Eclectic Blue

The truth, the whole truth

Comments Off on The truth, the whole truth 31 July 2018

I had another excellent session with my mental health therapist today. We visited some very deep and at times dark places and, as usual, I was knackered afterwards. She asked me a very interesting question. I am quite open with my depression and anxiety but it was not always that way. So, why did I not “come out” before?

I couldn’t think of a single, straightforward answer to that. When I first became ill, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, no one suffered from mental health problems. There were people who became mad and ended up in hospitals like Barrow Gurney near Bristol which was, unbelievable to imagine these days, a light-hearted subject. People who weren’t sick enough to be carted off to the Funny Farm in a strait-jacket were merely fed up or had bad nerves. My great Uncle George suffered from bad nerves but none of us, least of all him, had the first idea what that went. I assumed it meant he was timid and nervous. It never occurred to me he might be suffering from depression, anxiety and/or stress. These conditions didn’t exist.

What if I had opened up to my school mates? “I’ve been suffering from terrible night terrors and panic attacks, as well as mood swings. I’m seeing a child psychiatrist.” I’ve no idea how they might have reacted. But then, I didn’t even know I was seeing a psychiatrist until I’d stopped seeing him. Once I did find out, aged about 16, it was all too late. I had to be strong now and I knew that anything to do with my head would show how weak I was. I kept it all to myself.

I kept it to myself for decades. When things got so bad I started seeing a consultant, a proper ‘Mister’ at Southmead Hospital, I literally lied to my managers and colleagues. I can’t remember what I said was wrong with me but I did get ‘Mister’ to write me a letter to confirm I was getting outpatient treatment on a regular basis. I don’t think I told a manager about what a mess I had become until the early 1990s.

Now, it doesn’t matter who I tell. I am happy to tell the story how employees of the British Red Cross directly caused me to have a full-on mental breakdown last year. Even a letter from the Red Cross CEO Mike Adamson denying I was the victim of bullying and abuse following an investigation carried out by a friend of some of the protagonists didn’t stop me telling the truth. I don’t care who knows because – and here’s the rub – I’m much nearer the end of my working life than the beginning, I’m far more thick-skinned than I used to be and some societal attitudes to mental health are changing, except in some parts of the British Red Cross, obviously.

I did get some of the ignorant “pull yourself together” and “stop feeling sorry for yourself” from civil service managers but then I had not told them I was ill so maybe they were justified? No, they weren’t. Not really. I know who they are. They’ll have long forgotten about it. I haven’t. I retain them in my memory so I will always know what shit managers are like. And shit people.

I’m far from convinced that we have turned a corner regarding mental health. We might have made a dent in the misunderstanding of a debilitating illness but there is a long way to go, as I learned last year with an employer who knew all about my condition from the day of my job interview and didn’t give a toss.

For all that, I’d still urge people to be honest with themselves and honest with everyone else. There might be a price to pay from the less educated, but fuck it: we have to start somewhere.

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