Day 846

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Simba Muzira, son of Sara Muzira.
Exhibition of Art, Long Gallery, Maudsley Hospital. London.
Simba Muzira. Doing it again.

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Spray paint. Street art. Bold statements. Clear expressions. Innocent eyes. Pure soul.
Courage. Suffering. Passion.

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Pigeons telling him not to wear his shoes. Pigeons everywhere! No words!

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A mother’s tribute to her talented son who died at 32 after living with mental illness for a few years, in and out of the hospital. Her accounts of doing things in his best interest which turned out otherwise. Her heartbreak at having to live away from him when he was too ill to be at home. Her sense of an utter waste of a young life full of promise. Her guilt. Again and again. Her love. Immeasurable.

I salute you. Sara and Simba Muzira.

 

Day 834

Zombified, after 10 hours of intense work, I walk to the station. Someone stops me and tells me something about a special offer of a makeover, a photo shoot or something like that for any day within the next 6 months. I can’t fully comprehend it. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally sign up for but I am too tired to think and it sounds like fun.

A few days later I mention it to Si. He’s not at all sure about it. He wants to know more. I can’t give him any more details as I actually don’t know exactly what I have signed up to and partially paid for. We mark the date in our diaries, he much more reluctantly than me. Then a business trip comes up and it has to be postponed. The same thing happens again. Then I loose the vouchers. They say, that’s enough. It’s off. Thank God! A few days later, a call to say they have thought about it and they would like us to come for it anyway.

Today’s the day. Si and I find ourselves frantically sorting through clothes and shoes while gobbling down tea and toast this morning. We load up the car and rush into town only to find major road closures to make space for a Charity 10K run. A long diversion later we get there 40 minutes late but to our dismay they can slot us in an hour later. That hour is well spent in a cozy café nearby having jasmine tea and Halloumi salad, recovering from the long, slow drive through the narrow streets of London.

Warm welcome. Comfy furniture. Brightly lit. Spacious. Chilled out. Chatty, friendly people. Creative calm space. A few changes of clothes. A lot of laughs. Sharing travel stories. Smiles. Hugs. Cups of tea. Reflectors. Flashes. The shh-shh of the shutter. Strangely decorated rooms. Fancy backdrops. Luxurious sofas. Complements. Fun. Si loved it. Phew!

Trying out something new together. Highly recommended.

Day 832

The hospital where we went when he was ill is just down the road from where we live. It is 18 minutes by bus, 10 minutes but car on a quiet day. The Emergency department is on the left. The Mental hospital is on the right. There is a visitor’s car park in front of the Mental hospital. That is where we parked the car. That is where we waited for a couple of hours to be seen by a psychiatrist. That is where I had to make my own way that day because Saagar refused to have me in the car with him and his father. That is where he should have been when he was severely ill a few weeks later. That is where he could have been saved.

That is where I went this afternoon to watch a play called ‘Hearing Things’, a play co-produced by patients and professionals, based on insights derived from 6 weeks of workshops involving actors and people with a mental illness, offering both an opportunity for expression, transformation and co-creation. Through a cast of 3, we met people of different races and age groups. It was about challenging assumptions. It was about the empathy and personalities of patients. It was about ‘the system’ and the dynamics within it, mental well being of health care providers and role-reversal. It was about giving people a chance.

“I am off now to be mad and I don’t have to be sectioned for it”, remarked one of the participants as drama gave him the freedom to be who he is, without fear of judgment. It was about the possibility of being ‘re-assembled’. It was powerful and moving. It did not mince words. I spoke loud and clear. It was accessible, funny, clever and heart-breaking.

One young person describes his experience of drama:

“…after you do the drama you get this feeling…it feels as if whatever was bothering you went away and you feel light and can do whatever you want around you, it makes the day simpler and you can concentrate on your activities, it makes you feel better, like at the end of the day when you come home from work tired and you want to put your feet up, you don’t feel guilty relaxing as you have done a hard days work. I wanted to understand the person and put myself in their shoes.  At the end of it I felt good.  150% happy!”  

 It was about creating a new paradigm of relating to people suffering with mental illness.  It was all heart.

Ref:

http://playingon.org.uk/hearing-things-2016-2017/

Day 810

Left the massive, fire-walled monster of a building, feeling as tired as a rag. Stood on the covered walkway looking at vertical lines of water heavily following gravity, falling like a velvet curtain, making the darkness darker. Couldn’t gather enough courage to step into it. No rush. No one waiting at home. Cold hands in pockets, frozen tips of noses and ear-lobes. Cool, moisture-laden air flooding the balloon-bags in the chest and leaving with a tiny bit of fatigue. Even though the jungle is concrete, it offers some respite.

While I stand at the edge of this temperate downpour, tiny deflected reflected droplets find my face and keep me awake. The noisy business of clanking rain adds to the drama.

Over the next few minutes the drops become grainy. Splat! They shatter on flat surfaces of windscreens and pavements, leaving a little residue, a trace of things to come.

The noise suddenly vanishes, as if the conductor of an orchestra has indicated a pause. The air changes form. Little white flakes completely defy gravity and dance gracefully in all directions, seemingly weightless. The darkness lifts into soundless brilliance. Streetlights exaggerate these elegant movements. I bounce onto the road and walk under this light white flurry. My feet land on softness. The whiteness starts to make little homes  on hedges, fences and chimneys. I am transported into a world of lightness and joy.

For a few moments, all is right with the world.

Day 802

Water Water Everywhere
(A short story)

She lives in sheltered accommodation. As an octogenarian, it is safer. Her sons think so. When she moved in, she had hoped for some company. She likes a bit of chit-chat. She enjoys people. But she is fairly content. Every other day she neatly pins her hair up, wears one of her long skirts with a woolly jumper, wraps herself up in her sea-green duffle coat, puts on a smile and walks to the high street.

Betsy goes to the post-office to buy and post a card for her grand daughter’s birthday. She picks one with flowers and butterflies and queues. The only other person in the queue is a young woman. She has big black cordless head-phones with a ‘b’ in red covering her ears. She also has a vacant look in her eyes. It seems she is elsewhere. No chance of a chat here. When Betsy arrives at the window, the teller appears to be preoccupied. He is worried that the Post office might have to close down soon. He’s not sure how soon. That worries her. Last year her bank had shut down the branch on this high street.

She used to be able to go to the GP Surgery on days she felt a bit off. In the waiting area she often ran into someone she knew. It was good. But now the rules have changed. There are screens with smiley pictures and buttons. Appointments have to be made weeks in advance. One can’t just show up. Now, she feels like an outsider at her own surgery. She doesn’t like to go there anymore.

The grocery store is always a good place for a chat. The staff are friendly. Sometimes she even runs into familiar faces. She strolls around at her own pace and picks up a pint of milk and a pack of 80 PG tips teabags. As she approaches her favourite part, the check out desk, she is ushered in a perfunctory manner towards three ugly self check-out machines. That confuses her. She is not sure what to do.

It’s been one week since she spoke to anyone. On TV they said that the population of the world is the highest ever and rising – 7.4 billion! That must have lots of zeros.

Where is everyone?

Day 799

Happenstance
(An exercise in creative writing)

Carousel number 6 rolled and tumbled squares and rectangles flown in from Dubai to London Heathrow. People crowded around it, like moths to light, waiting impatiently. The black boxes looked suspiciously similar yet, 2 good-looking men in their late thirties, both in well-worn denim jeans and greenish t-shirts, both roughly size 40 picked up 1 each, assuming ownership and walked to the exit. One of them Steve, the other Matt.

As Steve left in a black cab, the thought of his ex-wife from a decade ago, Tara, struck him out of the blue. She most certainly lives in London now. He wondered if she had finally found ‘satisfaction’, smirking to himself. This business trip had been thrust upon him. He tried hard to see the upside with no luck. He had half a day to himself with no plans. He managed to check into his allotted section of the travel factory and sat looking blankly at the heavy maroon silk curtains, really bored.

Well, best unpack and venture out for a walk, he thought. Surprisingly, the number-lock on his suitcase was undone. However unlikely, he must have forgotten to lock it before departure, said his rational mind. He opened the black Tumi and was hit by an explosion of floral perfume. Looking through the fragrance, the contents of the box appeared textural and colourful, most unlike his own belongings. A red feather boa lay strewn across the top. He was shocked and intrigued, completely sucked into the suitcase. He picked it up like a thief, peering shadily around the empty room to check if anyone was looking. It was softer and lighter than anything he had ever touched before. He had to know what it felt like on his cheeks, so it automatically came up to his face. It was so soothing that his eyes closed all by themselves. After a while he respectfully placed it on the bed. On second thoughts, he bravely wrapped it around his neck. He then pried back into the box.

A pair of purple silk net stockings came next, another delicate, tactile article. It seemed ridiculous that he had a strong desire to try them on. For once, he allowed himself to go with it and changed into the sexy, luscious, figure-hugging, perfect leg wear. His hands didn’t want to let go of it but his legs loved it even more. Then came the little black dress, the dramatic fake eye-lashes, the flashy silver bracelets, the red pencil heels, the gorgeous make up, the Jitterbug perfume and the flamboyant blonde wig. And, they all fitted him superbly!

Suddenly a jarring sound shocked him out of his rhapsody. It was the blasted phone. The airline-man said there had been a mistake with baggage handling. Steve didn’t know how to speak with lipstick on but before he knew it a feeble ‘yes’ escaped his lips. It was arranged for him to take the suitcase back to the Information Desk as the owner of this suitcase was in a hurry to have it back. Steve felt somewhat curious and embarrassed.

A handsome couple stood at the desk, slightly pensive. Steve feigned complete innocence as he blokishly shook hands with Matt who leaned forward slightly to pick up the fragrance of Jitterbug perfume on Steve. He gave him a slightly crooked knowing smile that Steve dodged and furtively looked away. His eyes fell upon an older, more elegant Tara, Matt’s partner.

Steve’s ego was shot to pieces but he was grateful for this introduction to his own little piece of heaven.

Day 796

Who said hard work won’t kill you?

They have a specific term for it in Japan – ‘Karoshi’.
It means death from overwork. One fifth of the workforce in Japan is at risk of it. 2000 people die of work related stress every year and many others due to heart attacks, strokes, suicides and other serious health problems, giving rise to resignations, law suits and calls to tackle the problem. Japanese salarymen work significantly longer hours than their counterparts in other modern economies.

Ichiro Oshima, a 24-year-old Dentsu (an advertising firm with a notorious reputation) employee, killed himself in 1991 in Japan’s first recognised case of karoshi-related suicide. Oshima had not had a day off for 17 months and was sleeping for less than two hours a night before his death.

The number of suicides and attempted suicides in the City of London (the financial district) has doubled in the first 8 months of this year, particularly from bridges. Could that have something to do with the brutally competitive atmosphere in the Square Mile? Officers are making more use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take people to a place of safety, usually a hospital. Ambulances are often unavailable so officers resort to using police vans, almost criminalising people by transporting them thus. Invariably when patients are assessed they are not deemed to meet the threshold of admission to a mental hospital and released. Police are asking NHS Trusts to provide details of patients so they know if they have been released so that they can be put a plan in place to safeguard them.

City police have also set up a Bridges Working Group including officials from NHS mental health trusts, the Samaritans, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) and the Coastguard.

Only a small percentage of employers in the UK have family-friendly policies or personal support services in place so as to achieve a good work-life balance. Although it is improving, we still have a long way to go.

Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/29/head-of-japans-top-ad-firm-to-quit-after-new-recruits-death-from-overwork?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/18/death-from-overwork-japans-karoshi-culture-blamed-young-mans-heart-failure

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/08/japan-one-fifth-of-employees-at-risk-of-death-from-overwork-report

https://www.rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/police-courts-prison/section-136-police-taking-you-to-a-place-of-safety-from-a-public-place