Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bark: The Pit

Winston Churchill called it "The Black Dog". I call it "The Pit".

There are many triggers to depression, but the effects and symptoms are, for the most part, fairly uniform: Over-eating or under-eating, over-sleeping or under-sleeping, having insomnia, early morning waking, or maybe sleeping too much, losing your ability to concentrate. Losing your ability to take pleasure in things that you normally take pleasure in. And, at it's worst, thoughts about suicide and the futility of life. If nothing you do makes a difference to anything, then what's the point? (Not thoughts I'm having now, incidentally, but I've had them in the past)

If you look at that checklist of symptoms, I've got almost the full set: under-eating, over-sleeping, insomnia, lack of concentration and the inability to enjoy the normal things I do for pleasure - gaming, cooking, writing, watching films and TV, music, and so on. The thought of working gives me physical anxiety - a tightness across the front of the chest that feels like the onset of a heart attack - and I can't even look at the news anymore. COP21 was hailed as "historic" and "our best chance to save the planet" (though don't get me started on that particular phrase, it's as wrong as it is meaningless), and here we are, less than a week later and the UK government is passing legislation to green-light the extraction of more fossil fuels to burn. Showing great commitment to a low carbon future there, Dave... It's hard to look at decisions like that and think humanity is a civilisation worth saving.

So what is there to do? Retreat to The Pit.

It's a place that only exists when I'm in the grip of depression, but as much as it's a place of blackness and despair, it's also a place that's warm, secure and comforting - a place to hide from the grim realities of the world. It looks and feels remarkably like a bed. (Hence the oversleeping) I don't want to remove myself permanently from the world (well, I would if a one way trip to Mars was a viable option at this point), but I do want to retreat from it, hide from it for a while. In this condition there are certain things I can't face, because they just reinforce my psychosis, adding to the mental pressure that put me in this state to begin with - phones, email, news media, other people... I just want to be alone, wallowing listlessly under the oppression of my chaotic, randomly contradictory thoughts, with only the bed covers as a shield between me and the world. It's like my brain has gone through a blender, and like a coral, it's trying to piece itself back together, one synapse at a time. But how do I know that they're reconnecting in the right order? There are no guarantees.

I've had to pester my therapy provider, because I completed their questionnaires almost a week ago and haven't been assigned a therapist yet. It's immensely frustrating, as I've been off work and could have used that time to get some proper medical help, rather than be at home on my own, not being able to face leaving the house, thinking "what value is there in your life?"

Because that's the crux. When what you do ceases to hold value for you, or the rewards no longer outweigh the sacrifices you need to make to do the job, that's surely a sign that you need to do something different. In fact, this was the key reason why I changed career from IT to teaching in the first place. But in the last six years the world has changed in so many ways, and so few of them for the better. Even the work that used to reward me has been degraded and devalued and become so politicised and talked-down that it's difficult to see how all that time, effort and energy I put into it makes a difference anymore - especially since we're increasingly dealing with young people who fundamentally lack respect for knowledge and would rather play mindless games on their iPhones than make themselves better people. I've lost count of the times I've been told "I don't care" when I've spoken with kids about their lack of effort - and you think "then why should I care about you?" - and it's not enough to say "because it's your job" anymore. How do you teach people who don't want to be taught? This year I started wearing a Superman tie pin - not because I particularly like Superman, but for the irony value, because that seems to be the expectation of what teachers need to be these days. "See that student who came in on a Level 2 at the end of Key Stage 2? Yeah, their GCSE target grade is a C. Make it happen. You do know your remuneration is linked to exam results now, right?" Might as well call Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg. Mission Impossible. We've bred a generation of kids who are dependent upon their shiny little phone screens and are so used to being told what to do and entertained that they're incapable of anything else. There are exceptions, of course, but they're getting fewer and further between - and this is a change I've seen in the last five years. And it's getting worse.

It's harder and harder to find joy in the little victories anymore, or those classes where you have built up a relationship over months and years where they trust what you're asking them to do is for their benefit and they respect the value of work and knowledge. And when there's no joy in your work, and it consumes an ever greater part of your life... you end up like this - having a mental breakdown on the internet.

I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I do know one thing. I can't stay down here forever. Time to start climbing...
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