The 10-Minute ABC Dilemma

Yesterday I had an enjoyable meeting with two ABC producers at the broadcaster’s Canberra studio.  The meeting has helped motivate me to carefully consider how exactly to tell my personal story in the future, and to what end.  My dilemma is that the potential opportunity to be part of an exciting program on ABC has served to illustrate that I am at a crossroads in terms of what aspects of my lived experience to share in public.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of me talking about my personal story for 10 minutes to a theatre audience on September 14th, as part of ‘Now Hear This‘.  It remains to be seen whether or not I will be one of the 8 individuals selected for this event, which is to be recorded, placed on the broadcaster’s website and also played on radio.  I was honest with the journalists that I am not sure how exactly to tell my story in 10 minutes, or what elements to share with the audience members.

I was invited to ABC as a result of being a guest last year on Afternoons with Genevieve Jacobs, during which time I talked about experiencing psychosis in Toronto in 1996, while campaigning for an investigation into systemic corruption related to activities by Canadian media companies (including Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications) and commissioners at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) who had been appointed by the Rt Hon. Brian Mulroney.

By far, the simplest aspect for me to discuss in a 10 minute period is my life-altering episode of acute psychosis in Toronto during 1996 (as documented in ‘The Naked Advocate’, a short film produced by E.C. Warner for the 2006 Hope Awards).  I’ve publicly shared that experience nearly 150 times since 2002, primarily with classes of high school students as a volunteer educator with Mental Illness Education ACT.  When sharing that experience with students I am in their classroom for an hour and have the opportunity to establish a greater degree of credibility in terms of my mental health recovery.  Consequently, it serves as a useful means to an educational end; establishing the episodic nature of mental illness.  However, unless my bizarre behaviour during that episode of psychosis is properly put into context, sharing it will do little more than satisfy people’s voyeuristic curiosity of ‘madness’.

While that psychotic episode helped shape my life and warrants mentioning, I am far more interested in addressing rebuilding a satisfying and productive life in Australia after that event.  Such a focus holds far more potential to inspire hope of mental health recovery for other individuals who are presently going through a difficult time.  This objective requires addressing different factors and various accomplishments since 1996; such as being in a long-term relationship, immigrating to Australia, owning a home, conducting a presentation on my recovery at the World Psychiatric Association International Congress, completing a social work degree, returning to full-time employment as a peer support/mental health recovery worker in the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program, and developing an initiative to create online community channel Mentalympians (welcomed by the Mental Health Council of Australia as a world-first website in a press release).  Danielle Cronin adopted a similar approach in her Canberra Times article respecting my story in 2010, ‘Living a full life is simply mind over matter’.

I also would like to use my personal story to address the issue of suicide.  Specifically, the intense feelings of hopeless and despair that I experienced in 1996 during my first severe depression, which pushed me to the edge of ending my own life.  According to the World Health Organization, close to one million people commit suicide each year.  While the feelings of hopelessness that I was never going to enjoy life or work again were false, they were extremely convincing at the time. It is important for people suffering from an episode of depression to be aware that experiencing a false sense of hopelessness, while highly distressing, is a common symptom of the illness and not an accurate predictor of their future life.

In addition, the recent illegal phone-hacking scandal in Britain by News Corporation has increased global interest into the media and the relationship between media executives and politicians.  Consequently, it is also a wonderful time to address my independent campaign to address the outstanding case of corruption in Canada that was interrupted for several years by my poor mental health.  It is an unprecedented case of systemic corruption in the G20, a well-documented case that illuminates the perils of concentrated media ownership to democratic systems.  Trying to secure a public inquiry into the billion-dollar scandal has been an objective for a long time for a number of reasons, including to promote recovery .  It is my belief that for me to secure a public platform to address this issue, as a person diagnosed 15 years ago with a severe mental illness, would serve to raise public awareness of the reality of mental health recovery.

As addressed in correspondence last year by my legal counsel to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (correspondence, 31 May 2010), this case warrants attention and it is a matter of record that my presentation before a CRTC public hearing on 7 February 2008 resulted in questions in Parliament the following day; and a representative from the Harper government misled Parliament in response to a question about this sordid affair by a representative of the NDP.  Moreover, my legal counsel identified that this unjust corporate enrichment scheme first surfaced during the final month of Brian Mulroney’s tenure as prime minister.

As a result of the findings by the Oliphant Commission last year, Canadians are aware that Mr Mulroney acted unethically in relation to accepting envelopes stuffed with one-thousand-dollar bills from a German-Canadian arms dealer during 1993 and 1994 (final report, 31 May 2010); the same era that the CRTC case of corruption commenced.

Under the circumstances, a number of citizens might prepared to accept that a former Canadian broadcasting industry insider, one who has experienced acute psychosis, has identified a 17 year long case of systemic corruption implicating Canadian cabinet ministers, government officials and media company owners (chronology).

Psychosis, mental health recovery and this particular case of systemic corruption are all complex issues; and each has played a significant part in shaping my life, world view and plans for the future.  Clearly it is not possible for me to do justice to all three in a 10 minute presentation.  This is where my dilemma arises – what do I specifically address if selected by ABC for Now Hear This?

I’ve decided one thing that I will not do – I am not going to focus primarily on my psychotic episode at the expense of sharing my personal experience of recovery. While it would be the easy way out, it really would not serve a useful purpose on its own.

What are your thoughts?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The 10-Minute ABC Dilemma

  1. I think that sharing experiences of psychosis are important in that they help others recognize and gain insight into their own disorders or that of family and friends.

    It was only after hearing another person’s story about their psychotic episode that I actually recognized and accepted that I had had such an episode. This was really important for me to get well.

    Having spoken in public before about my pschotic episodes I would say that your bearing, your ability as a public speaker and the objective way you can reflect on the episode all impress those listening with the fact that people can recover.

    I included in my talk a list of the things that helped me recover and a list of things that hindered my recovery.

    Please do it as the more people who talk about psychosis the easier it is for the public to understand.

    • Thank you Maggie. I am going to add a link to ABC video of Now Hear This shortly to that blog. I was really quite nervous as it was the first time that I’d been video-taped live and I was adding more detail into my episode of psychosis, and I was very aware of a 10-minute time limit. Kindly let me know what areas you think went well and what and how to improve.

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