Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Avoiding Snake Bites and Looking After our Own

The lovely dry weather that we have been enjoying lately reminded me of the times when I was young and living in Canada.  When the sun was at its' hottest my daft brother and I used to go hunting snakes, in order to get a bounty payment from the laboratory that used to 'milk' the rattlers of their venom.  At $2.50 per snake, we could make some serious cash for spending on day-to-day essentials such as popcorn, candy, root beer and going to the movies.  Of course, it's like the recipe for Rabbit stew says - "First catch a rabbit".  It's the same thing with snakes.  Finding them is the easy part, catching them is quite another feat, and avoiding getting bitten is an absolute imperative.  Let me assure you that a snake bite isn't any fun at all, and - if you're lucky enough to find help - you can benefit from the product of your labours by getting the antidote from the same laboratory, at $10 a shot, that is, which can oft times make it hard to end up with a profit.  So, why am I telling you this stupid anecdote, when we're supposed to all be involved in getting a better Mental Health service.

Apart from the fact that hunting snakes could make you subject to being 'sectioned' as someone who is 'not of sound mind', there is a lesson for all service users, hidden somewhere in this story.  That is - If you get bitten by a ruddy rattlesnake - avoid going anywhere near the sods again, unless they're in a Zoo behind 1/2" thick glass !
In our case, we have all been bitten by the venemous 'Nest of Vipers' that is the University Health Board, provoked by our totally insincere and dishonest government, aided and abetted by the totally dishonest community Health Council. That means that we should all see them for the deceivers they are and avoid them at all costs, in case we get bitten again !  If we get asked to attend meetings - go, by all means - but be sure to treat everything they tell us with a huge pinch of salt because, although the snake can shed its skin, there's still a damned venemous reptile underneath afterwards.  So, it would seem prudent to avoid close contact with the UHB whilst seeking help elsewhere.  But where ?

If we can't trust the statutory bodies, the next layer of 'help' lies with the non-statutory bodies.  These are usually privately run 'charities', established to provide support and help to the mentally ill by providing them with refuges - or drop-in centres, as they are known.  Most of us will have 'enjoyed' having to pay for cups of tea and for a mediocre lunch there, when we are at our lowest ebb, and feeling totally disillusioned with life altogether.  At these times of utter despair, I myself have gone crying through the doors of such places, hoping to find solace amongst fellow-sufferers.  I was welcomed as all service users are at these oasis, with a sympathetic smile and a cup of milky tea which cost me 20p. I was seated amongst fellow-sufferers, looking distraught and feeling like death.  Looking around me made me feel even worse, as everyone looked the same or worse. I was on the point of running into the street screaming when a lovely bountiful lady, named Vicky, asked me if I wanted a private chat 'upstairs', where I imagined lay the cattle prods and skull vices.

Vicky Edwards was a psychiatric nurse and had been a patient herself.  I felt more comfortable and opened my heart to her, tears pouring down my face but feeling all the while that - somehow - she understood and genuinely wanted to help me.  Eventually, I returned downstairs where lunch was being served by the volunteer cooks who were ill themselves.  This was when I realised that fellow sufferers offered the best possible form of help because they suffered too, just like me, and understood.  I had recently been a patient in Sully Hospital, where I received a mixture of institutional care and friendships that remain to this day.  I wasn't aware of any problems with this kind of inpatient care, but I didn't like the locked doors or the screaming of frightened and confused patients at night.  I learned quickly that these patients were quickly and firmly dealt with by nurses administering large doses of sedation - some by injections with the patient being pinned to the bed or the floor.  I became afraid to sleep and soon became more introverted, reluctant to speak out or doing anything more than stand silently in line waiting for my meal and, perhaps, a dessert.

The problem with my treatment was that not one of my doctors had ever experienced mental illness themselves, which made being taken into a private room for a 'chat' leaving me feeling more like an extraterrestial alien being questioned about his peculiar way of life.  I saw ( and still see ) myself as 'normal' - whatever that is - with no self-esteem or confidence.  I moved like a Zombie, completely under the control of the anti psychotic drugs and other strange tablets.  I didn't dare ask what they were, although I quickly became chemically castrated as well as having my identity, or any dignity, stripped from me.  Eventually, I was classified as non-acute, with reduced medication and more freedom to interact with the other patients.
It didn't take me long to get to know everyone in the ward - male and female - and having regular conversations with me, often telling me more than they told their psychiatrist.  They trusted me and I became their friend, and we all enjoyed a lovely Christmas together, even though we were without our families.

Two weeks later I was discharged, feeling very frightened and suddenly alone.  My family treated me with scorn, as though I had become ill in order to get sympathy.  "You're lucky you're not some peop le who are really ill...." and, "You need to pull yourself together and stop being so selfish...." and "Don't you DARE tell anyone else that you were in a psychiatric ward - people will think we're all 'loopy' like you....".  You have no idea how much I wanted to be back in hospital with my friends.  And so it went on, being stigmatised by my family and even my own GP, "Don't worry....." he told my then wife, "....those who threaten suicide never do it."

The stress of living was killing me and, two years later, I had to have a quadruple heart bypass, which provided me with the greatest revelation of my life.  Shortly afterwards I decided to dedicate what time I had left to helping others, particularly the mentally ill.  I became involved in the 'Save Sully Hospital' campaign, then began reading as much of the existing legislation governing the care of the mentally ill, experiencing my first crooked 'consultation'.  Service users were cheated and the hospital sold to crooks by other crooks in bureaucratic suits. This was the time I decided to fight this corrupt bureaucracy, regardless of the personal cost to me.

Anyway, to return to the snake-pit, I quickly realised that the best help available to service users was to be obtained from fellow sufferers, and to hell with the statutory bodies !!!! ( be continued )

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