Saturday, 4 May 2013

A Fish Too Far ~ part deux

So there I am, Thursday morning, having been so thoroughly deflated the day before that I had not even had the appetite or energy to think about, let alone cook and eat, any dinner. (I should point out that at now 6 months pregnant, not having any appetite is something of a rarity for me.) I'd woken up, too early, with that familiar feeling, knowing that it was going to be a Difficult Day. I lay there, eyes open but not focusing on anything, body still half asleep, catatonic, just staring at nothing in particular in towards the corner of the ceiling. I was aware of the sun peeping around the curtains, and of my partner stirring next to me, but I couldn't move. I couldn't focus my eyes, or move my facial muscles to look anywhere else. I certainly couldn't smile or speak. All I could do was lie there and wait while my brain got on with its chatter.

I call these times my 'busy head' times. Sometimes it's best to ignore the noise in my head and distract it with something else - I have found in the last year or so for example that by listening to an audio book when I go to bed, I can usually get to sleep whereas before I used to suffer with terrible bouts of insomnia. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hearing voices, not other people's voices or the different voices of my alter egos or anything, just my own whirling, whirring thoughts, as we all do. Sometimes however, it's a good idea to shut up and listen, to take control of the direction a little. So, lying in bed, I asked myself why I was so upset, what had prompted this negative emotional response? Was it all because of a bloody fishy bagel? Why did that upset me so much? Was the bagel just the icing on the cake? (That's definitely a poor metaphor, mixing fish and icing.) "Yes" I thought, I am upset about that, but not just that. I found it incredulous that someone would deliberately prepare a lunch for a group of people they knew reasonably well, and not offer a choice, and in fact knowingly exclude one person. Was it luck that my 3 colleagues all happened to like cream cheese and salmon bagels? Had this been discussed prior to them being prepared? Had no one thought to say that I would be ok just with the cream cheese on mine then? It wasn't just the fishy bagels per se, it was the manner in which my not being able to participate in this group activity of food sharing was flaunted.

I had already decided without any thought necessary that I had made a mistake going to the meeting yesterday. My boss had tried to discourage me from going and now I understood why: I was no longer considered to be part of the team and my presence was irrelevant. I hadn't realised that and had hoped that the meeting would bring a positive slant back into my current work situation. I realised then that I had already been struggling. During the last 3 and a half weeks, although I was happy to concentrate on just dealing with one main area of work, rent arrears, I had felt increasingly side-lined. I'd had no formal contact with anyone else in the company - no meetings, no 1-2-1s - and other than a handful of tenant visits that I'd arranged as part of my duties, I had spent almost the entire time sat, on my own, in my little home-office, working in silence on my computer. I realised that the reason I'd felt so pleased to be able to get out in the garden or get on with menial tasks after my 'shifts' were over, was not because I was wanting to do them particularly, but because it meant I didn't have to sit there, looking at my computer screen, for a minute longer. I had already been sinking.

I deduced too, that any decent manager in their right mind, on having an employee return from a bout of stress-related anxiety and depression, would try to make sure to keep them as involved and motivated as possible. Yet, at the end of the previous week, I had received an email from my boss telling me that I was to change my focus from rent arrears - which I had actually been making significant progress with - to estate inspections. Just estate inspections. Now for those of you who don't know, estate inspections are something pro-active that yes we would all like to do but tend to end up at the bottom of our already ridiculously long to-do lists. They are usually scheduled in so that we get to carry out a formal inspection of each of our housing blocks, schemes or estates about once every 3 months or so. They can be pleasant; they can be miserable. Much depends on the weather and who you are doing them with. And there's usually an awful lot of paperwork that follows, more often than not a zillion repairs for communal lighting, stair nosings, guttering, paving, or grounds maintenance and tenancy issues like untaxed vehicles and rubbish in gardens. They are generally regarded as a necessary evil, a way of us keeping an eye on the overall state of things in a particular area, and possibly, if time and money permit, suggesting certain community initiatives or environmental improvements.

I like estate inspections in some ways because I like the pro-active, project-type aspects of our work. However, the prospect of doing nothing but estate inspections for the next 3 weeks, apart from the odd day where I would, I presumed, be expected to attend one of the many arrears court hearings I had now lined up or to execute a warrant for eviction, dismayed me. I had immediately queried this instruction from my boss, asking whether she actually meant for me to do this as well as my rent arrears work, in light of the fact that I was due to increase my hours the following week. Maybe she had thought it would be good for me to get out and about? She had called me back and said that she had been instructed to make sure that all my inspections were up to date before I left, and that no, the temp would take over my arrears. In other words, I had once again set them all up for someone else to strike down and take the credit. I had expressed my concern and argued that I had a number of cases that I had put significant effort into to make sure we got the best outcome, and she reluctantly 'let' me keep an eye on those cases, but made it clear that my task for the remainder of my operational time with the company was to be spent wondering around my estates, on my own, checking for repairs. I felt like I'd been put out to grass.

As I lay there then, thinking about all this, I tried to console myself with the fact that I did only have to be in this situation for 3 more weeks. Well, 3 weeks and 2 days actually, but hey. And the weather forecast for the next few days at least was good, so it would be nice, nay, good for me to go out in a few hours time and start my inspections. And it was true that they had been neglected recently. I had already timetabled all my inspections to fit around my court/eviction dates for the next 3 weeks so it was all do-able. So why did I feel so completely and utterly as if I would struggle to get myself out from under the duvet when the alarm eventually hailed it as time to do so? Why was I unable to smile and say good morning to my partner when he eventually woke?

I did rouse myself and got out of bed when my partner did, making an effort to wave him off in the style of a dutiful housewife. I made myself a coffee (decaf) and put my work computer on to check what needed a response before I left to do my first little inspection. I answered emails and checked through my e-post for about an hour, thinking by then that I really needed to actually go and wash and get dressed if I was to stick to my self-devised schedule. What did it matter? No one was expecting me. It wouldn't matter whether I was there at 10 or half past, or 11. I knew I had an appointment to see my counsellor at 1pm so figured I needed to make a decision as to whether I was actually going to go out for a bit, or not, or maybe do it after I'd seen her. I opted for the latter.

After making this decision I washed, dressed and found myself sitting on the sofa again, thinking about all sorts of things, and crying. Oddly enough, my Mum had texted me to see if I was ok, and I'd advised her that I was struggling but would be ok. I realised that I still felt as if I couldn't move my facial muscles enough to actually speak to anyone, and set about typing out my thoughts so I could try and work out what I wanted to discuss with my counsellor, and if all else failed, just present her with my blog. After typing a bit of waffle, I set off to see her and was able to speak freely, but told her upfront that I had been struggling and that I'd had a very bad day last week. I brought her up to speed with events since our last meeting: how I'd seen the perinatal psychiatrist and had a reasonable conversation with him about my medication and my 'condition' and how he'd advised that although he thought the dose of meds I was by then taking would serve no purpose other than as a placebo, I should increase the dose again in order to cope with my return to work, which I had done slightly. I told her that I had then had to see the obstetric consultant, and that I had been upset by that appointment as I had then been told that as I was still on meds, I had basically forfeited the right to choose where to have my baby as I would now have to go to the consultant-led unit for observation on both me and the baby. We discussed this for a while and I expressed the resentment that had built up in me over the fact that I had all but weaned myself off of anti-depressant medication but had had to resume a slightly higher dose in order to function at work. We discussed the fact that for the first time ever, I had received a letter with my 'condition' clearly diagnosed and labelled. It's a label that I have used intermittently and in circumstances of my own choosing for the last few years, but was now beyond my control. I had declared to my employers that I was bi-polar, and the label was now responsible for the direction my maternity care was taking. I explained how I'd struggled with this concept a little, that I could apparently no longer pretend to be just any other normal person.

I've often felt like a fraud. I used to think it was a class thing, that someone from my background shouldn't have gone to university - I was the first on the English side of my family to do so - even though I hadn't gone until I was 25. I certainly shouldn't have got a First. I remember my first day as a Housing Officer, being introduced to staff around the building and seeing the expression on one person's face in particular as she asked me where I'd worked before. As she realised I'd come from a non-housing background (other than having been a council tenant) her face could not hide her dismay. My boss at the time, who had recruited me apparently against the better judgement of his senior, had said something like "She'll be a good one" and I still to this day have the utmost respect for that man, who saw some sort of potential in me when I couldn't even be sure of it myself. As I've gone through life, even when becoming a mother at 18, I have always felt as if I've been going through the motions, pretending to be older or cleverer or more experienced than I was in order to be accepted, to not be the odd-one-out that I actually felt myself to be. Although this feeling has never completely disappeared, in recent years I have actually become older of course, and whilst probably now less clever, I am inevitably more experienced. It still surprises me sometimes when people ask for my advice or how I dealt with such-and-such a situation, but I have come to accept that actually, I can be 'normal' in being, well, just me. We all have our stories to tell and we all have our demons to slay. It's not been a smooth or easy journey and is by no means over yet, but I can talk about the things I've been, done, felt, and generally experienced without too much shame these days. I can be honest.

Yet here I was, without having realised it until discussing it with my counsellor, having to face the fact that despite our conversations and work over the past couple of years, there was something wrong with me. My brain didn't work quite how it should. 'They' wanted to watch me instead of letting me choose where and how to have my baby, and 'they' wanted to put me on mood stabilisers. They were probably right. Knowing that, and accepting that, didn't make it any easier however. I had been a fraud after all and it was nothing to do with social status, it was to do with mental illness.

In the midst of all this I recounted how I had plummeted yesterday, and how for some stupid reason I kept obsessing about these bloody salmon bagels. As I told the fishy tale to my counsellor, she actually had tears pricking at her eyes. We've got to know each other very well over time, and she stopped me from belittling the situation and said, "Now hang on, that was just mean." I said I knew it was petty of me but she said no, actually it wasn't. Ok it might just be a bagel but what my boss had done there was quite deliberately and publicly exclude me from something that she was sharing with everyone else in the room. I suddenly felt hurt again but simultaneously justified in having felt upset about it. We exchanged words about the deteriorating, no, now negative relationship between my boss and me, and consequently the Powers-That-Be within the company. I hoped that I was re-telling recent events as objectively as I could, but unusually, my normally very calm counsellor kept tutting and interjecting that actually, it was ok to feel completely and utterly pissed off and ready to just walk away. She asked me what I had to gain by staying at work for the next 3 weeks, other than satisfying my own desire to do my best and leave things sorted. I hadn't quite expected that one. She asked me if I was able to get through the next 3 weeks without my meds, to which I laughed no, of course not. She asked if I thought there were likely to be any further seemingly trivial incidents, even if just something said in an email from my boss, that were going to leave me feeling undermined, excluded, and under-valued. Again, laughing, I said quite probably. She asked why I needed to put myself through that then, and sabotage any hope of regaining control over my pregnancy choices by having to stay on meds that I'd already proved not just recently but over a number of years, I could function perfectly well without? It became clear to me then that I needed to just walk away from my work situation.

There was still an element of doubt in this decision, and I made a further decision not to do anything work-related for the rest of the day and to sleep on it. However, it was evident not just to me, but thankfully to other people as well, that my work situation had just gone too far, in fact, a fish too far.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A Fish Too Far ~ part one

Today is a difficult day. I have nothing arduous planned. The sun is shining. Still, in spite of, or perhaps because of those things, it is a difficult day.

So, the background:
I made a mistake yesterday. I have been back at work for nearly 4 weeks now following a similarly-lengthed period of sick leave - my longest ever in my entire working history - and have been working on reduced hours since my return. As such, my workload has thankfully been reduced significantly in the sense that I have been - and happily agreed to be - focusing on particular areas rather than try and juggle everything, and my colleagues and now a temp have been tasked with picking up the slack, my slack. It's an odd thing. On the one hand, as is the Law of Sod, the weather has finally bucked up its ideas since my return to work and so I have been grateful of the reduced hours and responsibility so that I could carry on with the outdoor maintenance and prettifying tasks that I was unable to complete whilst off. However, contrary to what is needed when suffering depression, as a lone/home worker I have been even more isolated and felt even more worthless in many ways, especially knowing that many of the things I was involved in or even instigated are now being dealt with - or not - by my already over-stretched colleagues. In fact I genuinely believe that no one would actually notice if I was doing any work or not at the moment, but I guess in a way that's made me more determined to do what I've been doing well and with high impact.

So, yesterday there was a Team Meeting scheduled. This is something that our little team of 4 (plus boss) usually moan about as it makes for a very long day for most of us, with little tangible outcome. A typical meeting really. However, it does bring us all together and we usually have a bit of banter, discuss recent triumphs and more often than not, share our woes with this system or that procedure or whatever. It's good for the soul even if not for the workload management. I personally believe that such meetings are important, though they need to be managed correctly and ideally actually discuss things that the team need and want to discuss rather than random stuff that someone else thinks is important. So, I saw the meeting scheduled last week and confirmed my attendance, much to my boss's surprise who questioned whether it would be good use of my already restricted hours to spend 3 hours travelling to and from the office in addition to the meeting time itself. I countered that as isolation is the worst thing to foster depression (or do I mean the best?), it would be good for me to see the others. "Oh ok" she said.

As it was, I then had a last minute court hearing booked in for the morning of the meeting so had to attend that first. It went well, as expected to be honest as it was a simple case: the tenant I was taking action against thanked me for my help and everyone from the security guards to the judge himself seemed to be in good spirits. A good start to the day then I thought, as I got in my car and sped as fast as the speed limits would allow the 40 odd miles up to our 'local' office, arriving about 2 hours after everyone else. That might seem late, but given how long some of these meetings go on for, I really hadn't missed much.

Our local office is tiny. It has only 4 staff actually based in it, 3 of whom are often out and about, leaving just the admin person really. Most other staff use it for hot-desking only to make use of their time there, which is inevitably only for meetings. On arriving I received a warm welcome from our lovely admin lady, and a hello-how-are-you from one other person who was there. I was blanked completely by the senior manager and noticed a chap I'd never seen before sitting at one of the hot-desks, and presumed him to be our new temp. He was on the phone so I didn't disturb him and assumed we'd be introduced later. So, I went into the meeting room and joined my colleagues, to a variable warmish response, certainly nothing like normal. I was quickly asked how court went and gave a cheery response, which in turn was dismissed quickly as the meeting resumed. I sat myself down, got out my laptop and agenda and brought myself up to speed as the chat continued.

The meeting went on pretty much as normal from there with us briefly going over certain agenda items and having a few anecdotes in between, all of us chipping in as normal. I was a bit put out that queries regarding some of my previous cases - that were suddenly felt worthy of mention by my boss - were addressed directly to the colleague covering them now, even though he hadn't done the groundwork or knew as much about the context as I did, and was quite pleased when he also picked up on this and made sure to defer to me in the responses. Still, the discussion continued to be addressed to him and they were referred to as 'his' cases. Ok I thought, suck it up, he is dealing with them now after all. However, even if they had not previously been my cases, normally I would have been asked for my opinion as I used to be considered something of a knowledge base in these areas. Hmm, move on and keep smiling.

We then got to a discussion about staff welfare, and some recent changes to our appraisal and pay process, which had left many, many staff, including me, feeling even more under-valued than normal. It was actually useful for me to realise that I was not the only one, what with everything else that had been going on, as I was beginning to feel victimised. I wondered whether I should say anything, but decided the better option really was to keep quiet and let my colleagues do the talking. They, after all, had continued to struggle on and cover my workload while I was off. The senior manager joined us at this point in order to - as far as I can ascertain - give a response on behalf of the company to the concerns raised, and possibly feedback to whoever it is that these things need to be fed back to. As the minutes dragged passed, I had that feeling that you have in a dream where you are speaking but no one can hear you. I felt that even though it was for once, not me doing battle, that my colleagues' comments were being "taken on board" and yes "would be fed back", I noted the complete absence of any note-taking or any indication as to what would actually happen with this feedback. I knew, just knew without any doubt, that this was a futile exercise. I'm not normally like that: I will argue on behalf of the little people until the cows come home - is that a mix of metaphors? - but just then, like some kind of enlightenment, I knew I couldn't sit and listen to this any more. I excused myself and left the room. No one asked why, and I didn't give a reason.

After getting a glass of water and making small talk with the two co-workers outside the meeting room - the temp unknown man having disappeared - I finally gave up waiting for that part of the discussion to be over and for the senior to exit. I went back in, again sat quietly except I think for one comment. Eventually the ordeal finished and we 'stopped' for lunch. What this means during these meetings is that we all whip out our respective pack lunches or other goodies that may have been brought in to share, grab a fresh drink and carry on. I have argued before that given that these usually turn into at least 10 hour days, with driving at each end during rush hour traffic, we should actually stop for a proper break. It's never happened and we all know the drill. I alas, having rushed to court and then to the office had not prepared a lunch and had only grabbed some grapes and a box of left-over fruit & nut mix, but thought actually that would probably keep me going for a bit. However, in the blink of an eye our hostess, aka our boss, presented 3 plates full of bagels with cream cheese and salmon on them. She positioned them across the table and as she did so said casually, but pointedly, "you don't eat fish, do you Pauline?" "No" I responded, trying to smile, but more than a little put out that she had remembered I was vegetarian but still put salmon on each and every bagel. If she'd have gone "Oh shit! Sorry Pauline, I forgot you don't eat fish!" I wouldn't have thought anything of it except that she was a bit dipsy sometimes. Still I thought, I wasn't expecting her to make me lunch. Odd though that she had quite blatantly appeared to make everyone else lunch. Nonetheless, she informed me with a wave of her hand (whilst still not making eye contact with me) that there were a couple of bagels left over in the kitchen and I could help myself. I went in search of them. As I cack-handedly tried carving through the now very dry bagels with a butter knife, and enquired to the office area as a whole if it was ok if I used whoever's Flora was in the fridge, I felt myself feeling even more ostracised. The meeting was continuing in the other room whilst I was being the poor relation hacking bits of bagel everywhere and trying to butter the bits that were big enough. "Why am I doing this?" I thought. Ironically, I had gone in search of the bagels in order to not make my boss look bad for excluding me, yet here I was, being excluded anyway and feeling like a fool.

As we moved through the rest of the agenda it became increasingly obvious that anything I had previously raised, including a significant idea that would tick every box of community involvement, had been 'forgotten' about in my absence, and that anything I now had to say was of no consequence. Again, any eye contact from my boss was purely accidental and quickly rectified, even when I deliberately looked at her face when I was speaking. By then, I could only focus on the sinking feeling I was having, and began an internal struggle as to whether I should continue to stick it out and just say nothing, brush it off (outwardly at least) or make my excuses and go. As it was, my emotions made a decision of sorts for me as I found myself with tears pricking at my eyes and once again excused myself from the room to hide myself in the loo for a few minutes. A colleague came out to check I was ok but we both knew I wasn't and there was nothing to say or do, except go back in. I did then sit quietly - very unlike me - and tried to feign the odd smile here and there until the meeting seemed to come to an end. Not sure whether it had actually ended or not, I asked "Is that it then?" in what I hoped what a jovial tone, and on receiving an affirmative, I made a point of reminding my colleagues as to when my last working day was, as it was only 3 and a half weeks away, and I wouldn't be at the next meeting therefore. I thought it was something that would have been mentioned by my boss, perhaps even been a final agenda item by way of prompting goodbye arrangements. One colleague had already left us by this time and I received little response from the others, except to confirm appointments we had booked where we would see each other before I left anyway, and a brief discussion as to how I would go about returning my IT equipment. My boss said nothing at all, no "Ah yes, of course" or "thanks for your help and we wish you all the best" or "are you having a leaving do?" Nothing. I felt as if I might as well have already gone, as my presence was obviously now just an inconvenience and an embarrassment. So, after brief goodbyes to the others - with again no response at all from the senior in the main office area - I grabbed my bags and walked away. I felt at that moment that I would be quite happy to never set foot in that place again or have any dealings with my boss, her boss or the company as a whole.

During my hour-and-15-minute drive back down to the coast, I surprisingly, didn't feel tearful, I didn't even really feel angry. I think I felt quite numb. I realised that I still had my formal grievance to pursue but wondered whether I would bother. Was there any point? It would mean a 2-3 hour drive up to our head office for what would at best be what, an hour long meeting to discuss what I'd already put in writing and to which, I suspected, there was already a forgone conclusion. Then another 2-3 hour drive back home. Whilst thinking, and driving, I enjoyed the fact that the sun was still shining and, according to the temperature display on my dashboard, it was a pleasantly warm day, about 15-16 degrees. I distracted myself with the thought that I'd probably get out in my little back garden when I got in: I'd feel a bit better focusing on whatever gardening or maintenance job I ended up doing for a little while.

When I got in however, I looked out at my cluttered little garden, which was now in the shade, and thought about nipping out to just tidy up a bit. Or maybe I would just suss out what needed doing to my 'project' motorbike that was now sitting on the little patio area. No, I thought, not today. I didn't want to do anything else now. I just wanted to sit down even though I'd been sitting down nearly all day. I wanted to put something familiar on the telly and not really watch it. I felt... what? Tired? No, I felt drained, like something had sucked the very life and energy out of me. I sent a couple of texts to lvoed ones to say I was home safe and put my head down on the cushions on the sofa, and sat, telly on, doing nothing, feeling nothing. Hello depression.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Suicide Silence

Suicide is a dodgy topic. I have absolutely no doubt that there have been many studies, books and articles written, possibly even films made about the subject, from varying perspectives, by persons far more learned than myself. Some may be 'educational', advising worried families or professionals of the signs to look out for; others may be looking at the aftermath, the shock wave of tragedy that is caused when a person makes the decision to take their own life. What went wrong? What could we/they have done to prevent it? Who is to blame? Why did this happen?

Amidst all of this, it is still a subject of shame. It's not illegal any more (here at least) and for most of us the thought that we might apparently be speeding up our passage to Hell is of little consequence in the thought process. Of course, if memory serves me correctly, the shame here used to be two-fold in that the family were left with a loved one who had ended their life in sin both against God and against the law, and that they could consequentially then not even be buried with their family. And that's without the grief and confusion as to why that person took their own life in the first place.

Ok, so most of us don't, or at least I hope wouldn't, be thinking along quite these harsh religious lines any more. But there is still shame in that perhaps, in some way, we do intrinsically believe that suicide is a sign of weakness, of not being able to face life, "the coward's way out". I think it is far from a cowardly thing, but neither it is something to be glorified. I think - assuming one is of as sound mind as one can be at that time - it takes immense courage to knowingly end one's life. I would imagine it is actually far more difficult to end one's own life than someone else's, although arguably, in certain circumstances, we may take our own lives willingly in order to spare the life of someone we love.

I have never committed suicide, obviously, as I am sitting here writing this. I therefore feel that I am not actually worthy to sit here and write about the subject, not ever having truly reached the point of no return. But then, as I started writing this and thinking about all those learned people who know so much more about the subject than I do, unless they've attempted and 'failed' to commit suicide (which is another grey area), they don't really know either. I'm not here to judge; I just hope any readers of this don't either.

I think what I want to get at is this concept of being 'suicidal': what does it mean? The obvious definition is that it is to 'intend to take one's own life', or relating to this if talking about a third party. But if you have ever spoken to a doctor, counsellor or other mental health professional - or indeed any variety of people really - the term is used rather loosely I think. Almost over-used. A bit like 'depression'.

You see, I have thought of suicide at many times in my life, including today, hence writing this blog. Sometimes I think about it, in quite an abstract way, as I suppose I am doing in a written form here. Sometime I consider doing it, although fortunately those thoughts are usually only the very briefest of neural connections and are quickly pushed aside by the bigger Survival Instinct boys, wagging their fingers in a very disapproving manner. (At this point I should add that I like to think the Survival Instinct neurons are somehow bigger and stronger, and obviously have waggable fingers, but even with my limited knowledge of the sciences I fear this may be a vast over-simplification. Please do not quote this bit as fact on Wikipedia!) However, in my own experience I would say that what I have thought and felt should be described as 'pre-suicidal' rather than 'suicidal' feelings, yet I know from filling in fairly routine questionnaires and answering basic questions, as well as at times being the one to ask them, the line between 'pre-suicidal' and 'suicidal' is a very movable one.

Let's skip the details as to how we get to that point, but there is a point that I'm sure most people reach at some moment in their life where they feel not so much that they want to die, but that they don't want to live. This is what I personally term 'pre-suicidal'. This point is itself a kind of metaphorical crossroads, although I have also found that choosing one road does not prohibit finding oneself on the other. Let me elaborate: in one direction there is the self-hatred, humiliation and weariness that goes with realising that the life we have is not the one we planned, or wanted, or want now. We might be disappointed, disillusioned, in despair, possibly even in fear. But, and this is the crucial bit, we wish for something else, something better, to have someone else's life, a different life. With that comes hope: we might not see it at first or even at all, but we might just find the strength to find something to aim for, to find that inner desire to make ourselves better and be better for ourselves. It probably won't be easy and even if the path to a better life is clear, it may be beyond our capabilities to reach it.

Then there is the other road, which looks very much like the first one but for that crucial difference: no matter how we twist and turn, we can't see any sort of better life. We can't envisage anything but the failure and crushing humiliation that we have experienced from this one, and all we can consider as an escape route is some sort of end. In fact, we long for that end. All the things that may have made sense before no longer seem relevant or important: who cares if the mortgage paperwork is in order or people know what my last wishes are? We just want this torture to stop. There is no epiphany, no long-since-suppressed childhood ambition that comes to the fore, no courage to seek out something different, because there is no different. Anything other than the very dark place we are in at that moment in time is false, and every effort we have made to do anything in the past has been part of that fallacy. That is the point at which I feel alarm bells need to start ringing.

I am lucky, and I know it. I am blessed - or cursed - with what I used to describe as a bloody irritating grain of hope, stuck somewhere like an itch. Maybe it's those Survival Instinct bits of my DNA, or maybe it's just insight. I know myself. I know that even when those briefest of unthinkable thoughts of ending my life lead to the logical argumentative questions I ask myself about how to make it better, but come up with nothing other than that deep, pitiful stomach-wrenching sob, I know that I am capable of feeling better. I know that whilst I cannot see it now, let alone believe it, I know that there have been times in my life where I have laughed freely, where I have felt excited about something, where I have felt popular and lucky to have the life that I have. I know that whilst I cannot possibly say that those feelings are any more tangible than the complete and utter wretched despair that I am feeling at that moment, I know that they felt just as real at that time as this current feeling. I know that there are times when I feel on top of the world, near invincible, that the world is my oyster, no matter how old or poor I may be at that time. Sometimes that itch is so very very gentle that I don't even notice it, and that battle becomes a sub-conscious one. I have had moments in my life where quite possibly, in medical or psychological terms, I have tried to kill myself. But my thoughts at those times were not explicitly of dying, but of escaping the torture. It is controversial even to myself, but on one occasion I experienced the most spiritual enlightenment that I have ever known, a real, deep knowledge, nothing to do with any taught or orthodox religion. I know now that what I believed at that time was just my mind's way of rapidly sorting itself out, and I continue to be a non-believer in anything of a religious nature, but there is a part of me that feels that whatever that was about, it both reassured me that death was not to be feared and simultaneously brought me back from the brink I hadn't even realised I was at. The details are long since gone, but the powerful feelings that were evoked remain etched in my weary brain.

Am I 'suicidal' then? Have I been? Am I at risk in the future? Probably, and I still don't know what anyone else could possibly do or say should they find me or anyone else in that state. I guess all that anyone on the outside can do is see the signs that lead to the crossroads, and keep that person safe long enough to allow them to find their own way back. It's not much, but it could be the difference between life and death. Watch out for each other peeps; there's more of us that find ourselves on these roads than we may realise.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

One: a bad day...?

A while ago now I started being a little more open about 'my condition'. To most people, I - perhaps mistakenly - like to think that I come across as a vivacious, positive person, with a strong moral compass, guided by an equally strong sense of social justice (or injustice) and the urge, above all else, to fight.

I've always been a fighter. I fight stereotypes. I fight what might be stupid battles that no one else sees the point in, but that are somehow important to me at that moment in time. And, more often than not, in one way or another, that fighting gets me into trouble. Don't get me wrong, I'm not handy with my fists - with the exception of an incident outside the maths room in the 3rd year of secondary school, sorry Lee - but, as I have recently been described by a colleague, I'm like a terrier, a Jack Russell: once I get hold of something I don't let go. I like to think that this is a positive quality, in the main, but others might see it as obsession and I am now too beginning to wonder if they are right.

I watched an episode of House earlier and the man himself turned to his boss, who was having a day much like one of mine, and said something like, "You’re putting your career on the line to try and eradicate stupidity", followed by some remark about how that in itself was incredibly stupid. It struck a chord as, anyone who has had to listen to my increasingly stressed rants recently will know, that is exactly what my fights have been about of late. Am I wrong to try and make things better? To highlight stupidity, laziness or malpractice in areas which can scarcely afford such things? Am I seeing it where others don't, and in the process making myself out to be the fool? It is certainly beginning to feel like it.

I've been told I have an "amazingly strong work ethic". I was flattered by this, but also surprised. I just call it a 'work ethic'. Whatever job we do in life, and I have done a fair old mix, shouldn't we strive to do the best we can? Don't we all hate the 'sorry, that's not my job' or 'sorry, we're closing now' mentality that we have all encountered at some point? Again don't get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone should work 24/7 or try to do things that genuinely aren't their jobs, but a little bit of helpfulness, courtesy and sign-posting doesn't go amiss. In my job, for example, I am often the only contact with 'the system' that a household may have, and I therefore see it as a vital part of my role to ensure that people who need help are at least pointed in the right direction to find it.

I digress; I did not start this post in order to have another rant about work. However, I have had a very difficult time with work recently, resulting in me - counter to my amazingly strong work ethic - taking this week off as sick. It is something that feels odd to me; although I have had to do it before on rare occasions with previous positions, but it was not something I wanted to ever have to do again. I had hoped that I had learnt how to cope with increasingly diverse pressures, and how to say no. Hmm. This time I find it's not just pressures but actual policies that I disagree with, and find that incredibly difficult. How can I work within a system that I don't agree with?

Getting back to where I started... A year or so ago I posted a picture of myself on facebook, a picture with a comment that attracted a lot of attention from friends and family, old and new. The picture was one of me on a 'bad day', showing me when I find myself disintegrating into the worthless, lethargic, sobbing mess that depression creates. I was moved by some of the responses, and that in itself resurrected some of that old fight. It's a tricky one. On the one hand, I want to be able to show that many of us do suffer with forms of depression and that we should not hide it, leaving it to fester and eat away at us. On the other hand, I don't want that label to become the centre of my life, to be the thing that people think of when they think of me, or worse, to pity me with. It IS a part of me, just as my energy and my quick-thinking and my sense of adventure is a part of me. It is not the entirety of me, but equally, it is not something I can keep hiding in plain sight.

Today I woke up depressed. I don't know why, I felt quite good yesterday. I was tired, and allowed myself to be overtaken by that tiredness and stayed safely under my duvet until gone 11am, something that I would ordinarily disapprove of. The sun was shining, and after getting up briefly for a drink and some cereal, I returned to bed but opened the curtains and looked out at the sunshine, listening to the noises of the hustle and bustle outside. I had no inclination whatsoever to go out there however, or even do anything indoors, and rather than battle with myself, reprimanding my low mood, I allowed myself to stay in bed a while longer, and listened to an audio book. I realised I was possibly going to be in trouble today: I couldn't face even getting dressed, let alone doing anything at all productive. "It's ok" I told myself, "I'm off sick for this very reason, I need to rest". However, it also occurred to me that this was part of my fight, to not let days like this be the sum total of my life. To not let my fears dictate my destiny.

I had a cry. I spent a little time in my pj's on the sofa watching the telly - hence seeing the episode of House mentioned earlier - and eventually managed to get myself together enough to do a couple of very simple tasks. It's incredibly difficult however to try and explain to someone who has never gone through this just what it is like, losing all sense of purpose or meaning, losing the ability to even get out from under the safety and warmth and ignorance of the duvet. To feel like a fraud; that everything that has ever been done or achieved was in fact stupid and futile. How can it be so difficult to get dressed? How can a simple task such as taking a package to the Post Office become such a challenge to someone who regularly presents arguments against trained solicitors and judges in Court? I don't know, and I wish I didn't need to question it. I know it's foolish, and yet I know that I will face this most incredible battle again, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but hopefully not for a while.