A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Several months ago, I found myself in a conversation with a journalist at a networking event. I’d had a few drinks and was in my usual passionate mode; harping on about the excitement and revolution that seems to surround publishing right now. I tried to make (what I thought were) several astute points and the journalist nodded and smiled. We seemed to be getting on fine.
I said cheerio and turned away to cross the room. Behind me, the journalist (who shall remain unnamed, because they were understandably mortified afterwards) made the index finger of his hand wobble his lips and the other hand tapped the side of his head. This was a gesture to someone at the other side of the room and not for me to see. But I did. And I recognized it.
It is, of course, the universal sign for “this guy’s mental.”
Now, this is clearly extremely insulting. But I didn’t get angry. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even say anything as condescending as “you don’t know what I’ve been through” or “guess I’m the only one who’s passionate about books, mate.”
Because I’ve heard it all before. And I am a “nutter”, a “loony”, “schitzo.”
I am all of these things because I am someone with a “mental health disability.” I have a permanent condition featured in the broad group of psychotic affective disorders. This means that, from time to time, I have an onset of psychosis-that’s seeing and hearing things that aren’t there and being delusional among other things. The rest of the time, I have general issues regulating my mood; meaning I have bouts of depression, total elation and what a psychiatrist very gently termed “cognitive issues.” Means I don’t really understand what’s going on around me.
So what the journalist did, while unbelievably immature, was a common reaction. I am quite intense; without it, I would not be able to convince people to work for Cargo. I am quite moody; again, without it, I wouldn’t achieve the ecstatic elation that fires my creative side. And yes, I do get quite chatty, after a few drinks particularly. There’s no benefit to that element really.
Mental health discrimination doesn’t come in big, sweeping gestures. There is no spiteful, indemic word like “nigger” or “poof” to discriminate against mentally ill people. The whole series of gestures and words used to describe “crazies” are innocuous in comparison to the two I just gave and none of them carry a venomous weight of historical bile that racial, sexual or sexist jibes do.
No, discrimination in this area is far more convoluted. I often imagine it through the terms of an economist; a mentally ill person is a broken, defective unit of production. By that, I mean, someone who develops, say, schizophrenia temporarily becomes unable to produce money or wealth for the state. They don’t pay taxes. They devour hospital time, expensive drugs, outside support, outreach centres, home help, substance abuse support. And there is no end in sight. No definite conclusion of when this once productive person will return to normal capacity and stop burdening the state.
People with heart disease can be fixed. We know that there are a range of options-stents, bypass operations, pacemakers, even a full transplant. There is a timetable when this person will begin functioning and contributing again. Sure, they won’t be running marathons or fighting heavyweight title fights anytime soon, but they are back.
You probably think this is a crude and inaccurate comparison that devolves humans to automaton level. I would agree. But how else do you explain the prioritsing of resources toward the issue? In Scoltand, 1 in 5 people will suffer some form of ill mental health at some point; just 11% of NHS spending is currently devoted to it.
Put simply, it takes a long time to help someone who is mentally ill. It takes nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and pharmacologists; all who have to be trained and then work with the patient. And the drugs are expensive. And psychiatric wards are even more expensive. And, put simply, it’s bloody difficult. I remember sitting in my first ever psychiatric appointment at 15 years old and spending most of my time coaching the trainee psychiatrist, who was too nervous to ask just about anything. Most of the staff, who do care and want to help, are overworked, underpaid and ill-informed to deal with the vast presentation of cases. Again, hearts have certain fixes; head’s don’t.
Then there’s the statistical drive. After two sessions, a smug NHS consultant stated I was “manic-depressive psychotic”. Even with no knowledge in psychiatry, I knew that was wrong. Moreover, the worry was from how quick they could begin a regime of powerful drugs and tick me off as another recorded case. After two sessions. I wondered how many grieving widows had ended up manic depressives, nervous students as paranoid schizophrenics or insomniacs as hypomanic. Can that quick turnaround really be producing healthy, stable people?
Imagine that unit again, sparking, malfunctioning. Now, to an employer, that’s okay if you know that once it’s fixed, it’s fixed.
If you know it’ll breakdown again at some point-why would you want it?
A while back, I began putting my condition as a personal note on my CV-among the fact I enjoy reading, writing, football and basketball. I put it in as what it is-a part of my life, not my life. The interviews dried up. A glowing CV, ten years of employment, managerial and ownership experience from 16 years old. Nothing. Not one employer interested anymore.
It pleases me to see that the world of writing has no such discrimination. Art, as a general creative sector, doesn’t. Eccentric behavior is acknowledged, worrying signs challenged, support networks are stronger than in any other community. A recent project, the Fruit Tree Foundation, by Idlewild’s Rob Jones and Emma Pollock is a great way of using music to remind people of the kindness and the clarity of communication present in artists. Publishing is not part of that. It is a business and from my experience, business people do not appreciate such inconsistency. I am aware that by writing this right now, I am off the list of many industry types. That’s not brave on my part, just foolhardy. I will never edit for them or run anything with them. That will not be my choice.
I started Cargo because I firmly believed that there was a young, creative spirit in Scotland that was being ignored or trampled upon. I also did it because I will not be a sob story. I will not spend my life flitting in and out of psychiatric wards or zombified on drugs. Several years ago, feeling that I had seen my creative desires battered from me by medication, I stopped taking it and resolved to learn to live with my issues. I have since returned to medicine just once in five years. I have coping mechanisms, techniques and many other tricks but the only way I have been able to do this is the way that any mentally ill person can live a normal life – a network of support.
I am hugely indebted to my parents and friends for their help; I would simply not be here without them. But through Cargo, I have found a team of inspired people, passionate people powered by a shared love of books and writing and a desire to do some good. Artists, people who accept you as you are. And with this support network, we’re all able to turn to that journalist with the wobbling lip and international sign for “crazy” and just politely smile.
Link to Cargo Publishing’s site
And catch up with VL’s very first podcast, talking with Mark Buckland about live literature