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I can see clearly now the rain has gone

30 Jun

So, after a bit of a crazy couple of months, things are finally clear.
The post I put on here back in April was a foolish act, borne of desperation at the situation in which I found myself.
Now I have a proper diagnosis, I find myself feeling both relieved and sad in equal measure; the realisation that how I have felt and reacted to situations for the entirety of my adult life can be described as part of a treatable (or at least manageable)disorder, means that the prospect of a life sentence of bouts of crushing depression is now far less likely.
On the other hand, the dawning awareness of just what effect my actions have had on those around me, and how I have pushed away and ostracised so many people over the years is extremely painful.
When you come to realise that so many life decisions have been made through a fog of internal critical voices, it starts to raise the question of how much of what I say, do or even feel is actually “me”, and how much is symptomatic of a condition caused by my early childhood experiences?
Reading back over my earlier blog posts this week, it has struck me that I must have been aware of all of the symptoms, albeit on a subconscious level, but did not connect them up into a cohesive format. Disassociative behaviours, suicidal ideation, feelings of immense worthlessness and the ability to fall apart at the mere suggestion of alienation or abandonment of any kind with alarming frequency, have all been there as the soundtrack to my life for as long as I can remember.
So finally, I know I have a form of post traumatic stress disorder. Yes, certainly there is some depression there as well, but as part and parcel of something far more deep rooted, not a stand alone illness.
With this knowledge, I am now at least able to know my enemy; the battle has raged for so many years now, and I have fought the shame and guilt of feeling bad, knowing full well that I want to feel good, and do good. I have been like some sort of toxic Ying and Yang, permanently entwined, with neither side of my persona appearing to be able to dominate the other. At times, it has felt as if both Holmes and Moriarty have to fall into the water in order to resolve this psychological warfare.
However, after 18 months of intensive counselling therapy, I finally feel completely present in the here and now, almost all of the time. Disturbing flashbacks and recollections are still there, but I can now see them in the context of what they really are. In place of irrational fear and untrammelled anger and bitterness at an internal adversary, I now find myself acknowledging that a scared and frightened young kid “shut down” many years ago, and has been clamouring for my attention for some time. I have ignored this at my own detriment, as well as that of the people around me whom I care about and love.
To get to this point has taken a gradual peeling back of the layers, bringing with it a great deal of rawness and vulnerability. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious git, I feel like I have spent the past 3 months as Odysseus, strapped to the mast, being tormented by the song of the sirens, while the rest of the world rows on around me oblivious, ears stuffed with wax.
To feel emotions properly for the first time I can ever recall is an immense sensation. To be in the moment, and truly appreciate that people DO care, and DO love me is a liberating feeling. It is therefore with horror that I realise that reciprocally, what I have demonstrated to the people around me is a polar opposite response, and given that they do feel emotions, I have deeply hurt and saddened them with my self destructive and negative, tunnel visioned approach to life.
I now realise that I successfully destroyed the best relationship I ever had with another person in my life, no mean feat, to say that we were together for more than a decade. I have lost very good friends, and have only recently managed to decimate one of the best friendships I have known, purely through fear of rejection and grinding down. Your mates don’t tell you they love you very often (not in blokes, anyway), so when they do, it is best not to jettison such a bond. No prizes for guessing what I’ve done, then….
I wish I’d known that this was what was wrong all along, but in the nature of the beast, the denouement comes in the aftermath of the devastation, sadly not at the point where disaster can be averted.
So, now is the time when, finally free from the demons and ties to the past, and unlocked from the place I’ve been inhabiting for the past 30 years (literally and metaphorically), I know that my actions are entirely my own, and responsibility for them lies with me, and no hangovers or hang ups from the past.
I think this is commonly known as living, and its about time I started doing it properly!

My 2012 in pictures

31 Dec

Here are some of the photos of my year. It has been an incredible year for me, and I am so very grateful to all of the followers of both this blog and Twitter for your continual support, advice and encouragement throughout 2012.

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To you all, a peaceful and prosperous 2013! X

2012 in review

31 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

We don’t need no education….

27 Aug

Where do I start?… I am now a teacher of Mathematics to a class of 25 10 year old children in a South African Primary School, on the outskirts of Cape Town. The make up of the class is very mixed, but predominantly from the local area, but including kids from some of the care homes and the townships.

Anyone who worries that the English state education system is on its knees really ought to come out here for a few days; lack of resources means that every textbook resembles a handful of loose papers held together with varying layers of sticky tape, depending on the severity of damage to or age of the book. The school desks are reminiscent of those used in Britain up to the 1970s with the lift up lids, and the seat attached by means of a tubular steel structure. These are extremely uncomfortable, and not conducive to a learning environment. Especially if you are 32, and slightly larger than the average primary school child.

On first sight in my classroom, the impressively large map of the African continent looks like a useful teaching aid, until closer inspection indicates that the country just above South Africa and Mozambique is titled “Rhodesia”. Not only is this map therefore older than me, but given the seismic changes in politics of both this country and (now) Zimbabwe,  this demonstrates very clearly that the finances of the ‘new” South Africa can hardly be described as healthy.

It is fair to say that the teachers in the school are extremely pressured and often prone to taking a negative, or at least slightly cynical view of any initiatives or attempts to improve the educational and welfare standards of the children in the school. I have been more than a little surprised at the manner of shouting at pupils, and the high levels of discipline expected by teachers. Comments such as “Do you like your teeth? I will knock them out if you do not be quiet!” and “I pray to God that I keep my hands off you if I lose my temper” are daily occurrences within the general flow of the lessons. And yet, in quiet moments, I have seen teachers demonstrating real concern for individual pupils, especially those for the whom the social problems of this nation impinge greatly upon. I have even witnessed a teacher giving away their own packed lunch to a child who has been sent to school hungry and with no food. These small indicators make you realise that there are wider issues to consider than can be resolved with a Western style liberal education model. While the centre of Cape Town may boast history, relative affluence and luxury shops, apartments and Wi-Fi cafes,  it is clear only 10 kilometres outside that you are in a struggling African country, however cosmopolitan or entrepreneurial the metropolis down the road has become.

The biggest surprise I have had is the general apathy I have encountered amongst learners towards their education, however under funded or ill resourced this may be. Most children appear to be the dreadful position of being too far behind in their school work to be able to comprehend what is being taught on a daily basis, but are also too scared or embarrassed to ask for extra help, which would not be available even if they did ask. This predicament manifests itself in a feigned indifference, and while teachers here do not have the time to be able to spend to motivate each pupil to understand the key elements of each lesson, it is frustrating to be a volunteer doing exactly this, but knowing how much more time and investment these struggling children need to achieve the appropriate levels for their ages.

The irony of the present situation is that I am the man who scraped a C for GCSE Maths, and even that I am sure was more by luck than design. So, while I wander round the class teaching times tables in the catechism style so popular in the South African education system, I am not sure who is more petrified of getting the answers wrong- me or the children!

To be continued….

Nkosi Sikelei l’Afrika Part 2

18 Aug

This is what you might call a stop gap blog entry, as I am at the outset of a journey, with only aspirations at the present time.
I am sat here, actually having to pinch myself that this is really happening….
As I finished off my original post “Nkosi Sikelei l’Afrika” I had no idea that, only three months later, I would be only hours away from getting the flight to Africa to do the volunteering I decided almost twenty years ago that I wanted to do.
On my list of things to do, finally getting to Africa in some sort of volunteering capacity was the most labour intensive ambition to fulfill, and, as I believed at the time, the one most likely to be the last to cross off the list, some time in mid 2013.
In actual fact, I will be on a plane at 5.30am this morning, destined for Cape Town, South Africa, and will be teaching in a government primary school from Tuesday morning.
This trip represents for the complete embodiment of what I imagine “recovery” from mental ill health to be. It is active, involves putting right old regrets and actually doing rather than saying I will do something.
On top of academic work, I fully intend to immerse myself in the art of teaching the pupils how to play cricket, although my success in this will largely depend on whether the England team can redeem themselves at Lords by the end of the current Test Match against South Africa at Lords.
This evening, I have mostly sat down to watch “Cry Freedom” once more, the film that inspired this whole ambition all those years ago. I am not ashamed to say that I had tears rolling down my face by the end, in the full knowledge that tomorrow night, I will be sat in a bar in Cape Town, at the furthest point away from home I have ever been, yet as close to the life goal I set myself in adolescence.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, I was also delighted to learn that I will be met by someone at the airport with my name on a sign at Arrivals. To truly mark this defining moment in my life, I changed my name by deed poll earlier in the month. You may now call me Bond. James Bond.

(Not much) Sun, (but plenty of) Sea and Sand.

5 Jun

If I was writing you a postcard from my jaunt to Devon, this is exactly what would have been written on it from Saturday night, as it is what I wrote in at the time….

 “ I am sat in the tent, the wind is blowing the sides left and right, and water is pouring in from every extremity. I am sat in my sleeping bag (which incidentally is also very wet) Why is this? Probably something to do with the idiot who has parked up next to me in a campervan, who has obviously run over one of my guy ropes, causing the said deluge to prevail upon my temporary canvas abode, while I have been out surfing. To cap it all, he has come out of his camper van to nod over at me, turned up his nose at my small tent, the smell of my Madras cooking, and has then proceeded to hang a bag containing milk and butter from an overhanging tree, but with some sort of pulley system with a stick beating against the side of his campervan, presumably to scare any animal foolish enough to make a play for his “I can’t believe it’s not butter” in the night. He also has a small Terrier, which has been yapping around for ages, and came sauntering over when I was cooking my curry, to engage in a staring out competition, which I obviously won. The mood I am in now, with my tent doing the hokey cokey in the wind, while I lay inside slowly drowning, coupled with the percussion of sticks beating against a metal vehicle and a howling dog, makes me seriously wonder if I will make it to morning without committing a murder, either man or beast, and whether my sanity, if not my dignity will still be intact.”

 You may think that I have brought this all upon myself, having decided to hike off with a tent and a rucksack onto the open road, risking the great British weather, when really I could have been far more sensible and economical and booked a cheap package deal in the sun for the Jubilee weekend. Or at least a Bed and Breakfast. So why the bloody hell did  I go camping, only to be rained on, and chased by herds of cows in fields? There is one simple reason: because this is exactly where I came for our first ever family holiday, some 22 years ago. Having invested in a new tent, my mother and stepfather took us toNorth Devonin the August of 1990. I actually really enjoyed the camping element of the trip, even in the rain. The expectation of a holiday however, was not something which I can honestly say was achieved for me at this time. There were no beaches immediately nearby, and the key aims of the holiday seemed to be following the trail of Lorna Doone, the historical novel set in and around this part of the country. It was, and still is a beautiful part of the world, with some stunning scenery, but show me the 10 year old boy who wants to lots of country walks on a summer holiday, visiting places mentioned in a nineteenth century novel about love and betrayal?. There were various picnics, long walks and opportunities to read. This was all very civilised, but was not really a holiday for kids like me and my younger sibling. I wanted two things from a holiday, either to go to Pontins, playing in the ball pool and dancing with the crocodile. (Had the company not gone bust, I think I would still enjoy that!), and my other goal was to have a beach holiday in nice weather. In the absence of an alternative, this was therefore what I concluded holidays were about.

There was one other particularly striking thing, which has only occurred to me in later years; on holidays, people are normally more relaxed than usual, and parents tend to be a little more lenient with their children. But for us on this holiday, there was a military precision and high expectations of best behaviour as part of our routine, and this put paid to the notion of a “relaxing” holiday.

On the one day we drove to the beach, we ended up a bit further south, at Woolacombe. As it was August inBritain, it was predictably, wet, cold and overcast, but I didn’t care as this is the bit of the holiday I really wanted to do. I just wanted to play on the beach and in the sea like all of my friends did, when they went on holidays. It was also the day of the holiday when my mother seemed to be in her worst mood of the week. She did not want to go to the beach at all as I recall. However, undeterred by the inclement weather, I set off for the sea, having already put on my swimming shorts in preparation back in the tent before leaving. Having left my T-shirt on the shore line, I paddled in, and at knee height was knocked backwards by the sheer force of a wave. I walked in further, and stayed there just splashing about, enjoying the sense of being hit by successive waves.

I have been on quite a few Mediterranean holidays since becoming an adult, happily swimming about in the open sea, but this was the first time I can recall actually going out into the sea, having only learnt to swim the previous year. The water had an element of danger, but I enjoyed scaring myself, and seeing how far out I dared to go. As it was freezing, and I was rather a nervous child at times, this wasn’t really very far at all.

After a while, my stepfather came to get me out of the water, saying that neither he nor my mother had known where I was. On approaching my mother, I could see that her face was a picture of disapproval, and I was proved right, as she expressed her displeasure at the fact that I was completely sodden. She declared her annoyance at the fact that we would now have to go on to the next place via the campsite, so that I could get changed, not having anything else to wear with me. Following a particularly bad tempered stop in a café for a cup of tea, that was it, and we left Woolacombe, less than three hours after arriving.

So, I came on “holiday” for myself last week for a few days, to recreate that holiday for myself doing the things that I had wanted to do all those years ago, figuring that I could replace old negative memories with fresh and positive new ones.

I walked for miles and miles along the coastline, aimlessly in any direction I chose, and completely failed in my map reading abilities. However, no-one told me off for reading it wrongly, or for not being able to correctly identify the type of church a mile henceforth purely from the symbols on the Ordnance Survey map. But best of all, I went back to Woolacombe, and decided that this was the time to try something completely new. And this is how I ended up becoming a wannabe surfer; I spent a couple of hours running into the waves, and being allowed to get wet to my heart’s content. On that day, I was 10 once again, and this time no-one could take away my enjoyment. I had no fear at all of the water, which may have led to my ingestion of rather a lot of sea water in the first twenty minutes or so. But as I caught my first wave, the feeling was amazing, as I hurtled towards the shore on my board. I wont pretend that I excelled at surfing, or even that I managed to stand up, but I did realise that there is a huge difference between being “no good” at something, a description often used about me and by me to describe my abilities, and being “not good”. With the latter, there is always room for improvement. I will definitely be back to practice my surfing in the near future, but for this time, the biggest achievement was going back out into the water, challenging myself to do something new, and creating a good memory of a place for which previously the recollection had not been so good.

As the rain came down during Saturday night, I must confess I started to feel quite down. After the high point of the afternoon’s surfing, the thought of staying in a wet tent all night did make me begin to wonder if my trip had perhaps gone wrong, and that I was kidding myself to think that I could ultimately shake off the feelings of not ever being quite succeeding enough, which I have carried like a ball and chain through most of my life. To try to forget about all of this, I put my iPod on. After skipping a couple of tracks, I came across “Under Attack” by Abba. With such a camp soundtrack, I immediately laughed at myself for being so dramatic, and, realised that a leaking tent really wasn’t an indication of the state of my life. I lay down to sleep, swaying to the music across the tent, through a combination of the wind outside and the water underneath my sleeping mat, imagining that I was once again on my surfboard on the waves.

On Sunday morning, I opened up my tent, and started wringing out my saturated clothes and bedding. The man with the bag of butter and howling dog in the campervan walked over towards me. I really wasn’t in the mood for any hastle, but I braced myself for some comment or other. He asked me if I was alright, as he and his wife had noticed from the van that I seemed to have been waterlogged in the night. He then told me that their dog was very unwell and had been sick everywhere, and they were worried about her. The final blow came as he went on to say that his wife was just making a pot of coffee, and “would you like one?”

My previous venting and judgemental scribbling from the night before (as written at the outset of this blog) came back to haunt me, and I felt very glad not to have sabotaged his carrier bag of dairy products in the night, just because I was fed up myself. I told him that a coffee would be absolutely wonderful, and he went off to get it.

Sitting in the door of my tent, having dried or thrown out anything that had become wet, I set about making some breakfast. The man’s wife came over with a steaming mug of coffee, her concern for my bedraggled state clear behind the proffered brew. She told me that her and her husband used to camp in a tent like mine before they had kids, and I was welcome to come and have a look at their campervan if I wanted to. Thanking her profusely, I returned to sit squelching in the doorway of the tent, and as I began to fry a pan of bacon which sizzled and hissed in the rain, and drink my mug of coffee made with a mother’s love, the woes of the previous night disappeared. I reflected that my trip had been a success after all, and I realised that the excursion planned for that day, to revisit the landmarks of the Lorna Doone trail was not required. After all, that had never been what I wanted to do as a child on my holiday, and so by NOT doing it this time was more far more empowering than trying to recreate a more enjoyable version of that walk as an adult. I had even bought a local map of the trail to follow, and so having decided to jettison this walk, I gave the pristine if slightly damp map to my newfound guardian angels, along with a now empty coffee cup. I had also brought a copy of Lorna Doone itself with me, as I had still never read it. Apologies to any RD Blackmore fans, but a few pages in, I realised it was utter crap. In fact, it read like Catherine Cookson, except for a middle class audience.

With everything achieved in a short space of time, I decided to return a day early to my home comforts, feeling rather pleased with myself. I packed up, and it was only as I took down the tent and put it in its bag that I looked at the label, which clearly read “Beach shelter tent”, and therefore, not suitable for sleeping in, and certainly not in a howling gale. No wonder it only cost me a tenner….

 

A little bit of Disassociation / I’m talking to the man in the mirror

31 May

From an early age, I have had a strange sensation, of looking in mirrors and sometimes not recognising my own reflection. In adition to this, I have at times been detached from the world around me, and am almost an onlooker into the space I occupy. The first time I remember this happening I was aged about six. It was a morning “playtime” and we were allowed to go and play on the latest addition to the school playground. Remembering that this was the mid 1980s, and Thatcher’s cuts were well and truly set in by this point, you should not be surprised to learn that the new equipment was in fact some old tractor tyres donated by a farmer. We were allowed to roll these up and down, and throw them around, without the slightest care for any of the health and safety concerns which prevents kids today from taking part in egg and spoon races. Although anyone who’s ever been hit in the chest aged six by a tractor tyre rolling down a hill at them would perhaps feel that subsequent legislation to promote children’s safety was advantageous. I raise this memory, as there was an element of the bbizarre about it for me, beyond the obvious. As I was sat inside one of the tyres, I felt that I was stood at the side of it, watching myself playing. While I could smell the rubber and remnants of petrol, and feel the heat of the material left out in the early morning sun, I sensed that I was not in that body.

As I grew up, I did not tell anyone about these sensations, feeling that they were a bit weird. They came in very handy in when I was beaten by my mother, and also in the shower incident which I wrote about in Teenage Kicks in the head. It was possible for me to simply pretend that i wasn’t there, and this seemed to make the physical aspects lessen, and enabled me to block out what was happening At other times  in my life where I have been told off, or have been remonstrated with in any way, this has often happened to me, where I seem to detach from my body, and almost view the whole situation from behind the person facing my physical form.

The first time this happened as an adolescent was when I was 15, shortly after the departure of my stepfather from home, and not long after the worst period of my school experience, after coming out.

It was a late Thursday night in the late winter. Having completed my homework, I had overbearing feelings that things had simply become too much for me, and while I don’t think I felt suicidal, I knew that I needed to just get away as far as possible from the situation I was in. As the night wore on, the feelings got progressively worse.  Eventually, after everyone else had gone to bed, I decided that I had to leave there and then. I left the house via the patio doors, having left a note for my mother saying I was leaving, as well as equipping myself with my walkman radio, and a packet of custard creams for sustenance.

This may sound, and indeed was as hairbrained as normal teenage running away, in many respects, except for one thing; as I wrote the note and put on my coat, I could visualise this happening as if I was an onlooker. It felt as if I wasnt really engaging in what was happening or what I was doing, but my physical co-ordination and motor functioning was carrying on regardless.

Having left the house, Iwalked for a bit, stopped and carried on walking. Some five or so miles later, I was into open countryside, and by this time it must have been 3 or 4am, and pitch black. I remember seeing street lights in the distance, and walking towards, and then past them. By the time dawn broke, I was sitting on a grass verge on the edge of a small village.  Co-incidentally this was the same night that Stephen Fry did not show up for his West End play, and so the top story on the hourly news on my radio was the  growing concern following his disappearance. I remember thinking that this was worrying, but at the same time, not seeing the irony of the fact that I was in exactly the same position, other than the fact I was a minor, rather than a well known actor.

By the time I had walked from home to the bridlepath where I stayed for a couple of hours, I had covered 22.6 miles, a fact I have just checked on Google maps. Clearly this was not normal; I had got up for school the previous morning, had been there all day, come home and stayed up until midnight, then left the house and walked this distance through the night, by eating only biscuits. I walked on from the bridlepath, and as I came to the main road leading into the next market town, I began to rationalise how bizarre what I was doing was. I can only liken this to the dream that I, and many others have had. It is the one where you dream that you are doing whatever it is you do in your normal routine, but suddenly realise that you are actually naked. This realisation tends to occur shortly before waking up. As the cars went past me on the main road, this is what it was like for me. I had the sinking feeling that I looked very foolish, and that I was going to be in huge amounts of trouble. Furthermore, I had travelled as far away from my problems as you could get in an equivalent half hour car journey, and I had about £2.50 to my name. Every phone box I passed in the town, I couldn’t face using to phone home, until finally I did the next best thing, and got on the district bus service to my home town. About an hour later, I arrived at the bus station, and was cold, upset, and hungry. It was also raining quite heavily now. I walked the final 2 miles home, and as I went up the path, I could see my mother looking out of the front window, clearly talking to someone on the phone. Before I turned the key in the lock, I knew I was going to be dead. In actual fact, the initial reaction to my return from my mother was one of relief, and it transpired that she was on the phone to my headmaster (him of Teenage Kicks in the Head fame). She came off the phone, and hugged me. I looked over her shoulder, and realised that on the side table were all of the items which were normally under my bed….  As with all other boys my age, there was a pile of magazines, which in my case was that most salacious of publications, Gardeners World. ( What can I say? “I preferred herbaceous borders to breasts”?!). In addition to this were one of my black market whiskey bottles, empty, and worst of all, a neat pile of all of my love poetry written about the love of my life from the previous year. I understand why all of this had been taken out of my room, but I still felt violated, and didn’t expect to be told that my poetry wasn’t very good by my mother. I disposed of it shortly afterwards, so am unable to recall much of it. I dare say it was drivel, but it was the product of a young, emotionally mixed up young boy, declaring love for another for the first time in his life. To have it rubbished by a parent not only dismissed how I felt at the time, but also dismissed my right to express my feelings at all.. I was also told that the Police had been informed, and were ready to look for me, so I had caused them annoyance, as well as embarrassing other family members.

On my return to school on the following Monday, many attitudes changed towards me, and a group of people who had hiherto avoided me began to be more disposed to speak to and socialise with me, both inside and outside of school. My running away had hit home to many that there was actually a tangible link between taking the piss out of someone every day for being a gayboy, and that person’s ultimate actions. However, there was one individual, who must have been about 17 at the time, who upon seeing me in a corridor, shouted : “Backs to the wall boys, it’s the queer who ran away!”. For the first time, one of my mates put their arm round me and moved us on from the taunting. I am grown up now, and I can remember his name. One day I’m sure we’ll meet again.

Since that time I have had some further episodes, which I intend to refer to rather than describe in detail. These have included disappearing in the middle of the night, and ending up in completely different cities, the other side of the country, on roundabouts and walking around reservoirs. All of these episodes have occurred after periods of acute stress either at home or at work, and coupled with some of the previous life experience I have carried around for many years, have led to a potentially lethal mix of emotions, and what I can only describe as “depression on acid”. The feelings of low self esteem have transformed into a more intense feeling of self loathing and detestation, and an urgent and pressing desire for everything to just stop. In all cases, this has been when I have seemed to blank out, and have disappeared. Three things always seem to play on a loop in my head at these times, so deeply sensitive, I don’t even feel able to share them here, which are followed by a complete black out.

This is where my story takes the perspective of other people. While I do not remember these incidents, others do, and have become invovled in the search for me, and taken responsibilty for protecting my welfare when I have not done so myself. Over the years, I have had contact with various Police forces in times of crisis, mainly when they have located me after a national search. The good news is that I will never rob a bank, as my face is quite well known to some forces, but the bad is that I have cost a lot of time and resources to them over the years, which I regret, and wish was not the case.

In the respect of mental health, I have nothing but respect for the Police, who have on occasion been sat in my house with my other half while their colleagues searched for me, and I have had more rides in the back of panda cars than your average prolific offender. I have never once been treated as an offender, despite being found confused and disorientated and on occasion also very drunk. Police officers have sat with me, made me cups of tea, called me “love” and treated me with respect, when I have been saying the most bizarre or incomprehensible things to them.

What prevented me seeking the help I clearly needed? Three things really. One a resistance to accept that there was any overarching problem on my part. Secondly a fear of having to finally face up to some of the deep rooted issues and concerns which I suppressed on a daily basis. Thirdly, and perhaps most controversially, the reaction I have had from previous mental health professionals was a huge factor in preventing me from resolving problems. To quote a couple of examples, I was told in one psychiatric assessment that the NHS could not help me resolve any of the problems I had, as they all stemmed from relationships I had with people who were either dead or whom I wasn’t on speaking terms with. On another occasion, I was asked out of the blue by a particulalry curt psychiatrist if I had ever been sexually abused, only to have my answer interrupted by her answering her mobile phone as I spoke. While isolated incidents, they assist to build up a case for avoidance and continual denial of the problems.

The final catalyst came with the last episode, which ended up in me being “found” by three police cars in the middle of the road. It was clear from my unconscious state that I required medical attention. I am told that my heart stopped on more than one occasion in A+E that night, and at one point my prognosis did not extend beyond a couple of hours. When your other half is asked if you are religious, and if there are any other family members who are nearby, then clearly this causes alarm. Needless to say, I pulled through, and was informed that in fact I have an incredibly robust and healthy body, quite remarkable following the years of ill treatment and neglect I have given it. While pleased, this lucky escape was not entirely injury free, for at some point in this episode I had  several scars clearly caused by self harm with a sharp object, and a bellyful of strong sleeping tablets.

Finally, a doctor started looking through my case history, of which I am sure you can imagine, there was quite a bit. The questions she asked were different from any I’d been asked before, and it wasn’t long before I was talking to her about the blacking out episodes, and the sensations of not recognising my own reflection. A new course of medication was prescribed, and a strong recommendation made to Community mental health services to provide some form of talking therapies. The least said about that process the better, but suffice to say that I am not sure that the Kremlin, in the height of the Communist era, had as many different departments, referral criteria, and indeed plausible reasons for inertia as I encountered in attempting to secure talking therapies. So, much as it irked me, I laid aside my socialist principles and paid for counselling, rationalising with myself that I had almost died, and that my principles would live to see another day, as long as I did.

Fast forward many months, and I find myself at this point. I am confident that I will NEVER be as ill again, not from a false optimism, or any form of bravado or bonhomie, but from the knowledge that finally, I have turned around to face the sometimes brutal memories which have cast such long shadows over my subsequent life. Every day is an opportunity now, rather than a challenge, for one good reason. I know if I am happy, or unhappy, or if I am angry or upset. I can work on those emotions, because they are normal, but I am in charge, and they do not control me any longer.

So, I looked in the mirror earlier, and despite the receding hair line, and clear need to shift a few more pounds, I definitely recognised the face that looked back at me, and what’ s more, I am beginning to think that this bloke might be not too bad after all!

 

 

A load of balls and boats

23 May

I have previously written a little about my sporting prowess, or rather my gross lack of it. So, having bared my soul in the starkest terms in my last blog, I felt that some lighter reminiscences and a bit of positivity would be in order. To say I am crap at most sports would be a monumental understatement. To say I am a liability to have on any team, on land or sea, would be more accurate.

My sporting achievements could be summarised in 140 characters. However, as I like to wax lyrical, I can probably stretch this to a paragraph. In games of football (very few, as documented in my last post) I have only ever scored one goal in my life, back in March 1993. Far from being the moment that I should have been talent scouted for a Premiership club, this was actually a piece of good luck. There was only one person on the pitch worse at football than me, and he just happened both to have left his milk bottle thick glasses in the changing rooms, and to have been placed in goal. I played hockey and rugby as well, invariably being picked in the last two or three for any team sports.

 I was placed in goal in hockey over a number of PE lessons, and got rather good, to the point where I was actually requested for people’s teams, rather than accepted into them on sufferance. Whether or not I was particulalry good at hockey or not, I don’t know, but my skills were certainly tested and rewarded with each save I made, and I like to think that in the minds of some of those playing,  there was a fear that I might retaliate for their behaviour towards me off the pitch, while armed with a heavy wooden stick. Alas, this hallowed position did not last for long, and it was ironically my new found ability which proved to be my downfall.  In one particular lesson, I was beckoned over just before the start of the match by the PE teacher, and directed to a large store room, which contained the brand new hockey goalkeeping kit. My heart leapt, as I suddenly realised that I was being taken seriously in a sporting capacity for the first time ever. Hurriedly, I put on the chest protection pad, which was made out of some sort of plasticised foam, as were the knee pads. With these on, I added the helmet and lowered the face guard. I turned to walk out back to the pitch, and realised that I could barely walk, and hardly see either. I made it out to the pitch, walking like C3PO, and took up my position. To cap it all, the PE teacher asked if it was all okay, to which I lied by responding yes, and dreading anyone on the opposing team attempting to score a goal, as I was rendered immovable by the kit which was supposed to be protecting me. Sure enough, as soon as the first ball came my way, it went straight along the ground between my legs and hit the wooden back of the goal. Where I had become accustomed to the cheers from my team and those on the sidelines for my saves of late, the all too familiar groans were once more audible, and collective eyes rolled heavenwards at my complete inability to prevent hockey obliteration for my team. Firming my resolve, I focused hard on the task in hand, and waited in my goal area like a coiled spring, ready to leap into defensive mode at any second. It wasn’t long before one of the opposing team came towards my goal with speed and purpose. I took a step forward to launch my counter attack, and promptly caught the underside of one kneepad against another, and fell forwards hard onto my face. Before I had got up, I knew that my hockey career was over. 

My rugby career was equally short-lived; I only ever played competitively in one match, which was an inter-form game. I was picked to play in defence, being short and stocky, as oppposed to whippet-thin. What I lacked in skill, I made up for in physical form. I was like a sleeping policeman to a Formula 1 driver; no competition but enough of an obstacle to hinder their performance. It was with a wry amusement that I followed the instructions for assembling the ruck. Having placed one arm around the inside leg of the boy in front of me, and the other around the waist of the boy to the side of me, we pushed forward. It struck me as we pushed forward for the ball that this was the gayest experience I had ever had, holding on to the thighs of the people who taunted me the most for my sexuality. Far from homoerotic, I found this hypocritical. My pause for reflection was cut short, as the game recommenced. Shortly afterwards, my chance to be the man of the match arose, and I took it. A boy hurtled past me with the ball, so I went in for the tackle, as I had been trained to do. It was a perfect execution, with my left shoulder making contact with the back of the other boy’s right leg, while my arms wrapped round his ankles to bring him down. I was therefore a litle confused that no-one from my team was around to wrestle the ball from him, once grounded with such skill on my part. The shouts and cries of the most foul mouthed expressions which began to be directed towards me got louder and louder, and as I got up, I realised that the bloke I had brought down was none other than my own team’s fly half, wearing an indentical shirt to my own. Any explanation of my error fell on deaf ears, and another sport was added to the list of things I would never excel at.

Outside of PE lessons, I took up cross country running as my option for the after school compulsory sports option. This was mainly because it was the only option which did not include team games, and as I had little co-ordination, I figured that putting one leg in fron of the other in quick succession across open fields should be within the boundaries of the achievable for me. I did this for a few months, but was slowly being enticed by the idea of something a little bit more exciting.

I went to the type of school which had a rowing club.Make of that what you will, although it was the experience of being at such an establishment which made me an ardent Socialist… Anyway, the school had a boathouse on the river, and in a rash moment at the beginning of the summer term, I signed up to do rowing training and practice, which meant I would be out on the river four afternoons a week. From day one, I loved it.

The rowing club were not displeased to offer me training. Because I was well built, I could provide both excellent ballast and steerage at the back of any eight man boat. Rowing along the river on sunny afternoons became an enjoyable pastime, and I earned grudging respect from my peers for both having a go at something new, and also for displaying an element of competance in carrying it out. Moreover, dragging a heavy bit of wood through a strong curent at speed in the sunshine gave me both a suntan and biceps, and so my body image, and overall health improved immensely over a short period of time. This also led to the unexpected, and uncharted waters of female attention, which I had never courted or anticipated before. Suddenly, boys were bringing in notes from their sisters, and groups of girls from the local school, who hung around with their counterparts from my own school, were stopping to say hello to me in the street, as if I was a long lost friend. That’s a tale for another time..

I progressed well enough with my rowing to be able to attend one regatta, although that has to have been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. If the activist who tried to sabotage the Varsity Boat Race  this year had ever rowed competitively, he would have thought twice about placing his body in the path of two fibreglass boats, sixteen oars and two hundred kilos of sweating, testosterone-fuelled men travelling at twenty miles an hour in competitive mode.  Fresh from victory in the regatta, brought about mainly by the disqualification of the other boat for crashing into ours, I renewed my enthusiasm for my rowing, and worked harder than ever.

On one fateful afternoon, I was asked to cox a boat, partly for my own practice, and partly as a competition team was a man down, and needed an extra person. So, there I was, aged 14, sitting at the front of the boat, barking orders and directions to the crew of eight tanned, muscular Sixth form rowers who were hanging on my every word. I tried to maintain my professionalism as I steered the boat upstream, but I was greatly distracted by the face of an impossibly beautiful, and therefore completely unobtainable blonde guy, sat directly ahead of me at Stroke. He was the type of boy who was loved from afar and ogled at in the deep recesses of the minds of boys and girls. There he was, three feet in front of me, making eye contact with me every time I uttered a word. I could feel myself getting flushed and struggling to avert my gaze, and then, in the pause between taking the next stroke, he looked at me again, and smiled. That was it. While he was more likely to have been wincing at the glare of the sun, or twinging from the strain of the oar, I took this immediately to be “that look”, and I smiled back, glad not to get a look of disgust or revulsion for my efforts. Trying to remain calm and in control, I looked  down to my rudder steering ropes. In that moment, it all went horribly wrong. As I returned my gaze to the crew, I realised that, in the movement of the boat and the action of rowing, the Adonis sat in front of me (I think he was called Tom, but Adonis sounds better) was quite clearly wearing loose boxer shorts under his shorts, and well, and unwittingly he was displaying a lot more to me than just his rowing qualities. All thoughts of steerage and synchronised rowing went from my mind. Before I am accused of being some lascivious pervert, remember that I was a 14 year old, and that whichever side I was batting (or indeed rowing) for, I was like a dog on heat. I am sure that for if any of my straight 14 year old contemporaries had been a position to espy any girl’s cleavage, they would have been similarly distracted. Judging by the demographics of ticket sales for the Womens’ Netball in the forthcoming Olympics, it would appear that many 40 year old men still have the same problem. Not knowing which way to look, the direction and course of the boat became increasingly erratic, as I tried to look beyond the vision displayed in front of me. As I looked back to his face, again, young Mr Adonis, appeared to smile once more, which started the goosebumps, and I did wonder whether the next time I was on the river with him, it would be just the two of us in a rowing boat, with a bountiful picnic and a book of poetry to keep us company.

I was soon jolted out of my daydreaming, by the change in his expression to one of horror, as well as the shouts coming from other members of the crew. Fast approaching from behind was one of the rowing instructors in a speedboat, gesticulating wildly, and shouting. As I turned to him, he informed me that the boat was approaching the weir, and we were on the wrong side of the river. To cap it all, one of the owners of a small pleasure boats which was cruising up the river at the same time, had complained to him about the dangerous way in which I was steering the boat. Oars were immediately dug into water, bringing the boat to a slow but excruciating halt. Eight sets of eyes bulged out in front of me, as the pressure of the oars knocked the wind out of the bodies of their owners. The set of eyes immediately opposite me were no longer suggesting love, more like subsequent brutal murder. Once the boat was safely at a halt, the instructor took over the instructions to the crew, and I was left sitting silent and cringing in the cox’s seat, pulling at the rudder ropes as directed. feeling more like Sandie Shaw than Steve Redgrave. Once safely back at the boathouse, the crew all got out of the boat, and as he moved away, Adonis left me with the parting comment, “You’re not much of a cox, are you!”. Deflated and more than a little embarrassed, I took it on the chin, and I quite pleased that my reply to this statement remained in my head. My rowing career also ended that day, except for one pleasant afternoon some years later. 

Aged 18, I invited a delightful young lady on a trip down the Thames at Richmond. It was all purely platonic, but I did finally get the trip with the picnic, and she was a little surprised to see the young, slightly “theatrical” colleague suddenly take charge of a boat, and steer it with skill onto the water, with perfect balance, and some speed with both oars. We stopped at Eel Pie Island for the picnic, mainly because I had grounded the boat into the mud at this particular location, and despite some Canada geese mistaking our food for some sort of handout to them, all passed smoothly. On the return journey to the boathouse, my friend and colleague asked to have a go with the oars, and so after a little instruction, she happily rowed us back down the river. As we came to the Black Swan at Twickenham, a beautiful pub leading on to the river, we noticed that it was packed, with the beer garden swarming with rugby fans who must have just come from a match down the road. Seeing a rowing boat coming past with a young lady slogging her guts out rowing, and a young man smoking a cigar and drinking Champagne (well, Cava) from the bottle led to whoops and cheers from the rugby fans, hollering to their mates to come to the river bank and look at this sight. Cries from great big rugby lads to me of “Go on, my son!” and “That’s the spirit mate!”echoed across the water as we went past. When I raised the bottle to the onlookers in mock salute, I got the kind of cheer I had never got on the pitch or on the river before. And my friend? well, she insisted on continuing rowing until we were out of sight of the pub, if only to prove a point. And was she laughing as well? absolutely yes, because just before coming up to the Black Swan, I had told her the episode I have just told you.

 

Why I Am Who I Am

20 May

Caution : this is not pleasant reading by any stretch of the imagination.

I have written this as the lynchpin of my recovery, but I wont be remotely offended if no-one reads it, and I certainly do not seek  to evoke any kind of sympathetic response. After much reflection, I finally feel able to write about the biggest part of my life, which I have not touched on anywhere else yet. Remember, I see a nice therapist weekly, so these words are part of a cathartic process, not a traumatic trigger. Please do not make it one for you – I would hate that.

If you want to carry on reading, scroll down. If not, come back soon for something lighter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, if you’re sure.

I thought that the hardest thing I had ever done in my life was bury my Dad. That was, until I started to think about and open up about the content of this post. Up until five months ago, I had never spoken to anyone, including my other half about this. So here goes…

My childhood I could describe in one word: brutal. I suffered a variety of abuse at the hands of my mother from a young age through to my early twenties. This post is an account of my experiences, and as you have scrolled down to here, please be warned that I am not going to be holding back!

My parents split up when I was very young, leaving my mother and a younger sibling living at home. My earliest memories of being 2 or 3 are of getting up in the early morning and not being allowed to wake my mother. In fact she used to lock me into my bedroom, using a door chain on the outside of the door. That I managed to PULL the door open and rip the chain entirely out of the woodwork at this age perhaps says something about the fear and panic this gave me, to know I was locked in. I was then the little boy in the redWellingtonsyou see in the photos here and on Twitter. To this day, I strongly advise you never to lock me into a room, but I am working on this in my counselling.

Even at this early age, I remember being in constant fear of my mother’s moods, never quite knowing how she was going to react from one day to the next. Aged 4, I couldn’t eat my lunch after nursery one day, for whatever reason, and so I was force fed. It was tinned ravioli with garden peas. When I refused to eat, I was stabbed in the right leg with the fork, and told not to be such a baby.

I took it for granted that children were smacked, as we got this from both parents, and both grandfathers. Things got a lot worse when we moved house away from the place we had lived with Dad.

Religion began to play a big part in our lives, and in addition to bedtime prayers and Bible stories, we attended a very evangelical church, where Jesus (as opposed to the Holy Trinity) is mentioned an awful lot. At home, we were told that God watched over us and protected us, and we had to pray to be better people. The problem with this was that it was always my mother’s interpretation of good and bad. And it was tied in with the beatings.

We could normally gauge my mother’s mood on a evening after we had gone to bed, by the music she played. If it was Mozart Piano concertos or symphonies, we were okay, but if the strains of Irene Carr “Fame”, Blondie “The Tide is High” or anything by Elkie Brooks was playing, we were on eggshells, because this normally meant that much wine had been consumed. Any of the latter pieces of music being heard was our cue to get to sleep as quickly as possible, or at least stop arguing and messing about.

For bad behaviour, including not being asleep sometimes, more often than not, we were beaten with a wooden kitchen spoon when she came upstairs into our rooms. Failure to get out of bed and lower my pyjama trousers to receive whacks on the bottom with the spoon would entail being dragged out of the bed onto the floor, and hit with the utensil. It didn’t take long to learn that buttock flesh was the least painful option, and so the former was always the preferable option, and I also hated being hit around the head. I was obviously conditioned, as at other times, the wooden spoon would only have to be raised in my mother’s hand for the fear of the punishment to be as effective as the physical abuse itself.

On other occasions, when she went on a rampage, my mother would come into our bedrooms, and sweep everything off shelves, and any other available surface, and we would often end up thrown on the floor, with a variety of toys and assorted paraphernalia raining down on our heads.

Whether a part of growing up, or as a result of what was going on, I became a serial bed wetter, something which did not stop until I was almost 12. From an early age, my mother would remove all of my clothes herself, and scrub me with a flannel when this had happened, up to being about 8. I had no say in the matter, and I was left thinking that my body was not my own, and that any right to privacy was not allowed. I could only go to stay at friend’s houses on the condition that my mother witnessed me telling the other person’s mother myself about my “problem”. Even now, I can recall the embarrassment of this, and the feeling that I was dirty or unusual in some way. She would tell anyone who listened about this, so all of her friends, and eventually the parents of most of my friends knew. However, none of that was ever as bad as the sinking feeling of waking up in a damp bed, knowing that I was going to be in trouble when it was time for the inspection.

Things did eventually calm down when I was 8, and my stepfather moved in. That is not to say that the abuse stopped, but more that my mother’s focus was on having a normal family life, so the physical aspect diminished, in favour of more subtle punishments, such as not being able to go out to play with friends, not being allowed to go round to other people’s houses, and being sent to bed in the middle of the day for bad behaviour, and not being allowed any tea.

My mother pushed me to do well academically, and I have to say that I was considered intelligent, and until the age of 12, very hard working. I learnt that academic achievement pleased my mother, and so this was a way I could get recognition, and this was also the route to rewards, or at least not making her irate. I was taken to entrance examinations for private schools, and to prepare for these, I was given maths and verbal reasoning exercise books to complete at home. These were admittedly fairly easy, but in no way enjoyable. My academic achievements appeared to become an extension of my mother’s own standing and self pride. Anything less than excellence was therefore a slight against my mother on my part, and the disappointment would manifest in further demeaning and derogatory comments.

 Anything else I was interested in was discouraged. I was a cub scout for 2 years, but never a terribly good one, mainly because I refused to play British Bulldog and be blindfolded in “games”. This made me appear a wimp, but I had had my fill of violence masquerading as anything else even by that age.

 I also always wanted to play football, but because I was nervous, I never joined in with the rough and tumble of the other boys kicking a ball around the school playground. Even playing football in PE, I flinched every time anyone came near me, and so I was frightened if the ball came my way, as that meant several people either shouting to me, or chasing me. My big break came in a five a side tournament in September 1988, when I was picked for my primary school team. I am sure this was due to the fact that a particularly virulent strain of chickenpox was doing the rounds at the time, and I was immune having had it years earlier, but no matter, I was really excited. All the parents came to the matches, and cheered their sons and daughters on. My mother however laughed at me, and told me in front of everyone, that I was getting fat, and was simply “running round the pitch pretending to look busy”. From that day to this, I have never played a game of football other than in subsequent compulsory games lessons at school, and I don’t even know the offside rule.

I was never the best behaved teenager (but show me one who is!), and I have documented already my wranglings about my sexuality at this time, and my feelings of low self esteem. However, on the home front, my mother no longer hit me, but took to a new form of punishment. For anything I was perceived to have done wrong, I would be informed of the sacrifices she had made to have children, and that she was unable to be successful in her career if I didn’t behave better. Worst of all for me, I was always made to recite the mantra “I am a failed being” on each occasion.

My mother’s drinking was noticeably bad around this time, and in the later evenings, I used to cringe as she was clearly inebriated, and she made fun of my quite obvious changes which came with puberty. The jokes about my broken voice and my need to shave daily were one thing, but I was subjected to night after night of my own mother asking me if I now had pubic hair, and wanting me to prove it, as well as making snide and mocking comments about masturbation. If I left the room when any of this was being said, I was accused of not being man enough to take these jokes, and of chickening out.

When my stepfather quite sensibly upped and left when I was 15, things got even worse. My mother and I argued, and I became all of the disappointments and curses which could befall any mother. On several occasions, I was kicked out for the night, and had to rely on the kindness of friends to put me up. On the one night that I had to sleep on a park bench (in November) I crept home to my own bed in the early hours, only to be asked the next morning why I was there.

So why did nothing ever get done or said about this? Put simply, we were a car driving, owner occupying, professional middle class household, and I was already flagged for having “mental health problems” caused by confused sexuality, so no-one would have listened to me over my mother anyway.

The worst argument occurred just before my A levels, and I used the classic line “I wish I hadn’t been born”, which even then sounded puerile, but came from my firm held belief that I did not fit in anywhere. My mother’s response was to inform me that she wished she HAD had the abortion she was thinking of when she was pregnant with me. To say I was astounded would be an understatement. From then on I looked on her differently.

Six months later, I left home, and our relationship was never close after that, particularly after she told me that no-one but her would ever be good enough for me, which was an extremely unsettling and slightly reverse-Oedipal position to be in. To say she was my mother, she had a very close interest in my sex life, which I found unnatural and uncomfortable as well. Gay or straight, I am sure most sons don’t want to tell their mothers what they do with their willies when the lights are out.

 Things came to a head when I received a letter from my mother threatening to report me to the Police for Fraud, as she had received a letter from a creditor for an unpaid mobile phone bill at her house. I had genuinely forgotten about the old phone, and I was 22, and therefore not as worldly wise or organised as I would pretend to be. On telephoning her, I was told in no uncertain terms what a failure, disappointment and general annoyance I was to her. This time however, I found the resilience to fight back, and told her to “kindly remove herself” from my life, or words to that effect. Her immediate retort was that she had no desire to see me again either.

So, over a decade later, I have kept to my word, and to be honest looking back, I am relieved that I have not had such a negative influence in my life. I am clear that this has profoundly affected me however, and all of my hang ups in life have never really been about mental health or my sexuality, but deep seated coping mechanisms and early experiences.

I am no longer angry about what has happened (three cheers for therapy!) but that position has taken many years to arrive at. I am sad and hurt that I miss out on having a Mum, but actually more from the perspective of if I had a nice one, rather than the one I did have. Birthdays, Christmases, Mothers Day, Bank Holidays, and even afternoon barbecues in the sunshine often leave me feeling a pang of regret, for what I never had or will have, rather than for what I once had. Despite the hurt and pain, I have come to a position of acceptance of the situation, which at least provides a safety net for any other feelings which periodically come up.

Because I have finally addressed all of these thoughts and feelings, only within the last few months, my recovery from mental health has been phenomenal. No amount of tablets, talking around the subject, or diversionary activity can replace being able to face up to horrific events and say that NONE of it was my fault.

So if you have read this far, thank you very much. If reading this has made you upset, then I am truly sorry.

I want to leave you with two things. Firstly, my own religious views are perhaps understandably a little complex, but I firmly believe that, whether or not there is higher being or deity, our purpose in life is to do good and to ease the suffering of others. And a bit of love cannot hurt either!

This song sums up my feelings of religion and life, and as it’s by Bob Marley, it cant be wrong can it!

PLAY ME

Finally, I am in NO position to offer advice to you if  you suffered the same as me but there are plenty of people who can, and support you to overcome your own experiences.

My request is to any parents reading this:

  • If you have young children, take them to play on the swings, jump in puddles, or just join in with them making an almighty mess with finger paints or such like
  • If you have adolescent children, make them a drink, sit down with them and actually listen to them, make available time for them to talk to you, not to always have to listen and obey.
  • If your children are grown up, phone, email or Skype them NOW, and tell them you love them, and that you are proud of them.

And don’t worry about me. I’ve got a roast dinner to cook today,  but not before I’ve put my grown-up wellies on, and jumped in some puddles myself! xx

Desert Island (Slipped) Discs

16 May

Mental Health Blog Party Badge
I’m blogging for Mental Health 2012

Today is Mental Health blog day, and this is my contribution to the worldwide endeavour to raise awareness of mental health. I have tried to identify something which will resonate with anyone anywhere in the world, and which anyone with mental health problems, or their carers, will be able to identify with, regardless of latitude or longitude. My belief is that, in every continent and culture, music is something which people strongly identify with. Certain songs and pieces of music evoke memories of good times, bad times, significant events and associations with celebrations undertaken in each part of the world.

There is a long running radio interview programme on the BBC called “Desert Island Discs”, where well known people are asked to imagine a hypothetical situation, where they are “cast away” on a desert island, in the style of Robinson Crusoe. Although alone and bereft of all their belongings, they can take with them 8 of their favourite records, the complete works of Shakespeare, The Bible (or other holy book as desired) and one luxury item.

I am not a well known person, I am just an ordinary man, who happens to have suffered from mental health problems, and I write a blog about my past experiences and feelings about the journey to restored health. So often, depressive illness such as mine, lead to isolation, and cutting off from all forms of support, due to feelings of low self esteem and worth, and lack of confidence in your own abilities. A sign of feeling better is always that you can choose to do things on your own, rather than believing that you are not valued enough by yourself or anyone else to spend time in the company of others.

So I therefore wanted to combine all of these ideas into one unified form. I am therefore going to imagine that I am cast away on a desert island with my own choice of 8 records, books and a luxury item. As I am also a hypochondriac suffering from a bad back today, and to circumvent any obvious copyright issues, I have decided to name this entry the “Desert Island (Slipped) Discs”.

The most exotic island I have ever been to is Ibiza,(unless you count an unfortunate incident involving a sinking boat and some rather aggressive Canada geese on a day out on the river at Eel Pie Island, on the Thames at Twickenham). I would therefore hope to be cast out to some exotic idyll, and as I walked up from the surf, these are the records I would take with me….

Record Number 1 – Go Where you want to go The Mamas and the Papas

When I first left home, I rented a room in a shared house inLondon. For many reasons I was glad to leave my family home, and I felt liberated, grown up and free to make my own decisions for the first time in my life. This song was on a CD I was playing as I unpacked, and I always associate it now with that first feeling of freedom, and the words certainly lend themselves to that meaning.

Record Number 2 – “ I Write The Songs” Barry Manilow

I am unashamed of my love of the music of Barry Manilow. Slightly camp, often cheesy, but every song is either a ballad or a belter. “Mandy” is my favourite song, and playing this will remind me of the times relaxing at home with this playing in the background.

Record Number 3 – “The Internationale

Despite all of my mental health problems, I have never lost or swayed from my ardent belief in socialism as the only truly fair and democratic means of organising society, and ensuring equality of opportunities to all members of any community. Unencumbered by the need to hold elections, or to take anyone else’s views into account as the sole occupant of the island, I will set up a true socialist state. I haven’t really thought how I will ensure that all industries are nationalised yet, or indeed how I will both give according to my ability, and take according to my need. No matter, as the most enjoyable part of living in this new state will be the compulsory march of the workers on the beach each morning singing along to the Internationale, unimpeded by opposing political doctrines, or anyone complaining about my appalling singing.

Record Number 4 –“Dont Look Back in Anger” Oasis

This song reminds me of a specific time and feeling, and one which I wish I could bottle and preserve for posterity. Britain was at the height of the “Britpop” era in 1996, when a new wave of bands were commanding the music charts with songs which resonated with the experience of living in Britain, and with a growing mood for political and cultural change. The biggest electoral change in a generation was expected, and came the following year, but beyond politics, it felt as if it was time of renewal, and to replace the old guard. It was also a time when pubs served underaged kids like me alcohol as long as we were well behaved, so most of my memories of the song involve singing along to it with my mates, while having a pint and putting the world to rights. And it is just a cracking tune!

Record Number 5- “At the River ” Groove Armada

This tune has always made me feel completely relaxed, and I have often been known to put it on the stereo the moment I come in from work, and am about to go on holiday. Whether it is jetting off to foreign climes, or just a day off to dig the garden, I associate this with a slower, more reflective pace of life. The thought of sitting on my desert island playing it would be the absolute pinnacle of what it represents for me.

Record Number 6 – “My Kind of Town” Frank Sinatra

My desert island will be a quiet, relaxed place with no hustle and bustle, and obviously no other people. For any of the times I feel lonely, “My Kind Of Town” will take me away to a different world of bright lights, fast cars, swing bands and men in sharp suits in smoky lounges playing cards and drinking cocktails. For the three minutes duration of the song, I can close my eyes and imagine I am there, and croon along with Ol’ Blue Eyes. It is my favourite song, for its lack of repetition, and both its exciting and uplifting tune and lyrics. Also, it is not often included in karaoke playlists, saving it from eternal ruin by idiots like me who think that they are actually lost members of the Ratpack.

Record Number 7 –“Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor” Rachmaninov

I was immersed in classical music from a very young age, and the most beautiful piece I ever heard was this piano concerto. It lilts from quiet reflective passages picked up by solo piano and sections of string, woodwind and brass in turn, to the most elegant, bravura melodies, and is all in all a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I am a man who is not afraid to show his feelings, and I have to say that on both occasions when I have been lucky enough to attend performances of this work, I have had tears streaming down my face, owing to the electrifying and overwhelming power of the music. This is one I would like to play in my makeshift hut, preferably at dusk, watching the sun go down to the strains of a full orchestra.

Record Number 8- “Cwm Rhondda” Welsh Hymn

As a former choirboy and Welshman (in part), I would not be able to live without the occasional injection of the rousing anthems of the valleys. I have a collection of old records of Welsh Male Voice Choirs, and I love the old record sleeves depicting all the members of any given choir (numbering about 14,000) in the same brightly coloured blazers posing for the camera, so one of those would definitely be coming with me. While visits have been limited, I would considerWalesas my true homeland if I became homesick, perhaps more so than my belovedYorkshire. To hear once more the harmonies of those men would soothe my soul, as well as remind me of my Dad, who although never having lived there, nevertheless instilled in me the pride of our roots. Certainly our arguments were fuelled by more than a little Celtic passion in our genes!

I would describe myself as agnostic, but if I was to end my days on this island as an old man, never having been rescued by anyone from the outside world, I like to think that I would be led away to a better place by the choir Emmanuel, replete with wings, halos and customary choir blazers, and I could take my place for eternity standing next to my Dad with the rest of the dubious baritones, in an everlasting chorus of Cwm Rhondda.

I know that I would be allowed to take the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible, however I would decline both, and ask for alternatives.

I love the plays of Shakespeare, but I imagine it would be very hard to recreate or truly enjoy them without a cast of more than one person delivering those lines. So instead, I would prefer the complete works of Thomas Hardy, and should enjoy reading his dark ,brutal prose in this most unlikely of settings.

As for the Bible, well I have nothing against it, other than having other people’s interpretations of it forced upon from an early age. I would instead prefer a normal dictionary, so that I could just look up words, and explore the power of language, rather than religion.

As for my luxury item? This would have to be my toolbox. Cast away on an island, I could tinker, build and improve to my heart’s content. No longer restrained by a desire to overachieve to compensate for low self esteem and confidence, I would be quite happy working with my hands to build around me the essential things I required. As my toolbox contains one of every tool invented by humankind since the last Ice Age, it might also be a good opportunity to actually learn what each one is for.