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The part Kenny show on news talk with Marter private network during current restrictions. Don't ignore your health concerns. Our expert team is ready to help. Horatio Claire is a well-known writer and broadcaster who's written children's books and travel books that tell the tales of his own adventurous journeys, but perhaps no more perilous journey has he recounted, than the one to be found in his latest book published today entitled Heavy Light.
It is the story of his journey into a kind of madness. Horatio Claire is on the line.
Radio, good morning and welcome. Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Now, before your breakdown in 2018, had you had a history of diagnosed mental illness? Yes, I had I'd been up and down before, and the best diagnosis I got was in France from a doctor who said you suffered from Louis. She said it's a rare form of bipolar and it's a mild form. You will go up and down, but with good care, good lifestyle, it's manageable. You'll be fine. Unfortunately, I didn't follow that.
I worked too hard. I used cannabis, which is my trigger. And towards the end of twenty eighteen, as you say, I had a full on breakdown and it wasn't you were very kind to say a kind of madness. It was madness. And I think madness is part of our lives in many ways. I think insomnia is probably a form of it and certainly anxiety. And listening to that last item of yours about conspiracy, we can see how almost as a society, as a world, we suffer from pressures which bring delusions.
But mine was a very individual and very fierce experience that you had a family holiday organised in the Alps. What happened there? I mean, I'm just wondering whether or not you kind of as a writer and observer, do you observe yourself even as you're going through these delusions up to a point and then the delusions take over?
So at first it feels like, again, you're you have what they call hypomania, your racing thoughts, your sleepless you're full of energy, optimism and sort of grandiose plans, and they shade into total delusion. And so I thought I was part of a great and benign but urgent worldwide conspiracy to bring world peace. And I thought I had to complete tasks and appease people and do certain things in order to play a part in what I thought was a conspiracy between all the governments of the world in relation to alien life in order to bring harmony and international understanding.
So there was nothing mild about it. And in terms of observing it, yes, up to a point, I can still recall it all or a lot of it very clearly. And writing it down for the book Heavy Light, I could recall it in crystalline clarity. Writing it down, arranging it and sort of fixing it is really helpful in terms of understanding what happened. And the book then traces a journey into a mental hospital. Yeah, now your long suffering partner, Rebecca, was observing all of this.
What did she make of it at the time? I mean, did you recognise it for what it was?
Oh, yes. She was in no doubt at all. And she kept saying to me, you need to go to a doctor, you need to get help.
And I was scared of that. I prefer to take refuge in my delusions than face the possibility that I would be given the treatment I needed, which was very serious. So it was a terrible place for her to be in. And part of the point of this book is to say to those people who no one support people going through mania or psychosis or any kind of breakdown, that you're right and you can be brave, you are brave and the system needs to support you.
And when I was sectioned, I found so I did a couple of weeks in a mental hospital in Yorkshire that the treatment and care I received was so gentle and so helpful that one of the things I wanted to say with this book was that people who support people through crisis deserve all our praise and recognition and that the system needs to support them. And it's the bravest thing you can do probably is making a call to call in the authorities on someone you love.
It feels like turning them in and it's a huge stigma attached to it across all kinds of communities. It's known to be particularly fierce in the Muslim community. In Britain, the stigma of severe mental health illnesses is ferocious. And part of the point of this book is to say it doesn't need to be madnesses is not an end in some ways. It's the beginning of a journey and that the help that you can receive can be very good given the holiday and the skiing holiday.
And mania can bring with it foolhardy behaviour, extravagant behaviour. Did you put yourself in harm's way?
Not exactly, but by the end of it, by the time we got back here to Britain, I was crazy, as crazy as a cat, and I thought that in order to end this sort a story of delusions, I had to run my car off the road. So I got out of it and ran it down a hill. And then I started making what I thought was going to be a university of world peace and understanding in my flat with a pair of scissors by sort of attacking the ceiling.
So there was no doubt that I wasn't with it at all. And thank goodness, finally I was faced with a wonderful social worker who could see what was going on here and who made an order to detain under Section two of the Mental Health Act, which is a very powerful piece of legislation. It basically takes away all of your rights except to be looked after. You came to the attention of the police? Yes, so in crisis, the front line of services that deal with people in a disastrous situation is often the police.
Yes, after running my car off the road and Rebecca, unable to access any kind of other help, called the police. The police say they spend increasing and enormous slices of their budgets dealing with people in mental crisis, people who they consider mad rather than bad. And they want help with it. They want more training. They want more resources and they deserve them. They handled me beautifully. And the second half of the book is going back to talk to people like the nurses, the police, the social workers, and really looking at how the system works and what the system says it needs from an individual level, right up to chief constables and chief executives.
So there's an investigation, too, which reveals the enormous humanity and idealism and the struggle of public servants to deal with this increasing crisis in mental health. When you end up in the back of a police car, you write that you're you're actually suffused with relief.
Yes. You're just waiting for someone to take it all away and to absolve you of the responsibilities that you believe that you're carrying and the pressures that you're putting on everybody else. So, yes, I absolutely was.
When you were a section then and you end up in a mental hospital for a period of a couple of weeks, you met the people inside. I mean, you weren't, you know, in a padded cell on your own. You were actually meeting with other people.
What was your reflection on those people?
Yes, a mental hospital sounds terrifying. And I remember as a child the idea of kind of the asylum, the bedlam, the loony bin was something that we used to frighten each other with. Actually mine. I was very lucky. And I know that inner city wards, which are different, but mine in Wakefield was very quiet, very calm, very well run. When I was Luppi and I arrived on the first night, it reminded me of a basic hotel.
You have a room, you notice that all the angles in the rooms are flattened so that you can't get a ligature over them. And there are wonky, distorting mirrors that make you look bad. There were basic food and are your fellow patients, some of whom are in a really difficult position. Section two of the Mental Health Act is a 28 day detention. They can let you out before. If they did. With me, Section three is six months renewable, almost indefinitely.
And when I went back a year later to do creative writing in the same hospital, I found that there was still some of the same faces there, very heavy medication in some cases, and in others much lighter. So we had a lot of conversations. There was a lot of sharing. There was not a tenderness. It was an extraordinary environment and in many ways very inspiring.
Actually, you had to agree to take medication to emerge from at the mental hospital. Were you reluctant about medication? Did you think there were might be other ways?
Yes, Pat, I was terrified, actually. It is clear to me now that medication is a wonderful crisis buster. It took a couple of doses of Katzir pain, which is a strong antipsychotic, to start draining the delusions in the madness out of me. And then I was on a sort of shaky bringing yourself back together road to repair. But my psychiatrist wanted me to take long term medication and I was very wary. I'm a writer. I didn't like the idea of being cocooned inside a kind of chemical comfort, and I was terrified of the side effects.
I've got the greatest respect for those people who do take medication. They are brave and generous and good. I was fearful and I suppose selfish, but what it did do was make me start looking around for alternative treatments. And I felt that the time I was given with psychiatrists was so small and that the answer that they had fixed on which they have medication they had come to before meeting me. And I thought, that can't be right. We deserve personalised treatment.
There is there are as many forms of anxiety and madness and worry as there are people feeling them. So I turned to psychotherapy and I got an extraordinary therapist and started a course of eye movement, desensitisation and reprocessing, which is a trauma therapy, which was a cathartic experience that changed my life. And part of the point of Happy Light is to say these treatments were available to me because I had a dad who could lend me 60 quid an hour.
And it's just wrong that thousands, if not millions of people are funnelled into one form of care, which is chemical without choice. And I think it works for you then great. But choice and options and new ones you need and deserve. And I have found that over two years of healing now without medication and with therapy, avoiding my triggers, good work and clean living has has changed my life. And do you intend, I presume, to stay on that course, avoiding your triggers and so on, but the writing of the book, was that in itself a therapy?
Absolutely, yes. And we know there's a huge role for creativity in therapy, everything from art. I mean, going to an art gallery, the sculpture gallery, the Hepworth in Wakefield, when I was on day release, coming and going from mental hospital was transformative. It sounds, Willy, you know, Apelles sounds official, like it will definitely work. Where it's going to see some pictures doesn't sound quite as effective. But in my case, it was you remember that there are greater things.
You remember that there's a wider perspective. You remember that there is truth and beauty and goodness in the world. And in a small way, writing a book or writing anything or painting is to partake in that knowledge and to to add to it. So, yes, the book was immensely therapeutic and the talking about it now is also wonderful. It makes me feel that there was a purpose or at least a use to which all the chaos and destruction and shame that I feel could be put.
The book, as I would expect from a writer of your calibre, is a hugely gripping it's, dare I say it, even entertaining. I mean, there are all sorts of incidents. Kylie Minogue came into your life, however briefly.
Yes, it's a strange one. I went back and asked my nurse and other psychiatrist. So their common delusions, because I thought I was being sort of manipulated by aliens and MI6 and they said, oh, yes, that's exactly normal. And, you know, decades ago, 100 years ago, I would have been the king and the queen, but now it's tends to be spies and celebrities. And then one of them said, Yeah, and Kylie Minogue.
And I might, as it were, because in the height of my mania, she was being interviewed on TV about her life. So she was looking at the camera and nodding and smiling. And I became convinced that we were engaged. Well, may I compliment you once again on the book, Horatio is absolutely terrific, it's published today. It's called Heavy Light Chatter and Windows are the publishers it sells at about 20. Euro can be ordered, of course, with bookshops closed, can be ordered online from your local bookshop.
But Horacio, Clare, thank you very much for joining us on the programme today.
Thank you so much for having me on a.