Icarus Did Not Die


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By Nigel Pearce

ISBN: 978-1-84747-978-5
Published: 2009
Pages: 84
Key Themes: psychosis, psychiatry, mental health, empowerment


This is a collection of short stories, poems and essays which chart a journey through the counter-culture, regular hospitalizations, psychosis, depression and addictions. But not only my own, it includes essays on others who had a similar voyage e.g. Beat poet: Elise Cowen who died age 29 unpublished and is now recognized as a major poet in that genre and on the beliefs which both created conflict with the system but also had the capacity to sustain throughout.

About the Author

He was born in 1959. Home was troubled and he run away to London age 13, lived in the ‘counter-culture’ in various well organized squats. Became ill after about 9 months and was placed in the Care of the local council. Then fostered to a radical academic couple, although that didn’t survive long and he went back underground; eventually being arrested in Guildford. The magistrate slapped statuary ‘Care Order’ on him saying ‘He was in need of care and protection.’ At 14 he went to live in Hollymoor Hospital in Birmingham; this would be age 14-16.He was fairly frequently restrained and given injections of chlorpromazine. Upon discharge he lived for a short time in the ‘Birmingham Settlement’, but became ill and was moved to a specialist manic-depressive unit where he first had ECT, age 16. Care Order was revoked at 17 but substance abuse continued with regularly admissions to Central Hospital with psychotic episodes and would sometimes go into semi-catatonia. A 20 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Some of the admissions were for periods of around a year. At the age 25 had specialist help with substance abuse problems and he has been ‘clean’ 24 years and ‘dry 13 years’. In 1984 he was hearing a lot of voices and seeing things, spent a year in Central Hospital, two years in a Pre-discharge Unit in the community and then eight years in ‘group homes’, but he now lives in his own flat with ‘Support Workers’ visiting twice a week and a nurse once every two weeks. He sees a psychiatrist every three months. His body became toxic with medication in 2003 and was seriously ill physically, but is now on newer meds and is much better. He has a B.A (Hons) from the Open University and a ‘Certificate in English Studies’ at Warwick University, does a little job in a bookshop once a week and runs a small magazine that he produces every two months. He is now 49 and unfortunately has Hep C. He experienced three episodes of fairly minor abuse when a teenager and during the whole period their have been some nurses etc who have made his life difficult because of a firmly held leftist ideological perspective.

Book Extract

The night becomes darker: being 17 and in difficulties.

This child had been expelled from a womb, aged 7, during the “summer of love”. The place, where he had lived was without love, a place of darkness, a matrix of oppression. In this place the glare of intimidation was the god and the angels lived in fear of another deluge of threats. These places, they are called families, are dark places. He does not know why, perhaps it is just in the nature of these places?
Ten years had passed in a whirl of tempest and fear. He had sought sanctuary in the company of souls who did not yell at him, his new companions did not have the strut of oppression and welcomed this outsider into the company of dreamers, in this place he felt safe, these people where not branded with the iron of hypocrisy. They kissed him with potions, wondrous white powders which beckoned him into a world of meaning and caring.

Initiating him into a world of compassion and the poetry of oblivion, they prepared his fix. The pristine white powder floats into a spoon, a lighter ignites, a wait until the liquid begins to bubble with significance, cotton wool is placed, with the zeal of the mystic, into the magic liquid, the plastic syringe sighs as the plunger is drawn up, hell will cease now, heaven’s dance begins again caressing the verse in the mind of the poet.

Those shackles will float away again, the needle fits snugly onto the syringe, the singer of dreams smacks his arm, the tube becomes swollen, and the spike pierces the purple vein, deliverance from the world. As the plunger draws upwards a serpent of blood dances into the cloudy liquid, thank god, a hit the first time, the plunger pushes this chemical dream out of the syringe into his arm, he trembles ahrrrrr………the warmth radiates up the arm rushing into the catacombs which were his mind.……this heat begins to permeate the entirety of his body, he is blessed into the Kingdom, the stigmata on his arm are aching with knowledge now: peace dawns with lilies floating in a pool of violet…….this is the innocence denied him as a child.
A crisp autumn wind caresses brown and blood-red leaves into a frenzy of swirls. The psychiatric hospital sits alone in the platitudes of the rustic. It is a place where light is reciprocated between the damned, on occasion. The outsiders, ostracized by a world of squares which cannot accept circles, seek sanctuary in this place of shadows, a place of vibrations. The ambulance cruises through a bleak, but welcoming afternoon; he hopes that the hospital will be like a monastery, a convent where the anguished will be saturated with love?

What strikes him when the nurses help him undress is the crisp institutional nature of this place. The bed has white sheets, they feel like there’ve been bleached. The nurses wear uniform, the women are dressed as nurses in a general hospital, the men in identical hospital suits. A doctor, in a white coat, drifts onto the ward; he smiles:

‘Nurse will give you an injection. You are safe here. I’ll see you soon. Rest the mind and build-up your body.’
‘Thank-you. I’m quite interested in Jung’s work.’
‘We will talk about many things, but rest now.’
Two nurses puzzle towards the poet, lost in a dance of the tragic and ego which pervades these places. They carry a grey cardboard tray, its edges raised to prevent any deviance from the task allotted by the god in a white coat, on it are a plastic syringe, same model as used by the dreamers, a brown glass ampoule which rests in supplication, in this place the drugs are checked before administration, cotton wool and a pink plaster which cannot hide the wounds given in Eden. They smile, he lies with the fear of the finite resounding around this howling labyrinth of unquiet spirits, and the exorcism begins. Words drip like droplets of sweat from their tight mouths:
‘Now we can do this the easy way or you can make it difficult.’
The dreamer is metamorphosed into a patient, he lies resistant, but he recognizes in their eyes something of the priest draped in black, preparing to utter words of absolution. The needle is eased into hard muscle, it is painful, a largactal daze strikes his body like the thud of thunder in a prison cell, the mind does not begin to relax, there is nothing vaguely opiate about this chemical, rather it is like being struck by a truncheon, battered by the blows of mediocrity.

Twelve hours pass in a void without a flicker of consciousness. He begins to re-surface; the vision is blurred, but intact. At the foot of his bed sit two nurses, his sight focuses on them, but he becomes aware of other beds, two lines of iron bed-frames on which are mattresses with alternate orange and lime green covers. On these ships of dreams, within the house of whispers, sit these mystics of the psyche. Ten days on and he is allowed to wander around the ward, the watchful gaze of the uniformed ones observe his tracks of body and mind. The voice of the ward’s patriarch booms through the ward:

Medication time, come and get your pills everyone.’
Those shackles are about to be locked into place again as an orderly queue forms. The poet ponders that this may be a form of victim hood? But who are the victims: patients or
nurses? The rigid frame of the clinic’s entrance anticipates the medication, it is blocked by a steel trolley, behind which stand two nurses, on its top lie ordered rows of medicine tots awaiting the sticky brown syrup: chlorpromazine.


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