By #Frances Harris

The most enduring question of all for me, and asked by humanity as a whole is: Who am I? To the busy, to the driven and those who are caught up in the high-speed, hectic stream of life; marriage, mortgage, children employment; twisting and twirling fused together in golden, silver, black and white who have not yet paused to think; the question awaits them. It beckons, then hides again, just to re-emerge overtaking the peace they momentarily think they have like an irritating embedded advertisement that can’t be deleted. The inescapable question hovers above our heads and theirs’ always, mostly invisible but still subtly felt from birth until death, touching rich and poor, pleading to be quelled, but prepared to wait until the time to answer is right.

It is when we are at our worst, sometimes pricked by shame, coupled with an uneasy feeling that, maybe I was wrong, the voice that comes from deep within us murmurs, growing louder but unclear, fighting against our thoughts that justify, make excuses, trying to modify the truth of what we did, damping down the details. Yes truth; we use our every waking moment trying to evade it, avoid it, ignore it; set it aside, just to feel its chilly presence at the time we think we are calm and believe all is settled. Truth comes from another level of our consciousness; it is deep within us and encourages us to come forward to see the unspoiled light, to recognise what it real, not to make things the way we want them to be.

Who am I? – Has many answers. It can be found at the fork of all our journeys, has many angles, inclines and declines. I ask from this: am I the same person I was before? Thus – is the, me, I think I am splayed like a deck of cards, each card with a different concept of my character: clear, confusing, colorful, dull, kind, harsh going on forever. Am I arrogant or humble, driven or not, or all of these. Who can say this with confidence if I can’t?

I sit here in this quiet place away from everyday static, searching for myself in the simple things, and the joys that reach me in places where nothing else can go. Like when I feel that certain sadness, as if it was yesterday, which lingers like heavy smog, when I think of my little best friend with her innocent smile and long white curls. We were five years old. Together we were taking our first brave steps into school, when she veered off into the golden light without me and I couldn’t say goodbye. I was too young to understand why she left so suddenly and I still feel the loneliness, and I am still sad. I never really understood.
Did school influence the person I am today? Or was it the disagreements with our parents, the friction, the parting of the ways and coming back that moulded my character? I don’t know. I was determined and naive, headstrong like all the other teens I knew. Maybe our parents were right and I was wrong, I don’t know. I didn’t believe so then.

Then a fleeting thought of that ugly man who tricked me many times and took up my time and energy; disrespecting me, then being forgiven and doing it again until I gave up on him; must have changed my approach to things. I don’t like to admit; it is the harsh things that honed my insight, much more than the sentimental and comfortable times I mostly don’t remember. Other people’s lives seemed always better than mine, until years later I took a closer look. After the carnage I realised I was the fortunate one who mostly hadn’t appreciated what was good and what I had. What was I thinking then? I have to conclude – not much.

The ducks on the pond in front of me now intrigue and draw my attention for a while, my sight transfixed on their earnest lust for life and its doings, unaware of the many hazards all around them. Perhaps that was me at an earlier time. I can see it now, with some regret – I did that. It’s as if I climbed out of my previous self and developed a new, and even better one along the way. Little by little I must have morphed into the person I am today without knowing it, or suspecting it. Only when we stop what we are doing completely, both inside and out, is when reality begins to emerge from the haze, a misty figure at first, then each time refining itself along the way.

The sun is setting slowly behind the autumn trees in front of me, and cool breezes rustle through their dappled and rustic leaves. I am here, and whole, and intact; something I have never realized before. But one day I won’t be. I need to know if I mattered before I go; be it sooner or later. I think I am a mix of the old and the new, and many bold and subtle shades of experience. Again I follow the ducks and their simple, yet complex lives and wonder if most of what I do has been a waste of time and energy, and always has done. I need to change that.

Ducks do what is necessary. They are either toiling or resting. There’s little sign of reflection or regret, although I need reflection. Maybe I can learn from them. Once the ducks and I are gone will it make any difference at all? – Perhaps not. So I conclude sometimes the little impressions we leave with others is what carries on after us. If that is true these things must be fair and good to be of any use.

I think of our grandparents and their bungalow in Brighton, where our family stayed for a year while our parents settled on a place for us to live. We had come down from the country and I did not know them. The only connection I had with these two old people was the memory of a crackling voice from grandpa on the phone coming from a far off place where I was told was cold and rainy most of the year. Grandma never spoke on the phone, so I had to make up an imaginary grandmother arranged from what I was told of her. My two brothers and I knew only sunshine in our country town and the occasional deluge that usually dumped on us in September; so couldn’t imagine anything different.

When I met grandma she was nothing like I imagined. I expected she would be prettier, but I did realize she was smart. My mother hadn’t liked her, but I quickly felt a deep connection which upset my mother for years after. Perhaps it was in the genes.
I discovered since, grandma was a writer who subtly ignited the writing flame in me and together we silently loved the written word in our separate ways. She encouraged me, made me think and appreciate what was around me, if not in a romantic way. Grandma gave me a manuscript when I was ten years old which I lovingly kept and tried to read unsuccessfully, but I realise when I held it I had something special in my hands. Little did I know she was a simple, famous writer; a spendthrift who boasted she had spent three fortunes in her lifetime. She was as thin as a poker, and gorged on chocolate in spite of her chronic diabetes. Doctors back then thought she was skinny because she had too little acid in her stomach and they tried to fix it with more. She felt it was silly but did not matter; her thoughts were always on other things.

I loved the way she used to answer any question asked of her with a little story. She always kept a running commentary on everything which enthralled me and informed me and ignited my imagination in a way nobody else could. Grandma certainly molded me in a significant way, except that I never wasted money. It’s a quality that came from our parents who drummed it into my brothers and I from the beginning. We always had our own piggy bank and were encouraged to fill it with coins.

I must be getting back home soon; the sun is nearly down. In a way it is also going down on my quest to discover who I am. I am finally satisfied enough; as much as I ever can be. There is more to learn I am sure. I realize now many of the answers I find here in this place, perhaps just enough to close the question for now. I decide it is not one question I need to answer, but there are many. I conclude I am the sum total of everyone who impressed and hurt me and the experiences that jostled and calmed me at every level, and the most powerful were the people who loved me and least of all of them were those who did not care.



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By #Frances Harris

The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Tony Abbot has been railing about the cost of maintaining unemployed people on the Disability Support Pension, and others on unemployment benefits, rising health care cost blowouts, and supplement benefits. There is a solution to decrease these expenditures.
There are huge amounts of wasted money which are hidden and rarely talked about. Just beneath the surface of budget deficits in health and welfare are untold stories which are not the fault of the recipients; in fact they are often the unwilling victims.

People with varying degrees of mental illness are being kept out of the work force and using up precious health care resources through no fault of their own, but because of bungled treatments and careless medical guesses by psychiatrists in Australia. When a person with a job is suddenly zonked out for weeks by the prescriptions of a psychiatrist, he or she is unlikely to hold that job for long. There are better ways.

The compounding stresses on both the patient, their family and support network can and does lead to the patient and family breakdown and all being hospitalized repeatedly due to compounding health and stress issues such as caring for the patient, money deficits, carer and family work interruption, that forces the patient on to the Disability Support Pension (DSP.) He or she may start out fit and healthy, but if the brain is compromised by the wrong medication, incomplete diagnostics or dose over a long time, there is nothing the family or patient can do. Follow up government clinics are overwhelmed. Inadequate treatments; and psychiatry’s inability to consider the cost and welfare of all concerned seems to be ignored. Expenditure from the public purse seems limitless.

There is a better way. Neurology should be in the forefront of mental health management, because it has the science to back it up. It’s like the old saying: ‘penny wise, pound foolish.’ If all mental patients were tested by way of pharmacoginetics which measures the individual’s capacity to absorb and tolerate specific medications, more of the mentally ill would be inclined to benefit from a prescription and less likely to finish up in psychiatric care. It costs about $270 for the full test, versus weeks in hospital, in the mental health ward and attendance at follow-up government clinics. Which is better? It’s obvious. If the type and dose of medication is right first time, there should be more people leaving the DSP and working, more carers back in employment, fewer carers looking for carer supplements from the government. Social security outlay and for hospital stays and ER presentations would shrink public outlays considerably. The Australian social fabric will be more secure.

Those who want to work, but suddenly become unable to maintain and existing job, are actually being held back. Now Psychiatry can’t be confused with medical care, because the two bear little resemblance. Medicine is holistic, psychiatry is not.

You may ask my qualifications for this evaluation of this subject: – well I am a carer and advocate for a person with a psychological disability whose life and potential career has been devastated by the actions of psychiatrists in both the public and private systems. He was a healthy, well-educated young man who wanted to continue his employment. He started with a small problem which, due to careless administration of medications over sixteen years has steadily kept him unemployable. A hasty diagnosis by a psychiatrist was made and doggedly held on to, even though there was substantial evidence it was be wrong. Now sixteen years later, we are getting closer to the truth.

Psychiatrists, by law are a highly protected, punitive, secretive, self-regulating breed, and because they have a captive patient base of patients, don’t seem to feel the need to follow due diligence shown by mainstream medicine, nor care. Sloppy practices can be glossed over by a confusion of symptoms and poorly defined diagnoses. Until this time, there has been very little science to prove them wrong. But now, the cosy little relationship maintained with drug companies and Psychiatrists is being eroded by hard core science that threatens the validity of their postulations and ruminations. But they are pushing hard against it. Their huge power base is now under threat. The patient can now be scripted the best drug for them, rather than the current recommended drug of choice.

But – what about the unfortunate patients and wasted money? Well, to explain that; very powerful cliques of psychiatrists all-but run big public hospitals, especially those with significant psychiatric facilities. I have watched the opinion of a psychiatrist-in-training trump the highly skilled medical opinion of a registrar based on science, at Frankston Hospital, Victoria, Australia, and similar on more than one occasion. There is a considerable and ever growing psychiatric unit there.

On one of these there was ECG evidence of a dangerous heart arrhythmia in a patient who had experienced mental illness which could have been due to dangerous side effects of a psychotropic medication. On the instructions of a psychiatrist the patient was told to leave without any follow up. The patient was my son. A rush to another hospital identified the problem and arranged for follow up. When questioned, Frankston Hospital claimed it followed procedure. No matter what the treating doctor recommends, a psychiatrist has the final say for a patient on the mental health register. You can sense the doctors are privately distressed, but can’t comment. There have been deaths.

My son Edward has been kept on psychotropic drugs for sixteen years with little investigation to find out the cause of his problems. The psychiatrists called it schizophrenia, even though he did not meet the criteria. Once patients are given a diagnosis, they will be forced to be treated that way, sometimes for the rest of their life to do the psychiatrists bidding, even though the treatment may keep that person clamped in a life with serious side effects, psychological confusion, trauma, torment, and unemployment while tearing the patient’s family and support base apart. I call it ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ If you were to take a patient to three independent psychiatrists you would likely get three different diagnoses and treatments.

When Nazi Germany carried out such medical experiments on mental patients and the disabled, there were serious consequences. It is not only legal in Australia, but enforced by law. In Victoria a few repeat presentations at ER can result in a Community Treatment Order, where the patient is ‘zonked out,’ on injections with no say in the process. It’s terrifying, because if there are serious side effects, like coma or delirium, the injection keeps on giving for a fortnight. These patients are in serious peril. In my son’s case there is good evidence he has a sleep disorder which requires different treatment. Now with the advancement of science we are in the process of finding out.

Consideration of the welfare of the mentally ill and disabled are practically non-existent when it comes to psychiatry. There is no-one in authority there for then. There are shell procedures of appeal which are tilted. There have been many serious errors and people are now turning away from psychiatry and heading to neurology which has a specialist scientific base.

So as long as that protected species called the psychiatrist is allowed to run rampant with the public purse, under the protective cloak of vested interests, for example the current recommended drug of choice; incentivised hospital preferred drugs, things will never change. But I do ask Mr Abbot to not blame the victim, but take a closer look at what is going on right under his nose.

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