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Strict Standards: Declaration of JParameter::loadSetupFile() should be compatible with JRegistry::loadSetupFile() in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/libraries/joomla/html/parameter.php on line 512

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/advancedmodules/advancedmodules.php:28) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/admintools/admintools/badbehaviour/screener.inc.php on line 9

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Strict Standards: Declaration of JRouterJoomsef::parse() should be compatible with JRouter::parse(&$uri) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/components/com_sef/sef.router.php on line 361

Strict Standards: Declaration of JRouterJoomsef::build() should be compatible with JRouter::build($url) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/components/com_sef/sef.router.php on line 361

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/mmbackground/mmbackground.php on line 98

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/hotlogin/hotlogin.php on line 88

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/ganalyticstrcode/ganalyticstrcode.php on line 32

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/jdownloads/jdownloads.php on line 174

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/content/fb_tw_plus1/fb_tw_plus1.php on line 43

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David Buchanan’s story - WhatCausesMentalIllness.com
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FAQ  


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Word Cloud  


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Latest Additions  


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Glimpses

David Buchanan’s story

Details

My name is David Buchanan. I have considered writing this glimpse before but have never had the courage. I say courage because that is exactly what this takes. On one level I am on an opposite life story to the glimpse I will explore with you: I am a senior lecturer in mental health and pain, I have an award winning PhD, published internationally, a successful playwright, poet and musician. In 1993 I was awarded a Literature Fellowship from the Australia Council. I am a very lucky father of two beautiful children who are now blossoming adults. We all adore one another. I live between two mountains in an idyllic valley in northern Tasmania, where I also grow garlic and various other veggies; have my own beehives and honey; and, dairy sheep to make my own cheeses. I have a rich array of friends and I think, I am happy, as I rejoice in all manner of things vital from food to music to wine and love.

Sometimes I wonder how I got here all the way from that shower I was forced to take in Graylands Hospital, Perth Western Australia, in February, 1980. They are still there: five male nurses dressed in brown pants and white shirts, with black shoes – their hands universally in pockets – but their eyes as attentive as their faces were blank. And I am still in that shower. Stripped of clothes and dignity. If I could have I would have gladly followed the water down the drain and if I was lucky – wash out to sea. The showers were themselves uniform, prison-like – one every two meters. Privacy let alone the hope of an ocean were not something considered. In my state I hoped gasses rather than water would flow and, that I might be found amid a pyramid of twisted bodies stacked like shoes with the last to die gasping for breath on the summit. I only hoped that the last one would not be me. I hoped only for my death to be swift like shaking oneself awake from a dream of falling down a precipice.

Though nude I wore guilt like a wet woollen overcoat and a strange nausea pervaded every waking moment. Mornings were the worst. They would begin too early, from a restless fitful sleep at about 3 or 4 am. I was sure that if I was to die then the world would be cleansed somehow. I was nineteen. I was diagnosed with endogenous depression. I was categorised as suicidal. Under the nurses gaze I was too afraid to even want to die.

Decency is having the right to privacy, a grace, a warmth of place no matter how humble in which to decide who should see what you decide they see. This decency seemed an impossible thing to ever achieve again. I was like something that had been loaded on to a train and shipped off with Primo Levi. Primo Levi was to my left and right – he stood under every shower. He was as young as me to as old as my father. He stood either motionless in the rain of the showers or he responded to empty air as if talking to someone I could not see, perhaps even a vague and distant god who had forsaken him.

I can’t recall how long I was in the locked ward for. Perhaps two weeks. Eight weeks later I was allowed to go home. Late one afternoon six months later, I recall being at a petrol station on a Friday afternoon in Nedlands near the university. I had stopped off to get something as banal as petrol and simply got out my car. I took in the Perth winter sky. It was outrageously blue and deep as an ocean. I felt a joy I hadn’t felt for what seemed like years. I was apparently very lucky to get a Registrar Psychiatrist who needed someone to psychoanalyse for her training. I would see her once sometimes twice a week. I still have no idea what use these sessions were except to say that for me – meeting with her was like going to a confessional for a catholic. But I never received any guidance nor did I receive any feedback on what she thought was happening to or with me. I asked to see my clinical notes. She refused. I could never figure out why there was such a guard around such things. Guards and psychiatry seemed closely aligned.

When I told her of the sky she seemed concerned. There was an immediate question in me: was this sky – its shameless beauty – pathological too? But she would not discuss it with me. I still even now, thirty years later, wish to read what she wrote. Six weeks after leaving Graylands I took an overdose of tricyclic antidepressants and nearly – very nearly – died. But upon discharge from the intensive care ward only days later, something had shifted. I wanted to live. I began to sleep better, was not so constipated, I noticed I was moving more adroitly, and, most of all, the mornings were no longer my arch enemy like they had been for so long. When I told her of this shift – of this wanting to live again and, then connected it with the blue sky of the petrol station – she looked even more concerned.

Around the same time I bought a text on psychiatry. I was strictly on a fact-finding mission. What was wrong with me? But as I read it – something drew me back to that shower. All the different disorders spoke of an unwritten and unacknowledged normalcy that was never discussed but always implied and as I read on – demanded. It struck me then as now that psychiatry is about normalcy. A year later I took myself off the antidepressants without her permission or knowledge. She frowned then as well.

I progressed well for another year and went to Europe, where I flourished as a musician and began to write. When I came back to Perth, I met the partner who is the mother to our kids and we were married for well over a decade. I became an award winning playwright and, most surprisingly of all, a mental health nurse. I still don’t know why I became a mental health nurse. Did I really want to join those who stood blankly dressed in brown and white over the showers of the god-stricken? As it turned out I had little chance of joining them.

My first play saw me pilloried by some of my mental health nurse colleagues. For them it had broken the rules of discussing what goes on in psychiatry. Though no photographer, I had pictured the blank stares by the shower. Plus it revealed that I was an ex-patient. Of course many nurses knew this and my career as a nurse has always involved being hounded and at times bullied and excluded for what is all too often thought of as this incursion. There is a them and there is an us – you cannot be both.

My depression haunted me in my private life as well. Sometimes it would threaten to return – I could sense it – like clouds massing on a horizon. I could turn my back but the rain fell on the roof some nights. In the year 2000 I was involved in a serious car accident. My life changed into a world of chronic pain. By 2003 my wife and I had broken up and in 2005 after a trip to Paris and another failed relationship – I found that I sobbed once more in my every blood cell. One day at work in Fremantle Hospital, I was crying without knowing I was crying. Not sobbing, just tear-ing… silently. I couldn’t think clearly, I had slowed down and I just couldn’t understand how to keep going. I had fought valiantly an accident, a pain syndrome, a marriage breakdown and all its difficulties. But now I just couldn’t keep going. The psychiatrist I worked with told me I needed to go into hospital. I said no – of course not. He said he would form me under the Mental Health Act. He was wearing brown and white. I begged him not to. He gave me an ultimatum: get a private psychiatrist or he would hospitalise me.

I did. By then I had nearly finished my PhD and had met through my research work in pain a private psychiatrist. He prescribed SSRIs and more effective pain management. Within a few months I had vastly improved. Things had progressed since my last depression in the 1980s. My psychiatrist shared with me everything he thought. We would discuss it and tease it out. We were making sense of things in another ground I had not previously known. It was that ground that falls in between the clinician and myself. The third space. The intersubjective, where the objectivity of the clinician is surrendered to a genuine dialogue – just as my subjectivity was free to challenge and tease out any meaning. I have come to think that unless this third space is negotiated that psychiatry will never stop wearing brown and white. Never allow decency. Never stop using an Act to enforce its force that all too often masquerades as pure science.

I took long walks along the beach. I was very gentle with myself, I took small bits of life and, I knew the blue sky would be there again – vast and deep and abiding. My psychiatrist felt like a partner in this process.

But in my work I was judged and questioned and interpellated (meaning hailed at “Hey you! What are you doing in psychiatry?). I was threatened with a loss of registration as a nurse. I cannot count the amount of times I was teased. But there were many wonderful colleagues as well. One colleague helped greatly, “David, what they think of you is none of their business.” At first I thought he was just being clever. I have thought much on this since. In a sense it is call to end stigmatisation but really, only when they who stigmatise understand what they do to be harmful. If psychiatry is really about defining abnormality so it may police normalcy – then those who proclaim the normal project the failure of this claim through its stigmata. Through the wounds they create. It is one thing to suffer. It is quite another to suffer for your suffering.

Now in 2011, I am still on SSRIs and very stable… mostly. I still make an ongoing sense of my difficulty with depression on any given day and it is my perfect right to do so. I am afraid sometimes to talk about it openly, because and only because of the stigma that is glued to the words psychiatry peddles as if these words were specific scientific entities. These words label, stereotype and stigmatise. And also because I know there are those who camouflage amongst these words to burden and blame those so afflicted, if only because they are themselves haunted by the daunting prospects of having to be more normal than them.

But there is much good work being done. A true hope exists now in psychiatry – in the form of a negotiated recovery: where power over another for reasons of superior normalcy must surrender to a greater sense-making and social inclusion in the third space where the voiceless may find their voice in decency. I find my role may be to invite people into this third space. Where ‘I’ becomes ‘we’. I find it as foolish to say I should not be in my profession as it is for a person who has survived cancer not to be nursing people suffering from cancer. Am I still harassed in my work for so being? Yes. Even in academia. It no longer makes me despair. We must understand that it is only when people actively manage their own care in partnership with others that true success in self-efficacy is ever attained. It is both my passion and my hope that the previous sentence is never reduced to a platitude.

David Buchanan RN MHN (Cred) MA PhD

GLIMPSES © 2007 For permission to use the content of this manuscript please contact Nicci Wall at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax +61 3 5222 6847


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Glimpses - Our Experiences with Mental Illness


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