Sunday, August 14, 2016

Trouble switching off...

It's a common sign of the first stages of depression or stress,  but right now I have no reason to have either. That said,  I have noticed over the past week, I have struggled to switch off at night and stop thinking.

Anything and everything is game,  thoughts flying through my mind at a thousand miles an hour. From friends to current affairs. Flitting from one subject to the next in the beast of my heart.

I am hoping to resume training in the morning,  and hopefully that will serve as the energy draining mechanism I need. As will the yoga I have planned. Maybe that is best saved for the evening rather than mornings.

It is hard not to get caught in the momentum of this,  and start worrying about stress and depression again. I know I have to get money sorted,  but that isn't a huge pressure right now,  or doesn't feel that way anyway. It could be what's causing it.

Either way,  I will be keeping a close eye on myself over the coming weeks to see how things are. In a sense it is nice to have my complete free mind back,  on the other hand,  while still on meds it is a small concern that I am able to do so.

Before anyone suggests, yup I am familiar with relaxation techniques,  and practice them. It's not the end of the world,  when I do drop off,  I sleep well,  other than some strange dreams.

Another contributing factor is  physical well being. Hip is 90% better but still uncomfortable at night. Knee is almost totally fine now. But my body being the funny bastard that it is dealt me a bout of gout in my ankle this weekend. Thanks body,  you really do spoil me. Or is that ruin me?

Anyway,  wide awake so wrote this to pass some time. New week starts in an hour. Here's to next week and training again.

Friday, August 12, 2016

How to slow residential traffic....

First off, this isn't actually a "how to", the actual answers and solutions evade me, and many others it would seem. There is no quick fix, and no 100% effective way to do things. But that said, there are some really daft ideas tried out from time to time.
I can actually remember when speed humps first appeared round where I live in Forest Hill (South London).

I recall being out on my street with friends, and hearing a loud bang or thump from the top of the road, followed by a long screech of tyres skidding to a halt. We all ran up the road, turned into the next road, and there it was, a car stopped at an angle, people gathering on the pavement by a wall, and starting to take off jackets etc.
In short, a speeding car had hit a child, launching him into the air and throwing him onto the pavement. I never did know the outcome of the accident, but the moment stuck with me.

Having been hit by not one but two cars as a child (separate incidents, I'm not THAT unlucky!) I understand how silly kids can be, even with the right education on the matter, kinds by their nature do not rationalise things too well.

Now, I can't tell you the exact time line of events after that, but Sunderland Road was one of the first local to me to get speed humps (not cushions), and boy were they nasty ones, proper little car launchers.  So epic in fact that one actually near as damn it, saved my life in a completely unorthadoxed way. I shall digress quickly, its a good story...
One night while walking around to pass time, with my Walkman on, I stopped on the corner of Sunderland and Waldram Park, I had spotted a red Mercedes convertible speeding up towards the junction of Sunderland where the speed humps started. Knowing they were unpainted and hard to see at this time, I watched on as the Merc hit the first one. An almighty smashing sound as the car bottomed out, before being launched into the air.

Chucking to myself, I turned and started walking up Waldram Pk Rd towards my road. Seconds later, a car rounded the corner, mounted the pavement about 10ft in front of me, taking out a road sign, bus stop , fence and ending up in the bush. Running over to the car I quite quickly found the driver to be drunk as he staggered from the car and begun to walk off.

This is before mobile phones, so I walked with him for a moment, he turned into my road, so I ran ahead, called the police on my home phone, told them which way he was heading and that I would rejoin him walking and wave the unit down when I saw them. 5 mins later her was in cuffs, and I was being thanked.
Moral of the story is, if I hadn't stopped to watch the Merc launch over the speed hump, I most likely would have been under the car.

Anyway, that was around the time that the first road I recall was filled with speed humps, I would have been 18, so it would have been, errrrrr, 1991 or there abouts.
Since that time, Sunderland Road has remained fully covered in speed humps, while as time went on, other local roads would see this wonderful new inventions. Speed cushions, and road narrowings.

Now let me tell you a little story about speed cushions... They don't really work, unless you choose to drive a small car with a narrow track like my Smart. Anything normal just manages to straddle the cushion. Given the design is to allow safe and unhindered passage to emergency service vehicles, it wasn't really ever a great idea. Other than ripping the underside from low cars, or cars with anything hanging (serves them right for straddling it though eh!), they do very little, I would go so far as to say pointless. UNLESS.....

Unless that is, you live on a road where in their infinite wisdom they have decided to stagger the speed cushions, creating a slalom. So now, instead of driving down the middle of the road where possible to get a clear path straddling the humps, you now get cars, already speeding, with no intention of slowing from 40+ (in a 20) swerving violently from side to side as they zig zag down the road. At the point there are 3 humps, when no cars are parked, cars will swing in tight towards the kerb, as that one is lower. All in all, ineffective and dangerous.

Not sure if you can make it out in the picture but there is a set of 2, then a set of 3. 3's all the way would have made far more sense surely. Raised with Lewisham a number of times, my concerns have gone reply free. One day, just for a laugh I will film from the top at rush hour.


Right now, I know what you are thinking. I am against speed calming, and think people should be allowed to speed around. Well, no, you are wrong.
I do however think the approach is a bit gung-ho, and badly thought out and implemented.
First off, to put an almost blanket speed limit on the whole borough! What the hell was the thinking behind that. Now I know some roads will remain 30mph, A205 as far as I understand, and maybe some others. But here is the truth.
Sydenham Hill was made a 20mph a while back. The road has had a speed camera on it for a long time now, way before it was a 20mph. People would slow for the camera, then carry on speeding. So putting in the 20mph on this road has had the following effect.
For the most part, NOTHING! People still slow to 20mph, then speed off again. However, occasionally someone will do the whole road at 20mph, and experience people hurriedly overtaking where they can, and probably driving far more dangerously than they would in a 30.

Now, I know, I know, it is the idiots speeding that are in the wrong, and some are obeying the law... But it has still resulted in speeding, dangerous driving, and possible accidents. The same occurs in other 20mph zones around London, and there is no better example of how people behave after being frustrated by a lower speed limit for a given amount of time, than seeing how people drive immediately after leaving a temporary 50mph on the motorway governed by SPECS. I guarantee that 80% of cars travel at least 10mph more than they were before entering the temp speed limit.

The point being is quite simple, make people feel penned in and delayed, and they immediately become frustrated, irrational and driven to make up time. Even pedestrians do it, taking more chances to cross a road, catch a train or bus, etc. It is simple human nature.

The only thing that reigns this behaviour in, even a bit, is serious consequence. Injury, incident, or penalisation. For humans, barriers are put up to slow footfall to a controlled level, and manage its direction (still people ignore it and take chances) Give pedestrians a crossing, and most will consider it too long to wait, and just walk out, but that's another story for another day.
For car drivers, the threat of being caught, delayed further, or penalised with points on your driving licence, and a fine seems to work, hence they slow for a bit on Sydenham Hill. Not threat, no risk, no point in obeying those little signs. Simple.

Now, this is where my argument gets interesting. In rural areas, less so in suburbia, there are community groups who work with the local police to do speed checks. Armed with a speed gun, and a clipboard to record registrations on, these volunteers regularly visit traffic speed hot spots, and give up a few hours of their time to record and report people travelling at an excessive speed. Training is given by the police, and I would assume only trusted people can participate to avoid fraudulent reporting, but the result is a visible deterrent, and another part of the borough where speed will be tackled head on, and not just signposted and hoped that people will be good.

Sadly, although there are a number of schemes throughout London, I would dare to say there are more needed. When the police dare to do static speed checks with hand helds, people scream at them that they should be out there fighting real crime. OK, that's fine, hand it over to the public, allow those willing to play their part, and spread the catch net over a far wider area. There are people ready and waiting to do this. It just needs the funding of the equipment, which I am sure could be achieved by spacing the smaller 20mph signs out a bit further apart than 150-200 metres, and not spending thousands on planning and installing more and more and more physical traffic calming measures (which don't work too well as I already mentioned).

I guess what I am trying to say here is, it is not just the councils that are bothered about the speed some traffic moves at. Residents of the areas are concerned too about the increasing number of idiots on the roads, and are ready and waiting to do something about it. But the same residents also don't want to spend 30% longer getting around their area, because 5% of motorists can't behave or drive in a reasonable manner. The residents suffer with the speeding AND the consequences of the calming measures too. Allow the same residents to do their bit, and help get the idiots, who bring this blight upon them, dealt with officially.

There are targets to reach, as well as budgets to spend, but how about we think about this logically now. Take the money and tarmac being used to build up mounds in the road, which will disintegrate over time and become useless, let alone be ineffective from the word go. Take them and repair some of the most desperate roads in the boroughs. Not so people can speed, but so motorists can drive down them without damaging their cars, or damage other peoples cars spitting up bits of broken road surface.
Make them safer and smoother to encourage more cyclists (like myself) to get out there and ride instead of driving. Less traffic, less speeding cars.... See my logic?

Then, instead of utilising an already stretched police service, and allow them to carry out other roles. I avoid saying more important roles, as catching speeders IS important regardless of other peoples opinions. Take their time just the once, training members of the local communities to use the equipment themselves, have a visible presence on the roads, especially at key times of the day, and make people aware they ARE being watched, recorded and reported.

Simple human nature tells you the following. Put signs up that say DON'T, people become curious and do it just to see why they were told not to. Climbing on scaffolding, walking on railway lines, even drinking or eating household products. Say no, the brain says why not, and challenges the instruction.  Exactly the same with speeding. Set a limit, people will drive just outside that limit. Just to see what they can get away with.

Put a barrier in the way of someone, something physical to try and prevent an undesired action, and the human mind will tell some to overcome it. Fencing by scaffolding, razor wire near railways, etc, all things that people ignore daily. Knowledge of the injuries people sustain daily is still not enough to stop someone doing something.

However, place a human challenge in their way, and you see the best response towards prevention you are going to see. The risk of unwanted human interaction, and the possibility of a penalty, and the success rate goes through the roof. Watch how people approach blue lights in general, slowing from afar (albeit some to rubber neck), compared to how late people brake, and how fast they speed up again for a speed camera. It's very telling.

As you can probably tell, I am one of the people who advocates empowering the public, and allowing them to take pride in their residential areas, work together and make their community safer. Who knows, people might even get to know their neighbours too in the process. Hopefully not while reporting them for speeding!

Going back to the beginning of this blog, and the reasoning for it, the press release from Lewisham Council regarding their plans and implementation of the borough wide 20mph. Some of the wording in it worries me slightly.
The borough-wide limit is expected to bring about a culture change over time where it becomes ‘socially unacceptable’ to drive more than 20mph in Lewisham, in the same way as drink driving or not wearing a seat belt currently is.   
OK, so we are trying to make something socially unacceptable. Problem is, how many pedestrians have build in speed sensors, and can actually tell a car is exceeding the speed limit? Making something socially unacceptable is great, but you have to make people aware that it is being observed and dealt with, not just stick signs up and wash your hands of it. The way to do this is to work with others in the borough to enforce these limits. To get the message out there that speeding is NOT OK. But at the same time not be irrational and make certain roads 20mph, which actually serve no purpose at 20mph. Think about this, if a main road is a 20 and has a camera, and a side street is 20 with no camera, people will turn to rat running again. Neither route is quicker, but the residential one poses less risk of being caught. Hmm that isn't good!

Reducing traffic speed also helps people feel more confident about being on their local streets. This results in more children walking to school and elderly people feeling more able to travel independently and safely. 
So does having people visibly on random streets on different days of the week, checking speeds, and enforcing the slowing of the traffic on these roads. Although sadly, I get the impression that slowing traffic will have a negative experience to the pedestrian experience. Going back to SPECS, watch he traffic behaviour and you will see car after car, evenly spaced out, fed up and unwilling to let people join the convoy. Apply that to a road where everyone is bunched up, and pedestrians will find it harder to cross, especially at informal crossings, and traffic merging will find it a nightmare to get out, and take risks.

On the whole, calmer road speeds help to make walking and cycling more attractive leading to less traffic congestion, better health, less noise, more social interaction and stronger communities. 
As a whole, stating that walking is a better alternative than driving makes a mockery of the point of owning a car, and a pressure on those who need to commute to work. It emphasises that the priority is not to get the roads moving. All while saying it will cause less congestion, and better health. Although I am pretty sure that slowing a smooth running road, from 30 to 20 will cause vehicles to spend more time on said road, and possibly INCREASE the pollution. Suggesting that communities will grow stronger by reducing the speed limit by 10mph is a pipe dream, and serves no purpose in this matter, the same applies for social interaction. Lets fill the press release with the concerns focus groups highlight the most, and make it sound a lot more positive than it really is.

 Roads that are managed by Transport for London (red routes) will not be included at this time. These are primarily the South Circular (A205), New Cross Road (A202), Bromley Road leading to Lewisham High Street (A21) and Lewisham Way leading to Lee High Road (A20). Private roads or those on housing estates are not included in the borough-wide limit
Thank heavens for that, Yet ironically, it is most of these roads which play the biggest role in congestion, so in fact the whole scheme doesn't actually address the route cause of the issue, and leaves cars who have driven painfully slow for no reason (in some cases) will still arrive to join busy main roads, and sit in traffic. Hmm. Flawed logic?

At the entrance to all borough roads 20mph signs will be in place. On roads that border red routes there will again to be clear signs informing drivers of the speed change limit. Smaller '20' repeater signs are proposed to be placed at regular intervals on either side of the road. There may also be 20mph flashing Vehicle Activated Signs (VAS) to remind drivers to keep to the new lower speed limit on certain roads if required. 
Lots of signs, cluttering up the streets, to inform two groups of drivers. Those in the know who know what speed they should be driving at. And those who couldn't care less about what speed they are being told to drive at. If there is no management or enforcement of these limits, ignore them. As for the flashing signs... They have ignored all the signs they passed all the way down the road at intervals of 150-200 metres, but a flashing sign means business, and will really get the point across? How much do these 20mph signs and VAS cost?

The police have responsibility to enforce all speed limits. The police have said the 20mph speed restrictions will be treated in the same way as any other speed limit. We do not expect everyone to drive within the 20mph limit from the outset, but over time, we expect compliance to increase.
Of course, the council puts up signs, washes their hands, points at the police and say, done my bit, up to you now mate, you find the funding yourself.
I believe this part is called, passing the buck.
Taking a moment to digest this, the police are strapped for staffing and funding to perform enough speed checks on the roads as they are. They do a cracking job, but are at their limits. Allowing a fair threshold and prosecuting above a certain speed, their impact is minimal on the behaviour of drivers already. So, lower the speed limit, increase the number of potential people speeding, and remind me again of how exactly the police are expected to manage the exponential rise in potential offences?
If you can't serve customers fast enough in a shop, you don't try and increase your footfall do you?
Flawed logic again?
The closing statement of not expecting people to obey the limits is the deal maker for me, makes the whole thing worthwhile don't you think. OK it says they "hope" it will increase, well, that's nice.

The introduction of the speed limit is intended to make the roads safer for all road users.  Although at the moment there are no speed limits for cyclists alone, people on bikes are expected to ride in a safe manner especially in shared areas. A cyclist can be prosecuted for riding with undue care.  
Fantastic, so I can do whatever speed I want on my road bike, under or overtaking slow moving impatient cars. With the pedestrians with renewed confidence walking out into my path, and being hit by a 30mph 220lbs bowling ball. Well that's OK then, human vs human impacts don't hurt anyone. Oh unless you seat one unsecured human behind another, stop the car suddenly, and the rear passenger continues at 30mph, killing the front seat passenger. So I am clear, riding fast on a bike is NOT dangerous at all, and won't cause harm to anyone they strike. That's good then.

Larger signs (600mm diameter) are needed at the entrance points to the borough and smaller repeater signs (300mm diameter) are required at regular intervals, approximately every 150 to 200 metres. We will design the scheme to put signs on existing poles or lampposts where possible and to keep the number of signs to a minimum. Existing signs in affected areas will be reviewed and indications are that we can often remove many redundant signs. 
Removal of redundant signs, like 1 in 2 of the signs on roads every 150 metres maybe? More signs does NOT equate to more safety. Signs = distraction = increases potential of not seeing someone stepping out. Unclear signs, conflicting signs etc all play their role in making roads more dangerous, not safer as it is suggested.

Delivery stage
​Traffic order applications​Mar 2016July 2016​
​Implementation​Sep 2016
​Monitoring​Sep 2016​Mar 2018
​Design options for roads with low compliance​Oct 2016​Oct 2017
​Implementation of remedial measuresJan 2017​​Mar 2018

This is the bit I like the most.
With comments all the way through, suggesting it may take some time to get compliance to a decent level, awareness may take time etc, we have the above timescale.
Implementation, Sept 2016
Design options for low compliance, Oct 2016
30 days after implementation, people will start drawing up plans how to make changes to roads and layouts to enforce the new speed limits, while at the same time the planners admit it will take time to get things moving!

Is there some unspoken of plan somewhere, where someone wants to revolutionise the road layouts of the borough, almost pedestrianising them? Does someone have a fantastic deal with a contractor, promising a couple of years of work, based on a 30 day review of a new speed limit.
Think I am being irrational about this, well then consider this. The last time the data was gathered for review, and to see what needed to be done, it took a bit longer. This long in fact.

​Data collection and analysis​May 2014​June 2015
13 months of collection an analysis. This time around, after transforming the whole borough almost over night, 30 days will do the trick, before plans are laid out to throw what will probably be millions of pounds at highways contractors to make sweeping and lasting changes to out roads. With planning ending and work starting by January!

So I will say it one last time.
Please for goodness sakes, expand the community speed checks, empower the communities (that WILL bring them together, that WILL make them more social), take the pressure off the under funded, overworked police, and be sensible about the matter.
I am sure when this all goes ahead, in years to come, some amazing figures will be released saying how well it has all worked. Meanwhile the number of prosecutions for speeding or dangerous driving will remain, the culprits will remain unpunished, and full of confidence that the rules don't apply to them.

Good luck with the changes, you are going to need it!




Thursday, August 11, 2016

A simple existence.

Sometimes it is hard to realise the importance of some things in life. Too busy keeping up with the Jones's, having the latest gadgets, being up to date on the latest trends in clothing, music, TV and other social pressures. So it is good to take a step back at your life once in a while, and strip it back to the bare bones. Take a moment to realise what is actually important, and indispensable, compared to the material and emotional clutter most people seem to fill their lives with.

This is something I tend to do after a big shake up in life, maybe every few years, and am sure I have blogged about it in the past. Just like people have a Facebook cull for example, and delete all the randoms that they have added and accepted over the past year, and unfollow groups which have become tiresome.

Recently, as well as my own things going on, I have taken stock of what others go through too, and it is pretty humbling. Sure I have had my own battles in life, and have struggled to keep it together at times. Physical and mental pain sometimes making life feel unbearable, but I have never really paid much attention to those around me who go through similar.

Until now that is. Like I say recently I have become more and more aware that the trials and tribulations I have already dealt with in life await many of us at some point in life. Depression for some, illness for others, and of course the inevitable loss of loved ones. All things I can relate to very well having experienced them all a number of times.

This isn't a "been there, got the t-shirt" moment, I am not trying to belittle others in their times of need. Quite the opposite in fact. Well in my mind anyway. It is at times like these that I dearly want to offer my experiences with those going through the matters themselves. No two experiences are the same, but they bear the same hallmarks, and usually trigger a similar journey for a person to take. Just knowing someone has been down a similar path can sometimes be comfort enough.

Hearing "I know how you feel" and it sounding condescending is not just exclusive to depression, but to all other experiences in like which knock us from our axis.
Seeing others suffer in silence is almost painful. Do you approach and offer a hand, do you stand and watch them self destruct until it's too late or they finally beg for help? Interfere, or carefree?

Like I was saying, it is at times like this that everything else around you just seems to disappear, fading away into insignificance, leaving you only with the things you actually need to get by. The roof over your head, food and drink, and hopefully a network of good supportive friends who can steady you along the way, until you are stable again. Taking on tasks to assist, being there to talk to when you need to find reason.

If you ask most people what they could not live without, a lot would take love and friendship for granted, and move straight onto material objects, the internet, etc. But at a time of need, all that changes and quickly take stock of friends and acquaintances, and decide who you need around you to help.

When on an even keel, and taking stock, the results are more balanced. For me for example primarily I have a great group of friends who I know, even with their quirky ways, have my best interests at heart. Then I have my dogs, a sight and company I have grown used to, and some comfort when I am having a crappy day. The ability to get around comes next, being able to walk, cycle or drive somewhere is a huge bonus when the brain just says escape. Obviously the latter being the best when getting away with the dogs. Of course all this would be pretty pointless, so the roof over my head (and a very nice one thankfully) is right up there with the primaries in my life.

With just those things, dropping the car if necessary (but not out of preference) I could have a pretty happy existence really. Obviously I would miss the tech, given that it is one of the things that I find myself most engrossed in when not out and about, but I know I can get by without such things, and on trips to Spain I try and enforce that the best I can. Still turning to my tech devices, but no where near as much as usual. So if I were ever forced to choose things in life to let go of, or keep, I know where my loyalties lay. Friends, a roof, health just about sum up the priorities for me. How about yours?

In other aspects of life, like questioning how I fit into other peoples lives. For years I worried a lot about these things, but over time, experience and wisdom teaches you not to care too much about it. Real friends can deal with most things life throw at them, if someone decides to get all hateful towards you about petty things, like running up a phone bill in your name, then telling you it is YOUR problem, then calling you all the names under the sun (nope I don't forget pathetic acts like that), then they can simply go fuck themselves. I have no time for fakes, bullshitters and pisstakers in my life, but do keep a few around just for entertainment value.

On the grand scheme of things, how people feel about me is irrelevant. I can honestly say that 95% of the time I really don't care what others think of me. But in that delicate 5% time frame, it hurts me deeply, and that is my achillies heel in life. Suddenly becoming vulnerable to what others think of me, what is said about me, and how I am perceived. The last bout of depression is testament of this without doubt. Having my life torn apart by a few simple actions and comments.

It is so easy to reflect with hindsight and say how simple life can be if you just do this and that. But sometimes you are drawn in, trying to do the right thing, follow your heart, and it bites you in the arse, hard! How you recover from that is another matter. I have seen many friends over the year destroyed by their own actions. Actions which were carried out to make someone elses life richer, not for self gain. Taken for granted, used for their kindness and vulnerability, by selfish, greedy individuals only out for themselves.

When I look at friends who have gone off to do their own thing, follow their hearts, and enjoy life without the complications of the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, I am envious. To a degree at least. I like convenience, I like choice, and if I am totally honest I actually like a bit of the rush I live in being a Londoner. Sure I like to escape and recharge in remote places, but I also like the thrill of a 24 hour city. I am sure if push came to shove, and I could choose without cutting my nose off to spite my face, I could choose one, but right now, the balance is good.

As for fashion trends, the need to socialise in popular places, and being trendy, well that can pretty much sod off. I don't shun them as a whole, but have no ambition to become trendy and fit in places which I find to be so false. The more you pay to be somewhere, the less it becomes about who you are, and the more it is about what you have, money being the key. Money attracts money, and it also attracts fakers trying to get a step up. So that can stay where it is as far as I am concerned.

Clothing, I like nice clothes, but prefer to have the right clothes for the job, rather than clothes with the right labels. Same with other things in life, like tech for example. Once it was about branding, now more about ability for buck.

So to me, really, I think the older I get, the more simple a life I desire. My experiences keep me grounded, my desire to help others keeps me true to my goals.

To all my friends who support me, thank you so much. To those special people in my life who I am trying to reach out to (nope, you are not the only one) , hang in there, I am right here, as are many others who care about what you are going through. Together we will all get back up on our feet together and support each other. Have faith in yourself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Another trip to Wales.

And a lovely one it was too.
At the weekend it was time to head up to Wales and tend to the family grave, its been a while since my last trip, February was the last time if I recall correctly.
The trip was made better by having great company the whole time, so thanks to Ann for that, really made the day worth while. And certainly enjoyed the opportunity to visit some of my favourite places.

Time to hit the road.



A silly early start to the day, leaving home around 4am. Planning to head through town to the start of the M1, I soon forgot that, and headed around the M25 on auto pilot. No harm done, less traffic lights and stops, so all was well. A nice smooth journey up, stopping off at Watford Gap for a spot of breakfast, and a call of nature, we were back under way, arriving in Llandudno in what seemed like no time at all.
I must say though, by this point, a good few hours sitting was starting to take its toll on my knee.

First port of call, ASDA, cheap as it sounds, but they are excellent for fresh flowers. Tending the grave was the first thing on the list of things to do. Getting a nice selection, including a nice bunch of "Tickled Pink" flowers which is ASDA's range supporting breast cancer charities (including Breast Cancer Now). SO very fitting for the occasion. Thanks to Ann for spotting them, after I had gathered white lilies and red roses, they fitted perfectly in the middle of the colours.


Off to Colwyn Bay crem for a clean up and flower arrangement, and for once a beautiful day for it. I am used to being caught in rain when I visit, just bad luck I guess, but the gods were on my side that day. A good polish of the headstone, and weeding of the surrounding plot, and it was time to get my inner flower arranger on.


 With a great selection to work with, the transformation took no time at all. See how it was transformed.


After a moment to reflect, and take in the peace and quiet of the location, it was time to move on and relax a bit more. While at the Llandudno end of the A55, I decided it was a good time to head towards Snowdonia and Llanberis.
On arrival at Llanberis, I parked in the lake front village car park. A few more cars than usual but it is summer holidays after all. So it was expected. Paying for parking for an hour, allowing time to take wonder, and sit around soaking up the atmosphere, I was not expecting to be there all that time, but sure enough, with good company and conversation, the hour flew by, and many sights were seen.

Gorgeous day for some landscape photos.

Blue and green were the key colours of the area.

Nice to see a little wildlife reserve area

A shot which caught my eye and just needed capturing.

Llanberis lake railway.

End of the line.

The car park and seating area of the Snowdon Railway was possibly the busiest I have ever seen it. Kind of spoils the feel of the area, but glad I didn't bother pre booking tickets for it. I know I would not have enjoyed being park of a large group going up to the summit.



From Llanberis we took a quick drive up to the bottom of the Pyg Pass, but it was crazy busy up there, no parking anywhere in sight, so after gazing longfully at the hills for a few mins, down we went again. I have to give kudos to all the cyclists going up and down the road. It still remains a goal of mine, but seeing them doing it brought it home that it is no mean feat!
next up, Caernarfon, and the castle. Another place I love dearly. Especially at full tide, to see the boats bobbing around in the harbour.
Great memories of being in Caernarfon with my mum and aunts, and even a photo of them standing by the harbour wall, which I shall see if I can find.
I was also excited to see the swing bridge open for the first time I can recall, much to the amusement of Ann, pfft lol.




After a quick trip to the gift shop, we were on our way again, thundering down the A55 in the Smart Car. Destination, Colwyn Bay promenade.

Before reaching the prom, I took a detour off into the shopping centre to grab some lunch to eat on the seafront. Sandwiches, drinks and dessert purchased, off we went to do battle with the gulls, to see how much food we could eat, vs how much they would steal. Surprisingly, even though there was a whole flock of them sitting in the sea just behind us, we ate uninterrupted.
Whilst sitting there, we partook in a little people watching and mockery. my my Charlie's parents need to learn the art of a good slap across the back of the legs.


Food digested, sights taken in, next stop, Welsh Mountain Zoo.
Up the windy roads we drove, reaching the strange entrance to the zoo, which feels just like a side road with a ticket booth on it. Tickets bought, it was time for a little adventure. As luck would have it we arrived just in time for the Bird of Prey show, the Penguins walkabout, and the Sealion display/ feeding/ talk.
As we waited for the shows to begin, one sealion (the male) was adamant that he would be heard, as you can see on this short Instagram video I shot. https://www.instagram.com/p/BIxPN6XDZIO
Very entertaining indeed.

After he had had his say for about 15 mins, the shows started. I have posted a few pics of what was seen, rather than bleating on about it,








Once the excitement was over, and with my knee really starting to give me some grief, not to mention Ann getting rather tired by now, we took a slow wander around the rest of the zoo. I have been going to this zoo for about 30+ years now, and have seen many changes. I have to say though, it is probably in its best format that I can recall right now. A lovely family zoo, set into the hill tops of the North Wales coast, epic views, a lovely collection, and a fabulous layout.

Red Pandas

Squeaky little otters

Cya later (Alligator)

Proud meerkat displaying his manliness

Meerkat on guard duty

A single pink lily, the same as the one mum grew, and I have tattooed as a tribute. Very fitting for the day.

After the zoo, time was getting on a bit, and a long journey lay ahead of us. Off to pay a visit to a few old family haunts, including the poor house left by my late aunt and her husband. Empty since 2010, and tied up in a probate argument ever since, it is tragic to see a lovely little place with such a beautiful view wasting away, year after year, and with all their possessions still left inside (other than valuables). Truly tragic that some people can be so bitter and greedy, to let someones legacy waste away to nothing, because they want it ALL !!



Time to hit the road back to London, and would need fuel on the way. Had I known how disgustingly over priced motorway petrol had become I would have got some in town. But willing to pay the usual 10p a litre over the odds for the sake of a straight journey, I left.
Having filled up at ASDA on my arrival in Wales, at 105.4 per litre, I was dumbstruck when I stopped in services and saw this!!


25.5p per litre more!! Seriously. Why in gods name is this allowed to happen. I wonder how many breakdowns are caused by people refusing to fill up on the motorway because of this robbery? And of course, thats not even mentioning the prices of eating and drinking in the services too. And we wonder why people don't stop, and drive past being tired.

Anyway, financial robbery later, and a couple of hours later, home was in sight. 666 miles covered, £60 of petrol, and a great day done. Time for bed!


Monday, August 1, 2016

"I am so depressed"

A phrase we have become accustomed to using over our lives. One we use when something has gone wrong for us. Nothing life changing, nothing actually too serious, but when it occurs it really throws a spanner in the works. Didn't get the concert tickets you wanted, the new game you wanted has sold out, your phone breaks, or you lose some money. All things that really do make you feel a slump in the moment. So when given the chance to express ourselves, we will generally use this phrase, or similar.

The strange thing is, when people truly are depressed, it is the last thing they will say. A person recognising they are dropping into a state of depression is more likely to make excuses, such as tired, un-bothered, or just not in the mood to do something. In the moment they have time to seek support and help, they just shut down and hide from the feeling.

The two kind of go hand in hand, with the first use of the word diminishing the seriousness of the word, and the person in the second example just doesn't want to be mixed in with the slightly over dramatic use of the word. Running the risk of being told "it will be ok" or "get over it"
Neither of which are of any help to someone struggling with their mind.

The over exaggerated use of the term "depressed" has just become fashionable now, just like "I'm so OCD" (no you are just tidy), or comparing your over excited, hyperactive child to someone with  ADHD. These are all serious matters, but the fashionable use of these phrases has really taken the focus away from the true sufferers. Now the services who deal with all these issues are at breaking point, with people being assessed for conditions, and some entering treatment, while in reality there are other issues which are presenting as the real thing.

I know that sounds a bit far fetched, but from experience with depression, just seeing the mix of people who turn up and describe their symptoms, it is clear that some are better suited to community and social projects, which allow them to frequently interact with others, rather than going through a long process of learning to deal with issues they clearly don't have. And I say that not selfishly or blinkered, but with the confidence that when someone cannot relate to a single issue anyone else has, but wants to complain about the health service for half an hour, there is more to it that depression.

This isn't to say that these people don't deserve treatment or attention, of course they do. They are clearly facing issues of their own, which a GP has put down as depression, but need to be assessed in a way that doesn't just say "depression Y/N". The same applies to others with behavioural issues. Easier to put them down as an attention disorder, than challenge the parent on their parenting skills. Not every naughty child has a condition, but sometimes it is easier to just say "I can't control him", than taking the time out to see if it is something you are doing which is promoting this behaviour.

Like I say, I am not for one second sneering at the actual conditions. But on all fronts, there is a fine line (actually a mighty chasm) between feeling down, and being depressed, or misbehaving and ADHD. One remains in your control to a large degree, the other you are just a passenger along for the ride, with no control over the direction it all goes in.

Now I am no expert in child behavior, so I will not say another word on the matter, other than to tip my hat to the parents who have kids with any of these conditions, and don't make excuses. Digging your heels in and getting on with what life has presented you with is an incredibly brave and strong thing to do. In fact I would go so far as to say that you are some of the best parents out there, and side by side with a spoiled brat, your children probably shines brighter than most. And no reason whatsoever that they should not.

As for depression, I can certainly speak on this matter with good authority, at least from my own experiences. I would not for one second wish to even start to belittle someone who has been on a different journey to me, and suffers in other ways. There are many forms of depression, it comes in many shapes and sizes. My experience is just one. But one I want to share as much as possible to ensure that it stops being such a forbidden topic, the social shame is lifted from over the condition, and people suffering can lift their heads and say " I am depressed, and proud to be dealing with it"

Depression is in short the suppression of our ability to engage, think rationally,  interact, and form trust bonds with others. There are many other symptoms, but these four cover a lot of those in an umbrella kind of way. So having our whole existence suppressed, the last thing we need. Without existing, how do we recover. Hidden away in a dark room every spare moment of our lives. Managing to put on an brave face to do the things we need to do. Going to work looking like all is well, head down like we are busy. Daring to speak to no-one in case we give the game away.

Once outside of work, shunning social opportunities, avoiding going shopping in busy places where possible, running from people, decisions, pressure or anything we cannot control the outcome of. Or as it is described in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), seeing things through a negative filter.  Assuming anything we choose to do will turn to crap, fearing the worst outcome of doing anything other than hiding ourselves away. Even worrying that our closest friends will reject us if we dare to tell them we are suffering from depression.

Nope, admission of depression is between you and the medical practitioners, and is top secret. Taking your medication in private, even hiding it at home from loved ones. Maybe even just throwing it away, or to the back of a drawer, as the stigma surrounding "anti depressants" is just all too much to be mixed up in. In truth, it is the people who DO actually sneer at people struggling with depression who have the issue. Being so judgmental, pointing the finger and mocking people who are brave enough to face their demons in public. Maybe it is those trying to mock, who actually suppress their own issues the best. Is it they who are most in need of support, trying to deflect their own issues onto someone standing tall at such a tough time?

I am not sure why in this day and age, with so many people having suffered a breakdown, or on going depression or anxiety, there is so much stigma attached to the conditions. Given how many well loved and highly acclaimed celebrities have come out openly, talking about their battles through their lives. Facing their demons, while putting on such a strong public face. Hiding it all away for the sake of their image, before saying enough is enough, and speaking out urging people to support those suffering. Even some of the most loved, taking their own lives, only for the world to realise what a terrifying and lonely world their idol lived with .

Quotes like "Despite being surrounded by people, I feel so alone" is a good example of what it can feel like to be in a state of depression. I know Robin Williams was apparently quoted as saying similar. Happiness and sanity is not found in popularity, wealth, or a lavish lifestyle. Being surrounded by so called friends does not make you emotionally rich. If anything it numbs the senses even more, and draws you away from the important things in life. By the time you realise how far you have strayed from the sanctity of your comfort zone, you are out there being preyed on by the wolves of the mind.

I consider myself very wealthy as far as the quality of my life goes. I have the material objects I desire, none of which make me happy, they just help cocoon me in a bubble I share with the richer things in my life. My dogs, my few true friends, my mental strength, and the belief in myself that I can make a positive impact on others lives, using the experiences in my own life. My circle of friends has changed a lot in the past few years. Realisation that knowing someone for a long time does NOT make them a good friend, just an old acquaintance. And now knowing that support and genuine friendships can come at any stage in life, and sometimes from the most unlikely places. Two true friends coming from an internet forum that drove me to the brink last time I was suffering with depression. Sleepers who sat an observed, and helped me back on my feet when the time was right. With no prompting, no pleading, just their own selfless actions. For this I thank them.

But this is the real problem, the support network.
Anyone who knows me, and if you read my blog, you will understand I am far from timid with the written word. I don't hold back, and I rarely paint a pretty picture when underneath life is bleak. If its dark, I say it as it is. Sometimes a strong point, other times a bit of a mood killer, but it's who I am.
After spending many years trying to please others, and meet their expectations, I decided to be me, and I stay true to that every day. Again, it is not always what people want to see, but the days of faking and pleasing are in the past, so please don't ask me to be someone I am not.

For others however, even those with outgoing personalities, dealing with the realisation that you are actually depressed is a tough one. Admitting to it is something huge, possibly only choosing to tell one or two people, and most of the time not your nearest and dearest. The truth be told, some of the outgoing personalities are just what I was doing. The brave face, the loud deflecting voice, desperate to save my dignity, and not let on I was falling apart inside. See that is what depression is all about. Losing control, but desperately fighting to maintain image.

To admit you are depressed, genuinely, is for some like admitting defeat or weakness. It's like backing out of a challenge of any level, before even trying. And even the most grounded person knows that is never a good feeling to do once, let alone over and over. Convinced you will fail, sure you cannot achieve what you need to, and being scared of facing the consequences, and how your peers will react.
Have you ever dreamt that you have left your house with no clothes on, or that you are running away from something, but seem to be running on the spot. The level of helplessness you wake with, the panic and fear of losing all control of your dignity and self control. Well that is how it can feel every minute of every day.
One of the biggest fears in my experience of depression was being judged. I think as a whole, when you breakdown all the different aspects of depression, a lot of them come down to the same thing, how other will perceive us.

Walking down a street, feeling anxious that everyone you make eye contact with is staring at you, and judging you. You look strange, messy hair, cheap clothes, and so on. The list is endless, but you will read far more into their glance than they could possibly have gathered and judged you on. A simple exchange of words with someone, over analysed until it was meant with such hatred and malice. Everything is dark and negative, nothing can possibly be positive for a second. This continues until staying indoors, or going shopping late at night, or in the smallest shop possible is the only way to go on. Now hidden away, safely separated from society.

As I have said though, the only people who would really look at you in such a way are most likely suppressing issues of their own, and just fighting back their own fears of others judging them.

So what does a depressed person need from you? If you think someone is depressed, what can you do to make things better for them. And by better I mean help them on the road to recovery, rather than a patronising "there there there" and a pat on the back, making it all better for them.
I have to say there is no single simple answer to such a question, with all cases presenting differently. You may have noticed a change in their behaviour, withdrawn from group events, or just being quiet for a long period of time. Trouble engaging as they usually would.
For me, I would say I benefited simply from knowing people were there when I was ready for them to play their part. Having already declared my depression made that easier, but I know that isn't every ones approach.
If it is not clear what the issue is, but you suspect things might not be great, don't barrel in full of questions and suggestions. Just tread gently, but be the friend they know and trust. There is no need to smother someone, just indirect reassurances that you are about if they fancy a drink or a chat some time, in their own time.

There is no right way, go with your instincts. You know the person you know as a friend, so be yourself, if your help is needed, your support wanted, I am sure the time will come when this is obvious, and it can all flow naturally from there. I kept a lot of my friends out of the loop when I was at my lowest. Partially where I didn't want to bother them, and partly because they were the wrong person for the job at the time. It's nothing personal, just how the mind can be at times. You wouldn't turn to an outgoing party animal to be there in silence while you grieve, or an introvert friend to support you in a confrontational situation, so accept it that there is a tool for every job.

The biggest question for me in all this, from a sufferers perspective is why so many people live in a constant state of depression, and either refuse to act on it, or fail to identify their state of mind.
I guess there are logical answers to both, but for me I don't want to see others suffer in silence. Even those who seek help, get meds and go to counselling, will avoid telling friends for some reason. Again speaking from experience of others who have admitted after a long time they too fought with depression.
Identifying you are struggling with depression or anxiety is understandable. It is so easy to assume "everyone feels this way", but the reality is, they're not. It is not normal to dread getting up and facing the world day after day. Holding your tongue at home or at work, just to avoid the confrontation, and instead living in a suppressed state is not normal, contrary to belief. Fear of being judged by people when you are out in public, refusing to make eye contact or even waiting for the automated paying in machine in a bank while 3 cashiers are free just to avoid speaking to someone (like I did) is NOT normal.

Sometimes overcoming these issues can be as simple as taking a look from afar and making changes in the way you look at life, and accept treatment from your peers. Other times some form of help is needed. From counselling to chatting to friends and letting it all go. To entering the system so to speak, and going on record with your GP to seek help. None of these actions in any way make you weak or a failure. A little vulnerable yes, but for the right reasons. Sometimes being laid bare is an enlightening and empowering experience. Throwing caution to the wind, and only caring about yourself for once. Taking the steps to make life better, and trusting others to help you achieve that.

I am determined to keep talking about depression. Hopefully slowly but surely helping as many people as I can realise that being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of. It should not be hidden, and the stigma attached to the condition needs to go away. Over the past few years there are more and more campaigns to raise awareness of depression and mental health. Not a minute too soon I say, in fact maybe a decade too late. But the movement has started. I applaud those spearheading the campaigns, and praise anyone willing to share their stories of how desperate they have felt at times. There is no demographic description for someone who will become depressed. Rich, poor, outgoing, introvert, it takes all types. Even famous people, yup, that's right, even the rich and famous battle with mental health.

It's not a life choice, it is not something we bring upon ourselves. Mental heath issues affect who they want, how they want, and when they want. There is no choice in the matter whatsoever. The only choices we have are how we will cope with an issue if and when it strikes. Standing tall, not hiding, and reaching out are some of the best things you can do. However, when you are able to do that is all a matter of time. The second you realise, or a month after starting medication, that bit is all down to you.

I have rambled on for long enough now, but want to close by saying this.
Mental health is a serious issue in the UK, and one reaching epidemic proportions in some regions. Awareness is poor, understanding is hit and miss. Acceptance of the conditions is growing, and this is a positive step for the sufferers. However treatment varies, funding is seemingly inadequate, and the focus from the top down seems to be somewhat sporadic. The whole matter needs serious reappraisal, and a proper plan needs to be drawn up to deal with the rising number of cases. Not by sidelining people, and leaving them waiting months and months to receive some help, in the hope that they will just get better. And certainly not discharging people for missing a couple of sessions of a course, making it seem that they have successfully recovered. This is what I was told after missing one session due to heightened anxiety one day. Miss another, be discharged. Not dismissed, but discharged as OK.

Initial assessments need to be timely and thorough. Actual issues need to be properly identified, and the correct course of treatment should be made available in a reasonable time frame. Once someone is diagnosed as depressed, the clock is well and truly ticking, so time is of the essence. I don't expect things to change and improve over night, I am realistic. However I also appreciate the importance of the right help at the right time, and understand the implications of drawing things out, and not receiving the help you need in time. I was lucky, my meds were helping and my core of friends were reaching out to keep me afloat. But if I had been alone, I don't know if I would have made it in the right state of mind to the CBT course. I may have been too far gone by that stage.

I really do hope that there is an improvement to the system over the next few years. Certainly from my perspective, knowing that depression is usually a reoccurring condition, and from both experience and education, each case being worse than the last, I really hope that by the next time I am hit with a bout of depression, the mental health system on the NHS is as prepared as my friends are to hold me up and get me back on my feet as soon as possible.

Please feel free to email me directly with any feedback on this entry, to chat, to discuss etc. No one should suffer alone, so please don't.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mental Health and the NHS

Before I even get started I want to make something perfectly clear.. I am NOT having a dig at the NHS. I know plenty of people out there have their issues with the service, some quite rightly so, others just over expectational of what the service exist for, and what medical science is actually capable of.
Contrary to believe, not all lives can be saved, no all conditions resolved. Of course it is sad to lose a loved one, but blaming a service as mighty as the NHS is not always the right way to vent that feeling.
Mistakes have been made, lives lost for sure, and no that is not right. But on the grand scale, if we frown on the bad, then we should also celebrate the huge achievements of the NHS every day. But as usual, we are quick to complain, but slow to commend.

Right, now to what  I started writing this whole entry about. Not sure about its direction just yet, so lets see how it pans out. In short, I want to address the mental health service offered by the NHS. Obviously this is something I am quite familiar with, having been treated for depression and anxiety a number of times now, so I am not just grasping at straws here, and want to use some of my own experiences, and stories of others I know to try and put across a balanced opinion, so lets try this.

The first time I  suffered from a bout of depression was long before I was ever treated for depression. In the late 90's, losing touch with my daughter drove my to the brink. And thinking back about that now, reminds me very much of my most recent experience. Both dealt with by me with irrational amounts of physical activity, training twice a day 6 days a week at the gym. Good for the body, terrible for the mind.

Back then I was a lost soul, still in my 20's seeing my daughter torn away from me, and worst still, seeing my child move forwards in her life without her father, just like I had. Something I had vowed no child of mine would EVER go through. And there is was. One afternoon I found myself in casualty with a large gash on my hand, as a result of punching through a laminated screen in frustration. A scar I still carry today, and a reminder that physical reactions to feeling unstable mentally need to be limited and controlled. I didn't intend harm to myself, but ended up doing so. I never recognised what I was going through as being a mental health issue, so plugged on for the next year, finally slowly returning to my old self.

It would be another 10 years before I would see depression again, properly at least. As the condition of my mother worsened, and her need for a carer grew, I took on a new lifestyle. Combined with the recovery of a recent operation and a bad time at work, my mental condition dropped, and I soon realised I was in a very dark and desperate place, struggling to sleep, socialise, or even care about my own well being. On seeing a doctor I was prescribed Citalopram 20mh, soon rising to 40mg. Thankfully work provided some one to one counselling for me, and with the help of Peter my brilliant counsellor, I made a strong recovery, again, after about a year or so. Meds were reduced and phased out.

Move on another 5 years or so, and there we were again. A huge slump in mood drove me to possibly the deepest and most desperate point I have ever been in, long term. I have had huge lows, but never stayed this low. Seeing a new GP, I was back on Citalopram, and referred for counselling. This is where it really begun.

I was phone assessed by what felt like a very robotic and uncaring person, who decided my condition was mild and I should go to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) For those not familiar with it, the only way I can summarise it is like this. You are taught to  identify points from early life which may have shaped your behaviour today, then to concentrate on what triggers your depression, and the cycles you go through which perpetuate the depression. Learning coping mechanisms, how to isolate each component, and on ways to avoid the spiral of depression. It sounds a bit hopeless and complex, but I must confess by the end I was understanding myself a lot better. In short, CBT isn't as bad as I first thought it was, but still don't believe it is for everyone.

As I was first introduced to the CBT service, I started to understand why some people were so frustrated with the NHS for their MH provisions, or at least the way they manage it. A few weeks after my somewhat uncaring phone assessment I received a letter to go to the Jenner Health centre for a one to one, with some vague information about this CBT thing. Having looked it up on the internet I was curious but not convinced.
On my arrival there I realised that not only was there no reception for the CBT dept (as noted in the letter) but there was barely a sign that I was even in the right place. Bad start for anxious people. My appointment was for about 12.00, but by about 12.30 I hadn't seen a single person on the floor or in the waiting room. Finally someone did come in, and was swiftly collected by a post natal class person. Now I am wondering if I am in the right place, anxiety levels rising.  Eventually someone came out to get me, apologising as we walked down the hallway. Little comfort for the way I was now feeling.

I was briefly asked about what brought me there that day, then pummelled with piles of papers about CBT. Being told that the things I was talking about were not of consequence, and that CBT only looks forwards. The past can't be changed. Tell that to someone traumatised by their past!
The following week, after finding peace with myself and realising this was the help I was getting and to go with it, I arrived at my appointment to be told I had been referred elsewhere, and was now to join a group therapy class. Anxious and depressed, great, lets go sit in a circle and talk about it. I was told this was NOT the case, but on arrival it was just like that. A circle of chairs and two counsellors.

At this point I was feeling hopeless. Speaking to the counsellors about how I felt, I was told nicely just to stick with it, but with no real foundation to it.

So I guess this is where my concerns first start. As humans we are capable of compassion and empathy, to a degree at least. But the line "I know how you feel" is used all too freely. If you have never been bound by the ropes of depression, or had your thoughts suppressed by the worry and voices in your head. If you have never just wanted to spend the next week in bed, and not wanted to see ANYONE face to face for weeks on end.... Then you certainly should not tell a depressed person "I know how you feel", you really don't.

I applaud anyone choosing a career in mental health. As far as the NHS goes it is hardly financially rewarding, and to some degree it isn't an easy role to fill either. It takes a strong mind to deal with such matters day in, day out. However I do sometimes wonder what the criteria really is for getting such a role, and how many sufferers of depression actually work in the service. Maybe it is counter productive to have sufferers working in the field, but from my perspective, I am in my element working with people suffering, as I feel I have more ability to understand what they mean when thy express how helpless they feel. Rather than replying with the "hmmm, hmmm, yes" I seemed to get a lot of the time.

So before I go on anymore, thank you to anyone who seriously takes on a role to help sufferers of mental health issues, not just depression and anxiety. You DO make a difference for sure. But I wonder would more funding, training, or better selection of staff, and a better understanding of the conditions make a bigger difference.

Do I think I could do better? Well that is a very good question indeed, and a fair one. I don't have any qualifications in anything, let alone psychology, I have no further education either. So academically I am useless. But is that what counts? Who can lead you through a forest at night the best, an expert map reader who has never been to this forest, or a local who lives there, but can't read or write? I think the answer is obvious. Sometimes qualifications and certificates are not the be all and end all. Sometimes its more about understanding and empathy to the situation.

Obviously there is some information required. Not every experience is the same, and not all people react the same way. Understanding the mechanism of the mind is pretty darn important too of course. So there is a balance to be found for sure. The right level of input from sufferers, the correct level of understanding of the situation from a psychological perspective, and carefully planned academic coursework and structured action plans. Question is, is this being achieved?

From my experience, possibly, in fact probably not. Counsellors arriving late to groups, not understanding the impact that has on the recovering mind. Mixed up piles of photocopied coursework sheets, sometimes not enough to go around. Depending too much on patient participation to get the course moving. Without solid contribution of stories from those attending, sessions sometimes stalled. In my instance I was happy to share deep and past experiences, but it was quite clear to me that many others were less comfortable (rightly so). Counsellors unable to directly answer questions on the subject matter at times, with others in the group having to fumble for answers til it was decided one of them was right.

It is not all negative of course, I came out the other end feeling better for it. My question is, who did what for me. Did I get back on my feet myself, did my sharing and helping others inspire me to fight back, or did CBT save the day? Honestly, I think it is a combination, but not a very balanced one. CBT put me in a room with people, something I was uncomfortable with, but willing to try. It also gave me the opportunity to tell my story. However the coursework was mainly thinks I have been through on my own free will. Identifying triggers, identifying drops in mood, coping mechanisms, understanding how society makes me feel.  So the actual learning side was lost on me.

That said, helping others in the group identify with their own demons, and give my own examples to help them better understand their own, that was something. By half way through I was looking forwards to each week, to see what impact I could have, and getting people smiling or sharing was a powerful drug for me.
This in turn enabled me to help myself. Both understand myself a bit more, give me a purpose and some self worth back. All in all the right combination was found, for me at least.

As the course went on, and people showed up from time to time, it became obvious that some people were back for the second or third time. That part was lost on me. Learning about yourself, understanding the functions of the mind, and the cruel tricks it plays is one thing. But re-learning over and over.... I don't get it. If you need help after completing the first course, surely you need a different approach. In this respect the MH system is a bit lost and misguided. I wonder what it feels like to be re-sent on a 12 week course just because you have become depressed again. While the lessons learned are powerful and enlightening, they simply cannot stop the body and mind from throwing your life into turmoil, it's just not that simple.

Now the elephant in the room. Medication!
Having grown up watching programs with mental health patience receiving mind numbing sedation drugs to keep their minds rested, I have long thought that all anti depressants are of the same nature, making you sleepy and non functional, and silencing the issues, rather than helping tackle them.
However it turns out they are not. They all do different things, some indeed are sedative style, but others help the body produce more of what is needed to balance your moods. Apart from some strange side effects during early days, life after that, once on the right dose becomes pretty darn normal. Apart from remembering to take a tablet each day, you are just you again, certainly with Citalopram.

I know quite a few others who feel exactly the same way about the meds.
Being serious for a second, look at it this way. In most cases you can come off them when the depression and risk of it reoccurring has passed, reducing the dose, until none is needed. I have done that successfully myself after my last bout of depression 5 years ago.
Think of it this way, if you have something important to do which requires your full attention, and have a headache, you grab some ibuprofen, wait 45 mins, and you are fit to do the task at hand. There is no stigma attached to ibuprofen, so it is socially acceptable. With mental health, it is the same, but sadly its going to be 45 days or more rather than minutes. Once the levels in your body start to level out, and you are able to think straight again, you can help yourself understand what the issue is, and how best to overcome it. Sometimes without clearing the fog, you won't be able to see the path out of the forest.

So I don't see them as a negative thing at all. And I really wish society would see this too. Alcohol alters the mind, so does tobacco, but somehow they are both social and acceptable drugs to use. "Overdosing" on them is common place, and abuse of them is an epidemic. But society seems to say that is ok. And yet at the same time frowns on simple, controlled, monitored medication taken by those needing that little tweak of the mind. I don't get it, not for one second. But then I don't drink or smoke, so how would I. Just as those who frown on medication for mental health don't get it, but still judge.

The drug side of the mental health treatment on the NHS seems to be aplenty. Churning out prescriptions many times a day, no scheduled reviews once prescribed. The face to face part, which in some cases is critical however seems very hit and miss. I felt that the whole process took far too long for me to get facetime with anyone. However it seems that this waiting time varies radically from borough to borough, just in London alone, so nationally, I dread to think what the variations are.
One example. I was referred in November 2015, and finally got face time in Jan 2016. To me, that was an eternity, and waiting for it was both scary and painful. Thankfully by that time I had started to find my own circle of support from a great group of friends.

For someone else I have gotten to know, they were referred at the same time as me, and here we are in August, coming on for a year later, and they are STILL waiting. Same are, different borough council, so different MH team and ethics it would seem. This is fundamentally where it all starts to fall apart.
I have all too often heard the term "NHS postcode lottery" and again wondered what the hell people are on about. But it would seem this is one example of this phenomena.

I just don't get how there can be differences in urgency, treatment, assessment, and over all ethics towards mental health from postcode to postcode. Surely the NHS as a whole, all the trusts combined have agreed a strategy for treating mental health. Moral codes of conduct, tiers of urgency and treatment nationwide. I don't understand how one body, overseen by one government, can be so fragmented, first into trusts, then into boroughs, and each fragment having its own ideals on treatment for a condition.
It also leaves me wondering if the same is true for others branches of the NHS, other fields of medicine. Should I move house to get considered more important by another boroughs health team?

Thankfully for me, in South London, under Lewisham, I cannot complain about any of the medical attention I have received over the years. Ultimately it has all worked out for me, and I am here writing annoyingly long blogs like this. But I has me now wondering about how different things are, and what can be done to make a change to the whole system.
I have read news reports for years which say the mental health section of the NHS is desperately under-funded, and spiralling out of control. I have also read reports of how people have been let down by the service, resulting in vulnerable people committing suicide, or harming others.

Somewhere in amongst that all is the answer. The right direction to take.
So my questions.

Why are counsellors photocopying literature for a course with a fixed program of learning. Buying paper,making thousands of copies on a photocopier, making a mess of things, and fumbling by. Is it not easier to have these put into booklets and handed out by every borough, every trust. Ensuring that everyone is receiving the same education on their condition. No missing pages, no topics accidentally overlooked. Surely it is cheaper to put it out to tender once, and print them all and distribute throughout the UK. Procurement for such things should be centralised. One of the faults maybe of the NHS being so top heavy and fragmented?

How many people working in the field actually have first hand experience of depression and anxiety. Statistically it is likely that most people working with cancer in the NHS no someone who has experienced cancer, so empathy is far easier to give.
However while depression and anxiety is at epidemic levels now, firstly it is in the shadows. Not discussed, never admitted, and sometimes denied by those diagnosed. So getting people to speak about it, let alone help in the field is really tough, I get that. But I am still curious to know how many are in the field, helping others understand. After my CBT course was done, I was hungry to help others, and as it turns out when I look back over my life, I have been doing this for ages.
I was shocked by the number of my friends who have suffered or still do, and touched by the positivity I received about my honest and open blog entries about the matter. I really didn't realise how wide spread it was, nor how secret it was.

I really wish I had the know how to start digging for information and understanding how things could be done differently, not only from my experiences, but from others too. If I had the time, I would dig deeper, and push harder to get heard, but for now I will carry on doing what I feel is right, and keep reaching out to others who are fighting their demons. Struggling every day against the voices in their heads, and the lack of understanding from the world around them.

I have more to say on this matter, watch this space. But in the meantime, if there is any official organisation I can lend my mind to, just call :)