A Ten Question Interview With The Artist… Melissa Lee-Houghton

Your One Phone Call

Why do you write?

Because I don’t feel anything. Because I have an aptitude for philosophising through but not in sympathy with language. Because I hate words for inflicting silences on me. Because my mother told me I have too much to say for myself. Because I was told not to.

What books do you read?

Essays. Human vitriol. Dead white men. Psychoanalysis for the fatally flawed. Poets I like who don’t write like the other poets. Excess and correspondence in a file called ‘RUIN’. Dystopias that can’t even hope to be as fucked up as this reality we made so real.

What inspires you?

Bear Grylls. The lack of empathy of people who work in professions we subconsciously associate with empathy.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?

Essentially, it was always a way of getting away from myself. I tried other things…

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Suicide Awareness and Prevention

This will be a long post, but anyone who reads to the end who feels they want to share, please do. Suicide in the UK is a national crisis, but not one the government are reacting to as though it is. It’s nowhere near as visible an issue as it needs to be. For one, if it were, the government’s failing mental health care would have to be a top priority, and if everyone was privy to the fact that people were being failed far and wide it would no doubt upset people. But there are many reasons it has become such an issue. The main two, in my opinion, are Capitalism and the Conservative government. The former and the latter both give people the conditions in which to be selfish and act selfishly, and both also encourage people to do so. They also deprive those who are already poor of a means to live meaningful lives, and degrade the sick routinely in ways which to me and many others are indicative of a totalitarian regime. It may not be that the government are outwardly committing mass genocide in the UK – not visibly – but consider the terrifying suicide statistics and I’d happily put an argument forth for the contrary. It’s become clear that it used to be understood that the vast majority of people who commit suicide do so because they have a mental health problem of some kind which will involve low mood. It is not always the case. Other health problems unrelated to depression are now taking lives when they are not terminal – unmanageable pain not properly medicated – the misery of living in abject poverty as a result of becoming ill – lack of treatment – stigma – hate crime. And then the rise of suicide in the young due to the internet – not just cyberbullying, but the constant exposure, the need to have a ‘profile’ rather than an ‘identity’ and constant access to pornography are the main reasons I’d cite. The internet is great if you are not lonely. There are people out there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean those people are ‘there’. So many have taken their own lives due to being put through the despicable disability benefits assessment. So many people who have suffered unimaginable abuse are not given the help they need to live – they are ignored and have to turn to things not conducive to a fulfilling lifestyle – drugs – horrible relationships – further abuse – poverty – crime – and in many cases, unfortunately, where an abuser is jailed, the abuser themselves will very often receive far more treatment and therapy than their victim ever sees. These are just a few reasons people simply can’t manoeuvre around what feel like unmanageable tortures.

 Having been in the system for over two decades I can clearly see now that many people who can’t be immediately categorised as having a severe mental health problem (and indeed many that have) simply won’t be able to access adequate support from mental health services. If they are offered it, it may be that a waiting list means they wait over a year just to see someone, or longer. It may be that it will be several years before even the worst imaginable issues are treated through talking therapies, and even then, this may only be a very small number of sessions of CBT. Medication will undoubtedly be offered in place of this. So what does a person do in crisis? I’ll give an example. I found myself in an inner turmoil so profound last year that I was admitted to a ward then told I could not receive any help five days later, after being treated appallingly. The details of this would shock anyone, and I am deeply traumatised still. This really only cemented it for me – I was not worth helping. I took a massive drug overdose, was taken into intensive care, and within an hour of coming round after 12 hours unconscious, I was sent back out onto the street. I wasn’t asked why, and I wasn’t offered any further support. I had no intention of going back there, or of getting it wrong. The next day I was admitted with injuries which required treatment. At this point police were stationed outside the room I was in, but after the wounds were treated, and I had bandages, and the doctor on call had deemed me ‘fit’ (I was in shock, and couldn’t speak) I was given some lorazepam, and two tablets to take home, and sent back out onto the street. I have survived, but that’s purely down to me. This is true for many people who have somehow managed to find the strength to claw their way back.

What I’m suggesting is that if a person presents with even the most acute distress, it may be that they are given no more than the number of a helpline. Many will refute this who have received support, but I know of many more who haven’t. In my opinion it is now down to us. So how can everyone help this situation? Many of you do an awful lot, and are very aware, but those who are not might benefit from this basic advice:

 If a person, no matter if you know them or don’t, tells you they want to die or are going to harm themselves, or you suspect they are in the process of doing or will, it is your duty to act. No one else is going to sort this out in its immediacy, and it is your duty as a human being to ensure this person is 100% safe before you leave them.

 If you find yourself in this situation with a stranger, gain their trust. Speak calmly, tell them your name. Their problem, if divulged (and if they trust you it’s amazing what they will divulge – you have to remember, they’ve kept it all in for too long) seems so insurmountable to them, that you can’t try to tell them it’s not. Take it that it is and work from there. There are no hard and fast rules about what to say but the bottom line is whatever they tell you, you sympathise, you tell them it’s really fucking awful. You make physical contact if they seem comfortable with that, and you listen. They simply need to feel as though someone in the world is prepared to listen, and sitting with someone in a crisis is the first step in helping someone feel they are worth listening to again.

 If someone you know tells you they feel suicidal, never presume they won’t act. Never. Even if you have reason to think they won’t – imagine in 24 hours’ time them being beyond help, being dead. It’s a knee jerk reaction people have, don’t analyse it, and don’t feel bad about it. Don’t create a narrative for this person in your head – remember they are the only person who is in their head and the only person able to make a judgement on what they will or will not do. In the immediacy of this, be with that person. If you have something else to do, if you have to go to work, don’t. You may feel your time is precious and you can’t help the person, or you may have reason to be annoyed with them – but this is a human life, and dying slowly and painfully in unimaginable loneliness is not something any person should ever suffer. You simply have a duty to deal with this, as a human being. Don’t imagine someone else is paid to do it better than you can. In the long term, make sure you or someone else is checking in very regularly with the person. If you know someone you have only a niggling concern about, but it is nonetheless bothering you, it’s likely they need that concern. Check in, ask. Listen. Think carefully. Don’t make assumptions.

The problems that bring someone to commit suicide are often lifelong and simply can’t be unpacked in a day. They may not even be in the consciousness of the person – they may be being masked, it may be for exactly the reason that the person is unable to feel, unable to connect, unable to be with themselves and understand their own suffering, that they have reached that point, not because they are too sensitive, emotional, or crying out for help. Social withdrawal is a massive problem. If you believe no one will help it becomes pointless to seek help. If you have acted and been denied help or understanding, this is a misery indescribable, even as a writer. If a person has previously attempted suicide, or has been close to someone who has – there should be a massive red alarm flashing – the minute they have spoken of suicide, the ball is rolling. They may suddenly appear ok. They make be making a lot of plans, not necessarily ‘negative’ ones. They may be seeking to be alone, or they may even be calling up everyone they know to meet up. This is to say goodbye. Most people will want to tie up loose ends. They will be very good at it. It’s the only thing they have the energy for. The possibility of the cessation of their own pain is so close and reachable. They may be beyond the point of help. They may end their lives.

Someone who has ended their own life did not commit a selfish act. Consider they may have been too selfless, and not considered themselves enough. They may have concentrated on everyone else in a bid not to confront their own needs and their own suffering. They may have been unable to articulate their distress. They will have undoubtedly felt they had no other option. In that place, the black hole will suck a person down until there is not rational thought in their mind other than to remove all of the suffering, to find peace. They are not the only person to have suffered this, and they still aren’t.

The grief is unimaginable, but see that person’s life in context. See who they were, see what they meant, feel the grief fully, acknowledge its complexity. They are still here, with you, always. It’s beyond unbearable when someone is bereaved by suicide, and when someone ends their own life; but many can be saved.

Talk about this issue as widely as you can. Talk about it to people you know who will squirm, who aren’t aware, who suffer prejudices. Make sure people know that this is an issue we are all affected by, at some level, whether we know it or not. We each and all, even if we don’t realise, know someone who has considered suicide, has attempted suicide, has lost someone by suicide, or who is actively suicidal right now. There’s simply never an easy solution to individual pain, as it’s so unique to the person suffering it. Connection is vital. Do not lose connection, not yourself, with yourself, with others, and not with those you love. Make sure someone is ok today. It takes hardly any time. Text, call, write. Someone needs you. If you need someone, reach out. You do not deserve to be in that place alone.

INsight Artist Nan Goldin. Anthony by the sea, Brighton, England, 1985

INsight Artist Nan Goldin. Anthony by the sea, Brighton, England, 1985

2016/2017 Readings

LBF 1

With Sunshine coming out in September I’ll be reading at a number of events, with more tbc. Here is a quick listing for anyone who would like to come along to these, to support, buy a book, or hear me read my new work:

Saturday 17th September 2016Poetry Book Fair, London 8.30pm

Tuesday 20th September 2016Forward Prize Event, London:

Forward Prize Book Tickets For Event

Wednesday 28th September 2016Anthony Burgess Centre, Manchester, 7pm, Penned in the Margins Launch with Luke Kennard:

Anthony Burgess Launch Book Tickets

Saturday 8th October 2016Bad Language/Manchester Literature Festival @Anthony Burgess Centre, Manchester, 7.30pm (with Henry Normal, Mark Pajak and Genevieve Walsh):

Bad Language/Manc Lit Fest Tickets

Sunday 9th October 2016Cheltenham Festival with Luke Kennard 8.30-9.45pm Little Big-Top:

Cheltenham Festival Tickets

Saturday 15th OctoberDurham Book Festival (panel discussion on mental health with poetry readings) 2-3pm Empty Shop HQ

Bobby Parker & Melissa Lee-Houghton Festival Tickets

Sunday 19th February 2017Birmingham Waterstones Spoken Word Festival ‘Verve: A Birmingham Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word’ 7-9pm Reading with Luke Kennard (plus, daytime workshop, more info soon)

Thursday 23rd February 2017Pighog, Brighton (erotic poetry)

I will add further details as they arrive. If anyone would like to book me for a reading please contact me at melissaleehoughton@hotmail.co.uk to discuss.

northern_writers__awards_winners_2016_2

Northern Writers’ Awards Winners 2016

Inertia, and Prize Nomination News

There’s 27 days left to listen to my new story, ‘Inertia’ on Radio Four iPlayer. Tim McInnerny reads the story which was produced by Jeremy Osborne and first aired on Sunday night. I was at the studio recording and was simply astounded by Tim’s ability to bring the characters to life, and I felt on listening to the show on Sunday that the finished piece was very much a team effort and the whole thing came together so wonderfully. I’m incredibly proud of the result, and grateful to have been able to work with such an astounding actor, and with such a wonderful producer. It is a dystopian story but very rooted in the all too real struggles of this era in political history.

Inertia: Radio Four

I also have some news to share. My poem, ‘i am very precious’ which was originally published in Prac Crit magazine has been nominated for the Best Single Poet category for the Forward Prize this year. The awards evening will take place on September 20th. You can see the poem, my interview by Michael Conley relating to the poem, and an essay on my work by John Clegg, here:

i am very precious by Melissa Lee-Houghton

The poem also features in Salt Publishing’s Best British Poetry 2015 Anthology, edited by Emily Berry, and will be a central poem in my forthcoming collection, ‘Sunshine’ which will be published by Penned in the Margins in September.

And the list of other shortlisted poets, poems and collections is on the Forward Prize website here:

Forward Prize Shortlists/Website

Please do follow me on twitter @MLeeHoughton

Photograph by Jinez Creative from ‘Reading The Other’ at Chorlton Proof 24th May 2016

Revolt from Recovery (Radical Recovery) by Jeremy Gluck

Victim Of Dreams by Jeremy Gluck

A friend who has written extensively on mental illness sent me the following piece of writing, and I felt I wanted to share it here. I’m very interested in finding other examples of pieces of writing others might feel appropriate to publish here – as I think it’s the individual voices of those who endure and suffer that should be heard – not politicians who do not value our lives and cause immeasurable further harm and suffering, and not those who work in the field necessarily, who perhaps haven’t experienced severe mental distress first-hand. I care about hearing the diverse, intuitive, intelligent, often radical and often acutely insightful pieces of writing the mad and the ‘mentally ill’ write, collate and construct though perhaps don’t share. In my own life, it is my writing which has found its way largely into a public arena, that has saved me from a premature death or a life of madness and reliance on a mental health system unequipped for my needs and disinterested in my unique experience. I imagine the immense power of what this clamouring of voices could sound like – those people locked up on PICU units and sat in endless appointments where they are told to think differently, that their experience is not normative, and their approach to solving their own problems is problematic for a world in which productivity and functionality are the two qualities that we are told are paramount to our belonging in the world. Often, those who don’t fit the neat diagnoses and discourses, and who resist treatments they know will cause them harm or who are unable to live in a world as a functioning machine with a uniform set of ideas, values and needs are maltreated, bullied, abused and supressed. To me, the question of care has nothing to do with the idea of a functioning system, either in the individual or the larger and rapidly deteriorating mental health system and the government who choose to bolster or destroy it. It’s about the individual, and how we can all make every person feel valued, and not based on our own ideas of normativity. That inevitably means listening to individual people. There is no common understanding amongst the mentally ill and never will be – no coherent message that each and every person would be happy to endorse – it’s completely unique from person to person, what they want and need, how they view the world and their treatment. There’s immense power in this, so it’s essential that every single person in mental health care throws away entirely the idea of a base-line normativity the mad have to get back to in order to fulfil the wants of larger society. Some will opt for medication and drug treatment, others will resist and refuse (as I have) and many will never be able to access or afford to access any kind of therapy or any kind of adequate support – so what do we have, each one of us? We can endeavour to vocalise our experience until we are heard. Writing it down is so vital. Reading others’ experiences is also vital, and powerful. Sometimes writing can give us permission to be who we are and permission to allow ourselves to voice our own concerns. If anyone would like to contribute to this blog in any way please let me know.

But for now, I welcome to the stage, Jeremy Gluck…

“Outside of society, that’s where I want to be.” Rock’n’Roll Nigger, Patti Smith

Revolt from Recovery (Radical Recovery)

To solve the problems of mind, and therefore mental health, we must go beyond the mind. No matter how well-intentioned or in some ways and cases effective, conventional – even at its margins, as in the current mantras of more adventurous “recovery” – ideas will be futile. Everything developed and delivered in terms of the mind – “mental”, therefore – will ultimately prove pointless. There must be freedom, not halfway houses and compromises and hypocrisy and inverted, converted self-pity and skewed self-regard. Everything now standing to do with “recovery” must be demolished and nothing put in its place and the unknown given freedom to manifest.

I don’t care how much better or more helpful the “recovery” movement and practice in services and for service users has proven. The radical is required. Something literally unthinkable because to go beyond mental illness we must go beyond the mind. Ideas, identities, all of it; in the sale of the soul everything must go. It is possible to be rid of mental illness: by having no mind. This is the absolute position. This is literally the unthinkable, the perspective without comparison or convention to moor and ground and pollute it. It is the pure and peerless place. Why don’t I want to be involved anymore and identified anymore with mental health and mental illness, even to help? I am in direct and radical revolt against it all. Against being “mentally ill”; against “recovering”; against it all. I am…sick of it…from it. The tame tyranny of drugs, the kindly and hopeless concern and sympathy of others, even of empathy and fellow-feeling. I don’t want to be human, a person, an idea, in your mind or my own; I want to not know mind. I want to destroy “me”; the idea of me, who is this person, who has and suffers and thinks and understands, who feeds their own ideas with more ideas and is sick and makes themselves sick and seeks freedom and escape from sickness. I am supposed to be grateful for my recovery. Why do I feel grateful for being more of who and what made and makes me sick? The entire being that is recovering is sick with itself, with what it is, which is a lie, sick or not, mentally ill or not, recovering or not.

I want nothing more to do with myself as “sick”, “mentally ill”, “recovering” and I radically reject and revolt from all such descriptions and self-descriptions. I am breaking with it all. I am not being held by it. Yes, there are drugs in my body that poison my brain, but my body and brain are not what I am. Yes, I am diagnosed and medicated, but the being to which those things happen is not created or recreated by them. I radically reject, destroy and transcend all these restrictions upon being. I factually don’t care any more for them. I am so much greater and more exalted than such descriptions. I have allowed myself to be enmeshed in it, and fed it, and made sick and somehow satiated with it, but it is ending. There is no more mental illness; no more recovery. There is nobody to which they happen.

I do not “accept myself”: there is no self to accept.

I do not “recover”: there is no recovery required; no being was sick.

I do not “heal”: all is instant and spontaneous.

I do not “reflect”: there is nobody there.

I do not “support”: all is free and empty; windows, no walls.

I do not want wellness: there is no sickness.

I do not regret anger: under the great sky the wind blows.

I do not seek help: Nobody wants it.

I do not reject or accept descriptions of me: Nobody here to receive.

I do not fear madness: Fear is madness.

 

You can read more of his work here:

 

Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Upcoming Online Course on Long Poems

The wonderful poet Elly Nobbs has interviewed me about my upcoming Poetry School course for anyone who might be interested and needs a little bit more of an idea about it. I’m excited to get to work with poets on longer work!

Read my interview here: Source: Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Upcoming Online Course on Long Poems