Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition, she has an MSc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces”. I start this Q&A with Kate’s bio for a reason as this is part of who Kate is. Recently Kate wrote an amazing article about our Queen (inside joke) Rishma’s journey and the celebration of IAHH’s 8th year. However, what has inspired me to do this Q&A was Kate’s deep, insightful, frightening, uplifting and heart wrenching article. Kate opened her soul to us and the rest of world for Mental health Awareness Week. In the article she highlights her journey through mental health and this inspired me to want to do this Q&A. Personally I think she deserves it but more so I wanted to know a bit more about Kate. So, I want to first and foremost I want to thank Kate for her time, and appreciate that despite everything she is happy to do this.
Who was Kate before this part of your journey? What was it like for you growing up?
There is no real ‘before’ as such, I believe that everything I have done, seen, and been through is intertwined, leading up to this point. I was born a triplet, in North London. Unfortunately my brother died early on so I am now a twin. Even when I was young, I found life difficult. I always felt different. School was hard. I was misinterpreted and misunderstood, so I was placed in classes for learning difficulties. I misbehaved. I traunted. I was bullied. It turned out that I was in fact quite gifted, but I had been wrongly labelled. It taught me a valuable lesson, that there are many people out there on the scrapheap who could have been very successful, but who were not given the right opportunities in life. I’m lucky I was able to push through the barriers academically, but it was not an easy road. I did not fit in. I was different. I don’t miss school. Not at all!
My childhood was not always easy. I come from a loving Jewish family but many members of my family have had mental health problems. My Mum, who I adore, had some of the same issues that I went on to have. I was angry at her for many years for her behaviour when we were young. But I realise now that she was unwell. One of the most moving things ever said to me was from my mum: “Kate, I wasn’t always there for you as a child but I am now”. And she has been. Beyond the call of duty. She has supported me through everything.
My Dad had a massive personality. His nickname was Del Boy, as in the character from Only Fools and Horses. He worked on a market stall selling women’s underwear. He died two years ago. But we had many laughs growing up.
What sparked your passion for music and art?
Music has always been, not just a passion, but an obsession with me. I truly believe that at certain stages in my development it saved my life. I loved it as a child but it was in my teens that it really took on a massive therapeutic effect. It was the mid 90s and grunge was my big love. My Dad had been a ticket tout at one point (he was a ducker and diver!), and his work partner went on to run the biggest ticket agency in the country. Hence myself and my twin were privy to all the tickets to gigs that others would kill for, such as Nirvana and so on. But my tastes were eclectic and I loved hip hop and other genres too. If music had depth and meaning then I was sold. I had big bouts of depression and music was my medicine.
What made you then explore the philosophies and politics behind them?
Exploring those things in music were partly instinctive and innate. As I’ve touched on, I am very sensitive to the power of music to move me, to make me feel, and reflect. Emotionally I love being taken to the depths of my soul by music. But that also extrapolates to philosophy and politics. I have studied both, but more than that I have always been aware of the world around me and social injustices. I worked for a while at a left wing anti-racist magazine in my early twenties. For me, where music is used as a tool or anchor for change, it can be the best catalyst because it reaches an audience who may otherwise not be reached. It really can be that voice for the voiceless
You have an MSc (Master of Science) in psychology what was the inspiration to this?
It actually came about as a result of my own experiences of mental health issues and addiction. These had effected me for years, and as a result of my own treatment I became more and more intrigued with the workings of the human mind. Along with my own fascination, and my constant quest for knowledge, came an urge to learn to help others as I had been helped. I got a job in the field of therapy and I was given the opportunity to study while I worked. I received a distinction and four awards during this time. I love to learn no matter the subject, though for personal reasons it was a topic close to my heart.
What was it like working as a Therapist and the pro’s and con’s?
Well as I said I partly got the job because I had personal experience with both mental illness and addiction. It meant that I had a special insight into the patients inner world. It made me a great therapist and I loved what I did. I have always had a great sensitivity and intuition to other people’s feelings. I wanted to help people with emotional difficulties and distress and I believe I did. However that asset was also a con. I took too much on board and carried the feelings of others within me without realising. It is a high pressure job with great responsibility. I loved the work so much but it was hard and sometimes dark. Some of what you hear can haunt you.
So, the last question was a bridge to my next question which taps into your article. Working as a Therapist when did you start to notice the signs of your Mental Health declining?
As above, I already had a mental health condition but was stable at the time I started working. However every so often I would have an episode of my bipolar, and would have to go off sick. Every episode got a bit bigger and a bit longer until I could no longer carry on. I was told to sign off work and this time was it. I was off for a year, and went back but it was clear that I could no longer function in that world. I was devastated. I was hospitalised because my condition was so bad. I have never been in full time work since. That was over a decade ago.
During this pandemic a lot of us struggled with quarantine, but you have been in this position for some time now. As you mentioned you have not even been able to go out on your own. What has that been like and how have you dealt with it? Not being independent must be difficult?
As I write this I have just got back from my leave. Section 17 is where you are allowed out for short periods. This makes so much difference to my life here. For nearly 2 years I had not walked down the street alone or gone to a shop alone. Confinement is so hard for that long. It made me frustrated and sometimes I would explode on the ward because of that, which made them keep me inside even more. I think they got the balance wrong because going out has changed me for the better.
Being held under the section 3 Mental Health Act I could not begin to imagine what that is like. How has this effected your view of the world?
When that happens generally you are very unwell. With this episode I have been resectioned three times in a row. It is frightening because you feel that you lose any power and rights once that happens. Quite literally treatment can be imposed on you against your wishes. You have to take medication that you may not want, you cannot leave the building, you cannot go home. Only with the permission of the consultant can this happen. I have felt stripped of human rights at some stages. Now I am doing very well I see that I was a danger to myself and needed treatment that I wouldn’t necessarily have consented to. But you do feel angry. You feel like an animal caged in a zoo.
I love the fact that despite all that have been through you still see a bright side or as you put it gifts. What gifts were they?
You meet some incredible people. Some of the most intelligent, sensitive, amazing people I have ever met have been in hospital. They are beautiful. Also, I am a better version of myself because of my experiences. I have seen sorrow, despair, distress, and horror and I have found an inner strength I didn’t know I had. I have also seen joy, happiness, and bravery. I have gained wisdom and maturity.
You suffered terrible episode of psychosis. When you recovered how did you process all of this?
With difficulty. The reason being that I couldn’t remember most of the episode. I remember some things, but much of what I know, I know by being told by other people. It’s frightening realising how bad it got, yet at the time I didn’t realise how unwell I was at all.
Bipolar is nothing to scoff at but you have Rapid Cycling Bipolar. What is like having these extreme ups and downs as you put it?
It’s both awful and amazing. The lows are horrendous. They can manifest themselves in severe depressions that are so hard to treat. But I’d be lying if I said I hated the highs, because they can be amazing. It’s like being on the best euphoric drug in the world for free. You feel exhilarated, buzzing, no inhibitions. That part can be dangerous because you put yourself in dangerous situations. Also, inevitably, you crash downwards. I’m having to learn not to push the highs further, even though I want to, because the consequences are not good. The medication stabilises the mood, but I miss the up periods.
Being under the Section 3 Mental Health Act was the ECT (Electric Convulsion Therapy) voluntary? You described that it helped your unmovable depression which is amazing. However, as you mentioned it was very traumatic, but was it administered by your choice?
The ECT was administered on a previous stay in hospital a few years ago. I was not under section then, I had gone into hospital voluntarily suffering from a crippling depression. I thought I was being punished by the devil. It was frightening and no treatment was working. I couldn’t go on anymore and they suggested it as a last resort. I wasn’t scared to have it, I was scared not to. I had run out of options. It required going under general anaesthetic twice a week for 12 sessions while they stimulated a convulsion. Yes it was traumatic. But it worked. I lost a lot of memory as a side effect, but that is OK now. It was a miraculous transformation.
You have built friendships with fellow patients, have these friendships been hard to maintain? How has your experiences changed the way you see people?
As I said earlier, I have met some amazing people. I have fostered many close friendships. Some of my best friends today are from hospital stays or support groups. I find we have a level of understanding with each other that is unspoken. We can be so honest with each other with no judgement that I find difficult to obtain with other friends. However I’ve learnt that you need to be careful. I do not routinely give my number out. Some people are not as they seemed to be once out of hospital. I’ve learnt the hard way!
Hope. It is such a powerful word and means a lot. To have hope is to have faith. How did you find your hope and hold on to it? Even at your lowest points, where does this strength come from?
A life without hope is not a life. It is terrifying when you feel trapped in a state of distress. I have not always had hope and it brings with it thoughts of not carrying on. But somehow I have found the strength to get through. I’m not sure where the resilience comes from but for a reason unbeknown to me, I’m still here.
As you put it this illness has ruined your life. Societal ‘norms’ like “No stable relationship, no children, no job or career” to quote your article. Are these still things that you hope for in the future or have your goals and desires change?
I wouldn’t say it has entirely ruined my life, as I’ve answered in other questions it has given me gifts, and made me a better person in many ways. But there are things I feel that I’ve missed out on and that makes me sad and angry about my illness sometimes. I don’t have what my friends and some members of my have. My life can, at times, be quite lonely and empty. It has also been enriched so I’m not sure if I would change my past if I had the choice. I have no desire to be entrenched in the ‘norms’ of society as you put it. But I would love to have close relationships with people and also develop my skills of writing and art to contribute to the world. Just in my own way.
Your painting again which is fantastic. What are your currently painting and what style of art are you focusing on?
I’ve got about 15 big canvases that I have painted sitting in my room here. I don’t know how I will even get them home! They are mainly abstract pictures. I don’t use realism. I feel that, if I wanted to replicate something, I might as well take a photo. I prefer to depict my inner world, not my outer world.
You said that you hate the system and not the staff, what is that you hate about the system? What improvements or changes would you implement or like to see happen?
I am currently in a private hospital ward, but we are all NHS patients. I find, in my own opinion, that where private companies are involved in health care, then the aim is to make profit out of illness. That means corners are cut. There are not enough staff, and the ones here are stretched to breaking point. But individually there are some great nurses, health care assistants, doctors, and occupational therapists.
This year you posted a beautiful poem on the IAHH website’s poetry section. A dedication to your late father which is a beautifully written piece. How has your father’s death impacted you? Have you any other poems or is this something that you are working on?
I still miss my Dad so much. He was such a big character. He was funny and loved being with family and friends. But he was suffering towards the end of his life and so I hope he is resting in peace. There is a line in a song I once heard: “They say you can’t take it with you, I think that they’re wrong. Because all I know is I woke up this morning and something big was gone”. That’s pretty much how I feel sometimes. I do have other poems as I love writing but they are more occasional at the moment. I go through flurries of creativity and then sometimes get blocked.
Through all of this as you mentioned that being raw and open about all this helps. Where dd you find the courage to be this open about your experience? I think that is needed as it gives a much bigger insight to the importance of Mental Health. What was it that made you more comfortable about speaking about your journey?
Talking is such a relief. For years I hid my emotions, and my feelings, and my mental health issues, and the fact I was on medication, and my addictions. That was a big load. It only made things worse. Shame is a killer. When I finally let go, my recovery began. Most people did not react how I feared they would. Some people did judge, especially around drug use, but then they were not real friends. I still feel hurt but I have to try and focus on the people who were supportive. It is amazing to feel free and honest.
Finally, what would you like for the future of Kate Taylor?
As an outsider looking in I would love her to feel better about herself – improve her self esteem and acknowledge her talents. She has plenty to give others and the world. She can help many people, and also continue writing. Mainly I would love her to find peace.
I want to once again thank Kate for taking the time out for this Q&A. I am sure there is much more coming our way from her. Not sure about you but I am defiantly looking forward to seeing her art, reading more articles, and whatever creative endeavours she pursues. If you can take anything from Kate’s story is that it is ok to open up about your Mental Health. If you find you are struggling then seek help and know that it is ok.
Jay St Paul
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