Mental health: tales of hope
A new book of words and pictures offers an honest but positive view of mental health
06 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot
Artwork in the book includes ‘Sea horses’ by Gingerberry Rose
DELUSIONS, commanding voices, all-consuming depression, wild highs and crippling lows, suspicion of sleep, finding calm in self-harm, fantasying about suicide and acting on it.
Millions of people in this country will know at least some of those feelings well, as the title of Jethro Bor’s collection of real-life stories makes clear. But conversations about mental health remain painfully stilted and awkward; either too much information, or too little. Why?
Stigma – literally the mark of disgrace – has become a worn-out word in this debate and does not fully answer the question.
“I came to believe really the reason is fear,” suggests journalist Patrick Cockburn in the book’s foreword. “People are terrified of mental distress today in a way they are not frightened of physical disease.”
If all we truly know is ourselves, then it is terrifying to contemplate the collapse of the mind. Add to that the prospect of being detained, later isolated in “community care”, antipsychotic medication with its frightening names – “chlorpromazine, Modecate injections, Stelazine”, as one writer in the book records. It is no wonder we struggle to find the words.
Patrick wrote a best-seller about the mental health system after his son Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being rescued by fishermen from the Channel. “I wish I had read these stories 20 years ago,” writes Patrick.
‘Sax Man’ by Daniel
The honest and helpful stories in Jethro’s book do not sanitise or sensationalise. They open a door into an often hidden world. They are universally positive about the potential for recovery.
Describing his own breakdown while living in Holloway, Jethro said: “I was at a political conference in London and I found I just couldn’t turn the brakes on. I kept thinking about things, I stopped sleeping. I became sort of psychotic. I was hearing things that weren’t there and seeing things that weren’t there.”
In his book, Edward’s story tells of a similar experience – about how he began “seeing bugs in my bed and hearing voices (that I thought was God) telling me to do things, even to which direction I should walk”. All the experiences in the book can be linked together in some way.
In the Haven, in Highbury Grove, Jethro met a gambling addict, alcoholics, people with depression and psychosis. He made friends and has recorded some of their stories in his book. “It was quite a reflection of society, all sort of walks of life, ages – it felt safe and the food was quite nice.”
The food was not universally enjoyed by all, according to Charlotte’s story in the book, who warns: “The cabbage! the daily custard! But I was lucky. My husband brought in the most delicious food – all the best of Waitrose!” Charlotte died during the editing of the book.
The writers in Jethro’s collection are mainly positive about the use of antipsychotic medication.
‘Bird’ by Charlotte
Jethro says: “I was on sledge-hammer medication and I realised I couldn’t go back to uni. I tried to do a couple of modules – but the medication [Risperidone] was numbing my brain. It works, in that it knocks out the psychosis.
“But it can make you very depressed. I found it hard to find feelings of happiness.
“I was on it for two and half years, but it led me through the two breakdowns.”
One passage in the book talks about the difficulty of finding work after a breakdown. Many community care patients have to take unpaid voluntary roles fearing stress from an unknowing or unsympathetic employer might trigger another collapse.
Jethro, 37, who grew up and lived for many years around Holloway, says: “Mainly I hope the book will help families because none are prepared for these things when they happen.
“I knew people who had breakdowns and mental illness, but also I didn’t have any understanding of what was happening and how to deal with it when I first got ill.
“The book tells you what it’s like. It’s a horrible experience, but I wanted to show to families that people can pull through.”
The book is filled with art, mosaics and poetry and is dedicated to parents Shirley Franklin and Mike Bor, and older brother Joe Bor.
- Some of Millions: From Breakdown to Breakthrough. Compiled and edited by Jethro Bor, foreword by Patrick Cockburn, The Book Guild, £9.99