 in December 2017.
BBC Radio 3: Composer of the Week. Yes, I know this classical music show has been around since the stone age, and the podcast has probably been running since Queen Victoria came to the throne, but what can I say, I’m a late-developer, and I’m only just now getting into podcasts. It started as I can barely bring myself to watch television anymore. How does anyone? There are an impressive array of podcasts on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4. Sadly, some can only be accessed in the UK.
The plan is to listen to Composer of the Week on Friday evening, and if I’m well enough, travel to Kensington Central Library on Saturday and collect some related CDs to listen to throughout the week. Only 40p each for poor old schizos and other disabled.
Madonna: Take a look at her Instagram account. No really. Now she’s not trying to look 25 all the time (she’s 59) her output is getting interesting again.
Alexa Chung: A young lovely I follow on Instagram (she’s 34, that’s not too bad for a 52-year-old to take an interest in and between 2002 and 2006 she lived with the photographer David Titlow who is twenty years her senior). I know there are gallons and gallons of stuff like this an Instagram, but I thought this was an exceptionally good example of the genre. Turn the volume up loud.
Should I have the misfortune to republish this post, I’ll do my best to add some fresh links.
The Coach & Horses (Established 1847), Greek Street, Soho. Photo taken with my iPhone, April 2006.
It was the famed drinking den of Jeffery Bernard, as well as being the regular hangout of the staff of Private Eye. It is still is a Soho institution.
When I slept on the streets I spent most of my days sitting on the pavement outside it. Some building site workers from Old Compton Street befriended me and used to buy me bacon rolls from a nearby cafe in the mornings and pints of Guinness from the Coach & Horses in the evenings.
For more on Jeffery Bernard see this excellent article in the Soho Journal (I discovered this publication while researching this blog post, it looks like a good read). There’s also the obligatory Wikipedia page on the man.
You can listen to Jeffery’s appearance on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4’s website and read his column in The Spectator from Christmas 1981 which pretty much sums it all up (you can sign-up for free and get access to several articles a week).
I thought there was a painting of Jeffery on the NPG site, but I can’t find it. However, I think it’s the same painting used on the cover of Just the One: The Wives and Times of Jeffrey Bernard 1932-1997. I’ve read this biography and agree with a reviewer who described it as spiteful. That said, overall it was a good read: you can get it from Amazon (but unfortunately not on Hive).
Finally, the column Jeffery Bernard is Unwell was adapted for the stage by the writer and journalist Kieth Waterhouse. It was originally staged in 1989 starring Peter O’Toole. There’s was a rapturous review in the Evening Standard for the 1999 revival.
Seeing people in Tesco the day after Boxing Day they looked more like they had escaped a hostage situation rather than come from a family gathering. I swear, sometimes being unsocial is the best option.
You won’t be surprised to know that I will be spending New Year’s Eve alone with my cat, Schizo.
In the past, I have done the party thing. For years I went to Trafalgar Square. It was tolerable until they banned alcohol, but it still had the air of contrived revelry, strained jollification, and an unrealistic expectation of having a good time. A lot of faces in the crowd looked glum, and it used to confirm my belief that I’m right to want to live my life on the fringe, in the margins and away from the fray.
Don’t get me started on fireworks.
Earlier this evening I saw Hong Kong welcome in the New Year with the wretched things. It will be the same all around the globe. Until I came to my senses, for a number years I went to the Thames to watch the display. Talk about tedious; my main memory is of being desperate for a pee. At least in Trafalgar Square you can have a wee in the fountains. It’s traditional.
So I’m my usual misanthropic, distrustful self. I don’t go out of my way to be like this; it’s my default setting.
Still, Happy New Year. I hope you have a good 2018. But don’t get your hopes up.
The next post will be called Aspirations. It will cover my plans to organise my psychosis, shape-up and get with the programme.
Why not follow me on Twitter to find out when this is published or subscribe to this blog by email (box to the left)?
I just assumed that all gallery websites would allow you to download images and then upload them to a website for non-commercial use. Not so! The National Gallery does. The Van Gogh Museum does. The Tate doesn’t and the National Portrait Gallery doesn’t. Something to do with who owns the rights. I’m sure there’s a very good technical explanation for this, but it seems like more wankery.
Maybe I’ll just go ahead and publish the images anyway and live like an outlaw.
Featured image: The Bedroom, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 The Van Gogh Museum
(Many images from The Van Gogh Museum can be downloaded for non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media).
The few people who regularly visit this site will see that there’s a whole new look. I’m revamping a charity’s website so I thought I’de give this blog a makeover.
I’m trying to attend gallery exhibitions and following social media arts-related stuff in the evenings. I’m also reading more. Vanity Fair at the moment.
In summary, expect pretentious lowlife wankery.
Featured image: The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’), Diego Velázquez, 1651, The National Gallery.
(Many images from the National Gallery can be downloaded for non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media).