Friday, 24 February 2012

A poem about my cat

My cat, Merlin, isn't very well at the moment and requires an operation on Monday.  I'm really worried about him so I thought I'd post the poem I wrote about him with a picture of the two of us.  I hope you enjoy it.

Merlin

Merlin my cat
My friend and my companion
Feline avatar of my soul
You chose to share your life with me
And I chose to share mine with you.

As a kitten you laid upon my chest
Your bright green eyes ablaze
And I felt the love flow from you
Unconditional and true.

You saved my life
Faithful feline friend
A fact of which you are not aware
Not a conscious act
Just a consequence of being there.

The scratches on my arms
Testament to the fighting games we played
And the memories of nights
When you laid by my side.

You hold a special place in my heart
And I keep a picture of you
Ever in my mind
You give me joy and more
My faithful trusted friend.

© Myles Cook, 2000, 2006

The government's secret NHS risk report

I signed up to a campaigning website called 38 Degrees a while back and today I received an e-mail with the following information -
“On Wednesday MPs voted against a motion to force the release of a report into risks facing our NHS if the government goes ahead with its plans.

From your postcode, it looks like your MP chose to vote against the releasing the report. Please email your MP to ask them why they didn’t vote to help save the NHS?”

Here is the full text of my e-mail to my MP:
Dear Jackie Doyle-Price MP,

I'm worried that we don't have all the facts about what could happen to our NHS if the government goes ahead with their plans for changes. Please can you tell me why you decided not to vote in favour of publishing the report? Is it because it would be embarrassing to the Coalition's administration? Surely the British public and its representatives need to be fully informed on a matter of this magnitude?

Yours sincerely,
Myles Cook

Jackie Doyle-Price’s stance on this issue is not hard to fathom when, according to website They Work For You (www.theyworkforyou.com), she “Hardly ever rebels against their party in this parliament”. In fact, Doyle-Price has only rebelled against her party, The Conservatives, on four votes according to her voting record; the subject of the votes she rebelled on were on the vital issue of four separate clauses of the Daylight Saving Bill.  Wow, what a rebel!  Or, more precisely, what a mindless Tory drone!  Isn’t it nice to see that kind of slavish attention to the party line?
What worries me is that Ms Doyle-Price is supposed to be representing the views of her constituents, so what would happen if her slavish mentality to her party conflicts with the views of her constituents?  Interesting thought, isn’t it?  I think it’s time that Ms Doyle-Price was kicked out and replaced by someone who can think for themselves.
Until next time…

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A new future for mental health awareness and involvement

One of the functions of The Enlightenment Project is to help build mental health awareness.  The way I hope this can be achieved is by setting up a service user-led organisation, in conjunction with a service user-led consultancy and training company called ARW, like the one currently in operation in Essex but with a much wider, long term focus.  The proposed aims of the new organisation would be:
  • Set up and support self-help groups (all we would ask in return is the phrase “Supported by” and our logo on any advertising)
  • Provide service user and carer training (with ARW)
  • Run consultations
  • Produce a magazine along the lines of The Big Issue, staffed by service users (and carers) to provide employment opportunities for those who want them.  The magazine could generate income for the organisation through selling advertising space in the magazine and sales.
  • Set up and run mental health awareness events
  • Provide service user/carer representation on boards, etc, who have been trained to fulfil those roles
  • Provide speakers to mental health organisations, schools, colleges and universities
  • Set up and support mental health service user and carer forums
  • Compile a comprehensive database of statutory and third sector services and self-help groups in the UK
  • Produce a series of ‘How To…’ guides (written by service users and carers with relevant experience or knowledge), for example:
    • Setting up self-help groups
    • ‘…Cope With’ mental health conditions
  • Produce a series of ‘condition guides’, written by service users and carers, that explain what the different conditions are like to live with and dispelling the common myths surrounding them.
  • Publish books/booklets of poetry, etc, written by service users and carers. (There is a group called “Survivors Poetry” in London who run a similar publishing venture.)
  • Signposting service users to the most appropriate services or groups
  • Provide Community Mental Health Advocates (through ARW)
  • Create a UK-wide network of mental health groups and facilitating a continuous exchange of information and best practice between them
  • Set up and run a ‘quality mark’ for services that is judged and awarded by service users and carers through a series of inspections, interviews with service users and a rigorous process of evidence-based presentations given by service providers. The new organisation would have no statutory powers but, if we had the backing of the mental health commissioners, it may be possible to have voluntary consent from service providers for the necessary processes.  It would certainly add weight to the argument for voluntary consent if it became requirement when awarding contracts for services.
  • Set up and run community caf├ęs
  • Set up and run an online forum to reach hard-to-reach communities
  • Set up Black and Minority Ethnic groups to cater to the needs of their communities

Most importantly, however, the service user and carer run organisation should maintain and strengthen the collaborative nature of the commissioner/service user and carer relationship that has been so successfully cultivated in Essex during the current project but widened to include the whole of the UK.
To achieve the aims of the new organisation we will need to look at and address the following issues:
Training
Obviously it will not be possible to achieve the aims set out in Section 1 without the necessary training to ensure that the new organisation's ‘staff’ can carry out their duties so I have listed some of the training needed to do so.

Staff will need training in:
  • Interview panel skills
  • Financial responsibilities
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Funding applications
  • Bid writing skills
  • Research skills (focussed workshops on):
    • Designing questionnaires
    • 1:1 interview techniques
    • Analysing data
    • Report writing skills
  • Networking skills
  • Project management skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Media skills
  • Accessing GP commissioning
  • Benefit advice
  • Peer advocacy
  • Mentoring
  • Business skills

We should include in our budget a fund with which to pay for any training that we cannot either provide ourselves through ARW or get for free through such programmes as the Active Citizen Entitlement Programme.

We should also look into gaining accreditation on our training through the Open College Network or NCFE so that service users and carers can gain recognised qualifications through the accumulation of OCN or NCFE credits.

We should operate a ‘buddy’ scheme for service users who wish to undertake training allowing them to have an experienced mentor in whatever subject they are learning

Partnerships
An essential component for the success of a service user and carer run organisation is the partnerships that we can forge with other organisations.  I suggest that the current project’s Service User Advisory Board seeks to strengthen our current link with ARW, giving that organisation an equal voice with the Advisory Board in how the new organisation works due to their vast experience and the quality of their training.  I believe that this decision means that there will be a continuity of provision regarding training and the opportunity to build on the experience they have of setting up self-help groups, etc.

We should try to build a relationship with universities that provide mental health courses and undertake mental health research.  This would provide the partner universities with a supply of service users and carers to provide the much needed service user/carer perspective in their courses and provide the new organisation academic researchers to add weight to the findings of any research undertaken by the members.

Forging partnerships with universities with business faculties would help by offering business students the opportunity to use the new organisation as their project for their studies.  This would give the organisation a valuable pool of entrepreneurs to help set up the more business-like end of the project and business students valuable experience using the knowledge they gain from their studies.  A match made in heaven, perhaps?

One thing is certain, however, and that is that the service users and carers should be in control of the new organisation in the future with less obstructive interference from any partners we may decide to join up with so that the empowerment that we have gained from the current project is not lost.

This is only part of the plans that I believe The Enlightenment Project’s mental health team could implement given the core funding needed to set it up.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the mental health team and are a mental health service user or a carer for one, please contact me at valen1971@hotmail.co.uk.
Until next time…

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Turning back time to the bad old days of exploitation

The following blog was submitted to Your Thurrock on 17th February but has not been posted yet.  As it is a topical piece I have decided to post it here so it is at least 'out there'.  The Your Thurrock version has an addendum about some of the stuff I've been doing since January.

It’s funny how one can go to sleep in the relatively enlightened world of 2012 only to wake up eight hours or so later in a world two to three hundred years in the past.  At this point I can imagine you are thinking to yourself that I have finally succumbed to a psychotic break and am no longer in touch with reality.  Recent developments at the Department for Work and Pensions have, however, proved that this country, after years of having apologised for our part in the African slave trade, has turned the clock back a couple of hundred years or so to renew that awful trade.  The victims of this renewed trade are not picked out by the colour of their skin, however, but by the very nature of their physical or mental affliction.  The slaves of this brave new world are those who are the most exploitable because of their vulnerability – financially, emotionally and physically.  The new slave class are the individuals who currently form the underclass of today’s society – the claimants of sickness related benefits who will soon be forced into unpaid work placements with absolutely no limit to the duration of their enslavement.  This is outright discrimination as non-disabled claimants of Job Seeker’s Allowance have a rigidly defined limit to the duration of any unpaid work placements they are forced to take.  There seems to be little regard to the nature of one’s affliction when burdening an individual with a forced labour placement that may actually do more harm to the individual than the supposed good it was meant to achieve.
One burning question that is crying out to be asked is – is this forced labour programme actually legal?  Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights that the UK signed up to states that "No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour".  How then can the DWP’s proposals be legal when it flies in the face of human rights legislation that the UK, as members of the European Union, must adhere to?
The other question on my mind is – what’s next, Mr Cameron?  Are we going to see the clock turned back even further and find ourselves in a Roman-style empire, a renewed British Empire with a newly crowned Emperor Cameron at its head with Tory lackeys and Liberal Democrat quislings at his side?  Will our new British Empire adopt a new national sport in which members of the underclass are thrown into the arena with hungry man-eating animals?  It would certainly be an extra way of reducing their numbers.  Is this vision of the future a fantasy or a prophecy?
I have, in the past, claimed that the ConDem Government is trying to cleanse our society of the underclass, those on whom the ConDems blame the ills of society, those seen as leeches on the Treasury’s teats because of their vulnerability.  It seems as though I was right and, to its shame, the public will probably sit back and applaud as the underclass is systematically exploited and devoured by the machinery of that exploitation.  The weakest and most vulnerable will fall to write a new chapter in the history of the United Kingdom and it will be written in their blood.
The Conservatives must be in a state of delirium as they finally drop all pretence and display their true colours, masturbating over their soon-to-be-realised dream of a society devoid of the proles who spoil their ivory tower world with their very existence.
The darkest part of the whole affair is that all of it will be met with overwhelming public approval, thanks in no small part to the demonisation of the underclass, the scapegoats blamed for all the UK’s ills.  The same incremental step approach that has seen fuel prices soar, taxation rise and living standards fall for the poorest and most needy, as untold numbers are forced into fuel poverty and the increase in VAT hits those hardest, without much in the way of public opposition, will finally lead to the most violent schism between rich and poor in history.
It seems that we have learnt nothing from history and are thus doomed to repeat it until someone has the moral strength and courage to say “enough is enough”.
Until next time…

Yet another new poem

This poem is in the form of a conversation between two people on the subject of love.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Paradox of Love
What is love?

Love is a gift that cannot be bought with money
All the more precious when freely given
All the sweeter when unconditionally shared.

But what is love?

Love possesses the strength of an unbreakable bond
Yet is possessed of the fragility of glass
If ill-handled by its bearer.

What is love?

Love is a feeling that can bring you great joy
Yet love can also be used as a weapon
That when wielded can bring you great pain.

So, what is love?

Love is a paradox, the eternal mystery
Felt and possessed, precious yet free
A bringer of joy and a weapon of pain
Strong yet fragile.

What is love?
Love is what makes the world a better place
Love is what makes life bearable
Yet all love is unrequited.


© Valen (Myles Cook), 22/02/2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Another new poem

Here's a short poem told from the point of view of a soldier killed in World War One.

When The Cherry Blossoms Bloom Once More
I still remember the last time we held each other close
In the orchard with the cherry blossom trees
Your radiant smile bathed me in its glow
Our hearts beat in unison
One soul, two bodies
The scent of cherry blossom filled the air
And a single flower rested in your hair.

We were destined to be together
But Fate tore us asunder
My life cut short so senselessly
In the war to end all wars
But do not grieve for me, my darling
Do not cry upon Death’s shore
For we will be together one day
When the cherry blossoms bloom once more.


© Valen (Myles Cook), 22/02/2012


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

New poem

Untitled
I awaken into darkness
The odour of stale sweat and bitterness
Assaults my nasal passages
The taste of bile and self-loathing
Fills my mouth, sandpaper rough
Arid and dry as a desert
Eyelids, heavy as lead, open slowly
Revealing glassy, blood-shot eyeballs
As I look in the mirror
Sickened by what I see looking back at me
Dark ringed eyes with the dried traces
Of salty tears cried before bedtime
A man haunted by himself
And his attendant demons
Repulsed by the air of failure
Emanating from my hideous corpulence
And lacking the energy to even try
To set foot outside the house
Unwilling to face the condemnation
I see in the eyes of the strangers I pass
Struggling to cope with the waking hours
Empty, lonely and misery-laden
Just another day like all the others
In my pointless hollow existence
In my own private Hell.


© Valen (Myles Cook), 21/02/2012

Monday, 20 February 2012

Another bad day

I'm feeling so shitty today.  It's getting hard to find anything to look forward to what with the problems at MIME, the cancellation of two trips up to Wolverhampton over the last couple of months and the on-going situations surrounding my claim for Disability Living Allowance, the divorce proceedings and my housing woes.  It's also hard to try to deny my mental health problems when I do, very rarely, get a chance to find work.

The Enlightenment Project is not getting the kind of positive response I had hoped it would have.  There are very few volunteers to join and it makes me wonder if it's me or whether people just can't see the potential for change that the project offers.  I suppose there's the point that project members would be working for nothing but that was always said up front and was always meant to be an amateur hobby type of thing.  I must admit, though, that I am finding it hard to get my thoughts sorted out enough to produce my first piece of work on politics.  It's not a great literary piece; just a few initial thoughts to get the ball rolling on what I hope will be a useful dialogue towards political change.  I'm no expert and that was the whole point; experts have screwed everything up and now it's time for the enthusiastic amateurs to have a go at creating a more positive society, starting from scratch.  My piece was to be the beginner's guide to what I see as the most positive aspects of all the competing ideologies and some ideas about how to combine them into a positive new ideology together with some notes on factors that need to be considered such as the role of the Monarchy.

I'll continue to try to get The Enlightenment Project up and running though as I think it's a worthwhile thing to do.  It is a rather hard job to keep up my enthusiasm though.

All in all, I'd much rather be somewhere else, being someone else at some when else.

Friday, 10 February 2012

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Explaining "The Alchemist"

Normally, I don’t explain my poems but The Alchemist, being such an important part of the ethos of The Enlightenment Project, needs to be made a little more transparent in meaning so below are some notes on the poem.
Line 1: “the path to transformation” – I see that the process I am going through personally is one of a spiritual journey seeking to transform myself, being a better person.  This process is then taken to the next level by transforming society as a whole.
Lines 2 & 3: like most people, a vast majority of my hopes and dreams have been destroyed by the corrosive external factors that govern our lives.  The weight of these shattered remnants can only hold an individual back unless they are discarded.
Line 5: “all that is diseased” – it is not just shattered hopes and dreams that burdens one’s soul but also the negative emotions, the dark impulses and animal passions.  These things are a sickness, a disease that must be purged for one to progress.
Line 6: “the madness” – here, I am not referring to a diagnosable clinical psychopathy but rather the fanciful ideas and beliefs that have no reality in fact, the hopes and dreams that could never find a place in the real world.
Line 7: “spiritually cleansed” – for me, this is not a religious experience; for others, it may well have a religious aspect.  I believe that a spiritual experience does not need a reliance on a religion and, as such, I have always believed myself to be a spiritual man on a journey of spiritual awakening.
Line 8: I believe that, having gone through the process described in the first seven lines, the emergent individual will be one who has been reborn, aware of their own self and their attendant baggage, whilst unburdened by the greater part of their negative self.  No process, however good, can completely purge oneself of all negativity.
Line 9: I do not see myself as a leader but merely a facilitator.  Anyone who wishes may, however, join me if they too seek a transformative experience for themselves and society, and seek it with an open mind.
Line 11: the only true way to change society is to change all aspects of it – political, economic, social, creative, scientific, theological – and opening new ways to view the totality of experiential reality.
Line 12: “the Rangers” – I am a massive fan of the science-fiction series Babylon 5 in which a group of humans and MInbari was formed to act as warriors and peacekeepers with a focus on honour and duty.  I believe that the name of “Rangers” is perfect for those who make it their aim to transform society for the betterment of all.
Line 14: “humanity’s edifice” – society/civilisation
Line 15: mankind has a corrupting influence on its surroundings that can only be purged by the process of transformation led by open-minded individuals who are willing to put aside their preconceptions and prejudices for the greater good.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The lengths one has to go to to get Disability Living Allowance

The following is my letter appealing against the rejection of my claim for Disability Living Allowance.  It just goes to show how intrusive and how painful a process it can be for a person with mental health issues.

I disagree with your decision to decline my claim for Disability Living Allowance for the following reasons:

I believe I should be awarded the mobility component because:
  • I suffer with significant lower back problems due to a bulging disc problem and often require a stick to assist in walking.  The bulging disc can, without warning, apply pressure on my sciatic nerve causing severe pain in my lower back and legs.  This pain can be debilitating to the point that I am unable to walk and have been unable to wash or dress myself without help.  The lower back problem started in 2001 as a result of an injury at work.
  • The bulging disc can be treated with major surgery on my back to remove the disc and fusing the two vertebrae but all back surgery carries with it the risk of paralysis.  The mobility problem from which I suffer is preferable to the risk of possible paralysis, however small.
  • Weight loss could be of assistance but my psychiatric medications are causing significant weight gain and dieting and exercise alone are not a suitable answer.
I believe I should be awarded the care component because:
  • I have significant clinical risk in respect of suicide with three attempts since 7/10/08.  Overdoses taken on 7/10/08 and 12/2/10 both requiring time on the assessment ward at Basildon Hospital and an attempted hanging on 30/10/10, which I reported to my psychiatrist.
  • A “Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health” Clinical Risk Management Tool has recently been completed and has identified significant factors indicative of heightened suicide risk.  Some of the key factors are as follows:
    • previous attempts on life (as stated above)
    • major psychiatric diagnosis – recurrent depressive disorder (diagnosed in 1997 but present for 33 years since age 7) and adjustment disorder (depressive type)
    • expressing suicidal ideas – I have openly spoken about my wish for an assisted suicide in my column for Your Thurrock, a local news website, and in my conversations with acquaintances
    • considered/planned intent – I have hoarded medications over the course of a number of months from missed doses and the accumulated extra doses from packs of 30 pills prescribed for a 28-day period.  I have also downloaded several methods of suicide from the internet that I have kept should the need arise
    • believe no control over their life – at the present time, I am  finding it almost impossible to assert any control in my life because:
      • I suffer the stigma of mental ill health making it very hard to gain employment
      • I am constrained by my financial situation making it hard to make ends meet and pay to take courses that may help my chances of getting a job
      • I have an ongoing housing problem due to my wife’s wish for a divorce and getting little or no help from my local authority
      • I have legal worries due to the divorce proceedings
    • helplessness/hopelessness – due to the factors listed above, I have little hope and feel helpless due to having no control over the situations in which I find myself
    • separated/divorced – although I still live in the same flat as my wife, we have been effectively separated since 12/2/10 and are in the process of getting divorced
    • unemployed – I have been unemployed since 31/5/05, having had to leave my last job due to increasingly poor mental health
    • recent significant life events:
      • forthcoming divorce
      • ongoing housing problems with a threat of homelessness
      • significant financial pressures
      • forthcoming loss of primary carer due to divorce, secondary carer, my mother, lives approximately 2 hours away by public transport leading to drastically reduced contact and support
      • loss of pets following divorce – my pets are currently a significant protective factor in my life
      • possible loss of my voluntary work due to lack of funding – my work with Making Involvement Matter in Essex currently provides me with structure, focus and identity and is a major protective factor
  • I am prone to self-neglect – failing to eat properly, lack of positive social contacts (outside of my voluntary work colleagues) and, due to lack of adequate finances, I am unable to replace worn-out clothing.  My medications have the side effects of increasing my appetite and increased sweating so I have gained a lot of weight and I am usually surrounded by the smell of sweat.
  • A “Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health” Clinical Risk Management Tool has recently been completed and has identified significant factors indicative of neglect.  Some of the key factors are as follows:
    • living in inadequate accommodation – I am currently sharing a flat with my wife but am sleeping on the sofa in our living room as I cannot afford to buy a bed
    • pressure of eviction – I am under threat of losing my accommodation when my wife is given her own flat.  I am not getting the support from the local housing office, resulting in being removed from the housing list without adequate warning or reason for doing so.
    • difficulty managing physical health:
      • my bulging disc problem in my lower back is intermittent and unpredictable
      • I have a 14 year history of unexplained headaches/migraines and intermittent unexplained bleeding during urination
      • I suffer from hypertension and high cholesterol.
  • I am very socially isolated, rarely going out except for shopping, my voluntary work and trips to the local library to go onto the internet.  I am also socially excluded due to the stigma surrounding my mental health issues.  I cannot hide my mental health problem as I have done so much for mental health awareness in my local area that my problem is very much a matter of public record.
  • My social isolation is further worsened by the anxiety attacks that I get in confined areas with large numbers of people (the smaller the space, the fewer people I can comfortably be around).  The anxiety attacks were a side effect of a medication I was on a few years ago that heightened my existing social anxiety.  I am now on new medications but the anxiety attacks persist.
  • I am experiencing problems in my current therapeutic group but cannot leave without losing my place on the waiting list for one-to-one therapy
  • When I am in a depressive phase, I am prone to dangerous impulsive acts such as crossing busy roads without due care and attention and taking overdoses (my first overdose was an impulsive act, the second was partly impulsive and partly pre-meditated)
I hope that you will look favourably on my appeal based on the information listed above and the enclosed letter from my advocate.  A speedy decision would be appreciated due to the added stress the uncertainty is having on my mental health.

Myles Cook (Mr)

The Enlightenment Project mission statement in poem form

The Alchemist
My feet are firmly set on the path to transformation
Discarded are the hopes and dreams of the past
Torn asunder by the hands of Fate and circumstance
I place that which I am in the crucible
To sear from my soul all that is diseased
And the madness burned from my mind
Spiritually cleansed of the negativity of existence
I emerge from the crucible renewed, unburdened.

I ask none to follow me, save those who seek transformation
Souls who cry out for a better way to think, to live, to dream
Transfiguration of Reality’s essence in totality
The only blessed outcome the Rangers must conceive
The crucible is waiting for its thrice-doomed load
To bring about the ultimate rebirth of humanity’s edifice
A society purged of Mankind’s corruption
Fresh from the transforming flames.


© Valen (Myles Cook), 04/02/2012