Wednesday, 27 August 2014


In the first of a series of posts, I will explore the spiritual nature of my psychoses and spontaneous altered states of consciousness. In following posts I will expand on things I introduce here, but for now, I hope you find this interesting....

PART ONE: *Spiritual Emergency and  Psychosis

Back To Basics

I spent an interesting few hours reading my my medical notes today. I went right back to 1998. My first admission.

Several things struck me, most notably how stubborn I was in those early years. I did not stick to medication and I especially did not want anti-psychotics. I would cancel or not attend my psychiatric appointments. I slipped in and out of the system as I continuously relapsed with manic psychotic hospital admissions and depression.

My reasons were very clear to me. I was not trying to be difficult. I had some strong personal beliefs about my condition, psychiatric medicine and the circumstances which led to my first admission. These beliefs polarised me away from traditional, mainstream psychiatric thought and practise. My stance at the time was steeped in a personally constructed spiritual framework. I was not led by or part of any organisation or cohesive group. No specific individuals actually directed me to think the things I did. Any influences by anyone else were subtle and subject to my interpretation. This framework was an evolution of entirely personal experience. It was built from ideas and concepts which I studied and followed into a state of belief.

Holy Ordering

To understand someone's spiritual beliefs when they differ from ours, requires a genuine willingness to consider alternate opinion and depending on the depth to which understanding is sought, potentially rather a lot needs to be known about that person. I think I would have to write a full auto-biography to fulfil requirements for that purpose!

In a neat nutshell for accessible comprehension, the main influences you could ascribe to this personally constructed framework would be a New Age mixture. There were some Christian, Spiritualist and  Wiccan elements too.

On the surface it might have appeared a bit of a pick and mix selection, although it was not built with any kind of casual approach. Far from it.

The Goddess Speaks !

In January 1998 when I was first admitted to psychiatric hospital, I was escorted in dressed and made up immaculately. I was perfectly calm and composed. Eloquently with great dignity and patience I explained that I was a goddess who had come to bring enlightenment to everyone on Earth. I said I had ascended into a heavenly state whilst still incarnate in a human body and that I had crossed into a parallel dimension of Earth reality to one where my spiritual teachings were to be given. I also told them I had travelled through time to be there. I assume I gave the nurses a very interesting evening …..although they are more than used to people in states of acute psychosis.

My consultant psychiatrist wrote that I was:-

feeling extremely happy, felt that she had special powers and that she had been given a special mission to show the world a new spiritual way.... Miranda felt that she was a goddess with healing powers “.

Gradually over the next few weeks whilst on a steady daily dose of anti-psychotics, these beliefs “gradually subsided”.

How I came to be in that state is intricately wound through many complicated events. But I am far from unique in having this kind of “divine revelation” experience. It is surprisingly common. I once met someone who told me a story of when he believed he had become Jesus to such a degree that he got on a plane and went to Jerusalem to the Wailing Wall believing the world would be assembled there waiting for him. I do meet some very interesting people.

The Spinning Wheel

To tell the honest truth and lay it bare, being admitted into hospital on 26th January 1998 was like pricking my finger on a poisoned spinning wheel and falling into horrific sleep where I fought holy and unholy battles.

For 16 years since then I have juggled, grappled and stumbled through nightmares and dreams, depression and elation, I have battled valleys of shadow and dark nights of the soul, sung with angels and touched the white fire of the stars. It has been dizzying, caught in an endless circling web of mania, depression, spiritual revelation, medication and side effects, mental crisis, denial, apathy all without end or resolution in the labyrinth of the mind and soul.

But eventually I found a light. Right in the heart of the dark labyrinth. There was me. The me who
cannot be snatched by devils or overwhelmed by angels. Humble and proud. And free.

After The War

The fibres and filaments of my spiritual, mental, emotional and purely human framework are still as delicate as they ever were but there is a crucial difference. There is a resilience born from a life lived thoroughly and victories hard won. Now, I guide all the strings with complete ownership and responsibility.

Perhaps mainstream psychiatry and New Age subscribers both feel unsure about where I stand on my experiences now. The answer is balance.  Basically,  I have a clarity that serves me perfectly and a system of balance that is healthy. I take medication and I have a very peaceful inner sense of spiritual connection which goes beyond words.

But the way I made through the labyrinth is one I now share and there is substance there that is inspiring and helpful for others.

Just remember what lies in the heart of it. That is what matters.


HOLY WAR AND PEACE part II  will follow soon and will discuss my
"way through the labyrinth" in more detail , the tools and strategies I use to find a path
of balance and resilience.

" It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours.
  It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell "       - Buddha.


The term “spiritual emergency” was first coined by renowned psychiatrist and pioneering 
   leader in consciousness research Stanislav Grof in around 1980.


Saturday, 9 August 2014

Whose Afraid Of The Big Black Dog ?

WHO'S AFRAID OF THE BIG BLACK DOG ? **12th AUGUST 2014** REPUBLISHED POST: Since originally publishing this poem last week, Robin Wiliams has died in circumstances concurrent with suicide after a battle with depression. The Black Dog of depression is indeed something that is totally unpredicatble and an utter mystery to all beyond the sufferer as we each experience it in our own unique, terrifying way.

With heartfelt respect to this great actor, inspirational hero to me, I dedicate this republication of my poem and vow to keep striving in my ongoing battles and determination to focus on positivity and inspiration wherever I can find it. I found it readily in Robin Williams and at this sad time of his passing my heart is truly heavy.

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Why - the pigs whose houses fell !
And Red Riding Hood
In the deep dark wood
Had reason to fear as well.

But a Big Black Dog leaves you alive for dead ...
You feel nothing inside , you're a stranger
No house of bricks
Or woodsman's tricks
Can do much to stave off the danger.

 Depression is dangerous - it threatens your life
With invisible hands in your gloves -
It's a menacing claw
That is both you and not yours,
That grabs and pushes and shoves.

But heroes and heroines make peace with their Dog
Tame him and set loose his chain ...
He may wander or stray
But accepting his way
Is making a truce with pain

For me, a quiet stand off works in the woods
( I am the girl in the red ...)
I have shown him my hand -
 I'm prepared to stand …
With nothing inside my head.

And I notice he'll sit as I watch him
Waiting for me to flinch
But I'm not giving in
I'm not budging
I'm not giving the Black Dog an inch.

If I let him pass by he'll return
Unchecked again and again
I would rather my way
Be how things should stay
With a peace I can bear to remain.


Thank you again to the talented Diana Muller  for her artwork from her beautiful pen and ink series.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Awareness – A Double-Edged Sword

I was declared bipolar long before it became trendy. I am an authentic, vintage, original first edition. None of this post-millennial, on-trend “mentally fragile” for me. This may not seem like a very PC article. Do read on.

Nowadays, if you aren't bipolar or depressed or something it appears you are no-one in Celebrity-ville. Crazy is the new cool. You need a good, edgy sounding mental health condition to maintain street cred in the media. Then, the watching drowsy masses can bleat and roll on to the bandwagon. And before you know it, you encounter someone perfectly healthy proclaiming themselves to be bipolar because they saw it on telly. ( I am not saying 
                                                                                   everyone is histrionically faking mental illness. Do bear with )

People throw psychiatric terminology around that they don't understand. This is because:-
  1. Terminology like “bipolar” has entered mainstream vocabulary as a turn of phrase.
  1. There are higher rates of diagnoses / illnesses covered in the media than 15 years ago

Now, there are some positive effects here; Anti-stigma campaigns have a better starting point for their conversations if people have at least heard of the term borderline personality disorder, for example. But – you also get an awful lot of headless chickens running around abusing the terms : “ Wow, my friend's Aunty Joyce is bipolar for sure. She says she can hear lettuce”. I think this just creates a new layer of stigma which is counter productive. Awareness is a double edge sword - education may lie on its' shiny upper surface but perhaps underneath could do with a polish.

People have always joked about madness and mental illness and they always will. But we are caught in a different craziness now where we are actively trying to identify with serious, debilitating and life threatening illnesses when it really does not apply to us. Depression is a life-threatening illness. Bipolar is debilitating. Schizophrenia is very, very serious. Are we doing this for attention because we need help, or are we confused? Are we so caught up in our consumerism of media-heroin that we subconsciously drive ourselves to become mimics of its own puppets?

I am not talking about being inspired by those who speak out. I am probably still alive because Stephen Fry became publicly well known as bipolar when he did. I am talking about the equivalent of going around saying you have cerebral palsy because you are terminally clumsy or of telling everyone that you are positive your cousin's girlfriend has leukaemia for no good reason.

There will always be silly people who behave ignorantly which is even more reason to pursue ways to enhance our understanding everyday. By doing so, people who need help get it. Lives really are saved. Real heroes stand in the light of their own drawn sword and what they choose to do with it.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Dog and Homework Lie

When you were a child, the dog ate your homework. When you're an adult the traffic is a nightmare, your alarm didn't go off or your stupid phone lost all its contacts. Does this sound familiar?

That's because we all lie. White lies here and bendy truths there. We get so used to it that we become ashamed of ourselves and lie automatically when we feel that we will disappoint someone, or lose face or cause annoyance. We just want to be liked and well thought of, underneath everything. So , we lie.

I lied endlessly over the years rather than admit that I was bipolar when some aspect of my illness had caused me to either lose my job, lose a relationship, lose a home or lose a friend. I had a completely alternate version of my life and CV ready to roll out at the drop of a hat rather than tell my story the way I do now.

Lying about my illness has become so ingrained over 16 years that it is a habit hard to break.  I turned up at school drop off one morning a few weeks ago and a friend looked at me and kindly remarked that I looked quite tired and asked if I was ok. Without thinking I started to tell her that the dog had eaten my homework, so to speak, and actually managed to stop myself. Then I told the truth. I was actually in the middle of trying to manage a very challenging  *hypomanic episode which had come on quickly and was fairly acute. I explained the basics of my situation to her and one of my son's teachers who was standing with her. Not only were they kind, considerate and genuine in their concern but they thanked me for giving them the insight I had - particularly the teacher who remarked how useful it was to have it from her point of view as all our actions as parents impact our children.

I went home with a weight lifted off my shoulders, a feeling I had not experienced before. Although I have been publicly speaking out about my illness for a while now, this was the first time I have become unwell during that time and this was the first time I nearly lost my homework to the dog. But I stopped myself. I left the school blinking at myself in the light of not having lied about my current battle with hypomania. It felt great.

I was so inspired by my couragous rescue of homework from said dog's gaping jaws, that I turned to my public Facebook page where I share and chat about mental health and inspirational ideas. I documented my struggle on this public forum as well as with my friends on my personal timeline. I charted my episode from onset, through to the peak where speed wobble and breakdown set in and onto treatment with the crisis team and reassesment of my medication and eventually to peacful conclusion where relatively normal service resumed. The whole episode lasted about a month.

The result of doing this surprised me on a number of levels and re-doubled my passion in doing what I do as a public speaker and advocate of speaking out. Here is what happened:-

1 ) I felt supported because people followed my posts and made comments of support.
2)  I didn't have to lie because I was telling everyone the truth and I didn't feel ashamed.
3)  I received messages from a few people saying they were directly inspired by these posts to tell the truth about why they had been off work or behind with something. All of them either struggle with a degree of depression or take meds for a mental health condition.

I worked with the crisis team , my friends and colleagues stood by whilst I did my best to keep everyone fully in the loop. My husband felt hugely supported by the fact that people knew, he felt less isolated in his mammoth task and responsibility as carer. Other parents asked after me and he didn't have to lie, he felt able to ask for compassionate leave from work to lighten the load at home. And here I am  - peacefully emerging out the other side of a hectic few weeks. Hypomanic episodes have always preceded a manic episode and then hospitalisation for me - or - I crash land badly, suffer a major disruption of some kind in my life and struggle, choking, back to normal through a fog of lies about what happened.

 My conclusion is that I don't need to be ashamed of my shortcomings, embarrassed about my inconsistencies or fearful of others' perceptions of me.  Truth has subtle power that can cause unexpected change. It did for me.

The happy ever after bit of this story is simply that the poor dog was innocent the whole time.


*Hypomania (literally, “below mania”) is a mood state characterized by persistent disinhibition and pervasive elevated (euphoric) or irritable mood, as well as thoughts and behaviors that are consistent with such a mood state. It is most often associated with the bipolar spectrum. Many who are in a hypomanic state are extremely energetic, talkative, and confident. They may have a flight of ideas and feel creative.

- Wikipedia.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Time To Change

Time To Change is England's largest mental health anti-stigma and discrimination campaign. I am registered on a voluntary basis as a champion speaker. This week, I  joined 5 others and we represented thousands of champions from around the country in London at a key meeting of the entire organisation.

I composed a poem to start the day. It was written to reflect a little of my journey with my bipolar diagnosis and also to express my opinion on the campaign. I was asked by several people throughout the day if they could have a copy and so I have chosen to make it this week's blog.

Each champion made an invaluable contribution to the day, and the "selfie" campaign was led by James Shanks, the champion for London. An invitation was sent to all champions around the country to submit a photo with two reasons on why we are champions.

I crossed the shadowed line,
So hard to see or well define,
that divides the “us” and “them” with eager gladness.
In fear I bound my voice in shame
Silence conquered me and blame,
but all I ever found was my own madness.

I saw a mirror hidden there
And fell victim to the poisoned air -
I swore to keep my fractured pain a thing unspoken
In this mirror, I thought I saw
everything I was and more
the good, the bad, the ugly and the broken.

And strange but true , I cursed myself
I set my freedom on the shelf
but reached for it with hands of crippled doubt...
But - bound in boundless mirrored rings -
I found insanity can give you wings ....
I broke the twisted mirror and walked out.

I took my liberty off the shelf
As a gift I give myself,
I am vulnerable and proud that all may see.
The river calmly leaves the damn,
The Lion lies down with the lamb,
And I walk the world at peace with what may be.

A time can change as all things must
Ages pass in holy dust,
And changes must be made where there is strife
So we each and every one
See a thing which must be done
And we work in common cause to give it life.

The time is here.
The change is clear.
An ear will bend to hear the voice of youth
A mind will turn to change,
And arms embrace what once seemed strange..
And hearts will always heed the call of truth.

(C) Miranda de Barra 2014

Friday, 6 June 2014

Meet Me In The Sandpit


I think we all stop growing up in nursery school. Somewhere between the sandpit and the finger paints. 

I stopped at the dressing up box. I continued straight into a career in theatre and I have been escaping reality as best I can ever since. I have a good few friends who make a living out of the plasticine and crayons corner ( they get to call themselves artists) and I have come across many content people who sustain their adult lives tipping and tapping away with the toys in the mechanical activity cupboard. Architects , designers and programmers.

I do worry about the slightly unsure, runny nosed kids hanging around the edges of everyone else's activity. They don't really get into anything and drip about getting tangled in the aprons at the messy play table. There's always one suffering an enforced vegetarian lifestyle from its well meaning alternative parents, who looks permanently pale and isn't allowed squash. Sometimes, they don't have televisions at home, and cannot casually contribute to topical playground banter - like discussing the benefits of Upsy Daisy's inflatable skirt. I'm not sure what they grow up to be.

Our lives with “what I want to be when I grow up”. We are all heartily encouraged to become astronauts, prima ballerinas, fairies, wizards , lion-tamers and, currently Elsa and / or Anna from Frozen. When we're older and a dose of reality finally drops in, we probably get a more practical idea of what we might like to do. We gradually create a projected future for ourselves. It may be something general or specific – a career in fashion, or a mad urge to be a model. But how far does our actual path diverge from the perceived adulthood we dreamed of so passionately before we started shaving ? Our hearts may be set on medicine and the riches consultant surgeons rake in, but we may end up as the hospital janitor instead.

Now many people end up living a far better lives than they ever hoped for. Others are genuinely content with where they are. But there are simply oodles of disillusioned, jaded, resentful, complacent, cynical, frustrated, trapped, fearful people who mourn with bitterness a road they didn't take. They stick in a rut of necessity, stacking shelves or pushing pens around their accountancy desks wishing that they were in the merchant navy or teaching English to children in an Amazonian tribe. Their mental state is not one of illness. That may or may not be a separate issue. Their mental state is one of disconnection. A disengagement from what gives life meaning. Living with a void in one's soul makes for a hollow life.

When I had my first nervous breakdown 16 years ago, I was living a life very far removed from one which fed my soul. I had started my career playing in the dressing up box as I had faithfully promised my 5 year old self I would. I did become an actress. But after a car accident, I decided a reliable office job in the acting industry would pay the bills and be more sensible. So I became an agent instead. I was caught up in a manipulative, cold, calculating business world and what I really wanted was fluffy hugs, applause for being creative and possibly fairies everywhere.

So off I went in search of the meaning of life. I got into New Age books and courses, healing and crystals, auras and chakras, reiki and flower essences, the third eye and the fourth dimension, earth ascension, star beings, angels and goddesses in Glastonbury. I discovered that apparently I was Guinevere in one past life and a happy Russian peasant in another. I don't think there have been many happy Russian peasants, so I am quite proud of that. Basically, I immersed myself into anything and everything I could in search of a sense of meaning and purpose because the parasitic, deeply unfulfilling nature of my job demanded that I be a person completely removed from the dictates of my heart and soul.

These two worlds pulled me in opposite directions until I snapped. This was my trigger. Over the edge I went and landed in hospital. Within a couple of days there, it was decided that I was bipolar. From fine and functioning ( supposedly! ) to mentally ill in a matter of about 48 hours. I have had 10 episodes over the years when my bipolar has gone cosmic and catapulted me back into hospital. My daily life is a breathtaking circus of moods, energy swings interspersed with doses of crippling depression. This trigger was the start of a life which revolves around managing my mental illness.

I still love the dressing up box but I don't need to be doing exactly what 5 year old me said I ought to do. However, I do need to be doing what 5 year old me meant. 5 year old children know what feels good and what makes them glad to be alive. It might be jelly, swimming with dolphins or making ice palaces with your thoughts. The point is when you ask a 5 year old what they want to be when they grow up, they are actually just telling you that they want to be happy. So all you have to do when you grow up , is try and figure out what the hell that is. Make it easy for yourself and don't listen to anyone else. You can spend money on life coaches and gurus until you're blue in the face. You will make them very happy. Try taking yourself off autopilot and revisit the playground. I did and realised that I just want to be creative and feel appreciated for it. Bingo. It wasn't rocket science.

I'll meet you by the sandpit and you can tell me what you're up to.


Thank you once more to the exceptionally talented Diana Muller for kind permission to use her illustrations. She very cleverly makes her living in the art corner.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

You Can't Say That !

Navigating the political correctness of today's world in any context is a minefield. None more so than the language of mental illness. We tiptoe on eggshells, editing our streams of thought, trying not to offend and getting ourselves tongue-tied in the process.

Therefore, I am going to divide everybody into 3 groups. Already, I am tripping over what to call everyone, so I am going to go for the easy option. Fruit. So let's meet the Apples, Oranges and Pears.

The Apples


You are an Apple if you do not have a diagnosed mental illness. You are also an Apple if you feel you do not struggle on any basis, diagnosed or not, with an issue such as depression or anxiety, mild OCD etc.


                                                                             The Oranges

You are an orange if you have felt depressed, anxious, or perhaps aware of OCD tendencies that bother you and that you probably hide. You may take occasional prescribed medication but you try very hard to be an Apple which stresses you out, and you are terrified that you might be a Pear.

The Pears

You are a Pear if you are in my club ! Hurrah and welcome ! It has all gone pear-shaped for us at some point and most of us have done time on the psych ward. We have an official diagnosis, lots of medication, and there's really no hiding our illness although we may not exactly advertise it on billboards. We are officially bipolar, depressed, schizophrenic and everything in-between.

Now that we have that sorted and yes, of course you can be cross-breed of any of the above as you see fit, we can continue. Let's have an English lesson. The Pears get top billing.

The Mentally Ill

This is generally agreed to be the most widely accepted and correct term for the Pears. But nobody uses formal, correct terminology all the time. In the same way that we don't all sit down to a meal laid out with full cutlery and napkins three times a day, we do not refer to the Pears politely and in hushed tones as “Mentally Ill”. When we refer to them in common idiomatic terms we start treading on toes and giving ammunition to the stigma police. If we talk about the mad, the mentalers, nutters, loonies, fruit-cakes, crazies, psychos, crackpots, and weirdos who are insane, unsound, unhinged, a few sandwiches short of a picnic, bananas (fruit again!) deranged and utterly bonkers then it's easy to get into hot water.

But what do the Pears call themselves? Well, anything we like. We bear the cross, we'll park it where we choose. Pears, particularly the out-and-proud Pears, seem to delight in the use of any manner of comic or derogatory language before all and sundry. This divides all the fruit into diverse opinion. Many apples and oranges are perhaps a bit bemused. They may use the same terms in private but “You can't say that!” in public. I know that some feel that it's unfair that different rules apply to the Pears in this context. 

Ironically the blatant use of non-PC terms by the Pears can actually alienate Apples and Oranges in their understanding of them. Perhaps because they don't see how one would refer to themselves that way or it might just make them plain uncomfortable. But sometimes, it puts the other fruit at ease. But then, funnily enough, the Pears are divided on this issue too. Some Pears feel unhappy and misrepresented. They feel that it is self-stigmatising and adds to the problematic issue of stigma in the wider world. For others, it is a release and often a means of bonding with our “tribe”, but even this is not true for all. There really is an ongoing issue for all Pears with the language of mental illness. No-one can please all fruit all the time.

We all know the public use of stigmatising and offensive language is a hot topic. It is traumatic for the slandered and those discriminated against and it lies at the root of that dangerous beast – herd mentality. Running with the hare and running with the hounds to keep onside with one's peers accounts for a huge proportion of expressed opinion. Human evolution favours the social chameleon. So herd mentality will sweep up the undecided and give the timid a cool gang to hang out with. That's fine if we're in high school keeping up with trending boy bands, but it's a different story when someone is bullied with words.

All Fruit are very sensitive souls and bruise easily. Pears more so I think, because it is our sensitivity which often has triggered us into our diagnosis. Perhaps the Apples have tougher skin, or just healthier and more balanced emotional boundaries. Oranges subdivide into far too many segments as as far as their skin thickness, peel-ability and whatnot goes and my fruit metaphor is in danger of letting me down at any second.

I know a lot of Pears use comic and crazy terms as a coping mechanism. It is a defence. As my mother said, you either have to laugh or cry. We feel we have so much to cry about that given half a chance to laugh we will, and laugh as hard as we can. We will give laissez-faire to the Apples and Oranges to join us in doing so - but beware! Danger ! Our emotional sensitivities change with the breeze and what we laughed along with on Tuesday might send us into floods of tears on Friday afternoon. How will you know when it's OK to call us mental and laugh with us and when it isn't ? You won't. Nor will we. Because at some level it always hurts really, no matter who says it. That is because it isn't actually the words that are the problem. Rotting fruit by any other name would still be stinky. It is our illness that we hate.

Briefly, I must just mention the wonderful members of life's fruit salad who advocate that “illness” is not present in the equation, only “difference”. There is no septic or infected tissue, no organic disease and where indeed is the physical location of the mind? I thank them, for to me, this reinforces my personal crusade against my illness. I ride out towards it sometimes like a knight with a lance and bellow “ I am not ill ! ” But the knight charging back at me from the other direction is my mirror image, and she most certainly has been. Often. And the severity of my experiences warrant the term “illness”. It dignifies and qualifies them for, if I try and think of myself as “not ill”, where do I file and categorise my odysseys in hell? In my recovery and positive times however “different” feels more comfortable. Whatever you want to call me, I'm a quirky Pear.


The GLORIOUS cartoons in this article are the creations of the talented Toin Adams who actually drew them specially for me. For this, and her wonderful fruitiness,  I give her thanks,