RUTH E. DIXON
Poet/Mental Health Campaigner/Counsellor
A true story of loss, hope and enduring love
Inspired by my therapeutic work with traumatised children as well as the #MeToo movement, 'Tilt' is a collection of spoken word performances which explore what happened to my mum.
Andrea struggled with severe mental health problems all my life and was diagnosed with several psychiatric "disorders". After her death in 2014, I came across hundreds of her
letters. I also acquired Andrea's medical notes which attested to an 'unfortunate woman' whose best chance of survival was lifelong sedation. But in scratching beneath the surface I start to uncover a different story...
POWER THREAT MEANING FRAMEWORK
DROP THE DISORDER
"Paranoid Schizophrenia", "Bipolar Disorder" and "Personality Disorder" were all psychiatric diagnoses given to Andrea. But these labels were shaming, unhelpful and wholly inaccurate. There is no scientific basis for mental disorders; they are social constructs masquerading as medical conditions. For example, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness before eventually being updated in the 1970's to "sexual orientation disturbance". Even eminent psychiatrists who draw up the diagnostic classifications admit they lack validity.
The truth is we are medicalising human suffering and what would be much more helpful to the hundreds of thousands of people like Andrea is if we can start to think about 'mental illness' in a different way. What we're talking about is despair, loss, loneliness, abuse and responses to very difficult circumstances which make sense. Distress is understandable in terms of people's life experiences and life contexts. This can never be cured by labels and drugs; recovery begins with listening, compassion and trauma-informed alternatives.
Andrea's "disorders" and treatment only served to further distance us and, like most mothers with a psychiatric diagnosis, she lost custody of me when I was four years old. In deep despair, Andrea jumped in front of a train, and amazingly survived, but with life-changing injuries. She went on to acquire more psychiatric labels but her story was barely heard. It took 34 years from her first suicide attempt until she was offered a talking therapy.