Stuart Ayris is quite a remarkable writing talent. Also a man with a unique vision of the world and of mental health issues. He writes from the heart and touches many other hearts with his message – a message that’s way outside the ‘mainstream.’ But he says it all so much better than I can…
I will begin by stating that I have been a qualified mental health nurse since October 1997. I will clarify that statement by confirming that I know no more about how to help people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness than when I was a roadsweeper in Romford town centre in the early nineties. And I certainly don’t consider myself to be a nurse of any description. I’m just someone who is lucky enough to have a job where he gets the opportunity to help people get through the crucial moments of their difficult life.
If there is one thing I try to do, that is to undo what has been done to people who have found themselves within the mental health system. I was the Ward Manager of an Acute Admission Ward for six years, during which time I regularly said to patients: “Stay here for two weeks and we can really help you. Any longer than that and, through no fault of our own, we will ruin you.” One final written warning and three years later and I still stand by that comment.
For me, the problem starts with diagnosis – that product of the medical model that keeps drug companies in business, psychiatrists in a job and people at the mercy of chemicals that we are led to believe have an impact on emotional reactions. There is a tablet to help you feel less depressed, this one to make you less impulsive, this to reduce your anxiety and still more for your mood disorder, your voices, your anger and your disinhibition. You may go to your GP with fears and worries about your relationship, your job, your view of your self and months later you have a diagnosis, a set of tablets and membership of the mental health system, a system which may in time deprive you of whatever is left of yourself. You have become a schizophrenic, a sufferer of depression, bi-polar disorder, a mentally ill person. Or maybe you have been diagnosed with a personality disorder. It’s a strange, strange job, let me tell you. Particularly if, like me, you don’t believe there is such a thing as mental illness. But people in this strange life need hope, they need something to hang on to and, for many, a diagnosis fulfills that need. Just in the last few weeks I have had people I see say the following things:
“I’m getting a headache. That must be my bi-polar coming on.”
“My borderline personality disorder has been out of control lately.”
Both these statements saddened me beyond belief.
I began writing Tollesbury Time Forever a few months after I received a final written warning at work. I guess in hindsight it was an act of self-preservation. I passionately believed that the way I have treated people over the years, the ways I have tried to help others has been humane and right. It’s just I was never really able to explain it. So I wrote a novel which some reviewers have considered to be “too weird”. Others have praised it, which is wonderful. For me though it was very much an abreaction of sorts. Within Tollesbury Time Forever are, I guess my views, my manifesto if you like.
“For there is no schizophrenia and there is no depression; no bi-polar disorder, personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. There is just life and trying to get through it. That is all. Look past the drugs and past the diagnosis, look deeper than the despair and higher than the highs – and what you have is a soul that needs embracing, a mind that needs cradling and a heart that needs to beat its beat without condemnation. ”
When you look deep down, what you have is the fact that we are all struggling to some degree to get through life. Some people are fortunate enough to have friends, families, support systems, reserves of self-worth and resilience to draw on. These people may never come near the mental health system or may do only fleetingly. But there are others who stumble upon the system and find it meets their needs – they belong to something all of a sudden, they have a label, they are part of something – perhaps when society itself has excluded them. And it is those people to whom the mental health system does the most damage – often through no fault of its own. It is so easy to lose track of the simple things in life, the beautiful pleasures and the wonder of the world when you are given simplistic solutions to incredibly complex emotional constructs.
The first paragraph of Tollesbury Time Forever is:
“My name is Simon Anthony. I like the simple things in life: a good meal, a winter sun and the sound of the waves upon the shore. “
Of course everything thereafter unravels when those beautiful pleasures are forgotten.
So yes I have a name badge that says I’m a mental health nurse. But I’m not really. All I do is try and make people see how wonderful they are. No tablet will do that, no therapy, no diagnosis. It’s about basic human kindness, love, humour and a belief that we are all a part of the same wonderful adventure. And I’ll keep writing books that are ‘too weird’ for ever and ever.
I’ll leave you with one final quote:
“It’s not about what you call me. It’s about how my heart beats…”
Stuart is currently working on the third part of his ‘Frugality’ Trilogy.
Find out more about Stuart Ayris and his writing. Read the IEBR Reviews:
TollesburyTime Forever (Frugality 1)
The Bird That Nobody Sees (Frugality 2)
and his debut novel A Cleansing of Souls
Buy the ebooks:
Tollesbury Time is available in Kindle format and paperback from Amazon
The Bird that Nobody Sees is available in Kindle format
A Cleansing of Souls is available in Kindle format Also hardcover and paperback from Amazon.