Forty Miles of Bad Road.

Quite recently, me and a friend from the Pathways Group were invited to an informal lunch at the Bennett Centre, our local mental health resource unit. We were invited in order to give a service user perspective on our local mental health services. Amongst the members of staff who attended, there were also two representatives from the West Midlands Quality Review Service.
At the meeting, the provision of "crisis" care was discussed and, upon my friend saying that I had something of a story to tell, I was invited to say what had happened in terms of my own care.
Unfortunately, I was unable to give a glowing review of my local mental health services. I say unfortunately, because now, having made such a good recovery, I get on well with many members of staff and have a new-found understanding and respect for what they do. It is indeed unfortunate, then, that, in the past, I was on the receiving end of what my then psychiatrist even called, "bad practice".
I am hence in something of a precarious position, finding myself wanting to support my local mental health team in their efforts, particularly in the light of the current economic situation, but finding that often, because I feel I was somewhat let down by them in the past, that I am unable to fully endorse their methods. Indeed, many of the earlier posts on this blog I think reflect some of my previous indignation at my treatment and my consequent questioning of the whole nature of psychiatric services.
The meeting which we attended, then, turned out to be a case in point, and while I did not give all the details of my own experience, it was enough to make one of the representatives from the Review Service say that it was "a great story", but one which, possibly, should be used as a cautionary tale, in order to prevent such things happening to any one else.
I have written before of what happened to me in these pages (see my blog, "This Time, it's Personal", 2008), so I will not go into the full details here. Suffice it to say, that you could sum up my past experience of mental health services with the title of the old Duane Eddy song, "Forty Miles of Bad Road". Indeed, as I reflected upon these past happenings the other day, I remembered that, at the time, they sort of shook my very idea of right and wrong; of personal morality. I could not quite believe that, at some points, it was myself who seemed to be being held entirely responsible for the situation I was in. OK, I abused alcohol, but I also had a pretty serious underlying mental health problem, which mental health services seemed, at a certain time, to singularly fail to deal with. Indeed, I was told at one point by my psychiatrist that some members of staff had remarked that I was "not their problem", or that it was "not their job" to deal with me, seeing me, as they did then, as just a drunkard.
I can say that this attitude still perplexes me to this day, and I have also spoken about the problems of so-called "dual diagnosis" before. Even one of the representatives from the Review Service remarked that to give up drinking often requires, to use his words, that you are in "the right head-space". Why was this not understood at the time? With my mental ill health driving my alcohol abuse, and my alcohol abuse exacerbating my mental ill health, what was I to do? I did get a referral to our local alcohol and drugs unit, but, as ever when I stayed in such places, I just seemed to become more anxious. It was only, as I told them at the meeting, when I stayed at The Priory in Altrincham, that the turning-point came about. There, I was afforded something which appeared to me to be sadly lacking in my local mental health services: respect for me as a human being. I was given a little space, and it was finally acknowledged that the real problem was my mental health. I was detoxed, diagnosed and medicated within two weeks, and I would have stayed on longer had it not been for the enormous financial cost to my parents. But, more importantly to me, while I was being treated as some kind of social pariah by the NHS, at The Priory I was being hugged and suppoted by other patients, and treated more like a "whole" person by members of staff. When I got back to Stoke, though, I went into our local Harplands Hospital and it seemed like a different universe. Again my old anxieties returned. Again I did not want to stay in such a place.
Since then, though, things have only got better. Our local Pathways Group, which has helped me a great deal (along with my voluntary work) continues to go from strength to strength, and is closer to the sort of service which I think is required for those like myself. The intelligence, talent and ability within the group is actively recognised and encouraged, and our collective confidence looks like it's going through the roof. We also have lots of fun!
So, perhaps what is important about all of this is that everyone involved learns something from it. I know that I have, and have managed to successfully move on. What remains with me, though, is the understanding that all of us deserve, however badly we might behave through our mental ill health, to be afforded our human dignity. As one of my previous psychiatrists said to me, you tend to "get treated badly when you are ill". And, as one who has been there, I can attest that at times I probably felt, deep down, that I didn't deserve any better than I was getting. But now, I know that I, that we all, do. And whereas once I sat on a street corner drinking from a can of lager, I now have managed to reach the dizzy heights of sitting on a steering group for the provision of the treatment of psychosis in North Staffordshire. I have also spoken at mental health conferences. I took part in the making of a short film. I have written a book of poetry, as well as articles for a professional mental health journal. I have a degree. I write this blog, and I try to help others with my voluntary work.
To anyone, then, who is perhaps starting out as a student nurse or some such, please remember that every person is a wealth of possibilities. Even those who seem like hopeless cases. Even those who abuse and treat you badly, might turn out to be, when well, some one entirely different. I don't think you can afford to reject the possible rewards of turning some one's forty miles of bad road into a glorious, far-reaching highway.        


klahanie said…
Dear David,
We have discussed some of what you alluded too in a recent phone conversation. Indeed, there are some similarities and parallels that I very much relate too.
I also understand the dilemma of talking about past, rather unsavoury situations experienced within the local mental health services.
Yet you, my illustrious friend, have come a long way. Look at you now, indeed. And yes, a lesson to be learnt by those entering the mental health field that what they perceive about someone who is unwell, may not be the real truth.
In kindness and respect, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks, my pal.
I did not really know where this post was going, but I suppose it did end up as a plea to those in or entering mental health services to remain respectful of their patients.
There is, of course, much more to my story, and various little incidents pop into my mind. Suffice it to say, though, that it is only now that I feel much better that I can look back and decidedly say that I deserved much better. It is, perhaps, a sad reflection on the mental health services at the time, that I was only able to recover through going into private treatment, and I know this was a source of vexation for my then psychiatrist on the NHS, who said that she was extremely disappointed that they did not achieve what was achieved in private care. Money, I am sorry to say, if not buying you happiness, can make a lot of difference if you have the misfortune of becoming unwell.
Also, perhaps I should have made it clearer that this failure was not just about people, but the very system itself, which I think still does not know how to deal with those with mental health and substance abuse issues. It seems one gets boomeranged back and forth between the different services when this happens.
Anyway, as I look back on all this now, almost as a different person, it is with a hint of disbelief. Just how could things be allowed to have gotten so bad?
So, I sincerely hope that such things don't happen to any one else, and this cautionary tale is heeded.
Wishing you all the very best,
dcrelief said…
WoW! I'm so glad I looked back and read this blog. Your life experiences have been a blessing to my life. How do I get your book of poetry?
Good wishes,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thank you once again for your kind comments. I'm so glad that you can see the positives in such a story of woe.
Thanks, also, for showing an interest in my poetry. Unfortunately, I have recently learnt that the company which published my book has gone into receivership, so it may no longer be available. It was first published in 2004, so I've had a good run, I suppose, and not sold many copies! In a way I,m relieved by this, as I think my book reflects a somewhat dark frame of mind as I was quite unwell at that time. But you can read some of the poems in this blog, such as my little romantic ditty, "Tread Softly, My Love LIes Buried Here", which is one of the "nicer" ones from the book. I hope this satisfies, Dixie.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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