About Sid

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

Mental Health in the Work Place

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day (check out #WorldMentalHealthDay on Twitter if you’re on there) is Mental Health in the Work Place and I’d like to tell you about my positive experiences but I haven’t had any.

After my marriage broke up I had a huge breakdown and it took me over a year to get into a frame of mind that meant I could start thinking about going back to work.

I did a course in using Information Technology (IT) which took 16 weeks. I think this was mainly because that’s how long it took to boot up the computers and the most exciting thing that ever happened was the release of Windows 95.

After I left I decided to do some temping to gain experience and enrolled with every agency I could and got work most weeks.

Sometime during that period I heard Spike Milligan being interviewed by Anthony Clare and decided to read Spike’s autobiography. Reading about his manic depression made me realise that that’s what was wrong with me and, after a trip to a psychiatrist via my GP, the diagnosis was confirmed.

I got medicated up and kept on working but the work began drying up and before long I was only getting work from one agency. I became friends with the manager and we lunched together often. I confided in her about having manic depression aka biploar disorder and I never heard from her again and I never got work through that agency ever again.

I applied for a permanent job in one of the top four accountant companies via an agency and got the job. They laid down some rules on their side – I’d only have to work my fair share of overtime, if managers disagreed with the importance of my workload and which of theirs should come first then they’d sort it out and that there was an open door policy re support when work got too much.

It was bullshit of course. I worked all the overtime – x lived too far away, y had a child, z’s husband wouldn’t let her do it so I got lumbered with it. Working a 60 hour week wasn’t unusual. There were the times when I had to drop everything and go to another office in another city and work there for a few days. Of course there was training courses that were mandatory and they were always in Reading. I have grown to hate Reading.

After 10 months the pressure really got to me. Each time I tried to take time off I was told I was needed then in the next breath, literally the next breath, I would be told I was accumulating holiday time and I needed to use it up.

I was working on energy I didn’t have, I was unhappy, I hated the job, I despised the people I worked with and I did everything I could to get the sack and they wouldn’t do it. Bad as I was at my job and becoming worse, having me there cocking things up was easier than advertising for a new slave.

It was a sexist environment and the partner in charge of the section I worked for was racist which really tested my temper. I often wish I’d stood up to him on that subject but I was too worn down and too tired to do anything other than breathe.

My mental health was suffering and I pleaded with my line manager for help. He told me to take a holiday but refused to let me have time off. My work deteriorated, my temper got shorter and shorter and my behaviour became erratic.

I  finally confided in one of the guys that I worked closely with that I had a mental health problem and that the stress of the job was making things worse and that I needed someone on my side to speak up for me. I explained about manic depression/bipolar disorder and he said he’d have a word with the section partner.

A few days later I was told to gather my things together and leave because I no longer fitted the profile of the company. They didn’t openly discriminate on the grounds of my mental health problem but it was just too much of a coincidence.

I never worked again. The whole experience broke me into tiny pieces and what had been a mind that was relatively stable has become a mind that is fragile and teeters on the edge of instabiity every minute of every day.

I celebrate those of you with positive work experiences and I’m thoroughly glad for you. Unless those of us with negative experiences speak up nobody will ever get a positive experience.

I had no real idea of who I was when I last worked and had no sense of my value but I got involved in some community work at a senior management level for a while and realised that I was more than okay and that the flashy top accountant company was full of people thinking that being employed by such a company gave them a sense of self esteem or turbo charged their arrogance.

I have a limited life these days but I good one. I can no longer do any voluntary work but I’ve changed things in my community. I have people who come up to me in the street a decade after my last voluntary work and thank me for the good I’ve done. I am respected and valued and they all know about my mental helath problem.

So what’s the point of this?

Don’t let any of your colleagues make you feel bad because they haven’t the capacity to understand that just because you have issues with mental health you don’t have a decent life. Let them see how wonderful you are – you are amazing, truly.

Don’t live despite your mental health problems or despite negativity at work, live to spite them.

Go sober? Go educate yourself.

I think that by now everybody with a television has seen the Go Sober advert by McMillan.

It starts jauntily by saying that man has been drinking since the dawn of time and since the day after he’s been having hangovers. It then goes on to try and persuade people to stop drinking for a whole month and fill the time with something else. Watch it now.

When I first saw it I thought I was in a televised meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that I was listening to the story of that one person who can’t believe that they have a problem. It was painful to watch.

It’s an advert that appears to be aimed at people with an alcohol problem yet it is aimed at the whole population.

The idea behind Go Sober is that you stop drinking and somehow raise money for McMillan. You can do it in teams and get on a leaderboard on the website that’s dedicated to Go Sober and you can even aim for a place as the top fundraiser.

All well and good you may think but, there is always a but.

McMillan are a charity that provides care and support for people with cancer. They do a fantastic job and need funding as Government funding is in an ever increasing downward spiral.

However, over drinking can cause or enhance the chance of having SEVEN different types of cancer. If you are a regular drinker (and Go Sober presumes you are) then you are risk from or have an enhanced risk from

  • breast cancer
  • laryngeal (voice box) cancer
  • liver cancer
  • mouth cancer
  • oesophagel (food pipe) cancer
  • pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer
  • bowel cancer

That is, not to put to fine a point on it, a shit load of cancer.

To put it simply, McMillan want you to raise money for the care you may have to have when/if you succumb to cancer that was caused by your alcohol consumption

“Thinking of taking on Go Sober? Wondering if you’ve got the willpower to see it through? For so many Brits, the prospect of a dry thirty-one day stretch can seem as gruelling as any marathon. Psychologist Sarah Gibson shares a few tips to help you rise to the challenge.”

The above paragraph from the Go Sober website is very telling as is the fact that I could only find a single sentence about getting help if you find out you need it because your drinking is so out of control but the only sign post is to your doctor. Many people with an alcohol problem will only talk to their doctor as a last resort.

I’m sure that McMillan will get a ton of money to go towards their valuable work but hey, do a little bit at least towards alcohol awareness and where to get help. I don’t think that there’s many alcoholics that are sober today because of a fundraising campaign for a cancer charity.

Details of how to contact Alcoholics Anonymous are here.

More cycling than the Tour de France

Last week I was anxious and it grew until it was a monster living in my head.

Anxiety doesn’t always have a source but this one did. I was worrying about a friend, I was worrying about money and I was worrying in general.

The anxiety became turbo charged and on Saturday it transformed into an ultra manic episode. I revisited the suicidal ideations that I had many years ago and, not to put too finer point on it, I was scared shitless.

Then the episode began in earnest and I spent the next 90 minutes fighting against my own mind. I have two armies warring in my head and I feel as though I’m stand in between them trying to keep them apart.

It is exhausting.

I sent texts and messages to a few people as it was going on and I got the supportive replies back and those soothed me. When I read the messages back I feel comforted and thankful for those friends. They have no understanding of bipolar disorder and that is a blessing for both them and me.

My sister and I have a strong bond and we don’t need to say a lot in order to understand one another. We do well together.

I had an appointment with a GP yesterday evening and I talked frankly to her even though I was also afraid that she would mention hospitals and sections. She didn’t and I have now been referred to see a psychiatrist that I’ve had an on-off working relationship with for the past 17 years.

My regular GP rang this evening to talk over what had been said with his colleague last night and to make sure I was okay. We broached the subject of ECT as a treatment which is a bit scary but also not as scary as it sounds.

In a study in the US last year the results were hopeful. 61% of people who completed a course of ECT had periods of stability that lasted for at least nine months. I have had one period of stability of eight weeks and I am so desperate for longer periods I am willing to seriously consider a treatment that is not without risks and may not make any difference at all.

I am tired and I need rest but I am still moving forward.

World Suicide Prevention Day

As I write this there has already been, on average, six deaths by suicide today. There will be, on average, six more before the day is out and the likelihood is that you’ll hear nothing about any of them.

World Suicide Prevention Day intimates, to me at least, that all suicides are preventable and that you will always know when someone is contemplating suicide. They aren’t and you won’t.

The increasingly narrative verdict (which describes the circumstances that lead towards a death but don’t necessarily declare if the death was Misadventure, Accidental Death or Suicide) used by Coroners in the UK (which is where I am) does nothing to realistically comfort the families and/or friends left behind because they are left with nowhere to go to understand what has happened and, in a way, adds a layer of shame to the act of suicide.

There are lots of people who would still be alive today if there had been informed intervention but equally there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t be alive today.

Not knowing that somebody was feeling suicidal isn’t necessary your fault but somehow there is inferred guilt if it hasn’t been spotted and you haven’t intervened in a meaningful way. Mental health professionals should be able to see the signs and act upon them but family and friends don’t always see the signs.

If you’re a family that has seen the signs and have been let down by mental health professionals and your loved person has committed suicide then you have every reason to feel betrayed and bloody angry.

Having said that there will always be that one person who cannot be prevented from ending their life no matter how good their psychiatrist, community psychiatric nurse, social work etc.is. No matter how hard this feels to read it is important to know that for some people their death is the only answer. This is NOT your fault, truly.

Spontaneous suicides are far more likely to succeed than planned suicides because they are just so unexpected and they are usually done in a manner that guarantees success. This is NOT your fault.

Too often I have heard and seen that the family believes that X could not have been suicidal because they’d know and they would have prevented in. No, they wouldn’t and they couldn’t necessarily stopped them. Guilt as part of grieving process is natural but we have to let people know in no uncertain terms that suicide isn’t always stoppable.

People with planned suicide in mind often brighten up in the few days leading up to their attempt. This can make the family and friends feel that their lovely person is coming back to them and that they are moving back to their normality.

When you’re depressed and realise that there is a solution, that you can literally take yourself out of the world of mental illness then there is a huge feeling of relief. Planning for that can make you feel happy.

One person I know said when she woke from an overdose and realised that she was in hospital and alive she was incredibly angry because she had been stopped from obtaining her eternal relief.

Most of you will not know of the times when someone commits suicide yet didn’t want to die.

I have ultra manic storms in my head that go on for up to 90 minutes at a time. During this time the pain is unbearable and I feel that the only way I can stop the episode is to die. It is not something I want to live through again but I will. If I ever have one of these episodes and I am found dead after it it is not because I wanted to die it is because I want to stop the feeling, that my head forced myself into killing myself. Our brains are very sophisticated but they are also very stupid.

Not all suicdes are about wanting to die. Not all suicides are preventable.

Breathless

Back in April or so I had a cold which was so severe it felt like flu. I was left with breathlessness when I recovered and new that it would take time to pass. It was a bit worse when I walked with Ogden because my city is hilly and even when you’re going downhill you’re going uphill.

I have perennial rhinitis which is mostly to do with an allergy to mould. Mould is everywhere, literally everywhere.

Recycle question waste? There’s mould in it after a few minutes.
Live near a park or have a garden? It rains, it dries out, it rains – mould develops.
Walk by trees that have been cut down? There’s mould in that there tree.

This means that I have at least three boxes of tissues in my flat at any one time and I can’t go out without half my pockets being full of them.

Panic attacks have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s the most awful feeling when you’re convinced that you’r having a heart attack yet you can’t breathe to alleviate the symptoms and stop the panic.

Since the cold came and went I’ve never shaken off the breathlessness and this past week or so it’s got so bad that it’s happening almost constantly. It’s happening now as I sit here. I’m not gasping for breath but I am spending a lot of time holding my breath and then wondering why I can’t breathe.

I’ve been to see a nurse practitioner today and talked it all through with her addling that both my father and his father died dur to heart failure and that my dad also had Stage IV lung cancer when he died.

I’ve had the big check over and I’ve got so much oxygen in my blood that if I cut myself and you waved a match close to the wound I’d go up in flames.

What I’m experiencing is a mix of panic attacks and mould allergy. I’m stuck with the mould allergy and I’m getting all the treatment I need to handle that. The panic attacks are different kettle of fish because, even though they’re not something that can be cured, the effects can be lessened. I’ve practised mindfulness for 15 years – long before people “discovered” it and made it a fashionable fad.

In the meantime I remain breathless.