Time to speak up….

Everyone has a story. Everyone should be heard. Let’s talk about mental health on World Mental Health Day 2019. Wherever you are, let’s help each other.

A.S.D Brooks

Calmness amongst the turbulence…

Turbulent day weather wise here in London. Lashing rain showers, angry dark skies and a cold, strong wind. Autumn is here folks! While standing at the bus stop watching the leaves being blown about in various directions, I thought it was time to reflect.

Reflect on the turbulence that has tried to throw me completely off course in 2019. But here I still am, despite that. In the last month, I have felt much better and calmer, more relaxed and enjoying life again. I’ve had a great and revitalising holiday. I’ve enjoyed my volunteering stints and being involved once again with spreading the word on mental health. I’ve enjoyed the end of the cricket season, especially watching Essex, my home county, winning the County Championship and the T20 competitions in the space of a week.

It was good to see my CBT counsellor today and explained why I feel so different. Then I went out and about, in the not so glorious weather, bought a book and a warm jumper for winter and then had a bite of lunch.

I feel so good that I am really looking forward to umpiring indoor cricket tomorrow morning. I haven’t umpired indoors for a few years now but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think back to that day on Praia Da Oura beach in Portugal when all the upset and stress ebbed away and into the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Amazing difference in that space of time.

Yep, looking forward to having a good and productive winter where I can get back to doing the things I enjoy, and that I can ignore the darkness and the cold of the season. It won’t be easy, but I’m ready for the challenge.

A.S.D Brooks

World Suicide Prevention Day…

As this is a very emotive subject, please exercise caution when reading this piece…

Today, I attended a meeting at City Hall, London for World Suicide Prevention Day. There were about 100 attendees with some impressive keynote speakers on duty, including the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, whose initiative it was to set up Thrive LDN and a new training programme to spot the signs of suicide and help prevent it.

Suicide is a difficult subject. Hearing first hand experiences of this makes you sit up and take notice and can melt the hardest of hearts. There was a collective desire in the room to aim for a Zero Suicide target across London. A difficult target but one that can be achieved.

How do we help prevent it? By talking, by getting professional, medical help and attending groups where you can share your experiences. Nothing is worth ending your own life for, despite all what is thrown at us by the environment, financial hardship, discrimination and stigma and the ambivalence of some parts of society to these dreadful events.

We heard about what some employers are doing to help by making more of their workers “aware” of mental ill health and to create a better working environment. I can only say from bitter experience that most of the companies I worked for couldn’t have cared less if I took time off for “mental ill health”. They would have rushed me back to work and had no compunction in putting me on stage warnings for sick absence. I’m glad to say that attitudes are changing, but only slowly. Lots more work needs to be done across society as a whole.

In a sense I’m glad I’ve gone and are still going through the bad experiences because it gives me a chance to be involved, at a more humble level, admittedly, and a chance to meet and network with so many other great people who share a common bond – to make other people’s lives better and richer, spiritually and emotionally.

It was a pleasure to be in the audience and to hear power from the speakers because it’s something they believe passionately in. So do I. I have had the occasional, fleeting glimpses this year into a dark side of me that doesn’t bear thinking about. We all want to get better, so let’s start now!

A.S.D Brooks

Birthday reflections…..

Evening. Today I advanced another year, to 47. Getting closer to that half century. Every birthday, I reflect on the year past.

Ever since late November/early December 2018, it’s been traumatic to say the least. Suffice it to say that my health, mental and physical, has not been good. Of course, there have been some brighter moments, but these have been few and far between. It’s been a constant battle to stay afloat.

Last November, I went through one of these government ordered Work Capability Assessments, and as usual, the whole experience was cold, demeaning and hugely humiliating. But more of that in a minute.

A few weeks later, I attended a Christmas party at SANE, the UK mental health charity that I volunteer for. The whole evening I found a struggle, I felt claustrophobic and succumbing to a panic attack, I headed for home.

Christmas wasn’t that inspiring and then the start of 2019 was desperate. The Work Capability Assessment found me fit to work and removed one of my financial lifelines, in a trice. That sent me into a mental tailspin and thought dark, sinister thoughts about what the future might hold for me.

I appealed this decision via something called a Mandatory Reconsideration. The reply was best described as arrogant nonsense, as though I’m making up all my issues and I know precious little. I had no money for 2 months or so, and the little money I had saved was dwindling. I decided to go to my doctors to get him to help. I was paid some backdated money while the appeal was being considered, and I was provided some help in going to a tribunal.

For the previous few months, my brother in law was ill with cancer. He seemed to be making good progress until he became very unwell in February. This was putting an enormous strain on me and my sister’s immediate family, and all thoughts were with brother in law as a rapid deterioration started to set in. I made it to the hospital to see him for one last time in late February and it wasn’t good. That’s how I don’t want to remember him. A very distressing time.

Come March, which should be a time for hope and optimism, my brother in law passed away. Even now as I type, I can’t quite believe it. My sister has borne the brunt of the strain for a while and is the strongest person I know or am likely to know.

The funeral was delayed while I, reluctantly, took a few days away to gather my thoughts. When I returned, the problems were still there. Three brown envelopes on the doormat – YOUR MONEY HAS BEEN STOPPED. Crushed, I had to carry on and try and be strong for the family. An awful time for all of us.

Then cricket season came along in April. Typically it was cold and dank, reflecting my mood. All of a sudden, I started to settle into scoring and some umpiring, albeit on a limited basis via my club. But if there wasn’t enough issues casting this dark cloud over me, another one cropped up where I felt unappreciated and undervalued. There were some brighter moments but overall, I’ve just run out of energy and enthusiasm. The cricket I’ve done recently has been sporadic and some of the fun has gone out of it, because that’s what some people actually want it seems. Not interested I’m afraid.

And then to the appeal tribunal last Friday. My sister came with me, and the wait to defend myself was like waiting to face a firing squad. It would have been more humane. Armed with a wad of papers as big as an encyclopaedia, I had some help from a local advocacy service. The lady dealing with my caseload has written a powerful and informed letter.

I sat down, terribly anxious as one might expect. I answered the questions as truthfully as I could muster, and before I could say any more, the presiding judge announced “YOU HAVE WON YOUR APPEAL”. The original and factually incorrect initial decision had been reversed. When those words were uttered I broke down, partly in relief, but partly of upset and anger about the distress that has been part of my life for the last year.

I still cannot bring myself to feel elated or joyous. I feel it’s vindication and a confirmation of what my issues are and how they dominate my life. I also feel it’s justice. My sister said the initial decision was wrong and we stuck with the whole process until the bitter end. I could have given up and there were times when that was the better option. But I have amazing support and the tribunal judge and doctor were utterly fair and impartial, asking me relevant questions, not a standard tick box exercise to satisfy quotas and ideology. That advocacy letter swayed their decision and the judge recommended that I have a two year moratorium from being assessed. I know that this will crop up again in the future but for now, justice has been done and seen to be done.

And I have faith in the UK judicial system too. And that’s the second time I’ve won an appeal. The last time was in 2012. The weight of evidence was not dismissed out of hand as historical and irrelevant (the State’s words, not mine). It was carefully considered and the right outcome has been achieved.

So here we are today. 12th August 2019. I’m 47 years old, hoping the next twelve months will be a lot better. They can’t be a lot worse. One thing hasn’t changed however, the weather is rubbish and it hasn’t stopped raining for two weeks. But on the day of the tribunal appeal, the sun shone briefly for A.S.D Brooks. Hoping for more sunshine in the next year.

Thanks for listening.

A.S.D Brooks

Things moving on quickly….

Tuesday afternoon. 4.30 pm. At this time of year you would expect nice, fine weather and the sun streaming through the window. Sadly, not today. Rain, cold, grey skies and summer has disappeared from the UK for a while.

But other things are moving on quickly and well. The garden has been done, by a nice bloke from the local council:-

Compared to the appalling mess it was in, caused by me, I’m really pleased that it looks a good deal better. When the sun does make a reappearance, I shall sit out there and top up my tan.

Pleased that I sorted out the issue on Saturday, and to stick up for myself. On that note, the appeal against my welfare benefit stoppage is ongoing, and I’ve sent off some more evidence so that hopefully, the decision can be reversed and I can get on with my life again.

The gas engineer came round this morning to do a statutory check on the central heating, etc, and of course, I couldn’t cancel this and tell him to come back another day. Being a council property that I live in, they all have the gas supply and central heating checked as a matter of course. Pleased that has a clean bill of health for another 12 months.

Cricket? Well, I have a match Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and next Tuesday, but I fear that this rubbish weather could put the kibosh on it. Still, the weather is something that no one can control, so we have to get on with it, come rain or shine.

And a spot of volunteering at SANE as well. I even turned up on Instagram with my face and a quote regarding voluntary work. Considering that SANE is a national charity, then I’ve gone nationwide on the Instagram website.

Plus, I may have some speaking engagements coming up regarding mental health and some exciting stuff regarding specialised peer support work in a few weeks. Everything is moving fast, but I couldn’t do most of it without the help and input of my wonderful sister, who despite all the traumas she has been through this year, still finds the time to support me and keep me just this side of sanity. And to the cricket club, who are very supportive and it’s been a joy to be around the place, despite the slight hiccup on Saturday. The mix of umpiring and scoring has kept me going through another tough spell.

Phew. A lot of stuff, but the upward curve has just begun. Can I keep it going?

A.S.D Brooks

Visit to the doctor….

As far as my own mental health is concerned, I haven’t been to my doctor for a good while. I haven’t seen the need, but yesterday I bit the bullet and went, accompanied by my sister.

I had to go. Things haven’t been good in 2019. Stoppage of one of my welfare benefits, my own living environment, and a family bereavement have contributed to a poor year. I was even in panic mode about this appointment yesterday, and this doctor has been our family GP for over 30 years now.

But he put my mind at rest. He understands me and understands what has gone on in the last few years. My sister also contributed to the conversation, and I wonder what I would do without her input. She fights for me and in the end, we are going to fight to get the benefit stoppage overturned. We are both in this for the long haul. Determined to see justice done.

Afterwards, I was glad that I went and saw the doctor. Being a typical man, I need cajoling and pushing into going to seeing him. But he will put the tools in place to help me along and it was good to let him know just what kind of existence I’ve had since December 2018. Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe. But it’s a good start to this fight back.

A.S.D Brooks

The Power of Words…

Knowledge is power, so they say. I’m very out of practice with doing mental health presentations so I was invited to speak to a Government department today about autism and the effect that it has had on me throughout my life.

For confidentiality reasons, I’m not allowed to disclose who the Government department is or where it was. All I can say is that I was invited to speak to about 40 staff, and it was important for me to get my message across.

And I was really happy with how it went. There was polite applause at the end and several people commented on how good it was. If they knew that I spent a good few minutes last night scrabbling around trying to find my aide memoire that I use for presentations. Eventually I found it and I hope that it was of some use to the people who listened. If we can all understand better those with mental illness whose everyday lives are a struggle, then the better off we’ll all be.

And then I went off to watch cricket on a blissful, sunny day. It’s been a good day. There’s been very few of those in 2019, so I’m going to make the most of it. Because I know that there’s always trouble lurking at every turn. I have to be wary, but I’ve survived before and I’ll survive again. If I didn’t have volunteering, cricket and the like, I wouldn’t be here. So I have to make the most of the good days.

See ya.

A.S.D Brooks

Outward bound….

Good weather on the way through to Easter here in the UK. We’ve lost the cold easterly winds that have plagued us recently and we can look forward to some nice, warm temperatures and some sun.

Yesterday I watched my first piece of live cricket action here in the UK. Peace and quiet, getting out and about and just listening to the sound of bat on ball, the occasional shriek of “Howzat” at the umpire, and the birds tweeting merrily. As I’ve alluded to before, my idea of heaven, when I eventually get there.

It did me a lot of good. Delving back into that well-being toolkit to help me out of these problems is something I’ve done many times before, and will do so again. What’s happened over the last few months has been a combination of helplessness, grief and desolation. That all came out last Friday. The world looks slightly better this week.

Today, I’ve seen my CBT counsellor and also bumped into an old colleague of mine from peer support. We had a good long chat and hopefully things might start to change for her as well.

Getting out and about, escaping from the problems, starting to enjoy a few things again. It’s a tough old world out there but that well-being toolkit is very beneficial. It’s helping me to recover after a series of punches have seen me stagger to the ground. Think it’s called experience….

A.S.D Brooks

A dangerous cocktail of emotions……

Not been a good day today, at all. In point of fact, I’ve been in bits, emotionally so. The journey into the office for the weekly Peer Support group saw several worst case scenarios playing out in my head.

When I reached the office, I couldn’t laugh, joke or be nice to anybody. The overriding emotions are taking over and causing me to display some personality traits which are not indicative of me as a person.

What are these emotions? Doom, jealousy, grief, paranoia, upset, anger. With all that swirling around, I just cannot think straight. And to think those eight days away would have pressed the reset button. In fact, I just feel all of the above. With my senses on high alert, it’s a very difficult time. I mean, jealousy for a start. I never have been jealous of anyone in my life, to date. But that all changed today, without any justification at all.

Horrible. Where’s it all going to stop? This horrible year has not let up yet. I need to pay a visit to my doctor before things get even worse. I don’t want to return to those bad old days. But I feel slightly out of control at the moment and want to arrest this before I do crash spectacularly. I’m trying to talk to people, to elicit counselling support. Will it be enough? Who knows?

All the staff in the office today were in good spirits. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Sad, unwanted and feeling desolate and upset. So many things have gone wrong in 2019 that I don’t know what is next.

Tomorrow I have a family funeral to attend and naturally this is playing on my mind. I have to present a strong facade but it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a very demanding day, and to be honest, I have to front up and be there. I owe it to the departed person to do so. I will have some support there and that will help. But I want this horrible period to go and things to get a little easier. I don’t want to crash and think dark thoughts, and what’s more, I don’t want to act on those thoughts.

The holiday was good, all because I was away from the UK and the trouble. I shut off from all the upset and tried to enjoy it. But the troubles restarted when I turned that key in the lock. And this week has been shit, to put it bluntly.

So, that’s the story at the moment. Will the fight leave me as it’s done before, or will I hit back and show people that I am valued and appreciated? Because it doesn’t feel like that at the moment. A dangerous cocktail of emotions that I hope will cease sooner rather than later. We shall see.

A.S.D Brooks

In need of a break….

Hi. Looking out of my window at slate grey skies and listening to the gale force north westerly howling, it’s important to take stock of a situation that’s been playing on my mind for a while, but has now been resolved.

I have a cricket tour to Malta booked for the end of the month. For all that has gone on this year, my attendance on the tour was in some doubt even up until yesterday, which in itself was a chaotic and eventful one, which I won’t dwell on here. I’ve been thinking that I won’t be getting on that plane, too much swirling round in my head.

But….but…..a close family member has insisted I go. And I will go. I cannot wait, just cannot wait to relax and enjoy some sunnier climes for seven days, and think about other things. Time is marching on. Just need to purchase some travel insurance and get some travel money for the trip. Normally I would be really excited about getting away, but this time, because of the circumstances, I’m just glad to be making it. It could be the catalyst for a better period this year, after all, January, February and March have been dreadful.

So I can’t wait to get my suitcase, get some clothes packed and disappear for a while. If only it was for longer…..but a week will do.

A.S.D Brooks