Today I set off for a potentially exciting trip – to speak at the European Parliament in Strasbourg! And it lived up to expectations!
This had come about through a series of events and meetings. Carol Henshaw, an academic psychiatrist, asked me to speak at the Marce society conference in 2006. This lead to the French delegates, Michel Maron and Abram Cohen to translating my book into French, published this year. Through Will Kintish I joined the Professional Speakers Association at which John Hotowka introduced me to Etta Cohen at Forward Ladies, who had a trip to Europe this spring. I also joined the UKTI Passport to Export scheme which gave me introductions into the British Embassies in the countries I visited. Whilst in Milan with Forward Ladies I met up with Nicole from the British Embassy. She thought that their MEP may be interested in my messages and we sent a copy of my French edition to her – Christina Muscardini. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/groupAndCountry/view.do?id=1073
Thank you to you all!
As a result I was invited by her to address the Union for Europe of the Nations at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. My travel arrangements were made brilliantly by Andrea from Wren Elite Travel, who I had met at Forward Ladies and consequently I flew from Manchester to Paris and onto Strasbourg. www.wrenelitetravel.co.uk
I checked it at the Ibis Strasbourg hotel at a pretty town called Lingolsheim, just outside Strasbourg and after a short rest got a taxi to the impressive European Parliament. As I stood in the impressive inner courtyard I reflected on how I had got here in the grand scheme of things and wondered what difference I might make to the world as a result. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/parliament.do
A lovely Italian gentleman, Roberto, from Christina’s office met me and I was issued with my ID card.
We went up the glass elevators within the inner atrium of the EP Louise Weiss Building and found the relevant committee meeting room – I wasn’t in the main hemi-sphere (this time!). The room was tiered with large, blue chairs and individual microphones and headphones at each chair. Several had names placed in front of the microphones. Around the back of the tiers was a gallery, behind glass, where 15 interpreters were getting ready for the session. Behind the platform at the front was another control area for the technicians. After we set up my presentation EP staff were putting agendas at each ‘desk’ and also gave them to the interpreters. It all looked very efficient and impressive.
Then Roberto took me on a mini-tour of the building. We peeked in the main hemi-sphere where it was questions and answer session. Turkey was being debated. Due to my tour of the EU in Brussels earlier this year I knew that Turkey wants to become a member of the EU but there are human rights issues to be sorted. Around the hemi-sphere were various media areas for TV interviews.
The meeting commenced and eventually I was invited in to do my presentation. As I settled myself down I realised that I would be speaking whilst sitting down – I hadn’t done that before, but got used to it after a few minutes. Likewise it was the first time I had spoken and had been instantly translated before! I felt I should speak a little more slowly than I usually do, but when I played back some of the video that Roberto did of me, I felt like I had my school teacher voice on! However, just before I started I could tell the other members seemed to speak normally – I guess it was the interpreters job, not mine, to worry about this. The aspect I found was strange was regarding ‘reactions of the audience’ – due to the delay in my words being translated, presumably at different speeds, individuals reacted with a smile or concern as appropriate at different times! It was rather unnerving!
15 minutes or so later I had delivered my talk telling them my personal story and why I feel postnatal illness needs initiatives in place by the EU for better recognition, treatment, resources and support across Europe. I also stressed the need for training of existing health and social professionals.
When I had finished Christina Muscardini thanked me for sharing my story and encouraging them to take some action. They have been looking at the whole area and have heard researchers, looked at statistics and learnt about the impact the illness can have. My role was to show how with treatment and support it is possible to recover and to inspire them to put the initiatives into place.
When the meeting ended she thanked me personally and with Roberto translating for us I gathered that she wants me to speak in other countries (27 member states!)and is getting Roberto to write a motion for a resolution for me to send out. To be continued!
However, one aspect I was not expecting could be extremely important. I mentioned in my talk about the problems I had faced as a result of my postnatal illness once I had recovered. This included our home insurance premium being higher due to my ‘mental health history’. Also not long after my book was published in 2005 I took a term off my teaching career as sabbatical leave to see if I could make a new career of speaking. For that term I applied to a supply teaching agency who would not consider me ‘due to my mental health history’. At the time I was horrified and even though I pointed out that I had been well for 8 years with no subsequent problems this made no difference. Also the fact that I could return to my full-time post was acceptable but part-time was not! Crazy!
At the end of the session a Polish MEP came to speak to me. He said he was very alarmed at this stigma and discrimination and would be taking the issue to other committees he is involved with such as Social Affairs and Employment. He said he had not realised that the UK was operating in this way and he would be taking steps to stop this practice. He said that unlike some mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, which are more likely to be a life-long condition, for ladies like myself who have made a full recovery there is now way that we should face such discrimination. Other EU countries do not do this and as all EU members were supposed to be united on such matters he will be taking immediate action. Wow! I do hope I have made a difference!!!