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A Can of MadnessReview - A Can of Madness
by Jason Pegler
Chipmunkapublishing, 2002
Review by Kevin Purday
Nov 15th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 46)

This book is either 'Britain's Answer to Prozac Nation' as it describes itself in an advertising blurb or it is a self-indulgent rant. Perhaps it is both -- that is for the reader to decide. The book is published by Chipmunkapublishing (sic) which 'produces and promotes the work of survivors of the mental health system.' The chairman of Chipmunkapublishing is none other than the author, Jason Pegler.

The book is basically the autobiography of a very bright young man who was a regional chess champion, who excelled at mathematics as well as at soccer and rugby and was obviously one of the cleverest of his generation. He discusses the separation of his parents and the death of his grandfather and he goes into great detail about his numerous early sexual experiences with the 'f' word being frequently employed. It is not clear how young he was when he started consuming huge quantities of alcohol and taking large amounts of drugs but he was on ecstasy by the age of fifteen and by the time he was sixteen he was on occasions so drunk and so high on drugs such as speed and magic mushrooms that he was temporarily impotent.

The author would have us believe that there was a history of mental illness in his family and certainly a great uncle who committed suicide after the war because he thought that the Germans were still after him, a grandmother who attempted unsuccessfully to gas herself because of a broken marriage and/or an unfulfilled love affair, a great aunt who had an illegitimate child in the 1930s and who threw herself under a train, and a great uncle who had schizophrenia and who eventually died of an overdose do make for a pretty bizarre family background. However, the author, while trying to convince us of his family's long history of mental instability, is honest enough to admit that when his first bout of manic depression hit him at the age of seventeen, it was "possibly a result of drugs" (page 32) -- cannabis, LSD, speed and ecstasy plus copious amounts of alcohol. Nonetheless, he would prefer to think that "nobody can prove that is (sic) wasn't there all along. Just because I was diagnosed [as manic depressive] then didn't mean that I didn't have it before." (page 33) Anyone working in the mental health field, however, would have been very concerned at the sheer number, range and mixture of drugs (cannabis, LSD, speed, ecstasy, coke, smack, ketamine, etc.) plus the sheer quantity of alcohol consumed by a sixteen/seventeen year old and would not have been surprised if this level of self-abuse triggered manic depression.

The rest of the book is the story of how he was treated by the police and various health agencies, how he was hospitalized, on occasion put into a straight jacket and how some very caring people supported him on the road to a comparatively normal life. Thanks to the enthusiasm of his Classics teacher at school, Mr. Moss, the author developed a great love for the world of Greece and Rome and, thanks again to more supportive people, he eventually got a degree in Classical Civilization from Manchester University. Although he often berates people for their lack of concern for him and others in his position, the reviewer was struck by the huge number of people who helped him.

This book is a cautionary tale but less about manic depression and the vagaries of the mental health support system than about the dangers of drug abuse and the consumption of inordinate amounts of alcohol. The author has been extremely fortunate in having come across so many caring people and in having received the unconditional love of a beautiful and sensitive woman. Many others in his position are not so fortunate.

© 2005 Kevin M. Purday


Kevin Purday works at The Modern English School, Cairo, Egypt, and has a Master's degree in the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health from the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.


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