Sketch of Terry and lessons learned

I’ve been meaning to sketch Terry for ages, and I finally sat down with the pencil while he was playing on the xbox (Hence his slightly worried look, he’s probably about to be clobbered by some monster). It’s been a while since I drew anyone from life, and every single time, I find it so daunting. When I don’t work from a model, I find that I have to be quite cerebral, building the face or figure in quite a mechanical way, thinking about where everything joins, moves and pivots. It was great to have a break from that.

I’m often disappointed by sketches, usually because I overthink them. This time, I tried not to put myself under pressure, keeping the pencil skipping lightly over the paper, not trying to make the marks too perfect. As usual when I draw, I can here the echoes of various art teachers that I’ve worked with, both formally and informally . For this drawing, the first voice gently urged me not to worry about single, accurate lines, but rather put down several light lines, and the eye would automatically find the right ones. So I resisted my usual urge to be too precious and felt my way round the sketch, almost like sculpting, and not overthink it.

The second voice told me not to worry too much about following the “lumps and bumps”, but rather to get a sense of Terry’s face as a whole, and get in the basic shapes rather than get bogged down in too much detail. I found that was much more useful for getting the sketch to hang together, and that Terry’s features all seemed to relate to one another in a way that usually takes me a lot of measuring to achieve.

The third voice, and this is the most important one that pops up whenever I sketch from life, was the one that says, “look at the subject, not the paper”. It’s pretty true that many people spend so much time looking at the paper, that they barely observe what they are drawing. It’s something that I can easily fall into, and I made myself look at Terry and barely look at the paper at all. Scary? Yes, but also very satisfying when I looked down after 5 minutes or so and to my surprise, it had shaped up pretty well.

All I needed to do at that point was toughen up some of the lines and fill in some others for a bit of tone. And then leave it, before I was tempted to overwork it. That’s always the very hardest part.

I think Terry likes it 😊

little acts of achievement

When I’m at work, my colleagues and I often talk about 5 Ways to Wellbeing. I’m far too lazy to list them here but here is a link if you want to read more. One of them has really leapt out at me this week, “Keep Learning”.

It’s one of those weeks when nothing seems to go right, and none of it feels as though it’s under my control. One of those weeks when the world conspires to thwart and bottleneck me every which way it can. Take the MSc application that I’m trying to write. Well, I’ve written it, got the referees and there’s even someone who might supervise me. But can I fill in the online application? I started it, and for the last week haven’t been able to log in to complete it. Shouldn’t be a problem , I thought, I’ll just click the link that says “forgotten username or password” and all will be well. Nah, it’s taken three online messages and two phone calls to get the details that I need to log in, and tonight, I’m just too bloody tired to wrestle with it again.

Lots of other life stuff, probably too dull and depressing to mention.

BUT…the silver lining is that I finished the shirt that I’ve been meaning to make for the last year, and I swear that’s been the thing that has kept me sane this week and stopped me drifting into despondency. The pattern has worked really well, and it looks dead cute (well I think so anyway). I was thinking about why it has made me so inordinately pleased, and I came back to the 5 Ways to Well-being. I had control over it. When it seemed as though I had no autonomy or influence in any other area, I could, at least, finish the shirt and gain a small sense of having achieved something. Which I guess ties into “Keep Learning”. Because as you learn and progress you get that sense of achievement that is all down to you, no matter what the rest of the world does.

World Mental Health day: black dogs and avoidance

It’s safe to say that I have neglected my blog somewhat of late. The reason for that will, I hope become apparent. That said, it’s World Mental Health Day today, so I felt it appropriate to write something.

For the last 3 months or so, I’ve been experiencing low mood, which has tipped into depression. I say “or so” because it came on gradually, and I really wasn’t sure where anxiety left off and depression began. At first I thought it was just a typical ADHD-type mood swing. I usually just wait for those to go away, but this one didn’t. It just got worse and worse until last week, I was crying every moment that I was alone. I cried on the way to the mental health classes that I help to run, I cried on the way back. I cried at work, for some strange reason every time I walked past the Christmas fabric and ribbon. I hardly ever cry, not even when I’m mightily fed up, so this was really strange.

It’s different for everyone, but depression doesn’t make me feel particularly sad. Instead it just washes all of the colour out of life leaving me flat and indifferent. I just can’t be bothered with anything, even the things that used to get me really excited. And the aches, oh, the aches. Stress puts the body into “fight or flight” as the brain cannot tell the difference between a physical threat, like an oncoming car/angry person that wants to hit you/sabre-toothed tiger, and a psychological one like, erm, struggling to see any hope for the future because, no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to get any easier, and being unable to see a day when, perhaps it will.

Well, that fight or flight response isn’t going to help me much in this situation. So my muscles are getting ready to fight or flee, and there’s nothing to fight or run away from, so I get more and more tense. And exhausted. I wake up, barely able to get out of bed as I feel as though I’ve already done ten rounds and dragging myself through the day just longing for my bed.

It’s not much in the way of fun and games, is depression. But all is not lost. I am, after all, an assistant psychologist, and I’d be a pretty lousy assistant psychologist if I hadn’t learned a thing or two along the way.

For a start, in this particular case, there isn’t actually anything “wrong” with me, in that, the low/depressive mood that I’ve been experiencing is a perfectly normal and appropriate reaction to what has been a very tough few years with very little in the way of let-up. I’ve been steadily losing hope, and to maintain good mental health, all human beings need hope. I’ve simply run out of cope. There is little that I can do to improve the situation that I am not already doing. Despite what that idiot Jeremy Hunt says, I’m doing all I can, and simply working through the night as well as mornings, afternoons, evening and weekends is not going to help matters. So I’m going to stop beating myself up for feeling like this.

The next step is to tackle the avoidance that commonly comes with depression. Avoidance is lovely. For those of you not familiar with the term, it’s when you turn down invitations, or avoid the things that you should do because you don’t believe that you will cope with them. Avoidance makes you feel great, in the short term. You snuggle up under a duvet and watch TV instead of seeing your friends. You feel safe, and comforted. And then you feel regret, because you might have had a good time. Your friends might think you’re boring, you get annoyed with yourself, and self-esteem drops. And your brain has had no opportunity to learn that you will, in fact, deal with the situation just fine. So you avoid again, and again, until your comfort zone becomes very small indeed, and you get more and more isolated.

So I’m not gonna do that. I’ve been saying “yes” to things. Putting in fun stuff into the diary, even if I haven’t really felt like it because, that’s another things human beings need, things to look forward to. Which is not compatible with the notion that it’s ok for people to work like slaves and have no dignity or disposable income at the end of it. (Hear that, you bloody Tory creeps, this is why every psychologist I know hates you.) For a musical version of this notion, listen to the song “Bread and Roses”, and you’ll learn why the rose is a symbol of the Labour movement. Sometimes, if there’s nothing to look forward to, you have to create it yourself.

So I’ve been doing fun stuff, and ok, so the resulting pleasure isn’t what is normally would be, it’s a bit like listening to music with foam earplugs in, but it’s better than nothing. And gradually, I find that I’m crying less, and taking more pleasure in things again.

I’ve also told a couple of people, including one of my colleagues. She saw how sad I was looking and asked if I was ok. I wasn’t going to tell her, but it came spilling out. She simply said that she was sorry I was having such an awful time, and that any time I wanted to get a coffee and have a rant, she’d be there for me. It wasn’t much, but it didn’t need to be. She didn’t try and fix anything, or offer solutions, and knowing that she had my back meant everything.

I’ve been dealing with the muscle aches by making an effort to walk more, take hot baths and getting back rubs from my lovely fiancé. There’s only so much I can do about the stiff muscles when I’m tense all the time,  but at least I know why they are stiff in the first place.

Slowly, I’m starting to feel better. I hope that sooner, rather than later, I’ll be back to my usual self. I wanted to share my experience to let anyone else who experiences the pain of depression know that they can take action, there are things that can be done, and even if the depression doesn’t go away, life can be a lot nicer. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s like when you first start to learn a musical instrument, everything is difficult and the sound is awful. But if you can keep going until you’ve learned the basics, putting your skills into action becomes a great deal easier.

I’ll leave you with this video that I came across when delivering the Stress Control course, I Had a Black Dog

Happy World Mental Health day!


2015-06-13 19.51.57I’ve been having lots of fun with hand embroidery lately, after I handed in my final Research Methods assignment, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands, and creative withdrawal. Turns out that, next Empire event, my pal Claire is having a hat stall. So I thought that I’d knock up some simple linen coifs to go on said stall, handily giving me an excuse to experiment. with some hand-embroidery.



The basic coif is like this, based on one that seems to have been popular in medieval Europe. It ties around the head and the front is folded back, giving a winged appearance. I added some flowers to this one in colours that matched my kit.

2015-06-06 17.57.09

I used bullion and lazy daisy stitch for the flowers and stem/lazy daisy for the stem and leaves. I made this one out of cotton (hell, it was an experiment) but was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Should be nice to keep the sun off in summer.





I raided my stash and found some nice cream linen and a bit of some sage green as well. Taking a look at some other wildflowers for inspiration, I came up with patterns of daisies, poppies (I’d been wanting to figure those out for ages) wheat, lavender, forget-me-nots and various other flowers.

Here are the results…

2015-06-13 20.01.23 2015-06-13 20.01.33









Well, they all got sold, which was great, but then I realised that I didn’t have any left for the stall! So I’ve ordered some more linen now (as well as some for a new dress!) It is nice to have some time to create again!

To my Tory-voting friends – an olive branch…

This is my third attempt. I hope that it won’t be my last, but I’m starting to get a little weary. I need you to listen. Please don’t get defensive, there is nothing here that is intended to offend. You don’t need to agree with me, I don’t ask that,  just listen, please.

I understand that you feel as though you have taken quite a bashing since the general election. To you, you have had people calling you names, questioning your sanity and opinions, and accusing you of being uncaring towards the poor and vulnerable. No one likes to be treated like that. I have several friends that are conservative voters and I know them to be decent and kind individuals. We probably have a lot in common in terms of what we think a good society looks like, but we may differ in our views of how to get there. I am firmly of the belief that very few people get up in the morning, rubbing their hands with glee and thinking “I’m going to be an absolute bastard today.”

Now please try to see it from my point of view.

I have never been so upset about the results of an election in my life. I have spent several years working with vulnerable people, had my career destroyed by austerity, experienced food poverty and social exclusion, and have had first hand experience of just how difficult it is to get oneself out of poverty. Indeed, I am still struggling.

I intent to work as a clinical psychologist and that means that I have to understand the role that social factors such as poverty and exclusion contribute to mental ill-health. I know that some of these effects leave a permanent scar upon many people. I hope that I do not become one of them.

I am active in my trade union and read reports month-in month-out on how austerity is harming the most vulnerable in society. Indeed, there is much to suggest that people have died as a result of these policies.

Please bear with me, here is the difficult bit, the bit most likely to cause offence, but please take it in the spirit of an attempt to understand. I have found it hard to reconcile my view of someone I would call a friend with the idea that they would knowingly vote for a party with a track record of inflicting suffering and ruining the lives of many people. It hurts me beyond measure to believe that the goodness of people in my society has turned to selfishness and hatred.

So I tried to give the benefit of the doubt as much as could. I guessed that not everyone shares my professional interest in social factors of psychological distress, some people have only ever known lives of comfort, security, support and opportunity. I don’t blame them for that. Many people do not read Joseph Rowntree reports, after all, there are only so many hours in the day, I get that.  So I wrote a lengthy status update on Facebook, explaining why so many progressives are so furious that a government that inflicts suffering has been elected yet again to do, as promised, more of the same. (I have pasted it below should you be interested).

To my surprise, it resonated with, quite literally hundreds of people. It has been shared over 300 times on Facebook. Nothing short of miraculous for someone as social-media-illiterate as I am. I hoped that Tory voters would read it and try to understand, but all I seemed to get from that quarter were  sentiments along the lines of “you lost, deal with it, loser!” The more I tried to explain that I wasn’t seeking to punish anyone, or cast aspersions on anyone’s character; I just wanted to open up a dialogue to understand where they were coming from themselves, the more shrill the protests became. I was starting to doubt whether anyone was actually listening at all or whether I was being deliberately misunderstood. It got to a stage where I felt so unheard, I wanted to dismiss them all as the worst kind of narrow-minded, bigoted Tory stereotypes. By this stage, what I was burning to say was ” you knowingly voted for a government that intended to harm vulnerable people and you wonder why everyone calls you a twat? Deal with THAT, loser!” Because I am human and can only try and explain so much before I lose my temper.

But that really isn’t going to get us anywhere.

So, to my Tory-voting friends. I don’t hate you, I don’t think you’re an idiot. But I would like to understand why you voted for the party that you did. Because I don’t like to think that you want to give the vulnerable a kicking simply for the sake of it, but it’s my belief that lives will be lost as a result.  Maybe you didn’t understand the extent of the suffering, or believe that there could be a food bank in your village. Maybe failure is something that you think doesn’t happen to you or your friends. Maybe you didn’t have time to read the whole manifesto. Maybe your dad always voted Tory and so do you, maybe your parents supported Labour and you want to distance yourself from them. Maybe you believe that austerity is the only way forward and human suffering is an acceptable price to pay. Maybe there are as many reasons as there are Tory voters. I’m trying to understand because that is the only way things will move forward.

But, by the same token, please try to understand me. I am an aspiring psychologist, I’m trained to sift through studies and evidence, to consider biases and to appreciate them in myself and others. My opinion is formed by the evidence that I see, hear, read and experience. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, indeed I would be disappointed if they did. But I do expect reasoned discussion. I would like it if people explained, not justified, but explained the reasons behind their political stance rather than just yelling that I have no right to question their opinion. Maybe I might learn a thing or two, I’m quite open to that.  I will be much less frustrated and ranty myself if the points that I raise, like the cost of human suffering and the criticisms of austerity are actually acknowledged and discussed, rather than the stony silence/straw man arguments/deflections/name-calling or sarcastic memes which are, sadly, the more typical responses that I have got thus far. If you behave like that, I will start to doubt your rigour and the strength of your views. If you are undecided about something, say so. Don’t dismiss me for pointing out that there might just be something that you haven’t considered. If there is an issue that you are not sure about and I can point to a link, or a study that explains, please let me know. I’ll do the same. I don’t know where you are coming from unless you tell me.

It’s not enough to tell me to “deal with it”. If there are innocent lives/future life chances at stake, I will do all I can to defend them in whatever way I feel I can. If you are of the opinion that to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs, be gentle: those “eggs” could be a friend who is present, or one of their loved ones, and you may not even know. Don’t blame people for feeling scared and angry if their lives and wellbeing or those of their family or friends are under threat. You would feel the same. I would like to think that you would be furious, stamp your feet and do all you can to protect them too.

I would like to think that we are not so very different after all.



My original facebook post…

there’s a few people who cannot understand the post election angst/anger etc. Let me enlighten you.

Not everyone lives in a lovely cosy bubble where work is well-paid, homes are secure and there is enough food on the table. Many of us have, or seen the people we care about, struggle with crappy zero hour contracts, abusive employers, disability, mental health issues, insecure housing and unemployment. Many of us have seen our hard work, aspirations, hopes and dreams go up in flames as a result of the Tories’ policies, and for us it’s not likely to get any better.

Some of us are likely to be your friends, or people you quite like and identify with, people that you know are kind, intelligent and hard-working who have kept silent about the fact that we can’t always afford to eat properly, or heat our homes, for the sake of retaining some small scrap of pride when we realise that our pay doesn’t cover the basic cost of living. When you see us socially and we’re all smiles, but sit there only eating a starter or drinking tap water because we’d rather do that than not see you at all.

Some of us are scared for our futures and the futures of our loved ones, for good reason. We either have lived experience that informs our opinions, and/or we keep up with research into poverty and inequality in the UK. Some of us work with the victims of “austerity” on a day to day basis. Some of us are extremely disappointed that people would vote for a party that has such a verifiable track record of kicking fellow human beings when they are down.

If you do not have this experience, lucky you. But take it from someone who does. There are a lot of people with every bloody right to be angry.




Will Guildenstern and backlighting

More digital painting, who’d have ‘thunk it?

I’m trying to set myself a challenge with each one that I do. I’m trying to learn more about painting in general and to develop my technique, so there’s zero point in doing things the same way each time.  This time, I experimented with backlighting, and using a scanned preliminary sketch.

The inspiration for this picture was my pal Matt’s Empire character, Will Guildenstern (yes, it’s no coincidence that Terry’s Empire character is called Rosenkrantz).Sometime last year, WG, a member of the militia, conducted a raid on an eatery, in connection with a slave trading ring. I thought that I’d illustrate his defiant arrest.

For the last two digital paintings, I avoided using a preliminary sketch, as I wanted to keep the feel of the painting spontaneous and loose. I have a tendency to sketch really tightly, which strangles the final work somewhat. However, while I like the sponanteity, I miss the feel of pencil on paper,and I have found it a struggle to get positioning and proportion right when drawing straight onto the laptop.

2015-01-11 18.40.43So, for this one, I tried to get the best of both worlds. I had Terry pose for a reference shot, coming through the kitchen door, and used this as the basis for the sketch. I shot the picture from the ground so that the viewer is looking up at WG, as if they are seated at a table. We found it quite hard initially to get a pose that I liked, until Terry started messing about, sticking his middle finger up (Guildenstern is a cocky fellow), those poses had the most energy to them.

line sketchThen I drew out the character sketch, trying to make a 3D representation of all the shapes. (he did originally have 2 legs, but I forgot to save the orginal scan, this is how it ended up)

Having scanned the sketch, I got on to the fun bit, fleshing him out! I lowered the opacity on the sketch layer, which allowed me the spontaneity that I wanted,with the security of using the sketch as a guide, which gave me even more scope to try things out.

The big challenge was the backlighting, as I couldn’t find a good reference for that. I knew that the daylight would be cold, throwing the front of the figure into shadow, but I didn’t want him to be just a dark blob, so I added a second light source in the form of a candle on the wall. I worked with that light source mostly, but was careful not to paint in too much contrast, as it wasn’t a bright light. I was also careful to keep it fairly monochromatic, mostly varying shades of brown. It was surprising how dark even the lighter shades were when I looked at them on the colour picker. I just played around until I liked the look of it. The painting really came to life when I added the warm highlights on the wall nearest the candle. That’s how I was thinking of this painting, as if I were painting with light. Those online lighting tutorials really came in handy!

When the colours were all in place, I added the backlighting around the edges of the figure and doorframe. I made these really bright, and they really helped to make the figure “pop”. I kept the sketch just about visible, it added a certain structure and definition, then put a bit more oomph into it by brightening the highlights on the sword, armour and mail. Done!

freeze muther'fuckers


Cora and the Butterfly

I’m having a lot of fun with the digital painting. Here’s my latest effort. When I was at Empire last summer, a butterfly landed on my a table and my friend, sitting at the table picked it up on her finger. The butterfly was in her house colours and I thought that it would make a lovely painting.

cora with butterfly

I posed for my own reference shot so that I could get an idea of the way the clothing fell, and how the light (near sunset) threw shadows around. The hard bit was getting the shadows the right colour, they were tending to shift towards purple rather than the blue that they would be in strong daylight. I got there in the end, even if I did have to tweak the colour balance to make it a little warmer. And I also made it my mission to learn about different light sources and how they interact with one another.

I struggled a bit with the shapes and shadows initially, then I hit on a way of thinking that treated each shape as a 3D object, thinking more in terms of sculpting, rather than painting. Sounds rather obvious when I think about it, I guess I just got wrapped up in all the other details. Fabric especially gives me the fear, but I’m pleased with how the thickness of the dress fabric is apparent and the light shining through the chemise cuff.

As with all of these character portraits, I was trying to paint the character rather than the player, but I’ve managed to get a likeness on this one!

What I did on my holidays

It’s so good to not be tired all the time. What have I done on my hols?

Well, I bit the bullet and applied for my DClinPsy. I wasn’t going to apply this year, but had a chat with the admissions team at Cardiff University and they encouraged me to apply right away, with the caveat that most people don’t get in first time round. I figured that I had nothing to lose by doing that, so set up an application with the Leeds Clearing house and did the necessary with 2 weeks to go.

I was initially pretty daunted as I had heard about people who spent months on their application, but actually, it was no worse than applying for any other job that requires a form to be filled out. I spent a fair bit of time  on the personal statements, but learned a lot about myself and my experience by doing so. To my surprise, roles that I would not have thought of including have actually helped to build the skills that I believe would make me suitable for training, once I reflected on them. My third year university supervisor, whom I contacted for an academic reference was wonderfully supportive, even though I haven’t seen him for fifteen years. I also received a good deal of support and guidance on the form from friends that kindly agreed to look at my first draft for me. It’s lovely to feel that I have people behind me that want me to succeed.

The other encouraging occurrence was the job that I didn’t get. A week or so before Christmas, I saw a job ad for an assistant psychologist post in my local health board. Now these jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth, mostly due to a lack of funding as far as I can see. They often close within a few hours of being posted due to the volume of applications they receive. As I have to work, and usually don’t have access to the net at work,  I don’t get a look in. Plus the fact that I’m not really in a position to relocate for a short term post, as many of these are, so I can only look for jobs that are within a commutable radius.

For this one, however, they wanted applicants to write a 500 word piece on accessible mental health services in Wales. I guess that must have stopped applicants from simply copying and pasting their latest job application, because it was still open when I got home. Knowing that time was of the essence, I sat myself down and bashed out an application, with no expectation of getting an interview.

Imagine my surprise when I got an interview for the next week! Imagine my horror when I remembered that I hadn’t had a formal interview in several years, they are not usually required for music or sewing work. And what to wear?? Musicians and costume makers don’t often wear office suits either. I was in Birmingham for an MU meeting, so took the chance to run round the shops. Except that it was a week before Christmas, everything was glitter and sparkles. I don’t know too much about traditional interviews, but I do know that turning up looking like Elsa from Frozen would probably not go down too well.

I did what I always do in this situation, rummage around my fabric stash. I found a couple of metres of dark brown wool-mix and a smart but simple dress pattern. I had managed to get a brown blazer in Birmingham, in the clearance section of House of Fraser and decided to team it with a dress rather than go for a suit. The dress came together quickly and was lovely and warm. I usually don’t like office wear as I feel so uncomfortable in it, but it makes all the difference when it actually fits you. I’ve got to the stage where it’s quicker to make something than spend all day looking for an outfit that’s me-shaped.

The interview itself was lovely, really relaxed and I felt very at ease despite being sent to the wrong building on arrival. I felt that I might be in with a chance, but got a call later that day to say that I hadn’t got the job. However, they were very nice about it and said that they had deliberated for a long time and might be able to offer me some voluntary work. The fact that I hadn’t got an NHS reference went against me, and that was a possible solution. More feedback was that my knowledge of research methods and stats was rusty, but, as they said, hardly surprising considering that I graduated 15 years ago! I had tried to revise research methods in advance of the interview, but only had a few days in which to do so and was juggling a lot of work in the run-up to Christmas. That too is fixable, I had a good google and found a distance learning Masters level course on research methods for behavioural sciences at my old alma mater. It will wipe most of what little savings I have, but the investment will be worth it, not only will the revision be worthwhile, but it will (hopefully) grow my somewhat stunted academic confidence.

I am hopeful, though. I don’t think that it will be the bewildering nightmare that university was. It wasn’t the work that I had a problem with, I loved that. It was the rest. Often, I didn’t realise that an essay had been set at all, or if I did, I didn’t know when the deadline was, or which articles/books to read. Where I was supposed to go for lectures, which lecture was at which time, or even which day of the week it was. I inexplicably forgot everything that I needed to remember. Everyone else seemed to know what they wanted to do after university, but I didn’t have a clue. And as for day to day living as an independent adult, house hunting,setting up direct debits etc, it all seemed like some weird dark art. And I tried so hard. At times I was convinced that there were secret meetings that everyone attended that I didn’t know about where they all talked about this stuff. But most of the time, I thought that I was just plain stupid.

Of course, if our Abnormal Psychology textbook had contained more than a paragraph on ADHD, and it was realised that it affected adults as well as kids, and not just disruptive boys at that, history may well have been very different. I might not have left university thinking that I had nothing to offer the field of psychology, or any other field for that matter. I might have been able to put strategies in place for finding out the things that I needed to know so that my life was not some endless swirl of confusion and fear. At least I would have had some explanation for the way that I felt.

But it didn’t, and I didn’t, so I graduated believing that a career in anything other than music (I knew where I was with that) was an not option for me. I don’t regret my path through life, it’s brought me to where I am today, but I could have done without the psychological fallout, misery and emotional pain of having undiagnosed ADHD. I sometimes get angry when I think of how unnecessary it was. But no one was to know, not my teachers, parents and not me.

And now, although I face my new direction with some trepidation, I need to remind myself that I’m not that lost, confused 19 year old girl that somehow felt disconnected from the world and most of the people in it. I have a new-found brain, and so help me, I’m gonna use it!


“I don’t believe in ADHD”

…said the doctor (a breast specialist) when I told him about my interest in the subject. I sighed inwardly. This was not the first time that I’d heard this from someone, and it’s a common response that several others have encountered. In “Delivered from Distraction”, Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specialises in ADHD makes the point that ADHD is a well-documented neurobiological condition, not a religious persuasion. So why the deniers? After all, no one denies the existence of autism.

A few weeks ago, I met with a researcher, a psychiatrist, at the University of Cardiff to chat about ADHD. We both agreed that ADHD has an image problem, that it’s not “sexy” and that no one seems to be interested in it. I have to say that I fail to understand why something that arguably affects one in 25 people attracts so little interest, especially when it is implicated in so many social ills and economic costs (Young et al, 2013. read the White Paper here)

It then occurred to me that many of the groups in which ADHD is very prevalent are exactly those groups that politicians and the media love to hate. The unemployed, the underemployed, the homeless, the prison inmates; all these groups contain more people with ADHD than the general population. It also occurred to me that classic symptoms of ADHD like impulsivity, mood swings, disorganisation, procrastination and a lack of concentration in boring situations, are very often portrayed as moral failings by the social norms of western society. It’s far easier to say of someone you don’t like that they are morally deficient in some way than to acknowledge that they may need help. Acknowledging that unpopular groups of people may need additional help would make it less easy to use them as a convenient scapegoat for all that is wrong with society. Witness the demonisation of any vulnerable group from immigrants to social security claimants for examples of that kind of thinking. There may well be a political aspect to the chronic neglect of ADHD.

I was interested in why the breast specialist did not “believe” in ADHD. He explained that, all too often, it is used an an excuse for bad parenting. Now we are all responsible for our behaviour, but if a child has ADHD, then it is likely that at least one of their parents does too. Undiagnosed and unsupported ADHD may well lead to the kind of parenting that we class as “bad”. Of course, there are great parents with ADHD and bad parents without ADHD, but a parent whose kids are always late for school, whose house is messy and who smokes and drinks pretty much fits the “bad parent” stereotype, especially if they are on a low income.  I wonder, does it ever occur to anyone that some of those parents may be struggling with ADHD themselves and could use some support to manage their lives, rather than condemnation? ADHD may be just one factor among many that a parent may need help with, but is a factor that should not be ignored.

Actually, with some probing, it became apparent that the breast specialist did “believe” in ADHD. He called it “true” ADHD, as opposed to the kind of ADHD that a kid may be wrongly diagnosed with for simply acting up. We both agreed that ADHD is over-diagnosed in some areas and under-diagnosed in others, especially in girls and women. It reinforced for me the importance of people that assess for ADHD understanding what ADHD is and what it isn’t. In my opinion, it’s no good simply ticking off a list of behaviours. Many people with ADHD simply don’t display many of those behaviours to the outside world as they have internalised the notion that they are unacceptable/immoral and spent almost all their time and energy struggling to “fit in”. What must be looked for is the operating system that that person is running. What is their working memory like? How well do they do on a test of creative thinking and idea generation?  What do their friends/teachers/parents say about them and their social functioning? How does the person describe their own thinking? It must be taken in the round, and in some quarters, I would like to think that it is. However, if there are so many false positives happening that clinicians begin to doubt the existence of ADHD, something is wrong.

There are some that claim that ADHD does not exist because it is a culturally defined disorder. And, in some ways, they are not wrong. In another culture with different definitions of what constitutes “good ” behaviour, ADHD may not cause any problems, and may even be a desirable trait. However, that does not take away from the fact that ADHD is neurobiological in origin, and many people with ADHD struggle to thrive in modern society without appropriate support. Much as I would love to change the society I live in, make it value creativity more and overhaul the mainstream educational/workplace systems so that they meet the needs of more people, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Besides, you could easily broaden the definition of “culturally defined” so that it encompasses nearly all disability. In “The Country of the Blind” by HG Wells, a book that I would love to read, a man stumbles on a society where everyone is blind. Their society is set up for blind people to thrive in, and, in that context, the sighted man is considered to have a disability. By the same token, a society set up by, and for, people that could not walk, would look very different to the one that we have now, and the ability to walk may also be considered a disability. Just because some people believe that ADHD is culturally defined does not excuse denying help and understanding to people that are struggling.

Many people also see ADHD as something that was invented by “Big Pharma” for the purposes of selling medication. I’m sorry, but we have had writings on ADHD (under a different name, perhaps) going back two hundred years, long before Ritalin was invented (Melchior Adam Weikard, 1775) . And yes, pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in selling their products. It doesn’t mean that ADHD does not exist. What it means is that clinicians and practitioners should be careful to diagnose ADHD properly, and not use it as a lazy catch-all for certain types of behaviour. Big Pharma cannot give a person ADHD if they do not have it already.

Ironically, there is plenty of evidence to show that ADHD medication is very effective, and does pretty much what it says on the tin, ie improves concentration. That won’t help a person develop strategies for managing their ADHD, but it might just help them concentrate for long enough to implement them, or hold down a boring job until they are in a position to move to a more fulfilling occupation. There are also several ways of managing ADHD that do not involve medication eg. exercise, psychoeducation, and these should be part of any attempt at intervention as a matter of course.

In conclusion, something needs to be done about ADHD’s image problem. There are people out there not getting the support that they need to live happy, fulfilling lives because of misinformation and prejudice. Yes, assessing for ADHD needs to be treated with caution, but so should all psychiatric/mental health assessments. The responsibility should be on practitioners and the wider society to educate themselves so that prejudice, suspicion and fear can be replaced with tolerance, understanding and proper support.



Loving computer game music..

I feel as though I’m slowly getting my musical keen back. For a while I’ve been lacking in inspiration, probably as a result of having a sore throat and not singing very much lately. However, over the last week or so, I’ve been listening to covers of music from computer/console games, and I’m struck by some of the talent that is involved in creating it. I like games, but have never had the time to really stick at them, except when I’ve been playing on them with other people.

Many years ago, I played Final Fantasy IX. I remember loving the theme tune, in all its Rennaissance-oid recorder glory. I had a brief flirtation with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, until my relationship foundered and my ex got the xbox. Since then, I haven’t had a TV of my own, much less a console, and no time for gaming.

A couple of weeks back, someone suggested I listen to the Dancing and the Dreaming from How to Train your Dragon. That led me on to Erutan’s cover of it. I liked her voice, discovered that she’d recorded covers of game music, and bought her digital album. I loved her version of The Dragonborn Comes, and that led me on to Malukah’s cover of it.

I realise I’m a late-adopter, but I just love her voice (helps that she’s a fellow alto) and her feel for the song. I’ve been listening to other songs that she’s recorded, and it’s inspiring me to finally write some of my own, after all this time. I’m thinking that there has to be a way to shoehorn some game music into the crossover repertoire that I’m learning!