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Blogging may well be seen as hopelessly outdated in this more modern of worlds. Facebook is increasingly on the way out and the distilled banality of Twitter holds sway along with Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok and the like.  I am not one for little snippets of information though perhaps there is something about the constancy of provision that would have been a help, I confess though the platforms always seemed rather more self-indulgent than anything else.  Blogging is a self-indulgent form to a degree I will admit but it is not the primary function, nor would I contend one that cannot be counteracted.

I have found a way to post again, still using the classic method which affords me a sense of not having to learn more to do comparatively little.  I remain committed to writing and have a head full of content though my ability to express it continues to be distinctly sketchy and haphazard.  The lack of consistency almost certainly renders this a lone voice in a wider wilderness but I hope to continue it just in case a lonely traveller might hear it now and again.

It would be easy to have a sense that I lost my way at a particular time but in reality I don’t think I’ve known the direction for a long period of time and coping with survival sometimes makes doing anything more than keeping going just seem too much work.  I know begin once again to see the need to try to regulate things in order to try to help myself because survival, whilst I have negotiated it to still be here has not been especially kind to the body or the mind and recent scares in health have required me to take some stock.  I would like to say there has been an epiphany and that it has precipitated a new verve and impetus but that is yet to happen, it is more about knowing that where I am now is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Where this leaves things is unclear, whether this becomes something that can be viewed in this format we will have to see but I know that without writing regularly I am unhappy and therefore this needs addressing with urgency.  With so many people falling casualty to global circumstances these days it would be the worst form of waste to fall casualty to things that should be within my control.  This sort of self-reflection is very easy, at least in comes so to me, it is the enacting it to create tangible difference that remains less simple as can be reasonably viewed through any trawl in the archives here.

It remains easy though to rattle through 500 words in a way that at school used to take days of thinking about and always seemed a lengthy task, of course there I was never given the option of just writing a record but instead needing to document matters of fact in areas in which I seldom had any interest. It is possible my writings now are no less turgid than they were then but at least I don’t have to take the parlous markings back to my parents in shame!

Stay safe out there.

Song Of The Day ~ The War On Drugs – Red Eyes

Oh Peachy

So, WordPress have decided to cut off the last remaining method I had found to be able to add posts using the classic editor, cumbersome for some perhaps but in a format in which I was familiar and could structure things how I wanted to. I have tried posting a blog on another site which in draft format looked how I wanted but when published completely different and I have no idea why. It is ironic having paid the years subscription that I should then be hamstrung by technical difficulties.

The hiatus up to this point was one of motivational uncertainty, any silence now however is far more to do with the blocks system just not being as intuitive as the classic system and being difficult to navigate at a time when content is difficult enough makes for a process that is far more frustrating than cathartic. The ‘Classic Block’ is not even a poor man’s solution I can’t see it being of any use to anyone. I may in time try to solve matters and perhaps even be able to figure it out but I can’t promise anything.

I am deeply concerned about the working world. Already the statistics of people with long term and serious mental health conditions obtaining and/or maintaining long-term work are very poor and speaking as someone in work with such conditions it is very easy to see why.  I will concede that the discussion around Mental Health has improved to an extent over the last 20 years from what I have witnessed.  What was once very specifically taboo can now be discussed more openly, people are able to declare and people are coming forward to seek professional help.  But in my experience and that of many I see that structure to cope with people needing help just isn’t there, it isn’t there at a clinical level and then you leave someone in a heightened state of vulnerability more alone to face the world, at which point they may be more aware of the help they need at a time no one is willing to provide it.  It goes the same way at work.  I have long since declared my Mental Health conditions in the workplace formally, I have my reservations about doing so and I understand those that do not but the nature of the job I know means I do not feel I could counsel others to do it in their workplace if I had not done so in mine. I am aware though that when speaking to others about it I am cautious to try to assess into what environment they would be placing themselves if they do.

We are still in a world where if you are in many jobs and off work for a reason that is a disability your absence remains recorded just as if you had a cold. Whilst this is direct discrimination if you were to suffer any detriment such as hitting trigger points for review meetings etc. the law has no real recourse unless you were to lose your job and most people are aware enough of the difficulty of getting a job that to risk it on the basis of the law helping out seems foolish and indeed most certainly would be.  The law is not there for the little person, its protections are scant and difficult to enact, there are many loopholes for employers to avoid falling foul of it that only really the most naive or the most dogmatically nasty should do so.

Of course employers know how to play the game and will talk about the importance of mental health and wellbeing as if it is at the forefront of their agenda, they may even cite the very sort of research that suggests it indeed should be.  ‘Thriving At Work’ [2017] a study commissioned by the last government some years ago showed as a result of extensive Deloitte research that money proactively invested in promoting and maintaining good Mental Health in the workplace had a return on investment in £ pounds of up to 9:1 and very often at least 5:1+ whilst reactively trying to clean up the problems of poor Mental Health and wellbeing could show only 2:1 at very best. You might reasonably therefore think that if even the bean counters should be impressed that the agenda must move along.  I have heard anecdotally about companies looking to utilise this information and take a proactive approach and have Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace and the promotion of positive mental health and in the examples I have heard it has proven hugely beneficial.  But these have been anecdotal and from small enlightened environments and very very much in the minority.

The problem I would assert is a sense of risk aversion coupled with a lack of humanity.  We have moved in the workplace often to a position of default mistrust, more people have to spend vast swathes of their time justifying what they have been doing rather than actually doing it. The people they are justifying it to often have little or no idea about the actual job and therefore it is more about justifying the latter’s existence than anyone actually doing any work.  In this culture you must therefore be able to show what you have been doing all the time and that just isn’t how people tend to work.  Everyone has time when they are productive and time when they are not, days when we are more ‘on it’ than others are not restricted to those with Mental Health conditions this is just the nature of Mental Health in general. The great problem for Mental Health is you can’t easily verify it and in the position of mistrust there is an assumption that perhaps someone is putting it on if they should refer to having issues in a way that would be unthinkable for a physical disability.  The damage that sort of rhetoric is allowed to do is seismic and should be stamped out but it isn’t because to do so would require admitting the scale of many problems, not least what the hell the tranche of middle managers are doing and whether or not the best way to get service running wouldn’t be to have more people trained and happy working at the coal face.

I have worked in many environments in the Public-, Private- and Third Sectors and none had their act together on Mental Health apart from a Disabled People’s User-Led Organisation which took a sufficiently enlightened view towards Mental Health and sought to support as much as possible that I felt empowered enough during my 6 months there that I never needed to call upon them to support me because I felt it was there and my productivity remained pleasingly constant for all parties.  Most organisations however enlightened they may like to portray themselves, whether or not they believe their own rhetoric, when it comes to issues of disability are only interested in covering their own backsides, the risk aversion runs to simply ensuring they cannot be sued.

What worries me most is that although I know my rights and am not afraid to exercise them I also know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, I know certain battles that aren’t worth fighting and other times when a point of principle has to be held firm and that the former usually vastly outnumber the latter.  Yet I have found the working world to be intransigent to the point of belligerence, the ignorance and lack of compassion is astounding even when it becomes clear (and not by ramming it down someone’s throat).  I have tried to work to help better things but invariably been seen as someone being difficult to the point where it has made my position untenable on more than one occasion.  By and large I have managed to just about stay in work but it has not been at all easy.  I worry for the others who are not so bolshy, who for reasons of childcare or accommodation simply cannot afford to fold and have to trudge through the anguish and take it again and again. The long term implications of this are huge and I believe ultimately will lead to the premature death of a great many people who did nothing more than try to keep going in the face of it all.

Song Of the Day ~ Sinkane – Everybody

At times things can feel as if survival is hard enough and progression is really too much to ask for.  One has to make a distinction between the times here when you are having a little wallow in self-pity and need hauling out of it or between those times when a darkened room and foetal position is the best method of survival.  It isn’t always easy to know which is which and if we don’t know how can we expect others to know how they might be able to react?  There are times however when progress feels possible and others where it clearly isn’t, again it isn’t always clear, nor is it always within your control to determine the results or variables that come into play. How many times might you hear 2 steps forward 3 steps back, everyone has these moments, maybe stretching into longer periods of time where progress appeared hampered such that they feel despite working towards something the goal appears to be further away than if they had done nothing. Sometimes it’s to do with specific tasks we undertake to complete, projects, DIY, even interpersonal relationships, indeed the concept that things must get worse before they can get better is not entirely alien to us. Provided we remain of the opinion that the ultimate goal is on track, that progress of a fashion is being made we may reasonably encounter adversity and carry on, besides which by and large ‘initial setbacks’ are considered par for the course so we accept this tenet. The key is that sense of forward motion however gradual it may be for 2 steps forward 3 steps back over a period of time represents a cumulative negative, if not offset at some stage by more even than 3 steps forwards and only 2 steps back we may never realistically pass the part at which we started.  That’s a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that sometimes it feels like you’re walking through treacle and you might be better off stopping for at least a time.

A continual press against a seemingly immovable object where progression is not made might be better expressed as a war of attrition, that any ground won would probably just as easily be offset by ground lost elsewhere and a sense of enduring and debilitating stalemate. I think with mental health this can often feel very much the case and especially in darker times because each moment of work is all the more difficult not just to achieve but even to attempt in the first place and thus any sense that it has not been ultimately successful becomes a bitter pill to swallow as it hints at further work to come and sometimes even the very thought of that can be more debilitating than the job at hand itself. I know of a method of representing privilege which is to do with determining someone’s starting point and it is a useful model that can be adapted for other things I believe.

The premise is this, everyone stands in a line whilst societal influences act as filters to determine where someone ultimately begins – those of an ethnic minority background take one step back from the line, those who are women take a step back, those who have a disability take a step back and so on until a certain number of filters have been applied to reveal your starting position. These steps back can of course be cumulative, if you fit the criteria of several factors such that you may be many steps behind others at the outset given certain factors that are beyond your control.  If you therefore take certain life progressions as a step forward it is easy to see that even were everyone to have the same amount of progress they would not be in the same position and that for someone who started behind someone else they would have to have more steps forward to mitigate the filters that set them back.  This model works well for applying a sense of context to what would be the nature of any progress, it counteracts the argument of the classic white middle class educated male claiming that they got where they are today on the basis of hard work and not because the system has afforded them anything for free.  With this model one can see that they may well have worked hard to progress several steps but those who may not be at the same forward line as them may indeed have worked just as hard getting themselves to the starting point of those born with privilege.

The way this can be applied to mental health is not dissimilar. For most people getting out of bed in the morning is a factor of life we go through day after day, it does not have to mean we feel rested or enjoy the time we have to do it but we have the capability to accomplish it and move on to the next task and by and large this is what we do. When we are physically unwell it is clear that there are times when this is more difficult or may be impossible but it is less obvious when we are mentally unwell.  I was once told the difference between having a cold and flu is the £50 note test, someone tells you there is a £50 on the doorstep outside and that if you hurry you will catch it before it blows away.  If you are able to get yourself out of bed no matter how much of a struggle then you don’t have flu.  Having had flu 3 times in my life I can verify that it would not matter if you raised the payout on the doorstep then result would be the same because the capability to function is just not there.  That type of flu is apparent to people looking at you as it exudes from the crumpled nature of your being.  Mentally there are times too when the result would be the same but these are difficult for anyone outside to be able to see and not always easy for me to define.  We not only have a mask we don ourselves but I think those who know us have a mask of presumption too, one that means they think they see us as ok if generally speaking that is what they see, or want to see.  

I have found it frustrating that in spite of one of the most isolationist periods in our times, not exclusively but hugely exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, precious few people have reached out to me amidst the silence despite many knowing specifically that I am at my worst when left alone in darkness.  Whether they have had their own demons, issues, crises, whether they have felt that to remove the veneer of their assumption about me might reveal more than they are realistically willing or able to attend to I cannot say.  I can only say it has been a period of some of the most intense, sustained darkness and solitude I have experienced, to breaking point. If you know people out there from whom you’ve not heard, try to say something to them, try to tell them you care.  You may never know whether it has an impact on them, however their continuing existence may be enhanced by it, or in some cases perhaps even depend on it.

Song Of The Day ~ Mazhar Ve Fuat – Adimiz Miskindir Bizim


— Trigger warning —*

A couple of years ago when given a new diagnosis of my mental health condition I did what I suspect a number of people have done in those situations and googled about the condition.  I do not take Dr. Google in any way as gospel, fear not, but it is often a useful staring point for where I might be able to find out more or things I may need to go back and refer to my actual Dr. Like using Wikipedia to determine whether something you didn’t know is really obvious and you ought to have known or a bit more obscure and an interesting little interlude.

What was most stark was a study I found that suggested the average life expectancy for someone with my condition was 49.  I am now 49.

I nearly finished this entry right there with the last sentence, such is its power for me but it does require some further extrapolation and of course an average age is just a figure, the sum of all part as it were, but to say it shocked me genuinely would be an understatement because whether just to do with me or not this data was taken on the basis of other people’s lives.  Medical information that I find now a few years later suggests that actually life expectancy for those diagnosed with Bipolar is shortened by between 11 and 20 years, more factual specific data, not quite as punchy but certainly no less shocking.  To put this into perspective Obesity is thought to shorten life in men by up to 20 years and in women up to 5 years and there are national campaigns everywhere seeking to address the problem. The difficulty is that mental health doesn’t do things the way physical health does and therefore is far less easy to see, to diagnose or to treat but it is no less dangerous a phenomenon of our times and the impact no less debilitating as a disability to those suffering from it.

There are deaths that are directly attributable to a specific mental health condition, suicide being the most common and most tragic but what are less easy to factor in is all the co-morbidities that impact on the life of someone with a mental health condition, the greater likelihood of substance abuse or the damage caused by stress which are directly relevant but are practically impossible to quantify. I know my own capacity to deal with certain types of stress is drastically reduced, in particular at certain times, and that my own crutches include matters that tend towards greater likelihood of obesity and the like, which then bring the statistics associated with those conditions into play as well.

There is much talk of the beneficial effects of good diet and exercise and the effect this has on mental health, things which in lucid logical moments are of clear defined benefit but the watchword is in lucidity, much of the time when not in a good place one is not thinking about good diet, some people fail to eat, others eat too much and seldom is a good healthy balance the most obvious thing.  Likewise exercise is something that can not only bring health but joy to people, they enjoy going out for a walk, run, cycle etc. but when joy is the furthest thing from your mind what occurs with exercise can often be the same type of chore as cooking a healthy meal. You want to live by numbers, the lowest common denominator until things feel better, whenever that may be.  You make deals with yourself about how you will tackle things when you feel well again but very often that time never comes and this leads back into shame just as the financial crises we can end up in do the same.

We find crutches that make us feel a little better whatever that may be and like crutches there may be certain times when for short-term recovery these may not be a bad thing. But, like crutches there comes a point in time where you have to put weight on the leg and walk properly again or your ability to do so in the future will become compromised eventually perhaps irrevocably so and what was once a help becomes the very thing causing the maximum amount of damage.

Vicious circles abound in mental health, from the smaller consequences to much larger ones, for example lack of healthy diet means you may develop conditions which manifest physically on your skin or affect your build.  External appearance may not bother you in the good times but under the microscope of the bad times you see the flaws and you understand why they are there, the narrative becomes so easily self-critical – they are there because you are bad, broken, derelict, a failure.  You know the risks, you know the dangers and yet still you repeat the same patterns, what is wrong with you? You cannot even sort your own self out so what chance is there of sorting out anything else…? Where’s my crutch…?

Lack of healthy diet may lead to being overweight and the scrutiny is the same.  Yes it is my choice what I do and don’t eat by and large because I am an adult with an income and I can buy healthy or non-healthy foods.  I try to ensure I shop when I feel ok because the contents of that shop are geared around me looking after myself.  But then there are the downturns and the non-essential trips to buy the non-essential things because I might be feeling low and hungry for some comfort food.  Or maybe it’s the takeaways or the extra beers… etc.  Then I have spent money I didn’t need to spend, I have perfectly adequate food in the house, why have I gone and bought something I didn’t need and shouldn’t have again, why am I adding to my debts, why am I allowing food to go off because I’m eating crap?  I am bad, broken, derelict, a failure. I know the risks, I know the dangers and yet still I repeat the same patterns, what is wrong with me?  Where’s my crutch…?

I know these circles so well, often before during and after I am able to see the cycle for what it is, before I may try to put into place what I can to stop it and after the recriminations of the shame may make me also do similar and yet time and again the pattern goes on.

I am not seen as a risk to others nor to myself, what that means in medical terms is that I show no signs of physical violence nor activity that suggests I would commit suicide and those factors are correct.  But to assert from that that I am not causing myself harm completely misses the point.  I know the harm I cause both emotionally and physically, I imprison myself, frustrate myself, am ashamed of myself constantly. I know that I am rendered a less able, less successful, less happy person for those around me and therefore am I not causing them harm too?  The damage I have caused to others is unquantifiable and that ambiguity feeds so easily into a critical narrative.  Should it matter? Well perhaps, perhaps not but because I am who I am it does matter, how I have treated people matters to me in a sort of final reckoning way. I am not at all religious, any judgement comes from myself but I am aware of the tallies and I have a memory that retains the worst things all too easily whilst often forgetting the good ones which seems grossly unfair.

The fact that I am still here at 49 is not a testament to fortitude, it is not some form of success story, it is a set of circumstances by which one of my main vices, a sort of frustrated indolence, has led to there being no other option.  In actual fact I might muse that for me to be here at all represents in some way a tragedy like a strangled cry echoing or the light from a star existing in our sky long after its source has ceased to exist. Something that is noise after the usefulness has gone.  I don’t always feel like that but it is a train of thought I am familiar with.  To look at that which I might have done and the differences I could have made is the road to madness and one I have walked for many a year. The path is never easier nor the way back any clearer, the journey itself is so often tainted with fear, regret and shame that it is almost an emotional Sisyphusian struggle.  I wonder then how many others are in a situation where the reasons they expire might just be fatigue, the lacking of the ability to push the weight any more.  I hope they found rest.

*I put the trigger warning at the top not for effect and not because I feel it would specifically trigger anything but because I now know that if you’re just not in the mood sometimes it is helpful to know when to just walk away and come back to it later when you feel more ‘on it’. Prior to this year I knew of people talking about potential triggers but had no direct experience of it to draw on and I am very much an empirical beast.  Now I understand, in a relatively small confined way but no less significant for the window it affords me I had an incident that rendered me specifically in crisis at the time, disproportionately so, and mentions of it or reading through matters regarding it retained the power for some time to put me back in that place and experiencing the same level of distress.  I experienced a physical manifestation of what was going on in my head such that made me physically shake incapable of stopping.  This is not usual for me at all.  So now I understand the need sometimes for a trigger warning.

Song Of The Day ~ Honeyblood – Walking At Midnight

My hiatus meant that significant and generation changing matters such as Brexit in the UK and the election and defeat of Donald Trump in the US and it might reasonably be assumed I have an opinion on these matters!  I conflate the two things for good reason because I see them as coming from much the same area of ourselves and our societies.

The idea of debunking certain long-held tenets is not in itself a bad thing, in fact often quite the contrary, from such little acorns so the oak trees that can topple repressive regimes might grow.  The difficulty here is that for me to point out where the problem comes is in itself marking out a perhaps slightly patrician way of looking at the world and people in it.  The reason being that I see the movements that have led to both Trump and Brexit as being manipulation of the disenfranchised for the good of an already elite few rather than for the amelioration of the people actually being mobilised on the streets around these ideals.  I’m not saying that Brexit and Trump did not garner huge swathes of popular support, they undoubtedly have done, in a way almost unprecedented in modern times because in both case they have almost split the population of a significant Western country in binary opposition to one another. I would also not want to make out that I do not think the people in their anger and frustration do not have many reasons for feeling so, had they not they would have been impossible to galvanise into such a force.  The working classes of both Britain and the US have been left behind for so long that the gap widening between richer and poorer is entrenched in the system from top to bottom.  What worries me is that they should listen to people who have so obviously benefitted from the system as it stands as being the ones who will lead them from its darkness.

Whilst I am not one for national politics and consider myself both Irish and European I was not intrinsically against Britain leaving the European Union as part of a move to decentralise power and move it to a more local basis, that as a principle is something I can see might have merit, I would have been very interested to discuss certain aspects of how it would mechanically work but I would not be opposed to exploring the principle.  The Left in fact have long since had a fairly antagonistic relationship with the EU as an organ.  I was however considerably more opposed to the Brexit voted for in 2016 because this was so clearly not about a localisation of power but a recentralisation in a different centre that was itself less accountable, namely the British Establishment.  The protagonists claiming to want sovereignty back soon revealed their true colours when the national legal sovereignty flexed its muscles as the Supreme Court ruled certain actions, such as the prorogation of Parliament to have been unlawful, at this point the vitriol was so severe that the judges were in fact branded traitors by the Murdoch media.  These commentators and politicians clearly did not want the British people to have greater power they wanted themselves and their cronies to have greater power over the British people and the ability to make unfettered profits at their expense.  Murdoch himself coined it when he said that ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’ (He has since denied it and claimed he has never asked a Prime Minister to do anything but his denial came later and at a specific time he was looking for approval from politicians on a Sky News takeover so one could be forgiven for cynicism here).  To me Murdoch’s opposition to the EU was one of the great feathers in its cap but his papers and that of the Daily Mail’s campaigning over 40 years to influence the British public is one of the most disgraceful pieces of sustained misinformation of the modern era such was its breath, lack of substance and its mendaciousness. 

I understand to a degree why Americans en masse voted for Trump, there was precedent here long before Brexit, Boris Johnson indeed garnered many non-traditional supporters when he stood for mayor of London, people buying into the bumbling buffoon act he so often puts on much in the same way people have bought into Trump’s facade of successful businessman.  Both are fallacious, Johnson uses this persona in order to not seem like just another conniving privileged Tory bastard whilst Trump who inherited more money than most of us could hope to earn in several lifetimes has lost more than he has made and therefore is a net failure which is certainly not the success story he would have you believe.  This might have certain people casting their minds back over history for other such ‘failed’ figures that have held sway, the failed Austrian painter etc. etc. there will be parallels with many a dictator leader of course but I think the similarities between Trump and Johnson stretch to a great deal more than just curious conglomerations of blonde mop because they are very much 21st Century demagogues.

When you have an ill-educated and ill-informed electorate single-issue politics is very persuasive and this is not a 21st century phenomenon.  Give people binary instruction and tagline that are easy to understand without suggesting anything as to the mechanics of the process.  ‘Get Brexit Done‘ and ‘Make America Great Again‘ are prime examples of this just as the ‘stab in the back‘ theory (Dolchstoßlegende) was used in Weimar Germany to galvanise the German people into suspicion of the Establishment and the belief that politicians had betrayed the German army in WWI.  There is no actual substance to any of these proposals and that is crucial, it makes it consequently difficult to know by what indicator you would be measuring the success (or failure) of the endeavours. Whilst the Brexit slogan may seem to have a defined end point it is not clear what form of Brexit is to be ‘done’ by it and whether it would be the ‘no deal’ Brexit favoured only by the most cavalier, not to mention explicitly voted against by Parliament – the very body sovereignty is supposed to be coming back to following withdrawal from the EU.  Make America Great Again is yet more wooly, it doesn’t even have the idea of what greatness would or did look like nor whether anyone would have an idea when it had been achieved.  It is in fact rather like a ‘War on Terror‘ where no one truly knows when that noun can be seen to have been defeated!

There is a reason I have lumped the Brexit slogan in with Trump’s and that is because despite Brexit having in some way the framework for conclusion in terms of the conditions of Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome it is not that which was the reason for using it. Rather it was the vacuousness of the slogan itself and this I feel is best evidenced by the fact that Johnson attempted to use the phrase again when it came to the pandemic, though he quickly dropped it when it became clear that to link himself to something this nebulous which was potentially never going to go away was folly. Indeed his strategy was so much of a one-trick pony that it was soon followed to the waste bin of history by the very Chief Strategist Dominic Cummins – ‘Getting COVID Done’ requires a very different approach because you’ve not got the ire of the masses and the invective of the Daily Mail to fail back on. The people are looking for leadership, protection of their loved ones, reassurances for health and economic reasons, the enemy is unseen and cannot be vilified in a way that guarantees blind obedience.  The UK government has been typified throughout by it’s failure to decisively act and rather reaction to circumstances and this I would assert explains why the proportionate death rate due to Covid-19 in the UK is one of the highest in the world.

Trump’s reaction to Covid has been even worse than Johnson’s, he looked utterly out of his depth and that’s because he was.  Boris Johnson had several other cronies around him all flustering and floundering whilst Trump had the now infamous arse-clenching, legs-closing incident of one of his chief medical advisors in response to one of his more outlandish claims.  I don’t wish to make out that I presume politicians should have an immediate handle on a global pandemic, there is no shame in being all at sea, especially in the early days, we are all stumbling rather in the dark throughout our daily lives but the difference is in such circumstances you are best coming clean and leaving it to the clinical experts.  Trump instead employed a strategy of inventing or parroting spurious and at times dangerous claims about light and disinfectant amongst others in an attempt to somehow get himself back into the news agenda as the big shot again.  The principle difference between Trump and Johnson on this is that Johnson is the secondary school prefect caught with his trousers down in the boy’s dorm and whilst he won’t admit it has a degree of guilt written across his face and a knowledge that he hasn’t done very well whilst Trump hasn’t yet made it past primary level and looks as if he has been told that he can’t play in the sandpit today, what’s written on his face suggests utter ambivalence at the fact that he was the one responsible for the deposited faeces that rendered the sandpit off limits!

The analysis and studying matters because to quote a wise man ‘those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it‘ and in both Trump and Johnson what is clear is that our capacity to learn doesn’t seem to last very long before the very same things that worked to hoodwink people before are used successfully again – ‘fool me once, shame on… shame on you, fool me…….., can’t get fooled again‘ as a far less wise man once said in Tennessee! 

Song Of The Day ~ Biig Piig – Sunny

The Power Of One

For all my writings to be distilled to one entry I think would be a shame, but perhaps that’s sheer self-indulgence, to be remembered for or characterised by anything you have done (if benign) is a blessing.  I would like to hope that I have said something of value to more than one person across the years and well over 500 posts that I have published in the years I have been writing. Granted 500 now doesn’t seem that much these days given the 6 year hiatus recently and there were times in the old days when I could rattle off 50 posts in a couple of months but nevertheless, we are where we are.  In the early days I think there were more people using this form of expression but as the medium evolved so some have gone to Instagram I imagine, others wrapped up in Facebook and many have probably gone altogether.  Of all of the entries I have made there is one that has certainly received the widest attention which is the very angry review I wrote of the Snowden Mountain Railway in North Wales some 11 years ago following a visit with my children.  The experience had not been a good one and that sort of thing might have made me inclined to write something but what tipped the balance had been the friendly and genuine experience literally just across the road which juxtaposed itself so well.  

My first port of call had been sending something to the railway companies, a complaint to the SNR and a thank you to the Padarn Lake Railway, I received responses from both that were so in keeping with the initial treatment that they fed easily into the subsequent narrative given the contrast between the blasé indifference of the SNR and the genuine heartfelt response of the lake railway.

For quite some time on the first page of any google search for the SNR my post would appear resplendent and I found that pleasing, not only because it was mine but that people could easily get an alternative and independent view to the bog standard tourism side of things, partisan I’ll admit but independent nevertheless.  I was also pleased to be able to do a little in publicising the other little railway on which myself and my children had been treated with such warmth and kindness.

Those heady headline days are sadly gone, it is 10 years old after all and my review languishes now on page 5 with most of the preceding pages taken up by mostly standard corporate crap, my review is still more popular than this 2018 one written by someone who was given free tickets on the railway for the purpose of reviewing it which gives me a wry smile.  I should say that I make no judgement here as to the nature of the reviews, the person got a nice day and good views, who wouldn’t enjoy it when they’ve not even paid for the tickets, the price of which was one of my major contentions.

Much of the information in my post is now out of date and because it is a review of our trip at the time I do not see the need to update it, some of the commentators have done so in the information they have given and that is useful to determine how things might have changed over the years, which it appears they have and perhaps for the better.  The labelling and pricing of things does seem a little more transparent than it did when we travelled and that is certainly a good thing and was very much lacking on our trip.  I did write a follow up post in order to update things in 2015 but I think more in the hope to garner enough interest and interaction to get me back to writing than anything else.

[I discovered a mildly interesting thing though whilst browsing around in the preparation for this one.  If you type in Snowden Mountain Railway or even just Snowden in the search field for my blog the follow up post appears in the search results despite the title of the railway not being in the title of the entry whilst the original post, which does feature the railway title, does not appear in search results.  Strange or just me?  It’s not the tagging because if you click the Snowden Mountain Railway tag both entries come up right away.  I’d love to think that I bothered the railway enough for them to take proactive steps to have my post stopped but in reality I am long in the tooth enough to know that my importance is less likely to be the case than that of a simple coding issue! Hey ho!]

What the whole SNR review affair shows me is that what may seem the least significant may get the most coverage and that is often beyond my control. The review was written as a method of me having a rant, I did not go to any lengths to proliferate its coverage, at least not that I recall.  More simply but gratifyingly it demonstrates the power of someone writing a review in their own words for other people to read as they wish.  It was not my sole intention to cause the railway embarrassment, it was part of it because I felt that the enterprise was cashing in on parents wanting to do something nice for their children just as I did and the prospect of other children also being disappointed made me feel I needed to do something, I felt a counter narrative would allow people a better method of making up their own mind before such a hefty outlay and that if they did not have deep pockets they had an option across the road where they would be welcome.

I have always tried to write reviews and to do so fairly, if something is especially good I am just as likely to leave a review as if something is bad.  I like good service, I like quality and value for money and I like those little touches that make you feel that someone appreciates you being part of their customer base and that you are a person of value in your own right, one of the main reasons for that is that I think it is possible for anyone to do.  Civility, being personable and caring about others does not need to cost anything it just needs to be something that matters to you.  Those touches deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded and I try to do my bit to publicise them and I hope that allows those who have made the effort for me to feel that they have been appreciated.

Covid-19 Lockdown has shown me the power of supporting local businesses, from still getting meat from the butchers to ordering the occasional takeaway pizza from my former local pub.  I know these people, I know how their livelihood hangs in the balance and I want them to do well so that when all of this madness is over they will be able to continue to support the communities in which they are embedded and about which they have every reason to care.  We will have lost so many facilities over this period, much of the high streets and communities will have lost shops and services from large and small providers.  All come at a human cost make no mistake, I may shed more of a tear over an independent cafe going under than I do a branch of a chain closing its doors but I appreciate that for those working inside it is of little significance if they have lost their job from a big company or a small one when they cannot subsequently pay their own rent or put food on the table.

I feel at a time like this it is increasingly important for people to share their experiences, we are doing more online shopping for goods and services and have perhaps a little more time and capacity to review, in the case of local producers and traders it can go a long way to help them against the shortfall in advertising capacity that they may have.  Many businesses have thankfully still got the internet and will trade this way but if lockdown has taught us anything it is that whilst it can be useful to order something online when there are no other options a world where it is the only option is surely not one we would choose.  I cannot tell Amazon or a large supermarket what type of sausages or cut of meat I would like them to stock for me in a weeks time as I can with a butcher, I do not get little handwritten notes and extra sauce from dominos if I order pizza because the person has recognised my name like I have from my favourite publican. I’m not saying there aren’t chain shops where you can chat to those working there and build rapport because of course you can and much of that may depend on the staff and whether they themselves are local however their ability to influence wider policy decisions is diminished and their buy-in consequently might reasonably be expected to be less.

I have learnt far more about the companies from whom I order over the last year and been more specific then in tailoring those orders to the ones that I feel pass muster. I get handwritten notes from craft beer producers thanking me for ordering from them and this establishes a relationship with these people that is beyond the corporate and mundane and strikes to the personal.  Likewise I have ordered from them because being on their mailing list I have heard what they have been doing to safeguard their staff etc. and I feel businesses with the view that staff are their most precious resource and deserve to be protected should be supported over the ones who are profligate in their provision.  A brewery that made political points about the Black Lives Matter campaign and received much criticism about it got at least an order from me on the back of my appreciation that they were prepared to speak out against injustice and were looking to support local causes in the enfranchisement of BME members of the community. I told them exactly why I was placing the order and I was glad they told me they were heartened by the support shown by me and others like me.

The localisation of services has so much of a wider beneficial effect, it forms and maintains direct communities it also goes some way to preventing bigotry if you know real people, it is far easier to be radicalised around concepts than it is to hate an actual human being that you have come to know.  Additionally in your locality you matter so much more, your interaction, the pound in your pocket, your voice, your smile, your frown is of far greater significance.  Look at the moves of Craftivism for example and how they have by little pieces of craft sought to bring messages to people, if you did this on a national scale you would lose the feeling and passion behind each example.  Perhaps right now we all need to feel a little more than usual that we matter and our local community is probably crying out for the opportunity to show us that we do.

Song Of The Day ~ Mark Lanegan Band – Ode To Sad Disco

The almost inexorable link between mental health and financial problems is long established and has been much written and oft debated by better people than me.  You might reasonably think therefore given that fact that there would be a structure in place to help people suffering with such circumstances, coming as they do on the back of mental ill-health.  All I can say is that if there is then it is news to me, in fact here once again is an example of where those suffering from mental ill-health or more specific Mental Health conditions are left to fend for themselves for long periods of time of sometimes acute suffering and where the system whilst all too aware of the problem is all too late with offers of potential solution.

This is not to say all Mental Health conditions lead to inevitable issues with finances, neither are all debt-related problems solely the proviso of those with Mental Health conditions, however it is sufficiently known as a phenomenon by both Mental Health charities and debt charities alike to be something that is seen as synonymous.  There are several exacerbating factors as to why this may be the case and they work on both levels namely when someone is in the depths as well as when they may not be. I should point out that whilst I may speculate upon certain aspects and areas of Mental Health I am not an expert nor a practitioner, however I am someone with diagnosed Mental Health conditions, who has also suffered periods of mental ill-health at various points and these have had a specific and profound effect on my financial stability far more so than I am comfortable with.  I will therefore be speaking from personal experience and knowledge of that of others with whom I have spoken over the years.  It is also not to say that I am advocating any random wiping of debt because that is the equivalent of giving the man the fish rather than the rod and the knowledge of how to fish. It could well work in certain circumstances to give some a brief lift up but is no guarantee of success for anyone and leaves the underlying problems unaddressed.

The most obvious cause of debt-related mental ill-health comes from short-term gratification, it is something all of us as humans are often guilty of, not at all restricted to those with mental health concerns.  From the extra chocolate from the box we know we oughtn’t to have to the impulse purchase that cheers us up when it’s been a bad day, to warm, to cajole, to pamper in order to alleviate stress, boredom, fatigue or distress.  All of these little indulgences need to be paid for, physically and emotionally, and if we are not living beyond our means then there should be little reason for concern.  It is though important at this point to ensure that we delineate between mental health conditions such as clinical depression and people in circumstances where they are feeling temporarily a bit low and need cheering up.  The reason why this is important a distinction to draw right now is because one is any more important than the other, they are different and the consequences from these ‘cheering up’ situations is therefore equally different.  Someone feeling down may have a realistic chance of picking themselves back up again in due course, they may or may not need some method of assisting themselves to cheer up but the need will be probably only for the period of time in question.

When suffering from mental ill-health the need to cheer yourself up may take a different form, one for example that you already know is detrimental, whether physically, financially or emotionally.  This immediately lessens the impact of it before you have even begun because those consequences can easily dilute any possible pleasure, one can find oneself easily regretting the decision before it is even fully complete.  The trouble is that having given in to the temptation the damage is already done, weakness has been exposed and capitulation of sorts has occurred and it is then we may feel ashamed.

In my view there is almost nothing more damaging that that which one can do to oneself as a result of shame and the avoidance of shame or the spiral in which it can quickly hold you.  Akin to something Alfred Hitchcock alluded to about the fear within being the most frightening so the crueller recesses of the brain can exploit far more clinically the elements about ourselves that bring shame.

As a personal example I found myself some years ago in a position where I would buy things from eBay, there was a double pleasure here because the element of finding oneself a bargain was coupled with the competition against someone else who might also want it.  What was interesting was that very quickly having won the auction there was no pleasure or exciting anticipation of the items arrival. Quite the opposite I felt almost a dread at it coming for the very fact that it would bring with it the shame of my having succumbed again.  When I say that I would buy things from eBay I don’t necessarily mean that I would simply buy a pair of jeans too many or the odd trinket, sometimes it would be pieces of technology for hundreds of pounds and on more than one occasion a car!

There were undoubtedly times when I was able to resist any such temptation, others when there was a genuine need for me to buy something of a particular nature but there were far too many when what I was trying to do was make up for the disappointment of the everyday by bringing something extraordinary into it.  I was often very lucky, I was for 15 years an IT engineer, the things I bought I could often make something of, frequently turning a very small profit, enough to cover my losses not enough to remove the sense of guilt.  Some of the cars I bought I spent years with and really enjoyed, whilst others languished and never went anywhere.  I managed to keep a roof over my head, just about, and not put my family at risk but this was often a combination of luck and having the gift of the gab rather than judgement.

Ebay was not the only vice either, the credit cards came and went, never thousands but often hundreds, I never lived an opulent lifestyle to go down in a blaze of glory merely just that slight shade beyond my means buying things in a vicious circle that themselves would lead to the shame that precipitated the next purchasing process. The feeling disappointed with myself would feed the nature of the need to alleviate that and the whole process perpetuated itself time after time.  It would have been a very different thing if I had gone mad and built up many thousands, it would probably have resulted in far earlier closure of the means to do any of it and it would also have been very visible at that point that it was an issue which might, though I doubt it, have led to me getting some help.  As it was it ticked along under the radar for years, decades truth be told, never enough to alert attention but always enough to be a source of embarrassment, shame and immense frustration.  I was being pursued by debt collectors just enough to be stressful but always doing just enough to prevent things getting more serious into areas like court action, this also meant I was making enough mistakes to have a poor credit rating but never enough to justify the idea of bankruptcy and ripping it up and starting again.  I never know whether to envy those that have gone down this route, I often wonder about it when you hear of people that have formerly been declared bankrupt being involved in other things, whether good or bad, I wonder whether or not the drawing a line under it all has afforded them catharsis or not and also whether it has been a salutary enough lesson to then act as a deterrent in the future, there are enough negative stories to suggest this is not the case with all people.

This is where I believe again it is important to draw some form of distinction on certain areas because just as with those who might be addicted to certain types of behaviour so the key is whether or not you can get yourself out of it when you see the damage it causes.  For most people the odd little treat whether good for you or not does not, or should not, tip them into a spiralling cycle of self-loathing and need for revalidation.  True there may be slight recrimination, a need to rebalance things, New Year’s resolutions to make good the excesses of the previous days, weeks, months, years.  It is not as if a great many people don’t have at least a sense of what those at the sharper end go through.

The tragedy is that left alone this becomes all encompassing, when reaching out for help there is not any sense of immediacy on Mental Health and therefore whilst there may be debt charities looking to help people in debt these may not be the logical first port of call for some people because they are a symptom rather than the root cause.  The difficulty is that even if identified as a mental health issue the person goes back into the system to wait, weeks and months pass someone who has reached out, possibly trying to overcome their own shame and recrimination in the process, is left to consider their actions at the point in time when they are at their most vulnerable.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out the likely consequences.

Song Of The Day ~ Icehouse – Hey Little Girl

One of the main reasons it is so important that I try to write with some regularity is that every now and again I am afforded a little insight by the endless ramblings and musings. In an instance over the last couple of weeks I was writing a different post where I had been going through some context to matters about relationships which led me into thinking of my first relationship and contrasting it with others, there is a reason for this. My first was, not by any ones standards, conventional and it is not something I wish to go into an huge depth, I will give a little background but wish to focus more on looking closer at the areas of correlation with others, not least because to dwell on any single one I think it would be dull to read but also because in the case of the first one it is one of the things from my past which I have managed to relatively successfully put behind me. It was intensely painful at the time, I was young, naive and extremely gauche when it came to anything resembling affairs du coeur and I handled the whole thing badly, …then again so did she!

I was 17 and we met on an exchange programme set up by my school, she was German and one of the other exchanges. She was pretty but also had a sharp, dry sense of humour, I liked her straight away. We hung out in a group of people and then only when my group were due to return home at the airport and my own exchange was kissing one of my mates did she approach me and ask if we should copy them. I think I was too stunned to even be as petrified as I would have normally been by such an advance, I had really no experience at that stage, being at an all boys boarding school. We kissed and then I departed with the juxtaposition of thanking my lucky stars whilst also cursing that I had not known how she felt with enough time to have been able to do something about it. What exactly I would have thought I might have done about it I do not know, I can reasonably assume that I would have been rendered utterly incapable had any such occasion arisen.

What I remember though was that on the plane back I felt good but without expectation, just able to enjoy the warmth of the moment and bask as well in a little approval from my peers returning with me. The internet was barely a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye in those days and we were not due to see each other for 8 months on the return leg of the exchange, the only form of communication open to us was writing. It would be fair to say that when her 1st letter arrived 48 hours or so later sent by express mail and declared her feelings for me in no uncertain terms I was very definitely off and running. I remember reading it several times to be sure I had read it correctly. We corresponded over the course of that 8 months sending an average of around 3 letters a week, packed full of naive, youthful longings and yearning. I still have all of hers, it never seemed right to jettison such precious things of genuine emotion, I do not read them, I do not need to, they just need to still exist, my own past that smacks of a bygone era, after all who bothers writing that volume of text anymore, let alone with their own hand? These days if I do have to pick up a pen and make notes for any reason it is such a strange sensation that I grip the pen too tightly and leave a mark on my finger which stays for hours after I have finished.

The reason this early event in my life is significant is not to reminisce per se but to analyse 2 points of interest, the first is how I dealt with the inevitable failure of such a relationship. She broke up with me as might have reasonably been foreseen, I was crushed, I felt I had been utterly crumpled up and spat out but the reasons were never really spelled out and I spent much of the time being confused, which gives neither satisfaction nor properly the impetus to move on elsewhere. At that age the dark reflections of the jilted teenager give rise to an almost natural predilection for angst and melancholy. My self-analysis gave me many reasons why it might be the case but what they couldn’t do was give any surety, I have never been good with such things left hanging and in fact didn’t get closure until I was nearly 40. That I had hung on in some way that long was not because I was holding a torch, anymore than one might for ones first, but because something in my head still required that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in order to box it up. It was as if the lack of her having said anything somehow prevented my being able to complete it in some way. Not such as to be life-changing, just enough to be there until resolved. Resolution came surprisingly easily when through a mutual friend I had come across on facebook I finally got confirmation of what I had always known but never been told. There were no feelings left in that case just an unanswered question, more than 20 years old as if somehow the ribbon was missing to fully tie the box of memories up and put it away. Following a very brief wave of relief lasting possible no more than a couple of hours I felt surprisingly matter of fact, the mystery was solved and needed no further thought. Would that it could have come sooner, or that all relationship ends might have an outcome that could be garnered by a sentence.

This brings me to the second reason I am looking at these matters. That she had put me down just as quickly as she had picked me up says much for how our dynamic was at the time but also on reflection casts a light perhaps as to the nature of the me in print as opposed to the me in person. I might reasonably feel that the me she initially saw amongst friends and laughing, holding court abroad was then deepened by her being able to see my innermost thoughts in lucid form on the page. Both of those environments did not seem out of place for me and thus I was comfortable and able to be myself by and large. The second time she met again in person was different, timid, gauche and inexperienced which must have been such a departure from the person she felt she had come to know. There is no doubt in my mind that people feel an affinity towards confidence and humour, they may also feel attraction to it, underpinned by an in my case newly discovered ability to write feelings at length, this presented a picture to a fellow teenager of someone who surely had his shit together. The figure I must have then cut in the flesh after the 8 months of outpouring was completely at odds with that and yet it was the same person, just denied their milieu. I should point out that the letters from her had stopped a couple of weeks before they were due to come I think, cold feet or such like, who knows but it was enough to make me feel out of my depth which added to the trepidation and is therefore relevant.

If this were the only time that I had engaged in such relationships it might have less significance to offer to analysis in the present, indeed had my dalliances then been ones of wanton abandon, holiday romances to be picked up and put down the way one might the very suitcase with which one travels then again there would be little need to revisit it all. Prior to the internet many people have had attempts at distance relationships, the majority, I would assert have failed and blamed the inability to communicate properly or see one another, perfectly reasonable impediments standing in the way of any lasting bliss. It takes a very particular type of person to wish to persevere in such circumstances, there may be a number of reasons at play internally to oneself and externally as to how much you feel for the other person but there comes a point in time when I think most people would throw in the towel and only a few would not.

The hapless wretch 30 odd years ago has not been the sum of my experiences, spanning both pre- and post internet era makes it worth a bit of a look. It was a long time between the first and the second, the internet was more in play then but not the proliferation of video call functionality, more just the ability to correspond in a readily more available format but also the corresponding expectation that there would be just as immediate a response. The third and fourth occasions are separate from these two because then video calling made things sustainable that otherwise I think could not have been and therefore I would like to explore if this makes them different to how I had originally planned to analyse them, due to the lesser nature of detached communication and it not being so much about my written words.

The second occasion over distance does not require much explaining other than to note that I was fully bought in to it but never met the person concerned and there remain to this day some questions as to her intent and whether it was malign or not. The messages I wrote to her however contained, what I thought at the time, to be some of the most fluid writing I had done, prose, poetry, songs and lots of what was potentially nothing more than soppy crap, although it was certainly in copious quantity. I say potentially because I had seen no need to keep hold of any of it, I kept her messages but not mine, which is perhaps a shame or maybe spares me blushes. I know that there were darker times during that period, I was not on medication and struggled sometimes when there was inexplicably no contact for days on end, there was always an explanation but I became aware that I was trying to stretch reality in order to cover a multitude of ambiguity that just didn’t make sense. Whether it was early cat fishing I cannot say, the person I spoke to on the phone and via email seemed real enough as therefore did the pain when I finally could not tailor make the narrative work anymore.

The third occasion began more organically, perhaps a little more like the first, boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live the other side of the world to each other and when she returns they attempt to somehow keep things going, which we did, for 2 years, seeing each other in person very occasionally but with the help of Skype factoring each other into one another’s day for almost the entire time. There was some written communication, I did write a few letters, great long missives I imagine. I don’t know whether or not she kept them, I would hope so, for the same reason I have kept mine from others over the years. Again I won’t go into detail about the relationship itself, it would take too long and is not what I wish to look at here but suffice it to say it was the most intensely I had felt towards anyone at that point and when it worked I was as happy as I had ever been or felt I could be. I was during the entirety of it on stable medication. I know that the nature of my language was of significant importance to her, she told me it was the principle nature of the attraction to me. We initially met abroad as well and at a time when I was in an unsustainable bubble of positivity so I would have been projecting an extremely favourable version of myself at the time. I was a little more gauche when we met the second time but for honourable reasons. The end came when the narrative muddied and it no longer seemed clear when we would next see each other, I had stopped believing she would come to me and I was not able to go to her and I think it changed both of our behaviour. We had not seen each other in person for a year when we split up.

The fourth came as a surprise from a situation that ‘couldn’t happen’ and therefore inevitably did so! I had sworn off distance, I thought forever, which meant conversations with someone delightful who lived far away could hold no danger. This meant I was relaxed, there was no agenda when we were speaking it was a genuinely nice and organic communication, I underestimated just how delightful she was though, the attraction whilst physically present was able to grow much more deeply due to uncovering her in the phraseology she used and the character she revealed from that, the depth of the affection that built surprises me still. There was an added dimension here which was an initial significant language barrier but that was overcome by both of us learning each others language, something which I will always be grateful for – what greater long term gift is there to leave someone with than the opening of the door to another culture entirely? As an aside almost what would be interesting to look at here is whether or not my expression in another language came across as similar in personality to how I would have spoken in my native tongue. My suspicion is that there would be differences, the nuances you learn when picking up a language in this way mean that certain idiomatic expression is the norm, such that you garner from the person you have most exposure to and therefore you mirror perhaps more their personality than you might in your mother tongue. For example if that person has a specific accent or dialect and you are good at sound replication then your own language will take on the identity of theirs because what you learn from them is what you assimilate as ‘correct’. 

[The same premise is true in the written form across the ages, English spelling now owes much to Caxton’s personal version of the language when writing the bible such as his use of ‘qu’ rather than ‘cw’ for example just as the Brothers Grimm took snapshots of the nuanced moral oral tradition and created a standardised version for all time in fairy tales the depictions of which we are still aware of now.]

Whilst this might have seemed a slightly self-indulgent trip down memory lane at times the purpose is to look at things such as whether there is a formula as to why I have ended up in situations with the frequency I have, also to determine whether there is a significant disconnect between the me I am able to commit to paper and the me that stalks the corridors of my house. Analysis whilst interesting in itself is not something I enter into for its echo chambers, it should be a tool to better understand and move on so as to develop and hopefully one day to find peace, I don’t feel I have managed to make sense of that just yet but asking the questions themselves is a first step and may yield greater discussion in time.

Distance relationships take a particular path and it is one that certainly in the past has drawn me, there is a lot of hope, you have often a goal to look forward to ie the next meeting and you put a great deal more effort into making those times together something special. Perhaps herein lies the problem, life cannot be ‘special’ all of the time, at some stage reality is going to come around and there will be bills to pay and less enjoyable things to have to do, distance relationships will seldom prepare you for how someone is in a crisis or in a period of the mundane and banal but real life in general doesn’t always do that either and couples who meet in conventional circumstances are frequently finding that when they throw their lot in together they learn the less amenable traits in their partner. Distance relationships allow you to filter the nature of yourself to someone else, whether you give all or part the control is in your hands and this can be helpful and I don’t think it is always a bad thing. That may explain why I have been more comfortable in that scenario because of the ability to regulate much of what I see as the negative in myself and drip feed it so to speak so as not to give too much too soon.  The other advantage to distance relationships is the large amount of time of domestic autonomy, by and large the disruption on your daily life is less outwardly visible if you don’t wish it to be.  You can structure your day, your house, your meals often very much how you would like to and this again isn’t always that simple in real life if you are in a relationship.  Learning to compromise is an important lesson but so is learning not to capitulate and this is certainly something I have not properly mastered satisfactorily so as not to be on a binary switch between dogmatism and abject surrender.  

Song Of The Day ~ The Mysterines – Love’s Not Enough

What has become clear to me is the scale of the crisis that I think we are now facing. Some time ago I wrote a series of pieces called Future Shocks which may or may not merit revisiting now that we are a decade or more along the line. What I could not have foreseen was the nature of the last 12 months, however I was aware of the trend towards a world where the increasingly isolationist nature of our lives was going to have an impact on our mental health. My mistake perhaps or naivety was the belief that with the rise in disclosures and discussion of mental health which had been taking place so the effects would become clearer at least in some quarters there would be moves to alleviate the damage. Covid-19 has robbed us of so much collaborative working, rendered so many people dead, ill, damaged, shellshocked and in crisis such that it is impossible to quantify the human cost and the likely impact on our species because it cannot be measured merely in the figures of the dead, there is scarcely a person anywhere that will not have been affected by it all in some way. My greatest concern is how long some of those things will take to manifest and come out into an arena where it can be identified and the individual, hopefully, helped through it and whether or not our society has the capacity to care as much and for as long as is going to be necessary.

‘Coming out’ with a condition or general mental ill-health is no easy task. There remains a stigma in many arenas to the idea, such as there is for many of the equality strands still. The lack of understanding coupled with the nature of the world in which we live makes people fearful declaring anything that demonstrates such a personal sense of vulnerability and giving what they may reasonably see as ammunition to other people in whom they may have little reason to trust. I have spent a great deal of time working in environments supporting people with mental health conditions and trying to navigate the line between when to declare it and when not, sure the legal protections are there if the condition qualifies and is officially declared, but these protections only come in against behaviour that constitutes a ‘due detriment’ in UK law, I would be interested how it is elsewhere. Due detriment means that there has to be a definable method of determining exactly what the person has suffered as apart from those who do not have the condition so as to claim the treatment was less favourable. In most circumstances this means action such as dismissal, however those with mental health conditions in work know just how fragile that situation can be and therefore are likely to be disinclined brazenly going down the line to dismissal with the intent of taking their employer to court. They are more likely to just try to keep their head down until they feel better because to tackle something like this when you are already feeling less than 100% does not sound like a good idea to many people and thereby the discriminatory behaviour against them manifests and entrenches and the circle continues.

I’m not saying things haven’t improved in certain areas, they have, there is more knowledge, more research, more legal protection than there ever has been and yet one could say the same about race relations and I hardly think anyone would consider that fight for equality anywhere near complete. The difference is that when your characteristic is hidden and you feel that your environment is not embracing of ‘your kind’ you face a choice as to whether to come out of the woodwork and assert your rights but risk persecution or to stay beneath the surface at a point in time you feel perhaps the most weak anyway. It’s a bold choice to take the former route. It is worth noting that whilst many strides in equality have been made until 2013 the Mental Health Act still prevented people who had been sectioned due to their mental health from officially being able to be School Governors, sit on a jury, be certain types of company director or be a sitting MP. This was in spite of the widely circulated figure that 1 in 4 people would suffer from an episode of Mental ill-health each year, yes not merely in their lives, every year, imagine that as a part of the population, it would be like the whole of London, Birmingham and Manchester getting the plague and the government decided to ignore it or determining that former plague victims no longer had rights. Yes this may sound flippant but there is sometimes no more evidence that someone will have a relapse of mental ill-health than there would be of them contracting the Black Death again!

For me it was ‘easier’ this time round, by which I mean I had no choice, the manifestation of the impact on my mental health was swift and left me incapable of work for some time. Similar to how I see the world in general that process had in some ways been a long time coming in me, in as much as there was a combination of factors at play, but also symptomatic of many in the world I had for some time been coasting and just about getting by, depending on your method of measuring these things. Often if left to get on with things you can cope for a long time and maybe even return to dealing with things better than that, especially if other factors recede. However if matters continue to pile up then at some point there is going to be an explosion of some kind. I had been open before about mental health, but not always with my employer or work colleagues and that speaks volumes because I am no shrinking violet and will seldom shirk that kind of fight but that workplace environment is one from which there can feel like little escape. On this particular occasion though what precipitated my crisis was not of my own making and therefore the consequent absence needed to be explained.

Being back at the mental health coal face means I get to see first hand what is going on, what facilities are made available, how quickly to people respond and what methods are offered in order to help. Of course there is an element here that is entirely subjective, there will always be much of that because as I have elaborated on before the whole issue owes as much to meeting the right person at the right time as anything. Sadly it seems little has changed over the last few years in that sense. I have a good key worker from a mental health charity and an at times ambivalent general practitioner who only sprang into action metaphorically when I sent him a lengthy diatribe explaining that perhaps telling someone they seemed to be coping ok when you hadn’t seen them in well over a year and had no idea really what they were or were not coping with was a bad idea.  This is not the ideal foundation by any means and relies on you having the staying power to keep banging your head against the brick wall in the hope that you may break it before it breaks you.

In the 21st Century I simply do not see that as acceptable in a society that spends money on all sorts of things designed to ‘enhance our lives’ and ‘keep us safe’, what is the point of any of it if people in crisis of any kind are not helped, it is a form of discriminatory behaviour predicated on pandering to the needs of those who do not need much at the expense of those who need something, most of all some help. It is a random and short-sighted arrogance for anyone to feel that they may not be one of the people in need one day because we know that money does not buy happiness and does immunise against mental ill health.

Such an injustice for those in need will not change overnight, it will take time and pressure but most of all it will take a debunking of the nature that this is somehow uncommon.  Many strides have been taken on account of people speaking out and declaring their mental health conditions, in some cases one might be cynical and claim that some had something to gain from that, be it publicity or such like, ultimately though it has still helped to shatter the myth of this being a low level problem that affects an underclass of people.  As more people come out and share their experiences so others are emboldened to do so and the general awareness of conditions and their proliferation increases, from that, one hopes the idea that ‘they didn’t have this much depression in the old days, people just got on with it’ will be consigned, rightly, to the dustbin.

Song Of The Day ~ Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener