We’ve all heard a lot lately about the negative effects of mental illness. The recent plane crash in the alps that resulted in the death of one hundred and fifty people is undoubtedly a terrible and avoidable tragedy.
Depression is a terrible illness though that should be treated with compassion and sympathy just like any other illness.
The evidence against the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is increasingly damming, a history of mental illness and a sicknote that was signed of by a doctor (that very day) points to the fact that he was clearly unfit to fly and was attempting to hide his mental illness from his employers and his co-workers.
Despite all of those things, I’d would just like to take a few minutes and say ‘don’t blame the co-pilot’.
Mental health conditions of all kinds are not easy things to live with. This crash and the causes the crash were clearly the actions of a completely and utterly unbalanced mind. Years ago we would have said that it was an act of ‘sheer madness’, because crashing a plane on purpose is not a sane thing to do…
I’m not sure that the effects of stigma surrounding mental health might have been the reason why Andreas Lubitz hid his illness, who knows? He and one hundred and forty nine other people are not here to ask.
The effects of stigma.
I do know however, the role that stigma has played in my own life.
I also know that terrible events like the Germanwings Crash that are linked to mental illness do nothing to alleviate that stigma of mental health conditions and can serve to set back a cause that I believe strongly in. Namely that there should be no shame associated with mental health conditions of any kind.
If you’ve got a bad leg or a case of diabetes, nobody cares. You get medication and move on, a full fledged and accepted member of society. If you’ve got a mental health condition though, suddenly the world treats you with suspicion, like you’re just about to eat a baby…
The reason why I feel strongly about this, is because I suffer with depression. I’ve already said that it’s a cruel illness and it’s seriously debilitating. Years ago a wise man once said to me that ‘you never win the war with depression, you just win battles…’
How right he was, some days you can be deliriously happy for no apparent reasons, pink clouds these are sometimes called, other days you can be in the depths of despair, once again for seemingly no good reason.
It’s normal for everyone to have the occasional black day, but repeated patterns where every single day is a black day is simply not normal and a surefire indicator that you need help.
A grey fog
For me though, depression feels a lot like tiredness. Those days when it’s too much effort to get out of bed. Those days when your mind is numb and your thinking ability is hidden behind a grey fog.
Those days when even the simplest task feels overwhelming, leading to irritation as just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong in front of you when you attempt to complete whatever minor task it is that you’ve set yourself or been assigned. You can fly of the handle, lose your temper, take it out on your loved ones.
You lose sight of the fact that the natural condition of human life, indeed all life, is Joy…
The trouble with ‘those days’ is that they can creep on you, like they did with me. I managed to last for at least five or six years without realising that I was seriously depressed. I was just incompetent, couldn’t be trusted with a hammer or a drill, completely inept at DIY and always tired. People including my own family thought that I was lazy. I was just absurdly tired…
Kinder friends and family just said that I was ‘academic, not practical,’ despite the fact that I had left school with two O’levels and half a dozen or so worthless CSE’s. Everybody knew that I was intelligent (I dispute this though) and that too brought it’s own pressures. People expects you to do well.
The icing on the cake was employment. I can count on the fingers of one hand the numbers of good ‘bosses’ that I’ve had in my career. Four in total, out of something along the lines of twenty two jobs.
The lies we’re told.
Like a lot of people I had bought into the lie that working hard and doing as you are told will bring you good things. That money and therefore success was just around the corner that if you applied yourself you could have good things and be a good provider if you worked hard and showed good attitude.
I showed good attitude, it’s just sad that my bosses didn’t value it or understand it. You see I didn’t realise that for ‘good attitude’ to work it has to go both ways. If your boss shows you a ‘good attitude’ you are on to a good thing. That shows that you are working in an organisation of quality.
Most of the people that I’ve worked for over the last twenty seven years have bought into the idea that managers shout and that really good managers shout and bellyache all of the time. In short they’ve adopted the ‘Seagull’ style of management.
The come in a flap, squawk loudly, s**t on everything, then flap of into the distance and leave you and your teammates to clean up the mess. Most of the firms that I worked for didn’t work ‘passably’ as a result of good management. They worked ‘passably’ in spite of their management.
If it’s bullying, harassment, belittling, and the boss fluffing his ego at your expense then I can assure you that in my time I have experienced it in work. Not to mention incredible sales driven targets that are just impossible to achieve honestly. Therein lies the rub. Under intense pressure from bosses some people choose to achieve their targets dishonestly, and they were rewarded for it.
The bosses just wanted ‘success’ they didn’t care how you got it. They didn’t care if you lied, just as long as you didn’t get caught and they didn’t have to apologise or deal with a complaint.
Like a lot of sensible people, I thought to myself that I was unlucky, that I was working in a bad firm and that it would do me good to change jobs, so I did, only to find that it was exactly the same in the new firm, and the even newer firm after that.
It lead me to change careers totally, retrain and try something else only to find that wherever I went there was a sickness in the workplace and it stemmed from the top. There were corporate values that were completely at odds with my own and if I wanted to keep my house and the opportunity to have a little bit of cash/fun now and again I’d better shut up, do as I was told and just switch of my conscience when I was in work, except that I just couldn’t do that.
I remember being stuck in a hotel bar in Bristol with a work colleague who was descending into an alcoholic hell of his own making. I didn’t realise it at the time but he was profoundly depressed and seeking an escape through the bottle.
Hitting the booze, trying to buy consciousness with his ill gotten gains. He looked at me teary eyed and said that all that he ever wanted in his adult life was to go to a job that he enjoyed. Everywhere he worked it was always the same, bad bosses, bad practices and not a single hint from the company that they dealt with human beings.
I remember the news breaking of a colleague from a different store hanging himself in the warehouse due to the pressure.
He wasn’t a salesman, he was a warehouse manager, but just like everyone else in the company he was under immense pressure, often under resourced and overburdened. Not much happiness there. We were selling sofas not stocks and shares…
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked for nice firms, but they didn’t tend to pay very much, the lesson here is obvious that getting on these days in life involves darwinian ruthlessness that over slow degrees turns normal empathic and beautiful people into corporate psychopaths.
The rot at the top.
It’s a lesson in life that we see echoed everywhere, whether it’s corrupt MP’s with vested interests changing laws that let them make more money at our expense, the cocaine fuelled sex bingeing of the high finance world and banking industry or big corporations that see profit everywhere even if it means employing slaves in hell holes to make it.
Whether it’s rigging rates, rigging expenses or rigging the system. The lesson is that honesty doesn’t pay. No wonder there’s so little public faith in our bankers, politicians or civic leaders. The state is bankrupt both morally and financially it seems.
Cash rich, morally bankrupt, that’s how I used to describe ‘them’, the men at the top of the system with their trophy wives and multiple girlfriends, flash cars and big, expensive houses in lots of different cities and lots of different continents.
A visceral affront to every value that we ‘the people’ hold dear. To me on the outside looking in. It seems incredibly shallow, but that’s because I’m not living their dream. The sad thing is though, I don’t think they are living their dream either. Like my friend who descended and is yet to surface from drink, I just think that they are trying to cover their pain with sensations. In other words I think that they too are trying to buy consciousness.
Where does this leave us with depression and it’s causes. Well it’s like this…
- About a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain
- Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men and about ten percent of children have a mental health problem at any one time
- Depression affects 1 in 5 older people
- Suicides rates show that British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women and self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population
- Only 1 in 10 prisoners has no mental disorder.
What does this tell us about the society that we live in when twenty five percent of us will get mentally ‘sick’. Doesn’t this tell us that ‘we the people’ have got it right with our altruism, compassion, morality and fair trades, kindness and general attitude of acceptance and respect.
It tells us that it’s time to come up with a new way of structuring society so that it is kinder and more rewarding of basic, decent human values.
That profit and ‘growth’ isn’t the be all and end all of all things, that business is just the ‘business’ of servicing your local community or your wider country so that we might all live happier, healthier lives free from the overbearing and unfeeling presence of the ‘corporate’ and ‘political’ psychopaths that presently run our lives.
That mental illness is no shame, it isn’t a sign of weakness and it’s just not possible sometimes to ‘pull yourself together.’
I spent ten years on prozac and used to feel ashamed. Then I met someone in yet another job who was taking it and said that they didn’t feel ashamed.
She used the example that if someone was diabetic and had to take an insulin pill everyday then nobody cared, and that we shouldn’t feel any different to a diabetic that needs a pill every day, just because we need a daily pill to medicate our minds.
The brain is a part of the body and subject to all of it’s pressures and stresses. If you medicate the body, nobody cares. If you medicate the brain it’s should be just the same.
Different faces of the same coin.
Physical and mental illness are just different aspects of the same coin. A medical problem that needs a medical treatment and not a source of stigma. That’s why I tell everyone at some time or another that I’ve suffered from depression, that I don’t react well to stress and that I can’t abhor unkindness. I believe in love, my religion is kindness. I try to face every situation with compassion, tolerance and understanding, though there are times when I forget this.
I’ve suffered from anxiety too, and the effects of depression that result in odd obsessions, such as checking that I’ve locked the door again and again and again.
When I was keyholder in one job. I got up in the middle of the night to check that I had locked the premises properly. That I hadn’t made a mistake. I drove for sixteen miles in the damp and cold to check a door that I already knew was locked. I remembered locking it, but I still had to check, just in case.
That’s depression for you, that sad, quiet doubt in your mind that undermines your self belief and your competence, it robs you of your energy and your memories. Years whizz by that you can’t remember as every day fades into a fog of grey taking the best part of your intellect, your concentration and your happiness with it.
The luck of the draw.
If you were unlucky, like me it might come on so slowly, so gradually, that you don’t even notice it until it’s too late. Until one day like me you’re driving down the twilight motorway in the outside lane in a big, lazy car that you’ve worked hard for, smooth luxury that feels like a tomb of galvanised steel, plastic and the very best in german engineering.
I remember seeing the headlights of oncoming cars, opposite side of the road to me, switched on for the impending night. It just might have been symbolic, me going down the road the opposite direction to everyone else. I don’t know, perhaps there wasn’t any single cause of it.
That’s when I wanted to do it. I just wanted to yank that steering wheel to the right, drive her into the central reservation and flip the car onto it’s roof. My wife was with me, sitting there in the passenger seat, relaxed and trusting, she wouldn’t have known what hit her. Wouldn’t have had time to feel the pain.
In my mind the car hit the barrier and flipped through the air into the path of oncoming traffic. I knew what I was about to do. I didn’t care that innocent people would die. They didn’t mean a thing to me, I was doing them a favour. The oncoming innocents would thank me if they could. Life was hell, killing myself and taking a few people with me would be a kindness.
I knew I was worthless, but I knew that they were worthless too, just that they didn’t know it yet, but someday soon (if they lived) they’d find out.
I don’t know what stopped me doing it. I remember looking across at my wife, she was so beautiful to me, her skin silver in the mixture of dashboard lights and headlight glares. I don’t know, but I drove on, perhaps I just didn’t have the guts.
Even then in the wake of this, I didn’t get help. It took yet another work crisis (where once again I’d failed to live up to expectations) to make me go and see the doctor. I thought that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. He diagnosed depression.
I took some time off and lost my job with it. Had to start again, for yet another time in my life. The fruits of my labours gone, all of my efforts and energies had been wasted on bad employers once again.
I took prozac for at least eight years.
It helped immeasurably, it stabilised my mood. Though I remember that for all of my time on the drug, I never felt really happy or really sad. I was dependent on it for a long time.
The doctor wanted to take me to come of it, but I made sure that I stayed on it. I was afraid to live without it, but at least I was alive, and that’s the point of this article.
Am I cured now, that I’ve been unmedicated for about five years. No, probably not!
Is my life anything like it used to be, probably not!
A wise man once said that you never win the war against depression, you just win battles.
In the years since, I’ve worked hard to remove the stigma associated with mental health difficulties. I took part in a film. I help out wherever I can and strive to educate my fellow man that mental health difficulties are nothing to be ashamed of and far from being mad, it’s actually a sign of sanity.
We know we’re ill, that we’re at odds with the system, but that’s because the system doesn’t suit us. It isn’t built for everybody, it’s just built for the people at the top that have no feelings, because they are incapable of having feelings.
The real enemy.
They are the psychopaths. They crave power and nothing else. Power is the only thing that makes them feel alive, and they are the enemy, because if you are not like them, or willing to become like them then one day you might snap, or turn to drink and drugs as a way of buying consciousness.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, then you might start getting all obsessive, or turn to self harming or inappropriate behaviors.
Paranoia and anxiety might rule your life. You might get an overwhelming sensation that a brick might be thrown through your window for absolutely no reason even though there’s no one outside. That’s stress, anxiety and depression for you. Makes you feel like you’re under attack when obviously you are not. At least not in any way that you can pinpoint or easily understand.
Or for one moment of one day, it might all get too much for you and you too might find yourself flipping the wheel to the right or pressing the descent button on a plane.
Don’t blame the co-pilot.
Death comes like a thief in the night. I know what it’s like to lose loved ones. It’s unexpected and brutal. It leaves a hole in your heart that can never be filled, unless it’s with anger for a while, either the white hot variety or the slow burning stoic cold stuff that leaves you feeling numb and partially unfeeling.
My heart goes out to the families of those one hundred and forty nine people that have lost someone special on that Germanwings flight in a grievously savage descent from heaven to hell. An act of madness that is rightfully an international tragedy. In no way do I want to detract from their loss.
I just want us all to understand it and the causes of it so that at some point in the future we might as a society address these issues and ensure that they don’t happen again.
That’s why I’m relating my own experiences in the hope that it might raise awareness. Knowledge always leads to understanding which in turn leads to compassion. Compassion brings forgiveness. Forgiveness sets you free.
So once again I’m saying, whatever you do, don’t blame the co-pilot. If you want to blame something, blame the system that creates conditions in which a man feels that he is right to take his own life and the lives of others in a premeditated way whether he’s flying a plane or driving an Audi into the setting sun on the motorway.
This is the film that I took part in
Some philosophical shorts that I just love. They resonate with me.