Guns or minds – where does the trigger get pulled?

So many things have been written in the aftermath of that most tragic of events that happened in Connecticut. For many of us the horror of those events is almost too much to think about. We fear for the mortality of loved ones, extend arms of sympathy to those immediately affected and question how something like this happens.  

Gun laws have been called into question – as they always are in such times. And my own personal opinion is that the law of ownership and licensing of firearms of course needs to be reviewed. I don’t want ‘gun law’ to be a factor in the debate ever again.

But the reason for weighing in with my opinion on this subject, is a blog post written by a very brave mother. I have so much respect for her simply because of the honest and caring way in which she describes, well, how it is to know and love someone, when that someone is also a potential danger to himself and others.

Read her blog post and think about what our politicians should really be doing to prevent these kinds of tragedies.

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Like a magnifier for everything bad

magnifier postWith the best will in the world I wanted this blog to be about many things – things that interest me. But as I may have mentioned before, quite a big strand of my life right now is my battle with depression. Actually that’s an odd expression – battle – because right now it feels more like a walkover for the depression. Okay, perhaps not a walkover – that’s not being completely fair to me – but it definitely feels a little one-sided. And for anyone reading my blog, so far, depression related posts are tending to be dominant. Well, every blog needs a central theme I guess.

My reason for writing this post can be ascribed to an experience I had today – one which certainly isn’t unusual in character but which varies in terms of context. I wanted to log this because it exemplifies one of the facets of my depression and hopefully it’s not one that’s exclusive to my own brand.

I’m going to be deliberately vague about the trigger for what transpired in my head today – partly because I want to allow anyone reading this who also suffers from depression to find something to associate with (I want to find an alternative word for ‘depression’ btw because I’m getting frustrated by my own continual use of it – perhaps I may make up a new word for it each post). Partly I also want to remove any specifics in case anyone involved feels in any way guilty – they probably aren’t and they probably wouldn’t, but just in case.

So. The trigger was thus. Someone provided me with some feedback on something I did.

I’m not going to offer any more detail or analysis than that because to do so would detract from how I then processed that event. Which is what now follows.

Okay. So my first reaction to that feedback was that it was absolute criticism of me. I took it personally. Now when I say that, ‘took it personally’, I know very well that that is something everyone – everyone that is except the most conceited among the population – does. And if one did in fact take the feedback as criticism and took it personally, then one would dwell on it for a bit, play the scenario over in one’s head for a while, perhaps even get rather cross about it. But in most cases I think that would be enough time spent.

There are also those who have low self-esteem for whom this scenario plays out over a much longer period. I’m actually one of those people as it happens – it’s something I need to work on at some point (yep – something else). But here’s where the difference occurs between those who can identify with the reactions I’ve addressed above and those who have depression.

The criticism I’ve described above, and the natural thought progression that would follow, also described….well, in my head space, this is magnified to an extreme. More so than my normal low self-esteem would allow for. I left the conversation – and by the way my ‘mask’ means I would probably not have given away too much of my thought process at that point to the person I was speaking to – I left feeling like I’d been dealt a massive body-blow. But here’s the big difference. I then spiralled from dealing with those issues of low self-esteem to, to self-doubt, to then feeling incapable of being able to do anything, to then hating myself, to then feeling absolute sadness and despair. That all happened very quickly – in the time it took to walk out my front door, walk five minutes to my daughter’s school, pick her up and walk with her to the coffee shop. By the time we are sat having a hot chocolate together at the table all I want to do is hug my daughter so so hard. And cry.

But of course I don’t. I can’t.

Now perhaps that’s what’s called coping. I’m good at it for the most part. I bloody have to be. But something has to give. And it did for me earlier this evening – when I was, fortunately for me, able to talk to my wife after the children had gone to bed. And I let all that out in tears.

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Our mental health service is crumbling

Big cracks

Big cracks

A quick update on where I am first – following my post last month regarding my depression. Truthfully? I have no idea where I’m at. When I first started this post a little over a week ago I really felt like I could be out of the other side of this particular episode – at least in terms of the darker feelings. But then? The next day gave me a good hard kick back to black. The self-doubt, the sadness, the tears, the anxiety, the confusion: it all came back. It sucks when that happens.

The last post helped a lot mind you – along with the very supportive comments both on here and facebook and the odd phone call. Thank you all – though I excuse you now from the responsibility or obligation to comment on future such posts. Oh. Did I not mention that depression doesn’t just go away like a bad mood? In many many cases it’s something that those who have it have to cope with for years if not the rest of their lives. I’m very much a learner at this – a learner depressive if you will – and I’ve not read up enough research to know the numbers. All I can talk about for sure is my own experience. And so far that has told me that I periodically suffer from very difficult depressive episodes and that right now I know that I will be on my current dose of medication (a combination of Venlafaxine and Pregabalin) for at least the next two years.

I say “right now” because there is every chance that this may change in the next month. I made the surprisingly very difficult decision to go and see my GP and discuss the option that I be referred back to my community mental health service. I say ‘surprisingly’ because although you would think it a bit of a no-brainer decision, I feel like it’s a step backwards. A massive step backwards. An admission that I’m not well. Still. And that’s a very difficult thing to admit – when you feel like you’re getting better and then have to face the fact that you’re not. I was close to tears in my GP’s surgery.

My referral, as such, wasn’t a quick process though. And that’s kind of the subject of this post – took a while to get here I know.

Now. I’m going to try really hard not to make this a rant post. I just want to highlight how difficult our health service makes it for anyone with mental health issues to be dealt with in a manner that doesn’t make them feel any less ‘well’ than they do already.

I was last discharged from my local community mental health centre (CMHC) in the Spring of this year. It was the second time I had been discharged from their care over the course of a year. When you’re discharged from their care, back to the care of your GP the ‘system’ intends to make it easier for you to be referred back into their care again should you need to be – the first time around you almost have to break into their care!

Anyway I rang up my mental health centre on the Friday after I had had my breakdown in the car. I left a message for my psychiatrist to ring me back. She didn’t ring me back that day or the following Monday. So I made myself ring again on the Tuesday. I was told that because I had been discharged previously I needed to see my GP in the first instance. No apology for not having rung back or indeed not telling me this the previous Friday of course. It’s of course too late to get an appointment at my GP that day because they obviously don’t have any left – you have to ring first thing in the morning. I don’t ring the following day though because I doubt my own illness. But I do the next day because I have had a bad night. I get an appointment and as I said above, agree a referral is the way forward. This is already almost a week since I first rang up to speak to someone about my mental wellbeing. Now because my then current mental state isn’t severe enough, I am not an urgent referral so that means I won’t get a quick response. Upshot is, I get a phonecall to tell me the earliest appointment is the 12th December – well over two weeks away. When I get that call there is a huge part of me that wants to say, “no, don’t worry, I don’t need it anymore” because at that moment I don’t hate myself; I don’t want the world to swallow me up; and I don’t feel like I’m incapable of doing anything. But I do have enough experience to know to take the appointment because days can go down as well as up. Today proves my point.

But if I had said ‘no thanks’ and then gone through what I did today I’d be regretting at best, and hating myself at worst, for not taking the appointment. I’m also well aware that any time between now and then, I may yet ring up and tell them to cancel it because I’m having a good day – and remember I don’t want to go backwards so I look for any reason to avoid admitting that fact to myself.

So you see. It isn’t made easy. It’s not my local CMHC’s fault. They’re having cuts forced on them – and at a time when demand for their services have become even greater. And of course I realise that cuts have to be made somewhere in this time of austerity – if not in this particular corner of the NHS (and it does feel like a corner: a darkened, out of the way corner without carpets or a fresh lick of paint) then elsewhere in healthcare or beyond that, elsewhere in public sector services.

But mental health care will never be the poster boy of government. It’s never going to be held aloft as a shining example of public sector success. It’s never going to be given respect (and therefore money). And this is despite the generally great work that is provided much of the time from the consultants, doctors, nurses, counsellors and all the others that work within this sector – and in spite of the lack in funding. My own experience of the care – once I’d proven myself to be a valid patient – was a good one. The combination of having a very good psychiatric doctor, receiving good therapies (both drug therapy and CBT) and support services enabled me to begin a recovery.

I learnt today that my local CMHC is struggling even more thanks to a very apparent shortage of staff – it’s the reason my appointment has taken so long. And I suspect that this is unlikely to be an exception across the country. What troubles me most is that there will undoubtedly be people who are suffering – most likely more than I have – who have not the strength to push to be seen by a mental health professional: who don’t have the strength to question and argue against the care they receive (like I had to at the start of my depression – that’s a whole other post). People who may end up spiralling to such a degree where they either drop out of society altogether or are caught, just in time, by lucky circumstance. That’s my concern. “Lucky circumstance” shouldn’t be the safety net. Our system of mental healthcare may not be broken but it is certainly fracturing.

Was that a rant? Probably. Sorry.

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Argo and my craving for more like it

I’m a sucker for a good political drama, I really am. But to be clear I don’t mean that which gets reported, analysed and re-reported by the media about the goings on in Westminster. That stuff drives me nuts. No, what I mean is a good film – and to be a little more specific, one that has any or all of the following elements:

  • is “based upon true events”
  • has an element of conspiracy about it
  • has been produced and/or directed by someone who has leanings toward anti-establishment
  • makes me want to read up on the subject afterwards

Let me elaborate on each of those a little more.

For me to be truly drawn in to a film of this genre I need to know that it’s not just come out of the head, off the pen and onto the paper of an expert fiction writer. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware for the need to make good use of brilliant screenwriters. And I also applaud the use of ‘artistic licence’ (though not to the point where history is being totally  re-written) – hence the clause “based upon” is generally good enough for me. I simply mean that for the most part these type of films benefit from being rooted in something historical.

Who doesn’t love a bit of a conspiracy? I remember being rather unnerved to say the least when I watched JFK and can almost entirely blame Stone for my admiration of this genre. I was always partial to a bit of the X-files too.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say “thank god for George Clooney.” Love him or loathe him as an actor (and I’m more pro his acting work than not) what he’s done for ‘Hollywood’ films in terms challenging ‘the system’ at the same time as bringing in the numbers to the box-office has to be respected. Oddly enough, and I only just realised this as I was preparing this post, he’s produced the last two films that I’ve watched: The Informant and Argo (the subject of this post).

If a film has done a good job on me then I will most often want to go away and either Google it, wiki it or amazon it to find out more: the truth, the historical context or what happened to those involved afterwards. These type of films should have an effect on you, they shouldn’t remain a passive experience and were never intended by the director to be viewed in a vacuum.

My beard beats your beard

Argo (out in cinemas now) ticks all of those boxes for me. Ben Affleck – who I must admit since Good Will Hunting has never drawn me to part with the cost of cinema ticket – turns director/producer/actor in this political thriller. And a bloomin good job he does too. I knew very little about the Iranian US embassy hostage crisis and I had no idea at all about the particular element of that crisis that this film focuses in on – the escape and hideout of six of the US embassy staff and, more central to the film, the CIA/government backed plans for their rescue.

Affleck plays the role of seasoned CIA man who comes up with a somewhat left-of-centre plan to rescue the six – using the cover story of being part of the film crew for a fictitious science fiction movie called Argo. I almost want to say: “and hilarity ensues”. But it doesn’t of course, despite the preposterous plan . What does follow is, a well thought out, albeit dramatised, depiction of the events that followed the hatching of that plan.

I’m not going to spoil the outcome – though if you know the history here there is no real surprise. Strong performances from Affleck and the supporting cast drew me in so well that I found myself gripped by the ‘will they/won’t they get caught’ mindset. The film also benefits from great production design that drops you back into the late ’70s and good use of location (Turkey) to provide the atmosphere of revolutionary Tehran.

I liked it – a lot. Directors and studios: do more of this stuff please.

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Not what I would have wished

Confession number 1

Forgive me WordPress for I have sinned. It has been 22 days since my last (indeed my first) post. It wasn’t meant to be like this, honest.

Confession number 2

The following post is not really what I wanted my first real post – and by real I mean not the ‘this is my first post’ post – to be about. It is, however, wholly important to why I’ve decided to blog.

When I started to think about blogging, and what sort of content would feature in my blog I had a number of topics in mind that I wanted to cover: politics, satire, theatre, film, cookery, family to name but a few. All of them passions. However behind all of this is also a desire to share my experience of depression. There, said it. Hope you haven’t been misled or put off.

I didn’t, and don’t, want that particular topic to underscore everything I write, but I do want to be able to write about it when it feels right to do so. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, now feels like a time when I do want to hit that topic – it might have been better (and when I say better, perhaps I mean more forgiving to you the reader)  to draw you in to the blog and its evolution with some lighter, more frivolous posts early on, and I must admit that would haven been nicer for me too, but there you are. I am in the midst of one of my depressive episodes and while writing is not the easiest thing to do, I want to be able to document my thoughts, feelings and emotions in the vaguest hope that someone, somewhere might read them and find something to associate with and lift them a little.

I discovered a quote just now and I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled across it before:

“Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.”

It was, of course, said by that most wonderful man, Stephen Fry. He knows what he’s talking about from his own experience.

Anyway the point I want to make, in this very roundabout manner, is that in the same way that you may get a wonderfully sunny day in the middle of December, or perhaps more relevant to this point, a painfully cold and blustery day in the middle of June, weather is what it is: it simply exists (okay scientists I know that’s not strictly true) and we have little control over its various incarnations. That’s not to say that meteorologists can’t do their best to predict it, just as I can, with experience, start to see indications of when I may be about to enter a depressive episode, it’s more about acknowledging that depression cannot be attributed to cause and effect, it’s…well…weather-like. I hope you know what I’m driving at, because I’m in danger of confusing metaphors and making this more complicated than it need be.

Indulge me a little while I provide a bit of context to where I am at now with my mental health. I was diagnosed with depression in the summer of 2010. It knocked me, and my family, for six. It took a while – I think about 8 or 9 months – to crawl out of it, or at least get to a reasonable state of mind that I could entertain the idea of getting some normality back to my life. Since then I’ve had a few blips (I define blips as being short periods of perhaps a day or two where I experience some of the feelings of depression) and one relapse (where I was re-admitted to the care of my community mental health centre) lasting a couple of months. That last relapse faded (and it’s pretty difficult to define in terms of time) in the early part of this year. In the last few months I’ve suffered a few more blips but my trajectory has generally been upwards.

On Tuesday I was driving back from Brighton (only about six miles away) to home – on the dual carriageway in fact – when I experienced a tsunami of sadness that crashed over me (I’m really not dramatising the emotion) and I started to sob. I had the foresight to ring my wife (on hands-free Bluetooth)  and cried down the phone at her. She wisely told me to pull over onto the lay-by which I did, and then spent the next 20 or 30 minutes sobbing uncontrollably while she reassured me that everything would be alright. I was all of the following: scared, desperate, angry (with myself), frustrated, anxious, confused. Above all I wanted the ground beneath the car to open up, swallow me and make me disappear. I wanted my life to end right there and then.

To anyone who’s  not experienced depression  – either first-hand themselves or through someone close to them – that last sentence may have shocked a little. Oh jeeze and it’s really not meant to. It is how I felt. You should thus be aware that in my mind there is a subtle difference between wanting my life to end and actually thinking about actively ending my life. I’ve experienced both those thoughts. Obviously neither is pleasant. But at that moment in the car I was in such a desperate state of mind, a state where I saw only absolute sadness and emptiness I wanted out. I wanted something to release me. Thankfully my wife helped me immeasurably by being at the other end of the phone. I can’t remember the specifics of what she said, but it helped enough to pull me out of that state.

Since Tuesday I’ve been shaky, to say the least. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve not slept well. My eating is erratic. I feel like this is more than a blip. I wanted to capture this here. As best I can.

Before I sign off on this post, I want to reiterate something. This isn’t a poor me post. It really isn’t. It’s two things. Firstly, and I certainly won’t deny the fact, it’s my hope that this is cathartic to my own current state of mind. Secondly, I am sharing these very personal thoughts to hopefully help those who have depression realise that their thoughts, emotions, actions are most undoubtedly not unique. They are not alone in feeling like they do. There ARE sunny days.

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First (not ‘past the’) post

The first post is the hardest, right? So many ideas that have been bubbling around in my head and now that it comes to it I just don’t know which direction to take. But here’s what I figure. This is an organic process and I reckon that the big numero uno posto is arbitrary, it doesn’t really matter what I write. And so, although the “here’s my first post and my thought processes behind it” approach may be a little trite, to hell with it. It is what it is. And it only needs to be short and I just need to get it out of the way and move on to something more meaningful/comical/review-ical/maniac-ical or whatever direction I end up taking as a blogger – oh yeah, I’m one of those now. Let’s see how long this lasts eh?

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