Mental Health Awareness Week – mental health in the modern world: Story of a baby boomer

It is day three of Mental Health Awareness week, and I wonder how far the message may have spread at this point? Have you seen lots of other posts or campaign’s around social media and on the news?

So far we have heard Angharad’s story and Scott’s story, two millennial’s but from different ends of the millennial timeline and I think it was interesting to hear the differences they have experienced for that reason but also the differences between the reactions due to their gender. What I think it has made clear to me is that a lot of the pontification surrounding how Millennial’s act and react is just conjecture for the most part. Today I listened to an episode of Fearne Cotton’s Podcast: Happy Place where she talks about how we are afraid of the level of emotional intelligence that we have reached in the twenty first century.

It seems right then that I now reach to the opposite end of the scale with todays interview, I spoke to a gentleman from generation baby boomer, that post war era when things were vastly different to how they are now not just in respects to how we manage and talk about our mental health (we didn’t really) but also in the ways we treated one another as people, as human beings. Society was at the beginning of a string of massive changes from everything from race, to politics to sexuality, to gender equality. Suffice it to say the world was a very different place, as I am sure it will be in fifty or sixty years from now. Will we look back and say,’oh those millennial’s, they were so closed up about their lives, they barely lived’?

I found it quite overwhelming hearing from a man who, like Scott, experienced the same brutal level of expectation attached to being the stereotypical man of the house. But this gentleman has raised children, he has been unemployed, he has dealt with loss and once again I was thrown totally off guard by the bravery. I had thought that he might reject my request but he didn’t at all and to speak out about his experiences now so publicly when at times he wouldn’t have told a soul meant so much to me. The interview took on a a slightly different format and so I have left out the questions as it flows so beautifully and organically.

There were two occasions I can look back and remember having had panic attacks, or at least when I was in a state of panic and in that state of panic when I had attacks. The first one I remember lasted for two to three years, some times people think of them as fleeting but I know this to not be the case. It was a difficult time, I was living in London and it was connected to relationships and the break up of my first marriage. The second time was when, not so long ago really – 15 years, I would go to London as a visitor and I couldn’t get on the tube, I would catch the bus while everyone took the tube, I would I try to get on the tube but I felt trapped and like the walls were sucking me in, it was ironic as I was a miner in the pits for three to four years and although I never felt comfortable back then, I got on, and here I was not even able to walk down a passage. The anxiety of this was one thing but attached to it was a feeling of inadequacy, I felt hyper aware of the thoughts and feelings I thought other people were thinking, I felt despised and it was all within me because I couldn’t be the man I could be.

Relationships, as well as being out of work, and I suppose coming from my generation, and not being able to provide for my family was a shameful thing and it gets you down and it undermines you you feel undermined and that other people are judging you and you are getting people down. I would rant and rave and that was where it would come from. Poor health doesn’t help, I was eventually diagnosed with an under active thyroid but before the diagnosis, I remember a neighbour would say ‘Alright boy’ it is what they did and still do in the area we live in, it is their way of greeting and one day I turned on him and said to him ‘Stop calling me a boy! I’m not a boy I’m a man!’ A few days later I went back and apologised, I said ‘I am so sorry for the way I reacted’ and he kept saying ‘Oh it’s alright boy’, I told him that I was sensitive to being called a boy even though I knew it was just a saying, he said ‘Oh its alright boy’. I felt bad tempered and had a sense of being got at all the time and him calling me a boy played into that insecurity. .

I tried to talk to my wife, but it was difficult and she said ‘You’ve got to see a counsellor’, so I went and it seemed pretty hopeless to me, I couldn’t open up at all, it felt impossible. But then like many people who go through counselling as clients I had the thought that I could do this, I could help people by listening and so I became a counsellor. I was doing a job and that brought back my self esteem but also, seeing the pitfalls people get into, helping people it helps you understand yourself more by listening to other people. Sometimes however, I think that you get to a point when you just have to carry on yourself, like too much counselling can feed the problem almost? I felt relied on and like I was feeding the problem for them and for me. And I had to give it up.

Thinking back when I would try to use the tube, strange things would occur to me like ‘I’m the only person that is in this filled carriage that is thinking what I am thinking, these weird things in my head’. I did conquer it by going one stop at a time and it is an allegory for how we cope in life, one step at a time and we have to remember to be easy on ourselves.

The first bout long ago, was due to relationship problems, at the time I didn’t see it as that being the cause, but now I see that I was in a very vulnerable state and it lead me to live my life in a way that I wouldn’t live my life now, and I look back with a certain amount of shame. I had no idea that I was in a state of anxiety, I was worried and angry and miserable and depressed but I didn’t brand is as such, I just didn’t feel right. Now I look back I can see how vulnerable I was. The next bout, I was out of work and I was ill, I think I knew that that was what was causing it. The first time I was on my own a fair bit, the second time I felt on my own even though I was surrounded by family and love. Illness is a very lonely thing anyway in any of its form.

I remember, after my first wife left me, someone I met at the time said ‘You will one day look back on 1979 and think, that was awful, and how did I get out? But I did, and life is good now.’ And it is true. I never ever even contemplate suicide, even at my lowest points, you have to keep on walking. To paraphrase the bible, in the valley of the shadow, keep on walking. When something awful happens, death or bereavement, the bottom can fall out of your life and tumble in on you, life is fragile. And faith, I have faith in Christ, I have a set of beliefs that I totally believe, but when you are in the depths of something you can’t see the way out no matter how much faith might be in your life.

I think my attitude to mental health is much a personal thing as it is a generational thing, the attitude then was keep it to yourself and deal with it yourself and that applied to everything from feelings to abuse of that period. With society changing it is having a positive effect on people and you hear stories of people opening up after a lifetime of silence. One thing I struggle to come to terms with is the term mental health, it makes me think of negative connotations, when I was a kid there was a hospital for lunatics and they were the ones who had mental health, they were ‘mental’ and so that is what I think of and it was seen as mad to be depressed on anxious in the past. But you do have good health, spiritual health, physical health or indeed mental health, they all have bad and good moments.

I feel different about speaking about it now because I am out of it, but when I was in it I couldn’t talk about it, talking would make me feel even more inadequate, like there was a glass wall where you need to stretch out for help but you couldn’t reach anyone, and no body else understood it. I feel people that have gone through it themselves understand, like veterans coming back from war understand what is is like for other veterans, other people don’t want to understand, not really. We shy away from negativity, when people ask you how you are there is only so much they can cope with, if you answer week after week that you feel rotten, they don’t want to hear it. When people are happy, they want to stay that way, safe and happy and your rotten feelings are something that is easier to shy away.

We cant escape ourselves and no matter where we go we take ourselves with us and so I would say to myself that I might feel depressed but I will feel better when…I have my holidays, but then the holiday would arrive and it covered it all over a bit but I still take myself with me.

I know it can always come back. But I suppose I am careful with myself, I avoid stress like anything, I wont do things or take things up that will cause me to feel overpowered by events, I pace myself. I feel much more in control of myself than I did.

Other people are very important, and no matter how down you are you can talk to other people, they don’t even have to know you, but just chat to them about anything, people are very important. When I see a homeless person, I will talk to them and it surprises me how their faces light up, being talked to and talking to people is so important because of how it makes people feel, that sense of being there and seeing and hearing other people, it helps myself because on a certain level I have made a connection without even having a heart to heart.

Doing things that I enjoy, both in work and in life are also important. So long as you don’t over push yourself, if I feel I cant do this today I will put it off to tomorrow. I eep an ordered life, I know what to do and when and I just keep plodding on. Getting as much sleep as you can is important, eating well, getting exercise and fresh air.

I would find this conversation harder to talk to most people about, but I know you have been through it and you understand, and how could they? But I don’t feel awkward, I am quite happy to do so, I don’t have a feeling of great relief because I don’t need one now, and if it helps somebody and goes on a blog, I cant get my head round a blog at all, communication by proxy.

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