Don’t ask what’s wrong with me

Don’t ask what’s wrong with me, ask what’s happened to me…

Kirsty LilleyAfter attending the ‘A disorder for everyone!’ event in Bristol earlier in 2017 and finding it illuminating, I am booking my ticket for the December event in Liverpool, my home town. I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see an interesting and varied panel of speakers including Peter Kinderman and Richard Bentall, as well as the opportunity to meet like minded folks keen to see a change away from the dominant medical discourse and understandings of mental health.

I am not disappointed, and spend the day witnessing passionate and inspiring speakers all advocating for a more compassionate, human centred approach to distress which firmly locates its sources within people’s social contexts and environments, as opposed to arising out of ‘chemical imbalances’ and ‘faulty genes’. There is a collaborative and genuinely welcoming feel to the event, and I have an opportunity to meet new people and catch up with friends I have met along my journey.

The day begins with an introduction from the ever-inspiring Jo Watson, who explains how a trip to the theatre to see Ruby Wax and the ensuing ‘broken brain’ analogy of emotional distress became the tipping point which would see her join forces with a group of people determined to spread more hopeful messages around mental health and people’s individual paths to recovery and wholeness. This event is about giving a voice to people’s stories and bearing witness to the indomitability of the human spirit and its ability to rise above distress.

After an opportunity to hear Lucy Johnstone talk once more about the discrepancies and fallacies of a medically orientated diagnostic focus in relation to understanding emotional distress, and the empowering use of formulation to help individuals make sense of their experiences and restore some agency, I am so very glad that I am attending this event again. I don’t think I will tire of listening to Lucy’s powerful and convincing arguments and witnessing audience members begin to see their experiences in a new and empowering light. This is confirmed by a number of people who give testament during the comments and questions. I am also very relieved that I am not the only one who apparently suffers from ‘too many words on the slides disorder’. Lucy is a new found ally!

Next up is Professor Richard Bentall who takes the audience through a clear and fascinating explanation of how ‘genetic causes’ of mental ill health are often inflated by the media and other interested parties and poorly understand by the general public. It’s a whistle stop tour and I barely keep up, but it is successful in underlining the point that the ‘truth’ often postulated that scientists have found a genetic cause of mental health difficulties is far from established. I make a note to myself to do all I can after the event to take my far from scientific brain through the finer workings of a forest graph. Richard has whetted my appetite, and I can only hope my little grey cells can keep pace!

Professor Peter Kinderman confronts me with a disturbing (they often are) picture of Donald Trump juxtaposed against the poverty in the world, and when I have recovered my equilibrium sufficiently I am once again enthralled. He outlines powerful and articulate arguments and the work and passion that has gone into his manifesto for change is evident. He calls for a total sea change in how we respond to and understand people’s distress in terms of the social injustices and discrimination we experience. He advocates for a deeply human centred and social approach to helping those of us who experience pain and distress. Again it’s too short a time slot, but in the break I’m already on Amazon ordering his book, ‘Prescription for Psychiatry’… he is a scouser after all, and as one myself we can never resist a plug! Money well spent indeed, and I’m already wondering if when I’ve finished the book he’ll take it in part exchange for his other tour de force work, ‘The new laws of psychology’. Two plugs here Peter, I’ll be asking for commission soon, just to afford my next ‘A disorder for everyone!’ ticket you understand!

It’s been a truly thought provoking, fascinating and illuminating event, and as I step out of T O Walker’s brilliant afternoon workshop entitled ‘Not my shame’, I feel different somehow – more alive and better equipped to have the courage to tell my story and continue my work to educate people in a more compassionate and people centred approach when understanding human distress and heartache. For me there is no concept of ‘them and us’, just ‘us and we’. If you are at all interested in people, mental health, advocating for more humane and compassionate ways to help those of us who have experience difficulty or understanding your own difficulties in new and empowering ways, then attend this event in 2018…. it’s a must! My only wish is that these events continue to grow and reach bigger and bigger audiences who can be challenged into thinking and acting differently. As 2018 approaches I hope to be part of that movement. It is long overdue.

Kirsty Lilley