Robert Purssey’s “Mania” Campaign

In late 1994, I began to have what I called “insights”. Others call these “epiphanies”, using a Christian term. A lawyer I met in 1995 described my experience as “kundalini rising”, using a Hindu term. I had many of these every day and found that the insights increased when I smoked ganja, which I had done since I was a medical student, doing an elective in Mt Isa. In retrospect I accepted the verisimilitude of my insights without adequate consideration and criticism, though I did have some good ideas, including the insight that communication, curiosity and play are instincts. I also had insights about the tyranny of clock-time, the development of aesthetic appreciation with experience, and the role of the reticular activating system and the pineal organ in the brain and how health could be improved by what we look at and listen to, paying attention to what comes in though our eyes and ears, in addition to what comes in through the mouth. These insights formed the basis of a complex theory of motivation that I developed in early 1995, coinciding with the time that my family started suggesting that I was mad and trying to get me locked up and forcibly “treated”.

When you are excited your need for sleep decreases. I was excited about several things. One was my insights into holistic health, the limitations of my reductionist education, problems of competitiveness in society (for which reason I established Groove-On records), science (especially neuroscience and psychology) and creativity, especially in music. The other was Sara, who I was infatuated with. It was Sara, who didn’t think I was mad, that helped me escape from Royal Park the second time, driving me to Fitzroy and dropping me off in Brunswick Street, near my studio, which I had established in 1993, and where I used to practice with my band as well as record my own music long into the night, when I was still living in Richmond with Sue. To my dismay the studio was locked and I couldn’t get in, so I went around to my friend Anthony Dymke’s house nearby. Anthony was the bass player in my band The Figgs and was also a co-director of Groove-On Records, the recording company I had established in late 1994 ahead of the Groove-On Concert in February 1995, when we professionally recorded the bands Curtis Late, Sedan and Those Acapelicans at a special concert at the Prince Patrick Hotel in Collingwood.  The recording was done by Harry Williamson of Spring Studios in Prahran, with plans to have further recorded concerts of Melbourne bands and release compilation CDs of their live performances.

I was motivated to establish Groove-On Records as part of an effort to promote cooperation and mutual respect among young musicians, rather than competition, which I saw as a pervasive problem. I recognised how good the Melbourne musicians I knew were live and thought more could be done to promote them nationally and internationally if there were high-quality live recordings available.

I had told my father about my plans for Groove-On Records when I visited Brisbane and stayed at my parents’ house over Christmas 1994. He had surprised me by writing out a cheque for $10,000 towards the project, a strange thing to do if he suspected me of having mania (he subsequently claimed that I had developed a “serious psychotic disorder in December 1994, which ‘came to a head’ in March 1995). I deposited this money in my account, transferring only $5,000 to a new account for the Groove-On bank account, out of which I paid $3,000 to Harry Williamson for recording the concert. Groove-On Records was registered as a company, for which I used the legal services of David Hancock, a friend of Anthony Dymke, who was the bass player for both my band, the Figgs, and Curtis Late, with Kylie Auldist on vocals, which I regarded as the best band in Melbourne, with my love of a funky beat. I also paid all the band members, leaving $500 in the Groove-On account.

Later, both my father and Robert Purssey used the $10,000 cheque my father gave me to frame me as mentally ill. My father wrote that I had “gone on a spending spree with no insight into where the money was coming from” which was completely false and an attempt to frame me with mania, of which “over spending” is a classical symptom. Robert wrote, in June 1995 to John Bowles of the Prince Charles Hospital:

“The ‘Groove On’ account which commenced at $15,000 now contains $500. The fate of perhaps $5000-$8000 remains unaccounted for by the State Trustee. I believe until this is fully classified [sic] we must assume that R.S. has secreted this money in an account unknown to the State Trustee, potentially to fund a further escapade.”

These figures were false as was his conclusion, and Purssey had no right to go through my financial or practice records or any other of my possessions. As I said, the Groove On account only ever contained $5,000. I did not secrete money in hidden accounts. I don’t do such things. In this letter Purssey shows his prejudices as well as his sarcasm, in writing:

“His mother is, for historical family interpersonal and her own characterological reasons incapable of refusing R.S’s undoubtedly ‘woefully sorrowful’ and ‘sincerely made’ pleas for merely some brief respite/relief from the ‘oppressive regime and boredom’ of the inpatient setting to allow him some peace, relaxation, ‘therapy’ and to gather resources (music, books etc) to make him [sic] further stay in such a ‘terrible place’ tolerable.”

 

Indeed boredom was one of the traumas of my incarceration, and I longed for some books to read and music to listen to. Robert was very cruel to deny me this. It is true that I longed for some peace and relaxation and that the experience of being disbelieved, locked up, stigmatised as mad and ordered about was demeaning as well as oppressive. Robert has no insight into the trauma of being locked up and drugged, and had the temerity to quote my own very reasonable writings as “proof” that I was mad:

“I understand R.S remains insightless and feels he has fully demonstrated the incompetent/fraudulent nature of all psychiatry and its related legal apparatus, and appears to firmly believe, and I quote:

‘the side effects of these drugs as well as a secondary suppression by the schizophrenic himself accounts for the secondary ‘negative’ aspects of the schizophrenic illness, currently viewed as incurable’ and ‘minimising drug treatment with phenothiazines (and presumably butyrophenones) will avoid permanent damage to the basal ganglia and limbic system which are responsible for secondary schizophrenic deterioration, tardive dyskinesia, amotivational syndrome, chronic depression and emotional flatness”.

As for the “escapades” Robert accused me of going on, he explained in a 1996 letter to the psychiatrist Bill Robinson, that:

“The first escapade took him to Canberra intending to speak with Carmen Lawrence, but changing to the more intelligent Barry Jones, to put the Australian Health system to rights. The consultant who admitted Romesh, unfortunately only under pressure from the family, considered that many people would see his views as valid, repeatedly hung up the telephone on friends and family who were trying to provide background information and was reluctant to speak with Royal Park doctors”.

Returning to my first Royal Park admission and discharge summary, Jan Theobald wrote her “mental state examination” not on her own observations but from the notes of the admitting resident, who had thought me to be a 23-year-old medical student and not a 34-year-old doctor. I had been angry when I saw this young doctor and demanded to speak to someone in authority. The quotes Theobald provided were based on what this doctor wrote, and were loosely based on what I said. These were included in the “mental state examination” section of the discharge summary:

“Short man, average build, Sri Lankan origin, casually dressed in shirt and trousers, wearing no shoes. No psychomotor agitation and able to sit during interview. Quite irritable and expansive mood. Oriented x 3 [time, person, place]. Memory good. Denies disorders of perception. Speech pressured with flight of ideas. Grandiose themes, slightly paranoid and occasionally threatening. ‘The system is victimising me because of my knowledge’. ‘I am like Ghandi, you are victimising black people’. ‘You are taking your career into your own hands, by my contacts with influential artists in St Kilda this will be all over the newspapers’.”

I recall saying some of these things to the young doctor when I was angry at first being locked up, but not in these precise words. During the three weeks I was locked up, though, I didn’t continue saying them, partly because I could hardly talk because of the haloperidol.

Theobald wrote that I had “no insight” into what she and the consultants Tony Owen and Norman James provisionally diagnosed as “hypomania”. Under “treatment and progress” she wrote:

“Started 2 days after admission on haloperidol and clonazepam, but after promising to remain on the ward, absconded 4 days after admission. He travelled to Canberra where he caused a disturbance by attempting to see Barry Jones and Carmen Lawrence regarding the implementation of his medical theories. Returned to ward 11 days later after being apprehended in Canberra by Federal Police and then spending 4 days under observation at Woden Valley Hospital. Family applied for Administration Order which was granted. When returned to ward Romesh was writing a lot of grandiose and irrational papers on various aspects of medicine in which he has no expertise [I actually wrote the three essays in Canberra before I was returned to Royal Park, which didn’t provide a desk to write on]. Began to settle gradually while managed in HDU [high dependency unit]. Medical Board of Victoria informed about admission and they have offered him an option of applying for temporary deregistration. The day of his MHRB hearing (which he lost) he absconded again and we were later informed that he went to his parents’ home in Brisbane.”

Again Theobald misrepresented the facts. I did in fact leave the open ward I had been sent to from the locked Meduna Ward, where I was first locked up. I had been given haloperidol syrup which had made me Parkisonian – stiff in my movements and slow in my speech. This increased my resolve to leave, which I did after 4 days. I walked from the Royal Park grounds in Parkville to St Kilda and returned to my flat, where I met Michael Butera, a musician who was living above the flat that Adrian and I were sharing. I packed my car with Michael’s help and drove to Canberra, hoping to get an appointment with the science minister Barry Jones and the health minister Carmen Lawrence. I did not create a “disturbance”, however.

My decision to leave the hospital in which I was being unnecessarily drugged and drive to Canberra seeking support from the health minister and science minister was described as “impulsive behaviour” by the psychiatrists at Royal Park and further evidence of hypomania. It was also falsely claimed that I “caused a disturbance” by trying to see the Health Minister.

Robert Purssey had contacted the Federal Police at Parliament House saying that I was mad and may attack the health minister, Carmen Lawrence. He knew that I had plans to contact the health minister and the science minister, Barry Jones. In fact, I had written polite letters to them and included some of my theoretical work on the pineal and mind-body medicine in separate envelopes, which I took to Parliament House asking that they be delivered to them. That I contact Barry Jones had been suggested to me by the late psychologist Ronald Conway, whom I had visited after reading his book “Rage for Utopia”. Conway told me that Barry Jones might be interested in my theories about the brain and mind.

When I presented at the security screen at Parliament House with packages of my work in large envelopes addressed to Carmen Lawrence and Barry Jones I was approached by Federal Police, who treated me respectfully and with whom I wisely cooperated. They took me to Woden Valley Hospital, where an Indian psychiatrist named Dr Gupta agreed to observe me over the Easter long weekend without drugs. During these three days I wrote three essays, one on medical education and memorisation, one on the management of autism, promoting art and music therapy as better alternatives to drugs and the third on my theories about the causation of schizophrenia. Dr Gupta was shown these essays and I was discharged without seeing him again myself. My father had offered Gupta $10,000 to send me back to Melbourne in an ambulance. Gupta was angry. He said, “we don’t do that sort of thing in Australia” and hung up the phone on him.

Robert Purssey confirmed in a letter to the psychiatrist Bill Robinson (in a letter also written in late February 1996 and coordinated with my father’s) that Dr Gupta “repeatedly hung up the phone on family members who were trying to provide background information”. Purssey admits that Dr Gupta said that many people would agree with my views and hung up the phone on him. I then stayed a few days with my old friend Dammi, who was working as a radiologist in Canberra. She had heard that I was locked up and came to visit me, offering me a place to stay when I was discharged.

At this time I was visited by a Federal Police officer by the name of Barry, who inquired whether I was indeed a threat to Carmen Lawrence. When I explained him what had really happened he gave me his card and number and told me to contact him if I needed help. I later did, and informed the Federal Police that my father had conspired with others to have me locked up. They said it was a State Police matter.

 

Theobald records that I was treated with 20 mg oral haloperidol and an unspecified dose of the benzodiazepine tranquilliser Clonazepam, and that lithium was to be started the next day, but I absconded after the MHRB hearing and went to my parents’ place in Queensland. This is gross over-treatment. Lithium is an accepted treatment for mania and bipolar disorder, which I did not have. It is a very dangerous drug that causes serious side effects as well as dangerous toxicity. The well-recognised side-effects of lithium are poisoning of the thyroid gland and kidneys resulting in many patients on long-term lithium needing to take thyroid hormone replacement and dying prematurely from kidney disease. If the drug is too high in the blood it causes a specific syndrome of lithium toxicity which can be fatal.

The supposed clinical efficacy of lithium was ‘established’ by the Australian psychiatrist John Cade, who was working in a military psychiatric hospital in Melbourne. Looking for a toxin in the urine of manic patients, he was injecting the urine of his patients into guinea pigs in a disused hospital kitchen at the Bundoora Hospital. Finding that he could stop the guinea pigs dying from the injected urine by mixing it with lithium salts, he tried injecting lithium alone into the guinea pigs “to see what happened”. He found, to his delight, that the guinea pigs would not try and right themselves if turned on their backs, and it appeared to be an effective “tranquilliser”. So he tried injecting it into his “schizophrenic”, “manic” and “depressed” patients. He reported no benefit in the “schizophrenics” but a dramatic benefit in “mania”. This was in 1948 after Cade had recovered from military service in the Second World War. He went on to become the boss of the Royal Park Hospital and the President of the College of Psychiatry (RANZCP). Years later, as a celebrated and influential psychiatrist, he described his “chance discovery” of lithium carbonate as being like a prospector finding a gold nugget. The irony is that the Victorian psychiatric system was first established during the gold rush of the 1860s, when people were locked up, chained, drugged and flogged for “gold fever”. Years later what had been called gold fever, would be called “mania”. Cade himself used the terms “psychotic excitement” for mania, as well as the old terms “dementia praecox” (rather than ‘schizophrenia’, a term coined by Eugen Bleuler in Switzerland in 1908) and melancholia (now called depression),

 

When I was first admitted, I was naïve about the system. I trusted that the people in charge were not corrupt. So I asked the nurses for a second opinion, thinking it would be independent of the consultant I had been put under, Anthony Owen, and I might be treated more fairly. They arranged for this second opinion to be provided by Owen’s boss and the Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Park Hospital, Norman James, who was a past president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (1991-93) and a big believer in the merits of lithium as well as shock treatment (ECT), which the RANZCP website boasts he introduced to the poor Himalayan nation of Bhutan after his retirement. The people of Bhutan need many things, but ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) is not one of them.

James supported Owen’s diagnosis of ‘hypomania’ and my continued detention and drugging. Norman James went on to become the Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria and later of South Australia.

Norman James was the psychiatrist I was forced to see on my return to Melbourne in September 1995, after I was allowed to return from Brisbane following a 6-week incarceration at the Prince Charles Hospital in Chermside. He placed me on an CTO (Community Treatment Order, the equivalent of an Involuntary Treatment Order or ITO in Queensland) after giving me another Flupenthixol injection, which by his own admission made me “quite Parkinsonism”. At my request, transferred the CTO to a private psychiatrist I used to refer patients to in Dandenong by the name of Bill Robinson. Dr Robinson didn’t think I was mentally ill, and stopped the treatment.

On 20th November 1995 Dr Robinson wrote a report to the Medical Board of Victoria saying:

“I thought Dr. Romesh Senewiratne was an articulate, well read, intelligent man, who may well have been stressed by his separation from his wife earlier this year. I thought that whilst he seemed to be rather eccentric and well off the mainstream medical path of his parents, that he was neither psychotic nor hypomanic.’

This is in contrast to the referral letter sent by Norman James to Robinson dated 4 September 1995 which claimed that I had suffered from “excited paranoia” rather than hypomania, the diagnosis made by John Bowles at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital. James wrote that:

“It would appear that his illness was one of excited paranoia rather than hypomania, which commenced about the time of the breakup of his marriage. He seems to have benefited from antipsychotics and I believe that he is in need of such treatment to continue for approximately a further year as is usually recommended for a first episode psychosis. He was given 40 mg of flupenthixol in Brisbane to be repeated monthly. This I did on 22.8.95 and it has caused him to become quite Parkinsonian, hence I have prescribed Cogentin, 2 mg bd. He also said he was mildly akathesic, but declined either diazepam [Valium] or propranolol for this”.

I didn’t take the Cogentin, which made me feel even worse. I didn’t see the sense in taking another tablet to take away the side-effects of flupenthixol, when the flupenthixol was not clinically indicated in the first place. Fortunately, Bill Robinson didn’t think the Flupenthixol was indicated either, and came to take what my family said with a pinch of salt, after Robert Purssey sent him a rude letter accusing him of “neglect” for “depriving” me of the treatment (meaning drugs) Purssey said I needed, and another episode when he was told that I had kidnapped my mother, when she came to visit me from Brisbane and was late to return to Chelvarayan Barr-Kumarakulasinghe’s house where she was staying. She had to ring Robinson to say that in fact she was fine and hadn’t been kidnapped by me at all, by which time he had already called the CAT team (and had to call them back saying it was a false alarm). The final straw regarding my family, for Dr Robinson, was when he was informed that I had abducted my daughter Ruby from her childcare centre, when I had in fact been given permission by her mother Sue to pick her up and keep her at my house till 7.00 pm. After he was advised that this too was a false alarm, Robinson said that he would not take further calls from my family and anything they wanted to say needed to be in writing. However, when the Chief Psychiatrist, Carlyle Perera asked him to refer me to the Monash Medical Centre (MMC), he did so. But before the scheduled appointment at MMC, my father had taken further action and got his friend Chelvarayan to refer directly to the CAT team, and I was locked up again (February 1996).

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