Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m really excited to be sharing my write-up of a very special author event I attended just over a week ago. I went to see Nathan Filer talk about his new book, ‘The Heartland: Losing And Finding Schizophrenia’, at Bath Festival. ‘The Heartland’ is a truly fantastic book, and I urge you all to go out and read it! Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that Nathan Filer is the author of my favourite ever book, ‘The Shock Of The Fall’, so I was absolutely thrilled to get the chance to hear him speak and finally meet him too! So, keep reading…
About the Author.
Nathan Filer is the author of best-selling novel ‘The Shock Of The Fall’ (2013), which was crowned the Costa Book Of The Year for 2013. His latest book, ‘The Heartland: Finding And Losing Schizophrenia’, is due to be released on 6th June 2019. This latest book is a non-fiction book, featuring case studies and essays surrounding the subject of mental illness ‘schizophrenia’.
1) On the language surrounding mental illness, and why Nathan Filer refers to schizophrenia as ‘so-called schizophrenia’ throughout the book…
- There is no uncontroversial language surrounding mental illness
- This language debate revolves around how medical a term feels
- If you prefer to think of mental illness as an illness, you might think of yourself as a patient – much like a patient who is receiving treatment for a physical illness such as cancer or diabetes
- If you prefer to view mental illness as a natural response to trauma, you might not want to be referred to as a patient – in this case, the term service user may be preferred
- However, what about people who are detained against their will? They cannot be referred to as a service user
- Attempts to address this issue in the book by referring to schizophrenia as ‘so-called’ schizophrenia, in order to be respectful
2) What is schizophrenia?
- There is no agreement
- It may be easier to say what schizophrenia isn’t rather than what it is – and it isn’t a split personality
- Some people believe that schizophrenia is a deteriorating brain disease
- The other end of the spectrum is that schizophrenia is a response to trauma
- Nathan believes that it is a name we give to distressing thoughts, feelings and behaviours
- Schizophrenia involves psychosis, which is a disconnection from so-called reality
- There are also negative symptoms involved, such as withdrawal from social functions and losing interest in things
3) On the use of case studies in the book…
- The book initially started as a collection of stories from real people who live in the shadow of schizophrenia
- But what might these stories teach us? The essays included in the book discuss this
- The case studies included in the book reveal how close we all are to these distressing experiences
4) What are delusions?
- Delusions are a fixed belief that will not be changed
- However, most of us can be said to have delusions
- We are social animals, and are always attuned to the threats around us
- Fear is a very useful tool – it sets off an alarm bell in our minds, and draws attention to any potential threats around us
- For people who have schizophrenia, this alarm is constantly going off, leading to a cognitive breakdown
5) Thoughts about medication and chemical treatments…
- Some individuals have been helped massively by medication, whereas medication has made some individuals worse
- We don’t know exactly how these medications work – ‘anti-psychotic’ suggests that they target psychosis, but there is no evidence for this
- The side effects are very bad with anti-psychotic drugs – the individuals essentially exhibit symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
- As a mental health nurse himself, Nathan Filer was required to inject people against their will with medication, and he took it as a given fact that these medications must work
- However, we give medications too soon for too long now
- There are so few resources now that people are admitted to hospitals under the Mental Health Act – there is no such thing as planned admissions anymore
6) On the issues with diagnoses…
- There are no blood tests or brain scans that diagnose mental illnesses
- We give names to a set pattern of behaviours that the individual may exhibit
- However, human behaviours don’t like to be put in boxes, and the answer to this shouldn’t be to create more and more boxes
- Suffering is real and diagnoses unfortunately don’t lead to greater empathy for suffering
- There shouldn’t be a ‘full stop’ after a diagnosis has been given
7) Relationships with symptoms…
- In the book, Nathan Filer talks about a Hearing Voices network that he attended at a hospital, which is a support group intended to humanise hearing voices
- In this group, the symptoms are the same, but the individual’s relationship to the symptoms changes
- This aims to reduce distress caused by hearing voices
8) What can we take away from the book?
- Nathan Filer read two different passages from the book, the first of which describes the feeling he took away with him after attending the Hearing Voices network
- The second passage describes what he hopes that we, as readers, will take away after reading the book
When arranging to attend the group myself I had to offer some assurances. I said that I wouldn’t name the hospital and that I wouldn’t report specific details of anything that was disclosed by any of the men. I wouldn’t bring a pen in and I wouldn’t take a narrative out.
So, once again, we are left with the feelings. Here’s the best way I can describe the feelings that I detected in that room.
Imagine, once more, that you’re walking down that dark alley we’ve been talking about [previously in the book]. You hear the sudden noise. It’s footsteps. Only this time, it doesn’t resolve itself to be rustling leaves by virtue of you listening more attentively. It remains footsteps. It’s always footsteps. Something is always following you. Always wanting to harm you. And it’s caught you before, whatever this thing is, and when it did, when that happened, it was too terrifying to contemplate. Now imagine you look to your left, and there’s a friend walking beside you. Your friend can hear the footsteps behind you,too. And to your right is another friend, and another, and another.
You’re not alone at all. There’s a whole gang of you. You’re all walking this dark alley together. It’s longer than you thought. It’s darker than you feared. But you’re doing it, and come to think of it, when you’re all together like this – your own footsteps sound the loudest.
That was the feeling in the room.
That’s what I took away.
We’ve just heard the story of a keyholder. But we’re all keyholders of sorts, aren’t we? We make decisions about people based on ideas and orthodoxies that we may never once have questioned. We place people in the corners of our minds, locking them away there. Sometimes we do the same to ourselves.
I hope that this book has been able to unlock a few such doors. To push them open though, requires more than I can do here. It involves many people having many more conversations.
My hope now is that you – yes, you! – will take the conversation that we’ve started here and continue it with others.
It’s about all of us.
By talking and listening carefully we can push those doors wide open. I wonder what else we’ll find?
It’s a beginning.
Happy reading 🙂