Supporting people not just in the bad times, but in the good times too


A campaign that came 20 years too late for me, but is worth pondering if you know of someone in a similar situation struggling with mental health problems


Via this and other tweets from the campaign. Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote an article that asked:

“So we’ve raised awareness about mental health, what’s next?”

The article is here.

The past few weeks have been a big struggle, something that I’ve tried to keep at arms length from everyone. It’s become easier that way. Otherwise all you become known for is being that depressed kid. Or so it has been on my side for the best part of a quarter of a century.

‘Is there a mate missing around this table?’

At a close relative’s wedding recently, we put up lots of photos from the past of the bride & groom. With the latter, there were guests who he’d known from secondary school, college, university and work. In a couple of the photographs there were a group of people in it who also were around the same single table that day – spanning that 20 year time gap. All bar one person. That one friend of theirs who I knew in childhood was always the quiet one of the group. A few years later I discovered he suffered from depression, & seemed to withdraw into his shell. The last time I saw him was many years ago, still just as quiet, working part-time as a delivery driver for the same store that the best man had worked at for again, a quarter of a century.

With the joys of social media, a long lost friend from school who I recently bumped into at a local gig I was filming at, had one of those automated posts/photographs posted on her timeline for all to see. It was of a similar event as above, only the missing person from that group of friends was me. At first I wondered what it would have been like if I was there, but then I realised that such was the passage of time that had passed, and the life experiences, that the people we were 20 years ago were not likely to be the people that we are today. Even more so when at that same gig, one other lost friend from that time said there were many things from the mid-late 1990s that he really regretted. He’s not the only one.

Why I wouldn’t – nor couldn’t walk back into people’s lives from my past

Essentially too much has changed – certainly on my side, to make the assumption that I or anyone could simply waltz back into people’s lives like that. Also, there’s a part of me that wants to let sleeping demons on all sides remain undisturbed.

Devastating consequences of not having the institutional mental health support in place when I needed it.

College, year out, university, post-graduate years, inside the civil service and beyond the civil service, I can think of at least one specific instance where I needed comprehensive support from the NHS and local agencies, but didn’t get it. On each occasion, friends at the time understandably took big steps back, and in the end we all went our own ways. When you’re going through such crises the experience is incredibly energy sapping for the person experiencing it directly, and also those who are there supporting, or caught up in the metaphorical crossfire. Furthermore, we can’t expect those perhaps closest to us to provide that support network when they are involved in, or perhaps worse, part of the cause of an individual’s mental health problems.

When your poor mental health becomes a real disability

Which is where I have been for quite some time, made even worse with my heart problems since Christmas. I’m back in hospital on 01 May to find out what the full diagnosis is – something I should have had ages ago but had to be postponed due to waiting lists. I can’t pretend to have been the greatest fans of the current and former health secretaries but my time in hospital made it clear to me that the buck stopped with the pair of them, in office since 2010.

When you can only function properly for a few hours a day

Every so often you might hear me post ‘am running low on spoons’ which relates to the concept of Spoon Theory. (Also explained on video here by Christine Miserandino who coined the concept). Basically it means that all the stuff that you’d like to do becomes impossible. It has become even more acute this year while I am on so much medication and am in this weird sort of ‘heart limbo’.

Although it might look like I’m out and about doing stuff, what people don’t see are those random pains in and around my chest that have me panicking as to whether this is another possible heart attack coming on. My GP assured me it was much more likely to be muscle pain from somewhere else. But what’s causing these dull pains that I hadn’t otherwise been experiencing. The worrying alone is exhausting.

How much coffee can one drink?

Another day, and another coffee shop opens in Cambridge. Or another convenience supermarket. Much as I like the Co-op, I think it’s sad we don’t have the old large co-op of old. But having done my first bit of work experience with them, the historical values of the movement were completely absent from the place I spent two weeks in the mid-1990s in. But then, meeting up for coffee with friends is always good, isn’t it?

Well, up to a point.

A couple of very longstanding Twitterfriends put this far more succinctly than I have ever done, and was based on their own experience. They both said they always found it was them doing the organising for things that they went out and about to, but, for whatever reason never really found that reciprocated by others. Essentially they said, they were ‘outside’ the immediate inner circle of friends of the people they socialised with. Thus were never automatically on the ‘invite list’. This has been my experience for most of my adult life. It was only when I was doing the same shared activity with the same group of people over an extended period of time (evening classes in the mid-2000s) that this was not the case.

Becoming a part of each other’s lives through automated processes?

I stumbled across this article recently about an academic study from the USA on friendship.

“Hall found that it took roughly 200 hours to achieve best friend status while it took 50 hours to move from acquaintances to casual friends and 90 hours to progress from casual friends to friends.”

Now, given the number of hours I’m up and about is curtailed by poor health, you can see one of the challenges I face. Furthermore, having spent the past 7 years in freelance world and not working with the same group of people on a shared task with common goals has also had a huge impact. At a macro level, the rise in both self-employment and zero hours contracts was discussed in this Trade Union Congress paper.

Again, with the exception of the mid-2000s, I’ve not been in a position to be able to do anything on a regular basis with a large group of people for many years. Even less so now with the state of my health. It takes me back to when I was doing my A-levels which was probably the last time I was interacting with lots of people on a daily basis. My biggest regret from those days being choice of A-level subjects. I should have done politics and history rather than geography and maths.

The problem I find is that the only time I ever see people out and about (i.e. the time I have enough spoons to use) is in a ‘working’ context. Normally at a public meeting of sorts. Therefore conversations are all too often ‘work’ related, or in my case ‘political’. And politics is draining. Political activists at the best of times can be very intense people. (I should know – I have to live with myself!) For everyone else, such people are best dealt with in small doses – mainly at election time!

“So, don’t you want that coffee then?”

Much as it’s always nice to talk, I’d rather do something else with more than one other person that involves leisure – something that makes life worth living. Also, something where you know you’re being invited because people want you there, not because they are doing you a favour by putting up with you because you’re going through a bad time. At the same time though, I’m also realistic enough to acknowledge our collective social patterns of work simply don’t allow for that sort of living.

We’re all busy people!

Actually, by the time you hit your late 30s, people the same age are settling down and having children. Having seen how much work is involved bringing them with close relatives every weekend if not more, I know in my heart of hearts that health-wise I could never bring up my own. On 3 hours a day? You must be joking!

In the meantime…

I spend my daylight hours continuing what I can with all things and at the same time sort of saddened that I’m not in the place healthwise to take the project forward in the way that I’d like to. Because there’s so much more to it I’ve yet to discover. Today’s discovery was this front page from the British Newspaper Archive.

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