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Cultivating Mad Cow
  • Sat in a row in a call centre in an unassuming new build office on the outskirts of Oxford, Barry White, a forty nine year old slightly balding diabetic telephone counsellor, was putting in his usual eight hour shift. Little did he know that his life was going to change forever. Cultivating Mad Cow is a true story that could easily be described as a memoir, but it's more than that, it's a story about madness, love, desperation, tragedy and recovery. Rich with comic moments, which against the backdrop of so much despair and anguish makes it both a comical but at the same time a heart-breaking read. New to writing, Kathryn brings a unique unsanitised, voice to tell the profoundly disturbing story of a woman trying to hold it all together, working in child protection and dealing with an unknown serious mental health condition. Things start to go badly wrong when Kathryn goes off work on annual leave and she is unaware she is having a mental health episode. With her wheelie bin going missing and with the new found desire to build phallic objects in her garden and get herself arrested for outlandish and hilarious public disturbances, Kathryn is offered support in the form a telephone counsellor by the name of Barry White. As the weeks progress and with little help on the ground, Kathryn begins to form a romantic attachment to Barry and creates a world where only he and she exist. As Barry writes his case notes, she writes her book. Her increasing need to be near Barry and decreasing inhibitions lead to disaster when she sends him inappropriate material which he shares with his manager, leading to them to terminate all contact between her and Barry. Undeterred by this latest turn of events, she purchases a lighthouse made from resin, throws it in her clapped out Nova, abandons her daughter and sets off to Oxford in search of Barry. When Barry fails to show up in a church which she believed the universe had led her to, she is mortified. The truth that Barry is not telepathically connected to her and that there is no great master plan created by a higher force to bring them together, is too much to bear and she returns home sinking into a darker, more disturbing state. With Barry gone and a career in tatters, she decides to return to work with devastating consequences.

  • Cultivating Mad Cow is a book about my demise into mental illness whilst working on child protection teams in Sheffield and Rotherham. I wanted to write a book that was totally accessible, made people laugh and had a good central story that engaged people and allowed people to have those sometimes difficult conversations with each other. Many mental health memoirs exist but few are written in a way that appeals to mainstream readers. Mental illness and suicide touches everyone’s lives so for me it was important to write a book that appealed to both academics and ordinary people. The book explores the intricacies and complexities of human relationships and professional boundaries whilst looking at how we have created a helping culture based on the premise that the ‘helpers’ are in a position of power and the ‘helped’ have little or no power. We have a system that has been designed for the benefit of the helper and not for the benefit of the people it is meant to serve. It addresses some of the fundamental problems people face when accessing mental health services and the way in which the narrow biomedical approach to mental health treatment is both outmoded and dangerous.

........The best book I've read in a very long time, couldn't put it down !! Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us all . It's made me want to adopt you !!! I really think it should be made into a film. Helen Frow

I finished the book on Friday and shed some tears x absolutely brilliant and moving. Thanks for sharing your story. Helena Turner

About the Author

My name is Kathryn and I am a former child protection social worker. I am an author, a disability development worker and a public speaker. I am also a parent and grandparent with a mental illness which in 2004 led to a physical disability which changed my world forever.

I am also interested in community in its widest sense. I’m interested in the strengths that communities have to resolve their own issues and how social work and related professions need to have a radical cultural shift from crisis response to helping to build sustainable communities based on the model of peer support and social capital.

I have had a number of articles published in magazines and since my book has been launched I have been invited to speak at several universities around topics of parental mental health and child protection, mental illness and recovery, and the service participant role in mental health education and awareness. I have also given talks at community venues including libraries and storying events. Cultivating Mad Cow is now on the reading list for four universities covering social work, occupational health and psychology.

If you would like me to be a visiting speaker at your organisation, please email me at kathrynlittlewood@hotmail.com.

"What an amazing, inspirational woman Kathryn Littlewood is. Her life story is fascinating & it was something else to hear her journey in an open, honest & realistic way. Kudos" Mike Patra SSWN

"Kathryn's account of her journey as a professional , mother and person suffering from mental health problems was both incredible and thought provoking . It emphasized the importance of relationship based social work and in not drawing on assumptions and stereotypes" Lucinda Wilson

"Absolutely brilliant talk by Kathryn. I cried lots and it has helped me to see social work from the other side and as the person in need, rather than the person in charge. Reading case studies is one thing, but hearing real honest people tell a true story and to see and feel the emotions and challenges has made me realise that there is a way of doing everything as long as you give people a chance, not just with social work but with everything in life." Jo Carrighar-Kearns


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