‘Mental Health Awareness Week’: A Rough Timeline.

 

I am trying to unravel the sequence of events that led to me being locked in a shabby, overcrowded, ill staffed north Manchester N.H.S. psychiatric ward in late 2016/ early 2017.  It is very difficult, but one must start at the beginning:

Once upon a time, I was a quiet child, who excelled in sports and could string together good sentences every now and again. I received a certificate at the end of my first year in a boy’s secondary school in East Hertfordshire, by my departing English teacher called Ms Prole. It was certified that I was ’Most Daydreaming Pupil.’

I was a child who lived inside his imagination, thought deeply about things. I had a fair number of friends, most of them being at least two years older than me. We would break into old bomb shelters, explore hard, found a small wood that contained concrete bunkers, and convinced ourselves we had discovered a secret, disused American airbases. I would go on long bike rides, often finding great secluded bodies of water that contained hard to catch fish. I played for a local bottom of the league football team, on often flooded fields that used to be paddocks.

Then something changed. My granddad died when I was twelve. Losing a wonderfully wise man whose wisdom I took for granted, well, it hit me hard. My thoughts seemed to constantly focus on death. Over the course of the next year or so, my behaviour changed drastically, I became extremely undisciplined, argumentative, I got suspended from school on several occasions. With the help of an Educational Officer – psychiatrists and psychologists took an interest in me. After a few sessions with various medical professionals, my parents were informed with confidence that I had a condition called manic depression and that it was caused by a chemical imbalance/ deficiency of a salt in my brain. After being sure that my heart, kidney or liver was free from defects, I was prescribed Lithium Carbonate.

I took the medication most days between the ages of 14 and 18.

At first, my behaviour did not improve, and it was decided that I should spend time in an adolescent unit of the psychiatric wing of a hospital near St. Albans. It was a very strange place, most of the resident children there were unwanted orphans I seem to remember.  A lot of the nurses were very heavy-handed in their restraint techniques, and doctors loved nothing more than to sedate those of us not willing to take part in various happy-clap group activities. The heavy-handed ways, the use of an exclusion room, and the sedation syrup, for even the smallest of infractions. It makes me question the ethics and morals of some of the staff, but nothing I was privy to was against the law as far as I can tell. There were some stories in the news recently about the police investigating historic abuse allegations, I can’t testify to being abused, but it certainly wasn’t the holiday camp that the staff tried to portray to my parents.

Maybe the memories of that place would have been a lot worse without a father and mother looking out for me.  

After a couple of months, I was back to school. I was the shadow of my former daydreaming self, but I no longer displayed as much unruly behaviour. I had lost virtually all my friends, I was increasingly paranoid, increasingly withdrawn. I was already behind in my school work, and I couldn’t catch up. By the time I was 15 I had the choice of resitting the year or joining another school out of the area 18 miles away, to be in the fourth year where nobody knew me. So I opted to leave a pretty decent boys-only comp with a Christian ethos, to go to a mixed comp that used to be a grammar school, but which had become a third-rate egalitarian mess.  It is safe to say that I did not respond well to the lowering of educational standards. By the final term of my second attempt at being a fourth-year pupil, I was asked to leave.  I left the school at the age of 16, without the experience of the fifth year. I went to the regional college for two years and completed a couple of NVQ modules in I.T.

I spent most of my college time in the library or playing basketball in the gym.

The point here is that I am not convinced I was mentally ill. Maybe I was, but I do not think that medication/psychiatric treatment helped me. The major thing that helped me become a less self-destructive force was time.  I think the death of a close family member really haunted my mind, and I did not know how to deal with it. My childish poetry turned dark and very cryptic, unfortunately, the caring adults in my life who were interpreting my private words without my permission, they were totally off the mark in concluding that my prose was a sign of me being suicidal. I was certainly crying out for help, but my words were full of fear about death, not a single syllable expressed a desire to die.

I wasn’t sleeping much, and prolonged lack of sleep can affect behaviour a lot, I stopped playing football, I stooped going on adventures, I stopped daydreaming. Lack of exercise can cause serious problems, especially in a child who was once very active. Add puberty to the mix. . .

I do not think Lithium was the answer to whatever was happening. And how did the medication affect the development of my fragile brain?  I guess that question is impossible for me to ever answer. I was lucky to have a good family GP who was close to retirement, a doctor from an older generation who agreed with me that I would be better off without medication.

As soon as I was eighteen, he helped me gradually decrease my doses until I was on the medication no more. 

I lacked a lot of confidence, but I had no problem finding work with the occasional kick up the backside from my father. After running into a few dead ends, I eventually became a cellar man/barman in an unusually well-run small pub that was slightly off the beaten track. In my mid-twenties I moved to Manchester with my licensee certificate in hand, but instead of running a pub, I ended up working in a mind-numbing call centre on behalf of a royal Scottish bank. By the age of 30, I was a homeowner. On paper, things seemed good. I heard from a reliable source that my parents were proud of me.

I was unhappy.

The relationship with my supposed future wife was on the rocks. I was tired of being a battery chicken trying to get people into debt. I was drinking too much. I had put on a lot of weight. I think I might have been slightly depressed. Then one evening there was a TV show on, presented by Stephen Fry, it was about living with Bipolar Disorder (The new name for manic depression.) I think it was on at about the same time that the disability discrimination act came into force. I was struggling with timekeeping and discipline at work. Home life was not happy. I was a little drunk and somehow became convinced it was a good idea to talk about my ‘mental health history’ with my partner, and to my manager at work. Things went downhill very quickly from there. I went to a doctor, got referred to a psychiatrist. After a 30-minute consultation, it was decided that I had a mild version of ‘Bipolar II’ And Lithium Carbonate was being prescribed to me. It didn’t agree with me, and I abruptly stopped taking it. I became a bit of a mess. After about 2 years I had split with my partner, took my name off the mortgage agreement.

I struggled to stay in regular work because of my erratic self-destructive behaviour. I was on benefits for a couple of years. 

Eventually, I got a job as an assistant manager, in a betting shop of all places. It was an interesting few years but working for a morally challenged employer can eventually take its toll on one’s spirit.  This is when I ‘gave up’.  I would get a sick note from my local medical centre once a month, claiming I was depressed, etc. I started claiming Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit for my ‘disability.’ It was more than enough to exist on as part of a house share in a diverse student area in south central Manchester.  At some point a cannabis smoker moved into the house I was barely existing in. It didn’t become long before an occasional smoke turned into a regular habit. It took a year or so, but I eventually became undoubtedly mentally ill.

I was not self-medicating, I smoked weed because I enjoyed smoking it, I loved getting ‘high.’ 

My behaviour gradually started changing for the worse over the course of about half a year. I went to doctors complaining of anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia etc. I told them about my cannabis habit too. The young funky doctor referred me to a young hip psychiatrist, who after 5 minutes of questions, decided that   Quetiapine may be the answer to my woes. I wasn’t getting any better, and I gradually stopped taking the medication. I started smoking cannabis again.  I was under the influence of what I’ll call acute mania not long after reading ‘The Cameron Delusion.’ I am fortunate that was the last book I read before I became undeniably mentally ill.  At the height of my illness, it was like I was inside a vivid daydream like I was fast asleep and wide awake at the same time. It is hard to explain. I was aware I was ill though, I sought help. It was eventually decided I should be sectioned, and I disagreed, so a bunch of health workers accompanied by police officers came to my front door. One policeman with impeccable customer service skills informed me I would have to be restrained with cuffs for my own safety, and I was escorted into the back of a police van. The police chauffeured me to the hospital, where I became a reluctant resident/client in a locked ward for about 6 or 7 weeks. I was forced to take a cocktail of 4 mind-altering drugs daily. A psychiatrist would see me for about five minutes, once a week. I was told after the sixth or seventh short consultation that I could be released under the condition that I carried on taking the drugs. A social worker visited me on two occasions in the two months after my release from the hospital. Assured I was taking the medication, the visits stopped. I didn’t mention to the social worker that I was gradually lowering the doses I was taking. Within days of the last visit, I had eventually weened myself of the medication completely. It took several months, but eventually, I got a job. And I have been well, in full-time employment for about 15 months now.

I don’t use cannabis anymore either of course.

I haven’t knowingly talked to a doctor since my time in the hospital. Mind-altering drugs just do not agree with me.

 

FBB

Copyist. Plagiarist. Office clerk. In my spare time I think (it's not illegal yet), write, sing, read, watch, listen, go for walks, and drive my wife-to-be insane.

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