Thursday, February 11, 2010

Does Jesus Wear Welfare Gloves - The Story of Dennis On The Cross

Dennis (name changed) is in his 60's now . He's a white haired, ghost faced, thin mental health service user. He is a Christian too .

He used to volunteer to help others less fortunate than himself - always seeking reforms in the NHS UK mental health system to enable others to have a life even though they were often unwell.

He appears to be half broken by life . He has a halting manner of speech and his consciousness seems to sway in waves of being here, and then "there" - somewhere else . He cannot write and has always wanted to . No-one has helped him to learn and he has always needed help - and probably re-parenting really .

The land of Dennis's old pain is his "somewhere else" . Old pain triggered by the stress of trying to live in the present and it often sets off stressful guillotining of his conscious grasp of the present . It cuts his ability in two . His ability to even speak properly ..

He spent time in the old fashioned asylum years ago . His life never formed really well - sometimes his care was in serious doubt as he grew and his personality just did not glue.

Here a Dennis there a Dennis everwhere a Dennis, Dennis ......Of interrupted care, and interrupted identity formation .

You hear it inside his speech and it all makes sense, so much sense, when you know his story . Him . When you finally feel , him .

The continuous discontinuity . Dennis the paradoxed child - here and there without any care. But haunted intelligent eyes that saw so much and desperately wanted to glue it together . For expression. Reflected expression . Struggling with his own tongue and stuttering .

Those haunted eyes show hurt and if you dare to feel them, they really hurt you too ....

Frustration and anger is part of his life coupled with a broken ability to express himself . It's far worse in the UK mental health system if people cannot express themselves fully, or because they cannot, they may show rage and torment in their twisting faces . That is sometimes a recipe for misunderstanding and being ignored, or even being dismissed by busy staff .. Dismissed, and that dismissal is so easily another small unit of rejection that accumulates with others and then goes into crisis .

Dennis had problems too with the health of some of his family and his own life and finances - his own ability to keep the remaining glue in his life split apart many months ago ..

A few night ago he turned up on my doorstep. It was late and the Birmingham city lights lit a dull overhead orange sky and you could hear the hum and low wide traffic swish in the skies over the city . I was busy with family affairs and our own health matters. I had to give him some taxi fare to go back to a home he felt could not trust, and I gave him some money to eat .

But another part of me knew I had to turn him away too . I held his hand and shook it before he got into the taxi . It was freezing . Freezing and I don't know how he bore the cold. It was like turning a child away .

I have health problems too and I could not have been out in that dark cold night without getting ill. Panged by conscience and shame I contacted the mental health services a day later . I've heard nothing back . I will chase it up . I worry about Dennis . I recall he came shuffling into an art session I put on for others . He had his ragged dark blue woolley gloves . We gave him all the biscuits he could eat . And more to take with him .

He'd been with us on a previous art session when he was more functional. I tried to help him conceive of writing in another way . Going back to basics I told him not to try to "write letters" but to draw them ....

"On a cave wall Dennis..... On a cave wall ..."

He laughed ... But I told him :

"Dennis trust the primitive child in you to make the art of writing from drawing and make it fun and no longer a stress ........."

He only came to that one "writing" session at that time . Then turned up months later - all broken up .. A colleague felt alarmed . Dennis was so broken .

Yet I could communicate with his brokenness. It was as if I had a tragedy in front of me like another Piccasso drawing inside an organic soul . Angulatedly broken but actually inherently sensible because it depicted slashed care and dislocated times .. I felt them .

Dennis could not cry it all out . It had taken him over .

Dennis was then the ghost, the living ghost of all his fragmented times .. Mostly without the ability to speak them into a bridge of sense . And no ability to write. Oh how he wanted to write, but could not .

I photographed Dennis's gloves ..

I am ashamed he had no better gloves . I am ashamed he cannot write into being, parts of his life and precious tragedy we all need to hear .

I am ashamed that NHS mental health services have missed his needs so often ..

I am ashamed he is like a helpless Jesus begging into our souls with ragged welfare gloves on ....

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