The following article had to be written, but did not need to be published. With the exception of a few updates it had remained unpublished for three years. It may be… no…. probably is, self indulgent, but this is ‘The Wobble’ occasionally referenced in our blogs and it has defined our lives ever since.
There’s a scene in the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels when a character gambles £500,000 on a game of Three Card Brag, played in a boxing ring, then loses everything on one last hand. The opening chords of The Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ strike up as he staggers dazed away from the table in the knowledge he is accountable for the loss.
It is June 2012, I am staggering, I have played my hand and lost an entire career and income. Did I commit some crime or misdemeanour? No, I simply walked away in the knowledge that the alternative was ‘nothing’ and only I was accountable. My boxing ring was a doorway, if I crossed the doorway I had another day at the office with plummeting self confidence, if I didn’t cross the doorway I would never be able to cross it again, and be finished, possibly even ‘sacked’. Cue ‘The Stooges’ as I chose the latter, staggered to the car and threw my laptop in the boot for the final time. The people in reception probably had a good laugh about the weird bloke who stood just staring at the door for two minutes before turning around and walking away.
I sat in the car, crying, I was in Eastbourne, a coincidence, I drove up the hill to Beachy Head. I had no intention to throw myself off a cliff, I had three good reasons not to, Deb, Emily and Alice… Oh, four reasons, I’m sure it would hurt. I just felt it was a symbolic metaphor for the point I had reached.. The End. As I parked up, I subconsciously realised what I needed, I was in too bad a state and somehow needed to share my burden. I knew Chaplains patrolled the cliffs on watch for desperate souls, I had seen them in happier times walking the cliff tops. I planned to flag one down as they drove past, then lost nerve and lowered my head when eventually they did, but wait, sixty seconds later one was coming the other way. I held my hand up, “Sorry to stop you” I muttered, “You didn’t, I saw you and came back for you”, Oh dear, what must I have looked like.
I was taken to a small wooden beach building, Chaplain HQ, which was full of donated furniture and the all-important brewing up materials required for my cup of tea. Without going into full details my initial steps to recovery started right there, I was lucky, they did what they do best and I wish I could thank them. They even contacted my employer which I am sure eased the understanding process on their part.
There was however, no magic wand and it was destined to be my last day of earning £60k per year. The employer was sympathetic, with the help of three months gardening leave and the sale of my very well performing company shares I stood ‘jobless’ with £25k in the bank. I immediately acknowledge this would be a lovely situation for many people, I do not pretend I am a victim but remind that, like everyone, you live within your means. This was not money to spend, this was a buffer to stave off the inevitable house sale as long as possible.
The doctor prescribed anti-depressants, which I collected and refused to take, eventually I took one course to keep him quiet, I was booked for counselling, ten one hour sessions, ten hours of me talking my life story while the counsellor ‘shrink’ nodded silently. I thought she was engrossed, then her one hour alarm would sound, she would grab her handbag and say “see you next session” while I was still mid sentence, but it helped me regardless. I thought there would be a final summary with a detailed analysis, but no, again no magic wand, session ten ended like the others and I just went home.
I don’t know what the tell tale signs or root causes were, surely something in my childhood, if so, I don’t know what, yet for no explicable reason my Father is the only person from the house I grew up in for eighteen years that I wish to associate with, even then, our macho sensibilities are a barrier to contact more regular than once every other Christmas.
My jobs and hobbies seemed to change every five years, I worked hard and progressed whilst always feeling unworthy and undeserving. Perhaps the result of a council estate upbringing and leaving school at 16. Surrounded by Degree educated, well-reared, and genuinely friendly colleagues, I was drowning in misery. Accolades, pay rises and promotions increased my personal misery, I was being trapped by income, and they simply added to my pressures.
Whether with colleagues or life long friends I could not cope with gatherings of more than five or six people. Many times I have read stories of people feeling at their loneliest in a crowded room, yes, these moments were the most desperate times, heightened by the joy and happiness evidently within the room. Almost every social or work invite was declined as a result. Colleagues would collect awards on my behalf at dinner suit events in swish London hotels, not because of my ego, because I just couldn’t bring Myself to be there.
Flights to European Cities for company meetings did not help. Lavish meals in expensive hotels and restaurants with up to twenty people. Once again, internal isolation reigned in my thoughts and the money spent felt obscene. I needed out, but how? Uneducated and punching above my weight at work, obviously I had to carry on to keep the family in the lifestyle they were used to.
A perk of the job was annual medicals. Questions about mental health appeared, I opened up, I recall the doctor had tears in her eyes when I had finished, or had they glassed over with boredom? To be honest, I feel an occupational medical only pays lip service to mental wellbeing, as staying in work may not be the best way forward when the company may still have use for you.
Finally, I went to my doctor, but he was not in and I spoke to a ‘temp’ doctor who ultimately gave me the words I needed to move on. “If you gave up your job, would you die?” “No” “If you gave up your job, would your family be on the streets” “No” “Then do what is right for you”. The penny dropped, I don’t even think she was saying quit the job, she was just saying it was not an excuse or barrier causing endless depression.
We call it my “Wobble” as it seems too strong to call it depression or anxiety when I felt I just hated my job. The morning commute started to include lay-by stops to delay the inevitable start of the day whilst staring blankly into the distance. I would hope not to meet anyone on my way to the desk as small talk seemed impossible.
An early clue for later events surfaced during an internal training course on ‘negotiating techniques’ when a simple homework task was set. Everyone will have spent twenty minutes on this at home, not me, three hours with my head in my hands ending with Deb holding me tight as I sobbed for no good reason. I called my department Director the following morning and was removed from the course. Within the month I was desperate and sat near a cliff edge in Eastbourne as per the start of this article.
During the gardening leave we went on a previously booked and paid overseas holiday. I thought I hid the mood and situation very well, Deb tells me differently and it was a hard holiday for her, and possibly Emily and Alice. The remainder of this period was spent staring at Internet job sites for inspiration and arranging additional training courses to make me employable again in my very first career path as a HGV driver. Another key moment happened one day as I blankly viewed the PC screen suddenly realising HGV experience 15 years previous was not going to open employment doors to the best HGV jobs available, panic was getting nearer. Emily stood beside me and said “I know you’re having a hard time, if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know”. To say this to her ‘Alpha Male, fix everything, always in control’ Dad took strong character and to me no further help was required, the support was demonstrated and felt so deeply and I could barely say the word “Thanks” whilst resisting bursting into tears.
Since 2012? Life is good, it’s hard, physically very hard and some major financial decisions have been made, not least selling our home that we know we can’t sustain for the ten or so years before we reach retirement. I steadily worked up the HGV experience via low key, low pay roles, including hotel linen collection, where I discovered I felt more comfortable walking through the tradesman’s entrance of London’s top hotels rather than being greeted by a Top Hat and a “Good Evening Sir” at the front door. I worked as an agency driver on a zero hour contract for a contractor delivering for a global company at £15 per hour. The work was physically hard and through the night but I chose my days. Once upon a time this uncertain working arrangement would have stressed me severely, whereas this job liberated me. In 2018 we started work as Assistant Wardens on a Touring Caravan Site, we’ve signed up for a second year and the non standard, non routine way of working suits us well. We don’t even earn enough to pay tax in year two. The money runs out in 2019 and the house must be sold. We have no idea what that means for 2020 onwards. Yet, glorious failure is far more satisfying than miserable success.
I should thank many people I will probably never see or meet again. The Beachy Head Chaplains, my Department and HR Directors, my Doctor, especially the ‘temp’, and even my alarm clock ‘shrink’. Mostly, I thank Emily and Alice for unwittingly stopping me from damaging Myself, I convinced Myself they would miss me at least emotionally or financially if I did. You probably guessed, lastly I thank Deb for being my everything, knowing when to support me, knowing when to say nothing and knowing when to just hold me.
Just writing this story seems massively self indulgent, as if my story deserves to be heard. Depression and mental health issues have swung from being too embarrassing to mention to being “me too” badges of honour in recent years, for this reason I avoid the “me too” temptation when others compare stories, plus, I just hated my job, didn’t I? This story is for my family. If you are reading this and you are not family it is because I recognise a number of trigger points and clues within the experience above and a single connection with another soul would justify me sharing it. I apologise if it is sheer self indulgence.
Could I help or advise A.N.Other? I don’t think I could, I really wouldn’t know what to say because I didn’t know how or what somebody could have said to help in my situation. If I think back to my ‘temp’ doctor I could only say the answer is ‘Choice’. If you have a choice then you have a way out, the consequence of that will be logically far worse, yet the reality more often defies that logic, sorry, that’s all I can offer.