Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexism!

A very common word to hear these days, seemingly becoming a generic term for any situation where the gender card can be played. Much like racism. That is not to say that both issues are not genuine and serious. But more that the frequency at which it is used, and the situations it is applied to, somewhat waters down the seriousness of the term, and makes it seem like an epidemic and common place.

So what does it actually mean?


noun

1.
attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles.
2.
discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex or gender, as inrestricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directedagainst women.
3.
ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against or hatred of women;misogyny.

As we can see there are a number of meanings, some of which somewhat conflict, or at least cause confusion. Stereotyping is the most commonly used example in current times, certainly in an issue which I will come to later, employment! However the second two are the more serious definitions, and ones that get my attention.

See, the issue I have here is, to combat discrimination, we discriminate. We have employment drives for more ethnic minorities,  or more females in certain roles. This is open discrimination, simply telling British white males they many NOT apply for the positions as they are the wrong colour, gender or religion. What would happen if there was a MEN ONLY employment drive, or whites only etc.
Do you see what I am getting at here.

Fighting discrimination, in itself causes discrimination. Legally backed discrimination at that, and sanctioned from the highest levels.

Whatever happened to "may the best person win" (see how I avoided "man" there!)
When it comes to jobs, there are some that can be done by a trained monkey ( like my job) and there are others which require a certain set of skills. Common sense says that you employ the best character suited for the job, with the best skill sets possible.
So what happens when three men an a woman are shortlisted for a role. Ranked in suitability in this scenario, the woman is ranked #3. So does the recruiter overlook positions #1 and #2 as the gender is more important in the recruitment drive, or do they go with the best person for the job?
Genuine question.

When I see big public services having drives to recruit more workers from a certain demographic, I often wonder how many people don't apply for a position, because they are aware that there is emphasis on another demographic, and they feel they would not be considered seriously.
Again, we are back to discrimination, but it's OK, because it is sanctioned! Ludicrous surely?

Now, before anyone starts flapping their arms in anger, or breathing deeply and huffing, let me explain something. I am all for equality, fairness, and overlooking gender for the best candidate for a job. However, there are certain roles which are predominantly one sex or the other for a reason. Be it physical ability, not really a male or female thing to do (this is a strange one, but accepted in a lot of roles for what it is), or indeed, due to dithering old sexist fools, choosing to hire "sexy secretaries" , or refusing to hire woman as they are the "weaker sex".
There is probably an argument somewhere that says some of these sexist fools only hired women into the boardroom, above the glass ceiling, for a peep up their skirt!

My main issue with this whole situation has come from a series of Tweets from areas of the LFB. They are having a #FireFightingSexism campaign at the moment, which I can appreciate, to a degree at least. More women firefighters, can't be a bad thing at all. Equality in the work place is a serious thing, and should be addressed in many roles. In many sectors we are seeing more and more balance of the sexes. Although the same can't be said for my own industry, comparisons drawn to similar roles but serving other trades would show the complete opposite. Different horses, for different courses and all that!

My problem comes when it comes to how people address a certain job role.
I have grown up with Policeman, Fireman , Postman, Milkman etc. It was a title for someone who carried out a role, and one I grew familiar with as I grew up. To me, the title is the same as Doctor, Manager, Actor etc. Actor being a strange one actually, as I grew up using actor and actress, but the gender was removed from that and it became actor. However many still use actress in day to day life.

Seeing a woman in a hospital, it was, and probably still is easy to use gender to identify a role, and a lot of people will still say "nurse" to a woman, and the same people will usually be surprised to see a man identify himself as a "nurse. It is an ongoing thing, but something I get the impression most are unbothered by, unless they are having a bit of a bad day, we all have them, right!
The main thing here is, these job titles are usually only used to address someone in a formal manner, or to get someones attention in a hurry. Not so much a term used all day, everyday.

And this is where my issue really starts to come into effect with firefighters. It comes across from the campaign, and many of the supporters of it, that it is the title (which many people will never use to address a firefighter) is the biggest concern. This came to a head yesterday for me when LFB Greenwich called out the wonderful Mr Nick Knowles of DIY SOS  for using the term "firemen" in a tweet, thanking the Fire Service for their assistance.
When it comes to quickly hammering out a Tweet or other social media post, we revert to our basics, and quickly write what we feel while it is fresh in our minds. He didn't say "the men of the fire service" not even "the guys" but "firemen". This apparently is offensive and disrespectful to the firefighters, and was worth calling him out publicly on social media.

The post read :

You had the fire service in to help you pump out the water tonight. Clearly both male and female firefighters helping out, yet you referred to them as firemen. Did the woman not deserve recognition for her hard work too?

This was followed by this one :

If you see us as brave, please call us by our names. Surely that's not too much to ask? None of us want to be called firemen, we are firefighters.You're right, children do still call us firemen and most girls still think they can't become firefighters as a direct result of that.

Now, I am all for freedom of speech, and I am all for fairness and respect, but I start to lose patience when such things are put in writing, especially things like this.
Externally, the public perception of firefighters is fantastic. Sometimes we don't understand the realities of what they do. But the public rally behind them when cuts are made, wage increases are unfair, and safety is questionable. Events like Grenfell Tower really drove home to the people of London just how brave, amazing and worthy all these people are. Huge respect was shown, people lined the streets to thank them. But it seems after all that love and respect was shown, the real issue was the use of the word "man" !
Seriously!

When I was at school, I called the teachers sir and ma'am. Identifying them by gender, rather than by occupation. I get that that is different, there is no generic term for teacher, other than "teacher", which would be a little disrespectful. However, it is a term I was raised to use. As was fireman.
Forgive me for being a child of such a generation. I am told that the term "firefighter" has been the correct term for 30 years now, so maybe I should sue the education system for failing to teach me correctly. Maybe it is a form of child abuse to have been misinformed for so long. I am sure if I look for long enough, I can find someone to blame, but lets be realistic, it is too trivial to pursue.

I get that firefighters are not all men. I get that fireman is unrepresentative of the workforce. But that is what it is, a misrepresentation, nothing more. Not an intentional disrespect of the female firefighters, not a sexist attack on women, not discriminatory. It is just an old fashioned generalisation which has not yet died out. With time it will, just like other terms have been corrected over the generations.
The argument that the correct term has been "firefighter" for 30 years now, so people should be using it is invalid. The simple fact is, it has NOT been commonly known. People have not refused to use the term, they have simply not been educated. Society didn't rebel, or choose to be sexist, they simply never changed. Postman.... Still common a very common term, but very little said about that.

The rise of Dany Cotton to commissioner of the LFB is fantastic. great for workplace equality,  great for moral, and a clear indication that sexism is no longer in place where it matters. I'm all for this sort of progress, and am pleased to see it continue into other sectors. Such as the Met, with Cresida Dick as the commissioner also. I wonder if the next push will be to demand that we use the term police officer religiously, rather than slipping up and saying Policeman. I do hope not. We are better than that, right?

My issue here, is not so much the message of the campaign, but the tone and ferocity of it. Being TOLD that firefighters will not have their job title dictated to them, and DEMAND that others call them by firefighter. Citing the term fireman as sexist and disrespectful.

I am going round and round in circles here now, I can tell, so I will summarise.

Some situations require a loud voice and stomping of feet to get the message across. Bully it through, and make people understand.
But sometimes, just a constant stream of information, repetition of a phrase, making it the norm, and more commonly used, is the way to go.
The media have trained us with many words over the years, more recently using immigrant instead of refugee, blurring the lines and changing the language of the masses, the same can be done here too.

People do listen, language does change, but not over night, and certainly not under duress. The message is fair, the method quite frankly sucks, and if there is anyone demonstrating disrespect, it is from the other side. Disrespecting the members of the public who dare to use a common adage, rather than carefully selecting the most PC term possible.

I love all members of our emergency services, and respect every single one of you. Just because I don't tell you every day, doesn't mean I have changed my views. Please, carry on with your campaign, but maybe stop being so precious about it, and making a huge issue of something which has not been addressed for 29 of the last 30 years.






Friday, October 27, 2017

Dropping the med dose.

It has been a few weeks now since I dropped my dose of Citalopram from 40mg to 30mg, with the blessing and guidance of the doctor that is. I have to say, it could have gone better!
That said, it hasn't been a disaster. A few strange feelings and dreams as my body lowered the amount of drug in my system, a few moments of being a little bit distant, but nothing unexpected.

The last few weeks have been a bit of a challenge in their own right, so it is unfair to base any of that in a drop of medication. Maybe a small wobble from dealing with things with a slightly less assisted mind, but other than that, I have coped well. I think anyway, you would have to ask Ann if she has seen any other changes, but I don't think there have been.

In the meantime, I have been speaking with a couple of friends who are going through the mill a bit right now, and have recently started following another blogger who is just starting out on their journey with dealing with their feelings, and the highs and lows life throws at us.

Distraction is a good tool always, so needless to say I have been cycling a lot too. No escapism this time, but more exercise to keep the goodness flowing through my body, and ensure I am well exercised, and ready for a good nights sleep. That said, looking at me and my data, it would be hard to believe that I am achieving either right now.

Weight is hanging on for dear life, after I failed to launch into a new round of fitness. With injuries to my foot and knee, I sucked it up and accepted that I need to take things a bit easier, certainly until I am in better shape again.
As for sleep, my Garmin sleep tracker supports the theory that I am not doing too well at getting a good nights sleep recently. Thankfully my get up and go seems unaffected, with me heading out early for work, to get more miles in on the bike.

I have blood tests coming up next week to see how I am getting along with my uric acid levels, hopefully all is still well there. Then a review, yet to be booked, to see if and when I will drop to 20mg of Citalopram. Add to that physio, MSK and Orthotics all at Lewisham hospital over the coming week, and I am rather busy.
With all that going on, my main aim remains to achieve my cycling distance goal which I set last year, of 3,000 miles. With the amount of time I have had out of the saddle this year, I am shocked I am this close, but happy at the same time.

Hopefully next year will be kinder to me, and I can set a really decent goal. I think looking back, I have probably missed a good three solid months of cycling due to foot and leg issues. Really not ideal.

Before I go, I should add that I have taken a huge leap of faith today, and stepped away from something I have long considered a support to me. Recently realising it caused me more stress and anguish, than good and help, I cut ties today, and already feel better for it.
The manner in which it happened was proof enough that it was the right thing to do.

So, here's to a good weekend for all, I look forward to conversing with anyone out there who wishes to. And next week I can again start chasing my numbers on the bike, consider my next step with meds, and forget all about Xmas lol


Stay in touch people :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bitchy snitch

Sad state of affairs really, but it seems whenever you are off sick, with legitimate reason, with visual causes, and x-rays, bloods and consultations to prove it, for some reason, some sad individuals take it upon themselves to stir.
Now I get it, office gossip is one thing. However taking information you find on a social media feed, and running to upper management to try and stir shit up. Well that's just a whole other level of sad and snide.

Today, on my third day back to work, I had a meeting with a manager, to discuss my recent sickness. I completely agree that it has been dreadful. Long periods of time off, and too many of them for my liking and wellbeing, let alone for an employer. God forbid how it was making little snitchy feel. Must have been like fire ants in the pants! Would explain all the running to the managers.

One thing I do find interesting is the knowledge people have of my communications with management while I was off. Obviously my activities are easy enough to see, you just have to check Facebook, et voila. But knowing what has been said in private emails, well that is a whole other matter now isn't it. Maybe I should go formal with it?

What I find very sad, I mean REALLY sad, is the lengths people will go to to try and cause trouble for others. Almost like they get kicks from it. There is certainly no other benefit to doing it.
This isn't the first time either, with the occurrences in 2011 when a file was collated regarding my activities, and presented to management with such strong will and intent, it almost cost me my job. Thankfully the management saw through the ill intent of the information, let alone its inaccuracies, and it was dropped.

Fast forward 6 years, and the same shit just happened again. Now I have my suspicions on who it is, and I worry for them, I really do. I am not one to mock mental health, in fact I take it very seriously. With than in mind I wonder if the person has any issues which cause them to behave that way.  I should point out that I am not the only one who has had a secret dossier compiled.

Now the good thing is, due to some discrepancies in the formal actions taken by my past manager, sadly due to his failing health and subsequent passing, I have been , I quote "thrown a life line". So this recent meeting has amassed to nothing really.

Now I want to point out that I am truly grateful for the way things have been handled, and the outcome. It is not something I feel I deserved or was entitled to. As I have said, my sickness has been terrible, and I must really be flavour of the month right now, both in the office and the company. It is not something I am proud of.
With that said, if said person is SO interested  in my medical details, I will quite happily wish some of the pain I have been feeling recently upon them, then they can see how they like it.

Even some of the details in todays discussion were fresh from the bitch mill. Somehow finding the fact that I am riding a bike to work a cause for concern. Well dear boy, that is what being off sick is for, to recover, and come back fit and well. Some might choose to forget that my foot was getting bad a couple of months back, but I gave up riding in, and drove to work in considerable pain, to try and be helpful as we were short staffed. Funnily enough I didn't get reported to management for that. Hmmm.

It is quite clear things are not going to change, and that the person seems to have an unhealthy obsession with my behaviour. But doesn't seem interested in addressing it openly and face to face. Aaah well, I don't know if I should be scared or honoured. Either way, please feel free to continue your bitchy snitchy behaviour, and I will continue to conduct myself in a respectable, and above board manner. One of us has to !

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear students... #WorldMentalHealthDay

First off, I just wanted to say, publicly, what a pleasure it was to meet you all today, and thank you for your time listening to me rambling on about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and lets not forget gout.
As I said at the time, I am truly passionate about helping people have a greater understanding of what it is like to suffer from depression. Feeling a bit down, or a bit grumpy is really not the same. I really do admire people like yourselves who take the path in life to try and help others, however sometimes feel that the theoretical education somehow lacks enough depth to truly grasp some conditions.

I hope today was helpful for you all, and that in amongst some of my tales and analogies, there was some clarity there too. I am grateful for the feedback you all gave at the end, and hope you took as much away from the session as I did. Thank you to Dr Paul for having the foresight to suggest the session in the first place.

There are of course many other matters we did not get to discuss, compacting a few years of depression, the rises and falls, is of course impossible for a 90 minute session. Hopefully in amongst the rest of this blog (Nov 2015- Mid 2016) there is more information on the subjects which may be of interest. There are also entries from way back too which reflect on the depression. My journey through CBT is also in there somewhere.

If you have any further questions about the issues we discussed today, please feel free to contact me via the blog, or emailing me with any questions on snazy123@gmail.com. Also, feel free to share this blog with anyone you choose to, there are no secrets, especially on the internet.

Getting back to the main part of the blog here. I just wanted to add that physical training, cycling, writing, and believe it or not, being tattooed, all play their part in the maintenance of my well-being, as well of course as having the love and support of my close friends, who keep me grounded.

Today for me was a stepping stone, a step in the right direction for me, with getting involved in something I am very passionate about. The understanding, from a first person perspective, of what depression is, how people cope, and what can be done to help them on their journey.

For many, depression and anxiety is not a life long issue, but a journey taken within our lives, more for some than others. Seeing people convinced that they must live by the pill is quite sad, and also worrying. Not to mention the lifestyle choice that people make when they are convinced this is them for life now.  Talking with people who understand and can genuinely empathise with what you are going through is a massive step, certainly for the people I have had the pleasure in helping in my past.
However not all cases are the same, and the idea of getting involved is in no way a pipe dream of a one size fits all fit.

For me, the idea of being able to play a part in other peoples recovery is huge. I don't expect every encounter to be perfect, and am aware that my personality may not be suitable for all. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
If actually being involved directly is not a reality, then the next best thing would be to continue to give my time to enable those who will one day be at the frontline of things. Using every day analogies to make sense of how the depressed mind works. I was pleased that my "it's like" approach finally made some sense today.

After speaking with Dr Paul following the session, I am going to try and get my head around how I can get more involved. Organisations such as MIND are a good starting point, my only concern is how to explain my intentions, with absolutely no academic background whatsoever. We shall see how that goes, I will be sure to update the blog with any progress I make, as well as Dr Paul.

Any thoughts on this venture are welcomed.

Today once and for all clarified for me that I am in the right place mentally now, to start reducing my medication, clear the mind fog which sometimes presents itself, and get on with doing something constructive with my time.
If a legacy were possible for someone like myself, it would be wonderful to think that my efforts and words could be carried forward, and make a difference for even a handful of people. Especially those who are not as fortunate as myself, and have no immediate outlet or support network.

I know I said some pretty damning things both on here, and today about the services offered to those suffering mental health issues. I hope I struck the balance of both grateful and understanding of what is deemed possible from an academic level, whilst highlighting the short falling, and no mans land between what is written and understood, and what actually works for people struggling. There is a balance to be found, and hopefully one day, maybe with input from me and others, it will be achieved.

The message to take is quite simply, the input from the NHS and other health services is instrumental in building the foundations for a recovery from such an experience in life. However theoretical empathy only goes so far. Understanding, and experience bridges the gap which is left. There is nothing quite like being on the level with someone who truly gets where you are coming from.
Building baselines for all to understand, and be able to empathise with is key here, so expect to hear "it's like" quite a lot from me.

Now I shall take some time to reflect on today, and formulate a way which I can try and create this baseline. The input from the students today has been key in building my understanding of what is in place, and what is missing from the current structure. Although I would love to build my knowledge on the academic side of things more for my own benefit and understanding.

Key words from today, baseline, empathy, analogy and understanding.

Just as a final note, I want to sincerely thank Dr Paul for her time for me since we first met. That first blog entry following the consultation was a pivotal moment for me, as has been the continued support from you. To have been given the opportunity to carry out todays exercise has been very special for me, especially on what turned out to be World Mental Health Day. Imagine that.

Here's to the future. For us all :)

Thanks for reading as ever.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

What can I do to help?

It is so frustrating at times to site idle while others suffer. Knowing you have information which could help others, you have the ability and time to talk to people who need someone to speak to. Yet no way or means to get involved at the grass roots level.

Over the past few days I have been looking into jobs in mental health, what qualifications are needed, and how I can help with the basic skill set I have. Apparently there isn't a way. Which while understandable, is also frustrating. Sure you can teach people the basics of mental health, draw up a curriculum which covers all the bases, make sure people understand the fundamentals of depression and anxiety. But you can't teach experience.

Somewhere there should surely be a crossover point, where experience and education meet, and can be combined to provide the services which are needed most by those suffering. It is great seeing big names coming out and admitting they are affected by depression, and explain their struggles. Saying things others can relate to, and feel like someone understands them. But that is where it ends. When you come forward and look for help, the understanding ends, and the empathy of education presents itself for the first time.

Having someone tell you they understand, because they have read about it is NOT the same as having someone share stories, or finish your tale for you, showing they truly know what the moment can do to you. The lack of this actual understanding is crippling for some, I certainly lost all faith for quite some time. Luckily I had the guidance to keep pushing me to keep going to the meetings, and to try and see what I could inject into the meetings to try and make them a little more "real" for others so to speak.

The thing I found was, as soon as I started openly sharing how certain incidents and events had made me feel, the whole group seemed to engage, waiting to share their experience too. A few meetings later and it had become the norm for me to offer a story, a real life example of such a feeling, to get the ball rolling, and by the end of the session we were all much more open about yet another aspect of depression or anxiety.

The difference to the first few weeks, and the attempts by the course tutors you try and get people talking, asking complete strangers to interact was almost troubling rather than helpful. Only being able to teach and discuss what you have learned from a book or lectures, while on paper might sound great, really isn't. I reflect back to when my daughter was being born, and the midwife told her mum to relax and enjoy the beauty of birth. When asked how many children she had, she replied none. That didn't get a great response. How can you tell someone how to feel about an experience you have never had... Quite simple, you can't.
In very few walks of life would you take advice from someone who only has theoretical experience in something. So when it comes to something as personal and unique as depression, the textbooks just don't cut it.

I desperately want to be able to intervene. Play a role in getting people who are hidden away in their heads, suffering in silence, speaking out. Not to the world, but just to a human who can be compassionate and genuinely empathise with them. Someone who can give their thoughts the time of day, and allow them to vent all the negativity that is drowning them.
You see, for me, and in my experience, speaking out is the first and most important key to the whole experience. While I have always been open enough to speak to a lot of people about it, there is a time when you feel you have exhausted them with the same stories, and you need someone else to talk to, a blank canvas. Unbiased, non judgemental, and willing to listen.
For me on my last round of depression, that person was Dr Elizabeth Paul at Wells Park Surgery. As my original entry says, I walked in silent, sat and just gazed. There was no immediate prompt from her, just a simple smile which gave me the courage to start trying to explain myself.

The whole entry is here... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-trip-to-doctors.html

My point here is really, that there is no one right person or way for everyone, we each need to find our own. The person or situation we feel comfortable with, to finally take the first meaningful step. When I have spoken to others about their depression, the common thing I find is the almost relief shown by the person, when you can actually, first hand, appreciate the magnitude of what you are saying.
An example being, going to meet with a friend while I was mid way through my fight with depression most recently. I chose a place to have lunch, somewhere I knew would be quiet, no crowds. My anxiety at that stage was very bad, so people were not my favourite things.
All was fine to start with, however when we started eating, more people started coming in, sitting closer and closer to us. Paradise lost! Matt had no idea what was going on inside my head, but mad panic is the only thing I can describe it as.
When we left and were talking afterwards, in the nicest possible way, it was impossible for him to understand the difference 4-6 more people coming in had made. However speaking to other friends who have been through the same, they got it straight away.

The big issue here is, a lot of people just don't have "that person" around them, and most of the help on hand seems to be from people who are well educated in the field, but really can't fully grasp what you mean. This is a big stumbling block for people. Having finally spoken out about how you are feeling, to suddenly be faced with a stranger who wants to help you, but doesn't understand you, is crippling.

From my experience, things didn't go well from the start. From my first face to face with someone, it felt like I was doomed. The full blog of my first impressions is here.... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/touching-base.html

You may be able to tell from the words that it didn't really go too well, and I was left with a rather bitter taste in my mouth. If you read entries further into January, you will see things didn't exactly get much better, not for a while.
Had this interaction been with someone who could understand and properly empathise and assess what I was going through, I think I would have felt much better about the matter. Seeing the speed at which some people dropped out of the subsequent CBT course, I guess for some it didn't get better soon enough. When CBT was explained to me, it was a very rough and vague explanation, reading up on it wasn't much help either. It was only being there, and manipulating it to my own needs, that finally started to make a difference.

After the initial discussion about what CBT was, these were my thoughts.

But the thought I can't get out of my head right now, is the was CBT has been presented to me. My interpretation being that I am in control of my thoughts, and therefore if my thoughts are my problem, and I am in control, it is all my fault. That's how my brain takes it right now. Being told you simply CAN'T do or think something is not a cure. Breaking the cycle, which I know is what CBT is really about is the key. But how do do you that when there are so many triggers and issues to over come?
Here was a person of sound mind, with questionable experience with depression, certainly first hand, telling me in short that I was the issue, and I needed to just forget about the past, and look forwards. Not a great deal of help.

I would dearly love to be able to help people get through this first major step in the program. But it appears academics comes first. To me that feels like teaching someone who can already run, to walk again, because they didn't learn properly. Sometimes, certificates, diplomas and grades count for absolutely nothing at all. Sure, along the process they are without a doubt very important, but for some aspects, you just need to understand, properly. Especially when trying to convince someone to walk out of their door into daylight for the first time in a month.

So here I am, frustrated that due to my lack of qualifications, I am near helpless to play a role in this. Sure some will say, volunteer for Samaritans or similar, but that is just not it. Could I turn my hand to such a thing, probably, would it be as fulfilling as the feeling I felt helping my fellow sufferers through their battle with depression, probably not.

At the end of my CBT course I did consider asking to be the plant in the room, the one who has been through the course, but is there to go through the course again, and try and get things moving. Sure the tutors are doing their best, but from speaking to them, the drop out rate is high, and our group had a "good" retention rate compared to some. That left me thinking that there must be more that can be done.
In the end the course certainly played its part in my recovery, as did a network of friends, and carefully considered distractions. But I honestly feel that I was very close to not bothering with the course, as my blogs show. Had I had some understanding and encouragement from someone who got it, earlier in te process, I might have started feeling a bit more positive sooner.

I applaud anyone who trains to work in mental health. It is a huge problem for our nation, and one which is only getting better. Lack of funding, not enough genuine cases being recognised, but for me, the biggest issue is the lack of understanding in what really helps people in such crisis.


So I am off to scour the internet fr ways I can be more helpful to others. I will also be speaking to my favourite GP about the matter when we meet on Tuesday. I know she won't have the answers, but it is a start, and keeps my mind heading in the right direction.
Any thoughts on how I can get involved are welcomed, so please drop me an email or similar.

Thanks for reading, and here's to getting a better understanding for those suffering.











Thursday, October 5, 2017

Depression!

Yes, I know I write a lot about depression. Strange really, but it does consume quite a large chunk of my life in fairness. But this time it is a different perspective.
In the past I have recorded the lows of my days, expressing the loss of control, the uncontrollable feeling of nothingness, and the pointless battle of trying to get out from the slump. Then there have been the fight backs, the recovery, and the jubilation of once again rising from the pit of despair.
Not forgetting my attempts to explain the inexplicable to those who want to, or think they do understand the true depth of depression.

But like I say, this is different. A recent consultation offered me a unique new perspective on the whole matter, and made me realise there is more I could do, should the opportunities arise. To date, I have not sought such a thing. Although have recently set out on a vlogging mission, thanks to another chance encounter with another medical professional.

Back when I did my CBT course, I became aware that I grew in strength and self understanding, while talking to others about my journey. Not counsellors, but a group who were too suffering from anxiety and depression. As the course went on, so I realised that telling your stories, as you understand them, to others, helps them see patterns, and routines in their own lives. Once aware, you are slightly more able to take control. Spurred on by the confidence gained from realising you are not alone, and you are indeed understood by someone at least.
By the end of the course, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from the group who felt I had played a positive part in their improvements, and that my openness was key to that.

On speaking to my GP yesterday, I was very surprised when she expressed an interest in me helping educate a group of medical students. As we discussed it, the idea grew. On agreeing to the the seminar , I realised it is something that really interests me. When my mind is clear, I love trying to put things together and help others understand depression, from my perspective at least. Both medical professionals, and sufferers have something to gain from such discussions.
I am not saying I am the Messiah, and the key to depression. I am not for one second suggesting I understand depression in all its guises, I really don't. However I do believe I have built an understanding of what you might call standard depression and anxiety can drive you to.

Seeing others speaking out on a larger platform about how they have battled with mental health makes me almost feel like I could do more. Be it making myself available to speak to others, getting going on the vlogging, or writing more, I'm not sure. But I do know one thing without a modicum of doubt, I feel compelled to make a difference, and I am truly passionate about helping with depression and anxiety. Maybe sharing my stories with medical students is just the beginning. Maybe I can do this more often?Who knows, but I will be sure to speak to the GP about this.

When I am low, I don't look for help, but occasionally will reach out to someone I know I can trust. I am truly blessed to have a small group of friends who understand this, and are amazing at what they offer at these times. However I am so very aware of how long it takes to build the trust to speak to someone you know about it, or even find someone in your circles who you can talk to. Believe me when I say, that alone is one of the toughest parts of recovery.
For some people, they will either never gain such confidence in their friends, or simply not have the network there to embrace them. This is where it becomes problematic.

When you finally reach out for help, you speak to a GP. The standard assessment will be made, the score will be taken, and if necessary, medication will be prescribed. Sadly for some this is the start of the end. With a health service under pressure, and quite frankly such little understanding of depression from the majority of GP's , you take the pills, feel a bit more balanced, and on you continue. No big attempt to solve the cause of the issue. Being such a vast condition, to a degree I totally understand why this happens.

However, if you fall and bend your leg awkwardly, you are not given painkillers and crutches and sent on your way. Investigations are possible to see the cause of the pain, and treatment given accordingly. Unfortunately the physical body is far easier to make sense of than the brain. And we are full circle on why most cases of depression or anxiety are left unexplained.

If you are lucky like me, and you get an amazing and passionate GP, like Dr Paul, your hopes are better. Along with Dr Mason (my work doctor) they supported me to the point where I could carry on without support. Like the leg injury, they were my crutches which carried me until I could manage alone. From simple sit downs to express where I was mentally, to dosing changes. And of course shoving me in the right direction to get CBT, and stick at it.

Of the tens of thousands of people in the UK on Citalopram and other such medications, I would be curious to know what percentage have ever had any further interventions than being medicated.
I am not saying medication is a bad thing, or evil and addictive. Far from it in fact. But as in my early blog, for me the medication is only there for me to rise back up from the depths of depression, and regain control over the matters which influence my mental state.

Debts, relationships, work and so much more can influence our state of mind.We can get down about it for a while, or we can fall further, lose control and begin to curl up to hide away from it all. That is the point where intervention is needed, and not always just in the medication way. Meds are not the solution for all. In fact I would bet most could be back off them, and balanced of their own accord within a year or so. Depending of course on the changes in their lives, and the root causes of their initial downward spiral.

Sitting here tapping away, I would love to learn more about the subject, and write something meaningful about it, something helpful. A first hand account of what some are going through, and a look through window into the future of hope. I am not the solution, I am not the cure, but I am experienced, and open enough to discuss it with others. Knowing my blog has been read by strangers and impacted them positively just increases my drive to help more.
Speaking to the students could just be the beginning. For the rest of the journey, I need to find my way.

Deep breath, count to ten... Take control!

As I sit at the kitchen table, starting to write this blog, for which I have taken 24 hours to think of a name for, I am starting to understand my mindset on the whole matter.

The past year has been very different for me. Meeting Ann, moving in together, making huge physical and mental progress, as well as having many hiccups along the way. Roughly two years ago I was just starting to get caught in the whirlpool of depression. Starting to feel myself losing control, realising I was getting down, and fighting to keep my head above water. After a year long fight, I was in a position where I could say I finally felt back in control of things.

However being in a new relationship, and facing a very different living dynamic than the one I was used to, I wanted to tread carefully, and not rush myself off medication, or into to many changes at once. Almost another year later and I am finally in a position where I feel comfortable in considering a reduction in medication, and taking full control back.

Having been on Citalopram for 2 years now, I am more than aware that being off them will feel rather different to what I have grown used to. Since the first time on them, I am aware of the slight lethargic feeling they cause, which you just grow to accept in your day to day life. My recollection from coming off them last time is clear, and I remember how much more energised I felt, for the first few weeks at least. After that, well that is up to the individual.

And this is where the blog starts really.
There is an inherent fear of losing control early on, when there is no medication to "save you" from what life throws at you. When something unforeseen happens, you have no safety net to catch you. Truth be known, there never was. There is a placebo effect that is common when on such medication, and you feel safe, cocooned if you may. Such faith in the meds, that you feel stronger, and more resistant to outside influences. In reality, your mind is more chemically balanced, the right signals are being sent, and you take strength from this feeling. Almost a sense of enhanced confidence.

This confidence is something a lot of people lack, and it is what starts the downward spiral in the first place for some. Simple matters defeat you, worries begin to control you, and soon you are just along for the ride. The ability to remain in control is what gives this heightened sense of confidence.

Realising this is key for me, especially right now, as I approach the first drop in my Citalopram dose for about 18 months now. Knowing that the sense of control I feel I have now is all me, and not the medication is a sobering thought. It shows me that this person is me, I am not the product of the medication. I am however aware of the balance that the medication has restored in me, and am in no rush to immediately come completely off it. There may be a balance to be found between me and the meds, then again, I may be free of it entirely in the coming months.

The title of the blog is a mantra I need to keep in mind at all times. From home life to work life. Flat out training, to resting in the evening. There are always moments where we need to pause for thought, compose ourselves, and react rationally.  I found myself practising it yesterday in fact, which is what spawned this blog, realising I was actually in control.

A spanner thrown into the works of the day, churning up my thoughts, whilst in mid flow of writing another blog. My initial reaction, rage, anger, and fire straight back. Closing the laptop and walking away for 10 mins was a good start. Deep breath.

Distracting myself with something else, watching a YouTube video, gave me time to consider the matter, and contemplate my response. Was one even needed. Count to ten, think about it.

With a few minutes taken to consider the outcomes of all scenarios (classic trait of an over thinker, but that is another story) I relaxed. Realising that any response would simply perpetuate the situation, and each cycle would simply trouble me more, and not resolve anything. Sometimes the cause is just not worth the battle.

That however is just one example. Somehow my mind finds itself in these situations too often, and that is my next battle. There is only so much one can do when it comes to change and influence. Speak your mind if there is hope of a constructive outcome. If the outcome is pretty clear from the offset, why even bother involving and upsetting yourself? A mantra I can recite, but not one I am familiar with following, yet!

To support this change in medication, and what will no doubt be a bit of a strange time for me, to say the least, I have also decided to take control of matters in other ways too.

Having been sat at home bored senseless for weeks on end this year, with foot issue after foot issue, the time has come to stand up to it, pun intended. Having now been through the medical mill, tested, scanned, xrayed, medicated, reviewed, and currently going through physio, the one message I have taken from it is, it's not going to get better any time soon. However, gently pushing on should cause minimal harm.

Now a long way away from my 3,000 mile cycling goal this year, this is one of the things which stresses me out, after all cycling is my great escape. And my very own body has denied my mind this escape. Failure is NOT an option, I must succeed.

Whilst in with the doctor yesterday, which I will return to shortly, I discovered my weight has skyrocketed while I have been laid up, and I am now a HUGE 117kg or 257lbs (18.3 stone). A month ago I was 245lbs! This is not good, neither mentally nor physically. Extra strain on my body is unwanted, and is just going to cause me more issues, especially as it is my feet which have to bear the brunt of it all.

So, medication change is tied first place with weight loss. They go hand in hand, and support one another. Health = movement, movement = freedom, freedom = happiness, happiness = good mental health. I am not unfamiliar with losing weight or increasing fitness, in fact I love the challenge of it, but the timing has to be right.
Knowing I have almost 1,000 more miles to cycle this year is a kick in the backside for sure. With my experience of low calorie diets, HIIT (high intensity interval training) and getting stuck into long rides, I reckon the bar should be set high for my improvements for myself this year. Targets yet to be set, but rest assured they wont be easy ones.

So the plan, as with the medication is to get started with it all next week. One big start line for the whole lot. This coincides with my return to work also, so that alone will help with the routine side of things. It also gives me the remainder of this week to work on the advice from the physio, to regain more movement in my right ankle before working it. There are 87 days left in this year or just over 12 weeks, so plenty of time to get back where I want to be.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, I will carry my mantra, Breath, count, control, and apply it to any challenge which presents itself. It is simple really, the hardest part for me will be preventing the initial knee jerk reaction, to let the rest of the cycle play out. But I know I can do it, if I put my mind to it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On the eve of the wedding...

Sitting here after a long time if doing nothing, I am becoming really good at deep thinking again. So when I think about Lee getting married tomorrow, I thought I would reflect on what that means to me.

Lee is a guy I got chatting to 10 years ago when we both had the same make of car. Chatting on a forum for a couple of years, before I stopped using it. Then seeing him pop up on my social media feed, and occasionally conversing. I have many mates like this, and love having them.

So a 18 months ago, struck down with depression, I was surprised to hear from him. We weren't close, I wasn't expecting outside help, and sure wasn't totally confident about letting an outsider in with such things.

We had many chats here and there, then out of the blue he suggested that we do lunch. Already struggling with going out in the wild, making eye contact, etc, the idea of meeting a new person, in a new place and opening up seemed ridiculous. However, clean out of other ideas, I went with it.

That invitation and decision has genuinely proven a life changer to me. That day we talked about everything, and genuinely left feeling much better, and as if I had known him for years. Both sharing personal stuff, things we held dear and private.

From that day on we have stayed in touch. Not an every day thing, but when we want to blow off steam, talk something through, or just someone to pass time chatting to, it's good to know the other is there. Some of the conversations have been rather strange, but the bond we have formed is fantastic.

With the birth of his son, when we visited, I finally got to meet the amazing future wife, Sarah. To see them together is beautiful, synchronicity at its finest, with little Harry is the cherry on the top.

I could go on for ages, singing praises, but I will save that for a private conversation.

So for now I will sum up with this.
Thank you Lee for all you have done for me. Bringing me back from the edge, being there when I needed someone to keep me sane. Thank you for trusting me enough to become part of your life on so many levels.

I am so happy to know tomorrow is just around the corner, and that finally you will be bonded with an amazing woman, and that you will be taken care of and be as happy as you both deserve to be.

Love ya man.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

To push, or not to push, that is the question!

Since turning to a single speed bike, and commuting to work, I have learned a lot, about both about myself, and cycling in general.
Having spent the past year on 22 speed bikes, it turns out I have been spoilt. Learning to ride within rather variable thresholds, and if the going gets tough, drop a gear.
Obviously with a single speed (SS) this is not possible, so it is all about planning a manageable route, and at the same time approaching it with the right mindset. Something that has taken me a while to grasp. I have already found a few hills which have defeated me, but will be giving them another go in months to come.

Starting out with my first SS being the Claud Butler Lombard St with a 46/16 set up, I learned the basics of getting into a comfortable rhythm, and discovered what my pace was, or there abouts. Then switching to the Specialized Langster, with a 48/16 set up, the going got a little tougher, especially on the inclines. To give an idea of the sort of elevation I am doing on an SS, I average about 500-750ft on a 10-15 mile commute. So not terrible, but there are a couple of little climbs that get the old ticker working harder.

One thing I have really learned to respect, especially over the past couple of windy weeks, is when to push and when to just go with the flow. Riding a roadie with 22 options of gear to be in, it is so easy to just drop a cog and keep pushing. It takes a while to learn the difference between change in elevation and road surfaces, to the resistance of the wind. When its just elevation, and fatigue, dropping a gear makes sense. But when you are into a steady headwind, it is pointless pushing too hard, otherwise you are just burning energy for nothing. In some winds, you can only push so hard.

With the SS, it is quite obvious when such a moment arises, your speed drops rapidly, the effort increases, and you quickly learn to ease up and go with the flow. Something I have struggled with for a long time now, feeling its all about attacking with all you have, all the time.
For me, pushing too hard at the wrong times, causes rapid muscle fatigue, which takes some time to recover from. So on the SS I have slowly learned my limits for pushing, and how long and hard I can push for, before reaching the stage of really slow recovery (1-2 mins before I can push on at normal pace again)

Having grasped that basic, it has enabled me to work on my next weakness, standing and pedalling. For the whole of last year, standing to do a climb has been impossible, because of my stubbornness to train. However with the SS, it is something I have had to just shut up and get on with. And I am pleased to say that I have seen a huge improvement in my ability. To the point that I lapped Richmond last weekend, and managed to stay in a higher gear, while pushing on up one of the little climbs, and reached the top with only a short period of recovery riding needed. Still more than I had planned on, but the power and cadence figures made me smile, so that's what counts.

As the ability has grown, so has the confidence. And with that comes more miles. First few weeks I did the straight point to point ride to and from work. 5 miles each way, no elevation to speak of, and a 20 min ride at best each way. As I got braver, adding a few extra miles in here and there seemed the right thing to do, and before I knew it I was doing 7-10 miles each way. Seeing the miles clocking up on Strava, I suddenly got motivated. With 2 months of no riding leaving me with a mileage deficit for the year on my 3,000 mile goal, commuting was going to get me back on track. Sure enough, as the weeks have gone by, so have the miles, and today I am finally back ahead of the curve.

I can average 100 miles a week now, double that of which is required. And with the weather improving (not including this cold windy spell we are going through) the distances are creeping up more. With 144 miles being the most for a week this year, this week is looking pretty good, with just shy of 100 miles up until Thurs AM ride, plenty of time to add to that, and ever closer to my first 1,000 miles of the year. 4 months in, 1/3 of the way, and with some time spent away from the bike, I feel positive.

The SS has really helped me find my riding style, and for anyone looking to build themselves up from a plateau, I can't recommend it enough. What was a simple cost saving exercise, and a replacement for my Smart Car commute to work, has become a new passion for me. Constantly wanting to broaden my horizons, and push the boundaries of the commute. In recent days I have been doing 20 mile one way journeys, with slightly shorter return trips, clocking up 30 miles a day, rather than the 10 required. I am hooked. Now I find myself wanting to make changes to Luigi too (the Langster SS)

Today I ventured to Woolwich in the hope of catching the ferry to the North side, then passing City Airport on my way to work. Alas it was not running, so maybe next time eh.  Til then, I will keep pushing, look forwards to any rides on the Mekk's I can get in with friends, and watch that mileage tally rise.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Me and my health.

The good news is, mentally I am fine. Phew, that's a relief.

However physically, things are a little more grim for me.
The first couple of months of the year I have struggled with foot pain. To the point where shoes and walking were a no no. Occasionally venturing out on the bike, desperate to keep my legs spinning, only to be rewarded with even worse foot pain.

With that now somewhat under control, my body thought long and hard, before giving me the next challenge. Delivered in a gold envelope by a smug looking twat in a lab coat, no wait, that's Top Gear...
Over the past few weeks, both at work and at home, people have commented on me breathing heavily. At the same time I have noticed that I labour a little with certain tasks. Usually walking or climbing stairs. Up until this time, I have been fine, walked at a good pace, climbed stairs with no issue. (Remember taking the stairs to the 22nd floor at Guys Hospital?). So obviously this has caused some concern for me.

This time of year, a lot of people with asthma (like me) struggle a little more with hayfever and other allergies causing complications. But for me that usually appears along with a chesty cough getting me all blocked up. This time, nothing. Antihistamines don't seem to help either, again they usually would. And finally my inhaler has little if no effect whatsoever.

To just spice things up a little more, my body decided to throw heart palpitations in the mix too. It's all the chest, right! Now as an avid cyclist, who strangely during all this, can actually still cycle like a nutter (confusing right!) I see my heart rate quite a lot, and push my body quite hard. Nothing abnormal shows on my HR, and there are no unexpected weaknesses or shortness of breath etc.

On speaking to my GP, he has arranged for a set of tests to be run. Bloods, heart trace, and a breathing function test. First two are done, 12 lead ECG appears fine, bloods we will see, and breathing function is being tested at the weekend. Hopefully they will point at something, as it would be a lie to say it doesn't concern me slightly. If not, the tests go on, to see what is going on in there.

I reminded myself to write this on the way back from the shops just now. Slow steady pace walking, warm but not uncomfortable day, 1 mile or so round trip. Being overtaken by people with walking trolleys, and feeling like I am labouring to carry on. Taking my heart rate on the way around, nothing shocking to see. 80-85 bpm, which is pretty good going for the conditions. Made the trip fine, but this is just one of many journeys on foot which I have made and struggled with.

The confusing part is, it can be walking or getting up that temporarily knocks me for six. But cycling, I can go on forever. The GP suggested, as expected, that weight may be a contributing factor, which I completely accept. I am indeed overweight, but should add I have not gained weight in months, so why suddenly now feel this way. And why do some less intense activities affect me worse than being bent over cycling?

Right now, it's all a mystery to me, and everyone else, but hopefully there will be some answers soon.

So that is my little update. Thanks for reading.