About Sid

Photographer, mental health advocate, occasional ranter, in love with Kent.

Back in the day…

I’m so old I can remember when I didn’t talk about having Manic Depression because people would take a step back. I don’t know if they thought they’d catch it or they didn’t know what it was but the name scared them.

Sometimes you could tell that they did know what it was and they pictured me hanging round bus stops with a machete because we all know that people with mental health problems have the desire to murder someone just under their skin.

A few years ago a did an hour long interview on the local BBC radio station and that came up during the broadcast. The presenter said “Well we all know that couldn’t happen here because the buses are so bad you’d get fed up of waiting.” I couldn’t help but laugh because he’d deflated a misconception in a way that had a bigger impact than discussing it in a sober way.

When they changed the name from Manic Depression (which I thought described it well) to Bipolar Disorder it became a bit of a fashion item and it’s increased in popularity over the years. There appears to be a tendency that experiencing moods make you “bipolar”. It a load of fucking shit of course.

While we’re on it, I hate the terms Self Stigma and Imposter Syndrome. You’re experiencing doubts. THAT IS ALL.

Anyway on to the point of this blog post. I read a tweet from @simonfromharlow about dishing out unsolicited advice to strangers. Whether it was tongue in cheek or not I don’t care (sorry Simon) but I get it a lot. I mean every single day.

It’s worse now we have the internet of course because everyone is an expert because they read an article in an outdated magazine while they were waiting to see the doctor. Or some celebrity “bravely fights it” We don’t fight it by the way, we live with the effects it has on us and learn coping strategies to help us manage it.

People are well meaning, I know that but it’s physically and mentally exhausting to fend off someone’s advice when they haven’t a clue what they’re experiencing.

While we’re on the subject of well meaning advice NEVER suggest to anyone with a mental health problem that they should take medication and have a lie down. Would you tell someone with cancer to have a bit of chemo? No, so don’t tell me to take my medication.

Unless you know someone personally and they’ve talked to you about their particular brand of Bipolar Disorder then lay off. The kindest and best thing you can do is give them time, space and no advice. Truly.

 

I am a hero…

I have looked one of my biggest phobias in the face today and I wasn’t exactly happy about it.

A long time ago when I was around seven years old I went to see a dentist who, without warning, slapped a rubber mask on my face and I blacked out. I could hear sounds while I was under and I thought someone was cutting a rubber band close to my ear. To a young child that’s what a tooth being extracted under general anaesthic sounds like. Except it wasn’t one tooth it was twelve.

There began the long sequence of experiences that ended with me becoming dental phobic.

I had a tooth broken diagonally in an accident at school when we were playing rounders. It was probably the most painful experience of my life and I was left with a tooth that was unfilled and with a nerve exposed. It was agony.

When I was 15 I had the tooth extracted, again under a general anaesthetic, and had a denture fitted. Dentures are great these days but back then they were made less robustly and I broke it often.

I moved from my home town in 1986 and developed dental problems because if something is going to happen then it’s going to happen to me. I ended up with one side of my mouth filled with gold crown and it tuned out that that particular dentist was famous for it.

It seemed to me that all the decisions about my oral health bypassed me somehow. Dentists and dental nurses looked at x-rays then whispered in the corner of the room before subjecting me to treatment without telling me about it.

I moved to a different part of the city when I divorced (well almost divorced but that’s another story) and a Welsh dentist called Murphy decided on a line of treatment, again without consulting me.

I found myself in his chair having my top row of teeth drilled for so long I had to ask for a break to go to the loo. While I was there I looked in the mirror to see what he was doing that took so long and saw that what had been good teeth except for the missing one now resembled a mountain range.

I was having a bridge done he told me so I needed a set of crowns and that was that. Snide remarks about free treatment made me feel as though I’d been subject to a bizarre form of vivisection since I was seven years old.

All good until I was back in the part of the city I felt at home in and where I still live now. I went to the local dentist because I had toothache and ended up with root canal surgery in three teeth. That, not to put to fine a point on it, is fucking agony.

He called me a baby when I cried and I always come away from his surgery with a bruised face whatever he did. He was an ex-RAF dentist and I was one of the people who he considered had to be told what to do and do it without question.

Then my head blew up and I ended up with a dental phobia.

In around 10 years and many referalls to the local dental hospital I’ve had four teeth filled under sedation and the rest of my mouth has went to pieces. Again, I was told what had to be done but not why and not how.

On one occasion I asked if I could have treatment done and then have somewhere quiet to sit and I ended up on a hospital ward so that I could lie on a bed after the procedure. Instead of a dentist and a dental nurse in the room there was a professor, a consultant dentist, a theatre nurse, an anaestetist and a dental nurse. Oh and half a dozen students popped in for a look while it was all going on. It was a ridiculous amount of money to fill two teeth.

The dental hospital doesn’t take referalls for fillings under sedation anymore so I’ve had to take myself off to a regular dentist and throw myself at his mercy. Except that’s not quite what happened.

My first visit was to sit and talk about my fears, what would happen, when it would happen and if I was happy about it. I was okay with the extraction, I wasn’t happy about the fillings but I was being consulted about what was going to happen in my mouth. It felt extraordinary to be given this level of consultation 52 years after a butcher of a dentist thought it was okay to rip half my teeth out.

I had an infection so I had to have antibiotics leading up to the extraction. The tooth pulling went well and then I developed dry socket as the clots in the tooth bed got too big and wouldn’t hold on. Now I have a dissolvable sponge in my mouth and it’s working well.

I had the fillings today. We talked about what was going to happen. I put my iPod on and he began to drill. I asked him to stop. He did. This went on for a while and each time he was patient and considerate.

While he was doing the filling I was stressed as it was a deep filling and took quite a while. I shook badly (the adrenaline in the local anaesthetic doesn’t help), cried, shook some more and when it was over I cried some more.

I stood up to go and wobbled. You know you’re not in a good way when you see _that_ amount of concern on someone’s face. I wobbled into the waiting room to sit for a while and got the same look from the receptionist. My arms were white and I couldn’t stop crying and when I did all I could say was, “I’m phobic, I’m a fucking hero for doing this.”

I am still phobic, I have to have check-ups every three months and I’ve been advised to cut right back on the sugar. I’ll have to go cold turkey on that one but it will help my teeth and I will lose weight.

So here I am, a fucking hero.

Memories

I saw some tweets on Twitter recently about people who had been talking about mental health. One of them was a woman who I’d known briefly on Twitter and who blocked me after a series of bullying tweets. Some of these were directly at me and some were subtweets; aimed at me but not mentioning me.

People always ask how you know subtweets are about you and believe me you know. Most of us have written subtweets, some of us in a nasty way, and all of us have been on the other end of them.

This is how it began.

I had a mutual follow with a woman on Twitter for about six months or so when she announced that she was  moving to the town in which I live. I briefly tweeted them about  it with lots of exclamation marks and an exchange of tweets followed with overuse of exclamation marks. She promised to get in touch when she moved here. She didn’t.

I shrugged it off because she was in a new town and probably out of work and, in this area, good jobs in her field aren’t that easy to come by. Her tweets showed that she was living on the breadline in a part of town you wouldn’t expect to find a newcomer but that she was mixing with people who were supporting her in one way or another.

An opportunity arose (in a voluntary capacity) that would suit her so I let her know. She came to meet me and I introduced her to the setup and she seemed to fit in well with the established group.

Then the group began to disintegrate. There was unease and discomfort and within weeks the people who had started the group left and there were few people left. Strange things happened. I’m not saying she was a thief but things went missing and there was always a scapegoat mentioned.

She played to my sense of paranoia and made me feel as though I was going more than a little mad. As the group photographer I found myself being sidelined more and more. I left the group under a carefully orchestrated cloud.

I tweeted about it. I tweet a lot of rubbish but I tweet a lot of the big stuff that goes on in my life too. I tweeted about how I’d been abused by that person and then the abuse from the person I mentioned above began. Subtweets saying that if anyone hurt her friend they’d have to answer to her, tweets directly to me asking me why I thought I had the right to stand in judgement.

This is what this woman did so swell. She divided people, she gossiped about people and told lies about her life. You can guarantee that if she was gossiping to you about one person then she was gossiping about you about someone else. She took delight in telling me about one person whose relationship had broken down because he was impotent. She is a nasty piece of work.

To see her defender talking mental health in public last week was a shock but it also brought back some memories that hurt. It seemed that her mental health had to be protected and treated as something precious but mine was tossed aside and stood on by her. In my opinion, this person is not an adovacte for mental health. You cannot talk of equality if you act in a way that is destructive to someone else’s mental health.

If either of them recognise themselves from this blog post then shame on them. If they’re not happy about it then it’s tough. This is how my experience of them affected me, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have one.

Bullying is wrong no matter why we do it and covert abuse of people with mental health problems is vile.

PIP, anxiety and a microwave

I don’t think that anyone who lives in the UK hasn’t heard of Disability Living Allowancce (DLA) and about the way that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is handling the converion of DLA to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) that is the benefit that is replacing it.

I’ve had a lifetime award of DLA because I’m not expected to get any better – there will be no improvement in my illness and so I was awarded the benefit without having to have an assessment either face to face or over the phone. Similarly with my recent conversion to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) it has been accepted that I’ll never work again and there was no assessment either face to face or on the telephone. I have to hasten to add that this is very unusual. Either the assessors in Bristol are extremely skilled and understanding or somebody up there likes me.

I got the letter this week that my DLA is changing to PIP and that the process has started.I didn’t expect to be as anxious as I became or that it would escalate the way that it did. The DLA is an important part of my income. It means that I can pay to have groceries deliverd or take taxis to places on the days that I can’t face buses or become too stressed to even get on one. My world has become smaller lately and it vital that I have DLA and its successor PIP in order to live in a wider world.

Getting to talk to my GP about a supporting letter was stressful to say the least. The receptionists at the practice I go to are like giant Rotweillers so fiercely do they protect the doctors from the general public. In the end I demanded that I speak to the doctor even though he was half way through his list. He apologised profusely for the lack of urgency that his staff had put on the messages to him and saw me within two hours.

We agreed a short term plan to reduce the ultra anxiety (sleeping pills and diazepam for a few days only) and extra rest. This will be easy to adhere to; I like sleep days.

One of the things that I’ve done to help myself cope with anxiety and mania is to buy a microwave oven. I last had one 20 years ago have used one since the late 80s when I worked in a pub kitchen in North Yorkshire (in those days they were at least £500 a pop).

It means that when I want to eat something I’ve frozen I can eat it that day instead of taking it out of the freezer and seeing if I still feel like eating it the next day. It almost means that I can make microwave chocolate cakes in a mug. I often want cake but just a slice, a large slice but still just a slice.

I think the lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that bravado doesn’t stop anxiety and it doesn’t heal it or mask it. No matter how much of a wise person people think you are you’re allowed to be a real person and real people have crises and suffer illnesses. Wisdom doesn’t come from leading a life that you sail through it comes  through leading a hard life.

I’ve also learned that it’s okay to lean on friends. It’s not a weakness to love or be loved and it’s certainly not a weaknness to take comfort in that.

Music

Image

Last month, before Ogden died, I did a poll on Twitter to get suggestions about what I should blog about. I was hoping that people would pick food but of course it was the subject I wanted to blog least about was the one that was chosen.

Okay everyone has seen those newspaper reports about people who get taken to court and sometimes evicted because they’ve been playing the same song over and over again and sometimes very loud. That’s me except for the sound level.

Psychologically anticipating the next sound and knowing what the next word is elicits a feeling of comfort in the brain so I’m givng myself a hug. Lots of people do this and most people don’t force their neighbours  to listen to it.

It explains I suppose why I’m reluctant to listen to new music. I’m still listening to the Doobie Brothers with the same regularity I did when I was 14 which was *coughs* ago.

I’ve sang in choirs over the years most of them assoociated with sacred music. I’m still a fence sitter when it comes to God but, like a lot of other fence sitters and atheists, sacred music is fantastic to sing. When music is composed for God it is composed in a way that is different to composing it for man and that’s why it’s so wonderful to sing it.

I sing out loud at home all the time. When I’m not talking to the cats I’m singing something. I’m one of those people who can’t shut up even when I have nothing to say.

I used to sing to Ogden all the time and when I did he used to come and sit with his back to me and press himself up against my legs and I used to stroke him from his lovely silky head down over this rough lurcher type hair. I groomed him at times when I sang and that suited him well too.

This is what I used to sing to him. I’d say enjoy but my voice isn’t what it was.