In a wonderful recent piece, a response to our collective lack of compassion in the face of the migrant crisis, author and activist Owen Jones wrote: “Almost all human beings have the capacity for empathy. Everyone has the potential to be at least troubled, or feel genuine anguish, about the suffering of other human beings.”
Archive for month: October, 2016
“Were you abused? Do you think you might be gay? Or perhaps there’s someone in the family with anorexia?”
Such are the types of questions I’ve been asked by probing psychiatrists fishing for an explanation of my mental illness. Some of these questions may well be involved in my coming to rely on a severe eating disorder, but I’ve long been frustrated by the quest for explanation – a sole cause or triggering factor.
It all starts with love.
It took every ounce of self loathing, punishment, starvation, self harm and self directed mental abuse to keep me in hospital for two years, knocking on death’s door.
I fully believed that being emaciated was the biggest achievement of my life. And if I died of starvation then I had succeeded … I held onto this dream for many years even with the imminent threat of death, the loss of an international sports career and a modelling contract
Of course I was miserable.
I used to wonder why all my close friends were mentally ill, addicted to something or both. Why did I attract them? Was I co-dependent? Possibly. Did I have such a low self esteem that I didn’t think myself capable or deserving of having regular, healthy friends? Could be. Was it because I found them to be more creative, open-minded and interesting? Possibly, though plenty of mentally well people also have these characteristics.
That was it – the final straw! I had to do something or risk getting a ‘diagnosis’ myself.
I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but I know that there had been an accumulation of stuff. Just one thing after the other; seemingly relentless.
It was February 2016, the UK EU referendum debate was beginning to warm up and my tolerance for absorbing toxic tweets and frustrating Facebook posts was dwindling fast. Not long before this Stephen Fry’s documentary ‘An exploration of manic depression’ had been aired and Ruby Wax was on a riotous roll, touring with her new book and generally shouting about ‘broken brains’ at every available opportunity.
The narrative of diagnosis and disorder was all over the place. It had somehow, when we were not looking, managed to sneak quietly into our profession.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Over ten years later I published a book called Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, written under the pseudonym Q.S.Lam, which deals specifically with postpartum psychosis.
I find the term mental illness very stigmatising. What does it actually mean? I see myself as high functioning, creative and productive, even though I am often battling with complex symptoms. Faking being normal is very exhausting for my brain. It would be much easier if I could simply tell people openly about my condition.
What happened when compassion replaced clinical objectivity, and creativity replaced compliance.
One morning in 2009 I was sitting in the psych ward, working on a plan to kill myself. I was made an involuntary psychiatric patient following a rather extreme type of self-harm, even for me. My home had been rushed by police, ambulance officers and a psychiatric crisis assessment team, and I’d been carted off to the ED, and then the psych ward. I was being plagued by the voice in my head, who I called ‘The Judge’. I thought there was a beast who lived inside me, I thought I was evil and I thought that I had to be destroyed. I felt trapped in an inescapable and tormenting madness.
Today is Katie Mottram’s birthday, and it’s also the launch of her #emergingproud, coming out of the spiritual closet campaign. “Coming Out” is normally understood as a rite of passage for people from the LGBT+ community, to transform stigma and shame into pride and celebration. Katie hopes her campaign will do the same for people who have experienced mental health crises, encouraging them to speak out about spiritual experiences as a way to combat stigma. Katie’s campaign aims to help build a bridge between psychiatry and spirituality, to normalise rather than pathologise unusual experiences.