Monday, 12 December 2016

Taking the black dog for a walk

I have a confession to make.

No, that’s not right. ‘Confession’ suggests I have something to be ashamed about. And I haven’t. Well, not in this instance, anyway.

I have some news to tell you.

Hang on. This is making things sound more ominous than they are. I’ll start again.

I haven’t been well for a while. Before you get concerned (and bless you if you were for a second there), it’s nothing terminal. But being (a) British and (b) male, we tend not to talk about this sort of thing. Which is wrong. So here goes.

I have suffered from depression, amongst other things, for quite some time. I’m fine. Well, obviously I’m not fine, and we’ll get to the details in a minute. But I’m seeking help; I’m getting good care and the people around me who know are very supportive. Currently that’s a small circle of people. I hope it’ll get a bit bigger in the days to come.

In my case, my depression is classed as ‘moderate’. It’s accompanied by anxiety and stress as I think the Doctor was having a three-for-the-price-of-one offer on the day of my diagnosis.

What’s it like? Well, I think it’s probably different for everyone. But for me, the best way I can describe it is by conjuring up a clumsy analogy.

You see that smartphone in your hand? It probably has a ‘battery saving’ function. When energy levels get low, it slows down. It can’t do more than one thing at once. The screen might dim, the various connections switch off one-by-one until it just about performs the basic functions of a phone.

Essentially, I’ve been in ‘battery saving’ mode for a couple of years.

I found myself withdrawing from things that I used to do. I gave up singing in a choir, I found myself no longer writing, I didn’t even want to pick up a book. I haven’t been on the bike for a few months. My personal mantra had become: “What’s the bloody point?”

During my worst phases, my day-to-day life is performed through a sort of fog. Short-term memory, decision making and motivation tend to go out of the window. And boy, do I get tired. I could sleep for Britain. Although I still wake up tired. which is a bit of a bugger, quite frankly.

But I’m getting help. And, given that one in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives, I think it’s important that I talk about it. Which is why you’re reading this.

It might be the case that some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned are familiar to you. We all have bad days and reacting to them is perfectly natural. But if you’ve been feeling like this for a prolonged period of time, seek out support. It’s there.

I’d like to say that I’m the same Phil I was beforehand. Clearly that’s not the case right now. But I will get better. I still enjoy life. I laugh and I joke about things. People do get better.

And the more we talk openly about this, the easier it will be for everyone to get the help they need.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Yes, I want my country back, too

It was a warm summer night in 2012 and I was feeling emotional.

The London Olympics had just started. Danny Boyle's opening ceremony was coming to its conclusion and, to be honest, we were all breathing a collective sigh of relief that it hadn't been terrible. In fact, it had been wonderful. We'd had nothing less than a celebration of Britain's place in the world in the 21st century.

There had been nods to the Industrial Revolution, a loving tribute to the NHS, plentiful recognition of a country that was accepting of its past, aware of the present, and mindful of times ahead. A country that felt comfortable in its skin.

As the 204 individual petals of Thomas Heatherwick's cauldron came together to produce a united Olympic flame, and the final chords of Pink Floyd's 'Eclipse' rang out across London, I felt proud to be a modern Briton.

But in the last few months, as the EU Referendum debate has raged on, I've honestly wondered what has happened to my country. A Britain that has previously thrived on being warm-hearted, open and internationalist. That has demonstrated time and time again the value of talking softly, not just reverting to the big stick. A nation that has faced tough times in the past and hasn't reacted by kicking over the table and stalking out of the room in a hissy fit.

I've heard what passes for debate. I've watched as proven mistruths get peddled, time and time again. I've read the papers continue their drum-beat of innuendo and smear. I've seen the accusations and counter-accusations. In comment sections and on social media it's been played out repeatedly.

And at no time have I recognised the Britain that we all joyfully celebrated in 2012. Civility has been replaced with sloganeering, understanding with conflict, fact with hyperbole.

This isn't my Britain. This sneering, closed-minded artifice isn't the country I love.

So on Thursday I will be voting. And I will be voting for Britain to play its part within Europe, remaining within the EU.

I've read the economic cases, the detailed legal analyses, the arguments that attempt to reduce real human beings to mere numbers. You'll have your own views on all of that, but that's not what's making me put my 'X' in the Remain box on Thursday.

It's this. I'm well aware that the EU isn't perfect. But I hope that when the dust settles, and the choice is made, we can look back on this few months of madness. Roll our sleeves up and work in partnership with our neighbours. Because you don't fix things by turning away.

That's not the British way.


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