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.

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.