Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cages of our own making

Sometimes, I am scared to take on a daunting task, not because I might fail, but because I might succeed.

Like many people, I have achieved a few things in my life time which seem, looking back, precocious. The trouble with being good at something, unexpectedly good at it, is that expectations grow and grow, and at the same time there is a nagging suspicion that this must be a lucky streak. A fluke. Two flukes, three flukes. A dozen. And with each fluke, each double six, each head that isn't a tail, the pressure builds.

I have fluked too many things. And now I find myself scared to roll the dice, because other people seem to believe that I can guarantee a double six. They appear to be convinced that my dice are loaded. That it's all in the wrist action.

Sometimes I look at my blog stats and am grateful that I am not an a, b, c or even d-list blogger. I can't imagine the pressure of feeling like people are expecting a brilliant blog post every time. Of feeling like I will be judged on the rubbish I write. Or tied to an 'identity'. I like that as Stray I can be lots of people. Silly, serious, poetic, blunt, frivolous, funny and boring if I like.

Sometimes I feel like I am in a cage built out of my achievements. I am aware that this sounds pretty wanky. But I want to say it, because I suspect that I am not alone - that most of us walk around inside these invisible cages. What if I fuck up my second child? What if I only have one book inside of me? What if I can only take beautiful photos of beautiful things? What if they only love me because they don't know me yet?

A perpetual anxiety about being Found Out. Nudity dreams. Hesitation before raising our hand to give the answer.

What if, until now, I have just been lucky every single time?

What if I roll snake eyes?

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Saturday, April 28, 2007



I gasped ...

as Badger handed me the package.

She was grinning. And driving. Mostly grinning.

There was a tiny sticker on the back. It said "Caroline Smailes".

I s q u e e e e e z e d the envelope gently.

I turned it over and tore open the back.

Badger said "No! Wait til we get home!"

So. I waited. (I am not good at waiting).

And then. A ♥ pink heart ♥ slipped out ...

And two tiny tiny perfectly wrapped presents!

The badges.

The beautiful badges.

We are wearing them! And smiling.

Badger says she will wear it always. I suspect that tonight she will wear hers on her pajamas. (she will).

And I cannot wait, for the first person to ask - "Adam? Adam who?"

Thankyouverymuch Caroline.


(And so far 76 people have put their pins on the map! Amazing!)

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Hospital view

Teddy sent via the florist by my Mum and Dad, Lucozade courtesy of lovely Badger.

I am home now :) And sooooo glad that I didn't do that 'brave', stoical thing of simply reappearing here in a few weeks time and making some casual off-the-cuff references to having been 'a bit unwell'.

I have been surrounded by virtual flowers, covered in cyber hugs and kisses and had some very lovely chats with digital visitors to my bedside. It was the least miserable hospital visit I've ever had, and that was almost entirely down to the fact that I felt so cared about by all my lovely blog friends :) Also, the nurses were amazing. Really, really ultra lovely. Having been in London hospitals, I thoroughly recommend moving to the suburbs before you get seriously ill!

I feel quite ok about returning on the 9th of May to be delved around in, knowing that between visiting hours I shall still have plenty of company :)

I feel all warm and fuzzy about the whole thing, and I'm pretty sure that's not going to wear off with the pain killers!

Thank you :)


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

miracles of modern technology

i am blogging from a touchscreen tv thing next to my bed in hospital, just because i can!

i am poorly sick as lovely caroline says.

we have talked on google chat!

don't worry, no key parts of me have been damaged and this is just a medical ward. girls-insides-itis is the diagnosis so far. ouch.

i am getting in touch with my inner wimp ... trying to ignore my Be Strong driver.

meantime beautiful badger is on map duty.

they don't allow flowers, so please send hugs and kisses instead xx

Searching for Adam ...

I made this map and widget for the most lovely lovely Caroline, who has a fabulously important book coming out on the 15th of June.

It was particularly satisfying because we only hatched our cunning plan on Friday and it launched on Tuesday!


I have to say, it's one of the most fun tasks I've done ages. And I am just soooo thrilled that people are using it, and I'm getting a huge kick out of the fact that they are using it in so many place in the world.

Sometimes, here in Surrey, it's easy to forget how huge the planet is. I mean, I kind of know it, I have clients in Australia and Sweden and America and even Staines* ... but it's so easy to hang your washing out under a blue sky and not give a moment's thought to the fact that in other places it is dark. Dark! Amazing.

I feel like the map has plotted a journey of my own. Intellectually it gave me a chance to rub up against my new server and really find it's edges - having a new server is kind of like having a new girlfriend / boyfriend. It isn't til you have a major falling out and they won't do what you wanted that you really have a clue about how good the relationship is. Emotionally it was an opportunity to bury myself in something utterly self-absorbed for a few days which happened to coincide with some difficult anniversaries.

Working with Caroline, hatching ideas and bouncing them off each other has been a beautiful experience, one that has made me certain that I want to do more collaborative and less solitary journeying this year, in all areas. But most of all, spiritually, I am reminded that the world is a huge place and life is complex, but amazingly, little things I do really can create a ripple in the pond, that spreads and spreads and laps up on a shore on the other side of the planet.

And, there were a lot of numbers, and I am a bit of a dirty techie and I like a good bit of geometry every once in a while.

So, I have derived that:

(Numbers + new Server(php5) ) x ((InspirationalBlogFriends.caroline + purpose) / (tightDeadline + cupsOfTea(93))) * (blogFriends - geographicalConstraints) = + Stray.happy++;

And, if you haven't yet put your pin in the map - get over there! And please zoooooom right in before you position it because Canterbury is definitely NOT in tyneside!


*for my international audience, Staines is about as exciting and glamourous as it sounds. Is there a word that means onomatopoeic but for meaning? There should be. And my housemate has pointed out that RonSeal doesn't actually seal Rons. Which is really quite worrying.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

You wait a whole week for a badger, and then 3 come along at once!

First, of all, a Badger that was found by lovely Maht MoonTopples.

I love the sentiment: Demand Badger Food Service!

(are you listening Badger?? Mr Moon says I can use this picture to get you to bring me breakfast in bed!)

And then! The wonderful Matt of Turboart whisked me up this little beauty: A Badger Playing Guitar Hero!

(if you ask him very nicely he will make one for you too!).

And then, most importantly, the real Badger is back from her travels in the south of France. She has new badgery twitches and vocal tics with a french accent! Bien!

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Do Not Disturb


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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Shades of Blue and Green

The title to this post is taken from the title track of a wonderful album recorded by Lorraine Craig with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO).

This song, with it's hot-chocolate smooth sweet vocal, is a regular contributor to the continuous-play soundtrack in my head. My little internal DJ, my psychic iPod, always set to shuffle.

It has a sense of humour. It likes to surprise me, and occasionally it tries to force its way forward into my speech - dares me to respond to a question, or complete a sentence, with one of my favourite lyrics.

I am still in awe of my Dad, who, once, in a Very Important Meeting, heard a colleague say "And the question is ... " and found himself responding out loud with the only appropriate answer ...

Can this white man sing the blues?

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Are you normal?

Wonderful cartoon by Edward Monkton

The Mental Health Bill is being debated by MPs and I have my fingers crossed, for personal as well as political reasons, that it doesn't get through.

The bill is a reactionary load of tosh intended to make us all feel better about how society lets so many people down an attempt to make it easier to detain and 'treat' people who are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

Now, first of all, let's just make it clear that if you're a commonal garden person who just causes harm to others because you feel like it, that's ok. This bill only applies if you have 'symptoms' of a 'mental illness' or a 'personality disorder'. So, if you're perfectly normal except that you like to beat your wife, you're entitled to the normal niceties of the justice system including bail and trial by a jury of your peers. If your wife, however, engages in self-harm as a coping mechanism, possibly even says she feels too desperate to carry on, and ticks a few boxes for Borderline Personality Disorder, she can be held on the say so of just two people. Without bail. Without a trial.

So, back to the purpose of the bill - to detain and 'treat' people who are at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

That would be me then. No no, don't panic! I wouldn't hurt a fly. I pose no risk to your safety, or that of your child / lover / bunny rabbit ... but from time to time I can be a bit of a challenge to my own. My own as in me, not my own bunny rabbit. That's why it's called self-harm. No! Shh! Don't feel bad ... it's ok - really it is, I'm perfectly fine. Well, sometimes I'm not, but that's not for you to worry about. Oh dear. It's tricky talking about self-harm, people do get themselves in a such tiz about it.

I'm not mental. Honest. I just have a kind of dissociative disorder. From time to time I get myself all wound up about something, I stop sleeping, I can't eat, and shortly after that it all goes tits up [technical term]. My particular coping mechanism just happens to be a bit on the risky side, but the good news is that these days I'm pretty good at managing and assessing those risks. And I'm a very coherent and polite individual even when I'm completely mental. I always say please and thank you to the doctors.

So, this brings me to my real concern about the Mental Health Bill. I'm exactly the kind of person who could be scuppered by it. Just before christmas last year I had a bit of a wobble. It was quite a big wobble even by my standards, and after being patched up by the super doctors and nurses in my local A&E, we all agreed that as I hadn't yet slept or eaten and was clearly still wobbling, it would be best for me to be admitted voluntarily to the local psych unit for a day or two.

Of course they couldn't find a bed.

So, 12 hours later I was driven in a strange ambulance / mini-bus to a psych ward almost an hour away. It was a mixed, locked ward, with no segregation between the dozen or so male patients (all with serious psychosis) and the female patients - who totalled 2, that being me and a deaf-dumb and learning disabled woman who was already sedated when I arrived. For obvious reasons I didn't really fancy staying there. I observed that the nurse's station was a good 20 meters down the corridor, realised that the television was drowning out any possibility of communication between me and those nurses, noted the lack of alternative exits, checked out the fact that there was no emergency alarm system, and made the decision to get out.

So, I went to tell the nurses my decision. After all - I was a voluntary patient. The nurses were not pleased to see me. They were busy watching TV for starters, and after ignoring me with an admirable persistance for a few minutes, they instructed me repeatedly to go back to bed. I told them that I wished to leave, and why, and they told me in no uncertain terms that if I tried to leave I would be sectioned.

I calculated. I thought hard about the possibilities, the ramifications. I calculated some more. I decided they were (probably) bluffing. The nurses told me that any one of them could hold me on a section 5 for up to six hours. I knew that they had to at least attempt to contact the on-call psychiatrist in order to do this. So I rolled the dice, knowing that if they didn't get through they would force me to stay, and probably sedate me. They dialled the number. The psychiatrist answered. Phew! She told them to stop being daft and let me go - so they immediately opened the doors and shoved me out into the car park. It was the middle of the night. In December. A friend was coming to collect me, but they wouldn't let me wait inside for the hour it took for her to get there. Meanies!

The next day I was prescribed risperidone. It made me feel like I was underwater. After a few days I couldn't tie my shoelaces. I was reversing like a straight girl. I walked like a thunderbird, much to Badger's amusement. I stopped taking it, against my psychiatrists wishes. Since then he has read a report saying that the drugs I was prescribed (risperidone and diazepam) are now contra-indicated for people who self-harm, because they increase dissociation and reduce inhibitions. Duh. I could have told them that!

This is where I really worry. The new MH Bill introduces Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) - a kind of psychiatric ASBO. It's a legally binding agreement about your self-care. I will take this medicine. I will not drink alcohol. I will not go to this place or spend time with that person. I will attend this therapy every week ... and if you breach it you've got bugger all defense against being banged up, or given a depot (a slow delivery system for the drug they've chosen for you, injected under your skin and almost impossible to remove once inserted).

Here's the glaringly obvious irony as I see it:

• Genuinely bonkers people probably can't think in terms of longer term consequences of their actions. Go ahead, lock me up, I don't care, the aliens are coming tonight!

• Genuinely suicidal people care even less. So what if I don't take my medication - what are you gonna do? Section my corpse?

• Thus, the only people for whom a CTO is going to be effective are those who have insight into their condition, can weigh up the consequences of not adhering to treatment, and have the will to get well (as they say - the lightbulb has to really want to change). And those people shouldn't be straightjacketed by medication or compulsory therapy against their will.

We currently section around 1 in 1000 people in the general population - but that disguises the many more people who are in treatment 'voluntarily' unless they ask to leave.

I'm fortunate that I now have a very good relationship with my local MH services, who have allowed me to design a package that meets my needs and fits their provision. In the absence of a straight forward solution to the "What do we do with someone like Stray?" problem, they've had to come up with some creative solutions. If the new Mental Health Bill had already been in place then I have a suspicion that a CTO would have been their first line of action.

Of course all of this rests upon the fact that the UK's current understanding of mental health / mental illness is a bizarre and overly pathological construct in which being "well" really means being "normal".

So - in thinking about the potential impact of this bill on your own life and liberty, you only really need to answer one question: Are you normal?


Read Mind's excellent guide to the MH Bill, including their objections, here.

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Good morning

I don't care if it's unhygenic ... it's good for my soul.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Badger in the mist

September '06.

What were they looking for?

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

To absent friends ...

Jess, on the left, is Ruby's best friend. Which is only fitting, as Jess's dad is my best friend, and his mother is my mother's best friend ...

And so we are continuing the years of holidaying together as a unit, but this generation abandoning spanish villas and hotels in Lanzarote for dog-friendly caravans in bits of the UK with Big Hills. Fab.

When we first got home on Monday night, Ruby was excited to be back. Now she is depressed. She is searching and searching for her friend, going into my housemates' rooms at six this morning and crying pathetically ... and she is sad not to find her.

I wish I could explain. I wish she could understand the concepts of 'again' and 'soon'.

I went to the lakes to attend the wedding of some very dear friends. Lovely lovely people, and I would have married either of them - they are gorgeous inside and out. The sun shone and their little boys looked like a tiny mafia in their supercool suits. And it was perfect in so many ways, but glaringly imperfect in another. Another friend who should have been there, laughing in the sunshine, holding his wife's hand and smiling, because he never stopped smiling, is gone. He died suddenly just over 2 years ago, without warning, of a heart defect. He was skiing one moment, dying the next. She was there with him when he died, and as awful, as horrific and traumatic as that was, she says she knows she would never have believed it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes.

So, there were happy tears, for those we love who are still with us, and sad tears for those who aren't. Not physically anyway. Very present in many other ways, spoken about (thankfully) and laughed about and remembered, and very much still loved.

I am doing my italian widow look she said with a smile, replacing her shades.

I know he would have enjoyed the joke.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Stowing away ...

Badger and Ruby and I are off to the Lake District for the long weekend.

I think Ophelia would like to come too ... !

Back Monday - be good!

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Monday, April 02, 2007

The importance of being Badger

I snapped this shot of Badger at the wheel of her convertible mini cooper whilst she was whizzing us home from Portsmouth yesterday afternoon.

As I took the photo, the lyrics from the first track on the latest Take That album - Reach Out - permeated my consciousness.
'Cause I don't know you
And you don't know me

click here to watch it on youTube

And it got me to thinking about how lucky I am to have, and live with, a friend like Badger.

As well as having tourette's, Badger is on the Autistic spectrum. Sometimes it's easy for me to forget how different Badger and I are, because on the surface we're pretty similar.

We share values - simple things .. like be nice to people and animals, but don't be so nice that you compromise yourself and others. Don't worry about what's in it for you. Things that cost nothing can be more precious than ferraris. If the chickens need cleaning just get on with it, no whinging. If you don't know how to do something, ask and learn. Don't be scared to make mistakes or busk stuff.

Badger and I also share most of our interests - football, walking, tree climbing, playing the guitar ... we have the same taste in music, TV and computer games. In fact, I can't think of any of Badger's interests that make me think "No thanks, I've got some shiny new pins I can stick in my eyes instead".

We shop the same. That's what I want. That's my size. No I'm not trying it on. I'll take 3 please. No messing.

Both being runts of the litter, we had similar school experiences of always being friends with the fat kids, the ginger kids - the assorted rejects. Neither of us is interested in looking cool - which is fortunate, as Badger had a little outburst of tourette's break-dancing in the queue for the wholefoods shop yesterday.

So ... sometimes it's good to remind myself that under the surface we're very different. We gather data about the world and process that data in totally different ways.

Faced with something new and unfamiliar, I disappear into my head to extrapolate from the next-closest known-model ... Badger sniffs and touches and looks close up. Given a message - spoken or written - I am working with the unsaid, the invisible writing, the implied and the conspicuous by omission - in Badger's world everything Does What It Says On The Tin.

Being around Badger reminds me to be in the moment, that I don't have the full picture unless I stop to sniff the world around me, and that sometimes it's ok to believe that someone means exactly what they've said.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Traffic update for Surrey, 1st April 2007, 2.45pm

Some tailbacks developing on the A281, following a build up of waterfowl in the road.

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