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David Baxter

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Stuart Baker-Brown: A beautiful mind
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
BBC NEWS

Stuart Baker-Brown, 43, a photographer and writer based in Dorset, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1996. On World Mental Health Day, he delivers a unique personal insight into how his condition has nurtured his artistic expression.

In the past, schizophrenia has broken my life and taken away many of life's opportunities, such as work and the ability to interact with society and family or even myself.

The symptoms have been very disabling and destructive and have included psychosis (delusion and hallucinations) which is understood to be a disturbance of sensory perception and creates the inability to recognise reality from the unreal.

Other daily symptoms, such as depression, suicidal thoughts, the feeling of being controlled by outside forces, paranoia and fear of persecution, have made life very difficult to cope with.

There is also the stigma and discrimination attached to the condition, especially the perceived link to violence - less than 1% of those diagnosed are violent towards others.

I believe the condition is very misunderstood, especially the link with creativity.

The Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky; Nobel prize winner in economics, John Nash (A Beautiful Mind); novelist, poet and writer, Jack Kerouac; and musicians such as Peter Green, Syd Barrett and James Beck Gordon have all either experienced, or are believed to have experienced, schizophrenia in some form.

Confusion
The condition has also been linked to the families of Tennessee Williams and Albert Einstein. Psychologists believe that schizophrenia personality is also associated to the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and Isaac Newton.

Many people with schizophrenia are naturally creative and turn to the arts to release their inner thoughts and emotions and to express the meaning of their symptoms.

In my experience, schizophrenia is potentially a very creative tool which, as yet, has not been understood or recognised and is mistreated and so its powerful symptoms manifest as confusion and destruction.

If this potential creativity was nurtured and encouraged, I believe we could find something quite unique, rather than the devastation we recognise.
I am now in a very fortunate position and my creativity is beginning to be achieved. My symptoms have eased greatly, due to my own personal belief and will to survive and finding a medication, Seroquel, that truly works with me.

Like other artists, such as Philippa King and Aidan Shingler, who share my condition, I am harnessing my creative side and now using my symptoms to work for me rather than against. This works for me in both writing and other art forms.

The symptoms feed me the tools to become creative. I seem to be thinking all the time and the psychosis is not necessarily destructive. The experience of a hallucination can often be recalled in the creation of artwork or poetry, for example.

Mount Schizophrenia
Much of my writing captures my life with schizophrenia, my past symptoms and experiences. I turn these into short stories or my novel, The Man Who Can, which is a story based on my life and my journey from the spiralling tunnel of darkness towards the bright sky of light.

I also have many sketches of images that have appeared in my thoughts or have appeared in front of me when I have laid relaxing in my bed or even walking along the street.

The subjects of my photography are given added meaning, such as Mount Everest, which represents "Mount Schizophrenia" and my struggles in life.

Sometimes it feels that the symptoms of my condition are very naturally creative and often without any prompting my imagination comes alive. My mind, as others with the condition, is often very stimulated, as if on a more heightened awareness than people without it.

But the problem is expressing what I see or hear because strong cognitive difficulties - such as memory loss, disorganized thoughts, difficulty concentrating and completing tasks - impair my ability to enhance and capture my true creative potential.

Unfortunately psychiatry leans far more towards controlling schizophrenia, rather than showing understanding towards a patient's true needs and potential capabilities.

There needs to be far more emphasis on working with the symptoms. A far greater holistic approach needs to be adopted.

The link with creativity and schizophrenia has always been evident. Yet research into the understanding of these links has been very limited.

Thankfully, East Carolina University, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the National Institutes of Health in Britain are starting to research the links between schizophrenia and aspects of human creativity and cognition.

I personally believe that we are at the very beginning of having a true understanding of schizophrenia and its symptoms.

Let's hope that after so much misunderstanding, this new research will open much-needed and refreshing doors to the truth.

SCHIZOPHRENIA
  • About 1% of people develop schizophrenia
  • Genetics probably play a part
  • Ten to 15 per cent of people with a close relation with schizophrenia develop it
  • Treatments include psychological therapies or medications
 

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