Thursday, May 02, 2013

Lost

Our rescuers give up their weary mission
we were lost before we left

I rarely write more than bilious rants when I'm down. If you trace back the times in the last ten years - since I've had a blog - the number of times I've hit mental rock bottom, you can see a pattern; or maybe you can't, because you aren't me and my patterns aren't like maps. 

Depression hits me in different ways; sometimes it can last for weeks, other times... well, let's just say that sometimes I have the mental fortitude to literally just shake it off before it gets to grips with me and because I can, I tuck it away, somewhere deep and far away until it manages to resurface and have another crack at me. In a different way. From a different direction. With a new twist. I've always been moody; but these moods are usually typified by either grumpiness,  petulance, hysterical rants against the machine or quite remarkably, silence. Whenever depression manages to creep in, inveigle its way, it tends to be the silence that takes over...

When I was young, in my teens, you could say you were depressed, but it was usually disregarded because depression was a serious illness and only adults - proper adults - suffered from it. Depression also had that stigma, the 'mental' part of illness one. Not being able to cope was something women did (or didn't do), men were stoic, unemotional and detached from their weaknesses. Men were either real men or, well, you get the idea.


I suffered from a form of mental illness when I was 11. I had something that was labelled 'school phobia', which was something of a misnomer because it wasn't school that was the problem. What I was suffering from was a subconscious fear that manifested itself in the form of anxiety attacks, which, presumably because of my lack of maturity, were transformed into psychosomatic bouts of illness. My body reacted to the anxiety and kind of rebelled against my immune system, so I became 'ill' - high temperature, sore throat, rashes and sickness. It drove my mother to despair and one of the vivid memories I have was listening to her crying her eyes out on the phone to my uncle Frank because she had no idea, and neither did the doctors, what was wrong with me and to make matters worse, once I was at home, all the symptoms miraculously disappeared, until I had to leave the house again. What made it all the more vivid in my memory was the fact my mum rarely cried from stress, it wasn't in her DNA.

Then my eldest brother Ronnie got wed. I fucked about at the wedding reception like a flying monkey child and then, for the next three weeks, fell very quiet. This was all the evidence my GP needed and after a couple of sessions with a nurse who specialised in child psychology, and, of course, the disappearance of all the illness, the school phobia diagnosis was given and everyone was happy. The catalyst had been my brother's marriage; it seems that I was manifesting all this illness to stay at home because I didn't want him to get married and it was probably to do with how close I was with him and my fears that I wouldn't see him very often.

All of this came out during the three weeks of near silence, which as some of you will expect, caused almost as much worry in the Hall house as the 'illness'. Said illness was caused by my belief that my brother was marrying the wrong person and my almost precognitive belief that the marriage was a bad thing all round - which it proved to be. Fortunately, two very important things came from it and that was good.
My moods were always misinterpreted as attention seeking; even when I was quiet; but inside my head the world would often become a nightmare of what ifs. I actually worry a lot more than I let on and I play scenarios out in my mind that are just dark and tragic. I also know I'm not the only person who does this, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I was lucky through my late teens and twenties; the worst my depression would sink to was feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in self pity and wondering why the world had it in for me. But as I approached 30, I'd witnessed my wife and several of my friends have serious bouts of depression, for which I was always sympathetic, supportive and felt grateful that I had not plumbed some of those depths myself. I may have been there myself, but by this time I was self-medicating so much I wasn't really that sure where reality and fantasy started and stopped.

I said somewhere else, a while back, that all the time through my shop, its failure and my time working in comics, I never succumbed to depression, despite having, at times, good reason to. The first time, the first really bad time, happened about 12 years ago and seemed to be apropos of nothing. I'd spoken to doctors about feeling down and depressed a couple of times prior to this - specifically after my mother died and my former employer started treating me like a cunt; but I had always avoided anti-depressants - the main reason was I liked drugs too much and envisaged myself becoming dependent on them all too quickly - but when the full weight of the previous years came crashing down around my ears. I was lucky that I was surrounded by people who could help.

Yet, still I avoided the prescription drugs, preferring to experiment in relaxation techniques, listening to quiet music and having periods of reflection. I was not coping (and 'self-medicating' even more), but I sought holistic support rather than anything else. And, I pulled out of it, got back on with the job and ended up getting a promotion and spent two good years, relatively stress free.

The second noticeable depression event happened between June and the end of July 2005; but this was brought on by a definite tangible thing. I hated my job. I'd moved up from grunt to grunter and didn't really like it; couldn't cope with the inactivity and lack of activity opportunities, my work suffered, I got (probably justified) criticism at a bad time and only some excellent timing prevented me from a massive attack. That was postponed for another 2½ years.

Changing my job, on the face of it, was a bad thing. I was sacrificing a management position for a temporary, part time job, but it brought me back to the place where I was best at, working with people, helping them overcome their own problems - helping them with their problems kind of stopped me thinking about mine. And it probably allowed me to put my own problems to the side, much like I used to advise the kids I worked with - they aren't going to magically disappear, so try and put them out of reach for a while, so you can do other things. It's a mental trick, but if you can perfect it then you can deal with most stressful things.

There are three kinds of people who work in social care, from my experiences: those who can detach themselves from their work - these kind of people will do their job excellently almost indefinitely and never show any signs of the work getting to them. 
Those who become emotionally attached to their work and will burn themselves out inside 5 years and then be frightened of ever returning to that kind of work because of the fear it will happen again. 
Finally, there's the people who are ambitious and see social care as a way of attaining a management position that either pays them enough to keep them happy or spurs them on to go even higher - because, at times, getting promoted in social care is as easy as taking a piss. 

[There is also a fourth kind - the deadwood, but these tend to be people who see it as an easy job; a colleague of mine once called them 'hat stands' because they tend to stand around, doing nothing unless called on. These people rarely stay in that kind of work for long.]

When I found a home at the YOT, it was like my dream job had arrived. I worked with good people, worked to improve the lives of (largely) bad people. the work was rewarding, the money very reasonable and you are measured and rewarded for your hard work and common sense. I soon took on more and more responsibility and everyone was happy. Then my world caved in. In the space of 6 weeks, a series of events all snowballed and the crash was terrifying.

The trigger was a court case involving a young man I had worked with for nearly two years. He had been a victim of an assault and the victim of a conspiracy. All he was guilty of was defending his rights. The police came to his shared house to arrest a co-habitant and the lad tried to explain to the six police officers who had kicked the door in that it was a shared house and he wanted to see a warrant. To cut a long story short, he was sprayed, beaten up and arrested for obstructing the law. The case should have been kicked out by the CPS, but found its way to Magistrates. Not only did one of the police officer's statements 95% corroborate the lad's story, it was also completely different from the two officers bringing the charges. But the judge, presumably pissed off at having to still be at court on December 18th at 7pm, found him guilty and sentenced him to 6 months in prison, largely due to his past, despite having not been in trouble for 2 years.

That got me right down, because I'd got emotionally involved. Christmas was bad; Gifford was now very old and ill for a lot of it and the wife and I started to get that resigned bordering on hysterical look in our eyes. Both of us went through Christmas on the verge of tears and then the New Year came in with a scythe. I'd always said the worst week of my life was when my mother died and I lost my job at the magazine, but however distasteful this might be to some, the week Gifford died was a nadir. I won't go into the reasons of why one was worse than the other, but the same thing that happened in 1998 had happened ten years later. I lost my job.

Imagine if you will what a man shaped animated jelly would look like. That was me during January 2008. Reeling from the death of one of my dogs, witnessing the law at its worse and the inevitable hopelessness of it and then told my job was obsolete. Council cuts, you see, I was not officially an employee, just a sessional still; I was Oh You Tee.

Life? It just fell to bits. I had massive panic attacks; anxiety attacks; symptoms like a heart attack and because the wife was going through her own grieving, she couldn't be there for me as much as I (or she) would have wanted, so I suddenly felt isolated, alone and unbelievably frightened.

My boss at the time, a lovely lady called Carol, who is equal one of the three best bosses I have ever had (all at the same place of work, no less), was a real tower of strength for me; she battled tooth and nail to get me reinstated and recognised one concrete fact that everyone else had overlooked - I had been there 2 years; I had the same rights as she did, by law. I kept my job and was assured it by it being made a permanent position. The depression eased, but this time I had to have the citalopram remedy. 

I'm wondering if perhaps my life might have worked out a bit better had I just left and tried my hand at something else, because I can't help but think I'm not the first example of the kind of people who go into social care. I claim to be a man who can detach himself from the shit around me, but, you know... I'm maybe the second example but I've held on for longer.

The last five years have been well documented because it's all been blogged - diary-ised for the world to look at or, as is the case sometimes, ignore. 

It was my physical health that was next to take a battering as my bones decided to end their symbiotic relationship with the rest of my body. Naturally, ill health is as debilitating on the mind as it is everywhere else and twice more I plunged into the depths of despair. The first was the perfect example of why no two bouts of depression are ever the same. Between June and September 2011, I went into a self-loathing silence; spending my days playing mind games with myself, scared of interacting with anyone and then transforming into the guy most of you see. Going out, being gregarious, hospitable and affable. Even when I was with my closest of friends, the front came up and sometimes I wonder if perhaps I should have tried to become an actor, because at times my life feels like one long play. 

If you read some of the blogs from that period, if you know what to look for, you can see dark matter at work and the timing of this one sucked. I'd just got motivated to help a musician friend in the States increase his profile over here and simultaneously do the same for my own. I fancied moving back into an area that I've skirted around in the 1980s and as a hip almost 50 year old I figured I had the gravitas and the moves to pull it off.

Then redundancy had absolutely the most devastating effect on me, made all the worse by the fact that I was actually looking forward to it in the month leading up to it, but when it arrived it was like all the anti-climaxes in the world mixed with this hammer blow of uncertainty. I fucked up for my friend, hid away and, as I said, pretended to be me to everyone else.

Then I got the last job and not only did I have a confidence boosting interview, but compared to some of my previous jobs, it seemed positively easy. Yes, I wasn't earning anything near what I was and we'd have to keep the belt tight, but my self-esteem came flooding back; my verbosity returned and I think everyone saw this changed man, passionate again, with a determination to succeed.

Then three months in there were a number of setbacks, possibly exacerbated by me but not my fault to start with. Things changed, all the plans got pushed to one side and I had a bad time between that January and Easter 2012. To be fair, some things improved but I rarely felt like I belonged there like I have other jobs and also I should point out that a compromise agreement prevents me from discussing further any events that took place at my last place of employment.

It's now getting on for 10 weeks since we parted company and over the last three or four I've felt something happen. You hear people talk about the Red Mist, that anger that descends on you like some nasty fog. It doesn't happen with everyone, but most people, even if they've never heard the expression will get what it means. Well, I get the Red Mist, but I also get the Sickly Yellow Smog, the antithesis of the red. 

It's like once the defiance has gone and the pragmatism wavers and the resolution is tempered by the lack of prospects, you can almost see this cloak of despondency descend on you and what's worse is that is does this very slowly, but you know car crashes, that rubbernecking mode that people have, well I'm waist deep in molasses and I'm not moving anywhere, because I'm just watching myself fall even further.

The thing is I'm an intelligent bloke; I don't care how conceited that sounds, I am and I know the signs and have seen the signs and understand the signs to know that I've been sliding towards a serious, and that's Serious with a capital and in underlined bold, bout of depression; possibly the worst ever because I always managed to retain something during all the other bouts that I can't find with anything at the moment, no matter how hard I try and that is hope ... 

I know its bad because I've even abandoned my usual narcissistic tendencies and have been beating myself up over things and incidents that happened as much as 40 years ago. Fucking obsessive memories that I'd thought I'd blotted out years ago flooding back and causing me mental anguish of the most surreal kind - guilt over things that didn't happen; things I prevented happening or might possibly have happened if I twist my mind that way enough and make it all about me rather than anything else - because you do that when you're depressed not just because you're a narcissist.

The seeming futility of my job hunting gets me down and has me feeling paranoid for probably no reason at all; this has manifested itself into massive question marks about ability, deflation of confidence; heck (and don't take this the wrong way) I even realised that at the moment I offer nothing and take too much - everybody would probably be a lot happier (and wealthier) if I was dead (and I'm not suicidal, I'm just trying to rejuvenate some of that homespun pragmatism that I'm supposed to have). The news that the government will find any reason not to give me some of the money I paid in taxes also shouldn't surprise me. Heck, if you're unlucky the government will punish you even more.

I am conceited enough to know that some of you will read this and worry; while some will read it and think I'm attention seeking again - Look at Phil and his funny depression! Tee hee. And some of you will be heading towards, just coming out of, or living your own personal hells at this very moment, so my tales of woe and depression are going fly past you like a cold spring breeze. The world is like that at the moment. I'm not that deluded to think otherwise.

Do you know how much writing I've done in the last 10 weeks - not counting these blogs? About 5,000 words in total - that is piss poor for me. I've had all the time in the world to work on projects, but I haven't and I've then got annoyed at myself for not doing anything, created a vicious circle and used that as an excuse for why I haven't done anything; it's a kind of mental health procrastination. But, you know, I've kind of been doing that with everything for the last couple of weeks. A project with a friend got off to a brilliant start and then, like in 2011, faced with the actuality I froze and allowed everything to sidetrack me. My office looks like a shitstorm has hit it and things like my daily chores are getting done later and later, or, as I realised today, the hoovering hasn't been done at all this week. So the rest of my week is full of things that need to be done - I won't necessarily do them, but I've made a list; maybe that's what I need to help me pull out of this funk. 

You know, I think writing this is going to have one of two results - it'll either act as form of therapy and catharsis and I'll feel renewed and try to be positive, or it will just be the further heralding of things... things I don't want to contemplate.

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