Buying Christmas presents for men is a nightmare, isn’t it? With women, it’s easy – chocolates, bubble bath, random pink stuff – it’s not as though there’s any need to consider the individual. With men, though, there’s that need to treat the recipient as a person, someone with actual likes and dislikes. Hence you never know what to get them, spend ages thinking about it – all the while chucking more random pink stuff into your basket – before muttering “fuck it” and buying socks and beer. Mind you, it’s the thought that counts – and while your present might be rubbish, you’ve thought about it loads.

Each Christmas I always want to get something special for my brother, something that will genuinely make him happy. Alas, I never know what to choose. It’s not just because he’s male (he has been for forty years, so I’m used to that) but he’s also unwell (and has been for forty years, too). He has schizophrenia – i.e. the “scariest” of the mental illnesses – but as ever, this doesn’t say much. As with all schizophrenics, what he actually suffers from is a rag-bag of symptoms, which includes hearing voices but certainly isn’t limited to that. And unlike many schizophrenics, he isn’t, say, obsessed with one particular thing. On the contrary, he isn’t all that interested in anything. I often wish, for him, that he was. (more…)

In 1987, the year in which the film Wish You Were Here? was released, I spent most of my time in a mental hospital. I was 12 years old and suffering from anorexia. For most of the summer and a good part of the autumn I was on on bed rest, intermittently awarded and denied “privileges” based on weight gained and lost. For several weeks I was denied visitors, phonecalls and reading material. Fortunately, one day I found a copy of 19 stuffed down the side of the bed. For a long time the magazine was all I had to look at, other than the carpet, the wall and the ceiling. So I read it again and again. (more…)

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