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.
Kevin M. Purday
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.