Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Crazy? Or crushed spirits?

Just over a week ago I gave a talk for a mental health charity in north London. I was asked to talk on the topic of dealing with conflict to a group of about fifty service users. They had come for their regular Friday evening get together to have some food, a cup of tea and to socialise.

 I had spoken to a similar group at such an event back in the autumn and had found it both immensely enjoyable and challenging. This time round, the experience was quite similar and it got me thinking…..

 Here was a gathering  of people, ostensibly with mental health problems. Indeed it was quite a mixed bunch spanning generations and cultures and, it appeared from varied social backgrounds. Despite their issues  most engaged fully, asked incisive and even “awkward” questions and weren’t afraid to speak their truth directly and, at times bluntly.

 It was like a breath of fresh air.

 I have worked with groups within all sorts of organisations for many years, yet have seldom encountered people who were so engaged and curious.

 This worries me. I wonder whether some of those very people who do ask questions, who do hold no fear in speaking up, questioning or disagreeing have somehow been forced into being labelled in some way mentally ill? What may the journey have been like that got them to this point?

 How easy is it, for example for a particularly bright and curious child to have his/her natural curiosity satisfied in the hands of a busy, stressed out teacher trying to control a class of 30+ children? Could they be seen as being a troublemaker simply because they don’t “behave”, they don’t fit into the mould?

I recently watched Jamie’s Dream school on TV (or should I say on my PC) and it was mind blowing to see how so many of the children were able to start blossoming because teachers had the luxury of small groups to work with along with the support to deal with the challenges, awkward questions and “bad behaviour” that was demonstrated. It didn’t look at all easy, but it seemed to work. How many of those kids may have been saved from going off the rails? Sobering.

 This is a huge, complex subject and I am in no way setting myself up to be an expert in what to do about it. I am merely an observer and what I observed the other night  at that talk was sublime. It was also left me feeling sad, because I could have picked out any number of people in that group who perhaps, just perhaps had they been given more time, more patience, more attention and more understanding in their formative years may have gone on to shine.

Having said that, I have rarely seen a room with more alive, smiling faces looking back at me. So, perhaps, just perhaps they’re not the ones with the “problem” after all?           


2 Responses to “Crazy? Or crushed spirits?”

  1. Incisive as ever and to the point. Great observations. (I feel a ramble coming on)

    As you know, I spent three years as the executive director of a mental health charity and have had many similar experiences; I often found myself wondering who had the problem – the clients or the staff. Not that I would minimise for one moment the complexity and affect of the major psychotic conditions they lived with.

    I have a wonderful and dynamic nephew, a twelve year old who is quite brilliant. From the day he was able to talk he asked questions that challenged the adults around him; about existence, god, death, the world, space and much more. Everything began with “Why”. He really wanted to know. The problem was (and still is) that no-one could adequately deal with his incessant questioning or his unrivalled energy.

    Now he has been labelled; borderline ADHD and borderline spectrum. School cannot cope with him and his parents sometimes lose control. He has specialist one-to-one helper in school and the psychologists are now suggesting Ritalin to help him settle down and fit in – or perhaps better described as filing off his wonderful edges.

    I have just spent a week with my nephew and full of wonderment at his brilliance, his energy and his quest to find out. Perhaps, just perhaps he is here to challenge our social structures and establishments; or do we want a Brave New World order where everyone knows their place and their purpose.

    I guess many managers would love to have a Ritalin controlled workplace – workers who just got on with the task, fully controlled and spirits crushed. I’m sure they could not cope with the craziness of people not fitting into the box – your mental health service users or my nephew. So let’s keep on putting them away in a safe place….

    Or is it time for us to look at how we deal with the square pegs for our round holes. People who are different, challenge our sense of security and desire for things to remain the same. People don’t like change or the agents of change, so always try to make others fit in to the status quo.

    One last thought – the movers and shakers of human and technological development have been in the crazy category with spirits in tact. I’d rather spend my time with Einstein than one of Huxley’s Epsilon Semi-moron.

    (sorry for the ramble)

  2. Thank goodness we still have the freedom to home educate in this country. If only more people had the time/inclination/money to do so. And for those that don’t, if only schools could be different, smaller, more able to deal with individual children, instead of secondary schools with much more than 1000 pupils, and each pupil having to put up with up to 28 different teachers over 14 subjects – if the kid can’t cope with that how can the teachers relate to each child who they may see for only 1 hour in a week?

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