I started writing a piece that was chronologically setting out my story. But it was hard to write something coherent enough. Besides, this isn’t supposed to be my life history. So we’ll stick to just a few bits and pieces.
I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression in 2004. However in hindsight it probably started much earlier than that but for a long time I drank so much that it would have been hard to work out just what my mental state was at any one time. Fortunately the great love of my life told me to make a choice – her or the drink. So off to AA and sober up.
Depression later really took hold. I went from being the loud, boisterous one in the office to someone so withdrawn that people sometimes did not even realise I was even there at all. Problems at work just made everything worse. I could not cope with anything any longer. The love of my life died. My physical health collapsed. And the work started up their nasty, insidious campaign that everything was my fault.
The clinical depression diagnosis in 2004 saw me on my first visit to the psychiatric ward. Then back to work where, after the brief flurry of so-called support soon disappeared, the campaign to get rid of me started for real. Medical reports, diagnoses and recommendations were basically ignored, instead wiping their hands of everything to do with them despite all documented evidence to the contrary. Life was made a living hell. Another stay in the psyche ward, return to work and the cycle continued. A very detailed psychological assessment that work insisted on and paid for, revealed a real gumbo of conditions. And an increasingly bad anxiety condition was diagnosed. But work continued on the program of ‘it’s nothing to do with us so let’s force him out.’ The report just ended up gathering dust on file somewhere, conveniently ignored like everything else.
In some ways it was almost a relief to eventually be forced out onto an invalidity pension. But even then my beloved former employer had to resort to lies, denials and suppressed information to get their way. After all, according to them it was all my fault.
Like anyone actually chooses to become a physical and mental wreck with all the cranial fortitude of a deranged jellyfish!
A combination of factors, again largely driven by the BFE to ensure they could never be found liable, saw me unable to get the detailed psychological help I had been repeatedly diagnosed as needing. A lot of the mental problems became hardwired in over time. They probably think that’s my fault as well. I lost just about everything and ended up in shared public housing, unable to go anywhere else. But at least I had a roof over my head.
The next few years saw a repeating pattern – rally, recovery, then fall back again and into semi-suicidal mode (planning how to do it rather than getting to the point of actually doing it). The two times I managed to talk someone into giving me a little part-time work failed – I simply cannot cope with it any longer or at least not in a ‘normal’ workplace. Depression and anxiety always took over again, seemingly every time I managed to take a step forward in recovering my life. While I doubt I will ever be able to prove it, I suspect the large brain aneurism above my left temple was driven by all that had gone before. I had to literally have open-brain surgery to patch things up. I think the jury is still out on whether or not the small, walnut-shaped thing inside my skull actually qualifies as a brain.
My major breakthrough came in 2011. I came across a small poster advertising a program which used comedy as therapy. Over three months I had a weekly class where we learned how to actually do stand-up comedy. And once you learn the magic formula (surreptitiously delivered by a man in a trench coat, handing over the magic formula in a brown paper bag after you recite the necessary sacred rites) then it is like having a free ticket to take the piss out of everyone and everything. Call it payback. Revenge. Whatever. All I know is that it was better than any other therapy I had done. The program finished with a full-on show where we ‘graduating students’ made our public debuts before a packed house. It was exhilarating. And I was hooked on performing.
It is so incredibly freeing to be able to make fun of it all, to have an audience laughing with you rather than at you, to say pretty much whatever you like (provided it is dressed up in the appropriate comedic set up). After that debut I kept writing and performing material. I don’t just keep trying to do gags about mental health. If something strikes me as absurd, I try to find a way to turn it around into a gag.
Along the way I became annoyed. Somewhere, sometime, the powers that be had decreed that we were no longer mentally ill, no longer had mental health issues but that we were all now ‘mental health consumers.’ What a stupid description. It made me sound like some sort of zombie, sucking the mental health out of other people’s brains. Braaains. Mental heeeeaaalth. I took back ‘ownership’ of the word ‘loony’. Hi – I’m Rossy H and I’m a loony! Because I am a loony. Just as I am an alcoholic – in recovery but still an alcoholic – I still have my mental demons. They are just under better control most of the time these days.
If all goes to plan I will be running a show in 2015, Loonies R Us! There I shall call on my followers to rise up. To throw off those chains of ignorance and bias. To take to the streets, to stand up! And death to the sane! Death to…
Oh dear. I now seem to have developed a bit of megalomania. But the shrink will probably have a pill for that. And Loonies R Us! will just be a stand-up comedy show. I promise. Maybe.
Arse end of the Milky Way
Ross is a freelance writer, stand-up comic (of sorts), invalid pensioner who is really bad at woodwork but keeps doing it anyway. And a loony.
I proudly wore the titles weird and crazy decades before I knew that I truly was. Taking the words back destigmatizes their negative connotations. Keeping a sense of humor in the face of sometimes (or often) debilitating mental illness is ultimately sane.
Well written Ross. Well made point about the workplace and the inability to cope with depression or not fitting in.
thanks Helen – fellow ex-accountant! 🙂
Interesting piece, Ross and I admire your honesty. It’s very hard to fit into a structured environment when every day is a struggle, particularly as a creative person. I struggled with it myself for many years as well.
I applaud you for finding your own way and sharing it with us. Hugs, my friend.
hugs back 🙂