On mental exhaustion


Some thoughts on my recovery, and what next for the future.

No recovery is pain free. As Mind point out in How to rebuild your life after breakdown, some of my relationships with people have come under strain. A few of them have broken completely. When you have a broken mind, it can become very difficult for people to cope with that – and quite understandably they choose to break things off. I can only apologise to those who have been hurt and give thanks to those who are supporting me whether close to home or online from whichever distance. (For those of you not aware of any of this, please see my mental health posts from 18 March onwards).

The doctor agreed that I was suffering from mental exhaustion, and also had some interesting comments about the thoughts I put down in On patient choice and Quacks. With the first, he said the days where the doctor said “Take/do A, B and C and you’ll get better” are long gone. In decades gone by it was the force of personality and community standing of physicians that had as much an impact on the patient as the treatments they were receiving. Treatments themselves are now much better than in the past, but also the culture of working with rather than on the patient is becoming the norm. Hence (as others have said) I’m the one who has to make the choices here – even though at times I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

On those treatments, with the second point he said that both sound a bit like quackery but there was nothing to stop me trying. By their very nature they sound intriguing but then such treatments apparently often do. Just by having something physically (albeit benignly) done can sometimes have a powerful impact. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been going to The Park Studios for massage treatments by trainees recently. (£15 for a hot stones massage? Yes please! (Such treatments are normally over four times that price)).

Not being able to work full-time – not yet anyway

The other issue is time taken to recover – and being caught between a rock and a hard place. I was at the At Ease With Each Other conference earlier this week – something that would have been par for the course during my Whitehall days. Yet at the end of what should have been a normal day I felt utterly drained – spending the next day in bed. Yet at the same time, I found spending the day engaging on stuff that I have some background in (one of my former policy areas is community engagement) took my mind off a lot of the negative stuff going on in my mind. How to find the right balance of doing stuff but not to the extent where it leaves me dead the next day. Hmm…

In part I wanted to bounce back quickly from all of this. But my mind wasn’t ready and my body was clearly suffering as a result of my exhaustion. A job involving a daily commute to London again is probably not in my best interests at the moment – even though in the distant future I’ll be back there again, hopefully in better shape than last time! For now though, my plan is to keep things simple, stable and local.

A couple of people have said that the day-to-day bustle of life in Whitehall (combined with six years on anti-anxiety medication) suppressed a breakdown that seemed otherwise inevitable. Perhaps there was also the ‘broken dreams’ aspect of what had been a career plan since 2000 at play. Until the start of 2011 the prospect of what to do after life in the civil service had never crossed my mind. I was going to be in it until retirement – or at least that was the plan. But the road to hell is paved with the best laid plans and good intentions.

On work

I went to a couple of temping agencies today – just to pop my CV in to see if anything will come up for a few days a week to keep me busy. I’ve also got a number of voluntary things in the pipeline that either involve me learning stuff, me speaking at events or me teaching people things. But the nature of much of this is one-off, not regular. In terms of recovery, let alone income it is the latter I feel I need: Spending regular quality time with a friendly group of people working together on something. Just out of interest, if you or anyone has an opening workwise for a social-media-savvy former civil servant to spend a few working days each week with you, please let me know.

What of teacambs?

Well, one of the things that I want to do with this is to branch it out beyond the County Council – and even local government. We meet every month on the last Thursday of each month. May’s event will be on open data featuring the lovely Laura Newman of the Open Knowledge Foundation, and will provisionally be in Waterstones. (From the last one, “man dressed as dog comes second in dog competition” had me in stitches as we learnt about hyperlocal sites). So as part of getting out and about, I’m on a little mission to persuade some senior managers to let their staff out of their boxes and come along. And if any of them say “Well it’s not in their objectives” Puffles will tell you all about them and how they are being a barrier to innovation!

On creativity

I guess one of the other things I’ve come to realise is that I’m far more creative than I have allowed myself to be – especially since my teenage years. The academic route pushed me away from it, as did the relative lack of ‘options’ with my GCSEs. I was one of those kids that could have gone on and done any subject that was available and done reasonably well – hence being part of a group on the receiving end of a fair amount of pressure from teachers to do ‘their’ subject at GCSE and A-level.

I put a couple of posters up around town looking for musical types to spend about an hour a week with me just to get me back playing my viola again. Some of you will be familiar with my musical journey – in a nutshell I’m looking to avoid cold emotionless rooms. Too much baggage. Give me a warm sunny room with someone who has a friendly enthusiastic patient disposition and chances are I’ll come out of my musical shell. Do you know of anyone reasonably local to Cambridge who fits this bill?

On learning

I’ve said to myself that I have a few years of breathing space to get better – i.e. no huge urge to get back into full time high pressure stuff. I sort of have my heart set out on the Institute for Government despite having been knocked back by them twice! (I was knocked back for promotion five times by the civil service before getting onto the Fast Stream, so I am nothing if not persistent – I’ll be back IfG!!!)

Actually, what I am pondering from September is an applied science BTEC for a couple of years – one full day per week to get my mind back in all things scientific. Because the last time I studied science properly – i.e. with labs and things, Pluto was still a planet. Just think of what scientific advances have been made since the mid 1990s when I was last at school! There’s also the incentive of playing with some computer programmes that go beyond the traditional Office software that is appealing too. When I hang around with people who are far more knowledgeable about these things, while I can get the concepts I can’t yet get the detail. These are some of the things that I want to be able to play with, rather than feeling like a bit of an ignoramus.

I don’t want to feel like those politicians who talk about how important things like science and computer programming are without having some sort of an understanding of what these things are about and why they are important. Hence pestering Lucy Chambers and Laura Newman about the Open Knowledge Foundation. They are doing some really brilliant stuff there, and I want to learn more on both what they do and how they do it.

The weather’s not helping though, is it?

I’m not good with cloudy rain. Dulls the mood. It’s also not good for Puffles’ wings. Have you tried flying with wet wings?!?! Exactly!

Not many of us like going out and about when it’s wet and ‘orrible, and we’ve got until at least mid-May before things dry up again apparently. Not that the water companies seem to be able to collect any of this in their reservoirs or underground anywhere. For those of you who are wondering why it’s so wet, have a look at this from the BBC. (I did a module on atmospheric systems in A-level geography which I found fascinating so could talk till the cows come home about weather things – but I won’t coz it’ll bore most of you. I’ll finish this one here).


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