Parliament are debating mental health, but why am I not feeling the difference on the ground?
The debate in Parliament is at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=12:49:15
South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen’s contribution is at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=15:07:25
Labour MP Angela Rayner’s contribution covered the economic drivers behind mental health problems – including cuts to services and also of debt. http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=15:18:25
Nearly four years since my own breakdown…and still no visible improvement
My music director asked me earlier this week if anyone was looking out for me.
“Well…not in the way that I’d like”
…was my response.
The past few months – in particular since the general election have been extremely difficult for me. Yet at the same time I feel that I can’t talk too much about it because I don’t want to be seen as a burden on others, knowing that doing so inevitably drives people away from me.
The vicious and unbreakable circle of doom
When I was working in London, I noticed – certainly in the early days how issues from my childhood & distant past fizzled away. Compare that to now – being back here in Cambridge where I can’t seem to get away from them. The prospect of anyone who is confined to working part time having a place of their own in this housing market is non-existent. That’s assuming you can get part-time work that both matches your skills and talents while being flexible enough to compensate for the periodic mental health crises that arise every so often.
Relying on family support – grateful though I am for it (for I’d be destitute without it) solidifies the dependency that I sought to break away from when I first went to university back in the late 1990s. I remember leaving with the mindset of ‘this was leaving home’ even though my housemates at the time didn’t see it that way themselves. When I moved down to London in the mid-late 2000s I also had a similar mindset of ‘breaking free’ and standing on my own two feet. Yet I find myself not so much back to square one but not even on the board.
In the workplace
One of the things I’ve been lacking for quite some time is working with a team of people on a regular, consistent basis on something that is for the greater good. As someone said last year, I’m qualified for a job that in Cambridge has not been invented yet for an institution that is yet to be created – yet is sorely needed. (ie a unitary authority with the proper powers & funding to respond to the demands placed upon it). As a result, it feels like I’ve been fighting an ever-lonely battle against fossilised institutions paralysed by funding cuts and by inertia.
What they don’t tell you at school (well, there’s lots they don’t tell you) is just how challenging it can be moving from an institution where you see lots of people day in, day out to one where you hardly see anyone. I remember this during my year out before university when I was working in a small office in a bank, wondering what it would be like if the next 35 years of my life involved coming to a place like that every day – as it was for many of the other staff there. I couldn’t get my head around it – in particular where some members of staff held some of their fellow colleagues in complete contempt.
Impact on friendships…
When you have a limited number of ‘active hours’ during the day, there are only so many things you can do, events you can go to and meetings that you can attend. If you’ve not read about spoon theory, have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-22972767. If I don’t have enough spoons, chances are I won’t have enough money either. I’ve lost track of the number of events & receptions in central London I’ve been invited to that I’ve been unable to make because of the two. When you’ve got to self-fund, that 2 hour reception in London leaves you with little change from £50. Obviously that’s had an impact on staying in touch with people since leaving the civil service.
Not being able to attend every other gathering with people more locally has also meant I’ve felt more ‘frozen out’ of things – whether it being having to leave early or not being invited at all. A couple of other Twitterfriends have mentioned a similar phenomenon where because they are not in a ‘primary group’ of friends, they are the ones who have to do the asking. Yet when it’s them that does the organising, people are like bees around a honey pot before the inevitable few pull out at the last minute. When you’ve put money down as deposits for events, it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s also gut-wretching having to then ask people to compensate you for being out of pocket.
…& relationships too.
I stopped looking years ago. It’s a bit sad really, because I’ve got a huge amount of love to give. But given the life situation I’m in – only able to work part-time, at nowhere near the level of health I’d like to be and know I can be at, and still living with my parents while being in my mid 30s…yeah…I’m like ‘whack that in any profile and everyone wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole’. Not that I’ve tried. I think the last time I did online dating (or dating of any sort) was back in 2010. My viewpoint is that it’s hard enough living as myself without wanting to inflict me on anyone else. Again, that’s the depression talking.
At the same time, my heart really wants to be with someone. Not just ‘anyone’ for the hell of it, but with someone who is best friend, emotional soul mate as well as lover. I’ve not met her yet. (At least, I don’t think I have).
Losing the vision of what being cured/recovery looks like
…And feels like too. After so many years I guess it’s understandable that some things can feel permanent. I’m also mindful that sporting-wise I’m also past my physical peak. Much as my heart wants me to go out & play football or go ballroom dancing again, the networks that I had that once sustained those activities (& which also made them fun) are no longer there.
Without the stability of employment, without the goal of a team project that has a tangible ending, and without the certainty that I’m going to make a recovery, there have been times where I have lost almost all hope. This comes back to the point I made at the start – not getting the sort of support I feel I want & need. There are times where I feel I need someone else to fight my battles/my demons for me because I’ve just lost all the energy to stand up to them myself. Someone to grab hold of me, look me in the eye & say something like:
“You are going to get through this because I’m going to make sure you do. I’m going to be with you every step of the way, and here’s how we are going to do this…”
…and through sheer force of personality, drag me through it.
“We value what you do, but not enough for you to earn a living from it”
In 2015 on my Youtube Channel (youtube.com/antonycarpen <- Please subscribe!) I’ve had over 25,000 hits and over 100,000 minutes of footage viewed (plus another 8,000 hits on my Vimeo page in the same year). It’s a sector-wide problem in journalism: how do you get people to pay for well-made content to allow creators to make a living & pay their bills? I’d love to be in a position where I could reward monetarily those whose content I rate – as the notices from news sights that pick up my use of an ad-blocker continue to remind me. (Without the blockers though, their content becomes unreadable with the pop-ups).
And in part therein lies the problem not just at a personal level, but also at a macro level. The political rhetoric we hear does not match what’s happening on the ground. We heard in Parliament the importance of mental health, but see little on dealing with the things that make our mental health worse, let alone ensuring we have enough resources to help those of us in need. We hear about the housing crisis all the time, yet a generation of ministers has been unable or unwilling to deal with it. We hear the rhetoric of all things ‘big society’ only for ministers to undermine the very things that make big society work.
“You’re not going to do anything to hurt yourself, are you?”
No – I have enough safety mechanisms to see to that. That said, where I am now is not a sustainable place to be mindset-wise. How I get out of this space…that’s my challenge for 2016.
The side of me you don’t see – when I’ve run out of spoons and have to spend the day recovering from what was once otherwise a normal working day.