Had any good conversations with yourself lately? Did you listen to yourself? And how’d that work out for you? (Credit Allie Bean) https://thespectacledbean)
Sunday lunchtime, I really had to speak to me, there was no one else around. I’d allowed myself to sink into depression over the last few days, avoiding the people closest to me; I’d switched my mobile off, pulled the plug from the landline and ignored Facebook. I told me calmly and compassionately, to get up, brush my teeth (yes, I’d even ignored that for three days) and get in the shower. As I brushed my teeth, I smiled at myself in the mirror, toothpaste bubbles dribbling down my chin, and it made me giggle. I followed with singing (You are my Sunshine, my only sunshine – the song I used to sing to my now grown up babies) in the shower and happy to say, the rest of my afternoon brightened up.
What is gravity and how does it work?
They say ‘What goes up must come down’. Every time you jump, you experience gravity. It pulls you back down to the ground. Without gravity, you’d float off into the atmosphere – along with all other matter on Earth. We see gravity at work any time you drop a book, step on a scale or toss a ball up into the air. It’s the force that keeps the Earth in orbit around the Sun, as well as helping other planets remain in orbit.
What is more real – Mind or Matter?
‘Mind over matter’ says it all.
Should a vegetarian (or vegan) eat animal crackers?
No actual animals are used in their manufacture. So, yes , if they don’t mind eating crackers shaped in the form of animals.
Name (describe) something you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark and deserted wood or alley. Politicians are a given, so skip those please. Thanks!
As a former mental health nurse and ward manager for many years in East London’s busiest mental health settings I was used to the many misconceptions people (including carers, visitors, family and friends) had. Here are my top 10.
Mental illness won’t affect me.FACT – Mental illnesses are surprisingly common; they do not discriminate—they can affect anyone. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. InEngland, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week. (mind.org.uk)
People with mental illness are just weak.FACT: Mental health disorders are not a personal choice nor are they caused by personal weakness. Mental illness is a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Research has shown genetic and biological factors are associated with schizophrenia, depression, and alcoholism. Social influences, such as loss of a loved one or a job, can also contribute to the development of various disorders.
You can tell when someone has a mental illness.FACT: Many people think you can see when someone has a mental illness—maybe they think that a mentally ill person looks different, acts crazy, or always comes across as depressed or anxious. This is not true. Anyone can have a mental illness, even if they look completely normal, seem happy, or have a lot of money, a great job and a big house. (redbookmag.com)
People don’t recover from mental illnesses. FACT: Recovery is absolutely possible. The illness might not go away forever but lots of people with mental health problems still work, have families and lead full lives. Recovering from mental illness includes not only getting better, but achieving a meaningful and satisfying life. Being told that you have a mental illness is not the end of the world. With help and support, people can recover and achieve their life’s ambitions.
People with mental health issues can’t work.FACT: With one in four people affected by mental illness, you probably work with someone with a mental health problem. Many people can and do work with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, with little impact on productivity. However, like any illness, there are times when the person isn’t able to work due to the severity of the condition.
People with schizophrenia are violent. FACT: Modern media has been guilty of regularly portraying people with mental illness as violent. In truth, this is rarely the case. People with mental health problems are much more likely to be the victim of violence. While research has shown there is an increased risk of violence in those living with schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder, in general, mental health sufferers are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves. Official statistics consistently show that most violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who don’t have mental health problems.
People with mental health problems are lazy and should just snap out of it. FACT: This is certainly not true. There’s lots reasons why some people might look lazy as many experience fatigue and lethargy as side effects of their medication but this is not laziness. People cannot just snap out of a mental health problem and lots of people may need help to get better. This help might include medication, counselling and lots of support from their care team, friends and family.
People with mental illness rely on medication. FACT: Medication can be used on a short-term basis, especially for depression and anxiety, but for other mental illnesses, medication is used long-term. Mental illness is not like a physical illness because it can’t always be treated with one single medication. Often, a group of medications is needed for someone with a mental health disorder i.e. antipsychotics and antidepressants together with antiemetic medication to treat the side effects of antipsychotics.
Mental illness is “all in your head. It’s not a real medical problem. FACT: There’s still a common belief that someone with anxiety can “just calm down” or someone with depression can “snap out of it” like they can pick how and when to have an episode come or go. That’s simply not true. There are very real physical symptoms. Someone who has depression may see changes in appetite, libido and sleep pattern and someone with anxiety might feel breathless, have palpitations and feel nauseous or dizzy.
Asking someone about suicidal thoughts and feelings might make them do it. FACT: If someone says they are thinking about suicide, it can be very distressing. You might not know what to do to help, whether to take talk of suicide seriously, or if your talking about it will make the situation worse. However, asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings (Mayoclinic.org).
Unfortunately these mythsabout mental health problems often contribute to the stigma that many people still face. It’s so important that we challenge these myths so we can understand the real facts around a mental illness.
If you have had any of the feeling or described above, please find someone to talk to. You can always talk to your GP in confidence or look up your local branch of the Samaritans. You don’t have to suffer alone.
Do you have any questions about any of the above? I am always willing to offer support and information.
Have you ever had to and how would you challenge a friend or family member about these myths?
If you haven’t read Part I and you want to, you can find it here
Tony didn’t come back that day, or the next. His mum did though and she sat with me while I cried some more. She’d brought with her some of those tissues with lotion in them to keep your nose from chafing and while I appreciated the thought, they should come with a ‘sneeze alert’ cos when I did sneeze, a great big shower of snot burst through the tissues onto my fingers. We both laughed. I loved his mum dearly (she has since sadly passed away) and though she meant well, she could be very forward. She’d asked if everything was okay in the bedroom? Maybe I’d put on too much weight? highly unlikely as at 5′ 4″ I was a slight 7 stone 101b. Was I spending all his money?
As usual, on Saturdays, I got calls from family and friends, asking how I was or whether I’d be out later and I engaged with them all cheerily before putting the phone down and bursting into tears – again. I couldn’t tell them, not yet anyway because, despite how I felt about Tony, I didn’t want anyone else to hate him.
Telling the boys
As agreed Tony’s parents brought the boys back Sunday afternoon and I had the hellish job of telling them that daddy wouldn’t be coming home but that he still loved them. The boys’ faces never crumbled or scrunched up when they cried, they were pretty as pictures, tears just gathered in their huge brown eyes then spilled down their cheeks. My heart was breaking for them as I smiled and they leant in for hugs; not sure if the hugs were for me or for them but they wouldn’t let go and I could feel their small bodies trembling. Christ Tony! I could kill you! I thought bitterly. The “Why mummy?” almost crucified me but I had to answer kindly and gently and explain that daddy would still see them and they could see daddy whenever they wanted. The poor little things should never have had to go to bed with heavy hearts and a funny tummy my baby (five year old) said.
A cheerful 5 minutes
Two days later the boys were really excited when I picked them up from school. They handed me Valentine’s day cards, their seven and five year old scribbles telling me not to be sad and that they loved me lots. It was just too much, too painful that they thought they had to cheer me up and I cried and sniffed all the way home in the car. I couldn’t help it. It was supposed to be my job to look after them, to make them feel safe and to cheer them up, not the other way round. However later that night Tony’s mum phoned and cheered me up and even made me giggle momentarily. The little madam he left me for tried to put Valentine’s cards and gifts through her letterbox and each card she posted was ripped up by his mum and dropped back through the letterbox along with the gifts. His mum usually never swore but on this occasion, in her Spanish accent, she cussed the girl, told her to eff off, to go away you little tart and keep your rubbish as she shoved out yet another gift.
Weeks passed, I hadn’t eaten and weight was falling off me. My colleagues at Head Office of a high-end fashion chain noticed and were kind enough to take my clothes in for me. The whole team were going out one night and Tony offered to babysit in our home. So dressed in a super new outfit I was ready to leave when Tony laughed “You ain’t going out in that are you? Not with your fat arse.” Something I’d moaned about ages ago but certainly couldn’t complain about now at well under 7 stone. The b*stard was with that madam but still felt the need to put the boot in!
A street fight
Off we went round the trendy bars in Islington, all the while I was pulling at my skirt, feeling desperately uncomfortable. Around 10 p.m. I couldn’t stand any more and I wasn’t having fun so I went home. As I neared the corner of my home I could hear an almighty row going on and it only took seconds to realise it was coming from outside my house. It was Tony and her so I stood and listened. I heard him tell he to get away from the house, she’ll (me) be back any time soon. And I could hear the cheeky mare shouting she didn’t care so I turned the corner and the two of them froze. I walked past her then him into my home and told him he could leave now but the interfering little bitch whinged “It’s ‘is kids as well you know. You can’t tell him what to do.”
“Really?” and I spluttered as I realised who she was – only the ugliest girl out of the three he worked with. The one who’s blue eyeshadow and red lipstick looked like it had been drawn on by a three year old. Her black high heels were so worn down, the material on the heels had curled up and showed the white underneath. I laughed hysterically saying “Is this her?” then turned to her laughing and said “I think you should leave now.” She spun her chewing gum round her finger and replied “Nah. I’m with him, why should I?”
“Cos there’s two little boys upstairs in bed. If nothing else, don’t you care about them?”
“Nah! I don’t actually.” and before I knew it she had a tight grip on my hair and was pulling me out into the street, down onto the pavement. I was momentarily stunned but after a lot of toing and froing I managed to get on top of her, holding her arms to stop her from attacking me further. By now Tony’s punching my head, yelling at me to get off her when out of the corner of my eye I could see a recognisable car pass us then reverse back and stop.
Two pairs of shiny black boots came into view and a kindly policeman took my arm and said “Come on love, let her go. I think we know what’s happened here but you need to let go.” I did and watched as tart picked up her clutch bag, scrabbling to pick up her makeup and hair brush while she ranted, calling me an effin bitch. Now I’m not proud of this but I almost threw myself at her before the kindly policeman put his hand out and said “Love, if you carry this on, we’ll have no choice……” then turned to Tony saying “Mate, you need to sort this.” “Yep, okay.” said Tony looking at me “I’ll just put her in a cab then I’ll come back to yours.”
“Ha! I don’t think so. If you put her in a cab then you can get in with her.” His mum was furious the next day when I popped in for coffee before work, especially because he’s punched me several times. I felt so ashamed.
After this, the little tart took to following me around, going to my local bars, always wearing a cheaper copy of the clothes she’d seen me in the week before, barging into me and trying to introduce herself to my pals as Tony’s new girlfriend. She and her pals would follow my car home so I drove as slow as I could, just to annoy her then on reaching my front door, I’d get out of the car, sit on the bonnet and light a ciggie. They’d eventually gotten bored and driven off shouting obscenities from the windows.
Wise words from a good friend
She started calling my home from 11pm onwards and hanging up. I knew it was her because she did night shift at the cab office they worked in. Then she began calling early evening and hanging up, knowing Tony was round to see the boys. This was all really stressing me out when an older and wiser friend said “Look, you know Tony, you know how he works. She doesn’t. When he comes round to see the boys, offer him a cup of tea, a sandwich even and let him read the boys a bedtime story. The longer he stays at yours, the more p’d off she’s going to get. When he’s gone, phone me if you need to shout and swear, but keep him there ages.”
It worked cos the cheeky little tart started phoning, asking “Is Tony there?”
“Hang on a minute.” I’d tell her and I’d shout upstairs where Tony was lying on the boys’ beds reading “Babes,you out of bed yet? Tart’s on the phone.” and before he could get down, she’d hung up. Another night I might say “Hang on, he’s in the bath” or “He’s in bed, who is it?” I knew it was causing nightmares between them because my cousin lived in her flats and told me about the rows and physical fights they had. In my mind, if I was suffering then so should she.
Months on, I wasn’t eating or sleeping and while I was in bed I started to get these odd sensations; I could feel my heart thumping but I could also hear it pounding in my ears as I lay my head on the pillow. My fingers and toes were tingling and I was finding hard to catch a breath. Lots of jumbled thoughts were racing round in my head and I felt scared for some reason. I’d have to sit up quickly and put the light for a while. Some nights I found myself down in my kitchen, wrapped in my dressing gown, sitting on the floor with my back to the radiator, smoking incessantly and drinking hot milk (I’d read somewhere not to drink caffeine at night time). I’d take myself back up to my room before the boys woke up and collapse into bed exhausted both physically and mentally.
I was always on edge, I was jittery and easily agitated at work. Noises were exaggerated and aggravating. Like the crunching into a massive apple each day at 11 a.m. by the girl at who sat opposite me at work. I got up from my desk one morning with the sole intention of shoving her big fat apple down her throat but fortunately something made me walk past her and upstairs into the ladies, shaking like a leaf. I didn’t know what had got into me.
Pre the www I joined the local library and picked up books like the Relate guide to relationships, on moods and stress, where I learned what the odd sensations were i.e. anxiety, stress overload, panic attacks. Moreover I learned tips on how to manage relationship breakdowns. But most of all I learnt that I was doing the right thing by the boys i.e. not miscalling their dad (in front of them), being polite and calm when he came round, having their dad explain (not me) to them why he couldn’t have them some weekends, so that he saw the disappointment on their innocent faces. I had mastered how to speak to Tony calmly and could see that this unnerved him. I loved these books and read many more (they’d later be called self-help books) – you couldn’t keep me away from the library.
Still, having to deal with Tart’s constant provocation, Tony’s foul mouth and his refusal to help support the boys because I was using his money for my Friday night out! was taking its toll. What with having to keep smiling for the boys, ferrying them to their beloved activities, often seven days a week because their dad couldn’t be bothered to even take them to Sunday football, I was struggling. I couldn’t see an end to the pain. I felt scared, worthless, hopeless and I honestly felt suicidal.
I do hope you’ll continue to read My story, Part III which will follow shortly. You’ll learn about my suicide attempt and the hell I went through during my Psychotic Depression. I will end with My story Part IV. Thank you for staying with me.
Does it infringe upon your leisure time? Unfortunately, yes. I was an avid reader and now I can’t remember the last time I picked up my kindle. Sometimes my partner has to drag me away, kicking and screaming from my laptop. I’ve only started blogging recently and now I’ve got the bug. There’s so many great blog posts to read (such as this one from Drtanya) and I have so much I want to say, so much that I want people to know about mental health, my time as a mental health ward manager…….. I could go on
Worse still, does it distract you from your work/studies ? Unfortunately I am now disabled and unable to work but fortunately, it’s given me time to spend studying online and more time to spend reading good blogs and blogging.
Is it taking a toll on your personal relationships ? Hhmm, well kind of, but not really. My partner and I both have laptops and we both spend a lot of time on them. Him watching or listening to the news and the latest politics and me – well blogging, of course. I suppose that means we spend a lot of time in silence (apart from him who has the tv on constantly too). He often says “Here, listen to this.” Me, eyes rolling “ah ha.” and I listen to his boring facts or figures until he see my eyes glaze over and grunts “Shall I just say nothing then?” We both smile and return to what we were doing.
‘Has your health suffered? Not really but, I suppose because I have Transverse Myelitis which has its own aches and pains, my back often hurts, my arms and shoulder too, probably from sitting in the same position blogging for long periods. My sleep pattern is disturbed by my illness anyway and I can have days where I don’t sleep at all then I start to hallucinate or days when I sleep forever and just get up to go to the loo. This means that when I’m awake for days I can continue blogging – until I start hearing voices, which distract me. So it’s a bit of a conundrum really – does blogging impact on my health or is it the other way round? That all said, perhaps I now have an addiction 😜
Have you gained weight ? Ha, that’s a good one. Of course when I’m blogging I drink endless cups of coffee and I love biscuits. I love crisps, chocolate, sweets and……….. it would probably be quicker to give a list of what I don’t like or snack on. So I suppose I probably do put weight on, particularly as it’s known that we lose weight during sleep. Because of my sleep pattern, on and off for days, it probably balances itself out. I’ve only been blogging for two months and I can’t say I’ve put on weight because of it.
Do you ever get writer’s block? Not yet, because I’ve just started. However, I do lose my train of thought easily. For example, when him interrupts me with his inane utterances or if I stop to take a telephone call.
Have you ever suffered from blog related stress or blogger burn out? Maybe? Not sure if it’s stress but I found it really difficult at first when I was receiving so many emails with blogging post, 180 one day. Then I learned how to deal with this, courtesy of another fantastic blogger. Perhaps, because I don’t really have many other commitments i.e the boys have flown the nest and I don’t work, it’s a bit easier for me. I only have to stop for Dr’s, dental, hospital appointments or when him suggests we eat then I go help him cook 😂
It’s yet another dull day in London but I have a lot to be happy about. I have an amazing partner who’s really looked after me since I was disabled by Transverse Myelitis in 2011. I’m grateful I have an amazing close-knit family and I will be going up to Scotland in November for a niece’s wedding where I’ll get to see everyone. I am delighted with my two amazing sons; one (Ricci) is currently a Research Fellow in the States and the other (Ravi) is a Physiotherapist in London. Today I’m going to meet Ravi and his new wife for afternoon tea and I’m so excited. I haven’t seen them together since their wedding and they’re going to bring some wedding photos for me to look through.
No. I became disabled and regretfully medically retired from my job as a Mental Health Nurse/Ward Manager, a job I truly loved. I also had to cease running my small business where I worked as and supplied Mental Health First Aid instructors to a variety of organisations. We taught MHFA to a wide range of companies, schools and Armed Forces. I was there at the inception of MHFA England and would love to be able to carry out more training in order to raise aware of mental health issues.
Or is your blog a launching pad for your social life?
What social life? Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little ‘cos I’ve already told you I’m off out this afternoon. We went to see our grandchildren on Thursday and got to stay the night. It was sooo much fun playing games like hide and seek, where when you’re looking for a two year old an you utter to yourself “Now, where’s that Ava?” and she shouts “I’m here.” and her four year old big brother shouts crossly “Aaaava! You’re not supposed to tell her! You’ve spoiled the game now!” and off he stomps, sulking and trying not to laugh when I pretend trip and fall onto the sofa “Ouch, Ouch!” We’re going back there this Sunday and I’m cooking stew and dumplings (a nod to my Scottish heritage) for everyone together with my brother-in-law and his girlfriends. So far my social life’s been all family but hopefully next week I’ll be able to catch up with a few friends.
Does it exist only to complement your Instagram account?
No. I’ve never had an Instagram account. I’m a complete technophobe and not very computer literate, despite having typed and used computers since the seventies. Oops, just given away my approximate age 😉 When my energy levels reach rock bottom, I sometimes find it hard enough responding to my blog comments, Twitter and my emails, let alone having another account such as Instagram. However, I love picking up my laptop and catching up with everyone’s news – it’s my little window on the world.
Is your blog making you real money (if so please let me into your secret)?
No. Unfortunately not and it never will really. I don’t intend to monetize my blog and only set it up because I wanted to make use of my fifteen years of diaries, kept from when I was nursing. Reading through them reminds me of all the good times I had, the amazing inspiring people I met; both patients and colleagues. However, I was also reminded of the poor standards of practice and that’s really what I wanted to highlight in my blog. I want people (nursing students, nurses, doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, community psychiatric nurses, the public, MP’s, the government, patients, carers or friends) to be informed and make the necessary changes. Tell your care team you are not happy with the standards of care. Tell your boss,manager, team that standards must be raised. I want Doctors and nurses to continue with their professional development and stay up-to-date with current practices. Ooops! Rant over.
Are you blogging because you are so adept at this craft that you want to teach it to others?
No. I wish I was smart enough tho’. I loved teaching and mental health is my niche, so I’ll stick to it. I can offer lots of information, not unsolicited advice, and point people in the right direction if they are seeking support but I can’t profess to being a teacher or instructor any more.
Or are you like me : blogging just due to the urge to write?
Yes. I’m like you. Yay, we have this one in common. I love reading and also enjoy writing; releasing the pent up frustration that’s been raging inside me for so many years. As a mental health nurse I was used to writing ‘in and on reflection’, hence the lengthy notes in my old work diaries. As I’m disabled I often have time on my hands and can’t believe how many hours I used to spend on social media i.e. Twitter and Facebook, just to see if anyone had messaged me or liked my comments. Now I’m blogging, the likes, the helpful comments and advice I get is both helpful and constructive. I only started blogging a few months ago and I’ve not even finished with my first work diary yet – so looks like I’ll be here for a few more years.
What are your reasons why you put the proverbial blood sweat tears into your blog posts?
I want people to be aware of the poor standards of practice in mental health units. I want everyone to shout it from the rooftops or from the highest mountain whenever they come across poor practice in mental health nursing and care environments. I want to increase awareness of diagnosis (right or wrong sometimes) the signs, symptoms, causes and effects of mental health disorders. And I want to reduce the stigma. I know I can’t change the world on my own but if my little blog is of use to one person and they have the confidence to speak out, it’s a start.
The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is suicide prevention.
Today, in recognition of World Mental Health Day I’m going to tell you my story – publicly – for the very first time and already it’s unsettling me. I didn’t realise how difficult writing it all down and seeing it in print would be. However, I want to do this in the hope that it will help others to open up and raise awareness of how mental ill health can happen to any of us at any time.
My relationship breakdown
The first time I split up with my ex, after almost nine years, I was thirty and our sons were seven and five. I was absolutely devastated as I hadn’t seen it coming. I believed we were happy and everyone thought we were the perfect couple. However, one thing always came between us. He’d regularly smoked cannabis and by this time he was taking E’s (Ecstasy)* which I totally disagreed with and I didn’t like being out with him when he was under the influence. I also detested his ‘come down’ from the E’s which could last for days. It’s said that regular ecstasy use may lead to sleep problems, lack of energy and feeling depressed or anxious and along with these he was moody and angry.
We were with friends in a bar one night and I could see his mouth twitching, his jaw muscles tightening and moving and I told him I wasn’t happy that he’d taken E’s while out with me. He laughed and said “You need to take something Babes. Come on, lighten up a bit Darlin’. I was just saying to Lucy, we should go clubbing more.” Clubbing? More? We’d never been clubbing. Oosh! It hit me like a physical blow to my guts! I was rooted to the spot as I remembered – he’d been on the phone (landline, before mobiles) a lot recently, female workmates had called him and he’d called them all darlin’ and he’d been out at least once a week (on lads nights) wearing suits I’d had cleaned for him, the shirts I’d ironed and the aftershave I’d given him for his birthday.
Walking from one bar to the next I said “You’re seeing someone?” and Tony replied “Eh? Sorry, what did you say?” giving himself time to form an answer. I knew then that he was cheating though he denied it. With my head spinning and my heart breaking we spent the rest of the evening with friends in our local, all the while desperately hoping that it wasn’t true. When we got home I calmly said “You’d best pack cos you’re not staying here.” More to see what he would say or do. He laughed nervously and thought I was joking. “Where will I go? I can’t leave now.”
“It’s not my problem. Go to your mum’s,”
“Babes, look, we’ll talk in the morning. Come on let’s go to bed.”
Pft. I told him I wouldn’t be sleeping with him,“You might have caught something.” I’d sleep in the one of the boys’ rooms as they were at their grandparents round the corner. The effects of his drugs were wearing off because he started yelling “Your effin’ frigid you are.” and “I ain’t going nowhere you stroppy cow. You’re an effin’ nutter. Effin’ nuts just like your mother!” he spat. Ouch! He really knew how to hurt. I’d told him some time ago that my mum had been in Stratheden (an old asylum in Scotland) many years ago and had Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)** as she had severe depression. The nasty imbecile, trying to detract from the real issue here, just threw this confidence right back in my face. Stomping up the stairs and banging doors he eventually went to bed and within minutes I could hearing him snoring like the damn pig he was, not a bloody care in the world!
I sat awake on the sofa unable to sleep all night, crushed and sobbing uncontrollably, thinking about what to to do next and what to say to people. My mood swung wildly from sad to angry, anxious and confused, fear and denial as I drank one coffee after another and smoked too many cigarettes.
Tony was mostly a good guy
Tony wasn’t always a monster. He was actually a good guy (without the drugs). He made me laugh, he was affectionate, kind and generous, he was popular and had lots of long-term friends who adored him. He was a great dad; he did most of the night feeds and loved playing with the boys, taking them to all their activities and to the Arsenal games. He loved a clean house and enjoyed decorating our home, he’d often wash the windows and blinds without prompting. He came from a huge loving family (Indian and Spanish) who thankfully adored me and thought I was a good influence on Tony.
We’d often go out in the summer on huge family picnics where there’d be up to fifty of us all in Regents Park, Hyde Park, Kenwood Park, at Alexander Palace or at the beach. Friends who joined us couldn’t believe how many people were there and were amazed at the range of food; tortilla’s, croquetas, paella, Russian salad, whole chickens and hams, breads, cheeses, samosas, onion bhajis. We’d be there until it got dark, playing swingball, cricket and football with the all kids. We regularly had Christmas dinner for around twenty people where Tony would keep everyone entertained and all the New Year parties were held at out house along with the boys’ birthday parties which went on way into the night.
“Cor, it stinks down here. You been up all night?” rasped Tony as he wearily descended the stairs in the morning, still with his stupid nervous smile. I almost felt sorry for him. He made us both coffee then slumped on one of the two sofas and reached for the television controls. Too slow. I grabbed it first and put it out of his reach, behind my back on the other sofa. “Have you nothing to say?”
“Aaww, this ain’t one of them ‘we have to talk’ thingy’s is it? Anyway what do you want to talk about?”
“Last night. What was we saying? I can’t remember.” To be fair, he probably couldn’t remember too much after the fog of drugs and copious pints of beer. But I didn’t believe he could remember nothing and I knew he was just playing for time. “What’s her name?” I asked. He giggled anxiously and didn’t answer me – a sure sign he was cheating. “Ah, it’s one of those girls from the office.” I said. “Which one?” He still refused to answer so I told him to start packing, still foolishly hoping he’d tell me it wasn’t true. The fact that he went upstairs to pack, so easily, with no arguing just confirmed it was. He packed some bits saying he’d come back for the rest, then he left and I watched from the kitchen window as he walked away without a backward glance. As he disappeared from view I locked the door. I turned, slid down and with my head in my hands I cried as I’ve never cried before, snot mingling with my salty tears.
When I eventually stopped crying my thoughts turned to the boys and off I went, howling again. How on earth was I going to tell them? I couldn’t bear to think of their gorgeous little faces, big brown eyes made even wider with disbelief as the life they knew would be turned upside down – just like that. That selfish b*stard, I hated him! What was worse, I knew he’d be down the pub laughing and joking with his pals.
Aaarrgghhh! I wanted to scream from the rooftops. Instead, I called his mum and dad to tell them the news and asked them to keep the boys for another night as I couldn’t face them right now. Not with my red-rimmed piggy eyes and blotchy face. I didn’t want them to see me so upset and I honestly hoped Tony would come back and tell me he’d made a mistake. His mum and dad didn’t believe he’d leave and thought this would just blow over, bless them. Then I cried again. The thought of not seeing all my lovely family, missing out on weddings, picnics, celebrations and family gatherings. See it’s not just the couple involved in a breakup; think – when you throw a pebble into a lake and you see the water ripple outwards – it affects the bigger family and friends circle.
It makes no sense to consider a life where we never met. We met and that’s it. Whatever pebbles we disturbed started rolling down life’s mountain, either missing other stones altogether or eventually triggering landslides where I always seemed to be standing. But these avalanches of angst, or anxiety, never touched you, just the anger at all my dust drifting by, obscuring your view of what you found most important. Your reflection may not look like it once did in that mirror pool. No, age didn’t cause the change. It’s really the ripples of concentric circles that your fleet of pebbles set off now that they’ve finally come to rest upon what might’ve always mattered to you most.
Unfortunately I came across many bullies when working in mental health environments – the very place where the staff have been trained to care for people, to provide preceptorship supervision and mentorship to their colleagues.
What is bullying?
UNISON* has defined workplace bullying as persistent offensive, intimidating, humiliating behaviour, which attempts to undermine an individual or group of employees.
Bullying at work can be broadly broken down into two different types. That which is: personal in nature – e.g. derogatory remarks about a person’s appearance or private life and work-related – e.g. questioning a person’s professional competence, allocating unachievable tasks. Many bullies will of course engage in both types.
During a placement in the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), I was horrified that at the age of thirty-six I was being bullied by my supervisor Alan (an ex-policeman). I thought I’d put all that behind me when I finally left the school gates. This vile man would constantly belittle me, talk over me and question my judgement and knowledge of patients and undermine me in front of colleagues He’d ignore my input and he’d snigger at my Cockney accent if I spoke in meetings, because he knew I hated it. He’d deliberately leave me out of ward rounds when ‘my/our’ patients were being seen saying there was no point me attending as I had nothing to add. He smirked as he refused to sign my attendance sheets saying he didn’t know what days I turned up or didn’t – only because he came in late every day. I was lucky that his colleagues took pity on me and took me out on patient visits or to ward rounds in the hospital. He blatantly ignored my attempts to communicate with him but still he looked furious when I said I had no option other than to speak to the CMHT Manager. His boss had to act as mediator for the rest of my placement because Alan continued to intimidate me with his passive aggressive stance. How sad that two ‘adults’ had to resort to this!
Based on research into thousands of cases of bullying at work, Tim Field** believed the serial bully’s focus is on power, control and subjugation of others. They usually operate by targeting one individual and bullying them relentlessly until they break down or leave. They then move on to their next victim. By the time organisations realise that there is a serial bully in their midst, considerable damage has already been done.
The policeman’s wife
My next placement was in a mental health rehab unit and on my first morning during ward round I noticed the Consultant’s leather holdall with her name engraved on it. She was only the serial bullying policeman’s wife – and my heart sank to my stomach. However, she was as sweet as he was sour and as warm as he was cold; she was smiley and encouraging and I liked working with her. It was during this time that she told me they were going through an acrimonious divorce. Not sure I had any sympathy for him.
Don’t rock the boat
It was also during my next placement in the rehab unit that I came across Ricky who was the Acting Manager. I told him about one particular patient, a young lad called Devlin who found it difficult wake up, to get up, showered and dressed before morning medication and breakfast. The nurses wouldn’t re-open the treatment room to give him his medication and they refused him breakfast, telling him that he should get up earlier. Ricky’s response was eyes rolling and “Tut, this is a rehab unit Nancy and patients have to learn how to get up and ready in time for medication and breakfast. This is why they’re here.” I flippin’ knew it was rehab! Nonetheless, some patients need to be encouraged to get up on time, “get him an alarm clock or something” I suggested. More eye rolling and tutting but he did open the treatment room and give Devlin his morning medication. I made some toast and tea for Devlin but was severely criticised and told by Ricky that I shouldn’t have done this and not to do it again because other patients will expect it too.
I also spoke to Ricky with regards to the nurse who came in each night shift with her slippers and duvet and slept on the sofa once the patients had gone to bed. I highlighted the risk to our patients, myself and colleagues as we were one member of staff down when she slept. Huffing and puffing or tutting and heavy sighing, he told me that I was there and would make up the numbers. However, as students, we were there to learn by shadowing colleagues and not to be counted in the staff numbers. First he said “What do you want me to do Nancy?” Without allowing me time to answer, he went on to say that Ayo, the ‘sleeper’, had been there so long on night shifts because she had children so they cut her a bit of slack. More likely, he didn’t want to rock the boat; he was afraid of his long-term staff and I think he lacked the confidence to deal with them effectively. However, he had no problem making derisory comments about my naivety and lack of lack managerial knowledge or how to deal with staff. I lost respect for him as a Manager and couldn’t even be bothered to tell him that I’d been a Human Resource Manager for almost twenty years.
I asked casually how long Ayo had been on permanent nights and was astonished when he told me twenty years. This lady had grandchildren by now and no one had ever questioned her working nights constantly, which was against Trust Policy. Ricky refused to take action and I was berated for raising problems where there was none and told “Don’t even think of informing Human Resources. It would just mean more paperwork and aggravation.” – for him no doubt! Ricky made it as difficult for me as possible to raise concerns about the poor practice I witnessed on the unit. However, I was able to write about it all in my Practice Based Assessments and the essay that followed this placement and felt vindicated by the Uni lecturers’ comments and high marks I received for both.
I eventually qualified as a mental health nurse and within four years I was promoted to Ward Manager (Band 7). I often bumped into the bullying policeman who was still working at Band 6 level and the Acting Manager who’d since been demoted back to Band 6 and without exception I greeted them with the same cheery smile I’d always given them.
*Tackling bullying at work, A UNISON guide for safety reps
**Tim Field, UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line between 1996 and 2004