16 A life in the day Volume 13 Issue 4 November 2009 © Pier Professional LtdRECOVERYGordon McManus: a briefbiography in his ownwordsIwas born in Rangoon, Burma in 1952. I came to Britain with my parents in 1964 and settled in London. I attended Tulse Hill ComprehensiveSchool in Lambeth from 1965 to 1970. In the 1970s,after a period of work, I attended Kingsway Collegeof Further Education in Westminster, and from thisinstitution I entered the University of Essex in 1974,where I read Linguistics with Sociology. In the 1980s,I taught Business Studies. During this period I was anactive communist.I first became ill with schizophrenia in 1991 eventhough I did not know it, as I was under the delusionthat the Soviets were communicating with me witha new mental science. I lived with this delusionfor 10 years. From 1993 to 2005, I was a paranoidschizophrenic and had five breakdowns, with fourhospitalisations in the process. Two of these wereunder a section of the Mental Health Act. In 2001, Idecided to rebuild my life through writing and chess.I also resolved to repair my relationships with myfamily and friends.Gordon McManus, Sarah Morgan, Jane Fradgley and Jerome CarsonThe influential Sainsbury Centre report, Making Recovery a Reality (Shepherd et al, 2008), talks about clinical and socialaspects of recovery. The issue of psychological recovery is not discussed at length, although other workers have putforward a psychological model of recovery (Andresen et al, 2003). While there are numerous definitions of recovery,the one developed by Gordon, the focus of this profile, is unlikely to be matched for its parsimony. Gordon describesrecovery as ‘coping with your illness and trying to have a meaningful life’ (McManus, 2008). In this paper, he outlineshis background. He is then interviewed by Sarah Morgan about his life, illness and recovery. Finally, Jerome gives anappreciation of his contribution to our developing understanding of recovery.Key words: Recovery heroes; Gordon McManus; Psychosis; Mental healthRecovery heroes –a profile ofGordon McManusA life in the day Volume 13 Issue 4 November 2009 © Pier Professional Ltd 17Recovery heroes – a profile of Gordon McManus A grand day out?with some confidence. It was hard writing about myschizophrenic experiences’. He would have liked towrite more about it, but as he still hears voices he isafraid that concentrating on them may lead to anotherbreakdown.He calls the years that he was at his worst ‘the lostyears’. He says:‘All I know was there was this form Mugabe,telling me not to use books and telephones. I feela sense of loss for those years. The only thing thatI can say that comes out during that period wassome people who I knew became good friends,in particular Stanton, Zimmo and Keith. Weshare food, we share drinks. The last few yearswe’ve built a kind of relationship, which keepsme in touch with reality. They now know I sufferfrom schizophrenia. They didn’t know duringthat time.’He says that this has become a basis for making his lifemeaningful.‘Eric is a son of a friend of mine and in mysevere period he kept me together. I broke up myfriendship with him because of the voices. I onlystarted talking to him again in 2001/02. It wasa step back into making my life realistic insteadof being consumed by the voices’.After coming out of hospital in 2001, he resolved torebuild his life. His illness had meant he had ‘lost hisintellectual function’, as he puts it.His family has played a part in his recovery. Hesays: ‘They show more care now [that they know abouthis illness]. In the 1990s I didn’t see them that much,but since my sister became my carer in 2000/2001,they have shown an understanding of my illness’. Hisyounger sister gave him a computer, which he says‘became a catalyst for change’. He used the computerto write about politics. He says: ‘it was the beginning ofrebuilding myself’. However, his father died in 2002 andhe broke down. He doesn’t like to see this causally: ‘Ithink I broke down because I broke down. I was quiterational about it. To this day I don’t know why I brokedown’.He says that during this time, even while hewas trying to rebuild his life, ‘I didn’t have theconcept of recovery. Never did I believe I could recover,because of two breakdowns in three years I didn’tthink of recovering, I just wanted to make my life moremeaningful. More rational, more logical’.When he came out of hospital he says that he was‘not recovered, but I could cope. I had improved’.Through 2005, he ‘didn’t do much’, except researchglobalisation on the internet. He used this research onglobalisation to stave off a severe bout of schizophrenia.He had done all of this under the medical modelof treatment. He had received no therapy. But inI was under the medical model of treatment from1994 to 2006. I was first recommended for therapy in2006, at the Maudsley Psychological Intervention Clinicfor Outpatients with Psychosis (PICuP). Since 2007, Ihave been engaged in therapy with Dr Carson. My stageof recovery began in 2007. I am not free of voices andseeing ‘forms’, but I am coping with them. At presentI am affected with ‘daily auditory hallucinations’ (DrCarson’s words). The nights are difficult because thevoices can keep you awake all night. The usual patternis for the voices to wake me after five to six hours sleep,between 4am and 5am. This usually lasts for aboutthree hours. During the day I am affected by attacksof schizophrenia, but with therapy I am able to cope.Recovery is not a cure. It is an approach to yourmental health problems. Recovery for me means copingwith my illness and trying to have a meaningful life. Itmeans rationalising the illness and being aware of myproblems. It means having hope and self-determinationto achieve my goal of full recovery and being freeof the symptoms of schizophrenia. Recovery meanshaving good relations with family and friends, despitethe illness. It means trying to ‘rebuild’ your personalityand identifying and developing social roles. Socialrecovery is very important in the process of recovery.It is important to have goals no matter how smallthey might be. It gives me something to cling on toin the recovery journey. It means not allowing myillness to dominate me, but to try and control theeffects of the symptoms, that is to say, hearing voicesand seeing ‘forms’. The danger during the stage ofrecovery is having a breakdown or relapse leading tohospitalisation.Recovery is a slow process. I feel that after twoyears of therapy with Dr Carson, I am halfway towardsfull recovery. Recovery is a struggle and involvesdeveloping one’s character and showing the positiveaspects of one’s growth, through overcoming themental illness.Gordon McManusinterviewed by SarahMorganGordon McManus is an ex-communist leader who stillbattles to control his schizophrenia. He lived a longtime believing that the Soviets were controlling him. Helaughs as he recounts it, but says his diagnosis ‘freakedhim out a bit’. He says: ‘You don’t see yourself as longterm mentally ill until you get categorised that way’.When he first heard voices he tried to solve theproblem himself. He says: ‘The voices came for a fewweeks’. They left, but were to return two years later.He didn’t tell his family anything about hisschizophrenia, ‘they just looked after me’. He hid hissymptoms from his doctors, until one doctor saidthat he couldn’t diagnose Gordon, because he wasn’ttalking to him. Then Gordon said: ‘I just thought Ibetter come out and express what was happening tome. It’s only now in 2009 that I can talk about recovery“Recoveryfor me meanscoping withmy illness andtrying to havea meaningfullife.”Sarah18A grand day out?A life in the day Volume 13 Issue 4 November 2009 © Pier Professional LtdRecovery heroes – a profile of Gordon McManusAn appraisal of GordonMcManus by JeromeCarsonI have known Gordon for two years. I was first askedto see him by his community mental health nurse,Simon Gent. Gordon had finished a six-month courseof cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for psychosisat the Maudsley Hospital PICuP Clinic. Simon felt hewould benefit from more individual work. Fortunatelyfor me, I was the one asked to see him.The process of recovery at an individual level isgoing to vary, as each individual’s circumstances andlife history all differ. In working with Gordon, I wasvery impressed with how he would spend weeksworking on many of the papers I gave him to study (eg.Deegan, 1996; Perkins, 2006). He was always trying torelate these articles to his own experiences. I was alsoimpressed with his developing an understanding ofhis own recovery process. I asked him if he wouldpresent some of his ideas about recovery to our localrecovery group (Morgan & Carson, 2009). The formathe chose for this presentation was for me to interviewhim in front of the audience, and to use the modelof his own recovery process as the structure of thetalk (see Figure 1, overleaf). The model shows hisjourney from normality, through hospital breakdownand schizophrenia, into a stage of recovery, hopefullyleading back to a period of normal life.When Gordon was ill, he felt he suffered a loss ofhis personality. He neglected his self-care, withdrewfrom social contact and communicated only with hisvoices. This was a period of irrationality for him.The breakthrough with his illness came in 2001. Hedecided to involve his family and friends more inhis life. While he underwent a further episode ofillness, he improved significantly after his CBT. Theindividual recovery work we have done together sincehas formed a major part of a new book that we areco-editing (McManus & Carson, 2009).It is fortunate that Gordon has been so openabout his illness. He agreed to take part in the filmabout recovery being made by Michelle McNary andhis story is also told in the accompanying booklet(Carson et al, 2008). In addition to speaking to ourrecovery group, he also spoke at one of our recoveryworkshop sessions and at a local recovery conference.While Gordon always wanted to be known for hiscommunist party activism and his knowledge ofMarxism-Leninism, he has, to my mind, becomebetter known for his reflections on recovery. When Ihave presented to different audiences on the natureof recovery, I always throw down a challenge ofsomeone coming up with a more succinct definition ofrecovery than Gordon’s. This is that ‘recovery is copingwith your illness and trying to have a meaningful life’.Thus far, no one has been able to come up with abetter definition. For so many sufferers, it can be sodifficult to cope with the distressing symptoms oftheir mental disorders and to then also try and find a2006, his psychiatrist decided that drugs alone were notworking and referred Gordon to have therapy.Gordon says: ‘I had someone to talk to now on afortnightly basis about my problems and it staved offhospital and breakdown’. He says: ‘I can talk about itnow because I’ve written about it. Dr Carson has mademe rationalise and objectify my illness. I had to distancemyself and that happened from 2005/06, it took a longtime you know.’Through the 1990s to 2001, he only had the supportof the mental health system. In 2001, he told his familyand one close friend about his illness. He says in 2001,the support was there.This openness he feels is helping in his recovery:‘It means you’re no longer under stress to hide things,to hide your illness. It makes it easier to stay well; theyunderstand that you have your problems’.He says: ‘I cook food for my family. I cook forfriends. That’s my way of giving back. It makes life a bitmore meaningful. The last three or four years have beenvery meaningful for me.’ He says: ‘I am still a paranoidschizophrenic’. But he has learned to manage his illnessand considers himself finally as being in recovery.He deals with the voices and forms with threetechniques. First, he uses chess and writing to distracthimself from them. Second is ignoring them, a techniquethat John Nash uses in the film A Beautiful Mind. Thethird is using the TV to distract himself.A lot of the forms and voices that he hears arepolitical, so the political writing helps him to deal withthem. He does get more personal hallucinations and hefinds those harder to deal with.He says:‘I make that distinction between recoveryand recovered. I am in recovery: coping withmy illness and trying to have a meaningfullife. Writing, chess, and dominoes are copingtechniques. I don’t want to put myself understress and break down again. Coping meansnot allowing the voices to dominate you. I can’tmake them [the hallucinations] go away, that ismy annoyance.’But he doesn’t suffer from symptoms 24/7 now, or elsehe would be back in hospital. He has got to the pointnow where he can help his nephew with his schoolwork. He says:‘Each thing is like a victory as you are stillhearing voices. So that was something of a coupfor me. And I didn’t hear voices or see formsover it. I try to live my life in a simple uncomplexway, it has to be stress free, which means thatthe voices are not so severe. To be fully recoveredthat’s my goal, that’s what gives me hope. That’smy goal in life now. A friend of mine says to meI’ve come out of the dark ages. So I want thisjourney of recovery to be shared by others.’Jerome CarsonA life in the day Volume 13 Issue 4 November 2009 © Pier Professional Ltd 19Recovery heroes – a profile of Gordon McManus A grand day out?McManus G (2008) Gordon’s story. In: J Carson, FHolloway, P Wolfson & M McNary (Eds) Recovery Journeys:Stories of coping with mental health problems. London:South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.McManus G & Carson J (Eds) (2009) From Communismto Schizophrenia and Beyond: One man’s long march ofrecovery. London: Whiting and Birch.Morgan S & Carson J (2009) The Recovery Group: a serviceuser and professional perspective. Groupwork 19 (1) 26–39.Perkins R (2006) First person ‘you need hope to cope.’In: G Roberts, S Davenport, F Holloway & T Tattan(Eds) Enabling Recovery: The principles and practice ofrehabilitation psychiatry. London: Gaskell.Shepherd G, Boardman G & Slade M (2008) MakingRecovery a Reality. London: Sainsbury Centre for MentalHealth.meaningful life, and not to see these years as being‘lost years’. While this, of course, is only one man’sstory, it is a story that is typical of so many sufferers.We are indebted to Gordon for sharing his story andhis unique insights with us.ReferencesAndresen R, Oades L & Caputi P (2003) The experienceof recovery from schizophrenia: towards an empiricallyvalidated stage model. Australian and New Zealand Journalof Psychiatry 37 (5) 586–594.Carson J, Holloway F, Wolfson P & McNary M (Eds) (2008)Recovery Journeys: Stories of coping with mental healthproblems. London: South London and Maudsley NHSFoundation Trust.Deegan P (1996) Recovery as a journey of the heart.Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 19 (3) 91–97.Figure 1: One man’s model of recovery (McManus & Carson, 2008)RationalityThe journey of recoveryWork as ateacher,political activist,chess playerLoss of personalityLack of careLack of sociabilityLack of communicationCommunicating with voicesAlienationHopeIndividualrecoveryprogramme (IRP)InterestsGoalsWritingChessDominoesWell-beingWorkSocialFamilyInterestsGoals‘Being free,unique andawesome’Normality HospitalbreakdownStage ofrecoverySchizophrenia Normal life?Irrationality and RationalityrationalityGordon McManus is a local service user.Sarah Morgan is a journalist.Jane Fradgley is an art photographer.Jerome Carson works as a consultant clinical psychologist in the Lambeth Directorate of the SouthLondon and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. He can be contacted at Jerome.Carson@slam.nhs.uk.
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