Tuesday, May 29, 2007

That moment

I'm on my week off between jobs and despite first fears that Husband was going to have to work all week it looks like he is only going to have to work a few hours tomorrow morning - so we have started our "holiday at home".

Today, on a whim, I dragged us to Buscot Park - a stately home and gardens owned by the National Trust in Oxfordshire. It's about a 40 minute drive from where we live. I had an particular motive for wanting to visit.... but I didn't tell my Husband until we got there - not that he would mind.

I have a fondness for some of the art movements that spanned the late 19th and early 20th century - particularly Arts and crafts, Art nouveau and Art deco. More recently I've been exploring the pre-raphaelites, the artists that often went hand in hand with the artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement. Luckily for me, Oxfordshire has many connections with Arts and Crafts and the Pre-Raphaelites - Kelmscott Manor, the country home of William Morris is also close by.

Anyway... Buscot Park is home to the Faringdon Collection - a large collection of artworks put together by the 2nd Lord Faringdon in the early 20th century. It features artworks from 500 years of western and oriental art. But most importantly, it contains one of the most stunning pieces of Pre-Raphaelite art by the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a series of 4 paintings and 10 joining panels entitled "The Legend of the Briar Rose" - now all built into a room in the house. The main panels are snapshots of the story of Sleeping Beauty.

I walked into the room and felt a tingle down my spine. The paintings glow, the colours blend - so soft that they almost look like pastels even though the image is rendered in oil. The world is sleeping and from the palace guards, to the king on his throne, the handmaidens and sleeping beauty herself the whole world is dreaming. Entwined around all the figures is the briar rose that has grown and twisted around as the figures slept.

I am a romantic at heart. I love arthurian legends, fairytales, true love and promises that are never broken. It's been a long time since I've been affected by a work of art as much as I was today and it made me feel so peaceful.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mad kids

Oooh... I've had a bit of a blog hiatus haven't I? I must be more efficient at turning my night-time mind blog posts in actual post the next day.

I've got rather bad insomnia at the moment and so other than late night Wikipedia editing, I've been devouring my copy of New Scientist magazine as soon as it lands on my door mat. It is the source of many a night time mind blog post but this time I'm managed to hold on to my rant and I'm actually going to get it down on electronic paper.

First of all a caveat. I take mental illness very seriously, it is real, extremely distressing condition that deserves as much, if not more attention and support as physical illness. I also believe that children can suffer from mental illness - although I believe the approach to treatment, particularly with medication, should be approached even more cautiously than it is in adults.

Both the editorial and an article were concerned with the massive increase in diagnosis rates for bi-polar disorder (manic depression) in children in the US. In 1996, 13 out of every 100,000 children were diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder, in 2004 that rate was 74 out of ever 100,000 - a more than five fold rise. In 1994 the DSM-IV official psychiatric manual definition of bi-polar disorder was significantly widened to include three new forms of the disease - including one that is "bi-polar not otherwise specified" i.e. doesn't fit into the other definitions but we still think its bi-polar.

The article tells the story of Rebecca Riley, diagnosed at 2 with ADHD, at 3 bipolar disorder and by 4 she was dead - from an overdose of prescribed clonidine. She was also taking valproate and quetiapine fumarate.

I get the sense that western societies are increasingly medicalising their way out of newly perceived "problems" with our children. I don't see any other explanation for the massive rise in diagnoses of bi-polar disorder in the US, and of I get the increasing sense that generally western societies are increasingly trying to medicalise with ADHD, autistic-spectrum disorders etc. in the US and around the world. I went to school with a kid with Aspergers, he had it bad enough that it was very obvious and most likely needed a lot of support. My cousin-in-law was diagnosed with Aspergers a couple of years ago, and although he may tick some of the diagnostic boxes, does this label actually help him? He is shy, only eats chips, and can flip his lid sometimes. But he is also perfectly able to have a decent conversation, has friends and is living in a very unusual and stressful household - so I can see why any person would flip their lid occasionally, and for God's sake, he's a teenager after all. A generation ago he wouldn't have been labelled as anything except a bit quiet.

How can you diagnose bi-polar disorder in a 3 year old? They haven't even got a lot of their sense of identity or how they relate to the world around them fixed yet. And even if you think something may be wrong - should we medicate them with serious drugs which have all sorts of side effects and can severely shorten life span? I think not - could we just not support the parents and the child instead?

I am a big fan of the BBC programme "House of Tiny Tearaways". It is a purpose built house where families come to spend a week with their kids and a clinical psychologist. They deal with the whole range of behavioural problems by helping the parents see how they can change their child's behaviour by changing their own behaviour. They have started the week with some real terrors and some terrible problems, but with the intensive support and guidance in almost all cases they've made amazing progress by the end of the week. In other circumstances, in other countries I'm sure some of these kids would have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and medicated - but shouldn't this be the absolutely last resort?

Kids will be kids, and some will act a lot stranger and be far more unruly than others, but they are only part formed and we should help them develop, not label them and medicate them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


A lot of stuff has happened over the last few weeks that has caused some deeper self-reflection than I have been indulging in of late. A couple of things have also happened in the last couple of days which really got my head delving inwards; mainly the re-appearance of an old friend and meeting my new boss (why does he have to be distractingly attractive?).

After chatting with my new boss I have been totally hyper-actively happy. I am finally starting to calm down now a full 48-hours after our meeting, but moving into a rather spaced state of mind as a consequence. After finding out more of what I'm going to be doing it finally struck me that 5 years post graduation this is it, the first job where I'm going to have direct responsibility for setting and helping achieve an organisation's strategic objectives. I'm going to be allowed to get fully out and about, build networks and make contacts on my own merits. I don't think 5 years is bad, and my current job has allowed me to jump about 2 levels in the system in which I work, something which I will be eternally grateful for - as I'm not very good at being patient enough to "work through the grades". I know its going to be a lot of hard work, but I am so much happier when I have a lot to do. My boss seems like a pretty genuine guy, who likes his job and the majority of people he has to work with and there is support from the really senior staff for what we're going to be doing.

The re-appearance of an old friend has put who I am now compared with who I was when I graduated in clearer perspective. After a very close 5 years or so of friendship things became a struggle between us, for reasons which I am still not entirely clear about. Anyway, she has got back in contact and given me her take on events. I feel one of the things that has changed about me since Uni is a greater capacity to put myself in other people's shoes - I guess that is a big part of maturity. Not that I always manage it in the moment, but with a bit of time I try and see where someone else is coming from. So, although my perceptions of events were fairly different, to me that really doesn't matter now. I don't want to re-hash the whos, what, wheres and hows...

If we can be friends again, then of course I want to be friends again. A lot of that depends on who we both are now I guess. And who exactly am I now? For me the biggest changes in my self identity have been since Uni, not when I was a teenager. Getting into work, living in the "real world" (not the student one), working through all sorts of stuff with Husband, buying houses, re-locating far away from family and friends.... all of these things have shaped me more than I realised at the time. I hope I'm more tolerant generally, but a little more selfish than I used to be with my time and who I choose to spend it with (a good thing for me, believe me). I have a clearer sense of my own political and moral standpoints and I'm more willing to argue on behalf of them when it matters, and more likely to leave them drop when it doesn't.

One of the things I value most are "old friends" - which I guess why this re-appearance has focused my reflections. I don't have friends from secondary school - for a number of reasons - but my Uni friendships are coming up to 8 years now... and the ones that have lasted, even if I no longer see the individuals as often as I'd like, are really precious to me. The comfort and peace of spending time with old friends is a real treasure - no expectations, no harsh judgements, just support and laughter. I find these friendships feel pretty much effortless now, to me (and I hope to them) it doesn't matter if we don't see each other for weeks or months - it we're still "us". For those "old friends" who read this blog, you mean the world to me still.