A year on from my breakdown


Why recovery seems further away than ever.

It’s been just over a year since I crashed and burned mentally. I’d like to say things have improved healthwise, but…have they?

The thing with mental health is that it’s not like a minor illness or infection where you take a course of medication and ‘job done’. It’s something that potentially stays with you for the rest of your life, something that comes in waves, in peaks and troughs. Much as you want to slay the fire demons in your mind, you can only force them to back down, knowing they will come back another day.

I’m glad that current and future younger generations are now in a place where their mental health is taken seriously. Mine was the last generation where it was assumed that if you were performing well in your exams, there were no problems. I performed well in my exams, therefore what was I complaining about? (Said my first form teacher at secondary school, blissfully oblivious to my emotional state at the time).

Not being able to work full time

This is probably one of the hardest things to deal with. In part there’s a societal expectation that I’m fighting against. Shouldn’t someone my age be in full time work with own house and own car? Well, I gave up on that one. Hence this.

The emotional impact stems from no longer having a positive vision for my medium to long term future. Well, any vision actually. In the past, I’d always had one – a coherent set of aims woven together to picture what life would be like if I made certain things happen.

On the outside, things seem fine. If I need to polish up for an occasion, that’s not a problem. Ditto for individual workshops, seminars or conferences. But you don’t see the mental scars behind the polish. The dry eyes screaming out for replenishment as a result of sleepless nights. The electric brain shock pulses that inhibit sleep. The permanent tension in my internal intercostal muscles.

What does recovery look like?

Not having the symptoms described above would be a start.

Stability – something massively under-rated by politicians and economists alike – is another. What I mean by that is a level of social and economic stability that can allow for some sort of planning. Frances Coppola absolutely nailed this point in her blogpost The Bifurication of the Labour Market. Why would anyone want to borrow to invest in the current economic climate – especially one where the medium term outlook is so miserable?

Freelancing alone vs teamwork – One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the past six-nine months is the digital video projects. Not least because the final products have been ever so useful at training sessions (and at the same time emotionally makes me feel less ‘alone’ when facilitating!) There’s a world of difference between going it alone and working as and with a team on a daily basis. I don’t regret doing what I did leaving the civil service; I needed to. But let’s not underestimate the impact of spending day-in-day-out in the face-to-face company of yourself. Or in my case a dragon fairy.

Learning – One of the reasons why I turn up to lots of events is because of the amount I learn from people there. Even when I’m the one facilitating or presenting, I’m always learning from the comments and questions from other people. My style of learning is one that involves learning socially; one where I am with people, not on my own all the time. That’s why I’m not so good spending hours and hours in front of books, holed up in a library. In an ideal world, I’d have a couple of mornings/afternoons a week where I am at a college, learning in a social environment. The problem is that the direction of travel from the political class is one that makes this route more expensive.

Taking the fight to the fire demons – By that I mean no longer treading water on long term medication, but having an active, managed programme of treatment to help my recovery. The problem is that the sort of things I have in my mind are simply not available on the NHS, and I fear never will be. Having had bad experiences with my existing NHS trust, the idea of going back to sessions there fill me with horror. It’s as if I need to be taken out of my current environment and geographical surroundings if I’m ever going to break free.

Let’s get physical! – Well, it’s not as easy as that. There are days when the act of getting out of bed is traumatic. (Those are the days when I physically have to drag myself across the road to get out of the house). Yet in my mind I am almost panting like a dog with exhaustion, even though the rest of my body feels like it would quite like to do something active instead. It’s also been a year since I last did regular exercise too – a time when I thought things were going well but actually were not. It’s frustrating too because I like physical exercise. Not to the extremes of the gym-bunnies, but to a level where you can sprint to the traffic lights, leg it across the road and recover your breath very quickly without breaking sweat. That, plus doing so in a manner that, as my sister-in-law says doesn’t involve running like a ‘mum’.

“And the problem is…?”

Despite all of the things that I would like to get done, this permanent state of exhaustion means that my functionality comes in peaks and troughs, and is also to some extent dependent on medication. It’s one of the reasons why I commissioned some of my younger Twitterfriends to work with me on the digital videos. I knew I would not be able to complete them on my own – and certainly not to the standard they made them to.

This sort of explains why getting to a point where I can work more regular, stable hours is something that is going to take a few more years at least. At the same time, I can’t pretend that there isn’t a bit of a boredom factor hidden away in all of this too. Part of it stems from returning back to my home town after years away in London and Brighton. Once you’ve spent time away in somewhere larger & with more variety and accessibility than your home town, you begin to realise what the barriers and limitations are with it. This is something I am trying to work through in Cambridge at various levels while I still have the time. I’m still of the view that Cambridge could be a city far greater than the sum of its parts, but the silo nature of some of the organisations & institutions is preventing this. (That said, not everyone agrees with my viewpoint on this – eg stating that Cambridge is collegiate, not corporate in its nature & that this needs to be understood & respected).

The wider political and economic picture

It goes with the territory of much of what I’ve studied and also in the fields that I have worked in to be clued up on this. In one sense I have a strange admiration for those who ‘don’t do politics’ and who lead lives that, on the face of it are much more straight forward. I’m thinking of those people whose lives revolve around their family and their workplace, and who are content doing the job they are paid to do without a huge desire for promotion or greater responsibilities. There are still a couple of people at my local supermarket who started long before I was working part-time there in the mid-late 1990s. They’re still doing the same job – but without them, there’d be no fresh produce or dairy products on sale.

The problem I had was that there was too much ‘noise’ going on in my mind – too much other stuff going on that I felt the need to sink my teeth into at some stage in the future. I was never cut out for retail.

But that big economic picture is a problem. It’s a problem because many of the people that I interact with on social media are struggling in it. Many of them stupendously talented in a variety of different fields – far more so in their skills than I will ever be. And it hurts me to see them hurting. It hurts me even more because there is so little that I can do to alleviate things. I can’t pretend to be deaf or blind to it. The current political and economic status quo is unsustainable. It cannot continue. Something’s gotta give. We already saw symptoms of that in the local council elections last week.

“Complicated stuff!”

Three very complicated strands. There’s the internal physical and mental – ie what’s happening to and inside my mind and body. There’s what’s happening in and around the community I live in, and finally there’s the wider political and economic picture too. On the downside, it feels like my disposition is one where my wellbeing is in part dependent on things way outside of my immediate control. On the other hand, it means there are positive causes worth fighting for which others will benefit from too. If only I wasn’t so permanently exhausted I’d make a better go of it!


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