Ogden Nash, a great dog

Three years ago, give a take a week or so, I saw a photo of a dog on a Facebook rescue page. The photo was shared to me by a friend and it was of a very sad looking dog who’d been in a Spanish pound for three years. THREE YEARS. Five months is considered a long time in a British pound and dogs are reasonably well looked after but three years in a Spanish pound where the dogs are treated like shit? No wonder he looked sad.

The charity I got him from was basically shit and there was a lot of problems before he finally arrived home. This sounds crazy but I missed him before he got here and I was desperate to see him. His Spanish name was Relampago which means streak of lightening and he was well named but I called him Ogden.

He arrived six inches taller than I’d been told and 10 kilos heavier and he was 5 kilos overweight. He hadn’t had a walk all the time he’s been in the pound and he had a scar on his back that had been caused by either acid, hot fat or hot metal. He had scars in his ears and he was nervous.

As soon as he arrived, after having the longest pee ever and a quick snack (two days by road from Spain = little food in case of travel sickness and few stops) I took him out for his first walk.

It was evening so the streets were quite quiet and we could walk around without him being too scared of things. He didn’t know where to look first – everything and anything drew his eye. He kept bumping into things because he couldn’t concentrate. There was one or two poo related accidents at home but that was because he didn’t know where to go.

I’d got him a bed, a cushion and a fleece to encourage him to find his own sleeping space and he refused to use them. He didn’t know that he was allowed to sleep on something soft and it took several weeks for him to sleep in the bed. He had three in the end!

He didn’t wag his tail for ages. He seemed to be convinced that I wasn’t going to be around long and I think he was scared about getting attached to me.

Right from the start people told me how handsome he was and were suprised that I’d just got him because they thought we looked so right together and we did. We complemented each other perfectly and we’re both a bit on the batty side so it was a match made in heaven.

He wasn’t just a good dog he was one of the great dogs. He had healing properties. That sounds all new agey and religious but he had an amazing way with people that I’d never seen in other dogs.

Once when we were on the way to the train station for a day out a guy stopped us and asked if he could smooth Ogden because he felt depressed and needed a lift. By the time we walked away to catch our train the guy was visibly better.

In Bromley, London and Bristol disable people approached us and asked to fuss over him and he really brightened them up. Everyone felt better when they met Ogden, he was truly one of the great dogs.

Last Wednesday morning we went out for our walk first thing. He’d had a few problems for a few days but on that morning he was obviously not well at all and I knew that  there was only one thing to do. I rang my vet and we arranged to have him put to sleep at lunchtime the same day.

I rang Rob who had looked after him when I went away on every Wednesday afternoon for since he got to England and told him and asked him to come with me. I rang my sister and she listened while my heart broke.

I took Ogden round to Rob’s house to pick him up to go to the vet and so that his mum and dad could say goodbye to him too.

He had lots ot treats that morning, probably about a weeks worth but the smile on his face as he ate them was wonderful.

The vet was kind. She laid a blanket on the floor and we had 15 minutes with him in private to say our goodbye and  then came back with a sedative that sent him off into a deep sleep and left us with him again. After we’d had time talking to him and hugging him she came back, gave him his injections and we held him and each others hands as she monitored his life signs until  he stopped breathiing and she could confirm that Ogden, who had been alive that morning and had been the centre of my work for 2 years and 8 months was no longer alive.

I miss coming home and hearing him bark as I open the gate. I miss shouting, “Have you been a good boy?” as I come through the door. I miss taking his collar off every afternoon and grooming him. I miss singing You Are My Sunshine to him and having him snuggle tightly in as I sing. I miss him nudging at me every morning to get out of bed so  he can start his day. I miss his dog smell and the fur he shed everywhere. I miss him the dog I longed to arrive and thought would  live forever.

He safe now, his illness was swift and the solution was equally as swift.

I’m being taken for coffee by so many people that I’ve lost count and I’m rearranging my time so life can change back to being about me and not about him.

His first four years of life were fucking awful but the two years and eight months he had with me were the way his life should have been lived. He had lovely beds, he had good food, he had antlers to chew on, he had me and his extended family to lovely him and he was free.

I cannot begin to describe how much I miss him or how much I will miss him but I’m so glad I had him with me. I will never forget him and I will never stop loving him.

The text message and the phone call

Last year, during the second election (which I hoped Labour would win) one of my friends started sharing Britain First posts on her Facebook page and making comments on them. She did this more than once and they were obnoxious to say the least, racist to be more honest.

I couldn’t tolerate such racism on my timeline. When I was a young teenager I witnessed an act of racism aimed at a friend of mine and it both shocked me and scared me.

These posts and their comments came from a woman who goes to church every Sunday and is well known and liked in her community. It was disturbing to think that she would act the way she did. Even though I didn’t know her in real life we’d spoken on the phone more than once and we sent each other texts often.

Instead of challenging her I quietly blocked on her on all the social media platforms that we had interacted on and left it at that. We have one mutual friend and I mentioned it in passing to him.

Today I had an unexpected text message from her asking how I was. I thought about confronting her head on or fudging it then I thought that I’d have a chat to the person who was a mutual friend.

He told me I was overreactiing and that I was judging someone on a couple of posts. His take was that just because you make a few racist comments it does make you a racist.

He and I are on opposite sides of the political centre shall we say. I thought I was much further left that he was right but it turns out not. I always thought that he wasn’t as hard right as he admitted to being and that he was a good man at heart.

But a few racist comments on a Britain First page doesn’t make you a racist according to him and that wasn’t the end of it. He intimated that he thought that it was acceptable for her to voice her opinions but it wasn’t acceptable for me to challenge her and that I should just let it go.

I’ve ignored her text message and, stupidly, deleted it before I could block her number.

The harder decision was realising that I’ve got to let a friend go. I’ve loved this friend for many years, he has been there through some very rough times but I can’t have someone who excuses racism in my life.

It’s not because of politics, it’s not an overrreation or that a friend has made mistakes it’s because, by defending a racist and telling me I’m in the wrong he’s exposed himself both as a racist and a bully.

I’m not going to make a big deal of it, I’m not going to out him, I’m not going to confront him but I am in a position to let us drift apart until one day he’ll look up and find that I’ve disappeared from his life. His loss.

Here we go yet again

I’ve been feeling quite good for me the past few weeks. I’ve been unstable and disorganised but I’ve been trying to manage my time well and I’ve almost managed to do it several times. At other times I’ve failed miserably and that’s been really frustrating.

One of the tell tale signs that I’ve not been coping or managing my illness is the lack of baking that’s been finding its way into my freezer. I’ve made sausage rolls but because I made them I couldn’t bake bread.

I did a lot of shopping before Christmas, particularly of animal food, and now I have no real idea of what I’ve got in and what I haven’t. People will advise me to go to the cupboards and write things down but my brain can’t work like that when I’m feeling pressured. I can assemble the ingredients for a simple dish that I’ve made countless times but I can’t work out how to get the raw ingredients into the finished product. So going through the cupboards to write a shopping list is a bit beyond me right now.

It’s a sign of stress and it’s a form of dissociation which is both uncomfortable and unnerving. A few days ago I was stable within my shaky instability (which means I’m not very stable at all) and now I’m unstable again and it hurts.

This is a cycle that I go through countless times a year. This cycle may go on for hours or days or months but one thing is for sure, it will stop when it wants to regardless of what I do.

I both the time and space to be ill and to recover to a certain point. I am never well, I am just less ill at times. I’ve seen this coming for a few days but, like all the other times, I didn’t see what it was. Such is the artfulness of bipolar disorder. It’s a dodgy bastard.

Obsession and the lack of writing

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is part and parcel of having a major mental health problem. It’s never just one thing, there’s always add ons.

I am primarily an Obsessor with a chunk of compulsion thrown in and I am very disordered.

I haven’t written for nearly two months. This isn’t because I don’t have things to say it’s because the Obsessor in me is obsessing about something else. Currently it’s my family tree but that will change back to writing again or taking photos; it’s a bit like playing a lucky dip, you don’t know what you’re going to get or even if you want it.

I’m thankful for the fact that I can spend huge amounts of time alone which can be difficult given that I live in an extremely friendly part of my city and it’s bad enough trying to avoid people you know without other people wanting to chat. I always do chat back though just in case they’re lonely and I can be a break in that or maybe they think I’m lonely and who am I to deprive someone of doing a good deed.

I’m happy to have a dog that isn’t too keen on people or other dogs so we get to walk without feeling obliged to talk to people and can vary our route as we choose.

I don’t have a particularly good life but I do have a particulary good life also. I suffer but I can suffer (and therefore recover) at my own speed and rate.

So maybe the writing will start again tomorrow or maybe not but if it does it will become another facet of the O in Obsessive for as long as it takes even if it does have me tearing my hair out, quite literally, by the roots.

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.