Lucky Man

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The Grandparents at our wedding in 2005. Granda Massie is on the right hand side.

It’s not often I’ve been able to describe myself as being lucky, but one area I know I have been fortunate is in my family. We’re big and unwieldy, not always all best of friends, but somehow you feel overall we have had luck on our side.

The best example for me is the Grandparents I have had. We lost the last one today. To reach nearly forty and still have any of them is extremely fortunate and Granda Massie finally passed away this morning. In so much pain and suffering in the last hours of his life, it sounds harsh to say but I’m glad he’s not going to suffer anymore.

As a kid I had seven grandparents – Great Granny & Granda McDonald, Great Granny Thom, Granny & Granda Duncan and Granny & Granda Massie. I was spoiled as a youngster to have all these people in my life – we all were. They were all such individual people with their own quirks and characters and Granda Massie was really a great man. Mostly great because he survived living with Granny, but more on that later.

He would do anything for you – if you needed a lift, had an appointment, something picking up, our very own F1 driver would be at the door champing at the bit to get going. God help you if you were getting picked up and weren’t ready at least an hour before he was due to arrive. Or if you were going up to see him and Granny and told them a time he’d be there standing at the window waving to everyone (because he knew them all – or at least knew them because he waved at them) waiting for you to arrive. He also had the canniest knack of getting parked right at the door of wherever you were heading. I’ve never seen such jammyness as he had when it came to finding a space.

The abiding memory of Granda will be having to shout at him if you wanted a conversation. No matter the location he would either have the hearing aids in both ears switched off or the battery would have gone. The fourth or fifth attempt would usually get it but by then half the neighbourhood will have heard you and the momentum of any conversation will have dissipated. When anymore than two or three people were round at his house the off switch was engaged because he couldn’t stand the noise. No wonder with eleven cousins sometimes all there at the same time.

Another memory of him is finding him in town standing on street corners or outside shops. He was waiting for Granny to arrive at a pre-determined location – one which he invariably got wrong (according to Granny anyway) – poor man was never right about anything! She was terrible at telling him off for getting things wrong – especially names where again with all the cousins he would tend to work his way through the names he could remember before finally getting to yours. You never took it as an insult, it was just Granda. Even now with so many of us with our own kids he would still rattle through a list of names to try to find the right one. Our favourite over the last couple of years had been “Jericho” instead of Jessica. Bless him.

It was difficult to see him in that hospital bed over the last few weeks. A fall at home – fixing the bloody windmills! – meant hospital and surgery on a broken hip. We all knew that he was unlikely to leave hospital at that point as his body was failing – he was 93 you know as he continually reminded us, 94 in November! But he wasn’t happy or comfortable and in the end there was a relief that he passed away before he suffered anymore. While it was no shock, it is still a tough thing to hear.

When I was in to see him last week, he spoke of his great adventures in the second world war. The postings, the D-Day landings, the injuries he suffered from and his pride and companionship he had with those men. It’s funny how the mind stops you from remembering who had visited him that afternoon, but he went into such great detail about something that happened 73 years ago as if it were yesterday. I’m not surprised he remembered it so vividly because what he and his generation saw that day as they landed in France would be hard to erase. He was so proud of the medal he received just the other year from the French government to commemorate what they did for the French that day and the days that followed. A proud man whom we were all tremendously proud of.

He was the grandparent I suppose who was the most human of all of them for me, the one I think I got to know the person more than the stereotypical grandparent over thirty nine years. He was honest, caring and a real character.

A cheeky sense of humour, a driving style that would have been at home in the Wacky Races and bottomless pit of generosity will be how I remember him. A man whom I was so proud of and loved immensely.  Rest in peace Doug (Granda) Massie, we’ll miss you.

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The story of my life

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After years of thinking about it I’ve started writing it – my story.

It’s a strange thing to do for someone like me; a nobody, but I’m not going to let it stop me. You may find that I will rarely be blogging because of this but I did want to share a few thoughts on looking back into your own past.

Don’t.

It’s not really a good thing to do if I’m honest as you find going right back in your own timeline a bit…wibbly wobbly timey wimey if I’m honest. You start to remember things you had long since moved on from and dumped into storage but it all comes up from some dark recess in the back of your mind a smell, sound or memory that then triggers thoughts you had long since forgotten.

I wanted to write it because i wanted to take what I’d done with this blog and make it a more comprehensive examination of my mental health across my life. Were there issues and baggage in my past or was my childhood idyllic? Neither is true for anyone regardless how much they protest. Initially I have found that it’s the negatives that have floated to the surface and after four thousand words I’ve only covered up to the age of twelve with hardly a chink of light in there.

I’m sure once I go back and start redrafting the writing as a whole piece of work I will be able to be more objective, put more humour in it and dial down the Angela’s Ashes elements. As the great Paul O’Grady always said “We were poor, but we were shoplifters”.

You remember people as well. Faces and names who were hidden away too. Anyone who knows me will tell you I can do faces but names are a real issue. I can teach a kid for a year and still get them confused with one of their classmates. You do wonder how the mind works when it comes to memory – it feels like a giant cupboard packed full of things and as you try to pull one object out the rest start dropping on your head one-by-one. Like going in your loft and realising you have a strange twin brother called Eric.

I don’t have a twin brother called Eric in my loft by the way. That’d be ridiculous. He is in my parents’ loft, it’s bigger.

Eric aside, there are so many things that I have floating around my head now and it’s leaving me slightly disoriented as with newly recovered memories squeezing their way into your timeline things don’t look the way you thought they had. Perceptions of situations change and there is the danger of you becoming an amateur psychologist trying to make sense of things that every kids did, but somehow you doing it marks you out as unique or different. The reality is you were just a kid but with hindsight and diagnoses over the years you start to put two and two together and make seventeen.

I hope the experience of writing it will be cathartic and that I’ll have it even if I never do anything with it, but I think it’s fair to say that in my fortieth year I’ve already lived a rather unusual and challenging life.

One day I might share it, then again it might drive me mad rethinking everything I’ve ever done and be the final nail in my already secure insanity coffin.

JD

(Lack of) Food for thought

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Not a wholly original blog today – stats & video are taken from “The Canary”

The stats below all have links and at the bottom is the link to a gentleman called Peter Stefanovic who is a campaigner and lawyer. He makes arguments that most decent people would support but no-one seems to be fighting for them.

Regardless how you are thinking of voting, please don’t fall for the apathy that some media outlets are already peddling. Ever time we get a chance to vote we should use that democratic right to it’s fullest. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard. If we all moan that nothing ever changes it’s because too many people aren’t voting.

We need to encourage everyone to get out for both the local and Westminster elections and have an impact. If you don’t believe me just look at the Brexit vote – well over 10 million people didn’t vote. That’s madness! Those people could have easily changed the vote either to Remain or to securely stamp Leave rather than the paper-thin difference we ended with.

This is a real turning point for the UK – and not just about the EU. We have had a Tory led government since 2010 and an SNP led Government since 2007 and both north and south of the border things are getting worse for our valued public services and servants. We are looking the other way at Europe and wondering what will happen there while behind us Education, Health, Mental Health, support for Carers and the Disabled are being eroded. Not enough money is being provided and where money is coming in it’s not to the people who so desperately need it. The poorest in the UK are miles behind those at the top – we are one of the richest countries in the world yet we are failing too many people.

Vote – but think carefully before you do and ensure your vote is for a positive change and a strike for hope in a world where too many are being left behind.

  • 400,000 children are now living in poverty, a figure which rose 100,000 in 2015/16. 67% of those are from working families.
  • Food bank usage has risen, with over half a million people reliant on just the Trussell Trust for food packages.
  • In two reports, the UN heavily criticised the Tories for “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The government, meanwhile, has severely cut their benefits.
  • The past year has seen strikes by junior doctors, rail workers, teaching assistants, library workers, and other public sector staff. Their pay increases have mostly been capped at 1%.
  • National debt has increased by more than 50%.
  • Homelessness has risen by 54%.
  • Corporations have seen tax cuts [pdf] while the tax gap is around £120bn per year.
  • The NHS has seen a real terms cut in the amount of money given to it per patient. While the amount of NHS money paid to ‘independent’ companies has more than doubled to £8bn a year.
  • The government has cut the number of people getting social care by 26%. And it has cut £50m from children’s mental health services.

JD

Omnishambles

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An utterly useless clusterfuck of a move today by Despicable May. I wonder at what point she decided, “Well the world’s on the brink of a nuclear winter, our traditional allies are putting distance between us because we asked for a divorce and the UK’s devolved administrations are all at loggerheads with Westminster – let’s have a General Election to bring us all back together!”

In which sane part of the land is that even an idea – never mind a good one? It comes of course with a huge amount of baggage and politically the public are confused to what to do. Do Labour Voters who support Brexit vote Tory or UKIP for the first time in their lives? Do the Remainers return to the Lib Dem fold even though Fallon is as wet as Corbyn during a wet t-shirt contest? Does it really matter how Scotland votes?

It appears to me that there is no positive outcome to this election. Starting with the Tories –  if they gain seats as predicted, then Brexit is not just Hard but Granite – a majority would leave backbenchers without the ability to frustrate and hold its own party to account. We would be looking at a possible exit without a deal as we know these things could take up to a decade to finalize and we have 23 months. May would be bolstered and would march into Brussels thinking she had a mandate – but the figures from the EU referendum don’t change because of a General Election, it’s a different vote altogether.

She assumes that because the other parties are weak that she’ll automatically be put back in, but she has to be careful. The 52% of the country who voted to Leave the EU are not all right wing voters. All other parties (apart from the SNP) have said they respect the decision but want checks and balances the other end of the negotiations. To many this seems like a fair thing to do and her hardened stance that she and her government have the final say may come across as dictatorial and unreflective of the uncertain mood in the country.

Labour must be both loving and dreading this. On one hand Corbyn could be out on his ear and we’d get a stronger leader. His ideas are good, he’s just not the man to deliver them. A more public service friendly, compassionate and thoughtful leader he has been – but his charisma is now on watchlists as it hasn’t been seen for years. The upside could be they pull back in the working class vote lost to UKIP but the mixed messages on Brexit could be their undoing.

Where the have an opportunity is by fighting on traditional Labour platforms – the Health Service which is in crisis, education being damaged across the whole UK, tax cuts for the rich, abolition of support for the most vulnerable and disabled – these could be winners if they get their message straight. Will they? I doubt it. £10 minimum wage seems unrealistic and considering that the front bench can’t agree on very much would see a very divided party pushed front and centre. Do we need that as a government at such a difficult time as we live in?

The Lib Dems are frustrating. Tim Fallon is a worse leader than Uncle Jeremy for me. Regardless of your opinion of Nick Clegg and his coalition with the Tories I think hindsight has shown us that actually he did a good job of keeping the rabid right-wingers at bay during his time as Deputy Prime Minister. They have sensible ideas just as Labour do, but I find it difficult to buy into them as they struggle to be heard above the noise.

UKIP are racist, misogynistic, sexist, thugs that don’t deserve the inflated the platform that they continue to get from the media. It’s an embarrassment to this country they have had the airtime they have considering their only MP is no longer in the party. But they could make an impact if the North of England tip to the right as they did in the EU referendum. Labour really are the only alternative for many voters, but with such a weak leadership many might look to UKIP to ensure money is taken from the EU and given back to the UK. In my humble opinion, I do think this is the end of the road for the party – what do they stand for now? They got their wish and unless the LIb Dems become the government the other two main parties agree that leaving the EU will happen.

SNP are in a strange position as well – they can only really lose in this election. Consider where we were last May compared to where we are now – leaving the EU and on the edge of the break-up of the UK. Around a third of SNP voters wanted to leave so that may well impact on their votes and the rise of Ruth Davidson as a sensible voice north of the border could see the Tories take away some of those yellow patches on the map. I can’t see Labour or the Lib Dems doing much damage in Scotland, but if they did it would start to bring into question Surgeon’s decision to demand a second Scottish Referendum.

So where does all that leave us? Potentially even more split than we were after the 23rd June 2016 and the EU referendum. With the country divided and uncertainty ahead will we stick with the shambles that is May, Boris, Hammond and Davis or bring in a potential coalition of Uncle Jeremy, Tim-liberal-but-bland and the SNP?

A rainbow coalition? No, just storm clouds ahead.

JD

The Long and Winding Road

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Ask any teacher at Secondary Level and they will tell you that the Christmas to Easter term is longest and most tiring one. I’m aware that those in other occupations will be laughing to themselves at the idea, but hear me out before chuckling – working in a school is tougher than people imagine.

This is the term where you have to ensure all pupils are completing coursework, sitting mock exams and preparing for their final ones, completing projects that have been going all year, keeping up to date with marking and paperwork and reports and parents’ evenings…and then there’s the day-to-day teaching that has to be done as well. The preparation, execution, reflection and marking that comes from that is a job in itself.

In the world of education Teachers are restricted by fixed holidays – again I can hear the chortling – but we are told when we are getting days off; we can’t just decide we need a couple of days downtime because we have some left. In most businesses the holiday sheet comes around and you can work out when best would suit you – when you think you’ll need a few days off after a prolonged period of work. Not for us. Yes we are more than compensated in the summer, but across the year (especially Jan to April) those breaks are not always enough.

What you need to understand is it’s not just physical tiredness that hits you, it’s the mental fatigue that wallops you. There is not a moment when you are not working as a teacher. You have to be “On” throughout the day. With thirty expectant pupils in front of you five, six or seven times a day, you have to be ready for them and get the most out of them in the short time you have together. Spreadsheets need to be filled, records kept of progress, preparation done for each class.

Having worked in offices over the years I know there is the ability to have downtime; to plan out your work across a day, week or longer. You can take five minutes to yourself or go for a wee walk around the office – I can’t do that. If I leave the classroom for a second to get something there can be a transformation from sedate little angels to wild feral creatures in the space of thirty seconds. A PC doesn’t do that – you can walk away and the worst you come back to is another couple of emails.

But here’s the rub – while it is the most all-consuming of jobs it has such rewards that you trade-off that tiredness for the moments of pure elation. In the last week fundraising for Comic Relief and taking part in Rock Challenge has pushed my sleepiness to its limits, but they were both completely worth it. The reaction and satisfaction you get from those extra-curricular activities is huge. Even the day-to-day work where you see pupils achieve their goals, pass their test and have brilliant Eureka! moments make everything worthwhile.

The other reason I’m so tired is that I’ve spent most of this academic year trying to fight off the deepest darkest bout of depression I’ve ever endured. Having the strength to battle that on top of everything else have made it an unbelievably difficult year. But, and it’s an important but, having been away from Teaching and now being back in the fold, I am enjoying things second time round much more. Yes, there are still problems and the government and SQA don’t make our lives easy but if you remember that the pupils are the reason you are there then you find your focus quickly.

Like any job there are those who are ambitious and look to promoted posts as their next step – perhaps I will feel that urge in a few years – but I’m not ambitious in that way just now. Having stepped back and actually considered why I want to do the job, I know it is all about the pupils. They are where my ambitions are – in them. Might sound twee, but it is true. I came back into teaching because I knew that those moments of realization, success and recognition that pupils have in front of you are worth all the lost hours of sleep and jokes about the length of the summer holidays.

There are few jobs that can tire you as much, but there are also few jobs that can reward you so much. It might not feel like it today after the final day of term, but I know that with hindsight it will have been worth it.

JD

Clarity

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When you live with a head like mine, you find moments or days of clarity are a rare and treasured thing. In the last week I have felt the most “Normal” as I have in a long time. But then I was due a break after the toughest six months I’ve experienced.

From October until mid February I had been battling with depression – deeper and darker than I’d ever gone through before. Permanently exhausted, empty of optimism and lost to what felt like a parallel world – distanced from my own life. You are aware of your solitude, of your separation from those around you in emotional terms but you don’t have the tools or wherewithal to do anything about it.

You know you are a horrible person to be around. Your lack of patience and decency embarrass you. You want the ground to open up and remove you from the life you are living. I’m lucky that I’ve never stood on the edge of the darkest point of humanity; the idea of dying is not in my mind – sure, you wish you weren’t alive, but there’s a marked difference.

Now looking back on what was a difficult time for me and all those around me, it now seems so far removed from where I am now. I feel stronger, happier and more contented than I have done in a long time. I wonder if that is a result of the prolonged struggle – feeling relief and release from the black dog that refused to let me go for almost half a year.

Right now I feel good about life and with a change to the medication I am determined not to fall back into old habits. Easier said than done because you can’t legislate for the arrival of the down periods. You think that you have a grasp on it, but speaking to my other half it appears that my awareness is always delayed – I only realise I’m in the dark once I arrive there and not necessarily while I am on the journey towards it.

There is always the concern that I am heading for the other extreme and the mania is around the corner. As the late Carrie Fisher called it “Liquid Confidence” that pumps through your veins making you feel invincible, risk averse and dangerous. I don’t think that’s where I am at the moment but you can never be sure.  Those moments where your mouth is disconnected from your filters and brain – away on an adventure of its own.

I do miss those moments. Being on two medications, both of which are ones that push down the mania and limit it, makes it a rarer occurrence. There are always moments where the tongue is quicker than the mind, but I’d like to think I was better at stopping myself these days. The thing I miss is that complete freedom of thought, my mind was able to go off on tangents and have fun and I’m lacking that spark in my life. Perhaps I’m just growing up – can’t be Peter Pan forever.

Robin Williams once said “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” And while I know that I have more than my share of madness, it’s the spark that is absent and I’ve got to force myself to find it more. Surely the spark is not just part of the mental illness – it must exist independently and within me as a person. Maybe it’s time I threw caution to the wind occasionally and embraced the lighter side.

This clarity is great at the moment while I am feeling well, but whether I can find and utilise the spark when the darkness next arrives remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: I cannot survive life without pleasure or fun. It’s time to put enjoyment and light front and centre more often, and remember that no matter how bad things get there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

JD

 

 

Moving on? Not really

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art-of-moving-on

It looks like we made it…but we didn’t. Every time you emerge from the other side of a depressive episode it might appear to the outside world that you are back on your feet and things are good again, but it’s not as simple as that. Damage has been done: to yourself, those around you and even people you wouldn’t think of.

My last depressive state was the worst I’ve experienced and I’m only now really out the other side of it. Three months of uncertainty, loneliness, anger, loss, confusion, sadness, emptiness and regrets slowly ebbed away to leave me where I am now: more uncertainty. I don’t know if I’ve leveled off and am in a “normal” state or if I am heading toward the manic room.

What hurts the most – to quote another song – is the impact those three months had. I hurt people around me as they worried about my situation, feared the worst could happen and were directly affected by my actions and moods. You cause their mental health to suffer as you battle with your own. This then turns the spotlight back on you and the guilt flares up.

But it needs to be addressed. As someone who lives with Bipolar there needs to be a clear message sent out to say that you can call us out on our moods and behaviour. If you live with someone who is struggling don’t bottle up your own feelings because there is no sense at all in everyone suffering. You must speak to your loved ones – even if you worry it could make things worse.

If you are open and honest and approach the subject early you will find that we are more receptive than you thought. If someone you love is going through a tough time but is on medication or getting help then you should be free to open up to them about the impact they are having on others. It will maybe shock them just how bad things have become, but in the long-term everyone involved will be better off for it.

Writing it down makes it seem easy, and in reality I know that people will be hesitant to be as forward as I am suggesting. If you are seriously concerned about the person’s well-being you have to act and not leave it festering. You could write it down or speak to the person with a couple of other people to support both of you. Not talking about it is not the answer.

I know I rattle off a few hundred words a time on here about it but it’s a selfish thing really; I’m trying to deal with my own illness rather than worry about others. And it’s okay to say you’re “not okay”, that you are struggling with life – but you have to make sure those around you are kept in the loop and know you are attending appointments, taking medications. Avoiding the issue doesn’t help anyone involved.

For the person with the mental health issue, here are three bits of advice:

  1. Speak about your situation with someone you trust
  2. Allow them to speak openly and honestly with how your behaviour is impacting on their life
  3. Accept that you can’t get through the problem on your own

If you are the person supporting someone with mental illnesses:

  1. Understand that they do not always know what they are doing to others – it’s often unintentional. Telling them will hurt them, but that’s okay.
  2. Listen, but don’t be afraid to challenge them if you don’t agree; they’re not babies you can be honest with them
  3. Remember it’s an illness and it cannot be stopped just through will power – they will need help and you should support them with that.

Again it seems simple to put it in three points for each side, but know that this is a starting point from which life will get better. Do nothing and the problem will only get worse and then you are going to be in a situation where it might be too late to tackle things.

To the sufferers, remember it’s highly unlikely that it is your fault that you are living with mental illness. You need to face up to it and deal with it before it takes total control of you. Health professionals and your friends and family will be much more receptive than you think they will be – they won’t judge you and you’ll find it will be a relief for many around you that you are able to explain your behaviour.

With so many people living with mental health issues these days you are less alone than you know. Us nutters are all around and you should own up to being part of the club – you’ll find that we are a welcoming group that is happy to help anyone who points out their membership card.

JD