The joys of Christmas

It’s many years since I spent a whole Christmas Day either with my own family or as part of someone else’s.

The first four or five years I hated the aloneness, the constant words from continuity announcers on television telling you that if you’re spending the day alone they’re thinking of you. I spent a lot of time in tears back then.

I felt as though I was a failure because no-one invited me to spend the day, or part of it, with them. The truth be known was that back then I knew a bunch of self-centred people who couldn’t find it in their hearts to express affection for someone.

Then I bought a camera and realised that I could spend the whole morning out taking photos if I wanted to and then was no-one else to consider. If I wanted to spend all afternoon on the sofa watching trash on the television dressed in my night clothes then I could. The best thing was I wasn’t tied to any particular kind of food or time to eat.

Then I got dogs and walked them down the harbour on Christmas morning smiling at other dogs as I’ve passed them. I’ve noticed the strained and unhappy faces of people as I’ve passed them by and realised that, for some people, Christmas is a time to be endured not enjoyed. 

This year I’ll be doing the same as I’ve done for the past five years. I’ll pop in and have coffee with a friend on the way to the harbour, pick another friend up on the way there so we can walk our dogs together. Having a dog means that I don’t get to sit around in my night clothes all day but I still get to sit around and do my thing.

For a lot of people this year they will be facing Christmas in a totally different way. Coronavirus has changed to way we live and it is altering the way we can spend Christmas Day. 

This year is the opportunity to turn everything around and do it differently in a way that suits you better. This is the year that talks within families have to be had and the decisions made may be be lasting and better.

Joy to the world? Maybe not but there may be smiles for some of us.

No death, no closure

Back at the being of pandemic lockdown I was scared to a point of being frozen emotionally and physically. I kept within the guidelines but missed the immediate availability of  some of my friends.

A planned trip to London to see a friend, the first trip since the previous September, was called off less than two weeks before lockdown began. I’d had a really severe cold and my GP said I was probably vulnerable and it wasn’t worth the risk. Given the current information we have about symptoms and the way the illness progresses it is very likely that I had the virus.

Like most people I’ve stumbled through the seven month since the beginning of lockdown in a haze and the government has turned that haze into a mist and now it’s a dense fog. None of us know what we’re doing and are wandering aimlessly physically and mentally.

I hit mental walls regularly, every two weeks or so, and I’m lucky because I can talk to my GP without and appointment. I say lucky but I have fragile mental health because my brand of Bipolar Disorder is a bit of a bastard and likes to drive me to feeling suicidal when it’s a bit bored.

My “life” feels as though it’s succumbing slowly to a kind of death. My social life, which centred around trips to London and other places accompanied by a camera, has stopped. I’ve been out once with a friend since March.

My chaotic eating has descended into the bowels of hell and I’ve started buying takeaways despising myself for doing so.

Unlike death in its finality this death is enduring and there is no conclusion. I fumble around like children playing Blind Mans Bluff and there is no sign of the ending. I am tiring of social media and trying to find some positivity in it but it’s as overwhelmingly negative as the feelings I have about the current state of my life.

I’m a natural optimist. My relentless cheerfulness pisses me off at times let alone anyone else but it’s disappearing. The atmosphere brought about by the virus is nibbling away as a rat does to anything comfy it can find to make a bed. I am ending up a soggy mess in the corner of a cage just like a rats bed.

I am not dead and I have no closure.

Coping, not coping

This week I have been experiencing insomnia in a way that I haven’t for the past decade. I’m waking in the middle of the night after four or five hours of deep sleep. By mid afternoon I’m crying with tiredness yet not having naps because I worry about the effect it will have when I get to bed at night. I’m in bed by 10.00 and awake by 2.00.

I used to love prolonged periods of insomnia. I felt as though I was the only person alive in the world; there was no traffic, no sounds, no trains – just me. The joy of sleeplessness has transformed into a boring chore and I can see from my social media timelines that a lot of people are having the same experience.

This is not any old insomnia, it is driven by the fear and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We all want it to be over – the deniers so it doesn’t dominate their lives and take away their “rights” and the more sensible of us who just want a hug.

My GP thinks I’m coping but we both know that I’m not. My fragile mental health pushes me closer to suicide than is healthy at times and, though I have no suicidal ideation right now, it is never too far away from happening. It lurks round corners waiting just out of sight and then when I’m least expecting it out it pounces; the weirdest and wildest animal you could ever wish not to meet.

None of us are managing particularly well. Those who claim to be are buffered by money, foolishness and/or religion. The vast majority of us are not wealthy or can console themselves with religion though a good many of us are foolish. We are all taking risks despite doing our best to keep safe.

How happy I am to be home by Leonard

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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.