The Green Canteen

During our search for Ian’s mental well-being, this is the journey we undertook at Springfield hospital. Plus waiting in their green canteen.

Springfield Hospital

“The last resort”

I will try to write something
However mundane
Every Tuesday for 15 weeks
At about half past three.

Your life is being prepared
Like the drink in the machine
And the stories you tell
To avoid washing up

I hear tales behind me
Of industry and action
And I find myself wondering
Why the fuck am I here?

In the wreckage and ruins
Of a Victorian philanthropist
Whose vision of the lonely
Is turning hotel-wards.

A restful stay for all he hoped
He might have though it possible
But all I see is emptiness
And cars and trees and grass.

The shuttered rooms
And shattered lives
That lie within this place
Are what it is – the last resort.

Springfield Hospital

“Panic Attack”

Panicking sweaty
Rigid eyes staring
Out of greasy face
Holding stiffened sheets
Up to shoulders.
Palely scared
Goose pimpled flesh
Lonely heart pumping
Holding stiffened arms
Up to surrender.

Magick and loss

“6259”

You can tell the staff
They carry laptops I wonder if
I carry one will I be cured?
They know the Code to the door
I will watch and wait.
Patients fiddle with their hair
If I lose it will I make it?
Staff have cars so do we.
If I pedal will I be free?
They park where they shouldn’t
I shall clamp them and walk away.
It says give way as I turn up
Why should I?
A man walking in a triangle
I hope he has the right angle
To get out. Talking about
People they don’t know
Colleagues are patients too.
Analysis on the corner
You with papers me with luggage
Who’s the winner in this meeting?

Phoning in sick

“Going over”

Going over the notes
Discussing it all
In the green canteen
That haven of carers.

The expansive hand gestures
Intensive expressions
A tie half undone
Because of the heat.

The sweat’s in your head
Your hand’s up your arse
I wish I was green
But the mould’s turning grey

As I wait and I wait
In that still silent space
No moving, no talking
And no fucking treatment.

Springfield Hospital

“The Green Canteen”

Here in the green canteen
Waiting for Ian.
The voices that burble
Their useless efficiency
Here in the green canteen
Waiting for Ian.

I worry about him
In the green canteen.
So hopeful and hopeless
Aware of the problem
Alert to the cause
Waiting for Ian.

If I could change lives
At the click of a finger
The first thing I’d do
Is paint the walls blue
In the green canteen
Waiting for Ian.

The Green Canteen

“Boxed”

Your tails and misdemeanours
Are inside a nice box file.
Those happy childhood memories
You walking up the aisle.

A post-it note is all you get
And a casual thumbing through.
I wonder if this kind of life
Is anything like you?

Springfield Hospital

“Sometimes”

Sometimes I want to scream at you
Until my tongue bleeds
And my teeth fly out of my head
Like darts into your unfeeling face.

Sometimes I want to shake you
Until your thin white body
Turns into jelly in my hands
And sinks into a red pool at my feet.

Sometimes I want to slam a door
So hard that the frame splinters in my skull
Destroying the last vestige of my brain
Leaving me empty of feeling forever.

Sometimes I want to love you
So hard that we are welded together
In a furnace of freedom from pain
And the misery that dogs your every step.

By Sarah Springham, 1952-2019

Power in the darkness

Recovery with hope, control, and opportunity

My road to recovery

In my 30s, I experienced a series of breakdowns far beyond anything thitherto experienced. It felt as though the entire Universe had exploded, the echoes of which long reverberated in my psyche. Whilst trying to find appropriate help, I had to deal with an ever-more bewildering set of diagnoses, as I revealed more of my inner world. My labelling starting with Panic Disorder and went through to Borderline Personality Disorder and beyond. What little hope of recovery was there?

Despite this admirable list, there seemed to be little means of help available and whilst awaiting therapy, as well as researching and joining groups online such as BorderlineUK and PersonalityPlus, I joined the Service Users Network. However, what I really needed was one-on-one psychotherapy. After incessant badgering from my wife, 13 psychotherapeutic sessions became available. Despite confirming many of my worst fears, they were over before I could start to stuff the released demons back into their respective bottles.

Further pressures from my wife brought about a 40-week series of sessions with an esteemed psychotherapist – such was the complexity of the presenting disorders. Having reached a greater understanding and acceptance of myself, there also being no more therapy available on the NHS, I set upon a haphazard course through Alcoholics Anonymous, Croydon College, and Merton Adult Education’s art classes for people similarly troubled.

Full speed ahead!

There was no stopping me. I blossomed through art and Imagine Mental Health eventually invited me to run their art sessions. This was the outwardly visible start of rebuilding my life, as I found I could use my previously untapped empathy and experiences to help others. Classes and exhibitions of artwork followed, giving confidence in both mine and others’ recovery. Finally, I’d found a way through.

Later the MACS drug & alcohol project further extended belief in my artistic and mentoring skills, and lead to me volunteering for the online forum that Rethink Mental Illness provides. I put longstanding IT skills and online experience developed as coping mechanisms, to better and wider use. RethinkTalk is an online community for everyone affected by severe mental illness to exchange ideas, opinions, artwork, and support. My roles there as moderator, guide, advocate, activist, friend, mordant artist, and occasional wit, have hopefully also helped others explore their situations in a safer, more supportive environment.

Recently I’ve gone one step further. After therapy with Survivors UK for the worst effects of my childhood, my psychiatrist referred me to the nascent Recovery College. The College’s “Telling Your Story” and “Planning Your Own Recovery” courses and the combination of these other supportive, sharing environments saw me successfully applying for the post of Peer Trainer at the College. I now bring my lived experience to assist the students’ continued recovery – it helps my own progress too!

With the enduring love and support of my wife, I now have hope, control, and opportunity, having found the meaning of my life in helping others to find the meaning and purpose in theirs.

Power in the darkness

“Power in the darkness”

(c) Ian Springham, 2011
Written for Rethink’s Magazine “My Voice” as the Pringle Award winner, 2011

Alone Again Or

“Telling my story”

I suppose that my story – or at least the interesting part – begins at the start of the road to my recovery; soon after my diagnosis, or to be more accurate, my diagnoses. After about half a dozen labels had affixed to – and fallen off – me, none adhering too well, the vast and forbidding one, marked “Borderline
Personality Disorder” proved sufficiently sticky unto the day; as well as the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Diagnosis: help or hindrance?

This diagnosis was as much a curse as a blessed explanation of the volatile minefield between my ears and behind mine eyes. It gave some indication of why I was the way that I was, what – as much as anyone could tell – might happen next, and what fell consequences and outcomes to be expected. The downside – well, one of many – was that the attached label had been used for too long in the medical and psychiatric professions as a shorthand for “untreatable neurotic.” With this heavy sign around my neck, how was help, support, or even a cure possible when with me effectively cast aside as irreparably damaged?

BPD, for short, is sometimes, perhaps more accurately, known as “Emotionally Dysregulated or Emotionally Unstable Personality (and generally having a permanent hissy fit) Disorder” which does pretty much what it says on the tin. Over more years than I care to bring back to immediate, painful, humiliating, graphic recollection, my thoughts have been spiralling around a half-dozen plugholes simultaneously – rather like a hideous cross between “Alice in Wonderland” and a troupe of “Whirling Dervishes.” Each of these eddying vortices of fear, dread, and terror have a name that helps signpost the way that the personal and deeply private Hells therein manifest to trap, imprison, torture and stifle their victims.

Praise – another story?

The mnemonic that I learnt for recognition of symptoms was “PRAISE” – probably the word furthest from my mind, given the circumstances. This happy acronym encompasses the following:

  • Paranoid ideas
  • Relationship instability
  • Angry outbursts, affective instability, abandonment fears
  • Impulsive behaviour, identity disturbance
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Emptiness

Background

Looking back over my life, since my disturbed and chaotic upbringing, through troubled childhood, turbulent adolescence and haphazard adulthood, I realised that all these things were true; what had I gained other than a lifetime of misery, beyond understanding and outside of expectation, neatly encapsulated into something that my psychiatrist probably saw on a bumper sticker?

Having had my deepest fears confirmed, that not only was life at least as much a crock of shit as I had fondly imagined, but also that there was a name for it and little else that anyone seemed willing to do about it; but galvanised by the love, understanding, anger and downright despair of my wife, we decided
that – to quote William Brown – “something ought to be done about it.”

The story of 10,000 steps

We had two approaches to these problems: the specific and the general; the therapeutic and the legal; the shotgun and the stiletto. We found early on that a condition neither fully diagnosed nor understood could be easily treated or ameliorated. I have lost count of the number of times that I went into crisis, with my wife phoning a doctor, ambulance, or helpline to try to deal with the real and immediate terrors that I faced on a nanosecond-by nanosecond basis.

The first line provision of emergency psychological services being so patchy, we spend innumerable dull stretching hours in clinics, hospital waiting rooms, on the end of the phone and writing letters to all parties; concerned and not, fascinated and disinterested, trying to find someone who could say more than “Yes, that’s a very complicated label you’ve got” but something closer to “That label is covering up a multitude of wounds; let us carefully prise it off, look at the damage beneath and see what we can do to help make it more bearable.”

Onwards and onwards and onwards

Through emergency visits to psychiatric consultants, doctors, housemen and almost any other rank of the frontline medical profession whose attention we could collar, for no matter how short a period, we were given the startling news that my problems were almost entirely psychological in nature, basis and
background; probably something to do with what passed for my early development, reinforced by repetition and traumata over time.

This came as little surprise and equally little comfort to either my wife or me. Prior to my series of breakdowns, I had sought to access my “early life records” from the social services department who had been in loco parentis for much of my early life. The commingled fears that the authorities knew of my early
suffering at the hands of predatory abusers, even – horror of horrors – documented or a matter of no concern whatsoever, had really tipped me over the edge. Over the course of a week, during which we were facing eviction, in a stream of consciousness, I had told my wife just about everything that had happened to me as a child. Everything came out, almost all at once, but for the redeeming qualities of the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

Getting sh!t done

By the time that I was again able to cogently use a computer or telephone without injury to myself or others: some weeks, in fact, we set about finding if there was any legal redress for the quite avoidable misfortunes that had typified my life and had, inevitably – so it seemed – led to me to transform from an
everyday shambling and chaotic wastrel with odd flashes of brilliance into a dullard with a future only fit for a fruit basket. That particular journey started at with the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, through Victim Support, the Juvenile Protection Unit, and the Inns of Temple and Bar, almost to the High Court. By this time, with Legal Aid and time running short, the London Borough in question an offer put to me.

Whilst acknowledging that my life in their hands had been a predictable, lamentable, and possibly even avoidable catalogue of disaster, ineptitude, and misery, for they could not hold themselves vicariously accountable, so touched were they by my plight that they offered the application of some form of financial salve to the running and festering wound that was my psyche. With no option available but to accept the pitiable emolument proffered, I continued to assist the General Social Care Council (GSCC) with their internal enquiry into the matters raised, whilst simultaneously undergoing the psychotherapy so long sought and even attending a local college to help reintegrate my Self with The Others. This usual all-or-nothing approach is typical of many mental health conditions: infuriating but an occasional help in times of crises.

No sh!t, Shylock!

As I feared, and considered that even the most myopic of prophets could have foretold, the GSCC came to the same conclusion that the legal defence team had suggested; namely, that as dreadful and compelling my plight might be, it was not provable. The months and years of assisting the State by supplying evidence to the detriment of my mental well-being and my wife’s firm belief in justice had come to nought.

Arse longa, vita minus

An additional arrow in my armoury to fight in the ever-continuing battle against the demons body-slamming and bungee jumping inside my head was artistic. I joined a local art group for people with mental and emotional problems. I started out with painfully obsessively controlled pseudo-Surrealist work with everything as “perfect” as possible.

A few months later, under pressure from several external quarters, something changed within me: I finally started to ask myself why I was trying to do what I thought other people wanted me to do. All this changed and I returned to an earlier interest, Abstract Expressionism, and my work flourished. Finally, I had a means of partial release of the contradictory, compartmentalized, conflicting pressures within my mind. Ever larger and increasingly expressive works created, in the attempt to find some cogency and control over my terrifying worldview, finally led to exhibitions of my works, starting with the local Baptist Church, through to a gallery in Old Street and even Atlanta International Airport. The Art classes that I had been attending were in danger of closure due to the lack of anyone to lead them; to my surprise, I accepted the opportunity to take charge of them.

Are we there yet?

I wish that this were an unparalleled story of success and triumph over adversity, but we are not there yet. This multivariate approach to finding a faltering way through the morass of my mind has worked to some degree, but the lack of appropriate, progressive, and suitable therapies within a controlled and sustainable
milieu is in part responsible for such scattergun techniques. Despite my most fervent badgering, the NHS seems unwilling or unable to find funds, resources, or people to assist me further in my recovery, so my hodgepodge hopping from one temporary partial solution to another continues.

The end of the story?

I may still be whistling, but is no longer done entirely in the dark.

“We are all in the sink, but some of us are dancing around the plughole”
© Ian Springham, 2010

“We are all in the sink, but some of us are dancing around the plughole”

© Ian Springham, 2010
I wrote this for the “Telling Your Story” course at South West London Recovery College.
Published in “Telling our stories, Recovering our lives” by South West London & St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, 2010

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