On trebling my medication to ensure my mind didn’t implode – and also to get some sleep last night too, following a mental health crisis.
It’s the most I’ve ever thrown at it in one evening, but touchwood it seemed to do the trick. If only I had known this back in 2012 I might still be able to function full time. As it is, it’s been over five years since my mind imploded and I feel no better than that time.
“What kicked it off?”
A combination of things I think – demands on filming as many of the election hustings as possible in the snap general election. (Even more important now that so many have been cancelled on the back of the horror of the Manchester bombing). The 24/7 morbid disaster p 0 r n sensationalist reporting from print and broadcast media alike – only the Manchester Evening News seems to have gotten the tone right. The current reality of my financial situation of living on the edge for far too long now. And the loneliness of being a lone ranger when I’d rather be part of a team – even though there is no market out there for what I do.
“But what you do is really important!”
Someone from one of the local parties who I had not met before came up to me and said the same in the coffee shop near my house this lunchtime. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country doing very important things for their community, but are unable to make a living for it. In the current economic and political climate, I can’t see this changing in the near future.
Parallel lives in different centuries
The one strange crumb of comfort I have is that one of the historical figures I’m researching – Eglantyne Jebb who founded Save The Children, seemed to suffer from similar symptoms that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. We can both switch from periods of immense and seemingly productive activity, to burnout and needing days at a time to recover. As individuals, we’re both quite highly strung too. And like each other, we’re both very dependent on continued family support – after my civil service career I had to move back in with my family – a boomerang kid if you like. And not really through choice.
What does the future hold if you can no longer work full time?
I’d always assumed that at some stage I’d get better – because that’s what all of these articles about people who had been through similar had been saying. Well…after five years I’m at the stage where I just cannot see that happening. It’s hard not to feel despondent about that.
Part of the problem is the woeful provision of mental health treatment in Cambridge and also across the country. Having done my first TV interview on all things mental health at Centre33 for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire back in 2003, I’ve gotten bored of all of the ‘awareness raising’ by the various mental health organisations and politicians. It’s been nearly 15 years – I want to see some fucking action, a difference on the ground. I don’t want to see a system that crams everyone through a one-size-fits-all treatment because that’s all that the Health Secretary and the Chancellor can be bothered to fund lest their corporate paymasters squeal about taxes.
Breaking the loneliness-intensity vicious circle
I’m only a few years off my big 4-zero. I asked myself what I had to show for four decades on this planet. Then I remembered fighting tooth and nail to secure several million pounds from my civil service days to fund the construction of this building. Oh, and Puffles.
The thing is with poor mental health – especially when it’s not being properly diagnosed or treated, is that the fallout inevitably hits those around you. All too often great people have drifted into and out of my life, even – or rather especially when I’ve wanted them to stick around. The more desperate you want them to stick around, the more they pull away until the bonds break.
School, college, university, post-graduate years, Cambridge civil service years, London civil service years…I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who I’d consider to be in my ‘day-to-day life’. (Which then gets me thinking about structures of society too).
No longer having the health – or the wealth, to socialise as in the past
In very recent times that’s probably been the hardest thing to come to terms with. Take last night – beautiful sunset where I really wanted to go out for a drive into the countryside with someone. Just away from the traffic noise (even though by being in a car I would be the traffic). I’ve become extremely sensitive to the noise of the internal combustion engine since my 2012 breakdown, so having a road-facing bedroom doesn’t help.
But my point is that I wanted to be ‘out there’. Yet when you’re going through a mental health crisis you can’t really do that. You have to get tanked up on pills and go to bed. Which is what I did until zombied out enough to go to sleep. A further problem being that what little sleep I get is never restful sleep. If you see dark shopping bags under my eyes, that is why.
It also has an impact on the activities I do as well. For example my alcohol consumption has gone down to almost zero – not a bad thing. But in part it’s due to not being able to stay out late as in years gone by. During my ballroom & latin dancing days over a decade ago, we’d go drinking after dancing regularly. What I didn’t fully acknowledge at the time looking back was that dancing was all that I had in common with most of my social group at the time – I was the historian/social scientist surrounded by ‘proper’ scientists – chemists, physicists and biologists: people who spent their days in science labs rather than offices.
An even harder thing now is not having the stamina to keep up with the demands of live performances and after-parties that follow. All too often I have to head off early rather than staying out till 3am with everyone else. Sign of ageing? Signs of the times?
“It can’t be all bad news, can it?”
It seldom is.
They say your life’s calling has a strange way of finding you. Lost Cambridge found me by accident. Eglantyne found me by accident – as this talk I gave at the Museum of Cambridge for the HUNCH project for the revamped University Arms Hotel, Cambridge, explains.
My take is that there is enough content waiting to be explored, unearthed, (re)published and publicised to last me the rest of my life. The two problems I have are:
- I don’t think I am competent enough to deliver such a huge undertaking
- The amount of information there, and the skills required, are too great for one person to take on
I’m also of the view that the person who leads on it has to be a woman. This is because the core theme of this is about how a group of women shaped modern Cambridge. It can’t be me that leads this.
The other thing obviously is my health. One of the things I’m trying to do in terms of designing the longer term programme for this is ‘designing in good mental health’ on my part, and ensuring that I don’t become too dependent on one or two people work-wise to the extent that it drives them away. Because in the grand scheme of things I’ve learnt that most people can only take working with a highly-strung person like me in small doses. Hence it’s got to be much more than a one-or-two-person undertaking.
Within that team we’d be researching through old newspapers and long-forgotten books, producing a host of digital content. We’d also be looking to secure grants and other sources of funding – not least for the outputs which for me include books (children’s, local history and academic), academic papers, and at least one multi-part film drama. The reason for the latter in particular is because the people who I am researching have got such a compelling story to tell – one that has been lost to the sands of time.
If you’re interested in my historical work, would like to get involved or would like to help support my research, please email me at antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com. See this video here.