ALFREDO’S JOURNEY: AN ARTIST’S STRUGGLE WITH CREATIVE BIPOLAR DISORDERS.
Professor Pat McGorry writes http://www.patmcgorry.com.au/
“Alfredo’s story and his insights into the causes and treatment of mental ill-health are incredibly moving and impressive. His humanity, intelligence, creativity (in multiple domains of art, music, writing and scholarship) and his generosity and compassion, including towards people affected by mental illness and in a touching fashion to dedicated mental health professionals, shine through the pages of his book. He also reveals a capacity for forgiveness towards his own family. There are many memorable passages, but my favourite is to be found in chapter 5, in which Alfredo describes how he helped Boris, a fellow hospital patient, to trust him and to withstand the fury of psychotic experiences preventing any recourse to extra medication or restraint. The book is a complex mixture of autobiography, analysis, teaching and inspiration. Alfredo illustrates the interaction between the hidden vulnerability for mental ill health we all face, our early and indeed later life experiences, especially trauma and loss, and the healing force of other human beings and a caring society and genuine expertise in mental health care. We must strive to work on all these levels if we are to reduce the impact of mental ill-health, while nurturing the uniqueness and creativity of individuals.”
Professor Trevor Waring Write http://www.onejustworld.com.au/Speakers/Trevor-Waring
As a clinician and academic one can study and research every known aspect of a disorder and write scholarly articles for learned journals but none of this holds the potency of an individual relaying his or her lived experience. Alfredo does just this in his inimitable style offering hope at every juncture to those who travel a similar road. The story should be read by clinicians, academics and sufferers alike.
Professor Trevor Waring AM
Con-Joint Professor of Psychology
University of Newcastle
This year my book, titled Alfredo’s Journey: An Artist’s Struggle With Creative Bipolar Disorder, will be published by the Loving Healing Press http://www.lovinghealing.com/
I would like to thank Victor R Volkman, of Healing Press, for his decision to publish my story. Victor is a rare and special person who works tirelessly. You can read a bit about him at the following link http://writersandauthors.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/interview-with-victor-volkman-of-loving.html
The book is divided into two sections. In the first section I tell my story as I attempt to understand myself, to learn about my moods and to learn to live reasonably well with what is a lifelong disorder. In the second section I attempt to join a collection of relevant essays which I use to formulate a conclusion where I attempt to define and describe my bipolar II disorder. I also describe my longitudinal research on childhood trauma which I feel is the major source of mental illness in our world today http://www.cdc.gov/ace/findings.htm.
Disclosing my mental disorder to the world is not an easy thing to do. Stigma is still very prevalent and, while some people are sympathetic and see me for the creative and sensitive person that I am, many are still prejudiced. In order to avoid prejudice a sufferer like me must be willing to make sacrifices and to give up the people and the environment from which the prejudice emanates. Today I do just this. Whenever I perceive prejudice I avoid it completely. I try to choose the right people who can support me and environments that are suitable, environments of care and understanding.
The majority of my online friends, with whom I share many emails each day, are either knowledgeable sufferers who have deep understanding of their disorder and can control their moods and symptoms, or mental health professionals particularly university professors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Currently I am being guided by a few mental health professionals to complete two research papers. One on childhood trauma and the other on the efficacy of music therapy and educational computer games to help children who suffer with ADHD.
As I continue to discuss mental disorders online, with hundreds of individuals who suffer with disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia, personality disorder and many other mental disorders, I am finding that I am able to make sense of my bipolar disorder and in this book I attempt to explain what “mental illness” is. It is certainly not an illness like any other and for me not an illness at all. It is a disorder that is extremely complex and that we still do not understand. I feel that at the end of the book I give a very good definition of mental illness from my perspective, the perspective of a sufferer who is in touch with many other sufferers from all over the world.
Seldom do mental health professionals listen to sufferers because, after all, it is those who suffer directly with a mental disorder that know what symptoms and moods are like and what works best . All that we need is support so that we can find our own way. Those who do find their way often make tremendous contributions to their society because there is a strong correlation, which is proven scientifically, between mental disorders and genius. You have to admit some can be novel thinkers, coming up with ideas no one has dreamed of. See for example http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2154393/There-IS-link-genius-madness-claim-scientists–dont-know-evolved-gift.html
Many people with mental disorders are extremely creative and if we look at our history we find that many of the inventors, scientists, artists and leaders showed symptoms that are consistent with mental disorders like depression and bipolar. I am certainly creative, multi talented to be precise, and my book is filled with pencil drawings that contribute to the story, poems and links to my music which can be downloads or listen to free of charge.
I feel that it is important for mental health professionals, and those who suffer with a mental disorder directly, to read this book especially the second part which is a collection of selected essay on mental disorders and my experiences in the attempt to help myself and help others as I communicate with people of many countries of the world. It is a constant search for answers and I am pleased to say that a clear pattern is emerging. There is no doubt that we are heading the wrong way when it comes to studying and understanding mental disorders and I will explain why in the book.
Knowledge is wisdom and essential for a person like me with a mental disorder. I must give credit to the University of Newcastle, Australia, for its support and understanding over the years. This is a wonderful university that has been a tremendous part of my life, on and off, over the past twenty years. This university is a university with a heart that can support people with mental disorders and with disabilities. I was able to gain an honours degree in social anthropology, complete two years in a Masters Degree and later complete some studies in a clinical psychology degree.
It has not been easy because some academics have had to accommodate my moods and symptoms, something that is not always easy. However, in our society we do need to support those who suffer like me. Having a mental disorder is a tremendous disability that needs social support. Many academics have been able to support me. There I have met some outstanding academics like Professor Trevor Waring, clinical psychologist Lachlan Tiffen, Dr Colin Wilks and Dr Chris Falzon, of the department of philosophy, Sociologists Dr Terry Leahy and Dr Ann Taylor and many others like Sally Purcell, Revered Roy Hazelwood, Catherine Stone, who is today Director of Student Experience Unit, Open University Australia.
These academics and staff were able to support me and showed me that they had absolutely no prejudice towards me. With these academics I have been able to thrive and study hard. I hope that their wisdom and talents are an inspiration to others and are used within the universities so that students like me can be better supported.
To help students who suffer like me we may need extra time, extra resources and effort but, as this book will show, it is all worth it because the studies have helped me to help others and this, both in social and monetary terms, is absolutely worth it. Governments that have had to pay for my studies, and for all of those who have offered their support and extra care to help me, I can say that it has been a good investment as this book will show.
Today I give back tenfold when I help sufferers online who cannot access services or mental health professionals for whatever reasons. Guided by counselling psychologist Bob Rich, who has recently written a wonderful novel Ascending Spirals http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ascending-spiral-bob-rich/1114890553 ; clinical psychologist Paul Corcoran who guides me and helps me to help myself and others; psychiatrist Dr David Butler who has been a long time friend and a father figure at the same time; GP Dr Dean Cavanagh who is interested in mental health studies and who is a wonderful doctor; and a few of my expert friends who suffer directly, I am able to provide guidance and support even to those who contemplate suicide. I feel that over the years I have helped many people and at the same time helped myself.
One academic who has been enormously supportive, in my journey, is Professor Trevor Waring, a humble man who is the chair of the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) and who was also the Chancellor of the University of Newcastle for two terms. Although I have known him for a very short time, his wisdom and support has been inspirational to say the least. One of the things that has most impressed me about Professor Waring is what he said in the Alumni magazine of the University of Newcastle (2012, p. 8):
“…While we have to run the University in a business like manner, we are not a business like any other business. I just felt that we as a governing body and as a university as a whole have what I would regard as a sacred trust – [that is] to have these lives in your hands and the lives of the people they will serve.”
I have also been fortunate to communicate with other humble professionals like professor Patrick McGorry of the University of Melbourne; anthropologist professor Geoffrey Samuel of Cardiff University in the UK; professor Elyn Saks who is not only a mental health advocate but a law professor at the University of Southern California and the author of the book The Centre Cannot Hold : My Journey Through Madness http://io9.com/5983970/im-elyn-saks-and-this-is-what-its-like-to-live-with-schizophrenia; Professor Gordon Parker of the University of New South Wales, Australia, who is an expert of Depression; Professor Brian Martin, of the University of Wollongong, who has always replied to my occasional emails. He is a terrific academic and has written a book which is not only free to read and download but also one of my favorite books http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/11gt/index.html ; Dr Tony Kidman of the University of Technology in Sydney who is a very humble person and who really cares about people with mental disorders; Dr. Shelly Carson of Harvard University for her interesting writings on the link between creativity and mental disorders. Particularly interesting is her book ” Your Creative Brain” http://www.shelleycarson.com/ ; Chartered Psychologist Jerry Kennard who writes on Depression Connect of Health Central America; Barbara Hocking who has been the director of SANE Australia for a few years and who has recently retired for the position; professor Mick Cooper who wrote a timely book titled: Essential Research Findings in Counselling and Psychotherapy: the Facts are Friendly (2008). This book is must read for all of those interested in therapy; and many other important mental health professionals, too many to mention. The humbleness of these professors and mental health experts has touched me in a very profound way.
I would also like to thank mental health professional Lewis Weir who is a great source of inspiration and a good friend; my long time friends Judy from America who continues to inspire me with her wisdom; and Rose Martin from Ireland. I would also like to thank the many people who I have met while writing on Stephen’s Fry’s website, and on many other websites.
I ‘ve also had the fortune to meet and communicate with very important people, mostly because my father was a very well known musician in Europe, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciano_Zotti and http://alfredo123.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/carolo-alberto-rossi-luciano-zotti/ , many of whom have died unfortunately.
Amongst the important people that have helped me on my journey are: Pope John Paul II who suffered with depression and called it a “spiritual trial”; Sahara Vaughan, the famous jazz singer who pointed me to a new kind of music on which I am still working today; the late Amy Winehouse who was mostly a gifted jazz singer not just a pop star and with whom I have had many conversations about jazz; Mark Hunter, who was the lead singer of the band Dragon; and Paul Hester who was the drummer of the band Crowded House. I spend sometime with him, after he left Crowded House, while he was working as a sound engineer in Sydney before he went back to Melbourne. At that time he was the sound engineer for my jazz trio and I told him that he was one of the best sound technicians because he was able to mike up my grand piano in a way that no one has ever been able to do. He was truly gifted as a musician, comedian and a wonderful person who suffered with major depression.
These artists have helped me to understand that what we call a mental illness is also a gift not only a problem. Indeed many people would like to have the kind of creativity that inspire songs and works of art which are created by artists who suffer with a mental disorder. I hope that this book will make an interesting contribution to the study of mental disorders, pointing to the road less traveled but nevertheless important. For me bipolar II disorder is a constant source of creativity and, just like Pope John Paul once said about his depression, a spiritual trial which leads me closer to the Light.
One last word is to Australian Politicians. I am asking them to reconsider their intention to cut founds to tertiary institutions in Australia. It is hoped that governments focuses on how the studies have helped me to help Australian society and also to help many people with mental disorders from all over the world, as a volunteer. Just by listening to people’s problems and concerns, with the support of psychologists and mental health professionals, I work as a volunteer helper (which is not much different than what a therapist does) to help many people with mental disorders. This help I offer can also be translate into money because better mental health means reduced social costs.
Tertiary studies are always valuable, particularly for sufferers like me, and I hope that the Politicians reconsider their intention to cut founds to university because we do need universities, they are our real future and what generates jobs for a country. Universities are not just places that prepare people for work but also places that prepare people for life and empower them to help others.
Over the years I feel that I have saved quite a few lives in Australia because of my voluntary work. But none of this would have been possible without my tertiary education. My voluntary work translate into real money if we think of the impact of suicide on family members and friends of the victims. When someone commits suicide their relatives, parents and friends can suffer terrible and even become depressed, sometimes for years.
Finally, I see little use in completing primary and secondary studies if less advantaged people have limited access to tertiary education. More importantly, sufferers like me may need to study for many years to be able to conquer their mental disorders. Many can get better with proper support and I would like to see more people with mental disorders in universities, and even create special courses for people with mental disorders, for knowledge is the most important thing that helps a sufferer like me. Knowledge is essential and perhaps more so than medication and therapy. Knowledge is life. But this knowledge must not be based largely on science but both an equal and balanced amounts of science and art. Humanitarian and scientific studies go well together if science is applied appropriately. At present this balance is missing in Australian universities and cutting founds to the tune of 2.3 or 2,8 billion dollars is going to make the situation much worse.
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