Tag Archives: mental health

A Bad Call (and Response)


On Thursday before leaving work I played a prank on a colleague…

A little background. He and I, two straight guys, work for an organization that historically has worked with, and within the gay community: as much as I’ve learned about the diversity of the membership of said community, contrary to popular gay stereotypes, there’s a persistent ‘Carry On…’ element within our working environment that on balance, successfully leavens the intrinsic seriousness of the work we do. It renders what might potentially become – and is perhaps inevitably perceived as – unduly morbid, as enjoyable as well as stimulating and psychically rewarding. You can’t beat the clinical environment for gallows humour, vulgar distraction – when you wipe butts, dress wounds and attend to the dying for a living, shock and disgust become relative – and downright silliness. Nowhere else are they more necessary.

It’s one reason (among many) that I love my job and why I’ve dedicated myself to it wholeheartedly for the last ten years.

So when I slipped a gay magazine –  an ’80s softcore porn job that someone had left lying around the office, and which to the modern eye appears more comical than arousing – into my mate’s bag, my main thought was of the inevitable smile that would crease his face when he went to pull out his copy of The Sun for some tit action and copped an eyeful of hairy chests and floppy dicks instead.

It was a silly thing to do, as is the nature of pranks, and in the event he was a little pissed off: not because of the mag itself but because he suspected it of being perpetrated by a different colleague with whom he enjoys a less congenial relationship than with me, and thus misinterpreted its intentions. When he found out I was the culprit – I ‘fessed up the next day during a phone call – he immediately saw the funny side, as I predicted he would. Sadly, as the following story from yesterday’s news shows, sometimes ‘harmless’ pranks can have unintended consequences that are not so easily laughed off:

Tragic death of nurse following 2Day FM stunt

Nurse Jacintha Saldanha, 46, died yesterday in an apparent suicide after she transferred a hoax call from Australian DJs who retrieved sensitive information about Kate Middleton while in hospital

There’s been the predictable, knee jerk condemnation via Twitter, public comments and message boards but is it really fair to blame the DJs? I think not; and I hope not too too much weight will be placed on responses such as (Twitter user) Michael Hird’s ‘I hope you’re happy now.. The receptionist (sic) you rang has COMMITTED SUICIDE! You have blood on your hands now!’

The ‘prank’ and its aftermath are revealing, though, on a number of fronts:

Mental illness remains sadly, seriously misunderstood: nobody with a modicum of knowledge about suicides would believe that the specifics of this situation alone would have led so Saldanha killing herself – supposing that the impending autopsy reveals this to be, indeed, the case. As someone who has grappled with mental health issues both personally and within my social circle I’m well aware that ignorance can prove damaging, and all-too-frequently fatal. Sharing knowledge, connecting sufferers with appropriate support and instilling everybody with a realistic estimation of personal responsibility for our own – and collective – health are key. It’s too early to apportion responsibility – as opposed to blame – for Saldanha‘s death, but one can state with certainty that herself, her family and her employer must shoulder their fair share, before considering 2Day FM‘s role.

The tabloid press, in defiance of possible fallout from Leveson continues to prioritize sensationalism (and sales) over truthful reportage; besides demonstrating a breathtaking lack of insight into its own corporate and civil responsibility . Having interviewed neighbours of Saldanha, the Daily Mail has revealed (and I realise I’m open to accusations of perpetuating similar standards by repeating the details here – but there’s a point to be made)

A neighbour – who said the family have lived in their £130,000 terraced home in Bristol for about eight years – said ‘They’re a lovely family – Ben gives my lad a lift when he goes refereeing at Bristol Rovers with Junal… [s]he must have thought there was no way back, that’s the only thing I can think of.’

Another neighbour (Marianne Homes, 49) said ‘I’ve always known her as the doctor, she was always very smartly dressed… [t]heir son was always really into football, we always saw him with a ball kicking it about with his friends… [s]he was a lovely woman, every time I saw her she would talk to me… I think her kids are secondary school age, she definitely has one boy and one girl.’

Either revealing personal information via the media is acceptable or it isn’t. There’s a facile distinction to be made, I suppose, between information obtained openly (I hesitate to say ‘in good faith’) and under comedic pretense – perfectly lampooned by Chris Morris’ Brass Eye vehicle – but ultimately it serves the same purpose in providing vicarious diversion to a public unhealthily addicted to salacious gossip.  The level and nature of interest – both public and journalistic – directed at The Royals is prurient by any reasonable standards – have we learned nothing from the Diana debacle? The feminization of celebrity, whereby excruciating details of every movement, utterance, wardrobe choice (or malfunction) and bodily function of the rich and famous are assumed to be in the public interest, effectively public property, is a perennial issue and an invasive media is both cause and effect of such. Claiming to be simply ‘following orders’ by capitulating to public demand – a demand the media themselves stoke – is no kind of excuse.

And are the press not irresponsible in announcing her death as suicide prior to an inquest and official announcement providing confirmation? Even if suicide turns out to be the case and, further, one accepts that fear of personal and professional consequences could be shown to be the factor that pushed  Saldanha over the edge, should Greig and Christian be held accountable? As 2Day FM CEO, Rhys Holleran has been quoted as saying:

‘…prank calls as a craft in radio have been going for decades … and are not just part of one radio station or network or country … [n]o-one could have reasonably foreseen what ended up being an incredibly tragic day.’ He added ‘I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they are completely shattered. ‘These people aren’t machines, they’re human beings. What happened is incredibly tragic and we’re deeply saddened and we’re incredibly affected by that.’ The presenters have been offered counselling by their employer and rightly so – it would be deeply ironic and compound the tragedy if their actions were to rebound on them to similar effect.

I have every sympathy for Saldanha‘s family, friends and colleagues: theirs is a private tragedy that deserves better than to be mined for momentary headlines and ignorant playground-level gossip. I also sympathise with Greig and Christian – they may be guilty of thoughtlessness but they acted without malice, within a media culture that persistently affirms their style of behaviour. I don’t doubt that they are truly sorry.

And whilst I shudder to think of the potential fallout of theirs, mine and others’ innocent actions, I positively quake at the thought of a world where friends, refrain from playing jokes on each other for fear of – the statistically insignificant chance of – unintentional, tragic consequences.

6 Days, 6 Degrees…


Musicbugsandgender doesn’t entirely set out my stall, so to speak. My blog was thus christened via a brainstorm perhaps not far removed from that process fledgling bands go through trying to find a moniker that’s snappy, apposite, memorable and as-yet un-trademarked.  The music part was pretty much a given; that being my consuming passion. Bugs and gender were inspired by a cursory glance at my sagging bookcase, prompting the realisation that a number of my most memorable forays into literature to date had consisted of two comprehensive documentaries of the 1918 Flu Pandemic * ^ and a few variously witty and worthy tomes by the likes of Ariel Levy, Susan Brownmiller and Andrea Dworkin. On reflection I think I chose pretty well, but as my opening sentence implies, it’s far from all-encompassing. The sub-heading ‘A leisurely browse thru the rickety shelves of my mental bric-a-brac’ is perhaps more apposite, a worthwhile suffix at any rate: it grants me room to manoeuvre; permission to include heterogenous, deviant missives from time to time.

A couple such I posted towards the end of last year when I on a slippery slope into a mental black hole (later, when I was in the hole I wasn’t posting at all) exemplify this well; and I reiterate them here only by way of contrast (indeed, polar opposite) to my somewhat elevated mental state of the past six days. I’ve been positively buzzing, actually; feeling reckless and vulnerable in a way quite different to the aforementioned slump. As much as it’s been enjoyable, there’s an edge to it which is slightly disconcerting, accompanied by increased clumsiness (not good when one’s workplace is filled with a multitude of hot and pointy things like my kitchen!) forgetfulness and a temptation to indulge. In reality, these feelings may have begun sooner and more stealthily but the meat of today’s missive begins with last Friday…

I worked ’til seven on Friday, having swapped a shift with my junior chef to get my usual – working – Sunday off, thus enjoying what ‘regular’ folk will know as a weekend: an unusual experience for me. This worked out well, since our lovely nursing team – always a solid bet for a proper piss-up – had organised a staff night out on Friday, helpfully covening at, if not my local, then – five minutes up the road – as good as. This gave me the whole of Saturday to recover – necessary, given the eventual 4 am finish – prior to another engagement on the Sunday (more of which in my next post).

Friday night was great. Outside we don’t – en masse – socialise as regularly (and generally not to the degree of – chemical and alcoholic – indulgence) as we once did, but when we do it’s gratifying to see that a spirit of comradeship quickly comes to the fore. It’s always there, of course; but nights like those remind me why, approaching a decade of uninterrupted employment, my enthusiasm and affection for our team and wider organisation remain undiminished. The aphorism, I believe is ‘work hard, play hard’: we do, and I actually enjoy it (the playing) all the more because it only happens once in a while. Besides, the costs are higher and take longer to pay off. Booze is still a nice buzz; but there’s deeper satisfaction to be had and I’m starting to get an inkling of where that might be had…

I’ve been feeling broody of late. If you’ve hung out with me for any length of time – and I count myself lucky to have a select bunch of lovable reprobates who have – this might come as a surprise. Hell, it surprised me! Having given some thoughts to the undercurrents that nudged this particular impulse to the surface just recently, I offer you these: 1) I’m fast approaching forty. This is less significant from the point of view of actual age, mind (though I’ve read recently that as guys get older their chances of fathering healthy kids begins to diminish – deteriorating quality of the genetic material in our sperm, apparently) so much as that that was the age my folks were when they adopted me. 2) Everybody at work (hyperbole alert!) seems to be having them. 3) I’ve recently met someone I can actually envisage having children with. I’m not going to embarrass anyone by naming names – not that said someone or her associates is likely to be reading this – but suffice it to say that she was there on Friday night and I was acting like an infatuated adolescent around her all night: at least, that’s how it felt at the time; my every gesture and utterance intolerably witless and gauche, no matter that she assures me otherwise.

This a far cry from  our post-gig dinner on the Sunday night, when on a far from typical – and perhaps, Burgundy-emboldened – priapic impulse I asked our waitress out on a date after the meal. I’m not entirely sure whether she misunderstood my proposition or politely – invoking her Frenchness – feigned as much. Either way, it was too brilliant a night to be spoiled by such an impersonal rejection. I wasn’t in love with her, after all. Along with the remainder of our party I repaired to the Pavillion Theatre bar around the corner for an informal debrief of the evening’s events and further amusement…

My good mood persists as I speak. I managed to meditate two days in a row – these last two – which is rare for me. I generally only remember to put these nourishing practices into, er, practice when the shit hits the fan: the adage that ‘prevention is better than cure’ buried in a far corner of my pickled brain. Mindful? I’m working on it. In my heightened state I’ve been overly tuned into and really enjoying the amazing autumn light; the – once – unseasonal warmth of the day. I stopped off for a couple of pints at the pub on the way home from work, just to enjoy the warm afternoon and watch the world go by. Whilst I was there I came up with the idea of a nice, simple little blog post before tea, describing what a great time I had last Friday. That was around six – it’s now half twelve…

And here’s one more thing (for those whose patience isn’t yet exhausted). Reviewing my mental ups and downs brought to mind one of my favourite pieces of music, a kind of rock opera – opera’s not quite right, since 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence isn’t a storytelling album like The War of the Worlds or Tommy, although the music creates its own narrative arc which has a very ‘story-like’ quality – by Long Island, NY band Dream Theater. It’s a flawed masterpiece for sure, specifically in the lyrical department: as much as John Petrucci is a virtuoso of the rock guitar, his words can all too often lapse into cliche, banality and contrivance: but on this occasion, the sheer strength of the music prevails: it rarely fails to move me – especially the About To Crash and Solitary Shell movements. It certainly struck a chord today.


Goin’ down with it…


It’s officially the silly season for colds, flu and assorted bugs, even though these mischievious viral buggers can strike at any time. The physical symptoms are well documented (aches, tiredness, lack of appetite, sneezing and coughing…) but I’d forgotten how even the commonest of common illnesses can mess with your mind.

Thanks to some kind of mild flu-like infection, all of last week was like pushing sacks of coal uphill. I’m not any kind of macho man but I can be a stubborn sod and I wasn’t about to let a mere cold keep me from geeting my jobs done. I even did an extra day’s work, just to be contrary, even though I was collapsing into bed directly after work every day and sleeping ten and twelve hour nights through.

The aches and the tiredness are gone but I suddenly find that my already meager self-confidence seems to have dried up completely and at the same time I’ve tapped into a new wellspring of anxiety.  Despite fifteen years experience working in catering I’m getting flummoxed trying to think what I should be preparing for tomorrow’s lunch. Panicking that I don’t have time to peel and chop carrots, even though my rational mind tells me it’s just an easy, ten-minute job. When it comes to writing menus and placing orders my mind is a total blank. The thought of next week’s staff Xmas lunch – 60 covers – makes me cry. I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last week – it just bubbles up along with the panic at the slightest provocation. I feel like a baby but there you are.

I’m not much better at home. It took me fifteen minutes to change my bed linen the other day. I had to stop and sit down half way through, it was just too difficult and exhausting. The lack of space in my one room studio which has seemed mostly bearable for the past few years is starting to bug me more and more. It probably sounds melodramatic to say ‘the walls are closing in’ but that’s how it feels. I’m aware that it’s mostly the walls in my mind which are doing the closing but like my mind, every little nook and shelf of my flat is cluttered with something. I’ve collected these possessions over the years and they all seemed necessary and useful at the time but now they’re all starting to wear me down with the sheer accumulated weight. Do I need 2000 CDs? I probably only listen to a couple hundred of them if that. Will I read any of those shelves of books again ever? And if I want to I can certainly pick up another used copy from a charity shop or on Amazon. Isn’t it about time I stopped getting paper bank statements: the batch I’ve just shredded date from when there were still twin towers in New York and I could still smoke twenty a day without giving a thought to my mortality.

I also, much to my chagrin, find myself thinking enviously of friends in relationships. As much as I’m inclined to make like a cat and lick my wounds in private it’d be nice on occasion to have someone else lick ’em (if you’ll pardon the expression). I’m my own worst enemy in this way, rejecting most well-meaning advances from friends and the occasional partner and damming up hurts and inconveniences until all it takes is a silly little virus to come along and put a crack in the concrete and knock me flat on my back. Dumbass!

Having a cold isn’t the root cause of anything but it’s just left me feeling low and exposed, more vulnerable than usual to the kind of thing that a mentally stronger person would take in their stride, or have the good sense to put their metaphorical hand in the air and say “hey guys, I need some help down here”.

I’ve got some help for now. I’ve got a couple days off and my doctor has prescribed me some little orange pills called Hydroxyzine which is actually an antihistamine but has sedating properties that make it useful for treating anxiety, a bug I’m a little too familiar with these days. It’s also good for Eczema which is great because that’s one of the million little things I’ve suffered from but deemed too trivial to bother getting fixed. Anxiety and eczema aren’t the end of the world but they do need fixing if life is going to be liveable and, more to the point, enjoyable.



Metal illness?


According to University of Melbourne researcher Dr Katrina McFerran, young people who gravitate toward heavy metal music repetitively are more likely to end up depressed.

The powers that be have long had a prurient interest in music favoured by the young: especially heavy rock, rap and (during the late ’80s and early ’90s when raves did much to rekindle the rebellious flames of the early rock’n’roll days) dance. It’s frequently considerd to be a ‘bad influence’ in a nebulous way that studies of this kind do precious little to elucidate, once you get behind the headlines.

I don’t blame researchers per-se, though I’velong suspected that studies that rely on the experiences of such a small sample (50 in this case) to extrapolate general patterns of behaviour are flawed from the off. Large scale, anonymous, open-ended questionnaire-based surveys preferred by sociologist Shere Hite for her famed series of Hite Reports provide a more nuanced response. Having not read the original report I’m prepared to hold fire on the good doctor, but the way the study has been reported in the press is perfectly reprehensible: ‘Heavy Metal has negative impacts on youth’; ‘Heavy Metal fans more exposed to mental illness’ and variations thereof proliferate.

Psychcentral was closer to the mark with its headline:

Depressed Teens Listen to Heavy Metal Music in Unhealthy Way

This turns most of the headlines on their head, more truthfully stating that many already depressed (or at least unhappy) younger listeners are choosing to use music to ‘escape from reality’ as McFerran puts it. Well hasn’t that always been a part of the allure of rock’n’roll? Teenage years are a tumultuous time: exam stress; school bullying; navigating the minefield of emerging sexuality and relationships, starting employment (or not) are all issues that kids may well feel a need to escape from and music is only one means of doing so. The use and abuse of drugs – alcohol and ‘skunk’ weed particularly – ‘reality’ TV, easily-accessible, immersive, violent online gaming and pornography ought also to be considered.

To attempt to distil the souce of behavioural and psychological problems down to one’s choice of music is barely credible. The study is doubtless more nuanced than headlines suggest but today’s consumer of knowledge and advice has little time for the finer points: it’s all about the headlines. This kind of simplistic thinking has reared its ugly head before: remember the implication of Child’s Play 3 around the James Bulger killing? All the above and other environmental factors bear consideration and not in isolation but as part of a complex, interconnected system. Doctors today can on occasion be overbearing; too quick to apply a medical diagnosis and provide concomitant treatment. Sometimes it just is ‘a phase they’re going thru’.

And music can play a positive role in this too. Intelligent rock and pop music can provide a source of inspiration and a sense of belonging to kids fumbling their way thru their formative years.

Porcupine Tree – ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’

Doves – ‘Black And White Town’

Sure, we should be caring what our kids are feeling (though any half-way responsible parent will be doing so anyway) but knee-jerk reactions to what is most of the time nothing but a harmless diversion really aren’t the way to go. They’re certainly not good science.