Will the real me please stand up?
At the ripe old age of sixty-six I have finally arrived at the conclusion that the real me will probably remain obscured from view for eternity. Like all of us I have worn masks throughout my life. Some to disguise my anxiety and depression, some to hide the growing nature of my bi-polar disorder and many many masks to hide behind in order to avoid the stigma of having….”A Mental Health Condition”
I suppose IT…. (The thing that shall not be spoken about !!) began to manifest itself sometime in my early thirties. As an operational paramedic, work became very stressful and I suppose looking back a degree of PTSD was beginning to manifest itself. However, as was the accepted procedure in those early days, nobody mentioned it; you were supposed to “Man up”, “Pull yourself together” or “Tough it out” or whatever euphemism you can think of to hide behind.
It would have been so healing to have had the opportunity to talk openly about things that were worrisome or stressful, or to have some profess
ional guidance to refer to, but this was the early eighties and such luxuries a long way off. In hindsight I suppose there were others who felt the same way, but we soldiered on in silence, wearing whatever mask we could to disguise the problems and the fear of being found out.
The stigma of having a mental health conditio
n was far too great a secret to expose to your work colleagues, let alone the world. It smacked of vulnerability and weakness, and if you were to admit that then the ability to perform your professional role would be called into question, or you would become the subject of ridicule, both of which I was not prepared to accept.
Enter the mask wearer….. Mask number one of my now considerable collection of masks, was the everyday mask, comprising principally of bravado, bullshit and bluster, the core skills required to get through the working day. I became very proficient at my job and the associated skills required to perform it, in order t
o avoid any challenges and confrontations. This was supplemented by mask number two, the bloody nice bloke mask, in order to appease the stressors of the day and just in case mask number one wasn’t as effective as first thought.
It was at this stage of my life that I became an avid fan of wearing masks to avoid the confrontation of reality or avoid things that w
ere outside my sphere of control, but slowly the masks would slide, revealing the fragility underneath. One day…my dear mother had the audacity to die and the pinball machine that was me was suddenly in tilt mode and none of the controls would work.
Sleep came and went in spasms and my irritability, misery and anger grew. Some days I would stare aimlessly at the television, smoke too much, drink too much and ponder on the pointlessness of our existences. It was like trying to think through treacle….every decision was an effort and every aspect of life was being performed in sloooooow motion, but I really didn’t give a sh
Then as if by magic the darkness would lift. There wasn’t anything that was beyond my capabilities. I didn’t need a mask then…. The world would see what a shining star I was in the firmament, words flowed from my thoughts like quicksilver, in fact my voice couldn’t keep up with speed of my
ideas and actions. This wasn’t like thinking through treacle this was like having a warp drive in your brain. Consequences….. bah humbug.
It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t very well, but I was reticent to talk to anyone about it let alone approach my GP. Then came the day of the cabbage… My fabulous wife, who has stood by me through all the ups and downs, asked me to go to Sainsburys for a cabbage. I got back about four hours lat
er, minus the cabbage and devoid of all recollection of the preceding hours. The world had ceased to have any interest for me, I had fallen spectacularly off my perch…….
The ensuing years have been the start of a very long road to recovery which I hope to recall for future articles, if, dear reader you are interested.