Archive for August, 2008

21st Century Witches

August 31, 2008

A Conversation With a Friend

In 1998, while in a psychiatric hospital, a friend of mine was verbally attacked by a nursing assistant. It was a stinging, remorseless attack. One, she claims, that was completely unprovoked. She was told that she was undeserving. A ‘waste of resources’. Ironically, she was sitting in the same room as a woman who had once tried to burn her boyfriend to death and a man who had a history of violent behaviour. This nursing assistant was looking for an easy target and, like any self-respecting coward, he selected the easiest target in the room.

And the reason he chose her to focus his pent-up aggression on was her diagnosis. She was, according to her consultant psychiatrist, ‘suffering’ from Borderline Personality Disorder.

If you should ever find yourself in need of psychiatric treatment there are two words you should dread hearing: ‘personality disorder’. Somebody once gave me this definition of a personality disorder: ‘the patients the psychiatrists dislike the most.’ For many this diagnosis is the kiss of death. It is a catch-all term that psychiatrists use when they can’t quite work out what is wrong with you. It is also used to define what they used to call moral insanity or maybe character defects. ‘Personality Disorders’ are often more value judgements than diagnoses. In a world with limited resources they are not usually a priority. Society is arranged hierarchically and this is replicated in psychiatry and mental health nursing. Some are regarded as less ‘deserving’ than others. Psychiatric patients with personality disorders are the ‘undeserving mentally ill’. This is a view unashamedly endorsed by some prominent psychiatrists and some have even advocated the denial of any kind of treatment.

One issue that is rarely addressed is that many ‘sufferers’ of personality disorders have endured severe trauma. Many have been abused. There is a clear and extensively documented correlation between a history of abuse and personality disorders. Did their flawed personalities contribute to their original abuse? Perhaps they invited childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence. Perhaps they asked for it. There is little acknowledgement that these people are products of their histories. They are detached from their context, a strangely superficial stance for people attempting to understand how people’s minds work to adopt.

The claim that personality disorders are untreatable has been refuted but media coverage of the issue does not reflect this. For many in the media experts are infallible. There is an unwillingness to admit that they may be wrong. The truth is that everyone is fallible and psychiatrists are more fallible than most. All medicine is to some extent an art and psychiatry is more of an art than most.

Many also seem to forget that personality disorders do not preclude the possibility of co-morbid disorders. The system rejects them not because they are likely to harm others but because they are not. They are maligned because they are easy to malign. They are complex and difficult to treat. In a profession enslaved by the pharmaceutical industry those who do not respond to medication are ‘untreatable’. They serve as mirrors to the fallibility of psychiatry and ‘the medical model’ and that is why they are hated.


And a little inhouse catfight between medical specialisms on the subject of self harm can be found here. Entertaining stuff.  One wonders how, given the frequency with which they fight amongst one another, they ever get around to treating anybody.

This is the Season of the Witch

August 29, 2008

The Gloating of the Townspeople

I walk along the pier
The fishermen are weeping
Slaves rattle their chains
The liberated hold their freedom aloft
The townspeople mock and gloat
They know now that I am not a witch
For I would not float
Time has not been kind to me

Once I set the night aflame
Once I was enigmatic and adored
And I rarely spent a night alone
And now I spend my days
Making dentures out of dead men’s teeth
And on everlasting nights I burrow beneath
Heavy and unwashed sheets

Every morning is a game
My wounds are worse than yours, I claim
By day I use my words as ammunition
I take aim and fire and the townspeople scatter
I push them to the periphery of my vision
And suddenly they cease to matter
And I lose myself momentarily

Addendum: Some people have difficulty with the idea that poet and speaker are not necessarily one and the same. In the above poem I have adopted a persona, just as an actor adopts a role. This is what I do in all my poetry. Please remember that.

Rainbow Teardrops

August 29, 2008


New Creation

August 29, 2008

I Try To Live My Life By This Creed….

August 29, 2008

The epigraph to Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Sang Des Autres: ”Each of us is responsible for everything and to every human being.’

(Attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky.)

But then I realized that this is a tad impractical.

So I tried to replace it with this:

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

…but then I realize that this leaves me open to charges of bystander apathy.

Research cognitive dissonance and remember that ambivalence is not a crime. Sometimes it is the only sane response.

Most Unseasonal

August 27, 2008

The river is frozen over now
A winter dream
Suppressing a silent scream
It is so long I think
Since I last saw the sun

Too long.
I hold my breath
Awaiting its return
Longing for something,
Anything to happen

Then I reflect that some
Spend their entire lives
In this way
Waiting for something
Anything to happen

Maybe life, maybe death
And something snaps inside me
And I don my skates
And I surge forward
Shooting across the ice
Liberated of expectation

I want to go into hibernation. I want to return to my childhood home, to lie in my double bed beneath a feather filled duvet, my cat curled up on my chest, staring at the ceiling, listening to radio four. Woman’s Hour, The Moral Maze, The Afternoon Play. This would be the means by which I would measure out my days. Utterly passive, utterly peaceful.

New Acquisition

August 25, 2008

By the Sea

August 24, 2008

On the Beach

August 20, 2008


August 17, 2008

At first the voice was a benign, comforting presence but, as time passed, it became menacing and malevolent. Her own weapon had turned against her. A crazed dog who turns on its mistress when it is in pain. Gemma did not feel as though this voice was a part of her. It was an intruder embedded in her head. A parasite feeding off her thoughts and feelings. At first she welcomed it, embraced it, nurtured it. At first it had kept her alive. Now it was trying to kill her. A daemon behind the scenes, one that was visible only to her. A puppeteer pulling on her strings.

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