Category Archives: Depression

Unequal Terms – The Daily Post.

Todays Daily prompt is to join in with Blog action day by discussing what inequality means to me.  I am approaching the task by way of free write so here goes.

We face inequality, unfairness, prejudice and discrimination in every walk of life.  I hope that I am open minded and that I stand up against inequality whenever I come across it.  I suspect that my strong feelings hark back to my growing up in Northern Ireland.  Early in life I was aware of members of my family displaying an extreme and totally irrational prejudice against anyone who was a Roman Catholic.  This seemed totally bizarre to me.  I could understand people hating on those responsible for terrorist atrocities, but grouping everyone of a particular faith for hatred as a result just didn’t seem right.

I left Northern Ireland and joined the Navy at 16 and very quickly became aware of how it felt to  be on the wrong end of discrimination and prejudice for no good reason.   Just because I had a Northern Irish accent I was labelled stupid, a terrorist and became the butt of a never ending stream of Irish jokes.  I was called Paddy, Mick, Bog trotter, Boggy, just about anything except my given name.  This was not just by my fellow trainee’s but by instructors and trainers as well.  I can’t even begin to explain just how difficult it was to stand up against this.  When you stood up against this type of insidious bullying you were labelled a trouble maker and accused of failing to fit in.

When I moved to my first ship this type of behaviour was prevalent.  I remember when two black lads were attached to my ship for a period of training.  They were from a foreign Navy though I don’t remember which one.  The were immediately nicknamed ‘Daz’ and ‘Omo’, the names of two popular detergents at the time.  The implication being that they would wash ‘Whiter than White.  Even now the thought of people being treated in this way makes me cringe.

After leaving the Navy I joined another male dominated macho culture where despite being in a position of authority I continued to be the butt of Irish jokes and so on.  In this job I saw at first hand how badly women were treated in the workplace.  it was always assumed that they should be ‘looked after’ by male colleagues.  To this day I will never forget the treatment of one female colleague by other members of staff.  This lady was in her late 20’s and was jaw droopingly beautiful.  One day in the office she was leaning across a desk when a senior colleague came up behind her, grabbed her by the hips and ground his groin against her rear simulating having sex.  As you can imagine she was horrified.  She stood up to the bully and made a complaint against him.  As a result she and her partner were totally ostracised and subject to the most horrific abuse by other colleagues.  despite their being numerous witnesses to the actions of the male colleague the complaint was not upheld and the lady eventually had to leave the job because she was so badly treated.

These are just a few examples of how I have witnessed prejudice in action over the years.  I have seen people passed over for promotion and be subject of discrimination and bullying as a result of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, their ethnic origin, their appearance and just about anything else you could imagine.

I spent much of my working life in training roles and spent a lot of time helping colleagues to identify inequality, to stand up against it and to support others who were subject to it.  I genuinely believe that I have been able to use my own experiences to raise awareness of inequality issues and as a result have done as much as possible to combat the blight on society.

One issue I often talked about openly was my own mental illness.  I am a big guy, 6’2″ tall, even after 37 years of living in England I have a broad Northern Irish accent and I am both forthright and confident.  people see me as very strong minded and I guess a little brash.  I was always amused to see students reactions when I told them I suffered from mental illness.  They seemed unable to grasp the fact that someone strange and confident could suffer so badly from depressive illness.  Unfortunately for me my organisation was not great at dealing with mental illness and on many occasions they were unable to support me effectively.  This eventually lead to my being retired early as a result of my illness.

Talking about inequality, discrimination and prejudice openly is the only way to widen understanding of it and (in my vision of Utopia) to eradicate it.  I hope that through the vast majority of my life I have done this and I hope others will to.  It is about understanding the effect your actions have on others.  It is not always possible to know that you have offended other peoples sensitivities.  Only by raising issues and talking about them in a calm, rational, non-judgemental and supportive way can we educate others and make life in general better for everyone we come into contact with.

So thats my story.  Have you faced similar issues?  How did you deal with them?  Did you feel you were adequately supported?  please let me know, I would really like to hear your story.

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Black Dog Attacks

I can feel him long before I see him.  He is drawing closer, slowly, stealthily, hiding in the darkest corners, keeping to the shadows.  The muscles in his haunches are bunched and powerful, rippling under his jet black fur.  As he creeps forward he is almost silent but I can hear him breathing.  He begins to pant, gently at first, not through exertion, it’s his excitement that has raised his heart rate.

“I am coming for you” he whispers, I can hear the hatred in his voice.

“Keep back”, I shout, “I don’t want to see you, you are not coming in”.  He withdraws a little but starts to move forward again as he detects a tremor in my voice.  He can sense my fear, the signals passing down the invisible leash that connects us.

“Go away!  leave me alone” I yell.  I hear him moving slowly closer my yells and screams have no effect, he feeds on my fear.  For the first time I can make out his shape, his body a slightly darker black against the blackness of the shadows.  As he looks at me, I can just make out the whites of his eyes, rimmed in red, demonic.  I hear the beginnings of a growl rumble in his throat, I can feel his hackles rise and for the first time I see the glint of his teeth through the darkness.

“I am coming for you”, he says “You can’t run, you can’t hide”.  My heart starts to beat faster, heat rises to my face, my palms start to sweat as I feel panic rising, fear beginning to take over as he says  “Come on let go, one more minute and I have you”.  Suddenly it hits me, knowledge comes to the surface.  Through the morass of fear that my mind has become, a strand of sanity arises, a thread of hope.  I remember!

I have owned dogs all my life and I know that the vicious ones are usually the most cowardly, they feed off fear, they hide their fear behind aggression.  To defeat them you must remain calm, to assert control of them you have to project your authority.  Any dog can be mastered with time, calm and patience.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, in through my nose and out through my mouth.  In for five seconds, hold for three seconds, out for six seconds.  In for five seconds, hold for three, out for six, and again, and again.  I focus on my breath, on the expansion of my chest, feeling air fill my lungs, feeling calm descend.  I can hear the dog getting agitated, angry.  “I am coming for you” he barks, “you are mine, I have got you”.

I stand taller, calm now, my breathing slow and steady as his anger rises.  I raise my hand slowly, palm out towards him. “Stop!”  I say, my voice firm and steady, calm.  “You only have power over me if I let you have it”.  “No he screams, you’re mine, I will drag you down, tear your throat out and feed on your entrails”.  His anger is rising, I know I am winning.

“Down boy” I say, smiling now as calm spreads through my body, spreading with the oxygenated blood pumping from my heart as it flows through my body.  I step towards him and he starts to whine. “Quiet now, Good boy” I move slowly, looking at him but not into his eyes.  I want him to submit, not feel challenged.  “Here boy” I say tapping my leg. Slowly he emerges from the dark and moves towards me, ears down, tail between his legs, beaten again, at least for today.  He comes to my side, I reach down, scratching between his ears.  “Good boy, now go in your box” I say.  He turns walks to his crate and lies down, his stomach exposed, showing me that he has submitted to me at least for today.  He may try again tomorrow, but for today at least the black dog of my depression has been vanquished once more.

The end.

This post is my response to a writing challenge where we are asked to express contrast through a dialogue.  Having suffered from depression for many years I have discovered that mindfulness exercises really help me.  The key to mindfulness is to try to live in the moment, to accept and acknowledge your feelings, to put them away and to move on.  To be able to do that a form of guided meditation can be used and I find the best route into this is through controlled breathing.  I came across the story of the black dog whilst dealing with a bad bout of depression.  I love dogs and have lots of experience in dealing with them.  Patience, calm, reward and repetition are the tools that work best when training a dog.  The same tools can be used to master your depression.  When you are training a vicious dog, if you show fear you are likely to get bitten.  I have found the same when I feel the black dog of depression creeping up on me.  I have tried to use this exercise to explain how I try to tame my black dog.  I hope you found it interesting, informative and entertaining. 🙂

Black dog image from:  http://positivepsychologynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/blackdog.jpg

Dream Reader

Todays Blogging 101 Challenge is to create a piece of writing for a dream reader.  Someone you would like to read your post.

An interesting thought.  I have never considered writing a blog for a single individual before.  I have aways seen my blog as public property from the moment I hit the publish button.  Sure there are things that I write about that are deeply personal, my depression for example, but the vast majority of my blogs are aimed at people who share an interest with me.  Music and music festivals.  As a result I found this task a difficult one.

I have been thinking about depression a lot over the past few days.  I am recovering slowly but surely and over the course of this year I have retired from work as a result of my illness.  This has been a major factor in my moving towards recovery.  As a result I want the person who was largely responsible for me being so ill for a time to know how I am.  You see that person is so hate filled and bitter that they too became ill.  That person wasn’t a wife, a lover, or a family member.  Instead they were a person that I did everything in my power to help and support, someone who used every little thing I tried to do for them as a weapon against me.  Someone who did everything in their power to try to hurt me, to try to destroy me.

Yes, they did succeed in hurting me, in rocking my faith in people and in hurting my wife and family.  That said though ultimately they failed.  Ultimately hate begets hate, violence begets violence.  If you can be strong enough to refuse the hate, to offer an olive branch to those who try to hurt you, to refuse to descend into a tit for tat blame game then you will be able to hold your head up high.  I know I can. I can look in the mirror and know that where you offered hate, I offered support.  Where you lied and tried to sow discord I behaved honourably and refused to hate.

Ultimately by setting out to destroy me you succeeded only in destroying yourself.  You now wallow in misery and loneliness whilst I have fill my life with caring supportive friends.

They say that you reap what you sow.  By sowing hatred and bitterness you have reaped the same tenfold.  I on the other hand am smiling.  I look at you with pity, well knowing that having people pity you will scar you more deeply than anything else ever could.

This song is for you

The essentials of life

Yesterday was a funny day!  I mean funny as in laughter, as opposed to funny peculiar.  Well actually scrap that last comment, there was a fair bit of peculiar on display too.  We had friends over for dinner you see.  

Dinner was a simple affair, home made smoked salmon and smoked mackerel fishcakes served with a warm beetroot salad, stuffed Chicken Breasts wrapped in proscetto followed by cheesecake and topped of with a range of local cheeses. The evening was fuelled by rather a lot of wine.  Actually the wine helped but in reality the evening was fuelled by laughter.

Laughter!  Such a precious commodity, one that we perhaps take for granted.  In the past couple of years I have come to realise just how precious a commodity laughter is.  I suffer from depression you see and depression has a tendency to suck laughter out of your life.  You certainly don’t feel like laughing when you are ill but more than that people around you don’t feel that they can laugh either.   There you are, a little black cloud sucking the laughter out of the room by making your friends and family feel that it is somehow wrong to be happy when they are around you.  It’s not true of course.  How people act around you has little effect on how you feel when you are ill.  For me at least it is great to see people laughing when they are around you.  It means they are comfortable, it probably also means that you appear better, at least to some degree.P7195389

As I reflected on my weekend I got to thinking about my summer.  It has been really busy and thankfully a lot of people have come into my life.  As I have travelled around my music festivals this year I have been able to relate to people in a social setting.  I have been happy to chat and mix rather than shunning people and most importantly I have made some wonderful new friends.  Now I won’t pretend that I am ‘better’, I am not.   I cannot deal with any type of stress, even small levels of stress can send me into a tailspin.  I am still taking large doses of medication, I still feel very poorly at times but having said that, being retired on medical grounds has helped me so much.  Not having to face the daily grind has removed a huge amount of the pressure of daily life, I am grateful for that as it has allowed me to take a very important step in my life.

P7195372That step sounds like a simple one, but for those suffering from depression it is massive.  I have allowed people into my life!  Sounds simple doesn’t it.  I have been able to talk to people, to realise that they are willing to accept me for who I am, that they don’t always want something from me and that most people are warm, kind, caring and generous individuals.  I have met so many wonderful people over the last 6 months that my faith in human nature has been, at least to some degree, restored.    Those people have brought something back into my life, something that, at times, I thought had gone forever.  They have brought back laughter.  I shall be forever in their debt. 

Moved to Tears

Todays Daily Prompt asks for an experience that moved me to tears recently.

On Saturday 16th August 2014 I attended one of the many music festivals that I have attended during the course of this wonderful summer.  The festival, Beautiful Days is one of my favourites, it showcases Folk, Punk, Ska, Reggae and Indie bands in the main.  At 2pm around 8000 people packed into a ‘big top’ to watch one of my favourite bands, Ferocious Dog.  These guys play high octane electric Folk-Punk and there is always a huge amount of energy at their gigs.  About 20 minutes into the set the lead singer, Ken Bonsall (pictured above)  played a song called ‘the glass’. At the end of the song Ken simply kissed his fingers and gestured towards the heavens with tears in his eyes.  He then launched into an instrumental called ‘Lee’s Tune.  At that point I burst into tears, emotion overcoming me.   Why should I be overcome in this way at a punk rock gig.  Well as you have probably guessed these two songs have special meaning.

Lee you see was Ken’s son and fiddle player Dan’s brother.  Lee had joined the army at age 18 and had served with his regiment in Afghanistan.  Whilst on active service in that country Lee’s best friend was killed in a ‘friendly fire’ incident.  Lee was badly affected and suffered from Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). and was eventually discharged from the Army as a result.  The Ministry Of Defence and the UK armed forces in general are appallingly bad at supporting our veterans.  Unbelievably most veteran support in the UK falls on charities and as you might imagine many veterans are reluctant and too proud to seek support from charities.

Tragically Lee’s depression lead him to end his own life.  As you can imagine this had a devastating effect on his family.  The song ‘The Glass’ was written by Ken and Dan when they were informed of Lee’s death.  Ken’s simple gesture was a little private moment, a simple gesture that said ‘that was for you son, you will never be forgotten’.  It was a moment noticed by those who know the story and many like me were moved to tears by it.

I should point out that, as a veteran myself, and as someone who has had more than his fair share of battles with depression I can understand how utterly hopeless you can feel.  I also understand how families despair and blame themselves thinking there was surely something they could have done differently to achieve a different outcome.  Unfortunately all you can really do is to offer love and support.  

Please remember your veterans, support them where and when you can and if you suffer from, or live with someone who suffers from depression please be kind.

Robin Williams – A Black Dog Day

Today the world mourns the passing of another tortured genius.  Robin Williams, a man who brought a smile to the face of millions, took his own life whilst in the grip of a serious bout of depression.  Once again the Black dog of depression has claimed a life.  It is widely acknowledged that those with high levels of intelligence, creativity or artistry are, for reasons we may never understand, more susceptible to diseases of the mind, especially to depression and bi-polar disorders.  It would appear that many are also susceptible to addiction.  It would seem that Robin Williams fitted into all of the categories mentioned. An intelligent, articulate man, a comic genius who had a unique gift to make people laugh, especially, for me at least, in his more slapstick roles.  Seemingly hugely successful in everything he did and yet his struggles with alcohol, drugs and depression are well documented.

Thankfully the subject of depression and mental illness is less of a taboo now than it once was.  Williams spoke openly about his problems, he paid regular visits to rehab and no doubt employed the best Doctors in their field and yet depression still claimed his life.  Those who have not suffered from or lived with depression may well look at Williams life and ask the question ‘What did he have to be depressed about’?  Why on earth would a man with all the resources available to him feel the need to take his own life?  The answer in Williams case may never be known, but from my own experiences I will make some educated guesses.

When in a depressed state a sufferer feels like a failure, no matter how brilliant or successful they are or how wonderful their lives seem to others.  No matter how loved you are you feel worthless.  No matter how much you are supported you feel alone.  Depression rarely lasts for a few weeks, recovery takes many months, sometimes years and all too frequently it is a lifelong struggle.  Medication helps in some cases, talking therapies help in others.  For me a mixture of medication and mindfulness meditation exercises has helped me to bring my condition under some measure of control.  That said just last week I had a couple of really bad days, my black dog days.  Singer songwriter Gaz Brookfield’s song really touches a chord with me.  Depression is that black dog that you can never outrun, it is always there ready to pounce, but with help it can be leashed and brought under some measure of control.

That old dog knows how to find me
It matters not which road I travel on
And I thought those days were behind me
But it turns out I could not have been more wrong
And he sits right there on my shoulder
His cold, wet breath upon my neck
And they said he would leave when I got older
But he still creeps up when I least expect

And it’s hard to say why it has to be today
And I can’t explain how it feels
But a black dog day could be just one sleep away
And I’ll never see him coming but I’ll keep running with him snapping at my heels

And there’s no good reason for his visits
He requires neither catalyst nor cause
And he’ll push me to my very limits
And leave with nothing but the scars left by his claws
And he steals the wind right out my sails
And he leaves me at the mercy of the waves
And I’ve tried but I have failed to outrun him
But I’m not fast enough on my feet to escape

And it’s hard to say why it has to be today
And I can’t explain how it feels
But a black dog day could be just one sleep away
And I’ll never see him coming but I’ll keep running with him snapping at my heels
At my heels

And it’s hard to say why it has to be today
And I can’t explain how it feels
But a black dog day could be just one sleep away
And I’ll never see him coming but I’ll keep running with him snapping at my heels
And it’s hard to say why it has to be today
And I can’t explain how it feels
But a black dog day could be just one sleep away
And I’ll never see him coming but I’ll keep running with him snapping at my heels

Robin Williams I am so sorry that your black dog caught you and that you felt you could not fight him any longer.  I am sorry that you couldn’t make through the day, I am sorry that your loved ones now mourn your passing, no doubt asking themselves what they could have done to prevent this tragedy.  It will be very hard for them to understand that they could not have done anything, you would have found a way.

A light has gone out in the world, we will miss you.  Rest in peace.