INSOMNIA AND DEPRESSION: MY PERSONAL STRUGGLE

I wonder how many people really understand the meaning of the term “depression.” In everyday parlance, people use it as a synonym for melancholia, usually a temporary state of mind linked to some unhappy news or low pressure weather event. Nothing wrong with that. Context is everything.

I wish there were a different word to describe the condition that I suffer from, endogenous clinical depression, because there is a tendency to downplay it as a serious medical problem. “Oh, not feeling the best are you?” I recall the male nurse saying to me one sunny Saturday afternoon a few years ago in the triage office at the E.R. down at the Q.E. Hospital in Charlottetown (PEI). “Maybe just a change in medication will help. We’ll soon fix you up.” Right. Six and a half hours later, having watched numerous patients skip the line ahead of me with cuts and bruises visible to all and sundry, I was still waiting. My symptoms were hidden. How convenient. And after all, what did it matter if I hadn’t slept at all for a whole week? My wife, Alison, took my pulse and discovered that it had skyrocketed during the wait. Being a nurse herself, she was able to talk to the triage staff and get their attention. I did manage to get a knockout prescription and slept that night.

Sleep and depression are intertwined in a vicious circle. I am willing to accept that there are many people who suffer from insomnia who are not depressed. But, those of us who are depressed need sleep and if we don’t get it, we become anxious, which in and of itself prevents sleep, which exacerbates the depression, and on it goes, around and around. Sleeping medications can help, but if taken over time, they can become habit-forming and the body becomes habituated to them. They don’t work. I move from one prescription to another. The list is surely finite and I will eventually exhaust it. I worry about this, but my psychiatrist, one of the top professionals in his field, keeps re-assuring me I’ll be alright.

I even bought a book on how to sleep, authored by a sleep disorder specialist. She advises not to go to bed until one feels tired. But, I am a creature of habit and besides, I
can only take so much television pablum before I start to regurgitate. Don’t read in bed, she says. Read in another room before you go to bed. Hello. I like reading in bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something. She even mentions washing dishes. At three in the morning? Are you kidding? Bed, she says, is for sleep and sex. Hasn’t she heard of multi-tasking?

So, while I haven’t thrown the book away yet, I’m reading it with a critical eye. I’m on the waiting list to go to the sleep clinic in Halifax (Nova Scotia), where they’ll attach electrodes all over me, as though I’m about to get zapped into the great unknown. And they’ll undoubtedly come up with a physical cause, like sleep apnea, and provide me with a sleeping mask to cover my face, so I’ll look like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Such an outcome would leave me pondering why, if the problem is my not getting to sleep in the first place, would a solution be for me to wear something to stop me waking up.

I do all the right things. Exercise, keep busy, eat healthy, go out with my wife on dinner and theatre nights, drink only in moderation, attend meetings like my writing group TWIG, force (sometimes) myself to write and read. I am exploring alternative forms of treatment to the conventional pharmacological one. These include breathing exercises and acupuncture, both under the guidance of a naturopath. I might consider yoga. Whatever will help.

 

Suggestions on dealing with insomnia most welcome!!

Divorce in the 1960s: UK

When I write or talk about my memoir “Starting to Frame” I refer to my parents’ divorce as one of the “stigmas” of the day. My parents separated in 1961. Their divorce was culminated a year or so later. But, why would divorce have been a stigma, given that nowadays a conservative estimate of the divorce rates are 42% in the UK and 48% in Canada, where I live.IMG_NEW

First, divorces were not the norm in 1960s Britain, which still operated under the 1937 Matrimonial Causes Act.  One partner had to prove against the other commission of a matrimonial “offence” of cruelty, desertion, adultery, or incurable insanity; no divorce at all was allowed within the first 3 years of marriage. It was only in 1969 that the divorce laws were changed to allow a “no fault” option. Do you see how the system was set up in a manner that conveyed the sense of shame and guilt?

To add insult to injury, the status of divorce proceedings were published in listed form and with the cause included  in the local newspaper, much like the Births and Deaths columns. Since there was a decree nisi (provisional granting) followed 6 months later by a decree absolute (final), this was public shaming twice over.

Cast against this backdrop, when my parents separated and divorced, the community around us looked at us with disapproval. One night, while we were asleep, someone tipped the contents of the dustbin (garbage bin) all over the yard. Because marital infidelity was involved on the part of my mother, I was made fun of at school and had to listen to my mother being called names that I would not wish to print on here. Would the taunting have been so virulent had it been my father who was “unfaithful?” Or might he have been given an easier ride; just being “one of the boys?”

Then, aside from the societal indignation, there was the fact that in my parents’ case, it was a fractious, highly destructive breakup that necessitated my brother and I having to take sides. This would have been hard to take regardless of the era.

Divorce is a messy business. Perhaps it doesn’t have quite the “stigma” that it used to have, but there is still a responsibility on the part of the couples involved to insure that their children do not become participants in the drama of antagonism. Trust me. Healing doesn’t come easy. “Starting to Frame” depicts the fallout from my parents’ divorce and how a measure of healing was accomplished.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=starting+to+frame

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=starting+to+frame

http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=starting+to+frame

 

Marketing my book: a labor of love

Especially when an author self-publishes, as I have done, writing the book is just the beginning. First, there is the need to select a cover, page style and formatting software for it. In my case, I opted to hire a cover and page designer, as I am IT-challenged. But, once the book is up and running, the real work begins – marketing the book.RG-STF (2)

A successful launch, imaginatively designed to appeal to people with a broader interest than reading books, was helpful to me in kick-starting the whole process. I went with a British 1950s theme, because that’s where and when much of the book was set. Aggressive, yet tactfully-executed local PR proved helpful. This included issuing press releases, approaching local bookstores, social media campaigns, and contacting social and professional groups with whom I have been or am still affiliated. I make it a habit to always carry 5-10 books in the car as I’m driving around on everyday business. Last, but by no means least, I have organized book signings and a tour of 6 libraries in PEI, where I carry out readings, engage in Q & A, and do signings.montague

To spread the word beyond where I live on Prince Edward Island, I have engaged the services of a marketing company in Ontario, Canada. They are organizing placements for my books in several bookstores across the Maritime provinces, along with 2 tours involving bookstores and libraries. This same company is helping organize my social media postings and is exploring the possibility of an event during Canadian Mental Health Week (May 4-10, 2015), as my memoir has a mental health theme.

I post on several web sites that are author and reader-orientated. As well, I belong to a number of Facebook groups that are based in Sheffield, UK, the backdrop for my memoir. This includes 2 web sites operated by the alumni of my old Grammar School. Since the book is set in Sheffield and uses the Sheffield dialect in its dialog sections, I am very anxious to spread the word about it in my “home town.” For this reason, I am considering hiring another professional to help me make this happen. I have also been in contact with authors and book bloggers in the UK, as well as with the Mental Health Foundation (UK), to solicit help in promoting my book and in the latter instance, facilitate awareness about mental health issues.

Sheffield

Looked at in purely financial terms, this memoir would be considered a loss. In the best possible scenario, I could break even. And all this work that is going into it–why am I doing it?

Thankfully, this is not how I look at it. I look upon it as a labor of love. In meeting with groups, talking to people, receiving feedback, I am deriving immense satisfaction from the project. I am discovering that my book appeals to some people for its nostalgic elements, to others for its ironic humour, while some people find it speaks to them at a more fundamental level, inspiring conversations about such topics as divorce and mental illness. This makes the effort I am putting into the marketing very worthwhile.

Marketing is not what I was trained to do. But, I am enjoying that part of it which is opening up important conversations.

 

 

Thoughts on my book launch

To simply say that the recent (Nov 14) launch of my new book “Starting to Frame” was a huge success would be doing a disservice to all the planning and emotions that lay behind it.

Following advice that I received, I decided that this would be an “out of the ordinary” launch. In keeping with the subject matter of my memoir, it would adopt a 1950s/60s British theme. People would be encouraged to wear period clothing (some did), British snacks and drinks would be available, music from the era to fill out the ambiance, a Union Jack if we could find one (we did – it graced my father-in-law’s casket, as he was a WW2 vet). Social media, printed invitations placed around coffee shops and libraries, personal and email contacting with all the various groups in which I’m involved, a press release in local newspapers and a radio interview. Special guests were invited – a lot of “heavy lifting” to promote the event. Plus all the work that my wife put in baking close to 150 Cornish pasties.launch7

A week before the date, the long term weather forecast took an ominous turn. Snow and high winds, first winter storm. Are you kidding? For the next week, I was glued to the Environment Canada web site. Early on, it looked like it wasn’t going to be so bad. Then, 2 days before the occasion, it bounced back again – high winds and up to 10 cm of snow. I was a wreck. How does one cancel an event such as this? The events coordinator and I decided to make a final decision based on the 11 a.m. forecast on “Launchlaunch9 day.” The forecast-ed wind speed had gone down, as had the amount of snow. We decided to go ahead.

Around 100 people braved the nasty weather and road conditions; beyond my wildest expectations. The atmosphere was relaxed and supportive. After short speeches from the province’s Poet Laureate, an author and content editor of my book, then the ED of the PEI Canadian Mental Health Assocn., I read from my book, then took out my cornet, the same one that I used 50 years ago to play in a traditional jazz band while I was a university student. I joined my son, who is an accomplished keyboard player, for a couple of numbers. I didn’t care that many of the notes were hit and miss, nor do I think did the audience. I was so relieved that my book launch was going ahead and that it was well attended that my musical talents, or lack thereof, seemed irrelevant. I sold out of my first shipment of books during and shortly after the event. Thanks to everyone who came and special thanks to Kele Redmond, David Gordon, Alison Gordon, Jaime Mann and Christine Gordon Manley who played key roles in pulling this off. Also, thanks to Diane Morrow, Jane Ledwell, and Reid Burke for their speeches.launch 2

British football in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

gannonI have always been an avid supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, a British football club that is  known, if at all, in North America for its quirky name rather than on field successes.  I always have a soft spot for the underdog.

When I was growing up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, all football players were subject to a maximum salary set by the Football League.The maximum wage was £20 in 1958, not a lot more than the average industrial wage. Players had to work at a trade to complement their football wages. So, the legendary Preston and England forward Tom Finney was a plumber, while Sheffield Wednesday great Johnny Fantham opened up a hairdressing salon. In those days, footballers played for the love of the sport, not for mega salaries that today’s prima donnas command. Rooney, Messsi and Ronaldo – how would you have fared?

But, during times when television had not been invented or was at least in its infancy, when being “on line” would have conveyed a message about traffic and roadways, people flocked to the football games, they were affordable to the average person and the atmosphere was dynamic. Here is an excerpt from my book:

“It was April 1950. Sheffield Wednesday, “the Owls,” were playing Coventry City, “the Sky Blues.” It was a key game because our lads were in the running for promotion from Division 2 to the First Division. It was a packed stadium of over 44,000 people and the tension was high. Dad and I stood alongside one another, pinned by a crash barrier behind one of the goals on the Spion Kop. Exposed to the elements, it was open-air standing in that part of the stadium. Men stood shoulder-to-shoulder and I was cramped in among them. Dad told me that an acquaintance of his had once had his coat pocket filled with piss, courtesy of the man who was standing next to him. I kept looking around, making sure nobody like that was near me. At my height, it wasn’t my pockets that would be vulnerable. Now and again, Dad would lift me up so I could see over the many silhouettes that were blocking my view. Several times during the game, I was able to see the same scene unfolding—the play had stopped as a player lay on the pitch injured, clutching his legs or groin. No such things as substitute players back then. A man ran out onto the pitch with a wet sponge and gave him the once over with it. The supposedly crippled player then stood up and got back into the game. A miracle.

“Iz ee urt, Dad?”

“ No. Magic sponge, that,” replied Dad, smirking broadly.

For the entire first half, groans from the crowd permeated the air as Wednesday had the jitters. Then, just before half time, a chorus of “Oh, shit,” “Bloody ell,” and “What are tha playin at Gannon” rang out as the Coventry defence man George Allen put one in the net by Wednesday goalkeeper Dave McIntosh…”

Photo: Eddie Gannon. Sheffield Wednesday wing half 1949-55. Irish international. Not sure who the cocky bloke in the background is.

 

 

Have we really made progress re: mental illness

The tragic suicide of popular actor Robin Williams has puzzled a lot of people. Mental illness is not a disease or disorder that society in general understands, let alone recognizes. There are some who choose to ignore it, pretending that it doesn’t exist. Others have the notion that it is not a serious illness at all, maybe not even real. I have found that even in medical health circles, it is given secondary consideration to physical ailments which are there for all to see.

That’s the problem, you see. Unlike a broken arm or a ruptured appendix, mental illness itself cannot be seen, either visually or with probative equipment. A light shone up someone’s backside may reveal a polyp or tumor, but where does the light shine to pick up mental illness? Only its manifestations, often concealed by the sufferer, are on display.

When I was growing up in England during the ’60s, I encountered the best and the worst that mental health care had to offer. For someone like myself, who experienced depression but not chronic, persistent illness, there was a wonderfully supportive psychiatric clinic, staffed by highly trained and caring health care providers, with a progressive attitude. Whiteley Wood Clinic resembled a country home and was set in a pristine, green belt of the industrial city (Sheffield) in which I lived. It was a healing environment. But, space was limited and on one occasion, I had to go to the Victorian era institution known colloquially as the Mental Home. Charles Dickens could have gleaned his Dotherboys’ Hall image from Middlewood Hospital. It was an awful place that treated sufferers as inmates as opposed to patients.

I understand that now, as in many other places in North America, both these institutions have closed down. Where the seriously incapacitated patients who would be unable to lead independent lives have gone, I would not know. But, many patients have been off loaded into the larger society in “group homes.” Is this a progressive move or has it been done to save money, I wonder? Mental health across Canada receives a scant share of the overall health budgets and I suspect the same is true in the U.K.

Meanwhile, I recall the time that I was made to wait over 6 hours in a hospital waiting room to be seen by a doctor. I had not slept for a week and my anxiety level was sky high. Patient after patient kept being triaged ahead of me – a cut arm, a broken thumb, a bad cough – until my vital signs started to skyrocket and I insisted on being seen.

Has mental illness really made any progress during my lifetime? Not a lot. It’s why I am donating 50% of the royalties from my book, which has mental illness within my family as a major theme, to mental health organizations in Canada and the U.K.

Do you think that mental health care or even the understanding of the illness has improved?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost there now

writersblockI think the bureaucracy involved in publishing my book is nearing its end and I’m getting ready to release it. I have what is known as an EIN from the IRS in the USA. Lots of acronyms there. But, it means I’ll be able to sell it internationally. Here’s a good site for prospective authors who are self publishing and need an EIN (a far less laborious process than the oft-prescribed ITIN one)

I also have CIP information from Library & Archives Canada, which is needed for filing and shelving purposes by libraries.

For Canadian self publishers, one has to fill out a form

Time to start to plan my book launch now???

 

Experimenting with blogging

I’m just learning how to blog. Yes, that previous blog was composed by yours truly but posted by my daughter, Christine Gordon Manley, who is acting as my IT tutor. I know. She deserves a medal. So, what news do I have about my book to relate now? The book is finished. C’est fait! But, I’m waiting for what is known as an ITIN from the IRS in the USA (too many acronyms!). That is needed to prevent a 30% witholding tax, as Amazon.com is located in the U.S. I’m also waiting from my CIP application. Another acro. That information will allow libraries to be able to categorize it. And I’m enjoying the great sunny weather we’re having on Prince Edward Island, after being hit by tropical storm Arthur.

The healing power of nostalgia

1607029_1481104872118485_158784408029776709_nWhat has it been like to write my first book? Well, had it been as I had originally planned, a book about my field of expertise—the biological sciences—, the answer to that question would undoubtedly have been “hard work” and “a sense of accomplishment.”  Job done. However, when I decided to stray into what for me was unchartered territory—creative nonfiction—, it stirred up many more emotions than this.

It was indeed hard work, as I spent six of my retirement years reminiscing about my past, placing significant events in order, poring through countless collections of old newspapers on microfiche in the Local Studies Library in Sheffield, England, composing typescript, editing, re-editing, and the list goes on. And yes, indeed, there is that sense of accomplishment when what looked at first to be a daunting task was finally done. However, because I was constantly being challenged in a very personal way while I was engaged in the book, more profound feelings surfaced.

I came to understand that my childhood was not all a dismal affair. My early childhood, especially, had a very rich texture to it and even when my home life was beset by turmoil and feelings of rejection, life had its lighter moments. While I will never fully understand the forces that caused each of my parents to lead the bitter and unsatisfying lives that they did, I recognize that, just like me, they are the product of their own upbringings and their DNA. The black and white, right and wrong world that I was brought up in is neither realistic, nor good for the soul. Moreover, my researching, thinking, and writing of this book has shown me that I, too, have plenty of those “if only” moments to bear. Had I not written this book and allowed these revelations to take hold of me, it is doubtful that I would ever have sought out and reconciled with my mother—and I would have been all the poorer for it.

More broadly, what came across to me loud and clear as I delved into my family history was the inadequacy of the health system in meeting the needs of people suffering from mental illness. Alas, I fear that very little has changed in this regard. If anything, this dreadful situation has worsened.

Yes, writing this book has led me on a personal roller coaster. But,  it has also been an educational journey as I immersed myself in the news events of the 40s, 50s, and 60s and recalled what I was doing, where I was, whom I was with, etc.
Nostalgia. A fondness to look back.