Cornering

I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a number of weeks now but somehow haven’t quite managed to find the right words and as ever events (dear boy) have otherwise gotten in the way.  However, I was spurred into action this morning by a news item, more on which in a moment.

So why the title for a start?  I thought of it after visiting a friend of mine who has recently had a nasty accident involving a rutted road corner, a bike and, now, a collection of broken bones in and around her shoulder.  I don’t take this lightly. Those who have known me for sometime know I have my own history with shoulder injuries, they are horrible and I know how my friend feels. But it also got me thinking about how corners should be taken with care and attention.  The corner I’m referring to is the fairly major one I have just taken and thought it only right to tentatively note it – if not to you then to myself.

The drugs don't work so try a little tenderness

It has been a long time coming but 18 months after initially seeking help I feel I can safely look back on the progress I’ve made.  In October 2009 the hardest thing was admitting to myself I had a problem. Now I have cautious optimism for the future. In that time I’ve confronted some of the demons, the lies and the fears that had been clogging up my head and that was hard. I’ve stepped out from behind the masks that I used to wear and become more aware of who I am.  I’ve tried new things. I’ve ridden 100 miles over challenge terrain and raised £800 for a good cause.  More to the point, I’ve got out, put myself in new situations and realised that people don’t bite and that you can actually have some fun. I’ve even begun the process of launching my own business.  But I think the biggest thing I have learnt is that this is a never ending road. There is no one solution, no right way of doing anything. Equally, there is no panacea but a lot of hard work by myself. The benefits though are worth it, as I’m sure MrsAB will attest to.

So that brings me to this morning’s news.  Whilst making my morning coffee the BBC News was reporting a rise in depression and that GPs are linking this to “money woes”. As I’ve previously blogged there is a huge stigma attached to depression and the fact that more people are seeking help should be seen as a positive.  The fact that GPs link this to the economic uncertainties prevalent today highlights a long standing concern I’ve had that society is focussed on the wrong things. And before I get a comment that I am being unrealistic, I am acutely aware of the need to earn enough to look after all of the necessities in life. What I think is more of an issue is the feeling for many that they have to continually better themselves by pursuing more and more.  It’s a cycle of greed that many of us, and I include myself, have gotten trapped into to keep up with the Joneses.  Breaking that cycle is easier said than done and “money woes” might just be the tip of a larger iceberg of psychological concerns.

What is more interesting is that GPs have reported a 40% rise in the prescription of anti-depressants.  This is more of a worry than a rise in depression diagnosis per se. Whilst diagnosis is merely uncovering the real extent of depression and mental ill-health in society, prescribing drugs is as a cure alone is an unsustainable solution.  I speak from my own personal experience of the primary care I received. My diagnosis only came after I luckily had the only appointment for the GP that morning so instead of a 10 minute consultation between other complaints, I talked for 40 minutes and opened up as time went on. That was luck.  The GPs active interest really only lasted until the point where a prescription was handed over to me and a referral made into an opaque system for counselling.  Subsequently I have seen different doctors in the practice none of whom have given me the same advice regarding the anti-depressants I am taking.  The referral finally came through 3 months after it being made, an over-the-phone triage consultation leading to a computer based cognitive behavioural therapy course.  In these respects I feel the system has completely abandoned me: firstly through the response of the medical profession and secondly by the impersonal approach of the NHS to a uniform, in vogue solution. I’m sure both are driven by resource pressures neither of which are likely to get any better in the current scheme of things.  So the drugs are seemingly the panacea to dealing with the problems of depression for GPs and now the media. And the media aren’t really doing any favours in perpetuating this view.

For me the recovery has been a journey of many stages with a range of support, my own psychological Tour de France if you like.  I still don’t know if the drugs work or not but I have always seen them as a temporary assistance, a crutch for a broken head, a sticky bottle to give me that respite from the hurt.  But rather like I learnt with my own shoulder injury (and as my friend is fast learning) those immediate interventions (the surgery, the bandages, the drugs) have to be followed up by some longer lasting, sustainable support and assistance.  I’ve been lucky to find a great counselling service in Wolverhampton and worked with a wonderful counsellor to do the hard work I described above.  No computer could help me do that, nor could I have achieved it in a couple of months.  The longer term, personal approach is crucial to a positive outcome. That’s the lesson for the NHS and for GPs, especially as the pressures of modern life don’t seem to be relenting these days.

But equally that recovery is down to me putting in the hard work, persevering when it doesn’t seem to work, taking one step at a time whilst looking ahead and, importantly, not resting on my laurels and letting my guard down. I have favourite coffee mugs: “Keep Calm and Carry On” (A replacement for the previous one I managed to smash, yet kept calm!) and “Your courage…”. The latter has become my favourite for the reasons I’ve tried to encapsulate here and that’s why I’ve included the picture above.

And so I sit here with a coffee in that mug looking back over all of that.  I’ve turned a corner but I know there will be others.  I know that each corner will be a new challenge but I also have the skills to approach and navigate that corner so that my wheels don’t get caught in a rut.  I’ve come along way, the journey is ongoing but bring on the next corner because I’m ready to take it and sprint out to the next stage finish.

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Time of the Season

I’m not one for looking back on the past year very often nor am I one for making new year’s resolutions but for once I’m proud to look back on a year just gone.  Looking over the 363.5 days just gone I can honestly say I didn’t think I would be at this point right now. Back then I was still off work, I hated my job and would have done anything to get out, I was scrabbling around trying to find some sort of purpose in life with little success and generally finding only fleeting moments of pleasure in an otherwise bland and disorientating mess.  Fast forward to today and though I still have my hang ups and foibles its great to look back on the progress I have made.  Not long into the new year I started taking pictures again for the fun of it. Now I’m about to launch a photography business. I went back to work in March. I went back part-time and though that return was handled far from well by my employer things now are quite exciting with a change of department, new projects to undertake and new friendships in the making. 12 months ago if you’d talk to me about change I’d have hidden double quick in terror.  And the bike is most thoroughly reclaimed, settling back into my life and giving me the freedom that deep down I crave.  Its all a balance and been won through taking initial tentative steps, facing up to what had previously seemed daunting and over bearing and grasping new opportunities.  I’m still a way off the balance I’d like but on the whole feel more positive about what the future holds. Merely writing this now is a real help in lifting the onsetting January blues which I’ve felt descending since the snow melted and the Christmas Capon was finished off. And I suppose that is what it is all about and my bigest lesson learnt to date – that its balance we are seeking not utopia. That doesn’t mean a serious of awkward compromises. Far from it. It takes courage to find out and acknowledge what you want and to pursue it but knowing you can’t have it all. It means prioritising about which bits to have now and which to save for later.  That might sounds selfish and self-centred but for me the lesson has been giving myself a little more of what I need whilst being able to meet some of the needs of others. That is the balance and we all need to learn to move in one direction or the other.

So, its almost new year. This one Mrs AB and I are staying in with some hearty food, some great company and maybe a few glasses of something nice. Tomorrow we’re off for a walk. I can’t think of a better way to start a new year.  Thanks for sticking with me this year and I hope you continue to enjoy the stories in the year to come. Happy New Year folks and as a guy from my childhood cycling used to say, “Forza!”