Saturday, 24 April 2010

Mental Health

I was inspired to write this blog when I saw this link and pledged to talk more about mental health. Mental health awareness is very important and not promoted enough. Of course I am a mental health nurse so I would say this, but if you read my blog regularly I need to ramble on such things, this is me trying to get my thoughts on mental health issues straight in my own head and hopefully encourage you to promote mental health awareness.

Of course in my chosen profession I think mental health awareness is extremely important. I see first-hand how stigmatising mental health problems can be, and sometimes from surprising places. I find than even other medical professionals who do not work in mental health have preconceived ideas about people with mental health problems, assuming they will be disruptive or need an escort for a procedure or test. This is not always the case, to me it should be our judgement as staff who know the *patient/client/service user (*choose your preferred term, I will use patient from now on) to decide if they need such support or of there is any risk. They do not ask every person who comes from home to have a nurse escort for an x-ray or some other test, do they? And to be honest a lot of the general public are much more scary than a person with mental health problems.

People ask me what it is like to work on a mental health ward, and in all honesty it can be very busy and stressful, but the reason why I and many other people choose it as a profession is that we get to meet some really nice people. Yes, they are unwell but to see improvement in them is our reward. And regardless of mental health problems, the patients still have a personality, they are people with feelings and opinions, yes they can be a bit muddled up in the case of psychosis but such people are still likeable/admirable/intelligent/nice people even in an acute episode. In the same vein, yes there are people I don’t particularly get on with too, but I am not expected to like everyone, so long as I fulfil my duty of care and treat them all with the respect I expect, it is fine.

The thing that annoys me most about other people’s perceptions of people with mental health problems is, well there are several...

  • - They are not deaf or stupid, there is no need to talk really slowly or patronise them. They may have difficulty concentrating if really unwell (as they often are when admitted to acute wards), but this means you should keep it clear and simple in such cases and not always expect a coherent answer (I mean this when patients are really unwell not when recovered). Be patient and considerate, give them some time if it is obvious they are struggling. But most of all if they are an adult, speak to them as if they are one, they or their carer will tell you if further explanation is needed. Have some respect. You don’t know their level of functioning, don’t just assume it is very poor.

  • - People get better and have full lives to varying degrees. Some mental health problems mean people need to relearn skills such as caring for themselves or social interaction. Some people need support for a long time or even their whole lives, but others recover more quickly and should not be “labelled” or assumed to be “crazy” or unable to function as well as you or I. I have seen people from many professions and for the want of a better word “classes” have issues with mental health problems. It can affect anyone at any time in their lives. Yes some social groups may be more likely to suffer such illnesses due to poverty, stressors, environment, social upbringing, nutrition, alcohol or illicit substance misuse. But none of us are immune. Many people have a serious mental health problem and either recover or learn to manage the symptoms and live happy and full lives. If you hear someone has had mental health problems, don’t make assumptions.

  • - Getting back to work can be a big step. If people have not worked for months or years due to a serious mental health problem, it can be daunting. Such issues are made worse by the fact that employers can harbour such negative perceptions of mental health problems. When in reality, if they were unable to function at a level to do a job most patients would not even be applying. Judgements should not be made from a mental health problem being listed on an application form, meet the person and decide for yourself, ask questions. Everyone is different. Some people will only ever have one episode of mental health problems, others may have repeated episodes, but ask about coping strategies and relapse signatures (if they are comfortable talking to you about it and it is appropriate, again don’t assume they want to talk).
  • I know I work at one extreme of the spectrum of mental health problems, but I do know from my work with outpatients and personal experiences that there is a stigma which can be very damaging for more than the above reasons. Even people who are managed by their GP face such problems. Mental health is not discussed enough fairly in the media. Even this week I saw a “celebrity” on the news talking about her mental health problems and sensationalising them. This does not help. Over exaggerated or dramatic stories or statements do not give the perception of most people’s experience. Celebrities need to think about the influence they have on the general public, use research and facts. Yes, by all means tell their story (as dramatically as they like, if they must), but remember it is not how everyone will experience such problems, they should promote using GPs, psychiatrists and the treatments available, seeking help is often the hardest step. They should not fall into the trap of reinforcing the negative perceptions of mental health.

In all I am saying, don’t make assumptions about people with mental health problems, talk to people about mental health issues, encourage others to do the same. We need to foster a society where it is possible to be open about such issues and have open discussion.

Thanks for reading, comments, tweets or emails of your thoughts would be lovely if you don’t mind and have the time.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Twitter friends?

This blog is a little more personal than I usually write, but as always the purpose of it is to help me get my thoughts straight. It is not intended to be a moan, I hope that is not how it is perceived.

I recently experienced twitter paranoia, a moment where I wondered if I should use it at all. A crisis of twaith (sorry). Of course I still do, but I need to explore why such a moment occurred.

There are groups of people on twitter who chat regularly, I first joined when a bunch of people from the angry (feet) forum did so I was lucky to experience such a friendly crowd. However, occasionally being in a group can be very lonely when you feel less included. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you can’t always be central in conversations, even with groups of people you “know” online. Thinking about it rationally once the moment has passed, I realise perhaps I was not that chatty enough on the day in question, a little grumpy maybe.

I also wonder how I can have so many followers yet only a few of them chat or respond to tweets. I go through my followers every now and then and remove suspected spambots, or the ones that are just following me due to a random word, unless of course they look like fun, then they can stay. Surely there can’t be that many lurkers? Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just makes me curious. I don’t tweet anything very exciting, I’m not very funny, it is just mundane every day thoughts, a few links and the occasional drunk tweet. How or why do they continue to follow me?

I know a part of my little crisis was thinking too much, I have a habit of this. I was considering how much people on twitter really know me. The answer is they don’t. A few know more about me than others as we have over the last year or so divulged information and got to know each other’s humour and tastes. But is that really knowing someone? When do you really know someone? Should you attempt such a task through twitter? At the end of the day it is a social networking site, but I understand it is mostly superficial (I have blogged about such issues before, see here). I have made some true friends through twitter, people who have got in touch outside of the twitterverse and been there when I needed them, but we are still getting to know each other properly. I guess it is hard making new friends, as I have a group of friends I have had for many years, new ones tend to not come along that often. I seem to be over thinking it don’t I? I know logically you can’t decide when someone is a friend or just someone you know, but to me it is when conversation is easier in real life, when you feel comfortable chatting about more than common interests such as comedy. I must also remember that they may thinking similar things.

So on the night in question I was lurking (as I often do) and saw some conversations about plans to meet up, it was for an event I cannot attend. If I wanted to go I would have asked if it was ok and met everyone else, I wouldn’t expect an invite, there are too many shows and I don’t travel for them that much. But then I pondered on their interactions, and at that time believed they were all friends, not just people who know each other and meet up sometimes, but true friends. I admit I was a little jealous. After some sleep I realised this was ridiculous. I have made friends through twitter. Feeling more comfortable with them not only takes time, but effort on my part. Effort to meet, to chat and to be less superficial. I also think I perhaps underestimate some of the friendships I have made, it is possible.

I think another string to the bow was that I had discussed on twitter the possibility of me moving to London. I would like to live in London, but there are some practical issues to overcome. When chatting I got a little excited at the prospect, thinking... well I know people, there are all my twitter friends so I won’t be lonely. Then it hit me, the realisation that online relationships and real life ones can be a very different thing. As I have said before, who I am on twitter is an impression of me. I choose what people should know. I don’t always express my frustrations, anger or even my happiness. It depends who I want to know such things. I then thought moving to London was an insane idea, to a city where I don’t know anyone, or my way around and I have no friends. Of course in the light of day, there are people who I could get to know, who I assume would meet me for drinks etc and we would become better friends. I’m not saying I am moving to London but in thinking about it, it is not impossible really.

Having over thought all of the above I realised, I love twitter because of its superficial nature. I can have silly, random chats it is not about how dull or stressful work was that day, or the current family dispute, it is light hearted and fun. I am in contact with some tweeters more than others, but happy to chat to new ones too. It is about exploring people. Fair enough, they may not ever meet me or become true friends, but some might. I may meet some people and they may remain just people I know, but I cannot guess the future. I should just enjoy the ride.

I feel better about it all now, it was a silly moment, it has passed. Thanks for reading. I would love to hear any thoughts.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Los Quattros Cvnts

I don’t often blog about comedy nights as my blog is usually used for thinking things through, but this week has been so great it deserves a ramble, so here goes.


I have seen these four cunts before at their first show in November, so I was excited to go again (I did try another time, but it was cancelled so we had beer instead, lots of beer, but that is a story I will not tell on here). This time was different, firstly there was no Jeremy Limb as he decided to go cruising in Rio instead, however it was explained to us that this did not make it Los Trio Cunts (Michael Legge, Dan Mersh and Paul Litchfield) as there were two special guests who would help out as well as doing their own sets, Bennett Arron and Jeremy Lion (aka Justin Edwards). The other difference was that there were even more twitter people/podophiles (if you don’t know what a podophile is then Google Precious Little) to meet this time, it was quite a gathering. A few of us arrived in London nice and early and got to The Phoenix for around 5pm, the show didn’t start until 8pm but it gave us all time to chat and eat, ok and maybe drink a little.

Finally we took our seats, a great couple of tables one right at the front and one just to the side. If you haven’t been to The Phoenix before it is a great but intimate venue, so we were very close to the action. Oh I nearly forgot...

WARNING – My memory is a bit crap, so do feel free to correct me or tell me details I missed out if you were there and I will edit the blog. Oh and I would say there are spoilers, except each show is rather unique where LQC is concerned although there may be running themes/characters.

The show started grandly with the William Tell Overture blaring out of the sound system, however as the cvnts entered the stage they began pointing at a man in the front row in a rhythmic way, we were encouraged to join in, so of course we did. I have no idea how the man kept a straight face throughout the entire song but I applaud him.

Then followed some brief banter about the name of the show, trying not to say the cuntword because “the telly” was in. Then came the only “safe” sketch they could do for the telly people, The Party Sketch, a very funny play on the familiar face scenario, “I’m sure we’ve met before, where have we met before?”. Let’s just say it got a bit shouty.

I can’t remember the exact order of sketches so I will summarise the best bits (all of it).

The O’Flaherty Brothers and Billy Sunday made another appearance with another scary item of knitwear worn by Billy (Michael Legge). True to his nature Billy Sunday interrupted and objected to any attempts to sing lovely Irish folk songs, this time saying he wanted to do rap instead. He then proceeded into a tirade of gangsta style ranting mostly about putting a cap in yo ass mo fo. I did think the vein in the side of his head was about to burst as he got more and more red in the face.

The Erotica Sketch – Sean Golsworthy (played by Paul Litchfield) apparently he made his first appearance last time and read from his great literary works of erotica. This time we were in for a treat as there was a sci-fi theme which was “immediately and suddenly” about sex robots. In chatting to Paul after I believe the character may make further appearances at LQC which will be a treat.

Agony Uncle Doctor Party – This character was fantastically camp (well done Michael, I don’t know how you pulled it off) and I have no idea how Dan managed to keep a straight face as he read the letters out. I will say Doctor Party not only has some (well just one piece really) advice to overcome problems but he also has some fantastic dance moves. I loved that they pushed it with a rather controversial letter at the end from a lady who had been “locked in a cellar for 18 years...” it sounds wrong to say it was brilliant but it was.

History Sketch – Bennett Arron helped out on this one. I cannot remember all of the details but it was a summary of history as found on Wikipedia. It was definitely a “you had to be there sketch” as they confused history and tried to hide a baby. Bennett Arron looked almost in pain as he played Yoko Ono and had to do a dreadful accent.

TV ideas for BBC3 – Justin Edwards played the producer on this one, he rapidly binned numerous ever more increasingly ridiculous TV programme ideas, one of my favourites being a reality TV programme where we vote to put celebs in prison.

Improv Sketch – This one was made even more hilarious by the fact that Tara Flynn was sat just behind us in the audience (if you didn’t know, her and Michael are in London Improv a really good improv group which also plays at The Phoenix). They did a few improv games which were a comical view of how not to do it. My favourite part was the open scene game, usually the audience would give the improve group a name, a place and maybe a line, just two or three details and the sketch would begin. So of course open scene cvnts style we gave a name (Olivia), first line (breathe deeper), famous person (The Moomins), type of car she drove (The Bat tank), shoe size (4 or 7) and many more details, with pauses between so that Paul could “warm up” for each bit of added information. Just as the cvnts began to actually do the sketch, Sarah who I was sat next to shouted out the first line “Breathe deeper” as it was evident they had already forgotten that detail, they stumbled and then Paul pulled the shutter down (metaphorically) and closed the fourth wall, so he could no longer hear her. Of course the final resulting sketch was “Breathe deep Olivia, oh look The Moomins, the end”.

Bennett Arron’s Jesus Sketch – We were lucky to have a special guest, Jesus, who had only just started doing stand up, looked very nervous and uncomfortable in his unsecure beard. There were funny lines, we nerdy people particularly like “I don’t believe in Richard Dawkins, I don’t go to churches and pray to him, or as you call it The Bloomsbury”.

So as you can see a jam packed set from Los Quattros Cvnts, it was time for a short interval and then the special guests.

Bennett Arron – I hadn’t seen Bennett before his short set revolved largely around him being a Welsh Jew, and although I laughed at several bits (Jew Jitsu in particular) and enjoyed the anecdotes he didn’t appear very comfortable, and I was unsure if it was on purpose or not. Difficult to tell from such a short set.

Jeremy Lion – Another performer I had never seen before, although I did watch his 12 days of Christmas on YouTube, see here so I had some idea what to expect from an alcoholic children’s entertainer. Jeremy told us he is working on his Edinburgh fringe show and plans to teach the children about the environment this year. He then proceeded to sing the song “Ten Green Bottles” and as he recycled each bottle he pointed out what good that would do for the environment, e.g. save a baby seal. The only problem being that you are not allowed to recycle bottles when they are still full of booze, the blue WKD and wine seemed particularly painful and "Baileys, nature's Gaviscon!", all hilarious. I will go and see his show in Edinburgh, just to see if he can survive an hour of doing that!

As you can imagine it was definitely worth the trip down to London to see all of that, and then it was great to hang around for drinks and chat to everyone after. The highlights of that are as follows...

Finally saying hello to Dan Mersh! I have seen the cvnts a couple of times and spoke to them but for some reason Dan remained elusive. This time Sarah and I cornered him, it turns out he is a really nice guy, despite being off the telly! And yes he is the guy in the crunchy nut advert with the laptop umbrella.

Vicki making us all framed drawings of our avatars, they were ace and we all loved them. Although James Hingley did look a little bit shocked and scared.

Chatting to Tara Flynn about her Edinburgh show, which sounds amazing, so you should all make sure you go and see her.

Carl Austin (Tara’s husband and the love of Michael Legge’s life) making the statement “Emmerdale makes my anus itch!” Even with context it was a very random but funny statement to make.

Standing in the doorway with Andy, when a tramp stood between us and asked for 20p, I said I didn’t have my purse on me, which I didn’t (it was inside) and Andy said he couldn’t spare it. The tramp looked at us with disgust and turned to walk away; as he did he bent down and picked something up off the floor. He then turned and shouted “I’ll just fucking have this then shall I?” waving a £20 note at us. Jammy bastard.

Monday, 5 April 2010

More than words

I know this is not a new topic, and there have been many blogs about it, but it is my turn now. Language is the issue, in particular swearing. The reason why I want to delve into this topic is that in discussing the issue a little on twitter I have realised my views have changed in the last few months.

I think it is interesting that language is constantly changing and evolving. Words which used to be offensive can become commonplace and lose their sting once accepted into popular culture. I’m sure if we were to time travel back a few years, even as few as 10-20 we would see the different reaction to words commonly used now. Is it just that they are more common which makes them accepted or does their meaning change?

“Fuck” is a very commonly used word, and although I don’t think I would like to hear my children saying it (if I had any) I do not find it offensive at all. But it is a complicated word, in that it has many meanings. It means sex, but it doesn’t always, if I tell you to fuck off, I am not saying “Sex off!” am I, no it doesn’t make sense, neither does “I don’t give a fuck!” It can be a word meaning pleasurable or violent, physical activity. To fuck can be to manipulate or mess with someone’s mind, to push someone’s buttons, so routed in sexual terminology its meaning morphs into something much more negative and abusive that just sex. It is a complex word when you think of it in such terms, yet many of us use it every day. I wonder if we forget the meaning as the slang use of it takes over? It is not pleasant to be told to “fuck off!” if meant in a negative way, but it can also be used to make light of situations, for example when you tell an anecdote and someone says “fuck off, you’re kidding me?”; no offence meant and I’m sure for most people, none taken.

Side note – for a wonderful discussion about “Mindfucking” including the terminology and its connotations I recommend Mindfucking by Colin McGinn.

Personally I have begun to use swear words more frequently, although I do have to be careful at work as it would be unprofessional of me to use such terms. I don’t think it is on purpose, nor was it a particularly conscious decision, but I have explored a lot of new comedy in the last 12 months and I think perhaps their use of the full extent of the English language has rubbed off a little. I like that in comedy language I would have considered rude or offensive now makes me laugh, yes, occasionally they do evoke a different emotion, but that is because that is what the comedian wants them to do. The reaction required is why such words are used, I am not offended by this, and I see that there is a greater scheme at work, a plot to the story or set the offence is required to make the point. It is only when comedians are offensive for the sake of offending that I object, not only that I would not find it funny in the slightest (Jim Davison and Chubby Brown spring to mind).

Many comedians explore their use of such words and how the reactions vary in different countries. I find such variety in the perceived offensiveness of words to be even more prolific, and I am unable to generalise the reaction. My brothers and sisters use “fuck” in every day conversation, but in general would never use “cunt” as it is a word which my Mum did not like as we grew up. She even said “See (C) you (U) next (N) Tuesday (T)” to avoid actually saying the word. But, oh how things change. I talk to my Mum quite a lot and I tell her about the comedy I see and the podcasts, this means inevitably I have used the word cunt quite a bit (as listeners to Michael Legge and James Hingley’s Precious Little podcast will know). I must admit when I first said it to her in conversation I half whispered it, hesitating to give it the full power of correct pronunciation. However, once I explained the silly fun I had been having it seemed less offensive, there was no malice in how I was using it, or in my relaying the tale to my Mum. The cunt word has lost some of its power. I do believe that if someone called me a cunt, and meant it to be offensive, I would be rather upset. But is it the actual word that gives us this reaction? To me it no longer is; it is the intension behind the word, the emotion with which it is said. Consider if someone called you a cow or a bitch, they are both words for female animals one bovine one canine; however with the correct tone and malice offence would be taken in the way it was meant to be.

It seems to me that the some words can lose their meaning or gain it depending on the context and familiarity in which they are used. Text speak (which I despise) is another way in which words can lose their meaning, again a much discussed topic. “LOL” and “hahaha” no longer mean what they were intended to, people use them in such a common way that no one actually believes someone did laugh out loud. I have typed “LOL, really I did” but in thinking about it this negates the need for text speak, I could have typed “Very funny” thus using less letters to explain my emotion. Is it not the purpose of text speak to use less letters? Well, it was, this is how text speak came about, but again its common use has led to it’s over use and changed the way in which it is used. LOL or hahaha now means some form of mild amusement; it has lost its funny as the cunt word has lost its offensiveness. I could go on to discuss text speak for some time, but I won’t as many people have done so much more eloquently than I can and it is my perception of offensive language that has changed more considerably in the last few months.

I am intrigued by the way my emotional response to language has developed and changed, yet I know that some people still cannot and don’t use such words. It has become so second nature to me that I must be unintentionally offending people all the time? Is that an issue? Should it be? I don’t use the words with malice, or at people who do not realise I am joking or having fun, is it their understanding of the word that is the problem? I wonder if they have actually sat and thought about it or just heard one word and made assumptions about the context in which it was said. I was one of those people at some point, but now I have learned that any word can be offensive or inoffensive depending on the emotional context in which it is used. I do not encourage people to go out and try to offend people for the sake of it, but I do encourage them to not shy away from using words until you have thought about why you do or don’t use them.