I am not sure I should go to conferences. There is a lot of talking and exchanging of stories. At this conference I was happy to learn new things. I don’t know much about mental health and I am of the view that the only way to protect yourself from what you know is to learn more.
This time I thought I would give myself a break though and I actively avoided the professionals. I was getting tired of stories of their violence, which they seemed so immune to and avoidant of acknowledging.
I chatted to an interesting researcher and had a biscuit. Then I got chatting to someone who was interested in a ‘Mad Studies’ course. We talked about the time she had spent in hospital. The psychiatrist had wanted her to take medication and she did not want to take it. The staff had all come into her room to talk about it. She had explained that it didn’t suit her and why it didn’t help. She had tried to say what she wanted instead. The psychiatrist had said, ‘Well we will give it to you, but we will record that you didn’t agree.’ She had taken the pills. I had nothing to say. I understand coerced compliance can be better than being forced. Some control is better than submission.
As she lifted her drink, she spilt her tea because her hand had a tremor. That can be one of the effects of the medication when it damages the central nervous system.
I thought about the fact that she was not being violent, that she could explain what she wanted and what she didn’t want and why. I wondered what ideology could be so strong that under those circumstances violence can be justified in the mind of someone who claims to be a helper, so they can get their own way. I wondered why being with someone and working with their body’s energy rather than shutting it down forceably was so hard. As the drugs can cause serious harm, it seems only right for staff to find another way. I can only imagine that that way would demand that the staff stay in touch with difficult feelings. Perhaps they would really have to consider that our cultural views of the self and the world are too limited and to learn how to maintain multiple parallel views of reality. Staff might have to make sense of states that seem too hard to understand which perhaps seem to them to involve the loss of self, or of self-in-this-world. Maybe they experience that as the ultimate death. I guess that may strain too many people’s views of what the word ‘tolerance’ might mean.
She said, ‘I wanted to stop them, but I don’t hit people, so, I spat at them as they made me take it.’
To acknowledge this I said, ‘We don’t fight fascists because we are going to win, we fight fascists because they are fascists.’ The quote, from a source I couldn’t remember, seemed to fit. In my view, resistance is never futile. It helps us make our soul. It just might not stop powerful people from doing what they have decided to do.
Later I have a conversation with someone who when distressed struggled to access the things that were on offer by professionals, and she felt in her case staff making her take medication saved her life. I feel troubled about the balance of harms between people who are harmed by others using force and people who feel are harmed when they don’t. There must be better ways to make these decisions. I wonder with either of these people, whether anyone on the staff had made a relationship where they found out about the meanings of the un-understandable states the person was experiencing and who they claimed to be helping. Perhaps if we thought more like that it might help society to decide more clearly where we put limits on the behaviour of staff members.
I muse on what ‘It hurts me as much as it hurts you’ means, as I think about the gin bottle that the mental health nurse had brought to my party and which she had emptied by the end of the evening. It seems to me that it makes no sense to keep on doing things that hurt everyone. But then again I guess it makes no sense to staff to be in touch with things they find hard to understand and feelings they cannot bear. Yet, we need a social response and the only way I can see out of the dilemmas raised by these situations is to find a way to to be in touch with the person who is distressed or in an altered state. To do this we may need to support each other to bear things that our society feels cannot be bourne. How can we all -carers, people in distress, staff, wider communities- together, learn how to bear it?