Respect to John Woodcock MP

john-woodcock-jpgThis week the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, John Woodcock took a very brave decision to announce that he is suffering from clinical depression. Following this bold step, he has rightly received praise from all sides for his willingness to sick his head above the parapet and say ‘Me too’.

Is it not a major step forward when a public figure (one with a very stressful job) feels able to talk about mental health conditions in a positive and progressive way. Obviously this is only one example, however the reaction from those suffering from depression or other related conditions should be (and I’m sure will be) one of universal positivity and thanks.

The courage that John Woodcock has shown in confronting his illness head on, and in the public eye should hopefully provide inspiration to all of those who suffer in silence and don’t feel able to discuss their problems or seek medical help. On his constituency website John gives a full and frank account of his problems; however more importantly he makes it quite clear about not only his determination to get better, but also about his continued ability to perform to the best of his ability in the work place, (see the below link to read this).

People like John can help to break down the barriers that surround perceptions of mental illness and for his actions this week he deserves every single bit of thanks and praise coming to him.

John Woodcock website

There was also an appearance on BBC Newsnight (4/12/13) that you can view here:

John Woodcock MP / Newsnight 4/12/13

Kind words from Fraser Nelson in The Spectator:

Fraser Nelson – In Praise of John Woodcock MP

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What if we treated physical illness the same way as mental health?

Following on from yesterdays post hoping for a greater understanding of mental illness; last night I came this wonderful and thought-provoking item, posted by @Nikkitita69 . The point being ‘What if physical illness was treated in the same way as mental illness’.

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I think that this brilliantly illustrates the lack of understanding and education that surrounds mental illness and those who suffer from it; both in silence or those receiving help. Changing attitudes and perceptions is vital; even something as small as copying this graphic and posting it on Twitter (or heaven forbid Facebook). Personally, I would love as many people as possible to see this, so feel free to share EVERYWHERE.

 

*Huge thanks to @Nikkitita69 for bringing this to my attention.

‘Seeing’ Mental Illness

As the sad departure of Jonathan Trott from the England Ashes tour in Australia has shown us over the past few weeks,  we humans have a remarkable, if ill-advised way of ‘living’ with mental illness; of ‘dealing with it’. There is a popular misconception amongst some who feel that those who suffer from mental illness, specifically various forms of depression, should be able to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’.

Of course, unlike other medical conditions, let’s say for example, a broken leg; depression / mental illness can not easily be seen – those affected will often find it hard to talk about how they feel or the problems they find even completing the most basic of day-to-day tasks that other people take for granted. It can be extremely hard to articulate ones feelings with regards to this; partly because of the stigma still attached to these conditions or due to embarrassment – feeling as if it’s not a ‘real’ illness.

It is – depression is no less an illness than developing pneumonia and is more common and widespread than many of us think. In 2010/11 the number of reported cases of depression in the UK fell just below 5 Million. This obviously doesn’t include the number of individuals who for various reasons either refuse or lack the ability or courage to seek treatment; or indeed those who do not in fact realise that they are in fact suffering from a form of mental illness.

Mental illness is a huge problem in the UK – it’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate; it can debilitate anyone, young or old; and despite the still popular misconceptions, succumbing to depression is not a sign of weakness or a flaw in an individual’s character. As Jonathan Trott has shown; here is a man attempting to live with a serious illness whilst still attempting to maintain a high level of performance as one of England’s leading batsmen. Of course, anyone attempting to lead a ‘normal’ life whilst attempting to keep their condition hidden or under control will face problems. Therefore the more we can do to highlight mental illness and to show support and understanding to those, like myself, who suffer, the sooner we can begin to break down the misguided barriers that help to contribute to making people’s basic every day survival potentially much harder than it really should be.

Depression can show itself in many forms, quite often the symptoms will be physical as well mental, as these examples show:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Persistent sadness
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/ or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Self-harm

Of course there is no particular pattern to this and no two people will suffer from the same combination of symptoms. I was finally forced to admit to and face my own problems recently after and during a severe bout of insomnia that lasted almost a month. To put that into perspective, during those four weeks I probably averaged about 1 to 2 hours sleep a night – as a general rule those periods of sleep came at the beginning of the night – the rest of the time was spent awake. I have suffered from mental illness for twenty years and whilst I don’t intend to go into the reasons or triggers for that here, I can confirm that for the majority of that time I have gone without both medication or therapy.

So, just for moment try to imagine the mindset and internal pressure of someone attempting to cope with mental illness, knowing full well that they have a problem, yet trying and failing to live a ‘normal’ life. I’ll be the first to admit that one becomes rather adept at covering up any traces of illness – during the whole of past twenty years I can honestly count on one hand the number of people who I have discussed my situation with and that includes doctors. Obviously I would urge anyone showing any of the above symptoms to contact their doctor immediately or at the very least try to discuss their problems with someone close to them. Of course, it is very, very easy for me to say this, after all I have become extremely skillful at NOT discussing my problems with ANYONE, and to be honest I couldn’t give you a good reason why. Again, I don’t intend to make this too personal, but what I will say is that by not seeking help a long time ago for this illness I have built a wall around myself that is so impenetrable that even I, now at the age of forty, almost fail to recognise myself.

If I could give one small piece of advice to anyone it would be ‘ don’t become isolated’. I have driven people away and ruined most of my close or meaningful relationships due to what at the time was my inability to confront or admit to myself that I had a problem – let’s put it down to my upbringing, stiff upper lip and all that other bullshit.

Should you be in that position – seek help. Talk to your doctor – I’m very lucky in that I’ve discovered that in fact I have the most wonderful doctor, who in the past month or so has made a huge difference to my life and has helped me to see a way forward and a way of not just coping, not just managing, but living a better and hopefully more meaningful life.

SSRIs are not for everyone, and after a painful and very frightening time taking Seroxat in my late twenties, I was very unwilling to go down that particular route again. However, I believe it is possible for the right combination to be prescribed although it might take some time to find the right medication for you, (if at all).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also help. Keeping your feelings to oneself is the worst thing that you can do – there has to be an outlet, a way to let of steam, to release the pressure. Again, this might not be for everyone, but I am finding this to be a massive help. It can be very painful, however I feel that the benefits will pay off over the long-term.

Talk to people, friends, family and fellow sufferers – learn about your illness. It can be a long battle and you need to be as prepared and well equipped as possible. Know your enemy.There are plenty of support groups out there, full of people going through the same thing, seek them out.

Finally – this is NOT an illness to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s a real illness with millions of sufferers, many of whom are fighting the double battle of both mental illness and the stigma attached to it and to themselves.

http://www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/what-is-depression.php

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssris-(selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors)/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Frightened Rabbit + Support – Institute, Birmingham 11/11/13

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What can compensate for a damp, dank and unseasonably warm November evening in Birmingham? Three brilliant bands for only fifteen pounds, that’s what. In terms of value alone, this could at the very least be described as the very best of Monday nights.

So, I was extremely excited about seeing Frightened Rabbit and then I discovered that one of my favourite bands from the last few years were supporting, namely the fantastic Lanterns on the Lake; quite possibly the best thing to come out of Newcastle since, well I don’t know when.

First up we had Paul Thomas Saunders – unfortunately due to pub related activities we only caught the second part of his set; however we were all very impressed – well worth having a listen to his latest EP ‘Descartes Highlands’.

Next the ever wonderful Lanterns on the Lake  – two albums in and after a slight line up change, the North East’s finest just keep getting better and better. Bitter sweet and sometimes fraught lyrics delivered with a musical intensity that moves – all topped off with the spellbinding and beautiful vocals of Hazel Wilde. Exciting to end with my personal favourite, ‘ I Love You Sleepyhead’ – both their albums are essential purchases.

As for Frightened Rabbit – what can one say? They certainly didn’t disappoint – it makes a rare change to find a band that really connects with their audience – this was demonstrated to perfection. As for the music, well this was powerful and sublime. Scott Hutchison is a brilliant frontman; joking with the crowd before launching into a series of intense and sometimes heartbreaking songs. The moment that he turned of the amplification and sand acoustically at the front of the stage to complete silence and reverence from the crowd will stay with me for a long time indeed.

http://frightenedrabbit.com/

http://lanternsonthelake.com/

http://paulthomassaunders.com/

 

 

Images #3

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

The Sun Rising – John Donne

 

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All images / photographs are the property of Tim Phillips-White (2013). Please ask permission before copying or using,

 

Library of Birmingham

Unless you’ve been living a life of seclusion in a cave its unlikely that you wont be aware in some way about the impressive new library based in Birmingham City Centre. I visited the site several times shortly after the official opening and found myself  ‘impressed with bells on’. A fantastic building, a great focal point for the city and a magnificent creative hub for the people of Birmingham.

Link:  http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/

 

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All photographs / images are the property of Tim Phillips-White (2013) – Please ask permission before copying / using

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

I’ve been wondering what constitutes the difference between a novel and a novella. Julian Barnes’ 2011 Mann Booker Prize winner could certainly be considered to be on the short side, at only 150 pages – however, in the same manner as J.L Carr’s ‘A Month in the Country, it’s slight appearence does not in anyway diminish it’s power.

This story begs the question, do we ever really present a truthful representation of ourselves to the world? Or, do we settle upon a version of ones personality, be it accurate or not. Memories can play cruel tricks upon ones mind – a group of friends will quite often have completely conflicting memories of incidents from their shared past. The end of a relationship or friendship will be seen from two opposite points of view.

It it only as one gets older that we are sometimes forced to confront our perceptions, and re-evaluate past events – in the process perhaps reaching a conclusion that we would rather not have reached at the time.

Life will often throw up unwanted and sometimes unexpected surprises – this novel captures a mans attempts to cope with this, in the process accepting what he was always too blind to see.

A very moving and thought provoking novel….

High Anxiety

There has been a lot of coverage in the past week about England cricketer, Michael Yardy taking the decision to leave the world cup early to return home due to suffering from severe depression. The reports of this have been mixed; thankfully though, we live in a time where there is a greater acceptance of depression as a serious illness, however there are still those who hold the view that sufferers of mental illness are simply ‘unhappy’, or a ‘bit down’. These are the people who look at a sportsman like Yardy and generally think that he should be grateful for the fortunate position that he has found himself in, and that perhaps he should just stop moaning.

I think it takes a great deal of courage to admit and be open about depression, even in these enlightened times; after all, even though you might be able to talk about it, no one really knows the pain and suffering that a person goes through during these times.

During most of my twenties, I myself went through several bouts of serious depression and panic attacks. These episodes became so serious, that at one point during the mid 1990’s, I went through what could probably be considered a complete nervous breakdown. It’s very difficult for me to describe to you how this felt; at the time I certainly felt unable to talk about it; I was embarrassed, almost ashamed, and considered myself to be very, very weak. Throughout this whole period, I struggled to maintain a normal life; including holding down a full-time job. I became very withdrawn, and although I’ve always been a very sociable man, I quite often felt like shutting myself away from the world. Panic attacks added to the pain; I occasionally would be unable to set foot in a shop if too many people were there, I would become a nervous wreck if someone as much as spoke to me. There was one incident where I ran out of a hairdressers half way through a haircut; I simply felt unable to be around people, or any amount of pressure. Sporadically, I also started to drink a lot; a hell of a lot.

The root cause of my problems was the sudden and unexpected death of my Mother in 1993. I had no idea how to deal with this at the time, so I shut it out; I almost pretended it hadn’t happened. The last thing I would have been able to do at the time would have been to talk about it; that just didn’t seem to be an option, and of course, over the next few years, the pressure of this continued to build up inside me to the point where my behaviour began to become increasingly unpredictable and self-destructive.

I don’t think I can begin to describe just how dark these times were; there are periods that remain firmly locked away in my head; to be honest they will probably always stay there, and this blog is certainly not the place to relive them. This is down to self-protection;  I’ve tried very hard to maintain an image of being very thick-skinned; however, this is only partly true. I have become fairly tough over the years, I’ve had to, there wasn’t really any other option. It was, and sometimes still is, just a question of surviving, of getting through the day, and of waking up the next morning.

Days, months and years soon pass, and I left it too long before deciding to try to get help. I have untold amounts of respect for anyone finding themselves in that position. The first step is always the biggest and hardest; even before you feel able to discuss your problems, you have the far harder task of coming to terms with it yourself. This took me a long time to do, and I often wish that I’d been able to take that great leap of faith far sooner than I did; after all, my illness took its toll not only on me, but also on those around me, and especially upon those closest to me. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I hurt those I loved due to my inability to talk or express my feelings; even now this still crops up from time to time, it has prevented me from allowing people to become too close to me; this has always been a great sadness in my life, and I’ve often felt that I’ve missed out on a lot of living.

Receiving treatment can be a long and painful process; I went through a very tough period whilst taking prescribed antidepressants. At the time it didn’t feel as if they were actually doing anything to help me. Of course, realistically, you don’t start taking these and suddenly wake up a week later feeling and acting like Mr Happy and on top of the world. They simply help to provide balance in your life, they level you out; although, in my case the side effects were horrendous. I found therapy to be of much greater use; the beauty of this is that they don’t actually say that much too you, they leave you to talk, to release everything that you’ve storing up over the years.

I found that over time I was able to discuss not only my Mothers death, but also her in general. I was able to go back to my childhood, talk about my parents divorce, address a lot of issues that I’d long kept buried. It was a long and very rocky path, taking probably the best part of a year to even myself out. However, there is no magic cure, only acceptance, and an ability to recognise the signs of oncoming depression. What I managed to learn was how to deal with depression when it comes knocking on my door; for example, these days I only really suffer during the winter months, and I find the Christmas period very hard to deal with. I now know the signs though, and I deal with it accordingly. It’s been eight years since I last visited the doctor, or took medication for depression, and touch wood, I’ll never have to again for the remainder of my life.

We shouldn’t judge those who suffer from this illness. It can and does take over your life, dramatically changes your personality, and can leave one feeling totally helpless and useless. What we need is more acceptance, understanding and empathy for those people who are undoubtably going through the fight of their lives.

How to tell your mid-life crisis to piss off….

I recently found myself on an evening out attempting to chat up a young woman, who upon reflection, was quite possibly young enough to be my daughter. Of course, at this point I’d had more than a few, and as I’m sure we all know a few stiff ones can suddenly make one believe that you’re the funniest and most charming man on the planet. Now this can go one of several ways; they’re either as pissed as you and you end up in bed, (more of which I’ll come to later), they pity you, and put up with the smarmy offensive for a while, whilst hoping that it’ll soon be past your bedtime, or they’ll take the more direct approach and tell you to fuck off.

What is it that makes a man of my age suddenly think that he can still be attractive to someone who was still learning to talk whilst he was starting his first job? I’m sure there are those out there who thrive on this; who still love the thrill of the chase, whilst at the same time worrying about their pension. I’m not one of these people; I can think of nothing worse than being thought of as a ‘dirty old man’, or whatever term is used these days. This has happened to me on far too many occasions though, and more often than not I’ve woken up the next morning, (or afternoon), wondering what the bloody hell I was playing at in the first place. There is nothing worse than that horrible creeping feeling when your mind clears and you realise just what an ageing lothario you’ve become; especially if the other poor individual involved is still asleep next to you. You feel frozen to the spot, unable to move, even though all you want to do is to get the hell out of there. Of course, if you happen to be in your own bedroom, then you’re quite literally screwed.

Can I put this all down to the onset of the fabled ‘mid-life crisis’? Perhaps. I think you do start to panic a lot more about life when you reach a certain age; in fact I know you do. Little problems that you would have once laughed off, ignored or took in your stride suddenly become magnified; it doesn’t matter what it is; it could be work, money, relationships or your appearance. Or it could just be the fact that you’re getting older; and let’s face it, getting older sucks cock. Big time.

This isn’t all about sex; I don’t particularly want to be thought of as some ‘dirty old dog’, clinging onto some lost, halcyon days of youth. Perhaps it’s a fear of commitment; for many years now I’ve never been involved in a relationship with someone the same age as me; the problem is of course that all those people are getting older too. They want to settle down, get married and perhaps have children. It all suddenly becomes very serious and very real; a feeling that your carefree life is now in all probability over. So, you move onto even younger people, and that’s where you start to look silly, and a bit desperate. That’s not to say that I don’t want all of those things; in reality I do, probably more so now than ever before. However, before one can get to that stage there has to be a degree of acceptance; not only of your age and where you are in life, but also an acceptance of yourself as a person. I’ve always had a young outlook on life, I don’t feel any differently in my mind from when I was eighteen, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, you have to adapt that young outlook as you grow older; for example, how often do you see a man pushing forty still trying to look like a twenty year old? I don’t think I really try to do that, although, I will confess to growing my hair longer this year in a vain attempt to ‘knock a few years off’ – this has resulted in several different reactions from work colleagues. One told me it made me look younger, the other asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis. I decided to go with the first response and ignore the other; there is no better way to massage my fragile ego than to tell me that I could still pass for thirty. In fact, if anyone reading this actually knows me in real life, perhaps you could just email me, or phone, and just tell me that! Male or female, I’m not that fussed; you’ll make me a very happy man….

Just because you’ve not reached your ideal place in life by your late thirties, it doesn’t mean that you’re a complete abject failure. I know I’m not alone in this; I’m sure there are many of us out there feeling a bit washed up and passed our best; I’m sure it doesn’t have to be that way though. I think the secret is just to relax a bit; don’t take it all so seriously, and learn to come to terms with who you are. In reality, people like you for who you are, regardless of your ability to stay out until 4am every Saturday night, although I think doing that once in a while does you a lot of good. It’s about achieving a certain balance in your life; the fine line between growing old before your time and still trying to look as if you’re a guitarist in a band on the cover of the NME.

Now, until next weekend……