I’m still happy to be alive! – Part 1

OK, so I’ve been somewhat busy of late and I’ve just got back from a Charity event in Liverpool, which was in order to support EleMental and the work that is being done with those people connected to it. Robert Whitaker (author of “Mad In America” and “Anatomy of an Epidemic”) was the guest speaker, and I truly thank him from the bottom of my heart, and to those who made it possible for this event to happen.

What I have to say here will be both shocking and controversial for people to read, but I assure you, what I have to disclose is as close to the truth as possible. This is both a reason why I have gotten so very angry many a time, and why I continue to have a passion for contributing to change within and around mental health services. I am going to list bullet points which highlight what it is I have to say. Here goes:

* I have often told people that I was born to two parents diagnosed with severe mental illness. Through the first ten years of my life, my parents were admitted to Psychiatric Hospitals – at times together for up to 6 months  – and were subjected to various treatments considered to be suitable by the medical system in place. I was separated from them at a very early age, and this started what would be severe trauma for myself, and ongoing severe trauma for my parents.

Well, it turns out that if someone had actually listened to what their problems were and cared to help them with what were simply their “basic needs”, it would have been unlikely that they would have needed to go into hospital at all. I’ll look to point out why this is significant as I go.

* I remember visiting the Psychiatric hospital that my parents would become familiar with, at around the age of six years old. On one occasion I got to see my mother after she had received a “dose” of ECT (Electro-convulsive Therapy). It was very shocking and disturbing for me to see my mother this way, as she appeared to have been, what I can only describe as being “beaten up”. Her speech was slurred, she was wobbling about as she walked and generally had trouble standing up to spend time with me.

ECT works by damaging the brain – it is designed specifically so that this happens. It destroys areas of the brain which affect a person’s memory, and it supposed “helps” when especially traumatic memories from the person are lost – memories which can become a difficulty to live with. Unfortunately, because the brain is damaged, it has obvious cognitive side-effects for the individual and also prevents efficacy with more holistic approaches, such as therapy, where it can be essential to remember these traumas for healing to take place.

My father also received this method of “treatment”, although I had never seen him after it had happened.

* Due to my parents difficulties, it was a great struggle for them to make a living. The stress of unemployment and the responsibility of taking care of themselves – as well as their only child – would often become too much and trigger their “mental illness”. One thing I started to develop early on as a child, which I was not given the diagnosis of, would be what is considered ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). This is something I have trouble with – even today – and have never been given help to cope with the troubles it presents. As a result of this, I struggled through most of my school years, underachieving in the large class sizes which were too much for me to settle down in. I knew I had a problem – I just didn’t know how to verbalise it or know how to be any different. Teachers and tutors would often report that I was “disruptive” or something along the lines of not showing enough attention in class. Hmmm I wonder why?

Of course, if I had been given this unfortunate diagnosis, I would have been put on Ritalin almost straight away (and I almost did get put on it – but fortunately my mother saw sense). We now know today, that long term use of Ritalin (which is prescribed to children fairly often in some places) has a significant potential to develop “Bi-polar Disorder” and other major problems, in those who use the drug.

I’ll take the struggling I had with school over the drugs that create mental dysfunction.

* On the topic of drugs, both my parents have been given a large percentage of the drugs that have become available through the Psychiatric industry, produced by the pharmaceutical companies. This usage of bio-chemical drugs would span over 30 years. This was also in a time where – at least in this area of the world – there was a lot of experimentation and no clear idea from professionals in mental health services on how these drugs worked. Yet they were using them regularly.

My father was at one point given an overdose of the mood-stabilizer commonly used by those who were “manic depressive”, by the name of Lithium. It has been shown that high levels of this particular combination of chemical salts, becomes poisonous in the blood stream and could eventually result in death due to it’s toxic nature. My father experienced an OBE (Out of body experience) at this time and if left any longer, would have likely been killed by it.

Also another range of common drugs used as a choice for people like my father, and also my mother (diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia) are that of the neuroleptics (anti-psychotics). These particular drugs work by disabling specific areas of the brain, associated with the functioning of neuro-transmitters, and prevent the brain from operating the way it is suppose to naturally. These medications have recently been shown to “shut down” such things as the Basal Ganglia (or more recently referred to as the Corpus Striatum) which is significant because there have been indications that dysfunction of this particular set of nuclei, or atrophy, has been linked to certain diagnoses, such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Also, long term neuroleptic use, has also been associated with a drug-created disorder called “Tardive Dyskinesia“. Signs of this disorder can be seen in a person, through involuntary movements of the body, such as muscles spasms; twitches; difficulties controlling the tongues movements; and general difficulties with other areas of the body.

My mother has these problems. It becomes difficult for her to do something as simple as holding a cup of tea, so she can enjoy a hot beverage. It also presents problems with sleep, as there is little respite from this disease, so this adds to the ongoing discomfort. Pain throughout the body often tends to be fairly chronic. At this time, it is unclear if this is always permanent damage, but it is considered that it is likely. However due to the plasticity of the brain – and how amazing an organ it is – there is the potential for repair to be made over a period of time. One can only hope.

Another common problem with the neuroleptics, is that it works much like a “chemical lobotomy“. It tends to disable the frontal lobes of the brain, which are associated with what tends to make us different from animals, allowing us to be human in this respect. What comes with this is a profound sense of apathy. People simply stop caring about what they are doing, even if they had previously enjoyed something that they were gifted and talented at. There may be a tranquillity, however it is at the expense of what contributes to making us the passionate human beings that were are. I’ll refer back to this section again.

* For a majority of my life, I have had to deal with what is considered to be chronic depression. I have also had difficulties with anxiety, especially in social situations (related to trauma around bullying when younger) and a number of bizarre or eccentric behaviours due to my difficulties coping with the outside world.

At one point, I was at a loss as how to cope with this overwhelm, and although naive and ignorant about the medications that were available to help someone like myself, I decided to give the anti-depressant medications a try. All I really wanted was someone to talk to, who could understand.

I tried my first drug, Cipramil (citalopram) and developed unexpected difficulties. I experience what would be considered to be a panic attack, and for a time was scared that I may actually die, due to my heart failing. It’s safe to say I left this drug alone after that.

Then, I was given a drug called Dothiepin (or Dosulepin) which I remained on for roughly six weeks. This was a drug that tended to cause a lot of drowsiness in those using it, especially at high doses. It turns out that I was prescribed a dose of 450mg (the maximum recommended to be 250mg safe usage) by a then junior doctor. After experiencing no recognisable side-effects, or feeling any difference for better or worse, I consulted a different General Practitioner for advice on what to do. I was told that if it was not working for me, then I could come off the drug – and that’s all there was to it. Little did I know, that going “cold turkey” on medications of this nature – especially at high doses – were potentially dangerous. This would trigger my first (but not last) episode of what is considered to be “psychosis“, where I experienced much of a three or four week period blacking out, along with auditory and visual hallucinations. I also experienced a number of delusions.

I hope that this is starting to paint a picture of something fundamentally wrong with what had happened to us as a family, and why I feel so strongly about disclosing this information. We are not alone in this: many families across the world are put in danger through ill treatment deriving from careless use of Psychiatric treatment.

I will look to do my best to finish this story or account in the next part, which I’ll look to complete soon.

A History of Video Games – The journey of the Human Condition Pt. 2

I was first introduced to the world of video games at or around the age of 3 years old. I have a memory of seeing something which resembled the 1983 ‘Stars Wars’ arcade game on an early PC of some kind and I would later come to play on the actual Star Wars arcade machine (which was the sit-in cockpit version) setting the foundation for my relationship with the technology. While there is a side to it that is magical and that allows you to escape into fantasy, a big part of it being appealing to me is that the computer is not there to judge you, or deny you the chance to have fun and play around. It invites you to sit down and interact with it, with what it has to offer. It’s establishing a friendship between human and computer.

Then technology progressed further forward to allow that computer play-pal to come in from the outside, directly into the home. The earliest games I played were on the Atari 2600 games console and the ZX Spectrum +2 computer. With the Atari, you had the original arcade video game ‘Pong’ to play, which had become so popular. It may not appear to be much of anything looking at it, yet there is something to compare it to. Many children have or had the opportunity to play ‘catch’ with a parent or guardian – throwing a simple ball back and forth between one another – and I feel Pong is the digital equivalent of that. While the differences are clear, it’s the same concept to a small child. There is someone there (although artificial) willing to pass this ball back and forth. A substitute for a real person when there is no one available.

From there the friendship is secured, and providing that there is everything in the home available to make the computer or games console work correctly, you have a reliable, unchanging and versatile companion to play games with – keeping you occupied and taking your mind off of feeling bored and/or lonely. Eventually the games would slowly start to become more complex and introduce new concepts and themes to the child. One particular series of games that I fondly remember on the Spectrum was called ‘Dizzy’. Here you take control of what can only be described as a “walking egg”, which you have to keep out of harm’s way while exploring a fantasy world, figuring out how to use items that are discovered in order to advance on your journey.

With this game you’re starting to learn more about problem solving, developing your ability to work out the basics of using one thing with another, as well as more abstract ideas. You can identify yourself as being in the characters shoes. If you’re deeply investing a lot of emotion in to it, you can really be quite upset or be despairing when the egg “loses a life” and you “die”. It tells a lot about the person’s state of mind and the level of emotional well-being when you’re making the choice to protect the character at all costs – showing concern and care – or becoming angry and frustrated at the character – leading you down the path of punishing the one you control – by having it die over and over again. You’re taking into consideration morality at an early age, in a very simple way.

There is also an indication of how the individual handles success and failure. Do you give up after the first try, or persevere no matter what? Is there a desire to throw the game out of the window by the end of it or a sense of achievement, fulfilment and accomplishment? I’ll continue with these thoughts in the next part.

 

A History of Video Games – The journey of the Human Condition Pt. 1

Sitting down to set about writing about a life time of video game playing can by itself, be a fairly gargantuan task. Going into how that shapes you as a person; how it teaches you about relationships; how it tackles your deepest fears; how it becomes your only companion in a world of loneliness and many other things – is something else entirely.

For some, video games are just a bit of fun. Something to unwind to. A way to have a laugh. In other people’s eyes, video games are not meant to be taken seriously, after all, they’re more aimed at kids and juvenile adults, right?

I start this chapter with some hesitance and some conviction.

I am looking to make a case for how video games can be an essential coping mechanism for those who come to find themselves lost to the harsher realities of the human condition. When all else is failing and crumbling down around a person, sometimes it is the unconventional and unorthodox which is the only way to survive it.

This is something I need to take care with and take time to explain, to go into, and I hope it will do it justice.

I will start from the time of being barely old enough to witness it, through till now. Hopefully part 2 will come soon.

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