A lockdown blog post….and how it’s impacted on my mental health

www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/blogging/show_blog/2353

Would be delighted if you gave this a read….

Ian L. Fullbrook

We’re with you Boris!!!

Normally this site is for levity and a bit of humour. As you all know, before the shutdown, I was doing some stand up comedy that mainly centred around mimicking the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson.

Well this Coronavirus has impacted everyone, either with their physical health or their mental health. Now this ghastly situation has struck at the heart of the British Government. Boris himself is now in intensive care in a London hospital, battling away trying to fight off this illness.

To say I was in bits last night was an understatement. I’m no fan of Boris or his policies, but I’ve been impressed by his calm handling of this crisis. No bumbling around or bombast, it was plain speaking telling us all to look after ourselves and others. Now he has fallen ill, I was recoiling in horror at the awful possibilities that lay ahead.

I would be saying the same irrespective of who is in charge of the UK at the moment. No one wants to see anyone suffering and when it is the No.1 person in the UK who has been afflicted, everyone does the good British thing of which I’m proud today, being supportive of others in crisis.

I want him to pull through so I can continue to take the piss out of him at every opportunity, once this crisis has been resolved. It’s one of the gravest moments in the history of the world, let alone the UK, and everyone has been impacted, and I mean everyone.

So for the time being, I want to wish the Prime Minister a full and speedy return to health and to continue the fight against this appalling illness. Whatever your political persuasion, I’m sure you will agree. And I have no truck with people who wish ill fortune on others because of their political ideologies. This is no time for petty point scoring. It’s a time for rallying round each other and to pull each other through this. Boy, it’s been tough, and I’ve been struggling to cope with it all, as have some of my friends.

So, Boris Johnson, get well soon, from all of us, to you.

Stay safe everyone.

Ian L. Fullbrook

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

Farewell to a cricket legend…thanks for the memories Tres

This is Marcus Trescothick, former England and Somerset cricketer who retired from the game yesterday, aged 43.

Trescothick was a superb left handed opening batsman who reduced opposing bowlers to a quivering wreck. His aggressive approach garnered him a huge amount of success at the top level and he had a run of six years at the top of the England batting.

What secures Trescothick’s place as a legend in my eyes was his admission, around 2006, that he was suffering from anxiety and depression. He made it ok to talk about mental illness. His story is documented in his superb autobiography, Coming Back to Me, where his daily battles melted the hardest of hearts with it’s honesty and candour.

I remember watching Trescothick playing for Somerset, soon after his admission of mental illness, in a game versus Surrey at The Oval. He scored a great century and the crowd rose as one to applaud not only the innings, but the man as well. Trescothick comes over well on TV as a decent, honest, pleasant human being who gave great service to the game of cricket.

Yesterday, as my home county, Essex, were nearing the County Championship title at Taunton versus Somerset, Trescothick came on as a substitute on his valedictory farewell appearance. He was applauded all the way to the centre, was applauded all the way off and both sides honoured his superb contribution to the game of cricket. It’s something I believe that cricket does well, saying thank you and farewell to it’s great servants and heroes down the years.

But above all, Trescothick brought home the reality that sportsmen are not robots, but human beings with frailties and qualities. He made it ok for other cricketers like Mike Yardy, Andrew Flintoff, Monty Panesar, Sarah Taylor and Jonathan Trott to speak out about their private battles.

Marcus Trescothick, a true legend of cricket, goodbye and thanks for the memories, especially beating the Australians in 2005!!

A.S.D Brooks

Scaling the heights……

Here’s where I was today:-

The Orbit structure at London’s Olympic Park. How did I end up here? Because a staff member at SANE, the UK mental health charity I volunteer for, asked me to support her in cheering on some employees from UK company Roche, who are one of SANE’s biggest fundraisers.

The employees did some abseiling from the very top of the structure, which is about 80-100 feet above ground. There were some very nervous people but they all said that they enjoyed the experience.

Me? Foolishly, I decided to take the lift up to the very top to watch the abseiling in action. One thing I didn’t consider – the speed of the lift. It zooms to the top in 34 seconds and it felt like a very long 34 seconds. I had a bit of a panic as the climb is very steep and the lift speed caught me very unawares. So I took the lift straight back down again! If I can’t even manage a lift, then there’s little chance of me abseiling. I’m ok with heights most of the time, except here!

Wonderful day. The weather was excellent and the company great. You would have to pay me a lot of money to do what the Roche employees did but it was all for a great cause, raising money for mental health awareness. September is rivalling March as one of my favourite months. And that was the first time I visited the Olympic Park. Next summer I shall pay a visit, because there’s plenty of green space, a river and opportunities for a walk and fresh air. And it’s only 8 miles from my area.

It’s been a good week so far. More soon….

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

Be thankful, be grateful that you wake up each day….

My day started in keeping with the year of 2019 in general. More bad news.

A colleague from my Peer Support days informed me that a former attendee of the group has passed away, aged 56, and very unexpectedly too. Not a good way to start the day.

Let me explain on just how much a character this particular lady was. Larger than life would be an accurate description. She was a trustee of the organisation I help out at, and had her own personal battles and issues. She attended our group fairly regularly and as I said, she was larger than life, with an infectious laugh and an unconsciously funny and quirky sense of humour.

Warm of spirit, warm of affection and just a good person to have around the place. Her humour was based on mishearing conversations that often a reply would come out that bore no relation to what had just been discussed. Cue lots of laughter.

I had a phone message from her a few months back that I did reply to. But we will sadly hear no more from her now, and the world will be a poorer place for that. The world has lost a warm, affectionate character that lit up a room.

It shows you that every day you wake up, look outside and hear the birds sing and see the sun shine, be thankful that you’ve made it through another day. I’m certainly thankful if the last 12 years and definitely the last 8 months have been anything to go by. Enjoy every moment and thank Him upstairs that you have another day.

A sad day indeed. But the lady concerned would have been pleased that I won a victory against the odds last Friday. I’m sure that at St. Peter’s Gate, they will welcome her in with open arms. And then everyone will laugh as she mishears another conversation! Taken from us far too early.

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

Trying to remain stress free….

I’ve been contemplating yesterday’s events and thinking of the damage that stress can do to the body. Not only stress, but panic attacks as well. Cortisol spreads around the body as a defence mechanism when we’re stressed or anxious but it does cause the damage.

So onto today. I’ve tried to remain stress free while scoring at the cricket, and by and large I managed it. No pains anywhere today, though the weather lived up to it’s dismal reputation this summer by being cold and blustery. June is turning into a forgettable month for weather.

And there was an issue that raised it’s head again like last time. But, instead of getting stressed and possibly having to make yet another 999 call (!), I calmly carried on and deflected the issue. It got sorted eventually. So it was a stress and pain free day. If only if it was like that most days, but sadly no. And by pain, I mean mentally more than physically.

See you soon.

A.S.D Brooks

A scare but I’m ok…..

Evening. Well I’ve just had an exciting evening sitting in a local accident and emergency department at the local hospital. Why? Well I’ll explain.

This afternoon, walking from the railway station to a local shop, I had some chest pains of a mild nature but were starting to radiate down my left arm. The pains were waxing and waning but I got home and all seemed fine.

That was until I laid down on the bed, just checking my phone. The pains in the chest got a little more frequent and painful, and then the whole left arm hurt. I thought that something serious was in motion, so I called 999 and within ten minutes, an ambulance called at my flat. The paramedics did all sorts of checks of my heart rhythms, pulse, blood pressure and then whisked me off to the local hospital.

A long wait as one might expect, and another ECG and a blood test later, and I was on the way home. Everything seemed normal, but the hospital doctor recommended that I have a heart MOT via my local doctor. The pains have disappeared and I’m fine again. My sister who was with me, was relieved as much I was that all seemed in order. But my late parents had heart issues so it’s best to be on the safe side.

Very strange day, and I hope these pains don’t return. I was quite scared for a while as the pain went up and down my left arm. But I’m still here and still breathing! Thank goodness.

Night all.

A.S.D Brooks