Stop the world, I want to get off

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We have Jews burning Palestinians alive in their homes, a hypocrite in charge in Israel condemning the actions of Jewish extremists whilst ignoring the ongoing encroachment of settlements which are illegal under international law. At the same time the right in America continue to support Netanyahu regardless of his actions – the same right that have attempted on more than forty occasions to reverse Obamacare which has allowed over 60 million people in the US access affordable healthcare.

It is also the right that is presenting fifty shades of mental by having Trump as a Republican candidate for President, a man who may be good at business but knows fuck-all about diplomacy, decency or haircuts. If you consider that it is the US approach to foreign policy that has created ISIS then Trump can only make things worse. Mind you if you look at the strange combinations of groups fighting each other with the same country on opposite sides in some battles as they try to contain the terrorists.

The fallout from these wars and civil wars is causing mass emigration and asylum seekers to escape the Middle East and North Africa. There are thousands on the other side of the English Channel trying to find their way across. It’s a humanitarian disaster. Add in the typical French response of burning things then it’s a complete disaster. Also in Europe there is the ongoing attack on Greece by a German led group of bullies forcing them to do unknown damage long-term to the Greek people and the national finances. Austerity only works to a point.

Ask Tony Blair how to balance these things when he accepted a payment of £400,000 for a speech on world poverty and hunger recently. He also believes that we still want to hear from him as he offered his tuppence worth on the Labour Leadership – a race that looks increasingly likely to be won by Jeremy Corbyn. Everyone seems scared of him – probably because he has a vision, values and ideas that mark him and potentially the party out as different from the others – at last! A fresh pair of eyes on the national picture could be a good thing or could cause mayhem, but then what’s worse than the Tories doing as they please while Harriet Harman loses her backbone? The BBC under threat, welfare cuts to those most in need and tax benefits removed from the lowest paid.

Finally there’s my own world which is still far from settled. This week I found myself in a hospice for my job – removing a chair which was of no use to the patient. As I walked through the building and saw all these poor individuals in long-term care or end of life care I wondered why we make a lot of noise about a lion shot in Africa but on our doorstep hundreds, if not thousands of people are forced to live in incapacitated states from which they will never recover. Young and old side by side suffering from life limiting illnesses – to quote my mum “You wouldn’t let an animal suffer like that”.

We live in a world where money and power trumps all, if you excuse the pun. We turn a blind eye to the asylum seekers, the poachers, the dying, the poor, the poverty-stricken and the disabled. We are more angry that a dentist shot a lion that we are of the 30,000 people just 26 miles across the water are looking to come here for safe haven. “Why don’t they stop where they arrive in Europe?” Well many do. Sweden takes more than we do, but one is too many for some. We shrug as another gun is fired in a cinema in America, as another racist incident happens or another example of climate change happens before our eyes and instead “like” a guy dancing at a music festival.

I’m not a religious man, but if I were I’d be wondering where my God was in all this misery and mayhem. Where is the hope? How can we make it through these horrible times we live in?

Stop the world, I want to get off.

JD

 

Daddy…

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“Daddy, were you at work today?”

“Yes I was.”

“What do you do?”

“I help people who need help to feel better”

“How?”

“By giving them stands and seats that help them in their everyday lives.”

“Uh. Ok.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Didn’t you use to be a teacher?”

“Yes but Daddy thought it was time for a change. He was wrong.”

“Why?”

“Well he was at the end of his tether, struggling with mental health issues that are too complicated to bore you with, not coping with certain other people he worked with and thought it was time to try something else. Of course the move was a huge mistake – it was worse in terms of stress and workload, more than he could cope with. He lost his mind for a while. Then jumped away from that without really thinking things through properly.

“I knew that I was terrible at selling things because I’m too honest and I was right. it wasn’t a good fit for me either. Thankfully along came another job that was a bit like teaching and Daddy was really enjoying it – but it didn’t last. So now he has had to do what he can to make ends meet which has caused him even more misery because it makes his depression worse.

“He doesn’t want to look down on those he works with but handling old toilet seats and then cleaning them is not really where Daddy thought he would be in his life right now. Eight years on from becoming a Dad I’ve almost reached the bottom of my sanity levels. Those I work with don’t know that in the space of two years I’ve dropped from being a Lecturer in Communication to someone who has to power wash shit off things.

“He looks round at the job market knowing that he isn’t really cut out for many positions in the city dubbed The Oil Capital of Europe. A degree and two diplomas don’t matter he’s just another CV in a pile with employers enjoying the freedom to pick and choose. Someone like me doesn’t “fit” and unless you are a certain “fit” there aren’t places for you. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but it’s the truth.

“All those books and films you enjoy with the underdog rising up to beat all the odds; the plucky worker who shows up their bully of a boss and rises above them; the handsome hero meeting coincidence upon coincidence and making each one work – it’s all lies. Life is not a work of fiction and very few ever really “make it”. The reality is harsh: life sucks and you just have to wade your way through all the shit, try not to fall down and if you do fall you just have to keep on moving.

“Add in a head that pleases itself, medications that change who you really are, other people who take great pleasure in your downfall – some even contributing to it, a useless set of skills which are transferable but no-one seems to care, feelings of worthlessness and deep depression and pessimism for the future, and the inevitable circling of vultures come pay-day – you do wonder what the fucking point of it all is.

“And you know what the point is? You. You and the other two menaces. Your mum. our family and many other animals are what keep me going. There might not be a happy ending, a normality to aspire to, or a golden ticket, but sometimes – just sometimes in wading through all the shit life throws at you, there’s a moment when the light gets through and reminds you what a lucky bastard you are. You might not have gold and jewels, the winning lottery ticket or the keys to the kingdom, but you do have hope.

“Hope & Love. The two reasons I get up in the morning beyond the four of you. Night Night.”

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JD

What’s the bloody point?

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You do reach the edge more often than you think with depression. One of the main questions a doctor or therapist will ask you is “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” And the answer is occasionally but it’s more that you consider your mortality and that of those around you.

You wonder if you’d be better off not alive rather than about killing yourself. That’s a different place to be as it is not about doing away with yourself but trying to decide is life worth living. The best way for me to keep myself in check is to look at my wife and kids and remind myself how lucky I am. Thoughts about my parents and sister and her family are also important in being positive. But I completely understand why those without someone very close and important may decide they are only going to find peace in death. I’d hate to find myself on that place.

The other morbid recurring thoughts are that those around you are constantly in danger of shuffling off this mortal coil. Yesterday Jill and the kids were still out when I got home from work. Straight away the clock becomes an enemy and until their feet cross the threshold you wonder if they will make it home at all. Seeing it written down it does appear ridiculous, but then I am going through a really tough low patch just now.

Why am I really struggling? A long story for another time, but at the moment I’m driving round picking up occupational therapy apparatus from houses where people have recently died. Faced with so many bereaved husbands and wives, empty sheltered housing flats and care home rooms, I’m being constantly reminded of my and everyone else’s mortality. Until I can get another job or win the lottery, those bills won’t be paid any other way. Needs must.

Since I started taking sedatives last May, I have slept much better but the downside is that the periods of mania are hugely reduced and I’m living more with the periods of depression. I miss the highs; they were a great release of tension and expression. Do I speak to my psychiatric therapist and reduce the lithium levels to give me it back, or increase the antidepressants and change who I am even further?

I have just finished reading “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison which I would thoroughly recommend you read if living with bipolar disorder or know someone who is. So much of what I have written in this blog appears in the book and it makes you feel that this mindfuck of an existence is not a solitary thing – hundreds and thousands live with the giant mood swings too.

Part of me wonders if I’d be better coming off all the meds and then just introducing things back into the mix gradually. You do find yourself wondering what the bloody point is with all these tablets when I’m still desperately miserable. The treat was functioning at mania point where ideas and fun and unpredictability lived, but I haven’t really had a manic episode in over a year. I know it’s not “healthy” to have those extremes but if I’m going to live with it I might as well get the benefits as well as the downsides – literally.

While I’m not anywhere near taking my own life, my preoccupation with mortality is one I’m stuck with until this black cloud lifts from me.

JD

6/7, 7/7, 8/7

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As I sat in the van today observing the minute long silence for the fifty two people who died on 7/7 in 2005, I remembered my three days ten years ago that spanned all emotions.

On Wednesday the 6th of July 2005 we jumped on the train to head to Edinburgh as we’d got two tickets in the ballot for Live 8 – The Final Push at Murrayfield. On the train the carriage was waiting to hear if London had beaten Paris to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Cheers rang out when the announcement was made – good start to the party waiting for us.

The whole thing was amazing from the musical acts to the atmosphere it’s a gig I will never forget. What other evening could you say you sang along with the Proclaimers, Bono and James Brown while George Clooney and Eddie Izzard reminded us of the need to “Make Poverty History”.

And the event did work – we had International leaders agreeing to write off huge debts of developing countries that were becoming an albatross around their necks. Edinburgh was alive in a way I’d never seen it before – even at the height of the Fringe. We were in great spirits as we made our way back to the hotel.

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We woke up to the news of the four suicide bombers attack on London’s Transport System. Our first concern was that we were due to get on a train in a couple of hours and since Edinburgh was central to the G8 meeting and the previous night’s concert the heightened security didn’t put us at ease.

As the story unfolded throughout the day the idea that suicide bombers had attacked the UK capital was horrific and a reminder that these things are never that far away from you. We all know people in London and the panic that raced through our minds as the images appeared and news of the casualties rose was a stark reminder of the cost of going to war in the Middle East.

In the same way that we were glued to the news on 9/11 this was a different experience – we’d been in those places, on those tube lines. It was more immediate and more shocking. The image of the bus is one that will stay with me forever. Cowardice is the only word I have for those four men who carried out the attack – and the emotional words of Ken Livingstone (London’s then Mayor) were very powerful:

“I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever”

“Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”

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On the Friday I had an appointment with my doctor. The lump that had been written off as an infection a couple of months earlier was now not painful – just there. I knew what was coming, and over the next couple of months I knew my life was going to change in a way I had never thought it would.

Everything that had happened in the previous 48 hours disappeared. Those people in Africa having their debt written off, the white band around my wrist and the tragic events of the day before were put to one side as I sat in the surgery’s waiting room. It was a matter of time before I heard the words I’d feared the most.

I had cancer.

JD

 

Pretty Vacant

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When people think of depression it tends to be a spectrum of feeling down through to suicidal thoughts that are associated with the illness. That is only the surface of things – for me one of the greatest issues I’ve always struggled with is the complete lack of inspiration, ideas and creativity. You know those skills are still hiding in your brain somewhere but you’re damned if you can locate or use them.

I’m lucky in some respects because I’m bipolar – those fast ideas and the buzzing high you get off being creative are so enjoyable that your life balances out in some ways. With depression your ideas are muted, very often you become forgetful and struggle to do basic tasks. When I was teaching the big problem for me was the marking and paperwork – and heaven help me if writing reports  or exam marking and a dip in mood coalesced because I would only get two or three done a day.

When it comes to day-to-day life it’s things like deciding what to have for tea that can trip you up. There is no inspiration there so you are left with takeaways to do the thinking for you or a very simple microwave meal to fill you up. Basic memory skills are impaired too. When doing the courier work I would check, recheck and triple check house numbers or postcodes. Even with the items in front of me it would go as soon as I read it to myself. That’s a difficult place to be if you are trying to get on with your life.

From the simple to the complex, your brain is just a quagmire that you are wading through – getting stuck with each step as the ground pulls at your feet. And that’s what makes depression sufferers angry, frustrated and at wit’s end at times. You don’t want to engage in conversation because you know that either you will become annoyingly loud and a know-all or you become the quiet moody type – which is where I am at the moment.

Small talk can be difficult – you turn into a monosyllabic muttering moron. You look like your mind is elsewhere not taking in everything that is being said but in truth you are trying to tune in to something – anything – to allow you to return to some kind of norm. That’s why I find blogging about the illness so useful because my brain is on autopilot and I can just get rid of all the crap in my head and start to find the space and sanity again.

It’s experiences and symptoms like this that cause the sadness, sense of loss and dark thoughts rather than the other way round I think – I’m no expert but that is my feeling of the condition. The muddied mind in someone like me who thrives on the creative and quick thoughts finds himself sidelined by his own mind and yearning for a hyper phase.

While I am very aware that others have this a whole lot worse it’s not a comfort to feel you are not the only one dealing with it. You become selfish and introspective; analysing every thought, word said to you and inference to the nth degree. This then feeds back into the illness and makes it worse. You end up living like a zombie for the day, week or month the down period lasts and wishing your life away so that you can regain some mental ability and fight your way out again.

The only positive you can take is that it’s not a permanent state – it fluctuates hourly or daily or weekly depending on the variation of the illness you live with. For me I’m around two weeks into this part of the ongoing wave of bipolar and hope the up is on its way.

JD