Monday, 12 May 2014

Speaking up as a Mother


Yesterday was Mother's Day in the United States, an event that originated with the women's peace groups and "as a day recognizing women's social action":

"In the United States, Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), a Boston writer, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, first suggested a Mothers' Day in 1872. She saw it as a day dedicated to peace."  legacyproject.org

In Scotland and the UK we celebrated Mothering Sunday on the 4th Sunday in Lent, 30 March this year, and historically a time when people returned to their "mother church".  

I wanted to write this blog post both in praise of and defence of mothers.  Thinking especially of mothers who have been in and through the psychiatric system as mental patients and mothers who have supported family members in and through that same system, and who may have had to walk the plank or put on a flak jacket for the privilege.  For it's been my experience as a carer of 3 sons with "mental disorder" labels, and as a mother labelled with "schizoaffective disorder", that the patriarchal psychiatric system has a habit of targeting mothers, blaming us in the process.  

Well I'm fed up with the naming, shaming and blaming of mothers and of their offspring.  It's a man's world and it's way beyond time I think that men should share the responsibility for a mucked-up world and for expecting mothers to pick up the pieces.  I've become a feminist in my 60's, better late than never, after a lifetime of being a homemaker and someone who made soup, baked cakes and kept the home fires burning.  I enjoyed the role and embraced the "housewife" mentality while still retaining the freedom to be myself, to keep on learning and to enjoy the adventurous parts of life.  It was my choice and there was no coercion.

It was reading some of Bonnie Burstow's work [Electroshock as a Form of Violence Against Women] that shifted my perspective and brought me into a more feminist frame of mind.  I suppose I was headed that way from childhood when climbing trees, playing "kick the can" with the boys and going about proudly aged 10, in my cowgirl outfit with guns and holster, shooting the "baddies".  I also played with dolls and prams.  I had the best of both worlds and my parents encouraged this.  Looking back I consider myself very fortunate in my parenting and having grandparents nearby who I stayed with when my mother had "nervous breakdowns", disappearing into the mental hospital for spells.

Recently I attended two weekend seminars on Open Dialogue at the Round Chapel, Hackney, London, in March and at the beginning of May.  It was an opportunity to find out more from the Tornio team about their family therapy approach of working with people experiencing psychosis.

"The presentations will cover topics such as the history of the Open Dialogue approach, the structure of the service in Western Lapland and the principles that underlie it, the practice of meeting with (family) networks, the use of medication, working with people experiencing psychosis, the evidence base for the approach, and the roots of the approach (Gregory Bateson, Milan Systemic Therapy, Need-Adapted Treatment, the work of Tom Andersen, social constructionism, and Bakhtin and dialogical theory)." opendialogueapproach.co.uk

Three generations of my family have experienced psychoses/altered mind states as a normal occurrence, at times of transition and/or stress.  From my mother to my 3 sons, each of us has had to go in and through the psychiatric system, and be subject to coercive treatment when resistant to psychiatric drug treatment.  We have all received "mental disorder" labels and some of us have been disabled in the process.  As a mother and now grandmother I am very keen to learn about and promote alternative ways of working with people in psychoses.  


In September 2011 I had organised 'At the Sharp Edge', a dialogue event on peer led crisis alternatives, in Fife, Scotland, with a range of speakers, including Ron Coleman, Shery Mead and Fiona Venner (manager of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service).   The aim was to have discussions around working with psychosis, trauma, hearing voices, peer led initiatives and crisis alternatives.  I'd hoped that it would help in the development of a crisis alternative in my area of Fife. 

I'd also invited Bob Whitaker to Scotland in November 2011, when he gave a lecture on Anatomy of an Epidemic, in Cupar, Fife, near where I live, introductions at the event made by Prof Phil Barker and a vote of thanks by his wife Poppy Buchanan-Barker, architects of the Tidal Model of recovery, a mental health nursing approach.   

However by the end of 2011 my youngest son required crisis support which wasn't forthcoming at the point of need, despite his having a community psychiatric nurse.  This resulted in traumatic psychiatric inpatient treatment and my advocacy support of him in the clinical setting.  You might describe it as ironic that what happened to my son highlighted the inadequacies of the coercive, drug treatment approach.  In January Bob had asked me to be a writer on Mad in America, my first post was published on 29 January 2012, Navigating the System.  Then on 1 February my son ended up in a locked psychiatric ward, with injuries and so began our fight for justice and for our voices to be heard.  Writing on MIA helped me as a mother to have a voice and also for my son to be heard through my advocating for him.  It helped us to take back some of the power in the midst of our disempowerment.

Getting back to the London Open Dialogue (OD) seminars which were mostly attended by "professionals" from many NHS health board trusts in England, although there were some of us there identifying as psychiatric survivors.  I'd flown down from Edinburgh, Scotland, to attend the seminars, staying overnight in London, paid it for myself, a reduced rate price for unwaged.  After the first weekend I had some concerns about the seminar programme and the OD approach although I wasn't sure exactly what it was that bothered me.  I remember Emailing colleagues about it in the March, mentioning the sales pitch, also how on one hand it was about "hearing every voice" but on the other, at the small group discussions, it seemed that some voices weren't welcome.  I decided to attend the second weekend, of three, to find out more.

On the first day of the second May OD weekend there was a dialogue about a mother and son from the stage.  Markku Sutela, Mia Kurtti and Jaakko Seikkula were facilitating.  Something was said about the son being put on more medication because of the mother being anxious.  A question from the hall asked why not put the mother on medication/drugs.  I said that she probably already was on them.  Markku said he didn't think so.  He'd also mentioned being annoyed at the mother.  I tweeted what did the mother think of him.  Because it seemed that we were only hearing the "professionals" side of the story and not that of the mother and son.  When at the first OD weekend we kept hearing how nothing was said or written about the family without their being there or hearing it or suchlike.

Here are some tweets from the 2nd Open Dialogue weekend:












It felt at the second Open Dialogue seminar that the "blaming of mothers" reared its head.  Maybe because of the mother/son story being told from the third person perspective and personally, as a mother, and my mother before me, that we've been targeted by psychiatry as in "family history of", "difficult and demanding mother".  As if the psychiatric system has to dominate us and put us in our place, under the authority of men.  I've never been keen on being forced or made to conform if it doesn't make sense, if the teacher is boring or if there is institutionalised thinking.  The Open Dialogue language seemed medical and clinical, more aligned to systems thinking even though demonstrating level playing fields in their philosophy and approach.

I suppose I'm looking for radical thinking and paradigm shifts.  Like that of Scottish psychiatrist and visionary RD Laing, of whom Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker conclude in their piece 'The caring focus of RD Laing' 2001:

"Ultimately, however, Laing could not sustain the wild trajectory of his own personal growth. The caring emphasis of his work – often focused on severely disturbed women – suggests that he had spent his professional life trying to rehabilitate, metaphorically, the mother who had treated him with such callous, if not pathological, disregard. Finally the pins that his mother inserted in that voodoo doll found their spot and the light went out on young Ronald. Fortunately, his ideas have inspired a succession of voices, eager to develop his alternative vision of humanitarian psychiatry. The Laingian legacy remains in light."


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