Life Out Of Balance.
The following are five posts originally published (relatively privately) on Facebook. A couple of people asked me to consider popping them on Medium too and I agreed.
The only intention in doing so, if there even is one, is to help keep the conversation about male mental health public rather than hidden away in the shadows where it too often resides.
My experiences are just that, mine. However they can be seen as broadly reflective, through a wide enough lens and to a greater or lesser degree, of the experiences of thousands of other people. I’m lucky; I eventually worked out something was wrong and got superb help.
16 June 2016. 08.45.
I wasn’t sure whether to write this as it’s essentially a personal issue. However, on balance, as everyone that reads this knows me and, potentially to a greater or lesser degree, likes me and will have been affected by this in some way, shape or form over the past, well, thirty seven-odd years, I approved the self-indulgence.
(Also, my psychiatrist said it was fine).
I am writing this from The Priory. It’s really not as glamorous as the media will have you believe — it is after all a psychiatric hospital (technically it’s one of a chain of VC-backed and branded psychiatric hospitals but that’s a whole other conversation) — but it is rather nice. I haven’t seen any celebrities yet. I destroyed a fellow patient at scrabble last night (we had a rather heated debate over ‘rawl’ but common sense prevailed in the end). The orange juice is terrible but the bacon is quite good.
Comme ci comme ca.
Anyway, the fact of the matter is I was admitted on Monday with severe anxiety, depression and associated issues. I’ve since been diagnosed as (likely having) bipolar type 2, or cyclothymia (much of a muchness in the mental health game apparently). I’m fine, or as fine as you can be in the madhouse. I’m being looked after, am on the right medication, and will come out in a month or so stronger and saner than I have ever been which frankly will probably be a relief to anyone reading this.
The reason I’m writing this isn’t for sympathy, narcissism or attention. It’s twofold: firstly, to explain why I haven’t been myself or ‘all there’ (technical psychiatric term guys, stick with me) recently. It turns out I’ve been going through a particularly bad episode of late which was triggered / heightened by stress. Illness isn’t an excuse but it is a reason. Secondly, this shit is more prevalent than you might think. You shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. I’m certainly not. It is, unfortunately, for many people, a terminal illness because good care is so hard to access (even if you can get diagnosed in the first place) and it just doesn’t get discussed. Protip: that’s bad. You’ll find out who your friends are very quickly. And those that turn out not to be, well, they’re part of the problem. So they can go and fuck themselves (another technical term).
That’s it. Love you all. I’ll be out soon and totally fine. In the meantime I’m watching an awful lot of football. Happy days. Big hugs to everyone.
26 June. 19.50.
I was allowed out for the night last night, hurrah! This makes it sounds like I’m on section — I’m not — but I’m not sure it’s best for my treatment if I’m just strolling around as per normal like nothing’s happened so popping home for the night was therapeutic in-of-itself. You know that old idiom “there’s no place like home?”. Well it would appear Dorothy was indeed correct and I’m sad it’s taken an asylum-in-Travelodge’s-clothing to make me really understand that.
Spending hours in therapy groups, nattering with doctors, being deconstructed by psychiatrists and generally strolling around the grounds until one feels at home does afford you time to think in a way that’s uncommon in the hurried world which we inhabit whilst chasing the Yankee dollar. You (or at least I; forgive me lest I impose my foibles, issues and illness upon you, dear friend) quickly realise that whilst many parts of these problems and diseases can be fixed internally, there are many external changes that need to happen as well to make things really effective for the long term. This is where the hard work will really start.
Anyway. I’m feeling ok. Ups and downs are part of the process, or so I’m told. I’m still smiling. Seeing Han and the kids at home this weekend was magic, and the best medicine and/or therapy possible. Only just better, mind, than all of your kind wishes, messages and notes. I’ve had literally hundreds. Infinite love to you all, you’ve no idea how much it’s all helped. Thank you more than you’ll ever know.
Words, and conversely the lack of them, can carry immense power. It’s easy to forget that, but please don’t.
30 June. 13.44.
It’s been a very good few days.
Maybe it’s a variation of Stockholm Syndrome (or, more likely, because this place really is helping) but I’m growing fond of this institution. It’s not home, of course. I miss my cats and their daily gifts of slaughtered wildlife. I miss the garden. I miss the commute. I miss my team. I’m increasingly missing advertising. I miss mum and dad and my family and friends. I miss the ever wonderful Hannah. And I achingly miss the boys who irrepressibly serve to bring illumination to even the darkest of recesses, which, I hasten to add, are found refreshingly infrequently. With all that taken into consideration, however, this place really isn’t that bad. The beds are comfortable, the spaces are bright, the gardens are vibrant and — in an wholly unexpected turn of events — the orange juice is even becoming vaguely tolerable, although one does suspect that is down to an alteration in personal tolerance rather than an increase in quality.
(I still can’t wait to get home though).
That said, and as is it with life, it’s the people though that make it. The nurses, the consultants, the psychiatrists, the occupational therapists, the therapists, the support staff — all quite remarkable people doing a really remarkable job in their own remarkable way. But more than this: my fellow patients. From every walk of life, from every background imaginable, from all over the world. Young, old, rich, poor. Real people. Good people. Sick people, trying to get better. There’s as much recovery, strength and hope in listening to their stories and struggles as there is in any combination of pills I’ve yet encountered.
“It’s good to talk”, as someone one said. I knew advertising had the answer somewhere :)
4 July. 22.46.
This is a place full, prima facie at least, of paradoxes and contradictions. A place where darkest despair and brightest hope live hand in glove. Where fear and bravery exist symbiotically. And, perhaps most inspiringly of all, total rock bottoms are chipped, shaped and crafted into rock-solid foundations for things new; bigger and better. It really is striking that out of the most grotesque and bleak situations some truly motivated and determined journeys can be embarked upon. That’s what this place seems to do really bloody well. Crush down the darkness so intensely and with such strength that, with enough effort, support, and a bit of luck, light emerges. (It’s like the old coal / diamond thing, just less suitable for engagement rings, I guess).
People really do recover from the most awful illnesses and a pretty awesome by-product of that is hope. And that in itself ain’t bad.
I myself am feeling a bit better but some things, thankfully, will never change. I spent a couple of days earlier this week (EDIT: I mean late last week — the days really do blur into an amorphous time unit here) worrying profoundly about a test that my psychiatrist had set me. The issue was that it wasn’t a test at all. He’d merely slightly misquoted a line from Macbeth (nothing dramatic, ironically, he’d just substituted ‘dark’ for ‘black’). The poor chap is seventy-eight, and his ability to reel off the Bard word for word isn’t what it once was. I, however, was convinced he was testing my super-ego state rather than just fumbling his words. Basically: would I dare to correct a psychiatrist, in fact, correct a psychiatrist on HIS TURF? What did that mean for my sanity? Only one way to find out. Although by the time I’d reconciled with myself that it was the right thing to do a day or so later of course the good doctor had forgotten all about the initial conversation in the first place. I then scrambled around awkwardly for ten minutes trying to explain what I was banging on about leading to a very brief silence tailed quickly by a huge belly laugh from Dr Wood, a laugh which I genuinely believe only an ageing physchiatrist is legally permitted to emit. I think there are probably multiple lessons in there for all concerned but frankly I’m too tired to extract them.
I hope to be home in around a week. Things are looking brighter. Much peace, calmness and good wishes to you all. Give someone you love a hug.
10 July. 19.23.
‘Vulnerable’ is a word that would have been pretty low down the list if I’d ever had to play a game of ‘pick words to describe yourself’ before I came in here. To be frank it’d probably have been nestled somewhere in and around ‘skinny’. Since admission I have actually lost a couple of stone but there are many, many more of those to go still so we can park that one for a bit. The tag of ‘vulnerable’, however, is — despite me feeling much, much better and, to my delight, the fact I’m being discharged tomorrow (more on that shortly) — clearly, for the time being at least, something I’m going to have to come to terms with.
Men don’t do vulnerability particularly well. At least I didn’t. I could give you the ‘ooh look at me I’ve done four weeks in the Priory’ lite psychoanalytical take as to why this is the case but frankly it’d probably be rubbish so I shan’t bother. Suffice to say it’s something to with dominance and cutural expectations of gender roles. Bloody culture. Anyway, I’ve got to get used to it and more importantly, the implications; the speed at which I take life on, the pressure I put myself under, and how quickly I get back into professional life. Oh, and no booze. Ever. Again. The trade off seems fair though: respect vulnerability, take things easy, take things slowly (to begin with), keep on my meds, don’t drink, keep an eye on things generally and I probably won’t go bonkers* again (*another one of those technical psychiatric terms, I think I’m allowed to use them now).
That seems like an OK deal to me.
So barring any overnight issues I’m off tomorrow. I’ll miss the safety of this place rather than the place itself. I’ll miss the people; professional and patient. I wish both luck and love. I leave feeling exactly the same yet totally and utterly different, and it’s impossible to overstate how absoutely marvellous and balancing that feeling is. I owe certain people here things that can never, ever be repaid but I’m content in the knowledge that good things happen to good people. And I’ve been helped by some of the best.
Massive love. I can’t wait to go home and get back to work.
Now then, have I missed anything over the past four weeks?