Been a while…

Dramatic enough for ya?

Dramatic enough for ya?

 

So, I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. I went back to work in September after my nervous breakdown and diagnosis with depression, but I found I was unable to cope with the stress of teaching. My depression has been worsening and I find myself rapidly approaching the state I was in just over a year ago. I find my thoughts drifting to suicide again and again. I find the thought of self-harm attractive again. I have been having panic attacks and my fear of crowds has returned with a vengeance. I am petrified of doing anything in case I do it wrong.

I feel like a failure.

Let me be clear; I know it’s the depression talking. I know these thought processes are irrational and self-destructive. I find it so difficult to talk to people about it and I know this is hurting those around me. I cannot control my moods. I swing from depression to euphoria to blind rage at the drop of a hat. As a result, my sister has cut off contact with me and my parents aren’t talking to me (I cried all night after that episode). I wish I could say I blame them, but I know it is entirely my fault. The tablets are barely keeping it under control (or aren’t keeping under enough control) and the thought of looking for a new job while feeling like this terrifies me. My relationship with Lauren eventually failed, but we are still very close friends, which I am eternally grateful for.

depression

I have been developing my artwork and hope to be able to produce pieces on commission, or even land a job as an illustrator/designer, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen (possibly the depression talking again). I have been using the art as a form of therapy, a way of locking out the outside world and living in my own little bubble for a little while. I will upload some of my images on here at some point…

Trying to look objectively at my life is tricky, to say the least. I hate the way my life has turned out, but I have no-one to blame except myself. I realised that I have been drinking too much recently and that has now stopped. I am going to try quitting smoking again, too.

That’s all I can manage to write for now. I’ll hopefully update this again soon.

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The only thing we have to fear…

Have you ever been afraid? Of course you have. It’s a natural and normal part of being a human, part of our genetic make-up.

Have you ever been so scared that you feel you cannot function normally? You know, that kind of fear that creates a terrible, churning void in your belly, that travels down your nerves causing trembling in your hands and knees? That pushes cold sweat through your pores and clouds your thoughts, shutting everything down to a basic ‘fight-or-flight’ choice, robbing you of your free will?

“SPIDER!!”

Dial that feeling back a notch and you have the way I feel every single day. Almost everything fills me with crippling fear. If I’m cooking a meal, I get terrified that the various components won’t be ready at the same time. If I walk down the street I am scared that everyone is looking at me, or that I am about to be attacked. Busy shopping centres reduce me to a quivering wreck, desperate to get out, get away.

But the fear is only the beginning. Fear turns to shame. I am ashamed that I should be getting so scared for no reason. It embarrasses me and makes me feel like a failure, unable to cope with everyday tasks. This makes me angry. So, the fear covers a boiling vat of barely controlled rage, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Presumably this is an extension of the ‘Fight’ part of the ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response, pumping the body full of adrenaline, although I suppose it would also be helpful for ‘Flight’ too. Either way, it sucks.

I force myself to face it, trying to interact with people on a daily basis, to force the feelings of fear and anger away, but it doesn’t work. I lie in bed at night afraid of what will make me afraid tomorrow, afraid of the mistakes I made yesterday, afraid of the fear eating away at me. I fear the future. I fear the past. I even fear the present.

It never used to be like this. I used to have confidence. I used to be able to talk to just about anyone without being afraid that they would hate me (or, at least, not caring that much). I used to be able to go out and enjoy myself. Now I feel like I’m sucking the joy out of any room I walk in to like a massive life drain.

“Hey! Where did all the happy go?”

I know, in the underused rational part of my brain, that this is a symptom of the depression (at least, I hope it is), and I know that things will get better (at least, I hope they will), but it is getting so hard to live with this constant fear. I’m even scared to talk about it – seriously, the idea of people reading these words is making it unbelievably difficult to write them. You have no idea how many drafts and revisions I’ve had to work through. And that’s for a five- or six-hundred word article that a handful of people will ever see.

How do you think I feel about the rest of my life?

Hypegiaphobia

As many of you will be aware, I am engaged to be married to the lovely Lauren, and while I am enthusiastically looking forward to August next year (the date of the wedding), there are a few things I am not so keen on facing. Firstly, will I be able to cope with the responsibilities of being a husband? I hope so, and I will certainly do my best. Secondly, and more worryingly, Lauren is adamant that she wants children and, while I would also like to be a father, I am terrified about the levels of responsibility required for that role. I’ll be honest, when I was living on my own I would happily go a couple of days without eating, just because I’d forget. I would only eat crap, because cooking a proper meal for one person is far more effort than it’s worth. I would go without sleep (partly because I suffer from insomnia and partly because sleeping alone is depressing) for long stretches. I would spend days playing video games because I could. Unlike now, when the opportunity rarely presents itself.

I won’t be able to do any of that when I become a father (except for the sleep part). It isn’t that I want to do any of that, really, it’s just that the option will have been removed from me. I’ve never been very good with being told not to do something. It has always triggered that retarded slice of my brain labelled ‘rebel‘ and I have to force myself not to immediately go and do the thing I’ve been told not to. Stupid, I know, but that’s what my brain does. I blame James Dean and Marlon Brando.

“Hey, Jon! What are you rebelling against?”
“Whaddya got?”

So Lauren wants kids, and I am certainly not going to tell her that I don’t, because I do. Really, I do want children. I am just terrified that I won’t be able to cope with the pressures of fatherhood. I look at those friends of mine who have kids and marvel at the way they manage (and even flourish) in what seems to be a non-stop cavalcade of bizarre conversations, shitty nappies, sleepless nights, stress, fear and pain. Kids cost a fortune as well, and stop you doing the things that you may want to do. It amazes me that anyone would ever have kids by choice.

And yet…

Yes, I still do want kids. And I want Lauren to be the mother of those kids. Ideally, I want a son, and I want to be able to bring him up to be a good person, but I’m terrified of that responsibility. Once you have a child, there is no way of walking away from that. You become a parent and, regardless of anything else that happens, you will always be a parent. The only choice is to be a good parent or a bad one.

I hope I can be a good dad. My dad is someone who I look up to tremendously, a true role model. He and my mum instilled in me a sense of morality that, while difficult to live up to sometimes, is an excellent guide to social existence. I don’t think I can be as good a father as my dad is to me, but I can try to meet his standards. I won’t succeed, but even if I only get halfway there I’ll consider myself a good father.

The fear is still there, but it’s the fear of something that is at least two years away. We aren’t going to be trying for a baby until after we are married, so I have some time to get used to the idea. It doesn’t stop the creeping dread. What if I have another nervous breakdown? What if I simply cannot cope with the demands of parenthood and it triggers a serious depressive reaction? What if the strain is too much for our relationship and Lauren leaves me? What if..? What if..? What if..?

Of course, it might be wonderful. It might be all soft-focus lenses and the smell of babies heads. It might be a nappy commercial from start to finish. But that’s not how my brain works. It obviously homes in on the negative and rolls that around my brain until my stomach is a tight, twisted ball of anxiety and my head is pounding.

And this fear is for something that hasn’t even happened yet! Imagine how I feel about going back to work!

I hate my brain…

Did you miss me?

I’ve not been posting much over the last couple of weeks. This is due to a combination of things. Firstly, I picked up a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization III for a couple of quid, and that has eaten huge chunks of my life like a greedy cannibal. Secondly, I borrowed the first two series of Castle from a friend and have been enjoying that. And thirdly, and most importantly, my depression has flared up (or down) again.

I’ve been feeling very confused. My mood swings rapidly from manic to depressed, which hasn’t really happened before, and I have no idea how I’ll feel in an hour’s time. This makes it difficult to settle to anything. I have also been feeling very scared and I’m not sure why. I keep panicking and have to force myself to calm down. Crowds are affecting me more than usual as well (I’m not good with crowds at the best of times), causing rapid heart rate, shaking and sweating. I get scared and upset, which in my mind gets converted into anger and I curse and swear. This is obviously unpleasant behaviour for anyone to deal with, and Lauren (my fiance) has to cope with it, which is unfair.

I started smoking again. Only a couple a day, but it still makes me feel disgusted with myself. I’m quitting again as of today, so hopefully I’ll be off them for good this time.

I’m still waiting to get back to work. Occupational Health should be getting in touch with me, but they’re dragging their feet a bit which isn’t helping my nerves. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cope with getting back into the classroom and teaching, but I have to try. At least that way I’ll know for sure. The thought still terrifies me, but I’m not backing down from this challenge. Not yet, anyway.

So, that’s where I am at the moment. Hopefully, there will be more ranting and contentious opinions, mixed with pseudo-intellectual analyses and commentary, for your delight/interest/anger [delete as required] soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Sink or Swim

I have been thinking again about my depression, and since I have been on the tablets for a couple of months and have been attending counselling sessions, I seem to be able to think about it in a more rational way. I have therefore decided to try to examine the way that my depression has affected me.

I have always been prone to depression, although I referred to it a ‘cynicism’ and was terribly proud of it. You see, a cynic (as far as I am concerned) is someone who rejects blind optimism and reacts to the world in a more realistic manner. He (or she, obviously) recognises that the world is in a bad way, and that any change is likely to be for the worse, rather than for the better. I would call my cynicism ‘realism’ and quote the old cliché that ‘a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist’. This mindset served me well – or so I thought – from my mid teen years until my early thirties.

This current cycle of depression probably started about two years ago. I was trying to get work as a supply teacher but I was being messed around by a couple of agencies and not getting any work. I was therefore not getting paid. I was struggling to get my Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit sorted (the main reason that I tend to side with benefit fraudsters – if they can get money from that system, they deserve it!) and as a result I was very short of money. Fortunately, I was flat-sharing with a very good friend who was willing to loan me the money to survive. Unfortunately, that situation played host to a horde of other issues that weighed heavily on my mind and caused me to slip further into the depressive cycle. My mood swings – usually from depressed to angry to self-obsessed to manic – were, understandably, placing a heavy burden on my friendships.

When I eventually got a new job (and a new girlfriend – the lovely Lauren who is now my fiancée), my mood began to improve, but it wasn’t long before the depression started impacting on my work life. I have always been terrified of failure, so much so that it often prevents me from trying. My cynicism rises to the fore and tells me that I am so likely to fail, there is no use even attempting things because the feeling of failure will be terrible. It tells me that there is nothing worse than failure, that one failure eradicates the total number of previous successes in my life. If I fail once, I fail completely. Of course, logically I know that this is utter bullshit. I know that failure is part of being human. We all fail occasionally, just like we all need help occasionally, but in my depression I cannot see that. I refuse to ask for help, or admit I need help, or even admit I find something difficult, because that is an admission of failure and I would rather be accused of laziness than incompetence. Even though I got a decent degree (a 2:1 in English and Education) I still feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m waiting for someone to burst into the classroom and denounce me as a fake, an imposter. I feel like I don’t belong, like a kid playing at being a teacher. My subject knowledge is good (it’s the one thing I feel confident in), but I don’t believe I am able to pass that knowledge on to the children in my care. I don’t feel that I deserve to be there. That obviously has an effect on me. When I am observed by a member of management, I automatically assume I’m going to fail, so the standard of my teaching drops. I know that my teaching is far better when there is no observation happening, but obviously that is a subjective view, and therefore useless. Without observation, it cannot be proved.

This turned out to be too much for my mind to cope with. I collapsed at home a couple of times, had panic attacks, constant dizziness and weakness, was exhausted all the time. My joints ached, I had chronic headaches and felt nauseated. I spent several nights sitting in the dark, in tears, holding a knife to my wrists, desperately trying to think of reasons not to end it all. After a whole bunch of tests it was decided that I had suffered what the medical profession no longer refers to as a nervous breakdown (apparently it’s a ‘medically unhelpful’ term). They tend to use the terms ‘stress-related disorders’ or ‘neurasthenia’. So that was it. I was ‘stressed’. My depression had finally broken me.

I was a failure.

Well, not quite. I finally realised that my depression was a thing. It was an illness that I could recognise and accept. It wasn’t just cynicism, or ‘feeling down’, or ‘being a miserable sod’. When I accepted that I had depression, it was a turning point for me. It was surprisingly liberating. I’m still depressed, but I can acknowledge that the depressive thought processes are a symptom, rather than an accurate portrayal of the world and my place in it. However, I still – for the moment – see myself in the black and white terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

This is essentially the whole basis of my depression. I would love to be a writer, but my depression tells me I will fail, that I will be judged harshly, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. Because of this, I never seem able to complete a piece of writing. Whenever I read over what I have written, it fails to live up to my own standards, and therefore it cannot live up to anyone else’s standards either, so it gets buried on my hard drive with every other piece of writing. I am desperately trying to break this vicious cycle, to get writing and keep writing, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show anyone else. I hope I can get over this hurdle. I enjoy writing and exercising my imagination, and I would love for my writing to bring pleasure to others. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s quite enough whining for now!

Toodle-pip!

Looking on the Bright Side…

Yesterday I wrote an article in which I discussed a couple of things that piss me off. I realised that i had rather ‘gone off on one’ so called it a day after only talking about three things. Believe me, I could still be writing that list. I’ll probably go back to it at some point and add more bits and pieces, but today i thought I’d try and balance the scales a little by writing about things that make me happy.

As you’d expect from a depressive, this isn’t going to be as long a list. In fact, I suspect it will be much, much harder to write, but hopefully some of the things that give me pleasure will bring a smile to your faces as well. So let’s start with a picture:

Seth Casteel's awesome underwater dog photography

I challenge anyone with a soul to look into that dog’s eyes and not feel just a little happier. You can see lots more of Seth Casteel’s amazing photography at www.littlefriendsphoto.com. Seriously, if you’re down, go and have a look. You will be smiling by the end of it. Dogs in general make me happy anyway, especially when they are displaying that special joy of just being alive. A dog running about, or playing with a ball, actually lifts my cynical, calloused soul into something approaching happiness. I freely admit to being a totally soppy bastard when it comes to dogs, although bigger dogs are much nicer than little rat-type things in my opinion.

Next on the list are lizards. I know, lizards aren’t necessarily what you’d call cute, but they are kind of cool. Take a look at what I mean:

"I'm watching you."

It is difficult not to anthropomorphise animals at the best of times, but a photo like this makes it next to impossible. That lizard is clearly smiling! Why is he happy? What does he know? And why does it make me smile when I see it? I’m a rational man in his mid-thirties, there is no way I should be swayed by an image like this, but if this was an advert I’d definitely be buying that product. Silly, isn’t it? Whenever I go into a pet shop (which is more often than you’d think, considering that I don’t have any pets) I always make a bee-line for the lizards. I have been considering buying one for a long time, but my fiancée really isn’t keen! So it remains an unfulfilled dream.

Next up, reading. Well, obviously. I love getting lost in a good story. It doesn’t even have to be that well written, just a good story is enough to keep me happy. Currently at the top of my list are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman (as well as American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere by the same author), the Space Captain Smith series by Toby Frost (and if ubermunchkin is reading this, I want them back, damn you! ;)), the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay and others too numerous to mention. I tend to have several books on the go at any one time and chew through them at a slightly annoying rate. It costs a fortune…

Ok, moving on, I also get happiness from intelligent comedy. My all-time favourite television programme is the BBCs QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. If you haven’t seen the show, check it out on youtube. It’s brilliant. The concept is that of a quiz show, except that the questions are insanely difficult, because they generally appear to be things that everyone knows. However, the show hinges on the fact that what everyone knows is usually wrong.

QI host Stephen Fry with regular panellist Alan Davies

Points are awarded for correct answers (obviously) but more often for just being interesting or funny, and obvious answers are penalised. That’s the theory anyway. In reality, the scoring system is so arcane and (possibly) random, not even the guests understand how they achieved the scores that they did. It is fairly common for every panellist to end the show with a negative score, and not unheard of for an episode to be won by the audience! The other thing about QI is that it turns you into the most annoying pedant in the world. You become the sort of person who points out that people used to believe that Saturn’s rings were formed from Jesus’ foreskin, or Henry VIII technically only had two wives (or possibly three. Maybe four. But definitely not six), or that the sun has already set when the bottom of it touches the horizon (because of the light-bending properties of the atmosphere). I can watch it over and over again, and frequently do.

Because I enjoy science-fiction, the idea of concept vehicles fascinate me. It is slightly depressing that none of these incredible machines ever make it into production, but it is fun to look through a bunch of photos of them. Here are a couple for your delectation:

A Moto-Guzzi concept bike

A Cadillac concept car

I like cars and bikes. Not in a ‘This model produces nearly 500bhp per tonne and a top speed of blah blah blah’, but more in a ‘Wow, that looks really cool’ kind of a way. Yep, I really am that shallow! I watch Top Gear mainly for the outrageous challenges and Clarkson’s latest bout of racist/sexist/anythingelseist logorrhea, but I do like admiring the shape of the vehicles on display. I just couldn’t care less about lap times and so on.

Finally, the thing that gives me most happiness is simply this: Friends and family. A little cheesy, perhaps, but true. I, like most people, enjoy spending time with people that I respect. I don’t have to agree with them all the time, in fact friendly arguments can be hugely entertaining (one argument concerning the veracity of claims that Deckard from Blade Runner is a replicant [SPOILER: HE IS!] has been running for a good fifteen years). Just taking time to chat and relax with friends is a source of proper joy.

Most of all, though, my fiancée makes me happy. She is loving and caring (probably far more so than I deserve!), with all the common sense and forward planning that I lack. She is gorgeous and I love her very much. She makes me happy and I want to make her happy in return.

So on that rather soppy note, I’ll finish up with a question: What makes you happy?

What happened?

I’VE BEEN LOOKING AT SOME CHILDHOOD PHOTOGRAPHS OF ME, AND I CAN’T HELP BUT WONDER: WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT LITTLE BOY?

That photo is me. Yes, I know. My only excuse is that it was the seventies and my parents dressed me. Just ignore the hair.

I look at that little boy and see so much potential. Even I have to admit that I was quite a cute child. Wasn’t I? Blond curly hair and big blue eyes are generally considered markers of cuteness in children, insomuch as I understand these things. The point is that he could have been anything. The world was his oyster. A vast ocean of untapped potential lay before him.
And what did I do with it?
Well, I got through school without too much trouble and went to a sixth-form college. Unfortunately, I found out about drink, drugs and women, so my A-levels were pretty much a wash-out. It took another decade of mind-numbing and sanity-destroying jobs before I cracked and went back to college in order to get the qualifications to get into university. I succeeded and managed to leave university with a 2:1 in English and Education and Qualified Teacher Status.
I became a teacher and it has led to a nervous breakdown within five years. I have also managed to turn that cute little blond-haired boy into this:
Not so sweet now!
In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the main character feels the need to apologise to his childhood self for turning into who he has turned into, and I can understand why. Childhood is a time of joy, or at least it seems that way with the benefit of hindsight. That sense of joy, that innocent enjoyment of life, really shows through in old photographs and, to the right (or possibly wrong) sort of mind, this can create a feeling of intense melancholy. I once dressed up to take part in the carnival in my village (and won first prize) and thoroughly enjoyed myself as I walked around the village dressed like this:
No, I’m dressed as an Edwardian barrow boy. Not what you were thinking.
I simply cannot believe that I did that. I look back and I am completely unable to explain how I overcame the profound embarrassment of that experience enough to actively enjoy it! Look at me! I look like a twat! And I’m smiling! That’s a genuine smile of happiness! Dear God…
Anyway, I do want to aologise to myself. I feel ashamed of the way that my life has turned out. But also proud. Why? Well, I’m still alive for a start. That’s a good thing. I’m engaged to a woman that I love very much. I am getting the help I need to sort my depression out and I am actively chasing my dream to be a writer. I may get there, I may not. The point is that I am trying. I’m writing because I love it.