Don’t Rain on My Parade

At school we used to have “Rainy Day Play” which meant it was pissing down and playtime was spent indoors breathing in other pupils’ farts instead of fresh air.  In truth it didn’t have to be pissing down; the first spot on the window pane had teachers gleefully banning the opening of doors.  It feels like that where I am today as I’m forced to stay inside the Ottermobile.  I’d planned a 10-mile hike but the professor in me saw the rain and vetoed the idea.  So I’m doing a lot of thinking, especially about the reactions to yesterday’s diary entry, which applaud my attempt to add to the growing Social Media noises about depression.  In entries to follow I promise more adventures and to be frivolous again, but as a last word for now on the subject, and to hopefully raise even more awareness, I ask a simple question: Are people with depression unemployable?

Back in 2011 The Guardian ran a piece about whether or not to disclose to your employer that you have a mental illness, a horrible dilemma I outlined in yesterday’s post.  The article cited a couple of examples where the person chose to “out” themselves and found it to be beneficial, but argued in balance that that isn’t universally the case.  So that was six years ago and you’d hope things might’ve improved immensely since then.  But given that 1 in 4 British people per year suffer in some way from depression, stress or anxiety, it worries me that though the issue is now more recognised and taken more seriously, there remains some doubt about whether employers really do “get it.”

This is of course regarding people who are in work, but what about those who find themselves unemployed?  On the positive side, more than 450 employers so far have signed the Time to Change Pledge, but there is a lot more to be done.  The Mind website makes interesting reading with regards to their campaign to lobby the Government with ideas for a more radical and workable back-to-work scheme.  The case studies on the site particularly intrigue me; there are many people in the position I describe – they want to work but find themselves tied up in red tape and Jobcentre bureaucracy, in some cases professional people with excellent skills, qualifications and career histories being advised to attend a course on how to write a CV!  It isn’t the Jobcentre’s fault, they’re merely following guidelines, but it’s time to realise the guidelines are archaic and only serve to make an applicant more demoralised than they were in the first place.  The guidelines can only change when attitudes change.

I think that whether you’re in work or not, one of the difficulties of mental illness in the context I’m discussing, is that it is ‘invisible’.  Whereas a person with flu (for example only) might display symptoms, a person with depression can on the outside look the picture of health.  A person with depression can laugh and joke, so on the surface he or she seems absolutely fine, and it’s therefore no wonder to be fair that people might not notice or understand it.  But on the inside the person is suffering, often privately and spiralling in the way I posited yesterday.

When I was in Bradford recently I visited someone I know well who is undergoing chemotherapy.  We talked about music and lots of things and had some laughs, but we also talked about work, and his employers being supportive.  Which is just as well, he said, because if he lost his job who would employ a man in his mid-fifties with cancer?  I knew what he meant but it shocked me; it was almost like someone saying Who would employ me because I’m non-white, gay, disabled?

In one of my previous jobs in TV I was responsible for finding new talent and addressing the issue of diversity.  It’s a difficult job but I’m pleased to say I had some success.  But we can always and should always do more to open doors for the broadest cross-section of society.  We can do more for ethnicity, we can do more for those with disabilities, and given that statistically 25% of society has mental illness, we can do more for that section too.

I’ve made thousands of bad calls in my life but one of the worst was not putting by for a rainy day.  If I’d known (or in truth been less naive) about how my illness would affect my career, I might not have made that mistake.  But you live and learn eventually.  And though it’s a “rainy day” today I’m going for that walk after all.  I’ve got my van and I’ve got places to see, adventures to find, fun to have and frivolousness to deliver.  Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter.

 

Happy Endings – A Story in Three Parts

mark sunset

Image by Jayne Bickerton

Part One:

Depression manifests itself in many different ways, depending I suppose who you are and how you’re made up.  Because I do think it’s genealogical; I never got to meet my granddad, but if my mother’s tales were anything to go by, he was an alcoholic.  And though I think the word was never used in those days, depression was what he suffered and died from.  Depression is not easy to describe, but with your blessing I’ll attempt to do so, at least from my own perspective…

Like a human drama serial, this thing comes in episodes.  They’re not time-specific though, they can last for a day, a week, a month…  And each one finishes but you know there’ll be another instalment – as for when, you’re kept in suspense.  I’ve had many episodes in my life, and while they’re always similar in terms of the physical (because it is a physical illness) the mental side can vary – from hopelessness, apathy, despair to the far end of the spectrum, suicidal tendencies or even an attempt to “end it”.

Let me first take the physical side.  The body aches, it doesn’t want to get out of bed, it doesn’t want to be dressed, it refuses to exercise, it’s seized-up, it’s blown a gasket, it’s just conked out.  This I admit is a simplistic portrait, but to me it is that simple; your body has just packed up.

The mental side is far more complex and I repeat, varied.  This won’t make for merry reading but I offer two examples of either end of the spectrum I outlined above.

Part Two:

The first example is triggered by nothing in particular but it can trigger something life-threatening (see my previous diary entry).  You wake up with a strange feeling that the hours are going to be dark.  It takes a while to get up.  You run a bath.  It goes cold because you go back to bed.  You finally get up and let the water out, and you hate the waste of a commodity we in this country take for granted while others are gasping for it.  You run another bath.  But the tank is cold now.  You sit in the freezing water for ages.  Your mind goes orange, you’re feeling nothing except hopelessness… What are you doing here?  Why were you born?  Why have you made your life a mess?  Where are you going?  Why does nobody love you?  Of course you know that people do love you, but that’s how it feels.  It’s not as simple as just feeling sorry for yourself, which is why it’s irritating when people tell people like you to “cheer up” or “get a grip” or “pull yourself together.”  Because the hopelessness makes that impossible, the hopelessness is overpowering and oppressive to common sense.  Some people say it’s like being strait-jacketed and you know what they mean.  But to you it feels like someone’s poured sand in your ear, making your head too heavy to function, blocking the ability to think straight, to appreciate what’s good about your life and the world itself.  So you have to wait till you sleep on the right side and the sand runs out.  But when the days go by and there’s no sign of the sand on your pillow, only tears, the only way of coping is to drink, find some escape, and drink, and drink… and nearly burn yourself to death.

The second example is work-related.  You have a great job, demanding and tiring but great.  You’re doing well, riding high.  Then one morning it goes orange.  Again no particular trigger, just everything turning orange in your head and your body shutting down.  You try to soldier on but the more you do the less you get done.  It’s the curse of the strong – you’re a strong man but you’re losing control, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to someone like you.  It’s time to get help, you know it, from your loved-ones, from your boss, but to ask is to betray your weakness so instead you bottle it up, the dog is mauling you but you conceal the teeth-marks.  The reluctance to show weakness is compounded by the fear that nobody will understand, your boss won’t get it, and the very real fear of losing your job or being “managed out”.  The fear of your talents slipping away or being ignored.  So you neither turn to others nor help yourself, you do yourself no favours which means you turn to drink.  Before you know it you’re on a spiral that only goes downwards and the self-loathing kicks in, you hate yourself so much that the very idea that anybody can love you seems ludicrous, and life itself seems impossible too, so what choice do you have but to weigh up how to do it… a rope, a hose-pipe or walk into the sea?

Part Three:

But there is always another choice, and there’s always the fact you have a responsibility, to yourself and your loved-ones.  If you didn’t turn to them for help, you only have yourself to blame.  It seems incongruous but you’re in a privileged position to be in the abyss, but looking up at the sun or stars.  The sun warms your face, and the stars say you can fight, you can fight both your circumstances and your dog.  Your reason to live is right there.  Your loved-ones, the things in life that give you pleasure.

Your pleasure happens to be travel, so what better way to leave this thing behind?  It’s not running away, it’s running to something new.  It’s not displaying weakness it’s showing you’re in control again.  And finally, you’re not hopeless, you’re full of promise, full of joy and full of knowledge that the fucking dog is no better than you.  You are the master.  And now the master heads for the sun, on his merry way.