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Living with mental illness

“I understand my illness more with the help of staff & friends at Chestnut”butterfly

‘We are a network of people living with, and affected by, experiences that are often diagnosed and labelled as psychiatric conditions. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world, and help us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.’ The Icarus Project.

‘6,000 people a year in Britain are recorded as having committed suicide, though the real figure is probably far higher. The universally-criticised new mental health bill is aimed at forcibly medicating psychiatric patients in the community and incarcerating people with “personality disorders” in case they become dangerous.  This concern for public safety is based on wholly inaccurate stereotypes about the mentally ill.  The fact is that violent acts by the mentally ill are extremely uncommon and we are far more likely to be dangers to ourselves.  Where is the legislation that will help prevent us killing ourselves by improving our social conditions and treatment options?’  Mad Pride

Mental illness can devastate the lives of the person with the illness, and of their family and friends who cannot always cope, leaving the individual isolated, lonely and powerless. It becomes impossible to plan anything because the person cannot predict how they will feel.

Some people find it impossible to go outside. We have people at Chestnut who hadn’t been out of their homes for years. It is quite common to feel everyone is talking about you, criticising, accusing, to feel that you are being followed, hunted, persecuted. The hunters can be demons, customs officers, police, MI5. Voices can come out of the television, the radio, the sky, telling a person that they are not worthy, they need to harm themselves. Others believe they have been raped or poisoned.

The strategies people adopt to try to relieve their suffering are often part of the illness: for example ritualised cleaning and washing which then completely dominates their life. There has been much publicity recently about people who self-harm, who cut or burn themselves to divert attention from the pain in their head.

Many people are put on powerful medication to control the symptoms. These drugs themselves can have severe side effects. Some people are able to have various forms of behavioural therapies, or to learn coping strategies, or attend voice-hearing groups. Sometimes they have to re-learn basic life skills: washing, dressing appropriately, budgeting, cooking…

The lucky ones are able to find positive ways of distracting their thoughts by becoming involved in something important to them, which will divert their thoughts from their own problems. In some cases this can be where projects like Chestnut can help.

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‘Humankind cannot bear too much reality’ TS Eliot