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.

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.

RIP Amy Buel, thanks for all the hope

I read about Project Semicolon a year or two ago and the purpose of it really struck a chord with me.

It was inspired, if that’s the right word, by the death of Amy Bluel’s father. She wanted to honour his death after he took his own life which an inspiring act in itself. Project Semicolon was the result of tragedy and I’m sure it has saved more than one family from a similar tragedy.

I have had to fight the extreme urge to die too many times in my life. I used to scare my GP as he listened to the things I said to him. I had to get my medication on a daily basis, friends in the local police beat management team took my sharp knives until I could be trusted with them again and I hung on to life even when my grip on reality was at its weakest.

I recovered from that period of depression eventually and I began to gain some stability in my life.

Then the ultra manic episodes began and, during a very intense 90 minutes or so, I had to argue with my own brain just to stay alive. It would shout at me to die, to stop the pain and I would shout back that I knew it would pass if I just held on 10 minutes longer.

I still have those episodes and I’m exhausted for days after they’ve happened. Mental illness is so physical it literally hurts.

The core of Project Semicolon is that “the semicolon represents the continuation of life after struggling with thoughts of suicide and death.”

We could have chosen to stop but we chose to keep going.

I have my semicolon tattoo on my right wrist. During my extreme episodes I look at it and tell myself what it stands for and, alongside with the remembered support of four people I pass successfully through the episodes. Bipolar disorder hasn’t got me yet.

I read a web page today that has the story that Amy Buel took her own life on March 23 this year. I am overcome with sorrow that the woman who gave me so much hope and support has been beaten to death by depression.

Amy and I never spoke, we never exchanged texts and she had no idea I was in this world but we were linked by the fragile thread that all people who experience mental illness are.

I end this with Amy’s own words:

“Just don’t let them forget why I was here because that’s what’s important.”

 

Well hello depression

I have always been on the depressive side of manic depressive and even during the times when I rapid cycle so many times a day that I lose count there was always the certainty that when the cycling stopped that I would stop in depression and not mania.

Depression, while a disgusting and debilitating experience, has always been familiar to me. I never recognise the onset of it but once I do I know how to handle it. I have a check list of things to do until I see my GP. I see my GP at least once every three weeks so I never have long to wait. People often envy my frequent visits to the GP but try being so ill that they’re seeing you often to keep you alive – it’s nothing to envy.

For the past two years or so I have been hypomanic. Hypomania is mania without psychosis. I have never had a full blown pyschotic episode but I have had episodes that are so close that I’ve felt the cold breath of psychosis on the back of my neck.

I hate being  manic. The management of my illness is centred around being in control. I can’t control depression but I can manage it if I’m prepared to lose sleep and look like a mess.

Over the past week or so I’ve seen my sleeping pattern change. It is a paradox that when I am manic I sleep soundly and when I’m depressed I get insomnia in a big way.

I have felt lethargic over the past few days. There have been bursts of  energy and enjoyment but today I just want to curl up into a ball and live in the airing cupboard for a few years. I sent a message to my best friend last night saying that I couldn’t find any positive things about the day, that I wanted to get monstrously drunk (I’ve been in recovery for 26 years) and that the safest thing I could do was to go to bed.

This morning I sent him a message saying that it had dawned upon me that I was actually was depressed. It had taken me two days to get to that point but I got there in the end.

Depression is a violent drag away from all that is enjoyable and worth living for but the feeling is much better than the relentless optimism (and the lack of empathy that came along with it) for the past two years.

If I spend the next few days, or weeks, or months crying and feeling like nothing counts anymore I’ll be happy in a weird kind of way but anything is better that the relentless mania and all the chaos and indignity that comes with it.

Privacy and the peeled baby

Today I feel exhausted and the pain I felt from writing my most recent blog has left me feeling soulless. I rarely expose so much of myself when I write. People often think that they know me through my writing but that’s not true – they learn of my experiences but me, my inside self, is left inside of me.

There are two reasons for this and they are that I’m an very private person and that I’m a peeled baby.

So what is a private person doing writing a blog and what the hell is a peeled baby?

I write to let people know the reality of living with mental illness and I am mentally ill. In 45 years I have experienced little respite – the longest period lasted eight weeks. I do not write to raise awareness. Raising awareness is an empty phrase because you are aware of mental health problems or you are not and it is far better to educate people in a meaningful way rather than shouting very loudly, “Hey, do you know that there’s something called Mental Illness? No? About your business then.”

I tell you of the devastation of it causes in my life, I tell you of my reality. What you don’t know is the colour of my eyes, what my favourite fruit is,  what this wonderful bed I talk of is like, why I prefer yellow roses over all others and the biggest (and toughest to cope with) phobia that I have.

You don’t know me, you know of my illness.

So what is the peeled baby thing? My GP once called me this and it’s a phrase he only uses when he refers to me. Simply he sees me wearing a suit of armour so tough and sturdy that nobody can penetrate it – life slings stones, boulders and unexpectedly attacks me and, to all intents and purposes, all these things bounce off me. Then I go home.

When I am in my safe place the armour comes off and there is a peeled baby inside of it; small, vulnerable and she has no way of coping with the world. She sits bleeding and unable to cope with the the things that other people call normal. She weeps sometimes and other times she is filled with an energy that is frantic and then she sits down again and is that peeled baby once more.

That is the harsh reality of my life. What you see is not what you get and I think I’m tired of hiding behind the armour. I’m too tired to pretend I’m coping. I’m tired of living the way I do. I’m tired of everything.

The only thing that’s keeping me going today is the love of my family, my close friends and my cats and dog. I am going through the motions because of the love and because the animals need me.

I am not suicidal, I am a peeled baby and a bloody exhausted one at that.