Monday, 31 October 2011


Welcome, dear reader.  I know that my recent postings have been a little mundane but the opportunity for deep thought has been out of my reach for the time being.  I do try to think deep thoughts every day but sometimes they just won't spring to mind and I have realised that it's best not to force them.

I do, however, want to say a little something on Halloween.  Tonight, the ghosts and spirits come out to play and, unfortunately, so do their children, looking for that sugary fix that only a bucket full of sweets can give them.  Halloween has been turned into an excuse to stuff our faces full of things that aren't good for us and to watch horror movies but we have forgotten the true meaning of the night of the spirits.  We should take time out to try to commune with those that have departed, to see if we can access the collective unconscious of our race and learn some of the lessons from our forebears before we make the same mistakes over and over again.  This very evening, the curtain between the physical and spirit worlds draws aside and allows us the opportunity to be touched by the supernatural.  What we make of the experience is up to us but I intend on trying to reconnect with those I have lost over the years, even if it's just a chance to remember them and the effect they had on my life.

Until next time...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A week of ups and downs

This week, more than any other, has been a week of ups and downs for me but, unlike a rollercoaster, it has come with corresponding emotions.

On Monday, I had a meeting with the new manager of the project I volunteer with over a situation that has brought the project to the brink of collapse.  All that was required of her was a single name and the assurance that future matters be handled by myself as Chair of the Service User Advisory Group (as that is where the alleged incident took place).  It was an attempt that was supposed to regain a bit of stability for the project and some justice for my colleague - it failed.  I did, however, get some satisfaction for both of us later in the week but I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Tuesday, after yet another fairly useless group therapy session, my soon-to-be ex-wife and I took our hamsters to the vets for their free health check.  Of the five, three hamsters had to have treatment and a stay at the vets.  Rocky was found to have an abscess on her abdomen, Spot had a mass on his testicle and Sleepy was suffering from some unknown problem.  We left them at the surgery feeling as though that would be the last time we would see them as we have already lost one hamster, Fluffy, on the operating table and three others through natural causes.

On Wednesday, I received the divorce papers I knew were coming but was still surprised by.  What hurt most was the way I was portrayed as a bastard with no redeeming characteristics at all and I was left thinking 'is this the way my wife really sees me?'.  She said she tried to explain that it was my mental health problem that caused the problem, neatly side-stepping her contribution to the break-up of the marriage, but she still let them say such horrible things about me.  She said that she would drop the proceedings if I wanted but I know that neither of us would be happy if she did that.

On Thursday, my soon-to-be ex-wife and I went shopping and she picked up the trophy I was going to be presenting on Friday.  Thankfully, this time it had been correctly engraved (this was his second attempt).  We also received a call from the vet telling us we could pick up the hamsters although we could have elective surgery done on Spot to remove the mass on his testicle.  Spot had had X-rays taken and there were no masses in his lungs so it could have been a harmless growth but we elected to have the surgery done.

That evening, I had a call from my colleague to say that the people who provide the training for the project had lost their dog to cancer, following quite a long battle. 

Friday was my triumphant day.  I had planned for weeks to honour my colleague by presenting her with a bunch of flowers and a small glass trophy for all the hard work she has done to build up the project she works for.  Unpaid overtime, constantly running from one end of the county to the other and putting up with a lot of crap from her 'bosses' - she has had a lot to contend with.  We had a meeting with the mental health commissioners who had paid for the project and we had the rest of the project team and some service users along too.  The purpose of the meeting was to give our evaluation of the project and the service users were there to tell the commissioners how the project had affected them personally.  As a bonus, I had three extra bunches of flowers to give out - one to the project administrator, one to the trainers (who lost their dog to cancer) and a final bunch to give to the commissioner who put in the most amount of funding for the project.  The service users stories were powerful and, I was hoping, persuasive, although when the lead commissioner gave her speech, I am left with doubts over whether we will get further funding from them.  Three of the service users presented the flowers to the three other recipients and I then gave my pre-prepared speech honouring my colleague before presenting her with her trophy and flowers.  She didn't blub as I hoped she would have but, from what I was told later, the looks on the faces of her 'bosses' and other team members were payment enough.  I struck a blow against them that they will never forget, which was a wonderful bonus to giving my colleague her well-deserved pat on the back.

That evening, I was able to pick up the hamsters from the vets.  Spot's mass turned out to be an abscess so we made the right choice to have the operation performed.  Rocky still needs a little treatment on her abscess but is coping well.  Sleepy's problem could not be determined although the vet believed it to be some kind of genetic problem as Sleepy doesn't really look like a hamster, more like a cross between a hamster and a mouse or rat.  The vet told me that we shouldn't expect Sleepy to live too long.

This morning, my soon-to-be ex-wife found out how true the vet's words were when she found Sleepy dead, curled up in her little coconut house.  Our four remaining hamsters seem OK at the moment but Rocky and Spot still need some treatment with daily antibiotics and a careful but thorough cleaning.  So like I said, it's been a week of ups and downs this week.

Until next time...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bit down today...

Got served with the divorce papers yesterday so I'm not exactly feeling the best but I knew they were coming.  What really stings is the person who's portrayed in the reasons for wanting the divorce only really bear a passing resemblance to me; I'm kind of painted to look like a complete bastard whose solely responsible for the break up of the marriage and that hurts.

Until next time...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Two columns

I have been putting together the newsletter for an organisation called “Making Involvement Matter in Essex” (MIME) and I wrote two pieces.  The first piece is my regular column and the second is a call-to-arms for mental health service users to get more involved in their care.  I was asked to savagely cut a huge chunk from the former and remove the latter completely.  This has pissed me off to some extent so I have decided to put the two pieces here on my blog so that you, dear reader, can help me work out what the Hell is wrong with the pieces.

The only thing I have removed from the first piece is the name of a fellow service user as it would be wrong to identify him in a public forum such as this without his permission.

I have the privilege to have been voted as Chair of the Service User Advisory Group for the third year of the MIME Project with the added bonus of having a new partner in crime in the shape of _____ _________.  I know from past experience that it is always important to have someone to help shoulder the burden that comes with being in a position of some authority and I welcome the opportunity to build the foundations of a sustainable project with my new colleague.

MIME has a lot of work ahead in the coming months but some of us in the SUAG are looking into the future as well by forming a new sub-committee that will be looking at a long-term strategy for the future of MIME.  Some people may look upon this as putting the cart before the horse and that we are merely setting ourselves up for a major disappointment but I say that we should try to think in a bit more of a positive way.  As a community of mental health service users and carers, we have stumbled so much in our lives that we have let our eyes drift downwards to where we are stepping in case we should stumble yet again.  In doing so we no longer see the beautiful horizon that is the future and see the possibilities that the future can offer us if only we have the courage to reach out and grab them.  It is up to us whether there is to be a future for MIME and that is why the Strategic Planning & Development sub-committee has been formed, to plan for the future we hope will come.

We have seen projects come and go over the years but there has never been a project as innovative and successful as MIME.  Never before has a service user and carer involvement project broken down the barriers between service users and the commissioners to such an extent that the dialogue has become one of collaboration rather than confrontation.  Perhaps I am just a dreamer of wonderful dreams or perhaps I am a poor deluded fool to have such high hopes but I know one thing for sure – I am not going to take my eyes off the wonderful horizon.

Until next time…

Myles Cook,
Chair of the

Service User Advisory Group

Collaborative Practice Is The Future

In these times of economic uncertainty, it is important for service users and service providers to work in a collaborative way to achieve better results for their recovery.  Service users can no longer afford to be passive recipients of mental health care but must become active participants in that care, taking a proactive approach in formulating their care plan in collaboration with their care coordinator and other mental health professionals.  Sitting at home feeling sorry for oneself is not a productive use of one’s time and can be extremely harmful.  The care service users receive is only as good as the input they themselves put into helping build the right care plan.  Yes, mental health professionals have a duty to provide the best care they can but service users have to accept some responsibility too.  Mental health professionals may seem to have very little time for service users these days but that is due more to the amount of paperwork they have to fill in for each client than a disregard for them.  Indeed, up to 70-80% of a professional’s time is taken up with administrative duties, leaving very little time to do the duties for which they trained for so long.  This situation is complete and utter madness especially in the era of swingeing cuts in which we live that has resulted in increasing numbers of administrative staff losing their jobs.  A bit of collaborative work could go a long way to helping ease this crisis by making the service user take ownership of a certain amount of their care needs in the form of some kind of self-help whilst being supported by the statutory services.

The use of collaborative work and service user ownership in their care is only one of the ways in which the mental health service could be improved.  Another improvement can also be achieved with service user and mental health professional collaboration by working together to force the Department of Health to cut down the amount of documentation that professionals have to fill in and the unnecessary duplication of effort in recording the information on multiple systems, none of which are compatible, which results in less time dealing with patient needs.

The mental health service providers are, by no means, blameless in some of the areas of poor provision with gaps in services, poor continuity of care and a blasé attitude in areas where there may be only one organisation providing all the services, but is it any wonder that there are long waiting lists and the impression that professionals are uncaring when their time is taken up with administration?  Yes, there has to be a certain amount of record keeping concerning service users but does it really need to take up so much of a professional’s time?  Why are the health and social care computer systems purchased with no thought given to buying compatible systems so that duplication is eradicated?

At the moment, there is still a rather ‘them and us’ relationship between mental health staff and their clients when we should actually be working together to increase the chances of recovery for the service users, reduce unnecessary paperwork and duplication of effort involved in recording cases, and getting the professionals back to doing the job they actually want to do – helping people improve their mental well-being.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

It's been a while...

It's been a while since I last wrote an entry, partly due to a need for time to reflect on what has been happening to me in my life and partly due to having very little time to write anything anyway.

Things have not been going too well in my personal life – my marriage has ended (although my wife keeps giving me mixed signals so I’m not sure I can really say that for sure now), I’ve lost three hamsters in two weeks from various causes and I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for so long now that people use “The Sofa” as part of my address when they send me stuff.  I carry on, regardless, my voluntary work with Making Involvement Matter in Essex (MIME), which is keeping me busy of late and I’m being trained up to deliver training to other mental health service users and mental health staff so my life is full of activity.  That said, however, I still feel empty, a hollow shell and I don’t know why.

It seems as though, no matter how much time I have for reflection and how much effort I put into my voluntary work, I’m still missing that elusive something that will make sense of my life and what I do have seems unsatisfying, unable to fill the void that lurks in the depths of my soul.

I have given up writing my diary, something that had become the greatest out-pouring of creative writing I had ever achieved, simply because I couldn’t bear to continue.  Everything that I wrote seemed to show just how banal my life had become and it hurt to read the entries.  My intellectual flow seems to have temporarily dried up (at least, I hope it’s temporary) and I find myself thinking in circular patterns, getting more and more depressed.

Have I come to the end of my useful writing life?  I hope not.  I still have opinions and ideas that need to come out, to make people think about issues and to try to change the world.  I don’t know what’s waiting for me but I’d hate to think that I’ve nothing left to contribute to society.

Until next time…