Sorry, but today was a really bad day. Anything I write would be falsely cheerful or dreadfully depressing, so I’m off to bed early.
Tomorrow is another day.
Oh, and it has an appointment with my shrink in it.
Back tomorrow, definitely.
Sorry, but today was a really bad day. Anything I write would be falsely cheerful or dreadfully depressing, so I’m off to bed early.
Tomorrow is another day.
Oh, and it has an appointment with my shrink in it.
Back tomorrow, definitely.
Back in February I wrote that it’s ten years since my breakdown and first real bout of depression.
I couldn’t remember the exact date that it started, only that it between February 14th and 28th, so I picked a day and used that as the anniversary.
I can’t remember the exact date of the event I’m about to recall now either, but it was on a Saturday night in April, and the 21st was a Saturday in 2001, so today will do.
When it all started I dragged myself to my doctor feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and he assured me that I was far from being the only person who‘d ever fallen into depression like this, gave me tablets and lots of advice.Among other things he told me that the tightness just under my breastbone was the muscles contracting through stress, and that a long walk every evening would help this.
He was right. Each evening I took a long walk the whole away around the town and by the time I got home the tightness would be gone. I was still desperately depressed, still desperately fearful about who-knows-what, still very, very sad.
And one Saturday evening, let’s say ten years ago today, I was out on my usual walk. Part of the walk took me through a narrow lane, and on this particular evening there were a group of teenage lads and girls hanging around the entrance. I could hear their accents as I neared them, they were the kind of kids who were probably all at university and were into rugby, and long evenings chatting about how old people (those over 30) were fecking up the world (God, they’d no idea, we were only starting).
One of them was a slightly chubby, bespectacled guy, slightly taller than me, who looked like a teenage Elton John. I have no idea what came over him, but he suddenly ran at me, thrust his face close to mine and roared a sound that’s almost impossible to spell, but was more or less like “Whoaaaaarrrhhhh!!!!”
I’m not sure what reaction he thought he’d get. I bet he’d never thought he’d get none, but at that stage I was so dead inside that I wouldn’t have recoiled if he’d been carrying a machete. I never broke stride, but did turn my head to look expressionlessly at him as I passed. His eyes met mine, and for a brief second he stared into deep, soul-destroyed blackness.
I’d often heard the phrase “his face dropped”, but for the first time ever I knew what it meant.
His roar petered out, he shuffled backwards back to his mates, I kept walking.
If we do have Guardian Angels I’d rather mine looked like the one on the right. But it seems they come in unexpected shapes and sizes, and I got that kid instead. Because as I continued my walk the look on the his face kept coming back into my mind and eventually, for the first time in over two months, I grinned.
It was the night I began to get better.
A short detour to Rantland will now follow. Whenever I clicked into a link it would turn from blue to purple, and I noticed all related ones did too. For example, after I’d clicked into ‘football’ I noticed that ‘football players’ had turned purple as well (they’ve no saint, by the way, which makes a bit of a mockery of Maradona’s Hand of God).
Early on in the vast list I found the category ‘against depression‘, which obviously I had a look at. After I’d done so I discovered that ‘insanity‘, ‘madness’, ’mental illness’ and ’mentally ill people’ were now also purple. We constantly fight the stigma attached to depression, striving to convince the world that it is not a sign of mental illness, but it seems the Catholic Church does not agree.
Anyway, back from Rantland, and back to the Patron Saint Against Depression. Prepare yourself, gentle reader, to meet St Christina the Astonishing.
Having a boastful adjective attached by a ’the’ to the end of your name tends to happen to people intent on world domination, such as Attila the Hun, Ming the Merciless or Cowell the GuyfromXFactor. Saints don‘t go in for it as much. St Patrick, for example, was not known as St Patrick the Magnificent, nor was Joan of Arc known as St Joan the Fire-eater, or at least for not as long as she’d hoped. But when you read about Christina you find that Astonishing doesn’t really do her justice.
She could not stand “the odour of sin” from other people, and would avoid contact by climbing trees or buildings, hiding in ovens or cupboards or simply by levitating (the “simply“ in that sentence is not mine, it‘s from the article itself and implies it was the easiest of her options).
She slept on rocks, wore rags, and begged (though who from, given the paragraph above, is not immediately obvious). She would spend long periods in tombs, would stand in freezing water or would roll in fire. She should be the patron saint of saunas.
What I do find astonishing is that she was born in 1150 (near Liege, she’s Belgian, Mwa, I’m just saying) and died in 1224, which means that after all that she lived to be 74. It’s an interesting alternative to eating your five-a-day.
Anyway, for us depressives this flying anti-socialite, part iceberg, part chestnut-roasting-on-an-open-fire is our role model, and the one who is to intercede on our behalf to God.
That should really depress us, but actually she’s cheered me up enormously, by making me feel quite normal.
Perhaps that’s why she’s a saint.
I don’t remember the exact date, but I know that it was sometime between Valentine’s Day and February 28th, so today’s as good a day as any to use.
I realised later that it had been coming slowly, that for a few months I’d been really down and had a constant feeling of dread, though I’d no idea what of. This was there even during the good times, and since the Tinkids were 9, 6 and 4 at the time, there were many, many good times as they played and learned and grew.
Then, on some date that we are calling today, I did a job for a client (I was self-employed back then). She had a look at it, said it looked grand (and I’m sure it was, I was really good at what I used to do, which makes what followed all the odder) and I got up to go. Then, as I was leaving she said “well, sure I can ring you if I’ve any problems,” and all the way home I kept thinking “she’ll look at it properly now, she’ll think what is this crap, no-one’s done stuff this way for twenty years, she’ll sue me, I’ll end up in jail”.
And that was it. It sprung a small leak in the dam which was protecting my mind from waves of stress, self doubt and coal-black sadness. The dam burst, the waves swept in and my mind was submerged.
My mobile rang on the way home. It wasn’t the client, but at that stage it didn’t matter. I stopped at the beach near home and hurled the mobile out into the sea.
The next morning I didn’t get up. Nor on most days for a while after that. Mrs Tin just told the kids I was sick and they accepted that, which was great because I couldn’t have faced them knowing what was really wrong. Tingirl wasn’t yet old enough for school and I would pull the duvet tighter and tighter around my head as she’d play “Wade in the Water” by Eva Cassidy all day long on the sitting-room CD player because she loved it, and eventually I start to shudder whenever I heard it begin.
I did go to my doctor (even I’m not that stupid), he gave me medication and lots of calming advice, and in time things got better. I’ve had two bad bouts since, in 2003 and about 3 years ago, but I’m fighting it pretty hard. Mostly I fight it by laughing at it, for example by referring to 2001 as “the year I went mad”, and to the fact that I have a psychiatrist as “now that I’m a mental patient”. Blogging helps too, every now and then I feel down and vent about it and you are all tremendously supportive.
This post must seem a bit startling, coming out of the blue after reams of relentlessly cheerful stuff, but as I say it is ten years ago, and I hope that marking that milestone will put one more brick in the dam that I’ve been carefully re-building.
I will end with the story of another brick that I put in. Four years ago I bought myself the Eva Cassidy CD that has “Wade in the Water” on it, and forced myself to listen to it. I have it on my iPod now. I don’t like the song much, but that’s because I don’t think it’s a particularly good song.
The point is it doesn’t remind me of anything.
As I said yesterday I went back to see my psychiatrist this morning.
The appointment was at 7.30 am (nutsness never sleeps) so once again I was able to get the same bus that I normally get to work. I wrote about this last time, and about how people who were beginning to become familiar might notice when I suddenly got off at a different stop, one that you would only get off at if you were going to St John of Gods. I wrote that this was a touch embarrassing.
But that was back when I had only started catching that bus to work. In the intervening time I have become a regular, and am now on “good morning” terms with the man and woman who are at my stop each morning. We exchange pleasantries (“the service has gone cat, hasn’t it”), utter cliches (“this time two weeks it’ll all be over”) and, since we all get off at the same stop as well, we wish other a good day as we separate. By my standards they’re practically bosom buddies.
Thus it was hard to ignore the looks of surprise, first on Gerry’s face, then downstairs on Bernie’s (yes, I still sit upstairs on the bus, like a kid) when I mumbled “see you tomorrow” as I got off the bus five miles earlier than usual, right in front of Ireland’s best known mental hospital. From short snippets during our morning chats I have deduced that Bernie works in the clinic in the Mater Hospital, and that Gerry is a Judge. From this morning’s short journey they have probably deduced that I’m a loony. Tomorrow morning at the bus-stop should be fun.
And what of my visit? Well, we both agree that I am so much better in so many ways, if it weren’t for the bloody derealisation, which I can best describe as “being living, but not alive” (I’m proud of that, I’m thinking of offering it to my shrink for use in the paper he’s bound to write about me someday). It’s odd, the original depression is pretty well gone (I haven’t had a really bad attack for well over a year now) but the derealisation it left behind just lasts and lasts, like the aftertaste of Marmite. As my shrink says himself it’s known to be notoriously hard to shift, but he has done lots of research. I have now been given another type of medication to try, and I would be beginning to suspect that the Latin name for my condition is doptestus giniiporcus (drug-trial guinea pig) were it not for the fact that these have worked on two of his patients. Both of them, by the way, got the derealisation from using stuff from Head Shops, so the products they sell aren’t just harmless herbs.
Anyway, I’ll try them, and I’m also trying one or two other things. One thing which always helps with any problem, of course, is talking about it to a sympathetic listener, and having this space to talk about being a spacer to all of you has helped enormously. For the hour or so that I’ve been writing this I’ve been fully absorbed, and it’s great to have something in which I feel totally involved.
Thanks once again, guys.
Everyone knows the saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
Well, the last week or so has been all work and no play. The start of each month, I may have mentioned before (see, I am a dull boy), is an extremely busy time for GoldenEyes and I, as we have to have a series of reports prepared by the end of the 4th working day. There are about 56 pages in these reports by now, and to be honest I am doubtful that all of them get read, but my plan to test this theory by sticking a paragraph from a Harry Potter book at random into one of the pages has been vetoed by GoldenEyes.
Our 4th day target is taxing but doable, as long as we do a fair bit of overtime, which we’re allowed take time off for later in the month. Occasionally, especially if we get messed about by people not supplying us with info, we announce that the reports will not be on time. However, each quarter there is a staff briefing, held in a hotel near our office, and the reports we produce form an important part of the management’s presentation. In other words, in months where there is a briefing our reports simply cannot be late, as the thought of our MD standing in front of 200 people saying “well, I’ve got nuthin’”, and the thought of his likely mood in the ensuing days make sure that we get them done on time.
This quarter the hotel was booked out for last Thursday, so the HR director, without considering for one second whether it was possible or not, booked the meeting for Wednesday. This was the 4th working day, so now instead of having our stuff ready by the end of that day (and we count the end of that day as meaning any time before midnight) we had to have it ready that morning, so that the info could be put into those little powerpoint images full of arrows, or pie-charts, or manhattan-like column charts – all those things that management like to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary on the faces of the audience, make their briefing an enthralling, gripping event. In other words, we had to do it in three days.
Well, since the meeting had already been announced and couldn’t be changed, and since we do like the MD and knew it wasn’t his fault, we got it done, though believe me it’s never happening again. We got it done by working all day Saturday, and by getting home at ten every other night. We have a timesheet system and by the end of that 4th day my timesheet had seven days’ work on it.
But of course this all comes at a price. I spent the four days swearing violently at my computer and myself when ever I made a mistake, though in fairness I do this all the time (I do it when I’m blogging, the kids think it’s really funny). But I had this constant pressured feeling inside – not of stress, because I always knew I’d get it done – but of anger. I felt that we were being taken for granted and I was inwardly furious about it, though I didn’t realise quite how furious until Wednesday morning.
About five people have a key to the front door of the office, and one of us is meant to open this door before eight each morning. It’s possible to get in the back door without a key, but this sets off the alarm, so staff are not supposed to come in that way before eight o’clock. You will always find people, however, who believe that the rules do not apply to them, and I have often come in and found people sitting at their desks eating cereal, with the alarm ringing above their heads.
On Wednesday at 7.45 I had just reached the front door when the alarm rang inside the office. I went in, switched it off and met one of the young staff guys walking calmly around the office, turning on the lights. Now, I’m not and never will be part of the management, it’s none of my business, I shouldn’t care if this guy set the alarm off every morning by abseiling down from the building roof and crashing feet-first through the office window. I shouldn’t care, but for one second as he walked casually towards me I felt an overpowering urge to punch him in the face.
That’s when I realised that the saying in the opening sentence is wrong. It should read “All work and no play makes Jack a murderous git”.
So I went to my desk, sat down, took a few breaths and then booked today, Monday and Tuesday off.
This is my first morning. I have tea at my side, music in my background, a post nearly done. I have a newspaper folded on the table nearby, and intend soon to find out has anything happened in the world over the last six days (apparently we’re going to have a tough budget, they call that news?). There will be TV watching, there will be reading, there will be visits to the pub, there will be chats with the kids. There will be blogging.
There will be all play, and no work.
At work we are looking at getting a system which will improve our budgeting, forecasting and planning.
Our current method has a lot going for it, we just think up figures out of our heads. For simplicity and speed it can’t be beaten. The new system, though, will place more emphasis on accuracy, and apparently management think this is more important.
Anyway, the man who’s going to implement it came in yesterday, and we spend the whole day with him, GoldenEyes, the boss and myself, explaining to him what happens at the moment, what reports we use, how we arrive at forecasts and actual results, what we’d like to see.
I had to get involved a lot. I listened to what the guy suggested. I had to explain in detail what we do now, sometimes showing stuff on a computer screen, sometimes giving long explanations. At one stage I found I had stood and was actually walking around the room while I was talking, hands moving like a charades-player trying to describe Jessica Rabbit. We talked about what could be done, argued about what we wanted. I made people laugh sometimes, and others made me laugh. It was intense and absorbing, the kind of day that makes you feel that you really are an important part of what goes on in the company.
And of course it all happened in a haze, slightly far away.
It’s on days like this that I suddenly realise how strong my derealisation is. At one point I was talking quite animatedly about something, when I happened to look straight at my boss, carefully listening to what I was saying, and I suddenly felt a brief flash of reality, suddenly realised that I was the centre of attention in an important business meeting, and it had all been happening on auto-pilot. I faltered for a second, as if I’d forgotten what I was saying, then just ploughed back on.
It’s been more than three years now, and I’m really pissed off. Compared to the depression days, the breakdown days, the heart problem days, the sleep deprived days, I’m so much better, so most of the time I’m quite grateful and content. Then a day like yesterday happens and it brings home how abnormal it all is. And once it brings it home, then the realisation of derealisation stays for a few days. This morning a great friend at work was telling me something that had happened to her and I felt a deep sadness that I had almost to try and consciously focus on the fact that she was talking, to me, right there and then, and that what she was telling me was real, and important to her.
Great days, tough days, fun events, deep conversations, sad stories, all barely discernible through the mist. I have three children – me, still a child in my own mind, have three wonderful people in my life who look up to me and adore me, and I can’t fully feel how astounding that is.
I’m sorry, I’m sure when you read the first two paragraphs you had no idea of the tone-detour this post was going to take. I just felt that I needed to vent, and I knew that as always you’d all listen, and care.
Thank you all as always. Normal rubbish will resume tomorrow.
One of my best friends in the office has recently returned to work after nearly a year on maternity leave with her second child. She’s one of only two people in the office who know about my depression (GoldenEyes, my closest friend, and my ambulance-companion during my blackouts, is the other). I told her all about it one morning about 18 months ago, the last time it was really bad, when she and I were first in and I was unable to reply to her good morning smile. She’s been really supportive ever since, and even when she was off, up to her eyes in poo and baby-sick, she used to email me every now and again to ask me how I was.
I told her last summer that I was going to see a shrink, and when she asked afterwards how I’d got on I found myself sending her a link to the post that I wrote about it. I was amazed that I did this, as no-one at work had seen my blog (again, GoldenEyes knew I had one, but I hadn’t told her what it’s called, mainly because I didn’t want her to find out she’s called GoldenEyes).
Anyway, today was the first time we had lunch alone in the kitchen, and she asked how I’m getting on. I said I feel good, and she nodded, smiled and said “you’ve got a lot of your sparkle back”.
And she’s right. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to hide at my desk in the office, unable to bring myself to speak to people. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to go straight to bed every evening after work so my kids wouldn’t see how down I was. It’s been a long time, in other words, since I’ve been really, really depressed. I still have the derealisation, which is crap, but an awful lot more manageable than those bouts used to be.
But the change has been gradual, so it’s only someone who hasn’t seen me for a long time who’d really notice it. The real me is coming back, and she has seen that, and helped me to see it too.
By the way, during lunch I managed both to make disparaging remarks about her self-cooked lunch and make admiring remarks about her bum. Now she and I have to decide if the real me coming back is actually a good thing.
There were only eight or nine people in the bar of my local last Saturday night. I sat at the counter talking to two friends of mine. Next to me sat a young man who I don’t know very well, talking to his father-in-law, a lovely man who I’ve known for ages. As often happens there, while we were all involved in our own conversations, sometimes a topic would emerge, usually sparked by something on the TV, about which we would all have our say in a chat that engaged the whole bar.
In other words it was a typical Saturday evening there, interesting, pleasant and friendly.
The evening ended, and we all went our separate ways. I went home and went to bed. The young man who’d sat next to me, a man with a wife and a 9-year old child, went home, took the belt off his bathrobe, and hanged himself.
How fragile the human mind is. How fragile life is.
Just when you think I’ve given up mentioning my health (what, you have a pacemaker, Tinman? You never said) you get two posts in a row.
Because I’ve been back to my psychiatrist.
I haven’t written about him in a while because I haven’t been there in a while. I did have an appointment with him in December, but turned up on the wrong day. This makes one blood-pressure test, one heart check and one shrink visit in the last three years for which I have turned up on the wrong day, and I’m sure my shrink would have made a lot of this, if only I’d arrived on the right day to tell him about it (I didn’t mention it this time in case it reminded him that I’d stood him up at Christmas and he charged me for it).
Anyway, since I was there last my mood has got better, my sleep has got better, my stress has got better, and my derealisation has got much, much worse. The remoteness of everything going on around me is now quite astonishing, and sometimes a bit frightening.
Anyway anyway, he was quite helpful, and quite reassuring. He reckons the feeling might seem worse because I’m feeling more, and therefore noticing the vagueness more. In other words, it’s worse because I care more, and this is apparently a good thing.
I’m going to try this argument at work at 8.30 tomorrow, when I’m meeting my boss to discuss a report which, well, I don’t have ready. I’m going to tell him, though, that this is because I care more about these reports now, so their punctuality will be getting worse, and I’m looking forward to using words like #**xx!@ tomorrow evening when I report verbatim what he says.
Anyway anyway anyway, I’m going to be taking yet more medication, and thus my already faint hope of one day competing in the Olympics (faint because I’ve tried and am shite at virtually every sport on the planet) grows fainter all the time.
I’ll never pass the drugs test.