I haven’t posted for a while, the circumstances of the last couple of years have limited my creativity, and I’ve still been focussed on the book I’m trying to write, which has taken a priority.
However – here’s a new poem, and I shall explain why I’ve written this.
Language is a funny thing, and an important thing, too – and on the score of inclusion, of making sure we don’t exclude folk by using the wrong language, an incredibly important thing.
We’re on a journey, to understand and limit the use of incorrect language – and there are, I acknowledge, a range of views on this topic.
Some folk believe we should be able to use what language we like, and it’s perhaps the intention of the use that’s key.
Other folk – like me – believe that it’s the perceived receipt of language that’s important – an insult, slight or micro-aggression may not have been intended, however it has still happened, regardless of the well-meaning nature of the people around us.
So we’ve come a really long way since the days I spent in playgrounds, using really inappropriate language that did exclude people.
Language based on race, gender, sexuality, disability – I am sure there are many amongst us who have been there.
However, I have learned, over the time I have spent on the planet, not to use this language as it’s wrong.
Many of us are conscientious, and go out of our way to understand the language we use.
One last frontier in this journey, is the use of language regarding mental health and mental illness.
So how often could we use the word mad, crazy, bonkers, psycho, nutter – without thought, intent or usually malice?
These words are common parlance, and we all know their use. I’ve used them, too.
However, the people and situations we refer to when we use these words are usually not mad, crazy or psychotic.
I just ask – if it’s not right to use language referring to gender, race, sexuality or disability in the wrong context, is there a difference between those words, and language relating to mental illness?
So – one such word that’s used is Bedlam.
Bedlam is the corruption of the word Bethlehem, strictly referring here to the Bethlehem hospital, built specifically for those folk who are suffering from mental ill health.
Bedlam is not chaos, Bedlam doesn’t mean a frantic, busy, exasperating day.
Bedlam refers to the hospital, the people who have lived there over the centuries and the conditions they have had to survive in.
So here’s a poem about Bedlam, and what Bedlam really is.
They opened the place, and called it Bethlehem,
But further from God you could not get,
A more unfortunate, more twisted place you could not find.
The new Bethlehem hospital,
Built for the Insane.
Those folk the rest of society rejected,
Could not help;
Locked away amidst squalor,
Kept on straw,
Amidst enforced privation:
We should have known better.
The opened the place and called it Bethlehem,
Now: we call it Bedlam.
That’s where you put the crazies,
The terrified confused,
The gentle, quaking victims:
Those whose minds have broken,
Those whose wits have deserted them,
Those who’re beyond reason,
Beyond sense, help and their community’s patience;
Beyond lock and key – disappeared, forgotten,
Having brought shame on their families,
Having begged to differ.
Time was, you could buy a ticket to the show,
To view the misfortunate abandoned,
The vulnerable unfunctional,
Entertainment on a weekday afternoon,
A weekend stroll:
Bethlehem: the freakiest show.
One patient – one inmate – one incarcerated innocent
Was held in an iron frame,
From waist to head, inclusive,
Arms restricted in welded iron hoops,
And the whole contraption chained to a post by his bed;
Held in this manner for twelve years.
This, is Bedlam.
And we’ve come a long way.
Bedlam has changed.
A boy named Seni: Olaseni Lewis – changed the law.
When Seni was transferred to Bedlam,
Eleven police officers restrained him,
Using multiple mechanical restraints,
Pain compliance techniques
And overwhelming force.
Seni became unresponsive;
A Doctor, medical staff and the police officers failed to act;
Seni did not make it.
There is now a law against what they did to Seni –
But how could that ever have been legal.
How could that ever have been right.
We named the place Bethlehem;
Who knows how many prophets died, there,
How many lives, ended, there,
How many tears, hopes, dreams and screams
Died in those halls,
Those rooms, those chambers.
Bedlam is not – and never was – chaos.
Bedlam is – and was – organised and managed.
We – society – our conscience,
Built Bedlam – on purpose.
Next time you speak to a Crazy,
A terrified, ostracised, isolated person,
Just wonder how we treat their kind.