My Easter Message

This is my Easter Message, for everybody, but especially for women, who are often encouraged to play Jesus Christ: to sacrifice themselves for others: for their men and their families; for their work-place or for any other reasons, could be a political, religious or community group. 

Protests in Baltimore After Funeral Held For Baltimore Man Who Died While In Police Custody

(A woman faces down a line of Baltimore Police officers in riot gear during violent protests following the funeral of Freddie Gray April 27, 2015)

They are expected to be martyrs, work until they drop for money or love, and do it with a smile so they comfort people at the same time. Ideally they should also look attractive and fresh too, despite being exhausted. In the ‘modern world’ the trendy mix of 1. working over-time for your greedy employer 2. going to the Gym after work – is just an ideal combination to push yourself beyond your limits when you are very young, then work full-time and fit in the limit-less child-care tasks, run around to take children to nursery, school, after school activities,a and later find the time to looking after your old and disabled parents, perhaps your parents-in-laws, or your ageing partner too. I live in privileged West Europe, I can’t even start to understand the pain women must be going through on the other continents, which have been forced to serve the interests of the West. I am aware many men’s life are also are sacrificed in various ways all over the world. Even in England, where I live, I do not envy men, i would not like to live their life at all. But still there is a huge difference not only about how much responsibility men (generally) take about childcare, looking after disabled relatives, housework etc – but in relation to the question of image, identity, self respect and respect from others. If a man looks after his children or his old parents or his ill partner regularly, than he is considered to be a hero.

Taking the old lady home so she does not fall in the ice

(This lovely picture is from the internet. This young man helped the old woman to walk home as she asked him – a stranger – to help was afraid of falling on the ice. According to the story now he regularly walks her home).

If he does not, than he is just a ‘normal man’ (perhaps preferring politics/pub/football match/mates/lovers/tv/art, whatever). If a woman dies not prioritize ‘caring’-tasks, then she is considered to lack femininity, she may be called utterly selfish – and I have to admit, this is how I automatically respond too when I met women who, for example, chose not to have children. I question my own response, and an internal debate develops in me. A part of me thinks, perhaps this universal female ‘caring’ expectation is the very thing which saves humanity, despite its historical and current oppressive nature. ‘Being caring’ does not have to be the same as being a martyr. I think there is nothing wrong with ‘caring’, but there is something wrong with forcing only some people to do it, while others take advantage of it. If women were to give up their ‘caring roles’, who would do it?

In the UK we have recently seen the growth of a so calledCare Industry’ – this further exploits international female labour, pays them minimum wages, gives them impossible tasks, and leads to an invasion of privacy – but I will write about this another time as I know this disgusting industry inside out. Instead of asking women to change, I think it is men-role which needs to change fundamentally. I would like men (generally) to become less selfish and more human and more independent – which would lead to being less dependent on women, and sharing responsibilities in a more equal way.

Going back to the original question of sacrifice: why people believe that Jesus was a man? How many men have you met in your life, who were similar to Jesus? The few men I know who have any similarities to Jesus are considered to be ‘weird’. Men have always been expected to become similar to those ‘normal’ men of Jesus’ time who persecuted and killed him. Men are encouraged to fear and punish those little boys and adult men who are ‘feminine‘, who don’t pay soldier games as children and don’t wish to join the army as adults. They are encouraged to identify with the bullies in school, and not with the victims of the bullies. Jesus was the most famous victim of bullies. Boys are not encouraged to become thinkers, dreamers, and they often end up becoming loners, if they don’t follow the group pressure of hate (whatever the enemy supposed to be in any given time in any given country and social class). They are encouraged to become violent and fight physically, whether in the army for money, in a gang for imagined self-defence, or in an illegal political group – the same thing in my eyes.

Jesus of the Jesus-legend – was not that sort of men. He would surely be bullied in any school today, and he would be called a ‘girl’ or perhaps a ‘poofter’- with contempt. In contrast to this picture, how many women do you know who reject war and violence, and who live for peaceful purposes, and they take on ‘caring roles’ to the degree that they are, in fact, sacrificing their lives for others? I am not saying that ‘sacrificing’ is a good thing. What I am suggesting is, that it would have been much more realistic to create a female Jesus myth. Millions of women are put on this or that type of cross daily. But who want to worship women? In misogynist societies all objects of worship must be male, including their penis, which is copied in male architecture, while women tend to create round breast-shape buildings. In Christianity the female characters of the story (such as ‘Virgin’ Mary) are only important in relevance to the male superhero. And don’t forget, women are expected to be not only sacrificing themselves, but to suffer, and to SUFFER IN SILENCE, BE PASSIVE and TO FEEL POWERLESS. NO THANK YOU! (Finished now, cleared my mind, now I can get on with cleaning my flat…)

Piroska Markus 28.03.2016

Woman on the cross. Art by Desdemona Varon

(Woman on the cross by Desdemona Varon. The artist gave me her permission to publish this picture)

How Green is Blue this week? (The pollution-race of the Tories)

The British Conservative party, in other word the ‘Tories’ like to picture themselves as blue, perhaps in contrast to the red colour often associated with the Left. So how green is blue nowadays? I have to admit that I did not follow the Paris show, as I thought the actions will speak for themselves. And they did. A few days after the Paris show was finished and the participants congratulated to themselves, the British Tory government announced a few very significant changes, which will intensify their commitment to destroy the earth with much faster speed then ever before.                            

(1) The government is scraping support for large-scale solar energy projects. The solar energy project only required a £3 yearly contribution in every household’s bill. This project was clearly a threat to the the government, because it was nearly becoming self-sufficient and soon it could have become the cheapest low-carbon energy source. So the government mutt have panicked and to stop the solar energy project to succeed they suddenly pulled this support, claiming to prioritise the lowering of customer bills (ridiculous claim as £3/year per household is a very reasonable contribution for a better future. To have an idea of the worth of £3: if you want to buy a coffee  you could easily pay £2.50)

(2) The Government has just granted NINETY-THREE (yes, 93) fracking licenses in England and Wales. Luckily they could not touch Scotland, as the Scots were clever enough to ban fracking (of course they English did not want them to become independent – just see what a good example they would create?) So where are they going to be digging for the modern gold: oil and gas? The licences include many places which are described as “national parks and areas of outstanding beauty”. In case you would like to know which firms will do the dirty work: licences were granted for Ineos, a Swiss chemicals giant which owns the Grangemouth Refinery in Scotland (could they kick them out?) and Cuadrilla, a fracking company backed by British-Gas owner, Centrica.

I could not express my horror better than Adian Harrioson, whose letter was published yesterday in ‘The Independent’: “a number of studies, including one from Cornell University, have shown that the countless drilling of new wells demanded by the process results in the release of such large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas far more immediately dangerous than CO2, that over 20 years it is considerably more damaging to the climate than coal.The cynicism and idiocy of a government which, just a week after signing up to a green agenda in Paris, turns its back on renewables and then plumps for this filthy, landscape-destroying, economically disastrous option which at best might last a decade, is breathtaking.”

Walking upstairs I was thinking

When I was coming home yesterday walking up the stairs, I was thinking, someone famous once said: “every society could be judged on the basis of how it treats women”. I suddenly thought: “Every society can be judged, from how it treats ‘mad’ people.”  Then my thinking jumped and I thought: “how it creates madness”.

And my (nearly) final conclusion was: “every society can be judged, from how it creates and treats it’s mad”.

Then I thought: feminists have rightly criticized the word ‘treat’ – and the idea, which is implied, that women are not part of the society. Because the original statement implies, that the society is male and women are external to it, some kind of ‘objects’ – to which the male-society relates: men ‘treat’ women.

There is already so much wrong expressed in these words. I always hated when men said “I treat my wife/girlfriend really well”. I usually have a feeling that they are talking about a dog, who should feel privileged. – All of these thoughts and ideas swam, or rather, rocketed through my head while I was making the steps upwards.

The next thought was: ‘judged’ is the wrong expression. I asked, who am I to judge? Or who are supposed to be the judges according to the original statement? Are they not part of the society? What makes them either outsiders or superior beings, above everyone else, and independent?

I concluded quickly: instead of ‘judged’ I could say: “Every society has it’s own typical way of ‘treating’ and creating it’s women and it’s mad.” Societies create role models for women and they use various methods to force the individual women to conform to these female images. Societies also create their own concepts of ‘normality’ and ‘madness’, and they offer typical mad-roles.

Shop-window women

I started to laugh. Because at this point, I realised, it was not only self-evident, it was banal!Of course it has. It also has it’s own way of creating male roles, children-roles, cities and hierarchies, customs and memories. Nothing seemed more obvious, I thought, and felt ridiculous for thinking about the whole subject. I arrived in front of my flat, opened the door, said a loud hello to my kids, and shut my brain. 

Piroska Markus

(I wrote this piece sometimes in the 1990’s when I had three small children and I was working as a mental health social worker in Central London. We were living on the 2nd floor of a large Council building so all these thoughts went through my head during the 2 minute it took to walk up from the ground floor to our flat.)

Madness and it’s enemies. Part One

I am an ‘expert’ on madness. At least I would like to be.

Not because I used to be a mental health social worker for many years.

Not because I have a few useless certificates in three different types of counselling.

I believe I am an ‘expert’ because I have been struggling against madness in myself since I became an adult.

Perhaps I can get extra qualification to call myself an expert as a relative of people with (occasional) mental health problems. My father and my sister normally had a ‘normal’ life, but occasionally had a breakdown. In fact my father had a successful carrier as a Sociologist in Hungary. My sister managed to finish a 5 years university  course and she had three children. Unfortunately both my father and my sister were given the diagnosis of ‘manic-depression’, or bipolar as it is called today. They had a few admissions to psychiatric hospitals. Although it is fashionable to call family members ‘carers’, I would never use this term about myself in relation to my father and sister. I find the term patronising and misleading. It is well known that families can easily drive one (or more) of their members mad. Everybody knows it, but strangely, even the official experts had admitted it long time ago. Occasionally they deny it, and I believe the term ‘carer’ is a (perhaps unconscious) attempt to deny the tensions, the harm which can be caused by a family to the person who goes mad: before their breakdown, during the breakdown, and afterwards. – I was never really the ‘carer’ of my father or sisters, especially not when they gone high or manic, I don’t think anyone has a chance to be a ‘carer’ for an extremely high person: they slip out of your hands. They are too high to be ‘cared for’, unless they are sectioned to a hospital and the ‘care’ they don’t want is forced on them. And then, they might not perceive such a treatment as ‘care’, more like imprisonment.

I witnessed them going high, becoming ‘manic’, and I also witnessed them becoming depressed, very depressed on occasions.

I am not an expert on madness in the sense that I fully understand it, or I know how to ‘treat’ it. I do not believe anyone really understand what madness is. A few reasonable psychiatrists have occasionally admitted that they do not have a clue neither. But they still continue ‘treating’ their ‘patients’ as if they knew what to do. In order to look like a professional, it is essential to pretend to be confident. To look uncertain, to feel lost, to hav emroe questions than answers – that is the dangerous world of madness. And mental health professionals know exactly why they don’t want to go to ‘the other-side’.

I don’t like the term ‘treatment’. ‘Treatment of depression’, ‘treating schizophrenia’, ‘treating the condition’. It already implies that madness is an ‘illness’. It implies that understanding and healing these extreme states belong to the domain of medicine. It implies that the understanding and healing is NOT, and can not be, and should not be, in the hands of the people who are going through the mental difficulties. It implies, that priests, gurus, natural healers, Homoeopaths, yoga teachers and psychotherapists are all amateurs in these matters. It implies that ordinary people have NO CHANCE of understanding and really helping people who are going through serious mental agony. They have no chance, because once the phenomena is considered to be an ‘illness’, then it follows that you have to go to a medical college for 5-6 years in order to start to understand illnesses, learn latin names for it and fight it with medication, ECT, perhaps brain-surgery. Tools doctors have. The ‘illness’ concept also assumes some form of biochemical causation, although this has never been proven. However research has established that – not surprisingly – people who were sexually abused as children are likely to have mental breakdowns later in life. Could the biochemical model be a cover-up, so we don’t have to face up to the epidemic of sexual (and other) abuse in modern societies? (In addition to the well-known financial links between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession).

Many people who went through the psychiatric system as ‘patients’ would testify that psychiatrists are the least likely people to understand and help them. Only a minority of people do get better when they are admitted to psychiatric hospitals, or as a consequence of seeing a particular psychiatrist. But research carried out by Mind showed that only a tiny percentage of ex-mental patients believed that their psychiatrists were listening to them. Most of them claimed their nurses or social workers helped them much more. When I used to work in a psychaitric hospital I observed, that certain cleaners and adminstrators were the people who were most trusted by the patients. They were much happier to tell the cleaner or the administrator if they had a bad day, a nightmare, a fear of this or that, than opening up to their doctors or nurses. As for the psychiatric medication – this is a big taboo, which I will talk about another day.

This subject of trying to understand madness has been the ghost of my life and also the centre of my studies and work for twenty years. One of the reasons why it is so important for me is because I have always been attracted to ‘mad’ people. Since my teenage years I had friends who were considered mad by others. When I was 16 I made a strong friendship with a 15 years old girl (J.B.) who had already spent many years in Hungary’s worst psychiatric hospitals. She had talked about brutal punishment and torture in the hospitals and her stories about her amazing escapes captured my imagination. Around tha ttime I read ‘One flew over cuckoo’s nest’ by Ken Kesey, and her perspective was similar. Sadly after each escapre attempt she was either captured, or if she decided to run back to her family then her own father or step-mother returned her to the hospitals. I felt dedicated to be her friend, in fact more than a friend, because at the point when her last ‘saver’ (a well known Hungarian writer) decided to return her to the last psychiatric hospital, from which he saved her as an ‘interesting person’, I offered to ‘look after’ her, I wanted her to move in with my family. But no one listened. Her life-story (whether true or exaggerated) proved to me beyond doubt, that families, institutions, psychiatry, and writers were all fundamentally rotten, dangerous institutions, which/who should not be trusted.

Later, while I was still living in Hungary, I started to read R.D. Laing by chance. I went to England for my summer holiday in 1974, and a friend (A.F.) asked me to buy him Laing’s famous book, the ‘Divided Self’ (these kind of books were not available in Hungarian bookshops in the 70’s). I read the book on my way back to country (those days we were travelling by train), and it had a major influence on me. This book helped me formulate my anti-psychiatry feelings into something I could start to talk about, instead of just experiencing it as a suffocating feeling in my throat. As a teenager I visited my father and a few friends in psychiatric hospitals. I hated the buildings and the atmosphere with a burning passion and a feeling of dedication that I should do something against it. Seeing my otherwise healthy, energetic father in a hospital bed filled up with tranquillisers, sleeping for days on end, his face becoming someone else’s face, made me angry. At the same time, I became very interested in the theories of psychoanalysis. I started to attend special seminars held by a psychologist who had psycho-analytic training. The seminars were held in a tiny office in one of the largest psychiatric hospitals (Lipótmező) in Budapest. thsi psychologist’s interpretations sounded revolutionary for me, I could not understand why they tolerated her in that oppressive institute.

In 1978 I emigrated to England. For the last two years prior to leaving the country I was studying History and Philosophy in a University in Budapest. However gradually I became so much interested in Psychology that I decided to drop my original subjects. I choose ‘Social Psychology’ and went to Sussex University in 79. However the course was so bad and so ‘american’, we were using text books which had no content, no meaning, nothing to say. I decided to give it up after the first term.

When I came to England in 1978 one of my first steps was to find the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement. I got in touch with a small Survivor Organisation, which organised a conference. This conference was a very interesting new experience for me. People were friendly, informal, knowledgeable and radical, I learned a lot from them. I remember a homeless older man spoke and I listened. I have to admit that he looked like the type of men I would have avoided on the street those days. He had a red face, possibly the effect of alcohol. His clothes were dirty, and he looked very confused. I still remember him saying – on the stage – that he could not understand why police picked on them and why people were afraid of them – they don’t want to harm anyone. His words shocked me, because I belonged to the people who assumed that people who looked like him were a danger for me, and I had to realise, that he knew this, he ‘‘saw through me”. I never thought about this before I heard him speaking, and I had to look in the mirror he held up for me. A few months later he said a big hello to me on the street, and I was walking with other people who assumed he was actually harassing me. They were surprised to realise that we knew each other.

Soon after moving to London I found a cleaning job in Hampstead. The flat belonged to a writer who told me that he used to work with Laing. He gave me the contact details so I could join Laing’s organisation. Unfortunately I had to give up my cleaning job because I was pregnant, but soon I enrolled on a seminar-series in Laing’s ‘Philadelphia Association’. I was new in England and I could hardly speak English but I understood almost everything. I had £13/week social security benefit  and I was almost starving. They charged, I think about £10 to become a member. I did not have the confidence to tell them that this was equivalent to a week’s food money for me. They looked so rich in their beautiful houses in Hampstead, I thought, they would not understand. So I did not even ask for a discount and paid the full fee.

I attended a few seminars of Laing’s ‘Philadelphia Association’. I got disillusioned in no time. It was a frustrating, ppainful experience. I wanted to learn from them but they were annoying me instead. I remember sitting in their beautiful houses where the seminars were held. I listened and wanted to respond, but only Hungarian words were coming to me. I could not express my thoughts in English. I remember sitting there, feeling awful. Listening to them, and feeling: bullshit. I knew that much in English, but I could not have explained what I meant.

Bullshit meant, that these people had no authenticity in my eyes. I could not take seriously their words. Or perhaps they lacked real commitment. I also felt angry for having had to sacrifice a week’s food money to enrol, and getting nothing back for it! I could not find anyone among them I really trusted, either on a personal level, or as a professional. (That time I had not met Joe Berke yet, who used to work with Laing but after a major disagreement they separated and he started his own ‘Arbours Association’. I met him years later on a Conference which was held at the University of Essex, the subject was: Psychosis and Psychotherapy. I heard him talk and I liked him from the first second: I trusted him as a therapist and as a person).

When I was 9 month pregnant I went to a workshop where Laing himself was present. It must have been at the end of June or the beginning of July of 1978 and it was in a Church-hall near Swiss Cottage. I had high hopes. Unfortunately the workshop did not meet my expectations. It was not completely useless, I remember it was fun, people kept laughing, perhaps to cover their embarrassment. We were doing exercises and some people went through something called ‘re-birthing’, which looked completely fake for me. But I had a relatively interesting experience that day. I met the woman who became famous for co-writing a book about her own journey out of madness with the help of Joe Berke, who was her therapist. I think she was called Mary Brown. She approached me, asking questions about my huge stomach, as I was very pregnant. She told me how sad she was because she never had children. I remember feeling privileged that this woman talked to me. But I don’t think anyone else has ever noticed my existence during the different seminars and workshops I attended at the Philadelphia Association.

I gave upon them. I was anyhow getting increasingly depressed and I think, my disappointment with this organisation must have contributed to it. But I had many other reasons during the first two years of my immigration to be depressed: I was virtually homeless, I had no immigration status, did not know if I could stay, I had very little money, I was expecting a baby, I was completely on my own. I also isolated myself from most Hungarians, and they also did not care about me – it was either mutual dislike, or an understanding that it was better to avoid each other. I had an increasing number of friends, but they were from all over the world, very few Hungarians. And I preferred this.

The next experience was even worse. When I returned from Sussex University to London in January 1980 I moved into a Council flat in Islington. I wanted to continue to study and found a training course nearby which I felt enthusiastic about. I don’t remember it’s exact title, but it promised to combine psychotherapy training with social thinking in a way, which I liked. I applied and even managed to secure a grant for it, which is usually an impossible task.

The main person who organised the course happened to be a Hungarian man who was a Psycho-dynamic Therapist and a lecturer. When he interviewed me he insisted that the interview should also become a kind of therapy session, asking intimate details about my family background, making notes in a way which suggested to me that he simplified complex things to simple diagnostic categories, although he was using analytical boxes. I did not like him or his approach. He insisted that he should also become my on-going therapist, as students were expected to have psychotherapy while attending the two-year part-time course. I protested, although I liked that he could speak Hungarian, and my English was not yet good enough to enter therapy with an English speaking therapist.

I went to the first training afternoon and I decided never to return. The reason was simple. A second year student, a young man, made a case-presentation using a tape of a recorded session with his first client: a 28 year old woman,. According to him her ‘presenting problem’ was that she was still a virgin. During the taped session she presented her discovery, that this was not the problem, she was not the problem, it was society which made her into a near-outcast for being a virgin at age 28.

I found her discovery, her enthusiastic presentation really fascinating. But the following debate made me run, run as fast as I could. He said the woman fall in love with him. The students, many students, responded by encouraging him to start a sexual relationship with his client. He said, shyly, he could not do it, because he had a young wife and a baby, and it would not be fair to the wife.

I was absolutely shocked. I could not believe that people, young students, who looked OK for me, could consider it, even for a minute, that such a sexual relationship would be OK.

And I was even more horrified when I observed that the experienced therapist, university lecturer, and the organiser of the course, was just sitting there, not saying anything against the suggestion that the therapist-student should start a sexual relationship with his client, especially with a client, who went to therapy to talk about her problem of being a virgin. I think it was even suggested that he would do a favour to her, because she would not have the problem any longer.

While sitting there I remembered the story my friend told me in Hungary. She knew this girl who went to a Gynaecologist to complain about some sexual problems, and the Gynaecologist put her on the couch and raped her. (I guess in his terms he had sex with her, or even ‘made love to her’). Afterwards he told her that she was cured. In Hungary no one bothered to report this kind of abuse to any authority – because no one trusted any authorities.

Not waiting for the discussion to finish, I walked out of the seminar and never returned. I phoned up the other organiser of the course and told him that I thought the course was rubbish. I also lost my grant. After this experience, I did not feel like studying therapy, psychology, or going to a therapist, for many years to come.

I turned to other things.

(To be continued)