Opening up: a bit more about my life story

In  Joan Didion’s memoir ‘The Year of Magical Thinking,’ she talks about the process of denial of the truth of things that the brain goes through, as part of the grieving process. As Knitting Time evolves into a collection of poems and artworks reflecting on the impact on mental health of unacknowledged ‘loss’ so I find myself slowly opening up to what an amazing thing it is that I am still alive!

Loss can impact on us in many ways. It can create a subtext for our lives that we have little or no control over. A natural impulse is to run away and hide, hoping the emotions will simply go away of their own accord, or if not that we can submerge them by other means, through one distraction or another. Often, the further we run, the more our unconscious thoughts and feelings take over, leading us deeper into distress.

From a young age I lost my mum to a host of demonic characters who inhabited her belief systems and understanding of the world. I went through a form of bereavement after she had been sectioned and given large doses of ECT. It affected her memory and when we went in to visit her in hospital she couldn’t remember who her children were. I was 10 years old and went through an agonizing sense of guilt. I had a physical sensation of falling down a bottomless well, that haunted me for years afterwards. It spelt the end of the person I had known and the introduction of someone new who bore little relation to the mum I had known previously.

I struggled to come to terms with life; with being alive. I had been taught from early childhood that the world would end, literally in 1975 as a result of Gods will. Continuing to be alive wasn’t something I expected to happen. At the age of 12 I became withdrawn and believed I was invisible. In company I was certain I could not be seen and became phased by any partial recognition that I was real. I began drawing and painting what this felt like, making abstract images of what it felt like, a few of which I have to this day. In many ways this was the saving of me. Quietly on my own I learnt to manage a host of emotional difficulties. The headmaster wanted me to see a psychiatrist and I was given a letter to take home to my parents. I had an idea of what was in the letter and tore it up, determined that I wasn’t going to let the bogeyman (in the form of the psychiatrist) get me.

I continued making art, which derived from the sense of loss. It didn’t take it away but it gave me a lexicon for understanding and dealing with those difficult emotions. I continued painting and broke through a barrier, finding a reason for living and a way of communicating that astounded and amazed people – and so gave me a sense of worth. My form teacher, who was a reserved man at the best of times, told me how relieved he was; that I was still alive. He hadn’t expected me to survive. My headmaster gave me a lecture on being a young person and how I should be enjoying the best years… They didn’t know how to respond or communicate. The grief I was feeling was largely locked with little room for understanding. 40 years later I am still finding ways of processing that grief.

It was amazing that I survived; that I found a way of relating to the person I’d become. My illustrated poetry collection 100 Houses is inspired by the stories and imagery of a fertile imagination, which beat me up and carried me through in equal measure. Knitting Time: a journey through loss continues the themes that I’ve been exploring in the poetry and artwork.

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at]
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9 Responses to Opening up: a bit more about my life story

  1. Cassie says:

    Thank you Colin for putting into words and pictures something I too experienced at the age of 10 … an introduction to psychiatric systems of the 70s and 80s with its extreme use of medication and treatments. It just took me longer to realize the importance of mourning the loss of someone still alive and with the family but as a very different person on a tough journey. Sometimes a glimmer of return but never complete or for long. Thank you also for acknowledging the impact on one’s own sense of self.

  2. Simon Powell says:

    Great drawing Colin!

  3. When i was four i lost a very dear friend to diabetes. What i found more distressing was adults saying that she had gone to a better place, that she was with the angels. I completely refuted these lies. There was no better place than with me, in our secret hiding places, exploring the world as we did, playing the games we played. I tried to kill myself. I survived. I still survive. Even now in a time of further loss, bereavement, relationships, etc etc. This and subsequent events led to a world view that damages me. I am looking at it. Addressing my cynicism and arrogance. Looking for a place where i can give myself some credit and turn away from hate again.

    The other things i was thinking about when reading your stuff was the bonzo dog band’s urban spaceman. I’m the urban spaceman baby here comes the twist i don’t exist. That worked for as a mantra for many years. Mantra’s. there was a Dylan one. Don’t think twice its alright. Just knock it on the head and move on. i was also thinking about a wide brimmed hat that would cover my eyes. I believed that if i could not see the eyes of others then others could not see me and i could survive within this self imposed exclusion from the world.

    • Belief in my own invisibility was a sane response to an insane world. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had been preaching apocalypse down my gullet since the age of dot. When my mum went mad they threw us out of the church preaching that we’d been sent by Satan to disturb the flock. We were totally damned before the psychiatrist came to put the icing on the cake. I was ten. He got me alone in my bedroom and demanded I tell everything my mother had been saying and to whom. On a promise that he would cure her, he filled her brain with ECT and she didn’t know her own children when we went to visit. Everything went downhill from there. I didn’t want to exist. I still struggle with the idea that I exist. I don’t want to live in a world that can proffer such lies and sell them as wisdom because the world needs scapegoats.

      Over time they murdered my mum. Dr Norton wilfully withdrew all medication suddenly after 20 years, on an arrogant whim, because she’d challenged him with a demand to have the dosage reduced so that she could be allowed to function a little more in her life, rather than live in a zombified state, eroded by tardive dyskenisia. That shaking happens, along with the shrinking of the brain, because the so-called ‘anti-psychotics’ block the brains production of dopamine. Like a car driving with the brakes on, the brain struggles to continue to produce dopamine and tardive dyskenisia and akithisia are the result.
      If she’d been hooked on heroin by a drug dealer, they’d have been an enquiry, news stories possibly, an outrage. Because the drug dealers were psychiatrists, backed by the pharmaceutical companies the blame fell soundly on her for being ‘mad’.

      Some years later when I confronted my GP about how the drugs had killed her, by destroying her bodies ability to produce white blood cells, and therefore breaking down her immune system and leading eventually to a coronary atheroma, her response was that the schizophrenia would have killed her sooner than the drugs, I never went back to that GP.
      There is a complete shut-down on any criticism of psychiatric drugs. The fact that all of the pharmaceutical research into psychiatric drugs points to the fact that they don’t work gets shut down and ignored. Have a look at the reports produced by Robert Whitaker author of ‘Mad in America’ and you’ll see what I mean.

      I’m still invisible, actually.

  4. Dave Everitt says:

    That 1975 thing stood out for me. I was convinced that I was going to die that year, until it passed uneventfully. Maybe it’s because it’s 3/4 of the way through the last century that the number stands out. Similar forebodings occurred about 2000, and I imagine they might again before 2025. Some numbers resonate. But my journey started with what I called ‘small seeing’, which I now know was Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (, which sent me to the ‘nothing wrong with him’ doctor. Then I had my first out-of-body experience at the age of 13, and I’ve been making sense of all this since, initially by immersing myself in an inner world expressed through occult belief systems, and intense pencil drawings much like yours (

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