The Positive Reaction Circuit

Wouldn’t it be nice if the positivity guru could actually heal everyone with depression just by performing their normal routine. But for individuals with depression, it’s not so simple. Words could inspire someone with bipolar, speaking from experience, but once the manic state has passed the positivity slips away.

Let me set the scene to explain the how my mind works. Inspirational words do the job, they inspire me. Once in my brain my imagination runs wild. As time passes so does the enthusiasm. Within a blink of an eye, focus is lost and inspiration is gone.

But the positivity is not the problem, the performance by the guru is not the problem. I am. My brain. My lack of the correct synapses firing at the correct time and a lack of serotonin flowing from the dark corridors of my brain. At some point, you look internally for the problems. I can be angry at these “change your life” coaches but actually for most people, they help.

If only the circuits in the brain could be wired correctly. The negatives to the positives, the sad to the happy. The rage to the calm. The obsession to the mindfulness. As an electrician wires a house, a surgeon could wire the brain. But that’s what antidepressants and mood stabilisers are for. They help the brain to work in a manner that is within the normal parameters.

So I recognise the positives in my life, but holding on to that sensation is the problem. And obsessing over the negative doesn’t help. Imagine being on a race circuit. You are in the lead for 1 lap, but behind for 9. You win the race and feel amazing, until the thoughts of being behind for most of the race slip in. Over analysis and negative thoughts take over the positivity.

If I could bottle the feeling of being positive and take it once a day, I would. But until that remedy exists, I just try not to obsess over the fact I can’t always react to positivity the way others do. I recognise the problem is mine and that others suffer in the same way, but it can still make you feel alone and “special”, but not in a good way.

Today my circuits maybe broken, but sometimes it’s only a loose wire that connects periodically, making me feel positively normal.

The Logic Cataclysm

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I like to use its full name from time to time to help me see it for what it is. I have an obsession, a compulsion that becomes uncontrollable. Hence the disorder part.

So I could understand it better I have tried to slow down the beginning of an obsessive episode. For me, the thought starts from something that I see as illogical. In this scenario lets use a process that is meant to make organisation restructures fair.

“Hello all”, a voice says from the depths of the HR cave. “We are restructuring the organisation to make it fit for purpose”. This for me was the start of an illogical process that will become an obsession.

The reason it was instantly illogical was I knew nothing about it as a mid level manager. Nor did the Assistant Director who is my line manage. Nor did any of the other managers or Assistant Directors. This means it was decided behind closed doors with a couple of people who have no idea what anyone does.

This is when I try and get answers to help my logic train get back on its logical tracks. “Is this to make it fit for purpose, or cost cutting”, I said calmly once I had a one to one with a director involved in the structure. Respect to the director when they answered “Its about saving money”.

Oh dear. My derailed logic train was now heading for a full blown crash. Other questions begin to form so I ask them. “How is cutting resources going to help you save money over the next few years, where is your strategy and what are you going to invest in to get there?”.

I must admit by this point my questions tend to extend to questions in questions. But this is due to the driver of my logic train trying to hold on for dear life. The answer to these questions will decide if there will be catastrophic multi pileup of logic trains or a last minute flick back on the logic tracks.

“This was decided by the board”. Oh hell, brace for impact, process failing, illogical sensors are firing. Questions begin to overlap, a feeling of dread builds as my mind begins to repeat the same process again and again. Like a malfunctioning robot, I repeat the process but get the same outcome each time.

My brain cannot process illogical things. If a straight line is the fastest route but we are going to go the long way, not to enjoy the view but just because I’ve decided its better, my mind briefly stops for milliseconds while it works out the logic.

But where logic does not exist, I am doomed, for a time at least, to obsess over the same thing. Control has a lot to do with it. I don’t have a voice to change the illogical nature of the thing that is happening. I may as well not be saying anything at all. But this leads to the obsession finding ways out through temper, sharp responses and tiredness.

Everything in nature makes sense to me from bacteria to the stars we see from earth. Yet making a decision based on a lack of knowledge,  lack on insight or forethought, perplexes me. All of us make silly decisions but wouldn’t you stop a train crash if you could, or stand by and watch it happen? This is the problem with my head. I can’t turn it off, or get over it, or distract myself.

The options I have are cycling, this helps. Painting, this helps. Or not being in the situations that cause my brain to have obsessive fuelled failures. I may as well stand up and repeat “cannot compute, cannot compute”.

So, off to distract myself. Oh and just so you know. My train drivers are fine they have great healthcare under the NHS. More to do with the amazing staff keeping it together, nothing to do with the conservative government gradually destroying it!

The Loudest Silence Philosophy

Something I have noticed people including myself struggle with is describing the feeling of severe depression. How do you describe a giraffe to a creature that has always lived in the ocean. “It has four legs…”, you start before the fish interrupts “what are legs?”. “They come out of the body and hold you upright…”, again an interruption of “why don’t they just swim?”. “OK, there is this force called gravity…”. You get the idea. I know it’s a little extreme but imagine, as I have to, that all you have felt in your life is sad!

Now I’m not playing the feeling of sad down. I hate being sad. But sadness and depression are two very different things. When my Mum died I was devastated. I was very sad and was grieving. But this felt very different to when I’m depressed. I fact, sometimes depression can make me sad. Trying to explain this to someone who has not had depression is to say the least, kind of impossible.

From my experience there has only been a few occasions that depression has been described brilliantly. One is the Black Dog video by The World Health Organisation (you can find this on YouTube). Others include descriptions by comedians who have suffered from depression or actors such as Jared Padalecki who promoted #AlwaysKeepFighting depression campaign. But do I understand and like these because I have and do suffer from depression?

My way of explaining depression is a little different. It may just be me but here goes.

Imagine a deep droning noise in your head, not really load or unbearable. But you can recognise it’s there. This is the start of your depression. At first the noise is low, quiet but still causing you to be a little irritable and angry. Now as the days go on it gets a little loader and things you could normally hear clearly become muffled. The irritability gets worse and loads places like nightclubs make it worse. People talking to you or being to load makes it worse so you start to avoid those situations. A few more days pass and the noise is constant, noticeable over everything else and you can’t control it. All you want to do is cover your head and avoid the noisy world. You feel angry, really irritated but now a new feeling arrives, one of exhaustion. But its not over, the noise gets loader still and brings with it another surprise. It’s the feeling of giving up on everything you know, the feeling of being numb and lifeless. The noise never stops.

The noise may get quieter and sometimes you may even feel it’s gone. The luckiest may have a one off noise for a few months while others it’s a ticking time bomb waiting the gain its volume again. It’s the loudest silence you will ever hear and for those who have it for life, just have to learn to manage it through medication, therapy, lifestyle and all of the mentioned.

Once I saw a doctor who said “you just need to do some exercise and get off these antidepressants”. I strange thing was he never checked my diagnosis or asked what exercise I do. I love cycling and train all year round. The day I saw him I had done a 100 cycle the day before.

I was also told to “man up” once and to “get over myself”. Someone even said “Cheer up a bit it’s not all bad”. I’m still waiting for the day they need a doctor and lose a limb so I can say “so you have lost a limb, just grow it back”.

There was a poet who normally I found to be very interesting until one day he released a video stating that anyone depressed should watch his video as it would “change their lives”. I watched the video and felt like slapping him up the side of the head. He compared people with depression to feeling a bit sad. He actually said “here is a cloud, but it passes you by. Like the sadness your feeling”. Oh yeah why didn’t I think of that. “I’m cured”.

Check out the Black Dog video and remember that depression is different for every person. There is no cure or magic or natural remedy that will make it go away. For some it will be a temporary illness. For others like me it is a lifelong fight that will have ups and downs like any illness. Make sure you have a support structure and have a code word for when you are suffering from symptoms, mine is “I’m feeling Heady”, so your support around you can know how you are feeling and help.

Keep strong and always listen to your doctors (unless they are useless and think mental illness isn’t real).

The Employee Deterioration

 

I wake up at random times of the night, wide awake. Decide to walk to the toilet, back again, get back into bed then wait to fall asleep. Yet the alarm sounds and I want it to stop. I’m so tired that my eyes barely remain open. “Just 10 more minutes”, I say to myself. Not that the 10 minutes will help.

Some mornings I get up on time and go on my indoor spin bike to do some interval training. This helps wake me up for the day. There is nothing like pushing yourself to the limit before you are properly awake. A protein bar, washing, dressing, tie tying, a Coke Zero and breakfast biscuits for the drive in.

As I join the manic metal road train of rushing parents and workers going about their day, BBC Radio Two provides a distraction. Cars travelling to close to others as they need to get somewhere faster than anyone else and we are all in their way. The occasional Nissan Micra or old beaten up Jaguar deciding that 47mph is plenty for a national speed limit road.

Finally I reach my destination. At this point my mood starts to go from determined to numbness. The building may as well be a precipice with no end. The light I use to hold for my work has faded and a shell which use to hold enthusiasm and enjoyment just gets out he car. Every footstep to the door is heavy like chains are pulling down my body. As I reach for my security fob all effort I have left is required to pull it to the door system. The door blips with enthusiasm. Why shouldn’t it, it has a task in life it succeeds at.

The door slams behind me as I make my way into the florescent lit room that resembles a battery hen farm which we are all so against. The keys of keyboards clatter, while phones buzz into life. Generic greetings can be heard before the first person walks towards me and says “sorry to jump on you before you are settled in”.

My body instantly reacts like Ironmans suit, automatically springing into action from head to toe. The smile appears on my face, shoulders go back and the words pour out like a dolly with a pull cord, “That’s ok, how can I help”.

Throughout the day I think, “there must be more than this”, and “I would rather be…”. These are probably normal thoughts that everyone has. But I didn’t use too. Before I was sent through the repeated NHS grinder made up of restructures, organisational changes and cut backs I was inspired to be in the NHS. I helped the clinical staff every day and made a difference. We were all a team, working to help people.

But my organisation has become deaf to the voices of its staff. Instead, external contractors are trusted above staff and patients. They would rather spend their money on an expensive suit than pay for up skilling staff. Mr and Mrs suit know best, they must do, we are paying them a fortune. What could the minions know, we don’t pay them properly.

Things in the NHS have become messy and cloudy. It’s like we are all islands and none of us have maps. If any of the experts who live and breathe healthcare speak up, a shout can be heard from government telling us how expensive it all is. And if there is a problem, it’s our fault, not theirs. We have been reduced from the largest employer to the messiest of commissioning led services, a postcode lottery of care.

But what if we asked the question of patients and experts, “what should the NHS look like?”, and then ask the government “how would you want to be treated by the NHS?” We could then logically state with certainty how much it will cost, how it should look and how it could be managed. Let’s go really crazy and protect the legacy of the NHS, healthcare for all, no matter what your background or nationality. Let’s protect the workers, the nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, care staff, support staff.

Meanwhile, back to reality. The day is long and draining with little gaps for thinking. Due to restructuring my future is held in someone else’s hands again. The fact that I’m an IT professional does not matter in the eyes of executives and human resources, as long as I have some sort of job. Human resources will remain unchanged as always and the safety net of the directors specialties the same. If they know finance, the finance team will be fine. If they know quality the quality team will be fine. But if they don’t understand what you do, then you are the one that will pay for it in this structure.

Time to log off the computer, lock up the cupboards, turn off the lights as always due to everyone leaving on time except me. Walk to the car with the sound of the door closing behind me. You would think at this point I could take a deep breath and relax. No that would be too easy. Now the obsessions, the paranoia, the deep rooted depression really kicks in. The feelings of being alone and trapped while standing in the cold dark car park. The feeling of losing control of your future while executives switch off and enjoy life at the top. Maybe that’s my paranoia speaking, or is it!

You are told that working hard pays off but you are not told that some will take advantage of that. You are told to respect the hierarchy but never told that this respect doesn’t always come back. Your belief is based on doing good work to achieve an ultimate goal but what if that goal is hidden.

I guess work is a big part of every one’s life and everyone has difficulty with work sometimes. But I can’t help but think that my mental health hugely holds me back. Is it too much to ask a saviour to step in, tell me everything’s going to be alright and help me into a new job that I will feel inspired to be in again. They don’t need to be dressed as a super hero or anything (unless its Batman), but I feel I am being to hopeful. Quoting famous lyrics, Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

The Conservative Business Imbalance

I work in the NHS, more specifically in community healthcare as a Leader in Information Governance and Information Technology. Standard practice involves getting to work, firing up the laptop, turning on the work mobile and checking emails. I produce policy, guides, documents, research law blah blah blah!

This style of working practice is alien to humans. When did you normal start to be antihuman? So here I am, living in another time. This morning I am building a new central building for celebrations. Tomorrow I will be painting the interior with incredible colour. Next week I will be discussing how we will make and plan the rest of the build with others in the village. Once it is all finished I, and all the villagers who worked on the project will step back and say “we did that”. Ok back to reality.

I know this is romanticised and life would have been hard for our ancestors. But the point is, as a society we have lost the element of the big picture. As we as a culture have become over populated and taken over more of the world, our communication has increased. We work together far more but, we only see part of the big picture.

Imagine being locked in a room for years. All day you forge a piece of metal to an identical specification. You get paid but you never know what the piece of metal is for. Your morale will be low and you may work quite slowly and lose interest which could affect the finished piece. Now lets mix it up a bit. This room is now an aircraft hangar. Others are working around you on other parts. Then in the middle, is a plane. You can see the part you have made being placed onto the plane with other parts. Once completed you can see the customer pick up the plane and see its test flight. You learn that the component you make is a safety feature that has saved 20 lives each year it has been fitted. You have purpose, you feel inspired and even take interest in others work and how the plane was designed. Put in simple terms, you have a village.

So whats this got to do with my mental health? I have needed to force myself into a world based on how people think things should be, not on how humans are used to being. Through school we learn through play up until we are 5-6. Then the tables, chairs and looking forward at a board starts. Straight away preparing us for work at a desk. By the time we reach secondary school, we are trained very well at sitting at a desk and looking at books and computers. By college, we naturally turn to books and computers to carry out all our work, revision and tests. Then there is university with its large auditoriums and, you guessed it, books and computers.

I’m not saying that books and computers are not required, but is this really the best way to learn? Do we need to sit at desks? Are we teaching everyone a conservative approach to work? Are we subduing the natural tendencies of humans to innovative and discover to survive?

For me, academic learning is a nightmare. Sitting at a desk with a book or computer and with a test at the end is hell to me. So my qualification scores are average but my practical results are excellent. In truth is it not the practical results that employers need? Don’t we need people to ask questions and challenge the way we think?

For me certain things at work agitate my mental health problems. Meetings are not really useful, more specifically, formal meetings. The constant non stop overload of information and people talking, the need to make notes and the sitting at a desk in a room that was designed by Mr Conservative himself. The bombardment of questions expecting instant answers to every question with immediate timescales. Documents that must be in a consistent, conservative, black on white format with no sign of being interesting other than the business logo in the corner if you are lucky. And last but not least the inspirational, overload of information known as the spreadsheet. Full of numbers, stats and columns of confusion, unless you have hours to look over the sheets.

Again, I’m not saying this is wrong just that this is based on a specific type of person that thrives on the detail. One decimal place is not enough and nor is a top level plan. We must have every little thought and plan for every possible scenario, even the impossible!

Me and many others thrive on colour, diagrams, logical interpretations, pictures, inspirational spaces and everything beautiful. Yet the environments in most offices are as inspirational as a cowpat in the sun. Without an image of the bigger picture you may as well be throwing your work in the bin after you finish.

A work environment should mimic the natural world as much as possible. What’s wrong with plants, art work and comfortable chairs? Why can’t a work space be flexible to adapt to how the employee wants to work? We always feel better when we are in a nice environment with flexibility and the best innovation thrives on it. Check out the Google HQ or Moshi Monsters or Apple. These environments encourage play and innovation.

So in conclusion, your work environment can have an impact on your mental health. Businesses need to adapt to enable happier work spaces and to reduce stress. I tend to look at two screens all day. Turn to the left, cream coloured wall. Turn to my right, storage units, desks and other employees. No breathing space, nothing inspirational and constantly feeling out of place. Come on businesses of the world, innovate, become more human and help us to help you!

The Theory of Obsession

When I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t understand at first how the psychiatrist came to that conclusion. Yes I have moments of frenzied cleaning and an eye for detail, you know, getting things just right. But how did this translate to OCD.

I was soon to learn that I had fallen in the trap of assumptions and media coverage. I thought OCD meant people cleaned repeatedly and opened doors three times. The basics of the disorder were far simpler. It can be thoughts, feelings, motions. It can be self worth, paranoia. The main similarity in the disorder is obsession.

For me, it’s my thoughts that led to the diagnosis. I get a thought, situation or image trapped in my head that repeats again and again. I’m not talking about an incident you think of a few times, this is like the film Groundhog Day. But there are no do overs or resolutions. Just continuous nonstop doubt and despair.

Think of it like a worm on your shoulder. A talking worm. The worm watches your life all day until something happens that you do not process properly. The worm then whispers in your ear “why did that happen”, or “why did they say that”. This enables the worm access to dig deeper and deeper until Dave the worm has setup a shop in your brain called, Daves Wormy Ways.

Each time this occurs it could be days or weeks or even years before the thoughts subside. Most of the time it isn’t just one. Multiple thoughts repeat and spin around your brain making Dave very happy with the foot fall past his shop which now says “Help Wanted”.

My OCD has another trick. Imagine there was an improvement project at work that you knew could save the organisation money and help your fellow colleagues. But management said “we aren’t going to pursue this at this time”. No big deal right? At first it’s not, it’s like an itch that you notice but isn’t so itchy that you need to… well itch it. But over time, after repeated attempts to get management to see this project as a great thing, the itch gets worse. Now what happens if you have 5, 10 or even 20 improvement projects that could save the organisation money? You put all of them forward but you get the same answer from management year after year. Eventually it’s not an itch but a festering cancer that you cannot stop from dominating every thought of everyday.

With either scenario the obsessions also cause me to aim the faults inward. Questions from Daves franchises spin into action. “Maybe it’s me?”. “I’m not good enough for this job”. “I’m a failure”.

But as if that wasn’t enough, I also get obsessed with my body and fitness. This is where things get messed up. I love cycling and indoor training. The exercise, as I’m sure everyone has heard, helps with depression and stress relief. So it is hugely important but even this is not safe from my OCD. If I miss a day of training or eat a little over my calories, Dave is there to run a 2 for 1 offer on insults and paranoia.

And finally there is the Duracell Bunny obsession. I don’t mean I’m obsessed with the little pink rabbit that out ran all the other rabbits. I mean I will keep going with cleaning, DIY or exercise until I feel ill and completely drained of energy. Sometimes over days or weeks.

In short, OCD is a complex disorder that I am still learning about. But I do feel a good first step is to understand the disorder and identify your own elements of obsession. And if, like me, work is a high stressor of your obsessions, maybe it’s time to move on or at least see if your work can support you in some way.

On a positive note, it really helps me have an eye for detail and a keen and natural talent for sorting out mess. Lock me in a messy warehouse and ask me to sort it and I will probably be heard whistling the Smurfs theme while I work, I love organising that much (I know, weird)!

The Anger Algorithm

The scene is set. A pleasant dinner out or maybe a drink with friends. Around you everyone is laughing and joking, everyone is making merry! But in your mind there is a silent, low hum. The type of noise that slowly irritates you over hours or even days. You don’t know its there, you don’t acknowledge the sound, all you have is a feeling.

The sound gradually worms its way into your brain. The symptoms present as the odd feeling of irritability here and there. “Why can’t everyone walk on the same side as they drive”, slips out of your lips. “Why are papers like the Daily Mail allowed to bend the truth and promote hate”, finds a way out of my brain a little too loud while walking through the supermarket.

Eventually, the silent noise fully takes hold. Control of the underlying anger spews out at random times. To you, you are your normal self just stating some facts or an opinion. But to onlookers you are angry and aggressive. The bubble surrounding you makes you feel you are a speaking marvel with your knowledge and as no-one is disagreeing, you assume what you are saying is accepted by all.

But outside the bubble is a different image. People watch as a rant begins with words spoken sharply, to the point and with gusto. All can see you are angry and not your normal self but no-one says a word out of fear of upsetting you even more. An uncomfortable feeling sets in as you finish your comments.

You don’t realise until later that the comments may have been viewed differently to what you perceived. But by then, the damage is done. It may only be a minor thing but the point is you realise you are not in control. Your hidden feelings are starting to show in your voice and on your face. The wall you have so proudly built to protect you has crumbled. The protective emotional wall is now as invisible as the wall promised by US President Trump and is about as useful as the wall would have been if it had become a reality.

Vulnerability is normally hidden away but now it is your new best friend. As if Golum is in your head “everyone knows master, they see through you they do”.  When ignored Golum will just act up even more “catches the fishy on the hook, Golum think you the fishy now”. Your eyes avoid the contact of others going for the look down and up and sideways approach instead as if your feelings and thoughts could be read from your cornea.

So what started the anger? Was there a trigger? In my case a clear trigger seems to be my work. I can sum myself up by saying I am a creative person trapped in a conservative world. I love painting and have been told I am good. I trained as a cabinet maker for two years and love making items out of wood. I like manual labour tasks, tiling, decorating etc. So the job I do does not make sense to most. I work in Healthcare with IT. But this use to be a good fit, as I could work with teams to understand their processes and then help them find ways to use technology to improve their working lives and patients lives. So where did it go wrong?

My knowledge grew and with that the organisation saw I could do a lot of work that would cost them more money if they gained more staff. This meant my knowledge grew further. Eventually I ended up leading on IT and Information Governance (Data Protection, Information Security etc). This is a massive remit for an organisation that processes thousands of records and has 800 community healthcare professionals. My team is small but has a massive output. Despite years of trying to improve the organisation, they won’t listen to me or my staff. Recently they decided to restructure and my team is to be split up and IT is being reduced to one person. One person that would be setup to fail. One person can carry a lot but everyone eventually falls. The other part of the job goes into a new team but again is set to fail and it is on one person.

The anger build up is not due one trigger I’ve realised. One, I’m never listened to even though I have frequently proved my knowledge. Two, I can’t protect my staff as this has been taken out of my hands. Three, I feel I have failed at improving the organisation despite years of trying. Four, I have been taken advantage of. Five, the expectation is I will be thankful for what I am given.

It would be easier if we could pin point one issue that causes us problems, but from my experience, its normally lots of issues that lead to your brain finally saying “enough little hobbit, Golum can’t go onto the flames”. Like the twisted, bony body of Golum, your thoughts are twisted to negativity and you find it difficult to find anything substantially satisfying about the remaining flesh left in your job.

I imagine this is a common problem. For many years it was our bodies that took the punishment, working in factories and production lines. Even before this, hunting, building, leading a nomadic life. Today is a different story. It is our minds taking the damage. The part of the body you can’t see. Falling off a ladder is considered an industrial accident with future lasting repercussions for the victim. But your brain, your essence, the one thing that makes you who you are is neglected.

We are made to fit in a box like a magicians assistant. Sometimes even with the sawing in half and when our brains finally give in, the main priority is “how can we help get you back to work?” and “if you can’t cope with the work I’m afraid we will have to let you go”. Organisations are taking no social responsibility for the damage being done to individuals and it would not surprise me if a link was found between stress and later mental conditions. A balance must be found and power given back to anyone suffering from a mental health problem due to work or made worse due to work.

In my case, some time off from work would do me some good. But ultimately, finding a new job with an understanding employer has to be my main goal.

 

The Choices Matrix

“Do you take the Red or the Blue pill, Neo?” You cannot always choose which way your life goes, but sometimes you can choose the general direction. The Matrix trilogy is a great representation of how life feels with mental health problems. Neo constantly feels like the world he lives in is wrong, not real, grey and dark.

Someone comes into his life who gives him a way out, which sometimes to someone struggling would be just what they need. Maybe it’s a friend or work colleague. They may ask a simple question like, “how are you?”. But in the Matrix it’s even better. It’s a way out of this false world into a better place you always knew existed. And even better, someone will hold your hand to get there.

The only choice Neo needed to make was either to stay with his current life, the safety net, the boredom, the feeling of being outside. Or taking a leap into the unknown. No dipping your toe in the water, no safety net.

This choice is presented to people everyday and most choose to stick with what they know which is a fantastic survival strategy that has served humans for thousands of years. But with modern life, doing what you have always done can be extremely detrimental to your health.

For me, I like control and things I can predict. I like to know the answers and be a force for knowledge. This means I have always been very good at any job I put my mind to. This in recent years has back fired on me due to an employer who takes advantage of staff.

I have worked in healthcare for over 16 years. The UK government has been systematically abusing the good will of public sector workers which has led to my current position of Rock and a Hard Place. The Rock being a private company I work for who couldn’t manage an orgy at a pimps party. Leading to a deficit problem and insane change in structure. The Hard Place being the job market for someone suffering from mental health problems. To add to the Hard Place, my role is quite specialist focussing on Information, compliance and technology. Simply put, Data Protection and anything involving changing the way an organisation works.

I know what you are thinking, “they are skills that lots of people would want”. Yes very true, but add that I changed my working week to four days and my work is flexible, finding that job is a little allusive. I am also in the wage bracket that reduces the amount of jobs available in my area.

While to some this may not seem the biggest deal in the world, suffering from a mental health disorder that affects your mood means you could be on top of the world feeling confident one day and down on yourself another. Furthermore, stability helps manage my disorder, looking and applying for jobs and leaving a job you know very well removes the stability and increases the mood swings, anxiety and general management of day to day.

A choice involving your future is always a big one and I will not pretend to have the answer to how to cope in this situation. But I continue to hope that Trinity will appear at my door with a white rabbit tattoo and ask me to follow to a better job with an understanding employer.

So in conclusion, to stay with an employer that takes you for granted, doesn’t pay well and has unrealistic expectations is not healthy for your already wrecked brain. So to find a new employer that needs my talents it is, that will be flexible with me and in return I can be dedicated, loyal and knowledgeable.

I can’t imagine that my dream job of being shown processes or a warehouse in complete disarray and being told to sort it, exists. Time to saddle the horse, prepare the bow and get ready to hunt down a job.

Good luck to anyone in the same position and remember to try and keep your mental health at the front of your choices. Alternatively learn code and write your own Matrix world to live in.

Christmas Party Conundrum

Christmas is the time of year for… Anxiety, stress and panic. Well it use to be for me. I’ve always loved Christmas. I’m not a religious person, more of a Muppet Christmas Carol person. The feelings of good will, present giving and general cheer are enough to make me smile for a few days.

But it wasn’t always that way. I use to suffer severe panic attacks that would come out of nowhere. The panic attacks started happening because I was panicking about the last time I had a panic attack and each time that made me panic even more.

On one occasion, I was driving in the outside lane of the M25, south towards Dartford Tunnel when I felt the sudden hit of adrenaline rise up my body. Before I knew it, I felt sick and was desperate for the toilet. Sweat begun pouring down my face, then the shaking started.

My wife was in the car with me and I’m sure she would tell you how hopeless it made her feel. The priority at that moment for me was getting out of the traffic as quick as possible. I indicated left and managed to cross the three lanes and pull onto the hard shoulder. It took me 15 minutes to try and gain control, but the rest of the journey I dreaded having the same feeling again. We reached our destination and I was so tired I think I fell asleep instantly.

The reason I started having panic attacks was insignificant as eventually I was having an attack because I was panicking about having another attack, about becoming ill. Being trapped somewhere if I needed to be sick or lay down.  Looking weak and foolish in front of family or complete strangers.

Christmas became the ultimate test due to confined space, warm homes, family, friends and food. In my mind this translated to being trapped, feeling hot and unwell, looking silly in front of people, too much food leading to feeling ill. All added up to the feeling of having a heart attack.

So this maybe news to all, but I didn’t die. I’m still here. Despite 100’s of panic attacks, countless feelings of anxiety I survived. Most of the thanks for this needs to go to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that helped me understand what my body was doing and why. This led to my chosen coping mechanisms which work for me. One is taking a deep breath and holding it in as long as possible, then letting the air back out. Continue this a few times but be cautious not to make yourself dizzy or give yourself an Asthma attack (if you are a sufferer like me). The other method I used is to flex as many muscles as you can, for as long as you can, then release. This can be repeated until you begin to feel better or until someone sees you doing it. This generally leads to giggling and trying to make out you were about to stand up or do a jiggly dance. Either way, it helped me. Coping with panic attacks is not a quick fix, but involving others to help you is a must.

So why is Christmas still a conundrum for me? Simply put, for me panic attacks were one part of my illness. At the time I had not been diagnosed with Cyclothymia or OCD. So while I treated the panic attacks, I still had not started my journey of discovery into who I was and how these illnesses would impact me.

My brain works a little differently to others and a coping mechanism for social situations built up over years. This is a natural reaction, everyone has a wall they develop to protect themselves due to emotional experience throughout their lives. But mine is a little different in that during a manic state, people are amazing. Lets dance, play games and drink the night away (I gave up drinking when I was 21 as I was using it in an unhealthy way). But when I’m down, people just need to go away, far away. Add to this the OCD, obsessing over what people might think, what will happen, work, next week, next year all spinning around my head.

I guess in truth the struggle is, I love my friends and family but I also hate my friends and family. Or maybe its that I’m indifferent. Christmas movies make it much simpler and logical for me. All emotions, songs and reactions are in the script. Everything meets up at the right time in the right place. But life is not like that. Maybe if everyone suffered from the same illness or if I begun to view everyone else as suffering a mental health problem and I was the healthy one it would be easier.

So, to embrace Christmas with all its irritants, boring pauses and pointless conversations that only irritate my metal health it is. It is only once a year. And there are always parts I do enjoy, its not all doom and gloom, while I’m busy, my mind doesn’t have time to acknowledge my symptoms.

I see it like this, my illness is part of me but it does not decide what I do and when. It can’t rule my life. Sometimes I need to give in and let myself embrace the symptoms so I can recover from the constant battle of suppressing them.  But not at Christmas, not at my work Christmas party or on Christmas day with family.

Have a good Christmas and I hope you have a mentally stable New Year!

Who the hell am I?

A few years back I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia and OCD. Before then I had been suffering since a teenager with depression.

Until my diagnosis by a psychiatrist, I did not have a clue how to manage my mental health. Despite having counselling, training in coping mechanisms, medication and reading so many self help books I felt I was only helping the writers by feeding their habit of writing self help books (I’m sure its an addiction that needs recognising. “get help”, self help writers).

Everyday I would wake up with a random personality. I felt I was living the life of the Mr Men in human form. “Today I’m Mr Paranoid and everything you say I will look into it way to much”. And the next day “I’m Mr Lonely with the world against me”. And the next day “I’m Mr Hyperactive. Can’t talk, must go shopping, then clean the house, then go cycling, then onto more cleaning”. Today “I’m Mr Grumpy. The world outside is far to people like”.

But even with all these different feelings one was the worst, Mr Bothered. I would wake up after 10 hours sleep and it wasn’t enough. My muscles are weak, my head feels cloudy and thoughts are racing around my head.

It wasn’t until 2013 that a few TV shows brought attention to a disorder called bipolar. As you do in the modern age of technology, instead of watching TV and enjoying the show you must also look up the cast and search for any random things you haven’t heard of while losing the story line. The symptoms of bipolar seemed quite similar to what I experience but mine were not quite as extreme.

Another year passed before I finally went to my GP to discuss my problems. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and set me on a journey to find out who the hell I was? Is my personality mostly the illness? Am I me or just a series of symptoms? What if I’m medicated and I don’t like who I become? Who is “the man in the mirror”? And should he change his ways?

I didn’t realise that admitting I may have other issues, not just depression, would be the start of a long road to becoming a new me, one that had to live with these mental health problems for the rest of my life. I realised this will impact my work, relationships, hopes and dreams.

This blog will let you join me on my journey of crazy thoughts, mad moments and at times… despair. I hope by sharing my mind with you, you will be able to better understand mental health even if you do not suffer from depression, bipolar or any of the other lovely quirks of the human brain!