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AFTER THE ASYLUM - A YEAR ON

by Chris Barchard

Going crazy turns everything upside down. Part of the way I was feeling prior to my major manic episode in 1998 was the restrictiveness of being a 'service user' and living in a world that was overshadowed at every turn by some aspect of mental health. I had been the complete user, and I protested at the attitudes of normal society as I perceived them. That world went bad on me and I made a quixotic attempt to break free of it. But here I am, somewhat over a year out of the asylum, tranquillised into a condition that does not make me feel optimistic about making it back into the ordinary world of work and society.

Being in charge of 'Voices' had its attractions. It kept me very busy and I met a lot of interesting people. Getting put back into asylums again was a wholly negative experience. It seemed that the staff in those places had not heard of the user movement. I'm sure the truth was that they had but were doing everything they could to ignore it and what better than to act as if it didn't exist. I thought I could finally do without drugs. Even the psychiatrist I was seeing was willing to give it a try. No luck. Looks like I'm on them for life. Broken dreams.

I've no particular desire to get into campaigning again. I know how crazy I have been. I'm not into retracting all the things I said about psychiatry in my days in the user movement. I'm just wondering whether any of those professionals heard a word of it. I refuse to attend day centre - solitude being far preferable to that. I stay as far as possible away from psychiatry as I can, just seeing the psychiatrist and the psychotherapist (yes I got one of those, who is going to make a new man of me in twelve sessions) and a support worker Someone at the local day centre died just recently - suicide I think - fat lot of good it did him.

Seems like a lot of us spend our lives looking for a life, wanting to come alive when all the time the tranquillisers are killing what makes us feel alive. I'm not a schizophrenic now. The psychiatrist is saying it's manic depression, or so she says. Not that that changes what's wrong with me or the treatment very much. She says it can change the prognosis but maybe she's just trying to buck me up.

I've had thirty years of the psychiatric system and don't think its a lot different than it was at the beginning. A few changes, the drugs are not so painful but still mind-numbing. The nurses are no better, still dehumanising in their general attitude. You've got to change yourself if you can. I'm still working on it, maybe I always will be.