Celebrities are said to live their lives in a goldfish bowl, such is the level of media interest in every aspect of their personal as well as professional lives. No doubt this accounts for how the mental health difficulties of Adam Ant, the British pop singing sensation of the 1980s, first became public knowledge – at least, those difficulties which led to the compulsory treatment orders that were placed upon him a decade or so ago. Ridicule may be nothing to be scared of but, by virtue of being in the public eye, he has had to bear more than most. Yet it is striking to note the courageous way in which the singer has chosen to respond to the intrusive press reports of that time. In publicity associated with his recent return to the music business, he said of his own mental health history: “It’s not something I’m ashamed of. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I did wrong things as a result of it. But there’s only one thing worse than making a mistake, and that’s not learning from it… and I’ve learnt from it.”1
Posts Tagged 'first person narratives'
Tags: Adam Ant, celebrity accounts, first person narratives, Telling Admissions
Tags: first person narratives, James Bellamy, maudsley hospital, psychosis, Stories of Recovery and Hope, Telling Admissions
This new thread, to which we intend to post in alternate months throughout 2013, is devoted to first-hand accounts of what it was like to have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital (‘sectioned’) under the UK Mental Health Act in the twenty years between 1975 and 1995. Many such accounts have been written, some by people in the public eye, others not. Their willingness to have details of their contact with mental health services in the public domain forms a powerful counter-weight to the secrecy, shame and stigma with which issues of mental ill-health are usually treated. This thread will highlight in turn a poet, a pop singer, an occupational therapist, a political advisor, a psychiatrist and an actor, all of whom have ‘gone public’ with their stories. It has been inspired by the remarks published on this blog in 2011 of someone who regarded her admission to Bethlem as “harder” and “a greater achievement…than getting into university”.
The first story, which we reproduce here without further comment, is that of the poet James Bellamy, who in the mid-1990s “was…sectioned at the age of 21 after nearly two years without treatment” for psychotic symptoms.
“When the psychiatrist and social worker arrived to take me away I was terrified and refused to co-operate. The fear that this day would come had haunted me for months, so I ran out of the house and managed to evade them. Two days later, they returned with two policemen and I remember being put in handcuffs, shut in a meat wagon and taken to the Maudsley Hospital. As I was carried away I was screaming, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ and ‘What about my poetry?’ One of the reasons I shied away from treatment for so long is because I was scared I’d be shut away forever. Far from being locked away for good, I was told early on I would only be in hospital for a matter of weeks. This helped reassure me and start to trust the Maudsley, which I still do to this day.”1
1 Hannah Cordle et al, Psychosis: Stories of recovery and hope (Quay Books: London, 2011), p. 106.
Tags: Aislinn Hunter, first person narratives, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, Gail Hornstein, I Never Promised you a Rose Garden, Illustrious Company, In the Spotlight, Joanne Greenberg, Lesley Krueger, literature
Gail Hornstein, Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoake College and sometime visitor to the Archives & Museum, makes passing reference to our modest displays (though not to her visit) in her recent book Agnes’ Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness. She is also the author of To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World, a biography of the psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Fromm-Reichmann is most well-known today for being the real-life “Dr Fried” in Joanne Greenberg’s fictionalised autobiography, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about which we have previously blogged. A Jewish psychoanalyst, who emigrated to America in the 1930s, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann controversially – but apparently, at least in some cases, successfully – treated schizophrenia with psychotherapy (and not medication).
Dr Hornstein has recently made the latest edition of her bibliography of ‘first person narratives of madness’ available on her website. We think we have spotted at least one unchecked (and uncheckable!) reference in this bibliography. Alas, as far as we know the existence of a 1620 Petition of the Poor Distracted Folk of Bedlam is no more than a rumour. Naturally, we would be delighted to be proved wrong about this! The bibliography is nevertheless an extremely valuable resource for those interested in first person narratives of mental distress.
Moving from first to third person narratives, we are glad to say that a short e-book entitled Illustrious Company: Authors, Artists and Other Adventurers in Bethlem Hospital is now available for download onto Kindle e-readers at Amazon and Amazon UK. It has been written by our Archivist with contributions from Canadian authors Aislinn Hunter and Lesley Krueger. Regular readers of this blog may recognise some but not all of its text. The book is already cheap to download, but watch out for special promotions to make it even cheaper over the summer.
Tags: Anthony Clare, Depression and How to Survive It, first person narratives, Manic Depression, Spike Milligan
A late addition to an in-principle never-ending series. In Depression and How To Survive It (Arrow Books, 1994), co-authored by Spike Milligan and Anthony Clare, there is a rare insight into late twentieth century psychiatric recordkeeping practice. In it Milligan, the writer and comedian of affectionate memory, allowed Clare, a Maudsley-trained psychiatrist, to lay out his life in the form of a typical psychiatric assessment, with details of his presenting symptoms, his personal, family, educational, medical, marital and psychiatric history, and diagnosis. As it happens, Milligan was never a Maudsley patient – he was interviewed by Clare on the BBC radio series In the Psychiatrist’s Chair – and even if he was, records such as these would be protected by the law of medical confidence. His courageous decision to put these details on record, in the interests of demystifying the experience of depression, had the secondary effect of bringing Maudsley medical recordkeeping practice, the results of which are otherwise kept confidential, into the public sphere.
As useful as third-party medical professional analyses of the experience of depression may be for clinical purposes, no-one pretends that they may stand in for the often poignant narratives of those who suffer from it. Depression and How To Survive It opens with a poem (entitled Manic Depression) written by Milligan when a patient of St Luke’s Hospital in Muswell Hill in the early 1950s. This piece, along with other poetic cris de couer, featured in a recent BBC radio programme entitled Spike Milligan – The Serious Poet (available to UK listeners via iPlayer until 20 November). In the programme, a recording of Spike reading his poem The Journey (starting ‘I think I am going out of my mind / The journey shouldn’t take long’) was played, but only in extract. On the morning in February 2002 that his death was announced on BBC radio, the clip was played to its bleak conclusion, Milligan rasping the lines (‘A white-washed nurse / a tray of NHS food … / it’s my stomach they’re treating / letting my head starve to death’). Unmatchably authentic, these lines were in fact written decades before his death, their grim humour attesting simultaneously to his comic genius and his periodic mental torture.
Tags: autobiography, Coming or Going Man, dissociative identity disorder, DSM, first person narratives, Kim Noble, multiple personality
In August and September we published a string of posted entitled First Person Narratives. Today we present a short coda to this sequence; although in truth a series like this could go on and on. Last weekend’s Guardian drew attention to the story of the painter Kim Noble, the woman with 100 personalities. She has written a book charting her experience of dissociative identity disorder, one of the most contested psychiatric diagnoses of the nearly 300 that appear in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ‘I don’t ever know if I am coming or going’, she told the Guardian journalist. ‘I could switch [identities] at a door, like at the doctor’s surgery, and think, ‘Have I just been in?’
Coming or Going Man is the poignant title Kim (or ‘Abi’) gave to one of the works of art she contributed to the Outside In exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in 2009. It has since come into our collection here at the Archives & Museum. All of Me: My Incredible Story of How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing my Body is published today by Piatkus Books.