Wednesday 3 February 2010

Breaking the Silence

I haven’t done one of my ‘favourite blog’ posts for absolutely ages but when I saw this new one I had to do whatever I could to push people its way. The blog is called Breaking the Silence and it’s important.
Breaking the Silence is different in that it isn’t written by one person. It doesn’t have gorgeous artwork or stunning pictures (and hellfire I’m a sucker for those). But this is a blog that, in my humble estimation, really needs to be read. It’s about mental illness. But not dull statistics and worthy doctors spouting research. This isn’t about numbers (though those are frightening – one in four people suffer from some form on mental illness), it’s about people. People like you and me telling their stories. They’re doing it in an attempt to stop the stigma that still exists around mental health issues.
As many of you know I battle the black dog. I had a bad bout of post-natal depression and then a few other bouts of general ‘what IS the point’ depression. I’ve recently come off medication and hoping I can keep my head above water.
Do read the blog: follow it, tell people about it. Together we can shift the way society feels about us – yes, a large number of us.

To give you a taster, I’m including here one story from the blog, written by a wonderful woman in New York City who has become a good online friend. Janine Crowley Haynes is a stunning writer and I have to say that when I first read her book My Kind of Crazy, I ended up with tears pouring down my face. Having said that, at other times she had me laughing out loud. My Kind of Crazy is self-published so you can buy it – but if you know an agent or publisher who’d like to take it mainstream, do please get in touch with Janine.

THE following article was written by Janine for the women's writing community Judith's Room. Here are her words.

"I AM crazy.
There, I said it.
This is the opening line in my book. Now, I know it's not politically correct to use the term crazy when referring to someone with a mental illness, but I wear the label like a badge of honor.
I feel I've earned it. The first commandment in writing is: Write what you know. Well, I know crazy. My kind of crazy is known as bipolar disorder.
I was diagnosed fifteen years ago. Within that time, I've experienced relentless cycles of severe mood swings and psychotic episodes. I've been committed to a psych ward more times than I can count. I've been treated by various doctors and have been on countless medication regimens.

During my last episode, I sank to a new depth — I attempted suicide. I swallowed a bunch of pills to put myself out of the never-ending misery which had become my life.
This all sounds so depressing, right? Not really.
There are lessons to be learned when one is diagnosed as crazy.
I also inject humor into my story to help wash down the jagged little pill of mental illness. In fact, I believe that one must embrace their inner-craziness in order to heal, evolve, and move forward to help change the perception of mental illness and dismantle the stigma.
Just like any other organ, when the brain gets sick, it exhibits symptoms and should be managed and treated. I began writing as a form of therapy to work through the enormous guilt I felt over my suicide attempt. I decided to share my writings via email with close friends and family.
The feedback was amazing. They kept asking for more, and I obliged. I took them on a journey inside the locked psych ward and gave them a taste of what it's like to be crazy. Sharing my experience, through writing, has been therapeutic for all of us.
Writing is an effective way be heard without being interrupted. By opening up via email, a flurry of cyber-dialogue ensued. It helped us laugh and cry. It healed emotional wounds. It humbled me to receive such an outpouring of love and forgiveness. Little did I know my scribble would later turn into chapters of a book.
My doctor suggested I convert my manuscript into book formation so he could circulate it amongst patients and staff members of the hospital. At first, I went the traditional route of seeking out literary agents, sending query letters, researching publishers, etc.

It wasn't long before I learned that if you're not a doctor, celebrity or a well-known anybody, it's virtually impossible to have a memoir published. So, I chose to self-publish. Self-publishing is not for everyone, but it served my purpose. I wanted to get my message out and did not want to wait around for the next-to-impossible publishing contract. From start to finish, it took me a total of six months to turn it into a book. I then listed it on

What followed was a strange and beautiful outcropping. Psychology professors now are using my book in their classes. I'm guest speaking for mental health organizations. My book rests on a library shelf in the psychiatric hospital where I used to be a patient and am now a volunteer.
Recently, My Kind of Crazy was chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. And, strangely enough, a Hollywood producer read my script based on my book and is interested. I guess you can say this is crazy at its best.

On the 17th day of March 2005, I attempted to take my life. Through writing (and, of course, staying on my meds), I found a way to turn my darkest day into light and shed that light on dismantling the stigma attached to mental illness. Like so many, I suffered in silence, but, today, I am out of the “crazy closet” in a major way. Yes, I am bipolar, but I no longer allow my disorder define me. I define it for all who will listen to my tale."


Ladybird World Mother said...

Am off now to look at all your links. I too like you suffer from that wretched and persistent black dog... its good to read other's stories. Thanks for this... may be back with another comment once I have read everything. I may be some time....! xx
(word veri is tamed. If only, eh?!)

My KindofCrazy said...

Once again, Jane, the gifts of knowing you continue to manifest in my life. I am honored and humbled to have your support in helping to dismantle the stigma of mental illness. I am forever grateful for your friendship....xxoo Janine aka Mother Nature

Tattieweasle said...

Oh God this is all so familair - well you know. I stood out way back in 1999 and feel I have been paying for it ever since. I shut up. Every now and then I try to speak out but I just don't feel strong enough. I think this is amazing and in a moment I will pluck up the courage and pop over...

Exmoorjane said...

LWM: thanks for checking out the spread the word.

Janine: when i believe in something I tend to bang on about it. You're pretty good yourself, you know!

Tattie: ah thought of you with this... would you like to get involved?

Tattieweasle said...

I'm about to PM you...

Unknown said...

thank you sio much for your wonderful words of encouragement and sending your readers our way xx

What do you mean no gorgeous artwork, :) I'll have you know I'm the rightful heir to Tracey Emin, well I have a messy bed anyway. x

Pipany said...

Wonderful writing and thank god for people who are prepared to open up to dispel the ludicrous stigma surrounding mental health. Thank you both x

Exmoorjane said...

So strange - and sad. I usually get a rash of comments on blog posts but this one is curiously silent... Is it because the stigma really does still abound? Or because it's serious, not silly? Just wondering. :(

Mary Poppins said...

I have popped over here more times than I can mention Jane to leave a comment and only now have I plucked up the courage :) Maybe many more have popped over too. Yes tis quiet over here, but doesn't mean there are not many, many people thinking about your heartfelt post.

I tend to lean to the anxious worrier side of things and have a dreadful, dreadful fear of bad things hapening, a little OCD which I have to say is much better. I do think holding my tiny dead baby who was born prematurely and seeing him buried, kind of brought everything to the surface, I think my anxiety has always been there but loosing J defiantly exacerbated it all. I also think far too much, always thinking, my mind never shuts up and thats when I over think and get anxious. Any tips ;)

Thank for the enlighning post and I shall check out the links


Fire Byrd said...

Anything that helps reduce the stigma related to psychological health has to be a good thing.
Cause there for the Grace of God do we all go..
BTW down in Devon next week, and could do lunch Thursday if I could anyone who wanted to meet up with me...hint!

Zoë said...

Runs in my family - alongside breast cancer and diabetes - we have all the luck!

Youngest brother and Dad's sister suffer badly with Bi-polar symptoms, brother so much so he is currently staying at my parents to keep him safe.

There was a terrific garden at Hampton Court a couple of years ago that created a very striking visual representation of Bi-Polar Syndrome, and did a lot to raise awareness and hopefully the stigma attached to this and other mental health issues.

I know when I told the nurse in hospital recently when in for surgery, I was having counselling and on Fluoxetine (Prozac)I got a sideways look which annoyed me intensely and was just more of the same ignorance, although you would hope medical professionals knew better.

The more that can be said and done by people, especially those that suffer to enlighten the general populous, the better. Well done all concerned!

M@M aka VP ;) said...

Thanks for highlighting such an important blog.

As one in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness at some point, it must mean that nearly everyone is touched by it in some way.

Having just written that, I'm even more stumped that it's still such a taboo subject.

Liz said...

An excellent blog post - mental illness affects so many people and the stigma is crap! So thank you for this......

I also looked at the older blog post with Liz Jones in it...... I didn't realise it was you that was the other woman in Exmoor that she sometimes refers too... Great fun to read, but I think she's barking!! With an ego bigger than the amount of her debt.....

Liz x

Tattieweasle said...

Hi jane
I have posted about me and my depression and I linked this post too. I hoep you don't mind. I shoudl ahve asked first...sorry...creeps in to basket and makes eyes really round no that's not me it's the whippet...

Bluestocking Mum said...

This is a wonderful blog jane - keep it up!

It is strange how people find it hard to talk about and deal with - if someone had a ruddy big bandage on their arm they would be inundated with people asking them what they had done...There is still so much stigma attached to mental illness. I don't think it's deliberate - it is purely ignorance and embarrassment.So many people don't 'get it' - as if being told to pull yourself together or what have you got to be depressed about etc will snap you out of it.

You've probably heard that Marian Keyes is having a tough time at present - she's had quite a lot of stick from various press because of a post that was put up on her january newsletter (probably by her agent/publisher.)
Anyway, there's a real mixed bag of responses - some are scandalous (Mail etc)

Personally,I think she's done a lot to help raise many of the taboo subjects through her profile and writing. But what is striking is the response on her site - you might like to check it out. Remember what I always tell you about how YOU have that ability to 'touch people?' Well she has it too.

CAMILLA said...

Brilliant writing as always Jane.

I think there is so much stigma attached to mental illness, and some people are not wanting to share their views on it, so well done Jane for writing this blog about it.


K.C. Woolf said...

Love the site, the idea and the story.