My Headingley LitFest Event – The Dark Threads

20140325_204009Tuesday 25th March was a big day (or rather evening) for me. I gave a talk at Oxfam Bookshop (as part of the Headingley Literature Festival) about my experiences in High Royds Hospital, as told in my memoir ‘The Dark Threads’. Of course, remembering how things had gone well on other similar occasions helped a lot, but I did still did have some pre-event nerves. Throughout the day my mind  kept going into collywobble mode and throwing up a lot of scary ‘What ifs..?’

What if I lose my vision in the middle of it? This wasn’t as daft as it sounds. Every now and then I get ophthalmic migraines which come on without warning and they severely affect my eyesight for a while. Sometimes I go a long time without having them, but once I get one they often come in clusters a couple of days apart and I’d had one two days earlier. Other ‘What ifs?’ were What if in the middle of my talk I urgently need the loo? feel sick? go dizzy? lose track of what I’m trying to say mid-sentence and dry up? What if the audience gets bored and start leaving? What if nobody turns up and I’m staring out at empty seats? Or what if too many people come and there’s not enough room for them? What if..? What if…? What if…?

Fortunately my ‘What ifs?’ proved unfounded, except for one. Over forty people turned up. This meant some of the audience had to stand, and a few had to stand round a corner barely within earshot of me, but it was manageable. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say it was more than just manageable. The evening was a success.

I spoke for about fifty minutes, followed by a question and answer session. The evening was then rounded off with coffee and biscuits. I’d tried to plan a ‘balanced’ talk – a mixture of grim parts and humour. Most of the extracts I read from ‘The Dark Threads’ were fairly light-hearted, though some with an undertone of black humour. I didn’t want to downplay the horrors of the mental institution experiences for myself or anyone else but neither did I want to make everyone feel depressed rather than inspired.  I wanted to get across what I feel are important things to say about psychiatry, relating both to the past and now, but at the same time I didn’t want to be ‘preachy’. After all, this was part of a literature festival and I wasn’t speaking to a roomful of psychiatrists!

The second part of my talk was about the writing process and getting published. It included topics such as how writing for therapy and writing for publication are two different things (though there can be some overlap), the importance of truth in memoir but having to accept the fallibility of memory and the need to protect peoples’ privacy by changing names and perhaps physical descriptions of people, how I got published and how I became confident enough (ahem) to give talks. Actually, as has happened often before, I did feel confident enough to enjoy doing the talk once I began. The audience seemed wonderfully attentive and asked me lots of questions afterwards.

During the coffee and biscuit time, I sold lots of books, and chatted to many interesting people. I do hope that everyone else enjoyed the evening as much as I did. It does seem so, because feedback has been wonderful. When I get my next pre-event nerves I’ll remember this and reassure myself that, yes, I can do this. Despite all the problems I’ve had in the past with shyness/social anxiety, I CAN talk.

Perhaps we all can do more than we think we can if only we believe this is so.



The Dark Threads – Talk

LitFest 2014  lowres

Tuesday 25 March

  The Dark Threads                      Partnership Event

Jean Davison will read from her memoir The Dark Threads and talk 9966about her experiences as a patient at High Royds psychiatric hospital in the 1970s. Electric Shock Treatment and drugs reduced her to a zombie-like state for five years, before she managed to turn her life around. The talk will also include her experiences of writing the book and getting published. A question/discussion session will follow, and then the evening will be rounded off with tea/coffee and biscuits.

7.00pm Oxfam Bookshop, 13-15 Otley Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3AA  (next to Skyrack pub)

Free. Donations invited

Misdiagnosis? Schizophrenia? Emperor’s new clothes?

Is talking about being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia like trying to sew sequins on the Emperor’s new clothes?

As regular readers of my blog might know, in my teens I was diagnosed and treated for ‘chronic schizophrenia’ on the basis of so-called negative symptoms, such as social withdrawal, flattened emotions and lack of interest in things. The situational reasons for these were not taken into account during five years of treatment; neither life events nor the greatly worsening of these so-called ‘symptoms’ by medication. I’ve been fine since I managed to get myself off the neuroleptic drugs and out of the psychiatric system many years ago.

Nowadays people (including my publishers, psychiatrists and others who have read my memoir and those who know me) say that I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.  Although I sometimes say this, too, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the way it seems to imply that there is an illness called schizophrenia and that others suffer from it.  I do believe that I never did have ‘schizophrenia’ – but does anyone? Is there such a disease?

Saying I was misdiagnosed also enables psychiatrists to concede that there are incompetent practitioners while they point out that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with psychiatry as a whole or that what happened to me would still happen to someone today. For example, click here to see review of The Dark Threads by Dr Stephen Ginn. My view is that there was, and still is, something fundamentally wrong with psychiatry and its rigid adherence to the medical model with its heavy drugging, damaging treatment and the claims that the schizophrenia label has a scientific basis.

On the other hand, if I don’t say I was misdiagnosed, some people think I must then have recovered from schizophrenia (whereas what I needed to recover from was the treatment). I would love to offer hope to others, but I am anxious to avoid the false and dangerous implication that anyone diagnosed with schizophrenia should be able to come off their medication and build up a life for themselves, as I was able to do. Unfortunately some people can’t, though it doesn’t mean they are less ‘strong’ than me, or that they actually do have an illness called ‘schizophrenia’.

Maybe I’m wrong to say I was ‘misdiagnosed’. But can you see my dilemma? Perhaps every diagnosis of ‘schizophrenia’ is really a misdiagnosis. It certainly makes sense to me to agree with those who see good reasons for the schizophrenia label to be abolished, such as the Inquiry into the ‘Schizophrenia’ Label. Meanwhile, we ‘psychiatric system survivors’ have to struggle to express ourselves with inadequate terminology. This being so, I hope that people can understand what I mean.

I’m over here

I’ve been interviewed over at Miriam Drori’s blog, An’ de walls came tumblin’ down.

Miriam, a writer, runs an excellent blog about writing, social anxiety and other topics. She kindly invited me as a guest to her blog to talk about the experiences described in my memoir ‘The Dark Threads’ and their aftermath.

You can see the interview by clicking here.

And please also browse around on Miriam’s blog while you’re over there; it’s well worth visiting.


WARNING: It is unwise in the extreme to make cow noises in front of a psychiatrist. 

‘You say your brother gets on your nerves,’ he said, adjusting his hearing aid. ‘What does he do?’
‘All kind of things,’ I said uneasily.
‘What things?’
‘Well, he talks daft and bangs and taps and … and he makes silly noises.’
‘Silly noises? What are these silly noises like?’
‘Noises like animals,’ I said.
‘Give me an example to show me what you mean.’
God, this was difficult. I decided to demonstrate Brian’s cow noises which he’d been treating me to outside my bedroom door in the early hours of that very morning.
‘OK, that’s enough of that,’ Dr Sugden said, waving his hand on my third ‘Mooo-ooo!’

Above text from The Dark Threads by Jean Davison.   Kindle edition of this memoir is FREE up to 2nd Aug 2012  –   Click here for UK    or here for US