Blog

The origins of EURIKHA


Our origin story, from birth to fruition – the journey of EURIKHA from a little seedling into a fully fledged research project, and all the hiccups along the way.

A seed was born

Origin stories are fraught with difficulties as the tendency is to represent a ‘success’ as something that grew from a well-formed seed in a more or less linear fashion into the mature tree that stands magnificent. But nature is not like that – most seeds don’t grow at all and those that do are met with challenges in how they eventually turn out, if they become anything at all.

“The ‘seed’ that prompted it hinged on how we, as users and survivors of psychiatry, could ‘speak back’ to the legions of experts who had spoken for, and about us, for centuries.”

There are disputes about the differences between the natural and human (or social) worlds but different they certainly are. And it’s here where origin stories are even more subject to pressure of imposing a retrospective logic of some kind on them.

What became EURIKHA had a logic but also loops, turns, embryonic ideas that morphed into something completely different and also realisations that things I thought were reasonably settled, required a radical reframing. And the growing understanding that there were things I needed to know of which I was totally ignorant.

I just looked through my email box and my first query to the Wellcome Trust was 8thMay 2015. The ‘seed’ that prompted it was threefold and hinged on how we, as users and survivors of psychiatry, could ‘speak back’ to the legions of experts who had spoken for, and about us, for centuries. And the focus was research.

The first element of this little seed was that user involvement in research, thinking mostly of England, had sometimes made a difference but more often than not did nothing of the kind. Second was a conviction that it was more likely to change things if conducted by people or organisations that had some kind of grounding in the user/survivor movement. But third was something that had been troubling for years: that the power that mainstream research held over psychiatry and those to whom it ‘ministered’ was rooted in something that was very flawed epistemologically.

Preparing the earth

For about 4 months there was a series of emails between myself and various people from Wellcome about whether there was a scheme that could accommodate such an approach. At first, small schemes were suggested focusing mainly on ethics, which did not seem inappropriate as the power asymmetry at stake here is fundamentally ethical as well as other things. But nothing seemed to quite fit or, to be frank, to offer enough cash to do what I intended.

“I was out of academia for 10 years due to mental distress but during that time became involved in the user/survivor movement in England, and so that period may have been a drawback in a conventional sense but was in fact integral to the proposal.”

Then in October my partner (who knows about these things) gave me the contact details of the Head of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Trust as well as someone very senior who had an interest in public engagement in the Global South. I met with this person and over some months decided I would apply for an Investigator Award.

I freely admit the prospect was scary as this is no small amount of cash and the awards are very high profile. However, the first step was just a 700 word abstract and information about me. I did query the word number – what could I possibly say in 700 words? And the information about me included things that were already and continue to drive me to distraction – grants obtained and citations on papers! But there was a section on ‘career breaks’ and there I put that I was out of academia for 10 years due to mental distress but during that time became involved in the user/survivor movement in England and so that period may have been a drawback in a conventional sense but was in fact integral to the proposal.

Either this would work or I had shot myself in the foot. But this was just stage one of three stages and I wasn’t really expecting to get any further. But I did have a lot of help – on my 700 words – from academics who knew the funder, and from Jessica Stacey who made me look most respectable academically.

I sent in the proposal on 2ndJanuary 2016. At that point I was in the very fortunate position of beginning a 6 month ‘semi-sabbatical’ from work. My intention was to write a book pretty much along the lines of the proposal I was thinking about.

Nurturing and nourishing

Then things took another turn. On 13thJanuary I blacked out in the street, fell and fractured my right arm in three places (anyone who knows me will tell you I am prone to this sort of thing). The elbow fracture took three hours of surgery to repair. So there I was completely incapacitated as far as writing was concerned.

“the tendency is to represent a ‘success’ as something that grew from a well-formed seed in a more or less linear fashion into the mature tree that stands magnificent. But nature is not like that”

So I took to my bed and read books – but not the books or papers I had been reading for 15 years at the Institute of Psychiatry, not even standard texts on user involvement in research or PPI (Patient and Public Involvement) in research. No, these were texts on philosophy and history of madness but especially critical theory, focused on feminism and the intersectionalities that had arisen from that, some post-colonial studies, and a smattering of Science and Technology Studies.

Most of this was not new to me – I was revisiting my first academic incarnation but in a completely new frame. I had toyed with standpoint feminist theory as a model for a theory of the troubled and troublesome for some years, but what settled much for me was the rejection of universalist theories and methods of any kind and attention to the situation of marginalised groups and particularly local realities. I was, in other words, a Donna Haraway fan and had a laugh about all the people I knew who trick themselves and others that they are God or some equivalent.

Six weeks after sending in this outline 700 words and my profile, I received an invitation to put in a full proposal for the project. And there was less than 6 weeks to do it. The book was abandoned, or rather, used to complete various different parts of a 30 page form. The allowance for the project itself was 3,000 words which really is not very much and I crawled over and over it just to get the word count down.

The content came from that reading and thinking from the period when my right arm was out of action. There were many sections where other pieces of light could be included but even more about me as a credible candidate. Jessica once again made this legitimate (I don’t think she quite made it up!) and did the horrendous budget. This really was a two-woman endeavour and was eventually submitted on 24thMarch 2016.

Bumping into branches

There was then an awfully long wait until, on 23rdMay, I was informed I’d been invited for interview – it would be at the end of July. So that was two months dedicated to little else. I familiarised myself with the interview panel on the website only to find out 3 weeks later that this pertained to the year before and there was a completely new one.

“A thought came unbidden to my head: this is a ward round. The Chair is the consultant psychiatrist and the others are the multi-disciplinary team.”

I got confused reading websites on historians, ethicists, literature scholars, and anthropologists but no social scientists nor anyone who seemed to know about madness. I had mock interview panels with contradictory feedback. In short, despite much support, I did far too much.

The day arrived, I was last in the line of potential victims and of course had to wait. I entered a room on three sides of which sat around 30 people and on the fourth side was a small table for me with my presentation pre-loaded behind me. A thought came unbidden to my head: this is a ward round. The Chair is the consultant psychiatrist and the others are the multi-disciplinary team.

And the interview proceeded with very difficult questions and I probably acquitted myself well but a shadow narrative continued that this was not about getting a large grant to do my dream project but a ward round to decide whether my meds would be reduced and I might get escorted leave.

And as I was last, it went on and on, with a final discussion about a recently published book centred on a mental hospital I had spent time in in the 1970s and given my shadow narrative, I completely trashed the work. And then apologised. And that was it.

The first flower

I had given up smoking but had two cigarettes and glumly went for dinner with two friends convinced I had blown it. Then I went the next day to join my partner in France, glum again. The day after that we were watching the news at lunchtime and an email flashed on my phone from Wellcome – outcome of interview. I said ‘I can’t open this’ and just stared at the closed email for about 10 minutes. Then I did and the first word I saw was ‘congratulations’ and nearly passed out.

That was 28thJuly 2016. When I look at those 3,000 words in the initial proposal they are a strange mix of prescient and totally ignorant. The first staff were appointed 1st March 2017 (bureaucracy moves slowly) and the team was completed six months later.

And what happened to that little seed? That you will find on this website. It’s not the trajectory envisioned – but then there never really was one. Someone asked me why I wanted to do this when I knew the answer already. I said I absolutely know nothing of the kind. And I certainly did not. But that’s the excitement of the non-linear, the non-binary, the liminal and yet the strong.

Discussion

Get involved in the discussion forum