The Inevitable 'Goodbye' Post

Not Dead, Just Sleeping…

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday, dear Confessions
Happy birthday to me!

Confessions of a Serial Insomniac began exactly three years ago today with the first incarnation of the ubiquitous About page. It seems fitting and right that it meets its pseudo-demise on its birthday. It’s a nice, round timeframe.

Those of you that are regular readers will have seen this coming for months. Indeed, I’ve discussed it with several of you over the last…I don’t know, eight or ten weeks, maybe more. My passion for this place – once overwhelming – has waned profoundly, and it would feel a disservice to the blog to simply abandon it, rather than tying up its loose ends.

There’s so much I want to say that I hardly know where to start. I’ll jump in, then, with practicalities.

  • I said in a recent post that I intended to discuss my new set of sessions with Paul on the blog. I’m not going to do that after all, for which my apologies are due. I’ll outline the primary reason for this later.
  • I never did finish my series on my aunt Maisie’s demise. Again, apologies for those of you that were mad enough to be interested. To be honest, although I could have made the further details of the funeral into an epic yet dull piece of prose, not much of note really happened. Her coffin was carried up the road a bit, the eight men underneath it bulking under its weight. I once again, inexplicably, envied my cousins’ comforting of each other. Maisie was buried, atop a hill, in the sunlight. I cried again, like the sad cunt I apparently am. We went to the tedious, oppressive wake (on which, ironically, Maisie would have completely thrived). The only real out-of-the-ordinary incident was to do with Aunt of Evil. After hours of successfully avoiding the accursed woman, she managed to catch me out whilst I was aimlessly talking to her brother-in-law, Uncle of Boredom. Long story short: although she apologised to me for “whatever it was [she] ha[d] done” (as if she didn’t fucking know!), I ended up apologising to her too! I raged with myself for weeks, because I had done nothing to the heinous witch to warrant any words of atonement, but then I remembered she’d gone back to USistan without my having seen or spoken to her again, and I settled a bit.
  • Twitter and Facebook. I’ll keep them both ‘officially’ open, I think – Twitter especially holds so much history for me – but I’m very unlikely to be updating or checking either. Don’t unfollow them, though (unless you’re sick of me, which is obviously reasonable enough); you never know where and when I may re-crop up…
  • Although I’m finishing my writing tenure here, I’m not taking the blog down; it’ll still be fully accessible. Many of the search terms over the years – and the regular readers I’ve picked up therefrom – have suggested to me that some people have actually found parts of this rubbish useful, or at least enjoyable (!). I don’t want to deny others the opportunity to explore it should they so wish, and in any case the domain name and hosting are paid up until at least January 2013, so they might as well be made use of.
  • You can still contact me, though I’ll be disabling the contact form soon and, as observed, will probably not be hanging about Twitter. Instead, email me at pandora dot urquharthuxley at gmail dot com. This arrangement will most likely not be permanent either, but it will bridge a gap at least.

Now then. I suppose I should try to outline my reasons for leaving this place, my much-loved home for three years – the place where I met so many amazing people, garnered so much support and spouted so much crap that offered a surprising amount of catharsis. As I sit here and write this, it almost feels like folly to quit; Confessions has brought me so much, and here I am rejecting it. I will mourn it, and do so profoundly; it has shaped my life beyond my wildest dreams during its course, so how could I not?

But I am not this person any more.

I think there comes a time in the lives of most mental people where they realise, or accept, that they are defined by something greater than their diagnoses. For the most part, I have seen my life since 2008 – and, to a lesser extent, since I was a teenager – as an experience which was shaped by my diseased mind and its treacherous idiosyncrasies. Of late, though, I’ve begun to think differently of myself. I’m not naive, and I’m not an idealist: I have a mental illness, and although that can potentially be managed, I will almost certainly always have it. My views have not changed so radically that I now see myself as someone who has ‘pathologised her humanity‘ or some such other patronising fucking nonsense. Nonetheless, ‘mental’ is no longer the first word jumping from my lips when someone asks me about myself.

I suppose I could adapt Confessions to reflect this – I could write about gaming, books, pubs I like, holidays I’ve been on. But it does not, in any fashion, feel right; this has always been a blog about mental health, and I feel it more apt to let it stay that way. So as I as a person move on, so must my blog.

There are wider issues than just this, of course. Logistically speaking, I don’t always have time to write here any more, at least not in the essay-ish style to which I’ve always been prone. Again, I feel it would be a disservice to the legacy of what I’ve done with this journal to modify my writing style to facilitate shorter posts; it’s just not what this all became over the course of its life. I’ve had it said to me by a few people that my longest posts – probably because they’re the ones in which I’ve become most immersed – are my best, and I’d rather be remembered for that than for something that just dribbled dry over time. At the risk of employing a vulgar cliche, as Neil Young (and, more famously, Kurt Cobain) put it, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Additionally, to quote one of my favourite writers who has also lately bowed out of anonymous blogging, I am tired of pretending. I’ve long-since hated the anonymity that this place affords me – not because I hate the persona that you all know as Pandora, for she has become an irrevocable part of ‘me’, and despite it all, I actually don’t hate myself (and am not sure that I ever truly did). It’s because I am not ashamed of who I am, of who I have become, of what I have, and of what I don’t. The matters discussed on this journal have actively required that I cloak myself behind a pseudonym, but, again, I no longer see myself as someone solely prescribed and designated as a victim of sexual abuse or vicious hallucinations. To that end, I presently don’t need my anonymity (at least for pursuits unconnected to this website).

The final straw was in therapy recently. Nominally, Paul and I were having a proper therapeutic conversation, though he did at the end comment that it had been a strange session. It was, because I was not properly in it. Thankfully – or not – that had nothing to do with fucking Aurora; it was me playing games with myself. To get to the bloody point, I was sitting there considering in detailed terms how I could frame our discussion in dialogue-driven, prosaic terms – did he raise an eyebrow here, did I sneer at something there? – for this blog.

That is not healthy. I knew right then that I had to stop writing here. Therapy is meant to be a life-enriching, remedial experience; it’s not fucking blogging fodder. In the sessions that followed, having made up my mind to close things down, we were able to do much more fulfilling work together.

Naturally, this has a downside; I am unable to express to A, for example, the kind of material covered in session. I regret that, but I feel that healthy psychotherapy is more important for all concerned than others having insight into the process as it happens to me. If that sounds blunt, please forgive me: my point is that if I am unwell (as, without adequate, concentrated treatment, I will be), then everyone around me is affected. That’s no more fair on them – and probably you, as a reader – than it is on me.

I am a horrendously jealous person – I freely admit it. When I log on to that bloody curse that is Facebook – I really should deactivate it yet again – I see people I went to school with having brats and developing the careers they always wanted. I’m not envious of the former per se because, as you know, I’m childfree. But I am jealous of them having what they want, and of their apparent happiness with their lives.

But, you know, when I think about it all in context, when I think of all I’ve faced and all I’ve done – or at least tried to do – it doesn’t seem quite so bad.

I didn’t have the best start in life, whether through social factors, chemical ones or ones relating to my own psychology (or, in my view, a combination of all thereof). I could have let my resulting mental illness fuck me entirely – and at times it nearly has, and indeed it still might – but I fight with every weapon my arsenal allows me; I actively try to help myself get better. I engage with all services available to me – psychiatry, nursing and therapy (indeed, I had to go out of my way to secure the latter, after NHS Psychology shat on my face, rather than lying down under it like I could have done). I co-operate with them all despite the fact that they – like almost anything – are not perfect, because I don’t want this non-life any more. I want that sense of contentment that those twats on Facebook appear to have.

Although I’m still ill, I refuse to tolerate the idea that I should stay on state benefits indefinitely. That is most indubitably not to say that mentals (or anyone else with a serious and/or enduring illness) should be forced off ESA and other benefits. Fuck the Coalition and their myopic, dangerous biases; our first concern as a society should be to support individuals who are disabled, ill and/or vulnerable, rather than lowering taxes for people who can afford to fucking pay for them.

Still, I ultimately want to be self-sufficient, despite the perhaps precarious position in which I find myself. It may not happen any time soon, but I want to, when possible, try.

I’m pragmatic enough to realise that my illness can’t be cured, merely managed, and as such although in an ideal world I’d go back to a more traditional job, I realise that it may (and only ‘may’) not be possible (or at least sustainable).

So, for now at least, I write. I consider myself a writer now, regardless of whether others think the title narcissistic or grandiose. This is partly why I don’t have as much time as I once did for Confessions; it’s sad, but it’s real. As my best mate Dan (himself a full-time staff journalist) discussed the other day, I’ve made genuine in-roads into turning what was once a vague fairytale idea into a reality. I’m talking to Editors, engaging with the low-paying but still useful services of guru.com and eLance, getting my (real) name out there…and I’ve applied for a voluntary job which will involve, if I get it, writing for the local rags about mental illness. Most of my writing to date has been in relatively specialist publications and websites, so writing for the papers – a more mainstream pursuit, with wider readerships – would be a welcome challenge, and indeed a useful addition to my portfolio.

Oh, and The Book? It’s back on 🙂 I’m also half-minded to try and novelise this blog at some point, but that would be an immense piece of work – even harder than a random piece of fiction, because it would require endless re-working of Confessions, rather than putting a bunch of ideas down on paper and formulating them into prose. If The Book ultimately has any success, I may be buoyed to work on such a monolithic task, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

My writing ‘career’ may fail…but, again, I’m trying to make something of my life. It’s very difficult right now, what with not being fully well, and there are days when it’s impossible to face. There are days when anything is impossible to face. But I’m starting, and that’s got to count for something. If it goes tits up – yes, that’ll be disappointing. That much goes without saying. But I’d rather have that potential outcome than that in which I didn’t give it a damn good go.

And I feel a little better each day. A bit less depressed, a bit less despairing, a bit more positive, a bit more hopeful. My current medication cocktail, combined with an ever-excellent psychotherapist, has brought me closer to wellness than I’ve been in a very long time, despite the truly abysmal year this has been, circumstantially, so far. As I said way up above, I no longer see myself entirely through the lens of a mentally ill kaleidoscope.

In the years since my most recent breakdown, I’ve often cursed my psychic misfortune (aside from the fact that no, I still probably wouldn’t flick the sanity switch were I offered the option). Further, I’ve cursed this blog (sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes just in rage-fuelled piques). And yet…look what both my madness and my blogging have brought me.

  • A half-credible chance to use my afflictions to facilitate a respectable career, whilst simultaneously advocating for others in the same shitty boat.
  • Most importantly, I have met some of the most wonderful people in the entire known universe – people who (God/Buddha/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster/Richard Dawkins willing) will be lifelong friends.

Throw in the gratifying fact that I’m in a long-term – and, more crucially, happy – relationship with a loving, accepting partner. Multiply that by the other genuinely meaningful and life-changing friendships I have managed to forge throughout my life – Dan, Brian, Aaron, lots of people that are not close friends but that are certainly more than acquaintances. Minus the disastrously dysfunctional family, but add to the list a loving mother – something that not everyone is fortunate enough to have.

When I think about things thus, when I examine my life as though it were the Bayeux Tapestry, looking at the ‘bigger picture’ (I hate that fucking term) – well, I feel privileged.

And at the risk of repeating myself, in these circumstances, I find myself sometimes thinking, “do you know what, Pan? You ultimately did well, girl. You did well.”

And, for now at least, that’s enough.

Is this completely ‘goodbye’? Not necessarily. A number of you already follow another blog I write, and I will consider requests for the URL from others (email me as per the details at the start of the post, though please do not be offended if I don’t respond with the address; I don’t write exclusively about mentalness there, and don’t want it to become what this blog has). Furthermore, I may add the odd update here once in a very occasional while. And let’s not forget that when Maisie died, despite my pre-existing intention to wind down Confessions, I immediately gravitated here and ended up writing quite a lot; as it had been so many times before, the blog was my haven and lustration. Right at the top of this entry, I used the words ‘not dead, just sleeping’. So, when things inevitably go downhill again, or when some other life event once again sends me down the figurative shitter, this place could be resurrected. So do keep me on your RSS Readers and social media profiles just in case 🙂 I’m not offering any guarantees, and I’m certainly not saying it’s even likely. It would be folly to rule anything in, or rule anything out, though, so there you have it.

Whatever happens, thank you for sharing this madness with me. Your support, tolerance, friendship, and even love has made my life better – and literally saved me on occasion. I’m pretty convinced I’d either be dead or much more seriously ill than I presently am had it not been for the amazing people I’ve met through writing here.

In the parting words of the Ninth Doctor: you were fantastic – absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!

Farewell, my loves. Cue trite, manufactured, but tackily appropriate song from (who else but?! ;)) Lunatica.

2012 Continues its Shittery, But Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Good evening (or morning, if you prefer). It must have been about three weeks since I last posted, which is pretty much a record absence for me in the almost-three years that I’ve been writing this blog. There are some underlying reasons, I suppose, but primarily my disappearance can be attributed to the usual culprit: that of crippling, fuck you anhedonia. I haven’t been as badly afflicted by the phenomenon since I was a teenager. I mean, depression always carries this demon in its clutches, that much is a given, but it exists in degrees. The depression that has blighted my life so far this year was, initially, relatively free from anhedonia and its cousin, avolition – I blogged quite prolifically around the time of Maisie’s death, after all. I gravitated here when that happened; as it had been, Confessions became my outlet, my place to vent, my catharsis and analysis. In the last few weeks, I haven’t felt that at all.

This apathy and utter dearth of motivation have been compounded by an exhaustion of a magnitude I cannot describe. I’ve been sleeping poorly, and waking early when I do manage to find slumber for a few hours – but it’s more than just that sort of tiredness, for I’ve lived with that for many years. Every step I’ve taken recently has taken the effort that I’d imagine normals would put into a bloody marathon. My head constantly droops somewhere down in my chest – giving the unfortunate impression to the cameras and any other onlookers that I’m orally pleasuring myself – because I have not an ounce of strength to hold it up. My mind is either blank, or thinking repetitive, monotonous, lifeless thoughts. I have, on many days, literally had to tell myself what to do: “move your left foot now, Pan. Good, now move your left. No, no, fuck, sorry! Move your right. Yes, right. Good. Left now. Well done.” And my body aches with this…something. Aches aches aches. And sometimes my mind joins it: it can’t even summon the energy to feel anything with my usual levels of desperation. It currently doesn’t feel raw pain, just like my body doesn’t. It just aches.

[Coincidentally – or not? – the last time I felt tiredness on this scale was back when The Everythinger was here in August. More thrilling musings on that later…]

Perhaps ironically, therefore, I think the depression to which I alluded has abated a little. I’m confident that were I to take any of the usual diagnostic tests that I’d still be deemed ‘severely’ depressed, but, again, it’s about degrees. I do feel a bit better than I did when I last wrote. This could be the normal cyclical run of my supposed manic depression, or it could be down to Lamictal. I mentioned last time that Christine was going to ask NewVCB to increase my dosage of the aforesaid drug; however, NewVCB adamantly refused. Her rationale was something that I didn’t entirely comprehend – something along the lines of not raising the dose when I was planning to cut down on Seroquel, which I think translates as “don’t let her get too used to the stuff just yet, because she’ll need a fuckload more when we start titrating the Seroquel down.”

Why, then, has the drug possibly made a difference? The reason is that effectively the dose has increased. Confused? Well, I’m not sure if I mentioned it before or not, but since I’ve been taking 100mg of Lamictal, that has (theoretically) meant ingestion of one tablet in the morning, and one in the evening. In effect, this has meant one in the evening only – ie. 50mg daily – due to the toxicity that is the infamous Seroquel hangover. Even when I had dezombified five hours later, I simply forgot to take the damn thing. Of late, however, I’ve taken to leaving a strip of the stuff on the bedside table, in order that it is the first thing I see each afternoon morning. With the sun rising earlier, I’m waking (assuming I’ve slept, which is not always the case) earlier anyway, so the morning tablet is taken at a more appropriate time, meaning that the stuff floating around my body is more regulated and less quickly half-lifed away.

So, that’s medication. What else? Ah yes. As reported in the last post, I’d received the brown envelope that all ill or disabled people in the UK fear most: that of a social security assessment form (an ESA50, in this case). I also noted that Christine has said she’d fill it in for me. When I saw her last week, she had indeed done so, the poor, lovely woman. Bless her.

Can you spot the impending ‘but’? To my regret, there is one. To be honest, she’d really written very little about my hallucinations and delusions, referring to ‘hearing voices’ or ‘feeling paranoid’ – and that was qualified by the hideous words of ‘sometimes’ or ‘on occasion’. I hadn’t the nerve to say this to her, but I felt that this wasn’t really an accurate presentation of the issues, so when an brought it home, I modified some of the content, and added stuff in. For example, it asks something like, “are other people frightened by your behaviour?”, and she had ticked ‘no’. I don’t agree with that; I know from experience that people find experiences of those like ‘They‘ deeply disturbing and, yes, frighhtening. Even some cheery ramblings of, “oh, look, that sign’s trying to tell me I’m beautiful!” sees neighbouring eyes widen in horror and concern. And something as ostensibly simple as a panic attack can have people shifting their eyes, crossing the street and then running like the hammers from hell.

By the time I’d modified that which I felt needed alteration, of course the form looked like I was trying to make my condition sound worse simply for the purpose of getting more money, rather than attempting to present reality. I therefore asked my mother to ring the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ask for a new form. “Whilst at it,” I instructed, “ask them why I’m actually being assessed.”

She responded a few hours later advising me that they refused to tell her anything and that I’d have to ring them myself. Cue fucking panic stations galore. Asking me to use the phone, as ever, was like asking me asking me to translate War and sodding Peace or Beowulf into Sanskrit. But needs must, so after perusing the SSA’s website in painstakingly close detail in a futile attempt to obtain an email address for a relevant member of staff, I took a deep breath and called them.

Naturally, this was not a simple process. At first the robotic female who ‘answered’ my call advised me, after talking frustratingly slowly through six years of patronising explanatory shit and in doing so costing me a lot of money, that my call could “not be taken at the minute. We are sorry.” (Read: “we’re on our fag break. Fuck off”). When I called back immediately, after listening to the same initial bollocks, Robot intimated to me that my call was in a queue. How surprising. “Please continue to hold and someone will be with you as soon as possible. Or, if you prefer to call back later, our opening hours are [x, y and z].”

I did not prefer to call back later, so held. Robot repeated the soft and still enragingly slow monologue about 100 times. Why the fuck do they use that voice? Are its lulled t
ones supposed to hypnotise you into compliance? If so, they’ve supremely failed. The only compliance they’ve evoked in me is a willingness to comply with the invoice I’m expecting from the people I sent round to break Robot’s non-existent legs (and yes, GCHQ, that is/was a joke and is not to be taken literally, seriously or as anything other than just a joke. OK?).

The real cunt, though, was fucking Vivaldi. Fuck Vivaldi. To think once I appreciated what I then found to be the majestic chords and melodies for which he was responsible. I swear to fucking God that I nearly rang Matt Smith’s agent to inquire about TARDIS rental. A trip back to 1677 to prevent the birth of the composer seems to be the only solution to this widespread problem; it’s always Vivaldi that is played when you ring any sort of call centre, and so it proved in this case. In between Robot came the first 30 seconds of (I think) Summer. Over and over and over. It would put a sane human being into an asylum.

In the end, the call itself was very straightforward. The girl was friendly, if clueless – when asked why I was being reassessed, she said, “um…well, I think they do this every year, I’m not sure though.”

“Even for people in the support group?” I checked (interruptive spluttering and stammering not included. You can obtain these with my all-singing, all-dancing in-blog purchase function, denoted by a button displaying the word ‘Donate’, at the bottom of this post).

“The support group?” The poor cow sounded genuinely mystified. “Uh…uh, yeah, I think so.”

It was a futile effort, so I told her I’d lost the ESA50 and asked if she’d send another. She cheerfully told me that this was not a problem, that she’d get someone to do it forthwith, and – apart from checking if Mum could ring on my behalf in future (yes; I just need to give details on the form) – that was really that. A simple, inoffensive, unconfrontational discussion that still left me hyperventilating. I wish I could overcome this fucking terror. My only other serious phobia is the old formulaic one of spiders and, as a general rule, that doesn’t interrupt my daily living. Sadly, if I ever want to work again – and I do, I do so much, when I’m well enough – my farcical and excessive anxiety about phones will significantly interfere with my everyday functioning,

Why should it? Why can’t people move into the 21st century and use fucking Twitter or email for their communication needs? Fuck phones.

I can’t believe I just wrote eight paragraphs about a phone call. I become increasingly ridiculous by the day, dearest readers. Moving on, I have now been back under the watchful eyes and perked-up ears of everyone’s favourite psychotherapist, the inimitable Paul, for three sessions. I will actually discuss these in more detail, though to my abject alarm, I’ve lost the notes I kept on sessions two and three. Now, the reason for my apprehension is to do with the fact that they could easily have fallen into the wrong hands, if I am in correct in my assumption that they fell out of my bag or something. However, I will admit to also being irritated for an altogether less ethical reason: I will not be able to record these two appointments here in the fashion to which I’ve become accustomed. Fuck’s sake. This blog has taken over my life. Incidentally, that’s something that actually came up with Paul – in session two? – but I’ll leave you veritably on the edge of your seat in anticipation of that. I’m sure you’re on the brink of self-immolation because you simply can’t stand the wait any other way. Burning ‘grounds’ you, to use modern therapeutic parlance.

What else? I suppose before getting to The Big Thing that I should apologise to many people on Twitter. I dip in and out of it erratically; even if I’m sending tweets, I am not necessarily reading others’ messages, or their @s or DMs to me. I often tweet by text message, and now have a quirky little iPhone app that allows me to tweet under this identity whilst being in another account. So it’s not that I’m ignoring you; I just don’t always see you. Every so often, I log in and see a few messages to me, and sometimes reply, but I’m pathetically incapable of catching up on everything. I don’t know whether this is social anxiety, increasing apathy, an identity crisis or just my being a total knob. Whatever the case, I’m sorry.

Right, then. I live in Northern Ireland, as most of you know. People on this island like to drink alcohol – a lot. Once a year, something comes up that seems to grant them complete impunity to engage in this pursuit: St Patrick’s Day. Perhaps it wil not shock you to hear that I loathe this occasion with a fucking passion; I have a pretty low tolerance for the obnoxious behaviours that many irregular drinkers display when inebriated out of their skulls, and I can’t cope the busy-ness around the place. This year, the event fell on Saturday past. A and I went out for dinner but had to come straight home, which is not at all common for us on that evening of the week. We’re usually in our local.

Anyway, the silver lining around the cloud of St Patrick (who gives a fuck about him anyway? He sounds like a bellend to me) is that A gets the day off (or gets it off in lieu when, as in this case, it’s at a weekend). Monday was therefore free, so we went out on Sunday to make up for our inability to do so the previous evening.

Exactly 51 minutes after we’d left the house, A’s phone started ringing. When he withdrew it from his pocket, we were both perplexed to observe that the caller was my mother. Thinking she was trying to get hold of me, but that my phone had lost its signal or something, I answered it (yes, yes, phone phobia notwithstanding).

The alarm was going off. If they can’t get hold of A or me, they ring my mother first, as she’s closest to our house, and then A’s mother second. A worked out the purpose of my mother’s call, and got ready to leave. I hung up and told him I’d stay in the pub; I would only hold him back by accompanying him (he’s a much faster walker than I am), and anyway, I reckoned it was a false alarm. That used to happen all the fucking time, to the point where I’ve wondered of late how the company responsible for running the thing had managed to improve their product so vastly. So A went back himself, advising that he’d call if anything untoward had happened. Otherwise, I supposed, he’d just return.

A few minutes passed, during which I caught up on some blogs on my Google Reader. In the middle of this, though, I was interrupted by a phone call incoming from my brother-in-law. Truthfully, at my core, I knew why he was ringing – but I let myself pretend that he was calling about joining us in the bar, especially given that he and A had exchanged a few messages about the outing earlier in the day. I duly ignored him.

When my mother-in-law’s name appeared on the screen of my phone, although I again tried to ignore the ramifications of this telephonic confluence of events, I really knew the game was up. This time I answered. She told me that they’d also called her and that my brother-in-law, who was at her house as it transpired, had called the police. In return, I advised her that A had gone back to the house to check that things were in order.

I’d only just hung up when A phoned. It wouldn’t be the last discussion via this medium that day…God, I wish
I believed in exposure therapy. I got a lot of potential practice with it on Sunday.

I knew as soon as I answered that he was horribly distressed. It doesn’t take a skilled conversationalist to decipher the first intake of breath before a single word is spoken; cheer, shock, thrills, anger – they and many more moods besides can be deconstructed in that split second. I’ve often heard parents say that when their kid reaches a few weeks or months old that they can tell by the ‘type’ of cry it emits that it wants x or y. Maybe this is a similar type of thing.

A’s gasp was one of shock and panic. Jesus Christ, I thought within the nanosecond left to me. Not again. We were burgled last only back in June, for fuck’s sake!

“They’ve taken the TV [42 fucking inches! In a heavily-populated terraced street!], the X-Box, the PS3, the iPad…” he was gasping. “They’ve smashed the door between the kitchen and the living room in…”

“I’m coming now,” I said. I hung up and called a taxi.

I could go into my usual level of detail about this, but it’s late and I’m tired. So…

  • The cops had been when I got home, but had apparently spotted some potential culprits, so legged it after them before talking to us and examining the house.
  • Without touching anything, I managed to piece together what had happened. The burglars – or, rather, a burglar – had crawled through the tiny window we keep open for the cats; I know this because it was completely fucked. Then he (and I use the male pronoun for a reason, which I’ll detail) saw the keys hanging up, opened the back door, and let his companion in.
  • They tried, I assume, to simply open the living room door – but, as we have done since the last burglary, we had locked it before leaving the house. They smashed the poor thing in with the Dyson, which was sitting in a corner of the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, they broke that too.
  • Entering the living room would have set the alarm off, and given all that they took and the bloody mess that they’d made, it was obvious that they knew the layout of the place. They couldn’t have got away with all that they did with the alarm (which itself calls the police) curbing their time had it been any other way.
  • They shoved the smaller items, which now seemed to include my old laptop, in bags, exited through the now-open back door, and onward through the gate at the back to the entry (which they’d also used the keys to unlock).
  • They hadn’t gone upstairs. Thank fuck I’d taken my current laptop up to the office; it was safe there. Curiously, they also hadn’t taken my Kindle. It was behind the door they’d smashed in, so perhaps they didn’t see it, or perhaps they didn’t identify it as a piece of expensive electronics because it was in its case, mimicking (to a point) a normal book.
  • Before we’d left, I’d deliberately moved the Kindle and A’s iPad out of view of the window. I neurotically checked the back door was locked about seven times, as I almost always do since the last break-in. Fat lot of good my caution did us.
  • The peelers returned. We were advised that they had taken two blokes into custody (hence my use of the male pronoun in reference to these criminals), and as I detailed my theory of their entrance to the female officer, her male colleague went to look around the back entry for further clues.
  • ….
  • …..
  • I am writing this post on A’s stolen iPad.
  • …..
  • ….
  • The policeman found everything out the back!
  • It seems that when the wankers were spotted, they unceremoniously dumped everything – or perhaps not quite everything? – and ran like fuck. But they were too late 🙂
  • The police were here for quite a while. In short, they took statements, got the forensic people in and liaised back and forth with their station colleagues. The girl from forensics was extremely thorough – much more so than any of her colleagues we’ve previously met (bearing in mind that this is the fucking third time we’ve been burgled). Although she didn’t say much, it did appear that she had got some evidence from various things.
  • The male peeler had been around the entries of the surrounding area, and came across a small but slick, and quite evidently new, flat screen TV – in a bin. He reasonably enough supposed that it would be unlikely to have been chucked out by its owners, and thus brought it round here briefly for the forensics woman to dust. He and his colleague also revealed that other burglaries had been reported in the area that day.
  • As the cops were rounding things off, the bloke said, “just to check, you didn’t happen to have any wallets here, did you?” We responded in the negative. He nodded, but added, “any foreign currency, no?” It then occurred to me that yes – we did have a wallet in the house after all. We go to down to the Republic every so often, and there’s always leftover Euros. A has kept them in a wallet in the kitchen for months. I relayed this information to the cop as I went into the kitchen to see if it was there. It was not. The cop asked how much was in it. “At least €50, plus coins,” I told him. “There was a €50 note in it; I’m not sure if there were additional ones, but there was definitely a fifty.”
  • I watched with interest as the police exchanged satisfied glances. The wallet with the Euros had been found on the person of one of the personnel that their colleagues had in custody. A couldn’t contain his delight at this wonderful revelation; he jumped up and down screaming, “YES!!!” with the peelers standing there watching. In later conversation, the man said to me that he’s always thrilled in cases like this – both for the victims of the crime, and for officers themselves. “It’s always really nice when we manage to get a conviction,” he smiled. Indeed it must be. They don’t get very many of them for offences like this.
  • After they’d left, I ran down the street to a lovely lady, the only one in the whole area we’ve ever really spoken to, who’d offered us tea when she first realised what had happened. I wanted to let her know what had transpired, and also to apologise if we’d appeared ignorant in refusing said tea. That was weird, because I have never been in a neighbour’s house since I moved in with A, and have only ever exchanged pleasantries and cat-related anecdotes with this woman before. But I appreciated her kindness, and enjoyed the tea and cake that she was decent enough to serve me.
  • I came back and joined A in the clean-up operation. There was glass everywhere. There were strewn bags, clothes and other assorted pieces of fuck also everywhere.
  • Thankfully, the cats were both safe. Srto Gato was here when A got back, and sat down on the sofa, right in the middle of the carnage, and went to sleep. Mr Cat was, however, nowhere to be seen, and we both worried that, twisted as these fucks clearly are, they’d hurt him. H
    e turned up about about an hour after I got home, which was a relief, though he did seem unsettled all evening. Whether he merely sensed our moods, or whether he’d borne witness to some frightening events, we are of course unable to tell.
  • Another set of cops turned up after 10pm, when things had got vaguely back to normal. They had brought the wallet, the €50s and the various Euro coins in separate evidence bags for us to identify as ours. Needless to say, we confirmed that they indeed were. The bloke said as he was leaving that he had “no doubt” that the case would come to court, though he added drolly, “and then they’ll get their 25p fine and get back to their games.” He stressed, assuming as he erroneously did that we completely lacked any knowledge of legal infrastructure, that things were out of their hands then. People can be imprisoned in Norn Iron for burglary, but it’s rare. Even when it happens, custodial sentences tend to be pretty low.
  • The worst thing in the aftermath of all this was that the house wasn’t secure; a bollocksed window and a cunted internal door require supervision. The upshot of that is that I’ve had to stay here when A’s been at work. I don’t mind that, but it does inhibit our ability to live our normal lives. Determined to buy fags before Gideon’s shite budget whacked the price of the vile things up by 37p per packet, I ran out at lunchtime today. In the half hour or so that I was gone – I dropped into a few food-ish places as well – I was panicking, panicking, panicking that the little cunts were out on bail (as they almost certainly are by now) and would break-in again as revenge for our part in their apprehension.
  • On Monday, A rang an “emergency” glass fitter and then The Everythinger (to whom I alluded millaria above). The glass people came out later that day, removed the window from its frame and stuck a temporary board up in its stead. They said they’d be back on Tuesday to fix the window itself. They weren’t. They weren’t today either. They eventually contacted A to tell him that it’ll be at least tomorrow, as they’re waiting on hinges. What double fucking glazing company runs out of hinges?! “Emergency” my arse. At least The Everythinger, who was horrified to hear we’d been burgled only months after he was here the last time for the same reason, is coming tomorrow (later today, whatever it is).
  • Hilarious incidental. The peelers speculated that the theiving scum were on a drunken bender as they went about the area pilfering what they could. As such, they nicked beer from our kitchen. In fact, the one bottle that was open seemed to have been drunk out of, thus meaning potential evidence. Anyway, the burglars were clearly pissed off, as evidenced by their smashing of a few of the bottles and dumping of other ones. This, we’re all pretty sure, is because they had they discovered that they contained Becks Non-Alcoholic beers 😀 Hahaha!

So, if it isn’t death, cancer scares, missing cats, depression, NHS cuntery (and the destruction of that already flawed system), a potentially impending financial desert (and the macro implications of that too), or other assorted nasties, it’s fucking burglary. Thanks, 2012. You’ve brought me the bleakest start to a new year that I can recall.

Yet, comparitively speaking, I’m OK, and thus must sound a note of optimism. Well, not optimism as such, but perhaps a little faith. Overall, I was extremely impressed with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Sunday, and I was very touched that the lady from down the street had offered the basic but important kindness that she did. The hard work of the cops and the generosity of this sweet stranger reminded me that sometimes when you see the worst of humanity, you also see the best too.

Thank you to Mental Healthy, their judges, nominators and sponsors for their very kind short-listing of this blog for the 2011 Mental Health Heroes awards (in the ‘Creative – Writer’ category). It’s a big honour to be featured alongside such people as the wonderful Kayla Kavanagh, her partner and carer Nigel, and the lovely Fiona Art, so thank you again 🙂

Anyone want to volunteer for TWIM or TNIM? You know you want to. Email me.

I can’t be arsed to proof-read this right now, sorry. It always mortifies me that my narratives could be error-laden, but I’m too tired to care as much as I should.

The Good, the Bad and the Facades – 2011 in Review Plus Other Garbage

I am not OK. I’m not. Well I suppose I’m not going to run out and top myself or something, but things aren’t exactly sweetness and sodding light (as if they ever are). There are reasons; it’s not just that some mentalist episode has jumped up on me and started to suffocate me (although I may be taking on more stress than a normal thanks to all that’s ongoing), but on the other hand, in part at least, it’s not just ‘normal’ life either. I really don’t want to get into the ins-and-outs of some of the issues, because some of them could have the potential to intrude on the privacy of a friend, and I am most indubitably not willing to do that. All I am willing to say is that what’s happened, by any measurable standard, it is horrible. Really, truly, in-fucking-utterably horrible.

It’s perverse though; the issue to which I’m referring doesn’t impact upon me directly; only via my friend. I actually feel guilty for giving so much of a shit, because it feels like I have no right to intrude upon my friend’s suffering. How dare I let it upset me so much, when it is not me that has to stare the horror of the situation right in its ghastly, twisted face? I’m a bystander to this, and whilst obviously it is natural to wish to support your friends in their hardest times, it also feels crude to feel so gutted for my own reasons.

Some of you will know what I’m talking about, but unless you are the specific friend to whom I’m referring above, please don’t give away any details if you wish to comment. I’m sure you can understand the privacy issues potentially involved, which has become especially important in light of the frankly appalling intrusion of some unscrupulous individuals who have already been harassing my friend.

There have been other issues surrounding the above that could seem trivial in isolation, but which have had the cumulative effect of helping to screw my mind to a 90° angle. It isn’t a secret that one of these stressors has been the recent disarray on This Week in Mentalists, but it’s not confined to that. For example, this blog was hacked! Cheeky fuckers! A pox on you you, you lifeless cunts. Shove your discounted Viagra up your (probably flaccid) urethral tubes and eat it out the other side!

But yeah, there’s been more even than that to Piss Pan Off, but it’s late; I’m tired and fed up, and if it’s worth writing about at all, it can wait until another day.

In any case, I don’t think I’ve by any means recovered from the slump I took earlier in December. Lamotrogine has made no fucking difference to my mood, though to be fair I’m still titrating up to a therapeutic dose, and NewVCB has advised that she doesn’t expect it to turn my life around even when that has been achieved.

So. I’m not OK. I saw Christine today, and got a laugh when she described me as “very stable at the moment”. She’s probably reading this (she knows about the Mind Award, so it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realise the New Media winner was me) – if so, hello! I’m not having a go at her, but at myself.

It’s this fucking facade that many of us who experiencing mental health issues will be familiar with. You can, perhaps, say that x happened or that your mood is fucked or that you’re being persecuted by something or other, but two things always occur, do they not: one is that, whilst you do not lie, you find adequate language to enable you to play down the potential seriousness of your situation. Secondly, unless you’re in the very worst depression or the most obvious psychosis – in which case, you’re highly unlikely to have bothered going to see your mental health workers anyway – you manage, whether consciously or otherwise, to simply seem less fucked up than you actually are.

Oh well. On another note, Daniel was home over Shitmas. We went out one evening with Mum and A, and, to Dan’s particular delight, had a lovely Indian (Dan’s partner Craig apparently refuses to eat most ethnic foods because their propensity to use certain spices and suchlike scares him. Get your finger out, man!). The next time we met, the two of us had the opportunity to spend some time alone, a circumstance which had not been realised for over a year beforehand. This might seem odd, but this was the first time he and I had conversed directly about the dark revelations contained within this bloggocks about Paedo.

We recalled that I did tell him some things when we were a teenager, but that the full story did not in any significant form emerge. Part of that was due to my dissociation surrounding much of it; part of it was just something I found inevitably difficult to spit out in any detail.

This conversation took place in a rather busy coffee shop, and we therefore spoke in euphemism and metaphor and other devices of linguistic avoidance. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it makes it easier for me to talk about it, to have the truth finally ‘out there’ with Dan. This is one of my ever-defining contradictory positions: I don’t believe in the power of language, only the power of linguistic intention. Yet despite this, using the terms “rape” or “sexual abuse” or whatever are nigh on impossible to verbally enunciate; I found that even when I was talking directly about this whole fetid little saga to Paul, my erstwhile therapist, as regular readers may recall.

Whatever the case, as observed, it was good to have the conversation and get it “out there”, face-to-face, between us. I know Dan doesn’t think this, nor do any of the real life personnel that read this vomit-on-a-screen (or even my online friends, for that matter!), but the cloak of the internet could mean that a lot of what I write about here could be tempted to only exist here. Being able to talk about it in person, then, however difficult it can be, has a sliver of catharsis to it.

Anyhow, Dan’s simple but enduring quote that day was, “I hope he [Paedo] dies.” This is a view often posited by A, yet I remain strangely ambivalent about the man’s future. He’s nothing to me.

Next…

Review!

I suppose I should do a review of the year. I usually do, after all. Find the links yourselves via the archives thing on the right if you care; if you have any sense, you don’t, but whatever floats your boat 😉

The Good

  • The therapy with Paul in the first half of the year.
  • The referral to, and the emergence of, Christine (pity I was trying to off myself with helium at the time, but shit happens).
  • An ever improving relationship with my psychiatrist.
  • Venlafaxine at 300mg and the period in the middle of the year, in the wake of that prescription, where I actually felt vaguely like a normal member of the human race.
  • Meeting bourach and Carrie for the first time.
  • Nice shiny award, which I still don’t believe I deserved.
  • The incredible generosity I was afforded at both my birthday and Christmas (yes, even Shitmas!).
  • Professional writing contracts.
  • Editing TWIM (though the glossy shine has been sadly anti-polished off that by some of the decisions that have had to be made recently, and the inevitable upset that has caused).
  • The lovely trips on which A and I went together – Fuerteventura, the cottage, a couple of local-ish hotels.
  • The amazing people that continue to support and care about me via this blog and the related Twitter account.
  • A, my Mum and my wonderful friends – all of those friends, but especially Daniel.

The Bad

  • The unspecifics of everything else.

Meh

The thing is, there have been some genuinely wonderful things that have happened to me in 2011, and in terms of my mental health, I even had a(n all too) brief taste of that elusive, nebulous thing we call recovery. But sitting here, right now – and granted, I am not in a good headspace this evening, which probably makes this an inappropriate time to write, but I don’t really care – I can’t remember the year overall as a good one. Well, OK – I probably don’t know the meaning of the term “good year” anyway, but you know what I mean; everything’s relative.

If the truth be told, I don’t remember an awful lot of the past 12 months; most of it has passed in that dichotomous haze in which time moves simultaneously quickly, in retrospect, and slowly, in the moment. What I will say is that I am grateful for the good, and I’m grateful for the people. The rest of it I’ll be glad to see the bloody back of.

I hope you all had as wonderful a Christmas/Hanukkah/Pagan festival/general time to sit around and eat and drink/whatever as possible, and I wish each and every one of you a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2012. I know that’s an optimistic wish, but the sentiment at least is sincere.

Anyway, I have an article to edit the living fuck out of and I’m fucking wrecked, so I apologise for not proof-reading this and for the likely myriad of punctuation, grammar and other errors. The minimisation of these is not helped by the keyboard on which I am typing, given that my laptop decided to die a week ago 😦 So sorry. Anyway, take care and, again, all the best for the new year.

Love to all. x

EDIT: I almost forgot! I had an article in One in Four‘s winter edition, rounding up my favourite blogs. An addendum to the piece states that the links will be available on the magazine’s site; I can’t see it yet, but you might want to check this page at some point in the future if you’re interested. Or, you know, show your support for the publication and just buy the thing. Either way, if I regularly read your blog, you’re probably featured 🙂 x

Mind Media Awards: The 2011 Presentation, Part Two (The Full Version)

I Don’t Know Where to Start

So, in the time-honoured tradition of writers everywhere and everywhen (well, it makes structural sense, does it not?), let’s start at the very beginning (/ A very good place to start / When you read, you begin with A-B-C / When you sing you begin with doh-ray-me / etc etc etc. It’s kind of hard not to break into song when something like this has just happened to you).

As you know, I found out that I had been short-listed for this prestigious (to use Mind’s parlance) award back in September. That was astonishing; I know I’ve won awards before, but – at the risk of sounding arrogant, and I really don’t mean to – winning something online, however wonderful (and it is wonderful, and I’ve been truly delighted and grateful for every one) is different to being nominated for a full-blown ceremonial thing like this, complete with short-listers, judging panels, large presentations with hosts and actual, real, tangible trophies. But you must understand, because this is just a personal blog – how many millions of the things are out there by now? – I was utterly stunned to have made it into a shortlist, and truly never thought I could ever win something so huge. Why would I have thought that even possible?

Between learning of the nomination and going to the awards, I had time to look at the other nominees in my category. I already knew Dawn Willis – the fabulous author of News and Views of the Mentally Wealthy, which is not only an excellent blog, but a truly invaluable news aggregation resource in relation to mental health – and seeing her blog alone convinced me that I couldn’t win, because what she does is of much more value than me barking on about taking tablets and ceaselessly moaning about how crap my life is.

Then I looked at the other entries. The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a remarkable charity that is aimed at preventing suicide amongst young men. As noted on their site:

Men are three times more at risk of suicide than young women – in 2010 75% of suicides were men. But while smoking and knife crime make the headlines, suicide is the biggest killer. Most men who take their own lives aren’t in contact with any other agency, and don’t identify with much out there. When asked, what they indicated they wanted was practical, anonymous, confidential help from professionals. Which is why CALM was formed.

Not only does CALM run the website, but they also offer a helpline and ‘zones’ where they work with local authorities to give access to the project to vulnerable young men. According to the above link, they have been in Merseryside for 10 years – and in that time, suicides amongst the targeted demographic have reduced by 55%. That’s compared to a general UK decline of about 20% across the same period. How awesome is that? How and why would or could anyone deem me – a unpaid but nonetheless professional whinger – able to compete with that?!

Next up was the YouTube video on trichotillomania that had been short-listed…and I was bowled over. Wow. Go and watch it. Now. It’s quite long by YouTube standards – but once you’ve been watching it for a minute or two, you’ll no longer realise that, because you’ll be mesmerised under its spell. Go on, off you go. This dirge of mine will still be here for you to peruse when you’re finished.

Beckie0, as video-maker Rebecca Brown is known online, was only 16 (she’s now 18) when she made this short film about a relatively little known mental health issue. That in itself is remarkable – it takes a fuckload of courage to speak out so openly in the way that she has done, especially with the potential demon of peer pressure lurking snake-like around a young person affected by a mental health condition. Plus she has the insight and wisdom of someone so much older – which sounds like a patronising load of bollocks, but I do mean it in good faith. She is also charismatic and intelligent, and the video is technically brilliant.

So, I had three truly heavy-weight competitors. The judging panel was, in A’s view especially, made up of quite a few individuals whose primary expertise lay in televisual media, and to that end he and I both believed that Beckie would win the New Media category – especially considering her entry was so deserving of winning by virtue of its own merits.

I genuinely didn’t mind. I thought, “well, I’ll go to this event, and I’ll meet some cool people, maybe meet some contacts and get my name ‘out there’, blah blah blah”. As I’ve already discussed, it was an absolute honour to even receive the nomination, especially in memory of Mark Hanson.

Mark was a social and new media strategist for, amongst others, the UK Labour party. I’ll admit that I hadn’t been aware of him before I received the nomination for the award in his name, but after that I did look into his work – and it was extremely impressive and wide-ranging. Yet beneath what by all accounts was confident exterior, Mark suffered from anxiety and severe depression, and tragically killed himself in early March.

After his death, his widow Clare Francis and Money Supermarket, for whom she works, ran half-marathons for Mind, raising about £10,000. She wrote movingly about this on Mind’s blog, and I was struck by the strength she exuded in her writing, and that she’d also evidently been exhibiting over what must have been an unimaginable nine months.

Although I didn’t think for any more than half a second that I could win the award, had I done so, I would not have considered myself even remotely worthy of receiving something sponsored by such a remarkable and courageous woman in memory such of a talented and popular man. I still don’t see myself as thus meritorious – but that being said, I feel humbled and privileged that I did get it. It’s a privilege beyond anything I could ever have expected.

This is getting rather long (what a surprise that is). As you can see, in short – I genuinely, honestly did not think I would win. And neither did A – not, he opined, because he thought I was unworthy, but because to him I probably just wasn’t what the judges would be looking for. We also concurred that the amount of cunting fucking swearing on this shittery fuckwipe of a twatting blog found here was likely to preclude me from any real chance of claiming a prize.

A was so confident in these beliefs that he said he’d give me £100 if I did win.

I jokingly replied, “make it a thousand and we’re on.”

“OK,” he replied.

I paused for a second, waiting for him to laugh in confirmation that he knew I hadn’t been serious. However, the expected cachinnation did not duly transpire.

“I was taking the piss,” I explained. “I do not expect you to give me £1,000.”

He shrugged. “I’m not going to, because you’re not going to win it. And if, in the 99.9999999999th percentile chance that you do, then I will give you £1,000. But, again, it’s moot. You won’t get it.”

Believing utterly that he was right, I chuckled and moved on.

That is how much I didn’t expect to win this thing.

Monday – D-Day

I didn’t sleep well in London at all, even though we were staying in a perfectly reasonable and quiet hotel (albeit basic); I was waking about 3.30 to 4am each morning, and Monday was no exception.

So, in that morning’s early hours, I woke to the bleak blackness that only the sun’s downtime can bring. A was asleep, so I couldn’t comfort myself with the television (not that there’s anything comforting about BBC News 24, which is the channel I would have turned to, in this day and age anyway), and for reasons I don’t recall I didn’t check my phone until a few hours later.

When I did look at it, I decided to start my own personal hashtag on Twitter (the more general one being #mindawards) to discuss the awards ceremony; my intention had been to use it for ease of reference when writing a post about the event. It was to be comprised of the intended compendium of live, as-it-happened tweets, rather than this usual tired, ballbag-eric prose. Sadly, that idea fucked up in the end, but I’ll get to that later.

As I lay there staring at nothing, I could feel my muscles tighten, my stomach churn, my breath quicken. I willed fate or providence or the arbiters of bloody space-time to just make it Tuesday morning. Despite ramblings about 10 days ago which described how I was looking forward to the ceremony, I knew I’d be shitting myself come the day itself – but ‘shitting myself’ turned into a full blown oh fucking hell, I’m going to die right here, right now, in a dank underground room in an anonymous London hotel panic attack.

I got up and took a Diazepam. It didn’t work. I got up and took a second Diazepam. It didn’t work. Eventually, A woke up and, duly noting my restless agitation, advised me to take a Diazepam. I advised A that I had already consumed two of the aforementioned sweets pills. A shrugged (presumably knowing that I only take the things in times of great stress, his resultant opinion being that an occasional 15mg isn’t a huge deal) and advised me to take it anyway. I did.

And…lo and be-fucking-hold, it granted me some mercy and actually bloody worked. I don’t remember if I went back to sleep or not – I might have done – but either way, the next clear recollection I have was of going round the corner to get a pub lunch, and being pretty much entirely fine.

Away We Go

I could detail the ridiculous palaver I went through whilst I was getting ready, but if you’re not bored already, then the tale of my struggles to adequately attire myself would surely fucking kill you. So instead, after I had clad myself in my preposterous disguise, off we trotted to the tube. I kept glancing about me, fearfully expecting half the world to be watching the weird woman with the bizarre curly read hair and hat in bemused repulsion – but no one seemed to give a flying duck’s arse. Sometimes I love London – it’s such a diverse city that no one really has time nor inclination to care about someone looking ‘alternative’. If I wore what I wore that day here – and actually, I’d like to, because I was quite pleased with it – then I’d be subjected not only to stares, but to abuse by groups of teenage males who’d be much more amenable to me if they were peripatetic NPCs in Saints Row: The Third.

We took the tube to Borough and headed to a pub close to the Cross Bones graveyard, where Zarathustra (Z) of The Not So Big Society fame was due to meet us. Perhaps this is a good point at which to note that I was able to bring five guests. These were A (obviously!); Z (as noted); Carrie Holroyd, an activist with Young Minds and a freelance mental health writer that I’ve known online for some time; and my wonderful best friend Daniel and his lovely partner Craig.

The Before

To cut a long story short(er), eventually all of us – Carrie excepted, as she met us just before we all went into the auditorium – ended up in the National Theatre for a pre-ceremony drink.

Z asked me if I had crafted an acceptance speech. I looked conspiratorially at A, then turned back to Z and laughed in his face.

“Why the fuck would I?” I asked him, in all sincerity. “I’m not going to win the thing.”

Z furrowed his brow slightly. “I think you have a chance,” he replied.

I scoffed, and if memory serves me correctly, I might even have accused him of being somewhat delusional. Not anything of which to be ashamed, clearly, but still not cognisant of reality 😉

When Daniel arrived, he almost immediately stated that I seemed really nervous. Curiously though, by that point, I wasn’t – or, at least, not consciously. That said, after a 15 minute fight in the woman’s bogs with the fucking high heels that I’d been idiotic enough to think I could wear for an entire bloody evening, off we trotted (stumbled in my case) next door to the awards venue, the Southbank BFI. Here anxiety threatened, briefly, to paralyse me (or catalyse me into fleeing – not that the heels would have permitted that, the evil bastards) – but in the end, I managed far better than I ever thought I would. I was a bit rambly at points, I know, and I’m pretty certain I made a tit of myself, but it could have been a lot worse.

Dan, having detected that perhaps now I was slightly struggling (I’ve known him for over half my life – other than A, I don’t think anyone knows me better), grabbed an angelic glass of red wine as it floated by, and thrust it into my hand. I sipped at it with relieved gladness, and felt myself gravitating towards a table where – although I couldn’t sit – I could at least stand with support and not topple over. Fucking Shoes. Anyway, I’d just stuck some crisp thing or other into my fat gob when a tall gentleman approached me, and asked if I was the person responsible for the Serial Insomniac blog. Trying my hardest – and failing – to swallow the stupid, calorie-laden piece of nourishment I’d just lifted, I responded in the affirmative, apologising to the man for eating with my mouth full. He introduced himself as Matt [Wilkinson], one of the judges, and told me – to my stunned delight – that he wanted to let me know how “brilliant” my blog was. I was really touched that he’d specifically taken the time to come over and tell me that.

Unfortunately, at that point the BFI staff were asking us to move into the auditorium, so I didn’t get long to chat to Matt, but he did tell me that the New Media category had been particularly strong (a statement with which I obviously entirely agreed).

The During

Having found Carrie somewhere along the way, all six of us strode forth into the classy auditorium (or, more accurately, five of us did. I tiptoed, wobbled and tripped my way in. As I did so, I seriously pondered whether I should take off the Fucking Shoes and throw them into the close-by Thames – but I swear the things are malevolently alive. They would have crawled out of their watery non-grave and come to avenge themselves by embarrassing me in front of all the assembled attendees at the ceremony). As we chose our seats, Z suggested I sit on the outside, “just in case” I had to get out to the stage. I rolled my eyes, but acquiesced.

As I said somewhere way, way up above, in the figurative Gods of this post, I had intended to live tweet from the event, but the reception was abysmal inside the plush and comfortable auditorium. I managed to send a few text messages to Twitter – one about the introduction given by Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, another about the opening speech from Rebecca Front, the actress and comedian hosting the presentation. By some miracle of telecommunications, I even managed a few messages about the winners of both the journalism and student journalism awards. At that juncture, though, the telecommunication gods decided to withdraw their support. My phone decided it would absolutely not work at all any more, and as I was trying to piss about with the settings in the hope that I could force its co-operation, I dropped the fucker. Predictably enough, it was not good enough for the phone to fall merely in front of me – oh no, it fucking richocheted off the row in front of me and made its merry way off to Temporary Phone Oblivion. So ended my spurious attempts at live tweeting.

I can’t remember the exact order of the ceremony, because it wasn’t in the chronology listed in either the programme for the evening nor the online short-list pages. So, before I move on to discussion of the New Media presentation, let me say a few words (as if!) on some of the entries that I especially liked. Z has written a great post on this over at The Not So Big Society, and I agree with nearly all of what he said (the exception being the bits about me!), but I’ll offer a few views anyway.

Josh Jackson, who won the Student Journalist category, had made a remarkably touching and brave film about his experiences of depression entitled Suffering in Silence (which is now available here – go and watch it! I’ll still be here when you get back – we’re only 3,000 words in, after all ;)). The other two nominees in this category did seem excellent, but the very personal nature of Josh’s piece really struck a chord with me, and I was delighted when it was his name read out as winner. A few whoops from the audience confirmed that I was far from alone in seeing him as an extremely worthy recipient.

Victoria Derbyshire’s Radio 5 Alcoholic GP won the News and Current Affairs gong. As the clip of her show was played, I found even my cynical self genuinely moved by the content, and the implications thereof. Granted, the GP did most of the talking in that particular segment, with Ms Derbyshire only speaking at certain points – but to me that was the entire point. She knew exactly when it was appropriate to ask questions or add sensitive comments, and seemed to have an innate appreciation of how she should handle her words and tone. In her acceptance speech, she said that the team behind the show were still in touch with the GP, and that she was “working very hard.” I’m sure neither of them will ever read this, but just in case, I wish them both all the very best.

The Speech Radio winner was, again, a Radio 5 programme, this time looking at the life of Robert Enke, the German footballer who sadly killed himself two years ago. This too was a poignant and eloquent documentary, and it felt all the more tragically appropriate in the immediate aftermath of the awful news of Gary Speed‘s death. A Life Too Short highlighted the strains inherent in sporting professions, and how living in such a ‘macho’ world make it difficult for those affected to speak out.

And speaking of…well, of speaking out. There was a non-categorised, special award for doing just that, and I think we were all thrilled and delighted when we learnt that it was Beckie0’s superlative YouTube video that won that award. I had actually felt guilty about winning the New Media category in lieu of her, such was the candour and courage she displayed. So this was really well deserved, and I was thrilled for her.

I have no idea if Beckie ever did face any form of intolerance due to her condition – but if she did, I think we can rather definitively say that she had the last laugh.

So You Won It?

Yes. Weren’t you reading the other day?!

The very worst part of the evening, which in a perverse, adrenaline-ODing sort of way was also the most thrilling, was when Rebecca Front said, “…and now to the Mark Hanson New Media Award…”

I felt as if I’d been stabbed with a live wire encumbered with a form anxiety that would cripple even a wooly fucking mammoth. My pulse quickened, my mouth went dry and I could scarcely breathe.

Ohmygodohmygodohmyfuckingfuckinggod.

Why? Who the hell knows? It doesn’t make any sense to me, as – as was extensively discussed above – I thought I knew I wouldn’t win. So why would I be so nervous? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, especially given that until that point, save for the incident in the early morning, I’d felt surprisingly OK about the whole thing.

Anyway, Rebecca invited Donna Franceschild, one of the judges of the awards and a BAFTA-winning TV writer, to the stage to present the award. As Donna reached the podium, she advised – poignantly, and to my personal smiles – that Clare Francis, Mark Hanson’s wife, was in situ. She was asked to also come up on stage.

Donna then proceeded to read out descriptions of the short-listed entries.

My heart stopped beating.

I heard the terms “beautifully written”, “by turns heart-breaking and hilarious” and “essays” (I loved that one) bouncing about the room without really being sure that they were being levied at Confessions. Of course, there was a giant screenshot of this blog behind the stage, so I don’t really know where my confusion came from; perhaps it was some weird form of dissociative mechanism for dealing with the surge of adrenaline pumping through and suffocating every capillary of my body.

[Amusing aside: Mind’s PR company, Keystone, had asked me to send them screenshots several weeks ago. I sent them the profile image from the top right of the sidebar, which was published in the programme – but I also sent them a copy of the header, in which I had removed the myriad instances of words like ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘twatbags’ etc. However, when it came to the bit, they had taken a more recent screenshot themselves; although I didn’t examine it closely – I didn’t think to look at the time and anyway, I was hardly thinking straight – it seems likely that the ‘dirtiest’ words in the English language were visually blared out to the great and the good of the British media. How pathetic is it that I find this amusing? At 28, I’m still the most puerile person I know].

Donna read out the names of the rest of the nominees and their descriptions. I have to be honest here and admit that I don’t remember a word of what she said; my head was somewhere in a cloud-cuckoo land of waaaaghhh! The next thing I do remember, though, is watching – as if in slow motion – her picking that envelope up from the lectern. Time stopped as she opened it, and took a breath in readiness to speak.

“And the anonymous winner…” [my emphasis].

Anonymous. Who else was anonymous, Pan? It must have been someone…

“…of the Mark Hanson New Media Award…”

Maybe one of the others uses a pseudonym and I mistook it for a real name? You stupid cow, how could you have missed that?

“…is…”

GAAAAAAH.

“…Confessions of a Serial Insomniac.”

And time stopped standing still, and everything came into focus, yet simultaneously spinned around me and the world suddenly had colours, bright, vibrant colours, and applause, and people on my left-hand side (A and my friends, despite the former just having lost £1,000!) grabbing my arm and grinning madly and speaking words of excited congratulation. Some automated version of me through her hands over her mouth in a gesture of utter shock as soon as the words had left Donna Franceschild’s lips. I turned to my friends, my eyes wide with delight, with disbelief, with oh my God, did you just hear that, with appeals to their ears in case I had misunderstood what had been announced in some sort of warped narcissistic delusional hallucination.

Somehow, I clambered up from my seat and cautiously made my way down the stairs, towards the stage. Curiously, the only thoughts I recall going through my head at the time were along the lines of, “don’t fall, Pan. Don’t fucking fall.” Which I nearly did on the ramp up to the stage, thanks to the Fucking Shoes. But I balanced myself, and eventually found myself in front of Rebecca Front, Donna Franceschild and Clare Francis.

I don’t remember much about that; I remember that I was asked in whispers if, in recognition of my anonymity, I wanted to make a speech; I confirmed that I did, even though I had absolutely nothing prepared. Sorry for not listening to you, Z – you and Dan were right, you told me so, yeah yeah yeah, I get it. I remember slight confusion over whether or not to take the award and certificate or make the speech first. I remember standing at the lectern, seeing a mass of faces in front of me and shaking – but shaking because of the Fucking Shoes trying to murder me, rather than out of the terror one might surely have expected in such a circumstance (incidentally, I did a lot of public speaking at school, and was one of those rare people that enjoyed talking in front of an audience. I know I’m ridden with social anxiety these days, so it would seem odd if I were still thus comfortable, but strangely, I think I was).

I opened my mouth to speak…

It’s Just a Silly Blog

A videoed my speech. The sound on the camera is shit, but insofar as I could hear it, the following is an exact transcript of what I said.

Um, I have nothing prepared – I genuinely didn’t think I would win this but, um, first of all, thank you, and I must say that it’s a great honour to win this in honour* of Mark Hanson – I know [that] Mark was very well known in the social media world and, er, it’s particularly wonderful to see Clare here as well. Um…yeah. I don’t know why people read it – it’s just a silly blog [audience: polite laughter] – but I would like to dedicate the award to them [my readers] and I’d like to thank my friends, some of whom are in the audience here, and particularly my partner who[m] I love very much and who’s been wonderfully supportive during this rollercoaster [me: nervous laughter at the use of a world I loathe in this context] I’ve experienced…so, thank you all very much.

* I used the word ‘honour’ twice in quick succession, which displeases me. In the second instance, it would have been more appropriate to have used ‘memory’.

Nevertheless, for having prepared nothing – literally nothing – beforehand, it could have been a lot worse. Someone on stage – I think it was Rebecca Front – said that it had been a good speech. A number of others reiterated the sentiment afterwards. A later told me that he thought I spoke well, content-wise, but that I sounded nervous (I blame the Fucking Shoes for that). However, he claims – as he claimed of Beckie Brown’s speech also – that our surprise and justified nerves made our acceptances all the more endearing.

As I left the podium, an award and a tube containing my certificate were thrust into my hands. The award is incredible. Bright, shiny, reflective metal, heavy, perfectly engraved with Mind’s logo and font – and my details. MY details. Wow. Just…wow.

The After

The immediate aftermath of the ceremony was a whirlwind. Daniel, who was in tears, flung his arms around me and waxed lyrical about how wonderful he thinks I am which – even though I already knew that he’s sweet enough to think that, it’s still so lovely to hear. We stood and hugged for ages, before he had to dash off (thanks to the Budget the following day, on which he was up to 2am working. Fuck you, Gideon). I remember hugging Craig too before he left. It was only the second time I’d met him – the first only being the day before – but I like him. He and Dan seem to ‘work’ together, and I really hope their relationship lasts.

People, so many people, they came to offer congratulations, to offer interest in what I write, to chat, to be wonderful. I had to wait around in the auditorium for a few official pictures, and gave what were probably waffly, nervous answers to a number of questions the photographer, along with Clare, Donna and Rebecca, had been kind enough to ask. In my defence, the Fucking Shoes were conspiring to plot my (literal and metaphorical) downfall, and I was still on a nervy-adrenaline high, so if any of the four of you are reading this, sorry if I seemed like a twat!

Back in the lobby, I was advised by someone – I’m not sure who, sorry – that there had been a minor Twitter storm about my win. I felt dreadful that I’d not been able to announce it there myself as I would have liked, and I know that one or two of you noticed that omission 😉 I believe that the madness started when Mind themselves tweeted about the result of the New Media Award and, subsequently, about my acceptance speech. As he’d left the auditorium, I know Z intended to announce it too, so even though I failed you, at least you knew 🙂

I’ve apologised for this on Twitter, but lest you missed it: when I had a chance to check my client, I was completely overwhelmed with @mentions. Seriously, there was something like 100 of them. I know if you’re a celebrity that must seem like an infinitesimal amount even by the standards of fuck all squared, but for me? That was a lot. There was no way I could respond to them all individually so my only viable option was to send a more general tweet thanking everyone, in the hope that said everyone would see it.

I Met…

I met Dawn, who was lovely, gracious, flattering, and so wonderfully enthusiastic about social media, and the quiet revolution in mental health that blogging and Twitter are making. I met Beckie, who is every bit as smart and charming in reality as she is on YouTube. I met Dan from CALM, who was a really friendly and truly interesting guy, really (and rightly!) positive about the great work he’s doing. Watch this space for news of a potential guest post for the CALM site 🙂

I met Taryn, Mind’s Digital Officer, who’ve I’ve known on Twitter since I reviewed Wendy Perriam’s Broken Pieces for them. She was great – bubbly, charismatic, full of good conversation. I met her colleagues Matt and Eve too – and guess what? They were lovely! I met several more of her colleagues later when I did a voxpop for them – more on that shortly – but I can’t remember their names and I feel awful about that because…yep, that’s right: they were lovely.

I properly spoke to Carrie, who was a delight, for the first time, mainly about the excellence that is Babylon 5 – however, our conversation was cut all too short by something or other, so I suppose I’ll just have to meet her again soon to make up for that 😉 I met @YouMustBeMental, who had bravely come to the occasion on her own, but who was easy-going, great to chat to and all-round good craic. I met Mark Brown from One in Four (look out for my article rounding up blogs in its next issue), who was a gentleman. I met Liz Main, one of the judges who, by random coincidence, is married to a (relatively) local bloke that A and I have known on Twitter for months. Small world! I met Paul Farmer, Mind’s Chief Executive, who is nothing like the stereotypical stuck-up Executive type – he was, instead, friendly, congratulatory and thoroughly down-to-Earth. And I met so, so many more – and I haven’t a single negative word to say about any of them. I was convinced that there would be a few pricks who were a bit up their own arses, but seriously, if there were any such people there, I did not encounter any of them.

Perhaps most intriguingly, I also met one of the short-listers – I’m so sorry, but if you’re reading this, I never did catch your name…*blushes*…maybe you can give us a wave?! 🙂 – and learnt some of the inside story.

It turns out that A and I had been partially correct that the language used on Confessions could have been detrimental to the possibility of me winning the award. The (guess what?) lovely girl to whom I was talking said it was actually a bit of a challenge to get the blog onto the shortlist for this reason. However, it wasn’t so much the multitude of ‘fuck’s and ‘cunt’s that were the problem – but more my penchant for what could be considered stigmatic nomenclature. For example, “batshit”. “Doolally” (Paul always liked that one, though). The self-directed commonality of “mental freak” and similar accolades. References to “catching the bus” or “topping oneself”. For the avoidance of doubt, my informant did not give me any specific examples of that to which was objected, but I think it was mainly that kind of thing. It seems that I ultimately got away with it because the references were frequently tongue-in-cheek, used satirically, or were self-, rather than widely-, directed. Also, I address the matter directly in my ‘About‘ page, stating that I can be rather crass at times, but that I do aim to break barriers and fight stigma. In a way, there is part of me that wants to reclaim these terms for the mentalist lexicon; the LGBTQ community admirably did it with, for instance, ‘queer’, so why not those of us that are mad?

Voxy-Poppy

As noted briefly above, at one point Taryn asked me to do a voxpop for Mind’s website, a proposition to which I agreed. This may seem like the most monumentally moronic thing in which an anonymous blogger could partake – but honestly, the disguise was goooooooood. I really looked nothing like my real self at all, so I’m confident that the video taken will not lead to my identification. After all, _why the lucky stiff got away with parading himself publicly for ages whilst maintaining his anonymity, and he wasn’t even trying to hide his real looks. [/gratuitous geek reference].

I felt that I muddled myself quite a bit in the first two questions of the voxpop, although the lady conducting the interview – yet another lovely person whose name I have, to my disgusted regret, forgotten – seemed appreciative of my answers. The third though, as verified by the observing A, went better. The question was something about the profundity of social media in the lives of people with mental illness, and I proffered my sincerely-held view that were it not for Twitter, and to a lesser extent blogging, I would be dead today. Fuck you, Nadine Dorries (not that I said that on tape, of course ;)). I know I wax lyrical about this all the time, but it does merit reiteration; Twitter is the best support group – and, by dent of that, therapy – that I’ve ever come across. Words fail here, so I’ll offer an inadequate but sincere ‘thank you’ once again.

The After-After

Things started wrapping up towards 10.30pm or so, and off back to the hotel headed A and I, saying our farewells to Z at Waterloo Station.

We got back, drained and exhausted, but thrilled and elated at the same time.

Knowing that I had won this thing, this thing that I didn’t feel I really deserved but about which I was nonetheless genuinely thrilled, was surreal. So surreal, in fact, that I started packing (even though we didn’t leave until Wednesday) and then went to bed, rather than gawking in awe at the beautiful trophy. It was only the next day, whilst sitting in a pub waiting for a brief but welcome meet-up with Dan, that I really felt it. As I said to A, I couldn’t stop thinking about the award and how unutterably and stunningly humbling it was that people actually like this nonsense and somehow see it as being valuable.

Because, Thank God, It Has to End Somewhere

So it ends – almost – here. In conclusion – what an incredible night, and what incredible people I was both fortunate enough to meet, and am fortunate enough to know.

So, as I leave this preposterously-even-by-my-standards post, let me do one more raft of thanks. I’d especially like to thank Clare, Donna and Rebecca for presenting me with the award. Thanks to Keystone – and, in particular, Jenny – for their organisation of the event, and especially for their efforts in maintaining my anonymity. Thanks to Taryn and the other digital folks at Mind for all their hard and valuable work, and to the BFI staff for running around with booze and food for us 😉

Zarathustra, Carrie and Craig – it was an honour to have you there with me, and your support and congratulations were immeasurable to me. Phil Groom – not only are you a gentleman of the…er…gentlest proportions, I know that you were one of the people that nominated me for this honour, and I appreciate that more than you know. I appreciate you more than you know. @bourach – meeting you on Saturday was absolutely brilliant, and when I said this blog would not have existed in the first place but for you, I meant it. You won’t believe me, but I don’t care; I think you’re strong, smart, witty, and just generally terrific. And to all of my wonderful, supportive, passionate, intelligent and ever-entertaining readers – all the superlatives in this post and the award itself are completely dedicated to you. Thank you again. You really are teh absolute r0ck0rz.

If you’re eagle-eyed, or if you’re one of the personnel concerned, you’ll notice some glaring omissions here. Firstly, Daniel. I’ve known him for over half my life now, and although the Irish Sea has nefariously separated us for 10 years, the mark and strength of a friendship – a proper, loving, symmetrical friendship – is its enduring longevity and ability to ‘pick up where you left off’. That could not be more accurate in this case. Daniel, you’ve been a constant in my life for so long, and you have never once let me down. Also, you’re an idiot. A puerile, irreverent, off-the-wall idiot – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love you, you daft sod, and thank you for everything, always.

My mother will probably – by turns hopefully and sadly – never read this, but of course none of it would be possible without her. That she doesn’t know that I’ve achieved this makes me feel full of nauseated regret and woe – but I’d rather that than ruin her life, or even possibly endanger her very existence, what with the dark revelations that so frequently inhabit this blog. But lest she ever does read it, and lest anyone else be in any doubt, I love her very, very much and without her I would not only not be writing, but I would be dead.

And you, A. Thanks for the grand, Mister! (Yes, he really did pay up on the back of my ridiculous joke! Such an action truly makes me look sane). It’ll come in handy 😉

Seriously. There’s no doubt that I’d be six feet under (or lying at the bottom of Beachy Head or something) without you and your unwavering support, companionship, private sentimentality and profound love. Maybe I don’t always show it, and fuck knows I don’t say it often enough – but I know I’m so, so lucky to have you in my life, and I love you to the ends of the Earth.

Over and out. (Finally. Well done to anyone that got this far. What kind of sad life you must lead to have read all of this. Similar to the kind of sad life I lead by having written it all. OK. Enough. Really. Gone now. Vanished. Bye.).

Mind Media Awards: The 2011 Presentation, Part One

I have a hundred million observations to write about last night’s Mind Media Awards ceremony, but being as I am still in London, I’m constrained by the limitations presented by iPhone blogging applications, and the frustratingly shite battery capacity of said phone. So I will post more on this – either tomorrow evening or on Thursday – but I couldn’t not say something in the immediate aftermath of the event.

The Mind staff are lovely. All of them, especially Digital Officer Taryn – but all of them. And it was an honour to speak, albeit briefly, to Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive (who, again, was lovely!).

I had been slightly apprehensive about hob-nobbing with many well-known media types, but they too were lovely.

Most of all, the other nominees were incredible and inspirational human beings; to even be deemed worthy of being in their company was an incredible honour.

But I won it. I WON IT. I really did. I won it. I have a beautiful trophy, and a beautiful certificate.

I can’t believe it. I’m stunned into virtual speechlessness. But I am so humbled, so honoured, so much in awe of the amazing people I met at this once in lifetime occasion.

I don’t know what to say. Why do you read this rubbish? Why do you like it?!

But I’m thrilled and humbled beyond measure that you do, and that this silly blog – as I described it in my acceptance speech – has been deemed worthy of this amazing honour.

Thank you. Seriously, thank you, all of you. Many of you lot have kept me alive over the last 30ish months, and I love you all.

Here it is – dedicated to you, my wonderful readers:

20111129-142418.jpg

The Darker Side of Speaking Up

AWARDHAIR!!!1!!!!11!!!eleven!!!six!My hair has arrived for the awards ceremony. Do you like it?

Initially, I was unsure as to whether I could even go to the ceremony. After all, I would probably be the only person there that writes under a pseudonym, since most of the nominees are from the world of the more traditional media – papers, telly, radio and suchlike. Even amongst the ‘New Media’ short-listees (if that’s a word), as far as I know I’m the only person responsible for a nomination that’s anonymous.

However, I had a quick word on Twitter with some of the lovely folks at Mind – and they, in conjunction with their PR people, are coming up with an anonymity masterplan! I can’t say how delighted this made me, and how very kind of them to accommodate such a bizarre request! So Cinderella will go to the ball after all 🙂 I don’t expect to win anything, don’t get me wrong, but to be short-listed for such a prestigious award is such a big deal to me that simply being there will be amazing. A is coming with me, as is my best friend Daniel and, all being well, a fellow mental health blogger. If there’s enough room, I can even bring two more people 🙂

So, mentalists of the UK. If you’re kicking about in the general area of the Home Counties in late November and fancy a pale ale or three with a sad blatherer with a Pot Noodle fetish, feel free to give me a shout. We’ll be in Laaaaaahhhhaaaandaaaaaahhhhnnnnn from Saturday 26th to Wednesday 30th November. Monday night is out, as it’s the awards ceremony, and on at least one of the other days I’ll be meeting a friend, but there’s flexibility in the latter if anyone is amenable to a Mini Mad-Up.

Anyway, speaking of Mind, I have a guest post over on their blog today entitled Speaking Out is the Only Way to End Stigma (see here). Although the title mirrors what I talked about in my last post, I’ve actually looked at the issue of stigma from the other side of the coin than that which I previously discussed here. I thought I’d quote it here too, for your dubious delectation:

I consider myself a fortunate person, in that there are a wonderful – and rather diverse – range of people that I have the privilege of calling my friends. Generally, I’ve been very open with them and my relatives alike about my mental health difficulties – but there’s one group with whom, until recently, I tended to keep my mouth shut.

My partner is partially sighted, and as such his primary education was delivered in a school specialising in teaching children with visual (VI) and auditory impairments. After being reunited with a number of his schoolmates in his adulthood, I was pleased to also make their acquaintance, and am glad to report that I now consider them my friends too.

One thing that repeatedly surprised me about these otherwise lovely people, though, was their attitudes to my mental illness. They are open about their disabilities around the dinner table and, more formally, they vocally demand reasonable adjustments at work, raise money for related charities, and have been known to campaign politically on VI related issues such as traffic calming and electronic accessibility. I think it’s brilliant.

You can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming, can’t you? Here it is. In my view, if you are pro-disability rights – as every right-thinking person should be – then you should be inclusive about the meaning of the term ‘disability’. Unfortunately, mental health problems can represent potentially very severe disabilities, just as physical ones can.

This is something my friends didn’t seem to realise. I remember one night, over dinner, after they had been talking about VI issues, I shifted the subject subtlety with the intention of talking about the barriers I, also, had faced in terms of my disability. The specifics are lost to the passing of time, but I think I was alluding to the HR problems I’d faced during a depression-fuelled absence from work.

My commentary, delivered in my usual matter-of-fact tone, was met with a stony, almost horrified silence. People started staring at their food or fiddling with their wedding rings. An approaching waiter reversed back into the kitchen, having felt the tension emanating from our group. And all the while I sat there, genuinely mystified, thinking, “what did I say?!” Lest I ruin the rest of the evening, though, I decided to keep schtum thereafter, and eventually someone (quite deliberately) changed the subject, and things moved on.

That was several years ago, but if I’m brutally honest, the episode still cuts me to the core when I let myself think about it. Why is someone else’s disability considered more socially “acceptable” than mine? Why do mental health conditions still exist only in the realm of whispered taboo and under-the-carpet brushing?

This was only my second proper encounter with the stigma that continues to permeate discussions pertaining to mental health (or lack thereof). I don’t blame my friends personally: they are a product of a society and culture that remains scared of and ill-informed about psychiatric disorders, and they’re far from alone.

My first significantly prejudicial experience was in my most recent job (mentioned above), in which I had initially gone off sick with “depression”. This was deemed a common and ordinary complaint by my employers, but when my condition failed to improve and I was eventually diagnosed with, initially, borderline personality disorder and bipolar type II (now changed to complex PTSD and either bipolar I or schizoaffective disorder – go me!), their attitudes mysteriously changed. Oh, we really were in mental territory there, weren’t we? They couldn’t have that, now could they?

(I’m being slightly unfair here, as when I was eventually dismissed, I had been absent over a year – my leaving the organisation was therefore both legal and fair. However, the paradigm shift between their tolerance before and after my diagnoses was very evident).

Rather than incite meekness, however, if anything these two incidents encouraged me to speak out more about my mental health troubles, as I wrote about in my World Mental Health Day post here. It started off by writing – anonymously – on my blog (I still write pseudonymously, incidentally, but that’s because I have no choice but to protect some key personnel discussed therein), but in time I found myself openly discussing mental health in ‘real life’ too. Besides those already discussed, I only remember one particularly negative reaction – when explaining to a friend of my boyfriend’s that I was not working due to “being mental,” he replied, “is that ‘I Can’t Be Bothered With Work-Itis’ then?” Not a pleasant comment by any means – but by and large, people have been accepting, willing to listen and mostly sympathetic. I even revealed the severity of my psychotic and dissociative symptoms to an ignorant and rather set-in-their-old-fashioned-ways aunt and uncle recently; I was quite surprised when they didn’t back away in petrified horror, but instead proffered me their genuine good wishes and a listening ear.

Again, though, there’s a ‘but’. Two, actually. Firstly, it is not easy to be so unabashed about this subject to other people (particularly, I would suggest, acquaintances or strangers – you have no clues to enable you to gauge what their reaction might be). As a general rule, I’m remarkably passive in the arena of ‘real life’, but I am both blessed and cursed in having something of a bolshy streak when I feel I’m being treated unfairly, and I think it’s that force that has driven me to speak up. Secondly, even though I have received a number of pretty positive reactions to my disclosures, stigma still exists. There are still those who demonise us as loons or scroungers who should be locked up in an asylum or get back to work, respectively (though, of course, many people with a mental health problem do work). Admitting to mental health issues in such circumstances can seem like a dangerous thing to do.

I think, though, that there is ultimately good news. As many people familiar with Mind will know, the Time to Change campaign has been granted another four years’ worth of funding, which means that the very meaningful in-roads the initiative has already made can be further built upon.

As Time to Change says, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health. I know it’s easy for me, an anonymous stream of words on a blog post, to say, but I really believe that speaking out is one of the key ways in which we can break down the societal barriers we’re presently forced to face. And although it sounds naïvely simplistic, if people refuse to be educated on the subject, if they make active decisions to remain prejudiced and wilfully ignorant, well – it really is their problem, and not ours. We deserve respect. We don’t deserve to have to hide behind a wall of silence.

Oh, and my visually impaired friends? One got a job in mental health training, and now often shares my material at work. Another recently ran a fund-raising event for a mental health charity. Most importantly to me personally is that, after a lot of determined “I am going to talk about this,” they are now willing to openly discuss my difficulties with me.

Proof, to me, that negative attitudes can change.

And, despite it all, I think that’s true. Feel free to share your experiences, either here or (preferably) on the Mind post itself (since it is likely to have a more diverse audience).

I was supposed to have finished writing about my last stint of therapy with Paul by today, but as you can see I’ve failed. Not that that should surprise you; it certainly doesn’t surprise me. I have no excuse really; I’ve been reading a lot, and doing a bit of my own writing, but that’s about it really. I’ll try to do the two outstanding posts this week, but this time I won’t promise.

My Mum has found out about the awards. It was entirely my fault, so I shouldn’t whinge too much about it. She still doesn’t know the specifics involved, though, and I actually came right out to her and told her I didn’t want her reading my writing because “a lot of it is very personal.”

She said, “to your present life – or your earlier one?”

A curious question, I felt. Why would she even consider the latter. given her lay understanding of mental health difficulties?

I said, feigning a typical nonchalance, “oh, you know. Everything.” Then I changed the subject, and that was that. To be on the safe side, though, I’ve blocked her IP address 😉

Not much else to report. Not seeing NewVCB until 9th November, so no new medication(s) as yet. I can’t remember at all the date of my next appointment with Christine, so will have to bloody ring the CMHT for clarification. In non-mental news, I’m off to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne next weekend for a football (watching, that is) weekend with the lads. I can’t afford it, but I’m going anyway. Cross your fingers for the Toon, please!

Anyway, folks, I’ll catch up properly next week. I hope you’re all well.

Love Pan ❤ x

Mind Media Awards 2011

Confessions of a Serial Insomniac, in common with some extremely good company (for example, the superb Dawn Willis and Guardian journalists), has been shortlisted for a Mind Media Award (in the category of ‘New Media’).

I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve this recognition, and I really, truly do not know what to say, except ‘thank you’ to all concerned. I’ll not write anything much more right now for fear that I’ll turn into a blubbering mess. Again.

What an unexpectedly great way to start the week. Of course, since my darling baby died on Thursday, I’m still existing in a dark, bleak and disbelieving mental dystopia, but I retain the capacity for gratitude and honour, and I feel both in abundance.