Script of Presentation delivered to IOSH West Midlands Branch
Emotional Resilience – ‘Managing Stress’
Making Connections Matter is my own personal brand, dating back to my first breakdown in 1997. It is not a company..
So, I’ve just rewritten the script, and I thought I’d start with a bit of a preamble, a kind of preface, if you like. I have a mental health condition, although I’m not really sure that it is the correct diagnosis!
But before I continue, the first question I have to ask, as perhaps in any relationship, is – ‘Can I trust you?’
Some I9 years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, something which is almost trendy these days.
Last week we were hit with a major report from the Mental Health Taskforce and a series of BBC programmes ‘In the Mind’. With so much going on it made me wonder what could I add to the debate?
How many of you saw some of the programmes?
In one you may remember they referred to a place called ‘The Maytree’ which provides a retreat space for people who have attempted suicide. And one simple quote jumped out at me – Everyday is a gift, that is why we call it the ‘present.’ Something some might say better for a Christmas cracker, but actually very profound.
In England in 2014 4,882 people, committed suicide – globally it’s as much as one million! The WHO estimate one death every 40 seconds and it is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds. It is mainly young men because, apparently, they are more efficient than women at killing themselves. There are estimated to be 10-20 million non-fatal attempted suicides each year.
As it happens, I toyed with the idea when I was depressed and only 12. I made plans, but fortunately it never got serious enough for me.
Do you remember this headline from last year, “Andreas Lubitz (the pilot who crashed his plane load of passengers) (Germanwings flight 4U9525, 24th March 2015) hid some of his illness from his employers” and the response from Professor Simon Wessely President of Royal College of Psychiatrists, ‘don’t stigmatise depression’?
Some people do hide their illness, because of the trouble it might bring, because of stigma, and it can run very deep.
Difficult to tell the cared-for, from the carers,
except where scars of razor cuts hash the lower arms.
I remember the day she came up to the window,
stared in at me from the garden
then battered the panes with her wrists
until the glass broke, drew blood.
So much pain, for so many. I’m trying to get better. I don’t have all the answers, I have my addictions, and I’m trying to come to terms with the last third of my life. And the last few weeks have been interesting, to say the least. So I thought I’d share some of my inner life with you, with a view to shedding some light on the issue.
Breakdown. Nervous breakdown. Fragments. And in those fragments, something of the truth. I didn’t see it coming until the third time around, bearing down on me. I’m more aware now. I watch for tell-tale signs, try to feel the ground ahead of me to predict and prevent that first slip into madness. As if it could happen at any moment.
You see, I have just been living and working through a breakdown. It may have begun almost a month ago on the 27th January, and it was worse by Ash Wednesday. I don’t know the exact trigger but it crept up on me, fooled me into thinking it was friendly, then carried me away. I really wasn’t sure that I’d be here today. It’s been touch and go.
Sometimes, it’s almost just enough to have mind expanding thoughts like i did in my first Acute Psychotic Episode in 1997 which lead me to ask: ‘How many atoms are there in the universe?’ That was virtually before the internet!! Now you can google it.
In New Scientist recently there was a piece about neutrinos, and I quote:
‘Even though they were spotted in the wild for the first time in 1956, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. Part of the problem is how little notice they take of everything else in the universe – billions pass through you every second from the sun, and they would emerge unscathed on the other side of a light year of lead.’
So not only can they pass through the middle of the planet without hitting anything, they can pass through a light year of lead!
A light year of lead, how thick is that? Well let’s see, multiply the number of seconds in a year (3,153,600), by the number of miles travelled in a second (186,000) that’s about 5.87 trillion miles (5.8×10(12)) To pass through something so dense, for so long and not even touch anything else..!
My mind became obsessed with these kind of thoughts, trying to find the answer to life, the universe and everything – something that didn’t turn up the answer, 42! I was confronted by Liz, my (long-suffering) wife: Was I OK? I said yes, because I thought I was, but I had begun the slippery slide down, past the point of no return, having lost sleep made it worse, always a key indicator, and yet from the outside i was acting more or less Ok. And that was part of the performance, not to show anything’s wrong, because it’s a secret and to tell would bring the world down about me.
I wrote the following to offer a kind of explanation to my wife, but it is not enough…
Recent Events – February 2016
This is not an explanation, it is merely a snapshot of recent events and my attempt to make sense of them. I can’t remember when this episode began, it is in some ways a continuation of previous episodes, dating back to 1995 – Making Connections Matter.
As if there are hundreds of strangers looking out for my welfare, maybe more, caring for what happens to me. Now why would that be? I hear different intonations in the patterns of traffic, the rise and fall of engines, the friction of rolling tyres, as if they’re helping to direct me, to let me cross the road safely, to steer me when I’m driving to and from work. As if I were a character in a film set being influenced by psychological ‘nudges’ from all those around me, and never told the secret. But that secret has been getting bigger over the years, because I haven’t broken my silence, until now.
At work, the recent experiment that I played out to test who knew what the gas molecule was on the coaster, (a health and safety marketing device) (turns out to be something which comes under the International Convention on Chemical Weapons for the toxic gases it releases violently when in contact with water). That led me to believe that somehow I was assisting the anti-terrorist branch. I do so quite willingly, of course, because I am angry at the ruthless murders the terrorists carry out, their complete disrespect for others, for the beauty of life, in all its subtle glory.
But it’s not just this one occasion at work. I have felt for a long time that my role there is not simply what it says on the tin. I feel that I have been a participant in exercises, or scenarios designed, secretly, to test me, to test my understanding of health and safety, to test my reasoning powers, to test how I behave under pressure. Yes, pressure particularly, to see how I respond to stress, like management team games. But of course if I admit this, I’m proven to be mad – it’s the classic Catch 22! I don’t want to lose my job, I fear that.
Now there is a greater fear. That of losing you. That is why I am writing this to try to help give you some insight into my thinking. (I love you).
I guess I am weird. I feel this ‘experiment’ has spread to my writing, my poetry. Lucky enough now to have a collection on the way, all another part of admitting that I have been mad on occasions.
The brain, or the human mind is always trying to make sense of its existence – solving riddles, piecing together the puzzle, the millions of pieces of data it is processing all the time, to try to find meaning. Most of the time we only use a fraction of our brain capacity, the rest is for our sixth and seventh senses; the senses of detecting infra-red, and telepathy.
I have had the feeling that, as well as growing in my intuitive understanding of chemistry, I have also grown in my experience of tai chi. I feel as if at times I have been able to extend my senses, to be more aware of my environment, to more accurately determine whether it’s safe, to alert people around me, in case of danger, as if I take on the role of a sensor for the group, or a kind of ‘monitor’. Someone who is looking out for everyone, to keep the group safe. And I think this is an integral development of the human brain, but a property that mostly we have lost in the modern world.
Another vein of thought, arising more recently, is that there are such things as spirits and that people are being awakened as ‘channels’ to these spirits, and I am one of them. These spirits are on a mission to save the world, the planet from destruction, the eroding of the environment by our greed and reckless consumption.
Again, I know this is ‘mad’ but it has become part of my thinking when I am in the heightened, irrational, state of an acute psychotic episode.
I feel now as if I am recovering. I feel relieved to say all this, and I hope that you will not be upset, and that somehow you may begin to understand..?
As for silence, I hope I have shown that my failure to speak up in the relationship, when things are going wrong, not admitting it, not owning up to that fact that I’m worried I cannot cope, this failure is similar to what happens in organisations. And at work I have not spoken up, although the time is very close, because it could take me a little while to get over this, to heal, to recover. to feel safe again.
At the moment I don’t know how long that will take.
By the way, I can recommend the jelly babies in reception – for the children’s hospice, Acorns.