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

First impressions and self marketing?

Not too bad it seems at the former, but not so good at the latter.

I’ll explain. Last week and today at two separate mental health events, two people came up to me and remembered me doing some public speaking at previous events. It seemed that these people enjoyed my presentations and I’m flattered by the comments.

But I’m not good at marketing myself, making people aware of what I can offer. Always hiding my light under a bushel, as it were. I let people approach me rather than being pushy and overbearing. Presentations have dried up a little in the last few months but now Autumn is here, it seems I’ve been invited to a few events, whether in a speaking or non speaking capacity.

So if you want me to tell you my mental health story and my daily battles with being autistic, then get in touch with me on the regular platforms, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I would like to do more speaking on the subject as it’s something I feel comfortable doing. Hopefully this might happen as the year end approaches. Watch this space….

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

Showing some militancy….

I’m not the most militant of people, I grant you but the issues at the cricket club are still niggling away. But that phrase “Don’t get mad, get even” is extremely apposite.

I managed to smooth over the incident that happened on Saturday and myself and the other person involved are fine. I explained to him my anger was more directed at another individual and not him, but the incident tipped me over the edge, hence my militant ways over recent times.

I’m not going to be taken the piss out of. Simple fact. Treat me and some others with fairness and respect and we can move on. If people don’t, then I will take steps to demonstrate that the services of umpires and scorers are too valuable to be dismissed in some kind of hierarchical structure. I treat my fellow umpires and scorers with thanks and respect, so I expect the same back. But as we know, some people don’t operate that way.

One day, the players will turn up to a game and find no umpire and no scorer for an important match. Then the penny might drop, I hope.

On that note, the team I usually score for on Saturday has been left with no umpire or scorer this weekend. I have found something better to do with my time; attending a meeting in London relating to mental health. That’s a far better use of my time rather than be walked all over. I wasn’t intending to do anything on Saturday but this meeting came up via email earlier and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The people there will be basically all altruistic people, wanting others to do well out of life. Why should I put up with more shit by scoring/umpiring on Saturday? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

So I’m showing some militancy and some stubbornness, just because I believe in fairness and respect for others. And I shall continue to show militancy and stubbornness until certain people start listening. I won’t hold my breath on that one.

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

Fighting the battles…..

As you know, I fight and battle every day. Fight and battle just to keep going.

It wasn’t always the case though. Many a time, I’ve just stayed out of the way, just accepting the status quo and not speaking up for what I think is right. Yesterday was different. I won’t say exactly what happened, but my dear old mother used to say that “Why don’t you stick up for yourself a lot more, you get a lot more respect that way”. How true.

I will not be taken the piss out of or treated as though I don’t matter. Yesterday proved that. And the situation has been resolved. Now if I’d stayed quiet, the situation would have remained the same. I don’t ask for much, just a little bit of fairness and respect. I wish I did this years ago, then I wouldn’t be in the mess that I’m in now. If I acted yesterday evening at work, in relationships and other situations in the past, then my daily existence would be a bit better. Still, there’s no time like the present to learn how to take a principled stand.

Hopefully now things can carry on. I’m a firm believer in righting wrongs and injustice. And there’s plenty more where that came from. Pleased with myself that I do have a backbone, whereas some people don’t.

A.S.D Brooks

Exciting times ahead?

The weekly Peer Support group that I helped to run has regrettably been shelved, due to lack of numbers attending. To be honest, it needed a freshen up and I hope to be part of that freshening up process.

Without giving too much away, the Peer Support group will be back, but maybe under some different guises and with a fresh approach, tailored to more diverse groups and with hopefully a creative element thrown in. Some exciting times ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting started at some point. Obviously, it’s all in the planning stage so details are guarded but it’s good to see a new approach and I hope it works well.

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