I’d like to talk to a manager…

At the end of June I visited a branch of the bank that I’m with two days in a row. What follows is an account of what happened while I was there and what has happened since.

On the first occasion I was asked what I wanted to do there. I needed to see a cashier and on hearing that the person who was looking after the queue outside the branch questioned me as to why. I felt explained that I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I needed to see the money counted out in front of me. Very loudly she told me there was a system in place and began to explain to me why. I told her I was aware of everything that was going on and at that point she tutted loudly and walked away.

The cashier was lovely. She said I didn’t have to explain to her why I needed to use her services and she obliged willingly when I asked her to count the money twice. She called a manager over so I could speak about my experience.

The manager was initially sympathetic but then began to tell me why the procedures were in place and seemed to be saying that I didn’t understand what she was saying. I felt humiliated.

I don’t just have OCD I have Bipolar Disorder and felt drained by the experience. I had to return again the next day but I was hopeful that what I had said would be taken into consideration given the feedback I’d volunteered.

The second occasion was worse. I explained again that I had OCD and need to carry out my transaction with a cashier. This person was borderline aggressive in her attempts to get me to use the machine. She raised her voice as she repeated over and over again why the procedures in place and that the cashier should be only used by people who couldn’t access services in any other way. Each time her voice rose I felt smaller.

The cashier told me that she wasn’t prepared to count out the cash I wanted to deposit but she would show me how to use a machine. I explained that I had OCD and that I needed to see the cash counted in front of me. She moaned about having to handle it and was surly when I mentioned I wanted to see a manager.

I saw the same manager who opened her reply with “I’m sorry you feel that way…” She was defensive and repeated several times the reason why their procedures were in force. By this time I was frustrated and tearful, the woman administering the queue was glaring at me and I felt so small I thought I had disappeared. There is a little mini “mission statement” on the wall which I pointed to and was met with silence.

At this point I was given a chance to talk to a more experienced manager had the opportunity to explain the effect that OCD and Bipolar Disorder has on my life.

I told her that the treatment of people with mental health problems and/or illnesses should be the exact opposite of how I had been treated. I had had my dignity removed and the experiences I endured would have a negative impact on me.

I was asked to make a formal complaint and suggest some ideas forward for the bank to improve their customer service with people who have problems with their mental health.

One question should be asked when facing people without a visible disability is, “If someone treated someone I love in a negative way as they tried to access bank services would I be angry?” The answer is invariably yes and therefore staff should be guided by that.

I received a phone call from the bank this morning to tell me as soon as the branch shut after I first raised my concerns they began immediate training to improve customer service. It didn’t work immediately but on receiving my email last week training sessions have been planned and as I recommended using mindfulness they are downloading guided meditations from the University of Bangor website.

I had a bad experience but it has been turned around into something good. I have spoken, I have been listened to and action has been taken. The manager has circulated my email to other local branches and they will be doing training using the guidelines I’ve given them.

Whisper in the ear of the right person and they will shout.

On hitting the wall

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began I have hit walls on an almost regular basis. I have a great doctor who lets me bypass the appointment system because the alternative is potential death. So far he’s assured me that I’m doing okay, my mental health toolbox is full and even if I don’t know what I’m looking for there’s something in there that may help.

He’s very good about medication. Too many doctors don’t trust their patients around diazepam and sleeping pills especially when prescribed together but mine does and has acknowledged that even though I may need to take them more often for a while that time will pass.

Today I’ve accepted that the wall I hit three days ago is part of a bipolar episode, a depressive episode. My mind tends to be in a permanent state of irritatingly chirpy so depression is an alien feeling and is something I find difficult to cope with.

Two visits to my bank this week have ended with me in tears. I’ve been talked to as though I was a stupid child and nagged constantly during the time I waited to go in and the time I was in there. I will make a formal complaint and they will send me a letter of apology. 

I’m an experienced speaker on welfare reform and disability and so the bank has asked me to send them some notes so that they can run a training session for the staff based upon them. I have a feeling that this won’t change the way that they do business very much.

It had better be good. One day it will, one day it will

Tomorrow is another day and it will be different. It may not improve but it will be different and meanwhile I will continue to keep going because I don’t know how to stop.


You’re not as good as Mary…

In 1980 I was on the tail end of a quest to find God, a meaning to what felt like a pointless life. I still had friends within the Roman Catholic youth “charismatic community” and one of those was Mary.

Mary threw herself in to everything. She had a cheque book in a time when few young people had bank accounts and she was always telling us what a good friend she was to everyone. She was considered to be the best singer among us and she always got the solos.

I was asked to sing the Song of Jeremiah when my parents renewed my marriage vows that year. Afterwards someone told me I sang nicely but I wasn’t as good as Mary. She wasn’t a better singer than me, she was a different kind of singer and she worked hard at hiding anyone’s light underneath her bushel.

I drifted away from the crowd I’d become friends with as I abandoned my quest for God. The God we’d been told to adore sent his Son to earth to heal the sick but only if you believed in him. Unconditional love wasn’t what God was about, it was domination.

I became interested in mindfulness around 15 years ago. It was made quite clear to me that it wasn’t about sitting on a yoga mat doing breathing exercises it was a true meditation and one that I still practise.

I’m aware that I wasn’t looking for a God to believe in when I was young, I was seeking a spiritual path and that didn’t have to include belief in a God.

In order to find spirituality I had to look at myself and be truthful about who I was and who I wanted to be.I cannot live long enough to make all the mistakes I need to learn from so I must look, in a non-judgemental way, at the mistakes of other people.

So what lessons did learn from Mary? That spending money on anyone who happened to be around and singing was all she had. She had no friends, she placed herself in the centre of a group of people and made a lot of noise. 

It isn’t possible to buy a satisfying life.

On the use of insect netting in lockdown

Every summer I hang insect netting on the windows to keep out flies.  Talking to someone recently I told them what I’d been doing and they asked if it was a term I was using to describe my coping mechanisms during lockdown. 

I think that they’ve hit on a great phrase and I formulated a description of what it means, to me at least.

I use cheap insect netting; coping mechanisms do not need to be expensive.

I often feel a need to detach a little from the world but still need to see enough of it. These are what my doctor calls my “in the world but not of it” periods.

When I am close to the netting it obscures the view but from a distance I can see through it clearly.

Sometimes it rips before I remove it from the windows in autumn as I move it slightly to open and close windows. The world begins to break in when I’m ready to rejoin it, or as Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in.” 

As I speak I am keeping out the niggles that try to push their way in from the world. My netting can’t keep the big beasts out but it removes little pests from my life.

On 29 years of sobriety

In my early 20s I had a reputation for being trouble but then the alcoholic troubled often are. I was nasty and got nastier the more I drank. I wasn’t physically violent but people were nice to me in a wary kind of way. Had it been possible I would have crossed the road to avoid myself.

Like all alcoholics I drank to change the way I felt and alcohol changed me into a person I despised so I drank to forget her. A perpetual cycle.

On April 23rd 1991 a GP sat me down in his surgery and told me that if I didn’t change my lifestyle then I’d be dead before I was 35. I was 32 years old.

I knew that he wasn’t telling that it would be a brilliant party with great booze and equally great drugs but that my major organs would fail, that I wouldn’t be able to drink enough to stave off the DTs (Delirium Tremens) and I would die painfully and alone.

I wanted to live more than I wanted to drink and working out notice running a pub during my first three weeks of sobriety was one of the worst experiences I’ve had.

As I left the pub for the last time I began a period of mourning. Alcohol was my lover and I had left them without saying goodbye.

It hasn’t been easy getting to this point. A divorce then two bad relationships, being at the point of suicide more than once and so worrying to my GP that he gave me my medication daily. A police officer friend took all the sharp things from my home. A diagnosis of Bipolar I was devastating. I’ve at the point of drinking many times but, believe me, alcohol doesn’t solve problems it makes them worse.

A brief dip into Alcoholics Anonymous taught me how I didn’t want to be and that friendships within “the rooms” could be as unhealthy and destructive as those without.

Twenty years ago I moved to where I’m living now and finally realised that I was allowed to be who I am.

I am a photographer and a writer. If people don’t like me then that’s fine, it’s no business of mine what other people think of me. I don’t want to have more friends than I can count, I don’t need a hectic social life and I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations including my own. I embrace my eccentricity, my imperfections and my tendency to live like a hermit.

As I sat outside last night and wrote this it was still warm from a bright spring day. I listened to some music and sang along to it a bit too loudly. I read my words back to myself and I am both pleased and astounded with how far I’m away from the woman I once was.

Today I’m alive and sober and that’s all I want and need.

I leave you with these words of hope by Leonard Cohen:

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.