Money! by Luke Martin-Jones

Ah money.  What a strange relationship I have with money.  From my earliest memories, I remember, I never had much money and to be honest never had a need to deal with it, in the same way other kids did.  I was given no pocket money as a child and as a consequence, never had to save.  I never had a bank account as a child, because there was no need. I truly believe that if lessons were given in school, on how to deal with finances, this would go a long way to helping children deal with the day to day need, to have a good level of understanding and achieve successful financial Management.

Bipolar brings another difficulty into sound financial understanding and planning.  It has been the biggest factor in my success and failures in life.  I have always been a person who likes to spend, spend, spend.  Not having a lot of resources as a child has always taught a binge and purge ethos where spending is concerned.  When I have it, I will spend it, in fact even when I don’t I will.  I do not understand the concept of ‘Saving for a rainy day’ or ‘putting a little aside each month’.

I only really noticed there was a problem, when I went to University.  Within the first year I had run up two huge overdrafts and maxed my credit cards.  I was spending money like it was the last day on earth.  I had a cheque book and unlike today, each cheque could be guaranteed up to £50.00.  I was often cashing cheques in The Student Union Shop or the local co-op!

I remember a representative from the bank turning up at my house early one morning.  My spending had got so out of control they wanted my cheque book back.  I just went to my room, ripped out half the cheques and handed the rest to a rather stern looking gentleman, gave him a wry smile and he left.  I know now during very manic periods I would spend out of control.  There was a lot of mania, a lot of spending, a lot of debt at university.

The next time I really noticed there was a problem was when I ran my own business.  It actually wasn’t the next time there was a problem, but rather when I started to notice there was a real problem.  I took on a business without thinking through the consequences of my actions.  I opened up a Business Bank Account and for a short while things went well. I owned a garage, shop and restaurant.  It relied heavily on passing trade.  So when road works began on the dual carriage way passing my business, we were doomed!  As Jason has said, I am probably the most unlucky person he has ever known!

I was taking ever larger amounts of drawings, which the bank mistook for the business doing well.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell them any different. I was given more and more lines of credit, totalling well over £150,000.00 at one stage.  I was borrowing money to keep the business going.  Credit and money was easily obtainable at the time, 2001, so I was really just doing what everyone else was doing.  I bought a brand new car, took three holidays a year and even went further.  During one manic phase, after watching a programme on Morning TV and discovering you could buy a house in a pub, as easy as a pint,  I went up to a place called Nelson and bought a house, because I could.  We then bought a holiday home just down the road from there and bought a house in France called Le Choix.

Now being financially illiterate, I was using all the takings from the three businesses, to fund an extremely lavish lifestyle, travelling to New York, Italy and Malaysia in one year alone, on top of the three houses we had bought.  I was such a spend thrift, I got addicted to Shopping Channels, in fact I would buy anything I saw, just because I had the resources to do it.  Of course one can’t keep on spending £5,000.00 a week, without the business doing well and making money to pay for my mania.

There were ever increasing lines of credit, an overdraft totaling thousands and another illogical decision to invest thousands in the Stock Market, without knowledge of the Businesses I was investing in.  It was just like picking names out of a hat.  Still I was on a high and it all made perfect sense to me.  Unlucky me strikes again. I invested £2,000.00 in Marconi shares, a few weeks later, they collapsed.  Being the unlucky person I was I invested around £20,000.00 in total exactly one week before 9/11.  The markets crashed and I lost the lot.

My accountant was useless.  Charging me £1,500 a month – well this was Salisbury and dodgy, useless accountants don’t come cheap.  Either I was good at hiding the mounting debt or he was really that bad that he couldn’t see it.  Anyway things just went along as usual, more spending, holidays to France once a month and expensive jewellery from TV shopping channels.

I suppose I knew the end had come, when Jason had to remove £10,000.00 from his credit card to pay the staff wages.  I just kidded myself it was a temporary blip.  More money removed each month to pay the wages.  I was paying Jason £30,000 a year, I had a full time chef and ten other employees, because I was too busy spending to work myself.

I had become extremely ill.  I weighed 7 stone in weight and was getting worse by the day.  I had debts totalling a quarter of a million pounds and my stress had reached dangerous levels.  I remember working in the kitchen of the restaurant one hot afternoon.  I felt so weak and collapsed.  I had had a mild stroke.  My Doctor told me if I did not give up the business I would be dead within the year.  Now mania makes you do things in the most destructive way possible. I did a runner, left the business and just walked away.  I could not deal with the legalities behind bankruptcy.  I buried my head and became extremly depressed.  I was a shadow of my former self.

Unable to work through illness, Jason became the bread winner and we had to survive on a less than a tenth of what we did before.  It was a dark time for us. I admit it now, but I even tried to stab Jason with a knife. It was time to be admitted to hospital. From 2003, really up until 2010, the process of diagnosing Bipolar began.  It was such a long time, with many medications and highs and lows, it was truly painful!

I am still a nightmare with money.  The last two years we wasted £10,000.00 on a lifestyle where those we trusted just took as much as they could.  I am glad that happened.  We had to learn for ourselves just how bad these people were.  I may have lost money, but I regained my life and the battles I fight now are real, not petty lies and dramas used to cause harm to others.

Still learning the value of money! Still making mistakes, still battling! That’s life.  At least I’m doing it with the man I love!

(First published on the 27th April, 2015 in Luke’s Blog called ‘Bipolarcoaster‘. This blog has now been published as a series of books.)

Not One Of My Finer Moments …

I absolutely never wanted to live in America. Ha Ha – my famous last words! Everytime I made a close friend, they would end up emigrating to the USA. I even started joking with new friends – ‘Just a warning, by being a friend to me you risk ending up living in America!’

When my last friends emigrated, I ironically said to myself. ‘Well, if you become your own friend, you’ll end up with your friends in America.” A year later, the children and I were already to leave England.

My fiancée lived in Irvine, California. He was eager for me to arrive in America so that we could get married. I had phoned the American Embassy several times and just got an answer machine which told me that I needed to apply for a fiancée visa. I wanted to know further details but couldn’t get through to a person to talk to – just the same old answer machine.

When I let my fiancée know, he was exasperated. A few days later he called me to say that he had spoke to some lawyers in the U.S. and they had told him that I could go over on an I90 and then file the paperwork in the states.

“Are you sure”, I asked?

“Quite sure”, he assured me.

“Would you phone the Immigration and Naturalization Service out there and see if you can get further information. They told me on the answer machine that I needed to get a fiancée visa?”

My fiancée didn’t sound too pleased about this suggestion but reluctantly agreed to call them. He told me a few days later that he couldn’t get in touch with them and that we should follow the advise of the lawyers that he had consulted.

I put my house on the market and it sold in a day! I packed up my house; sold a lot of stuff and gave some furniture to my cousin. I had all my stuff shipped out to the States.

I was living in the Midlands at the time. I drove down south for a few days to spend time with my family and all too soon, we were on our way to Heathrow Airport to fly to America and our new life.

It was cheaper to get to Los Angeles Airport by having a stop over in Missouri. As this was the first stop in America we had to go through immigration. This was the part of the trip that I felt the most nervous about. I didn’t feel one hundred percent confident about the I90 vs Fiancée visa information. But the lawyers ought to know, right? I had bought return tickets so that if the paperwork didn’t go through in time, then we would go back to England.

Well, it didn’t go well. After the children and I had queued for awhile, we eventually got to present our passports to the immigration officer. I don’t know what sparked their interest – maybe the fact that we had entered the States about four months ago for a week? They asked me what the purpose of our visit was.

I’m not very good at lying even if I wanted to. So I told them that I was visiting a friend in California. I gave them his name and address. The children and I found ourselves in a set of small connecting rooms to the right of Immigration Control. They then separated me from my children and began interrogating me. I was honest in all my answers even if my initial answer was not the whole story. They wrote my answers down and when they gave me the final draft of the interview, they had changed the order to make it look like I was lying. I was not pleased.

After the interrogation, I was back in the room with my children, where I found that they had let my seven year old go to the bathroom on his own in a crowded airport. I was beginning to simmer with anger.

They then lined us up by the wall and took our picture. Now I felt like a criminal. This was not one of my finer moments. I had no idea what was going on. They said I could have a phone call so I called my fiancée who was out at work and left a message to say that we were with the Immigration Department.

They then escorted the children and I to a plane. They gave our passports and the papers that they had written to the pilot. We were seated on the plane. It was not until the plane took off that I realized that we were on our way back to England.

As soon as we took off and the pilot began speaking to the passengers, I learned that we were flying into Gatwick airport. A million things went through my head as I frantically wondered what I was going to do. I decided to shelve some of them and just focus on how I was going to get back to Fareham where my mum and dad lived. I was really glad that we were going to Gatwick as I did know how to get home from there on the train.

I was worried that my mum and dad would be worried about me when I didn’t call on getting to my fiancee’s. I wondered if my fiancée had got my message before he was due to pick us up from the airport.

As we started to land, my son threw up. It went all over him. We had no warning. We had been flying for nearly twenty hours with a couple of hours in Missouri. We had been awake for quite a few hours before we had left to travel to the airport. It was no wonder my little boy had thrown up.

So now my immediate concern was to get my son cleaned up. I had used the paper serviettes to clean up most of it on the plane, but it still wasn’t pleasant. After we left the plane, we had to go through the British Passport Control and pick up our luggage before I couldn’t even consider getting him some clean clothes. When we got our luggage, I couldn’t get the three of us and the luggage into the toilets together and my daughter was too young to be left outside with the luggage. So I decided that we would do it when we had gone through customs.

As we exited from customs and emerged on the crowds that were waiting for their loved ones, I felt very conspicuous and I was very, very embarrassed. As we got through that ordeal, I headed for the bathrooms that I knew were a bit bigger. Imagine my surprise and my great relief when I suddenly saw my dad. If I wasn’t in public, I would have probably cried.

My dad said that they were worried when I hadn’t turned up at my fiancée’s. My fiancée had called them asking where I was. My dad had made an educated guess as to which airport I would come back into and got in his car and had been waiting at the airport.

Even thinking about this now, all these years later, I still get choked up regarding what my dad did for me!

My dad looked after my luggage and my daughter whilst I went to the ladies to get my son cleaned up. Then he drove me back to my parents home.

For the next three months or so, we stayed at my sister’s house. I got the children back in school and picked up some temping work. My fiancee’s mother was old friends with the secretary to a senator. Somewhere in this adventure I had been given the forms to apply for a fiancée visa. Once these were submitted to the INS, the senator was able to expedite my application.

We arrived in the States in January 1999 and my fiancée and I got married. In 2003, I started divorce proceedings from my husband due to his abusive behaviour. Looking back on this event with greater hindsight, I don’t believe that the lawyers were ever contacted.

I learned the hard way that I should trust my gut when it comes to making decisions and never rely on the advice and decision of another person. If a choice is made and the consequence picked up, I want to be in full control of that choice.

‘Becoming The Fire’ by Claire Roberts

Claire Roberts Picture

“Some women fear the fire. Some women simply become it.”
R.H. Sin

(Dear Mom, If you ever read this, it is not me.)

After years of feeling inadequate, guilty, selfish, ugly, untalented, overlooked, and undistinguished, I gave in. Not into believing the lies, but in fully dedicating myself to defying those lies. I don’t remember when it started, I only know it has never ended. If I were to tell you that I had a narcissistic mother, you would never believe me, I didn’t even believe it at first, myself. She is running everyone’s lives, including mine, for a time. She is front and center of every Church duty, civic engagement. She is the “hostess with the mostess.” Her garden: sublime, her home: immaculate, her friends: near and dear and many look up to her respect her—except for me.

It’s hard to recognize a monster when that’s all you’ve ever known. It’s difficult to disassociate from pain that you’ve always believed to be true care and nurture. Psychology Today’s blog describes it accordingly, “Narcissistic mothers may tend to their daughter’s physical needs, but leave her {the daughter} emotionally bereft. The daughter doesn’t realize what’s missing, but longs for warmth and understanding from her mother that she may experience with friends or relatives or witness in other mother-daughter relationships” (Psychology Today Blog, Feb 19, 2018).

I know what she really is, and it’s taken upwards for three long decades for me to pinpoint the real problem. After years of trying to “reconcile” which basically means I was trying to repair the relationship by taking all the blame and responsibility, I still found I was very depressed, very angry, and mostly hurt by the one person in life for whom you should never have these types of feelings.

I hate people who always tell “their version” without so much as a glance or a concession to the other side. She is a good person. She has gone through much in life. I still respect her and honor her. But as a parent, as a mother, she should have and could have done better by me.

Focusing on moving forward rather than dwelling in the past, I’m trying to pinpoint specific lessons I’d like to pass down to my own daughter.

1) You are always beautiful to me;
2) You can always come to me and I will love you unconditionally;
3) There are few, if ever, things that are more important or come before my care and nurture of you;
4) On your darkest day, please consider me someone who is your best friend;
5) I will never force a confidence, if you confide in me, I will take it to the grave.

These are things I wish my own mom had done for me. To give me a better base of self-worth, and to also allow myself the dignity of enjoying my own hard won success, rather than having her jump-in to take credit.

Unfortunately, now that I know that there is a name for this sort of behavior, our relationship can’t possibly be the same again.

Most research on narcissists indicates they are almost incapable of change—one of the biggest reasons why it is difficult to associate and relate with them. Another factor includes the failure to empathize on the part of the narcissist. So as long as they are not changing, and we know their hallmark qualities, let’s explore how we can better interact with them as adult children.

Narcissists respond to respect and power. They do not care for people who are empathetic, caring, and willing.  “Parents with NPD are myopic. The world revolves around them. They control and manipulate their children’s needs, feelings, and choices when they can, and take it as a personal affront deserving punishment when they can’t” (Psychology Today Blog, Feb 19, 2018).

If you want to give a narcissist a wakeup call, try telling them “no” and offer no explanation. Or better yet, just don’t even tell them that you’re not coming to said meeting or family function. This will very surely get their attention.

Once a very definite line or boundary is set, it’s so much easier to be just as fake to them as they are to you. Is easy to be fake, phony, and at the very best, civil. Now you have just shown that you have:

1) power by not responding or offering explanations;
2) they will now have to respect you because you have asserted your power against them. In essence, fight fire with fire.  Or better yet, become it.

I did this with my own mom. I was supposed to be somewhere at a certain time and place. I am usually very acquiescent and try my best to be on her good side. Heaven knows after all these years, that doesn’t work! But just try not coming, no text, no phone call, blatantly showing you don’t care about her, her ideas, her projects, etc.

It sucked, it was really hard at first to set a boundary and I wasn’t even sure I had made things better… but then guess who is calling me every so often to make sure I’m okay? Guess who is more than happy to help me out from time to time? Guess who would come at the drop of a hat if I wanted her? Guess who is responding to my new found power? The narcissist mom has just met her match. I am happier, she hasn’t fundamentally changed, but I have.

The best news I had received in doing this research is that I am not alone, there is an identifiable problem, and there are so many resources to help guide children of narcissistic parents.

The thing about being the child of a narcissistic mother is that it often contributes to something known in Shamanic terminology as soul loss. Soul loss is the inability to contact or experience our souls due to the unresolved wounds, traumas and fears we’ve accumulated over the years. The first step in healing the soul loss is to be willing to explore what you went through as a child. This process of exploring the narcissistic actions of your parent isn’t to condemn them or to victimize yourself. Instead, this process is done to help you understand the root cause of any pain you’re still experiencing, to learn how to release it, and move on with your life (Mateo Sol- 19 signs You Were Raised By A Narcissistic Mother or Father).

In the spirit of not condemning my mother and not victimizing myself, I am starting the journey to recover my lost soul. I offer good wishes and congratulations to those out there who are doing the same.

Claire Roberts Signature

Claire Roberts

100_0653-18Claire and I have been friends for a few years. My husband and I call her our ‘Angel’ as she reached out to us on the anniversary of the death of my husband’s son. She was brave enough to talk to us about Lohr, something which very few people have done since he died. We understand the feelings of the majority of people who don’t talk to us about Lohr as people do find it hard to know how to behaviour and what to talk about in these situations. (For context, see ‘What He left Behind’).

So as an ‘Angel’, Claire came into our lives in a deeper and more intimate way. We have enjoyed getting to know Claire and her family. Claire is super intelligent, loves reading including philosophy, has a masters degree and gave up a highly demanding job in the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mum. She bought her first house at the age of twenty-three. Now that school is out for the twelve week summer break, Claire is spending time, not only doing some articles for Once Upon A Wren, but also doing topic based teaching with her children whilst they are out of school.

Claire was the first person that I shared my blog with the exception of Luke Martin-Jones who gave me the courage to start writing again in the first place. Her positive response and encouragement gave me the nerve to share my blog with my family and with some other friends.

In one of our conversations, I brought up the new information that my friend, Olivia Hayward, had stumbled across regarding being a daughter of a narcissistic mother. It turned out that Claire had stumbled across the information the very same week! After I had persuaded Olivia to write for me, I had the idea that I should convince Claire to write for me too. I’m so very excited that Claire agreed to write for Once Upon A Wren.

These two women show different reactions to being parented by a narcissistic mother and their abilities to deal with that dysfunctional relationship. It will be interesting to be a part of some of their healing process.

As this is a very sensitive subject, Claire also opted to have a pseudonym and like, Olivia, a symbolic representation for her picture.

Welcome to Once Upon A Wren, Claire! We look forward to getting to know you and to learn from you in the future months.

Claire Roberts Picture

‘Relapse’ by Luke Martin-Jones

These times were sent to test us! Should I fail my conscience, I will forever know that I did what I could, to stop the enduring pain that now engulfs my memories, all my thoughts and reside permanently in a place, I never want to revisit, until my final few hours on this Earth.

These words are words that will never be spoken of again. They are difficult sentences to write and even more difficult to recall. Recall them I will. Every night, I close my eyes, the darkness that spreads through my whole existence, will descend upon my dreams, a recurring nightmare, that has haunted me every day, that try and rest my broken mind.

To reconcile the terrible, unbearable, incomprehensible series of events, that now dominate my life, with the aspirations of the child I once was – with hopes and ambitions – will always cause a wound that will never be healed. Changed forever, emotionally destroyed and wrestling with pain, that will never go away. Rejected by friends and family, never understood by most, accepted by a few. But the pure truth, the words on my heart, chizzled on the grave stone, that will sit as a reminder, of just what happened to myself and others, who did no more than help others who needed to be empowered to do all the things I thought I would. The biggest, uneasy realization of my life now and forever!

I was always so full of ambition. There was so much I wanted to do. As a young boy, I was focused and knew where I wanted to go. Not one of us believes we will ever end up, in a situation, so obscure and heinous that a drama, could never pay justice to it.

This is the first day I am able to sit quietly, put words on a page and really accept, that what I am seeing is true. Until today, my thoughts were so jumbled and misunderstood, even I doubted them. To place doubt in oneself, is an awful thing. For others, perpetuating that doubt, even worse.

This Sunday, after five days of understanding, I can now piece together the scraps of evidence that only I could have collected. Not on paper, but in my mind, that, although tired, will always be lucid enough to recall these events. After all, they have been with me, for what seems a life time, yet in reality, they have only been confirmed within my soul for ten months. I have spent this time, searching for the truth, explanations and closure. Today, at least, I can close this last open door, behind which the reality of my situation lies.

In 1998, after suffering, from what I thought was depression, something clicked inside of me. I wanted to be happy again. I wanted to experience a level of self respect the years had crumbled away. I applied for a job within a charity, as a Book Shop Manager. I loved books. The touch and feel, the smell, the words of people, many people, now gone, but the books a reminder of who they once were, a living memory of lives, no longer there. Books telling stories, of bravery, love, anger and pain, books with a past and permanent future that we can always dip in and out from, at will. Taking a little bit of someone we never knew, with us, on our journey through life.

I had no expectations. If anything, I believed it would be the first of many applications, before I could achieve my goal of working again. I had a chequered history, where work was concerned, always achieving and failing at the same rates. No middle ground, just muddle and confusion over another failure in life, when I so wanted to succeed. I just wanted to do something in my life that I was finally a success at. I wanted to prove to myself and others, that I could be an achiever and not that constant failure, I was always reminded I was by others!

It was Saturday morning, the alarm clock wasn’t working and I was running late for work.  I had timed things right to the last minute.  It took eight minutes to walk to work and twenty minutes to do everything else.  Breakfast, bath and sandwiches.  I couldn’t stand working on weekends at the best of times and had a feeling, Saturday would be one of those days.  Little did I know, just how bad that Saturday at the end of March would be.

I rushed along The Avenue, across the dual carriage way, past The Courts and onto Brighton Road, where the second hand book shop, I had managed for seven years was situated.  It was a small, well kept and a lovingly run establishment, staffed by an army of volunteers, all dedicated and working for a good cause.  It was a part of the local community in every respect.  Every second person knew your name, everyone said hello or waved and I was happy to be a part of the life of a community book store, with character and purpose.

As I rushed past Starbucks at the end of the road, I noticed a familiar face sat outside Bahini’s Cafe.  It was Richard, another Manager, old friend and colleague, who was running the local Music Shop, further into town, in the centre of Manchester.  As I placed the key in the door, Richard brushed past me, nearly knocking me over.  He didn’t look right and had rage in his eyes.

‘You are under pricing CD’s.  I will not have you taking away my business!’

Perplexed, I walked into the back of the shop, hung my coat up and took five minutes, just to gather my thoughts.  My hands on the desk, body bent forward, I shook my head, this really was not going to end well!

I turned to face the office door, sighed and headed out into the shop again.  I do not like confrontation, especially when I know the person well and have no idea why they are acting in the manner they are.  As I walked down the small set of stairs towards the shop floor, I noticed Richard removing all my stock from the shelves.  He was aggressive, noisy and confrontational.

‘What do you think you are doing?  This isn’t your shop, why are you removing stuff from my shelves?’ I said bluntly.

‘You are trying to undercut my shop and I’m not having it.’ Richard replied forcefully.

‘I have no idea what you are talking about Richard.  This is my shop and you are not my Manager, what gives you the right?’ I asked.

We argued for about ten minutes.  I was exhausted, felt bullied and intimidated and just wanted to walk out.  No one had ever spoken to me like it, not even my partner or line Manager, come to that.  When I tried to speak, Richard just smirked, pointing his finger towards his head, to signify my Bipolar.  Richard had known of my condition for many years, had always been empathetic, was a socialist and campaigner and this was out of character and unacceptable.  I was not a battering ram, sounding post or kids toy to be abused.

As I tried to justify my pricing strategy, in an area, that was essentially catering for a different market to his, he got up like a petulant child and stormed out of the shop, saying he wasn’t going to listen to me any further.  I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I was an idiot, stupid and a fool.  He swore, sniggered and made offensive gestures.  To be honest, I was shocked and left speechless!  This was the day I had predicted and it was about to get far worse.

I shut the shop for half an hour, just to recover and to take some time out.  I had just had an altercation with someone who used to be close, and this was not the person I knew.  He had changed, almost over night and I had no idea why.  The rest of the day at work was horrendous, as I kept on recalling and reliving what had just happened to me.  I was bullied at school and this just smacked of the same thing.  I had been verbally attacked, by someone younger than me, like no one had done since I was in secondary school.  Those feelings, I had experienced back then, just came flooding back, and that weekend, I broke down.  This was the beginning of the biggest relapse in my life.

I arrived early at work on Monday morning and immediately began writing out a statement, detailing my experiences on Saturday.  I still couldn’t believe what had happened and wanted to put the situation right.  I wanted to express how I felt and just wanted to to get this whole nasty incident off my chest.  I had emailed my boss, explaining the situation and was waiting for her to attend the shop, so we could discuss events, after all she would understand exactly what had happened and would put it right, wouldn’t she?

My line Manager, Louise, arrived at mid day.  She was her usual happy smiling self as if nothing seemed to phase her.  Like water off a duck’s back, that would be the term I would use, to describe Louise.  Even when all around was crashing down, she was always cool, calm and collected.  She had always seemed warm enough towards me, even excessively so sometimes.  She had always been approachable but in recent times, these traits were becoming less and less obvious, so I had no idea what to expect.

‘Do you want to go to a cafe, to discuss this Darren!’  Louise said.

Now usually I would agree, but this time I refused.  This was an important issue and should not take place in a public place.  I felt safer at work, with the support of volunteers and for once I wanted control of a situation that was unusual and deeply disturbing for me.

The office is small, no bigger than a cupboard, so it was a bit of a squeeze, but we both managed to accommodate ourselves and she began her investigation.  Her first comment was strange, laughable and ridiculous under the circumstances.

‘We don’t have to do this, do we?’ Louise inquired.  I remained silent for a brief second, then replied.

‘Yes we do!, I have been bullied and insulted, that hasn’t happened since school.’ I continued!

I thought the discussion would be about my grievance, instead she immediately discussed my Bipolar.

‘Tell me about Bipolar, how does it affect you? How does it affect your work?’ she asked

I answered the best I could, then stopped!

‘What has this got to do with this grievance.’ I said firmly.

She talked about my health, my reactions and my working relationships and although we discussed the incident with Richard briefly, she continued to interrogate me about my Bipolar.  In fact, as I later found out, she even asked one of my team what Bipolar was.

I had disclosed my Bipolar status, two years before, during a meeting which had discussed my lifestyle, sex, drugs and rock and roll, as Louise put it at the time.  A volunteer at the time had informed Louise of a recent suicide attempt, and made disgraceful allegations and assumptions, about both myself and my Deputy Manager.  I answered for those allegations and a disclosure about my illness had been made.  At the time, I assumed that was the end of that, but as I later discovered, that should never had been the end of it.  Risk Assessments and safeguards should have been put in place to ensure, I did not relapse and would have the full support of my organisation.  None of these measures had been instigated and I was at the point of relapse and suicide again.

Louise asked my new Deputy Manager, Margaret, what Bipolar was, just after our meeting, that Monday morning. She didn’t understand it.  She had known of my condition for two years, yet here she was, today, just today asking a member of my staff, what my condition was.  That was beyond belief and not normal or indeed ethical.  At work, I had been classed as disabled, immediately after disclosure, and as such was covered, at work, under The Equality Act 2015, yet nothing had been done to protect me, my volunteers or indeed my shop.  My work load increased dramatically over the time. She had known. My stability had faltered and I had even asked for help, frequently, yet nothing had been forthcoming!  As I know now, this was probably illegal and was responsible for my deterioration in health over a long period of time!

When Louise left the shop, I broke down, dramatically.  I couldn’t continue working at a time, when I was suffering, my voice was unheard and my please were ignored.  The absurdity of a situation, where my mental health diagnosis, had become the issue of concern, out of an incident of bullying towards me, was too much to bear.  Not only had I been bullied by Richard, but now Louise was also doing the same, even if it was being done in a more subtle way.  I felt alone, isolated, and without the help or care I had needed to insure that my safety was paramount!

When I got home from work that night, I broke down again and again.  Why was I being ignored?  I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on.  I was in a confused state and in all but name I was relapsing, but didn’t yet know it.  I phoned my Deputy straight away and said I would not be attending work and didn’t know how long I would be off.  I was ill, borderline Manic and on the verge of collapse.

The next week was hard.  I had become unstable, was rapid cycling and not sleeping, eating or drinking.  I was getting angrier and angrier, the more I thought about what had ensued, the lack of empathy, the failure of understanding and the complete total and utter neglect.  My partner, Darrell, who worked for the same charity as I, was still at his shop, suffering like me and was becoming alarmed at my decline, as were my friends!  For me however, I didn’t really understand what was going on, I never do, during these circumstances.  It is those around you most that suffer and remember. I can block the memories out, others don’t have that option!

The final nail in the coffin came suddenly.  It was a week day.  Darrell had work in the morning, a meeting if I remember rightly.  I had reached the end of my tether.

First published in Roaming Brit.

The Purple Dye in Levothyroxine

Paige is my cocker spaniel. She was born in 2002. We met in a Pet Shop in Arizona when she was ten months old and it was love at first sight for both of us. I am frightened of animals – all of them – so this bonding was unusual in the extreme.

Paige was the first dog I have ever been able to touch and hold. She has always been gentle with me from the get-go and I have been sensitive to her needs. It’s like we were made for each other. When I would have to go away for a few days, she would stop eating. She follows me wherever I go. Her love for me is unconditional. She holds a special place in my heart.

I let the children name her. If it had been up to me, she would have been called ‘Lady’. The five children came up with Paige unanimously and Paige she is.

My husband readily admits that he is a mutt! It makes me laugh. Americans like to say they are made up of a percentage of the nationalities of all their ancestors and, as you know, the majority of Americans (bar the native Indians) descend from immigrants especially from Europe. My husband’s extended family comes from Norway, Denmark, Germany and Ireland. I, on the other hand, am a purebred! My ancestors come from Fordingbridge and Southampton for quite a few generations.

My ‘puppy’, Paige, is also a purebred. We have a great and natural understanding of each other. Perhaps we are subject to the myth that purebreds are a little insane due to interbreeding. Nevertheless, we are not mutts.

Paige is getting on in years and I am dreading the day when she has to cross the veil. She is so much a part of our family and I love her deeply. The past couple of years, her health has been declining. She always love to come on long walks with me and then she didn’t want to go any more. We would get a few hundred feet and she would be pulling on her leash to go home. We took her to the vets and eventually she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

The vet put her on some purple thyroid tablets – Levothyroxine 0.6 mgs. She started eating again, had more energy, and started to be able to go on small walks around the block. I was so happy she was feeling better.

One day a few months ago, I picked her up to put her in the back of the car to take her to the vets for one of her injections and a comprehensive examination. I felt something crusty under her belly. I couldn’t figure out what it was and wondered if she had another cyst that was weeping. When I got to the vets, I pointed it out. I left Paige at the vets as scheduled and rushed home to work.

A couple of hours later I got a call. The vet told me that she had open sores all over her body (how the heck did we miss that?!). The vet had done some research and discovered that Paige was allergic to the purple dye in the thyroid tablets. She went on to explain that the manufacturer had been told that some dogs were allergic to this dye but they hadn’t changed their product in any shape or form.

When we went to pick Paige up, they had cleaned up her wounds. Gobs of hair had come out of her coat and we could see all the open weeping lesions on her body. I found this extremely distressing. Paige had not shown any signs of pain that we had recognized.

We had to apply ointment to all her sores twice a day for two weeks. They covered most of her body – her back, her shoulders, her neck, all her tummy and her hind legs. Together with antibiotics and pain killers, her sores healed and the vet was very pleased to see skin growing back. She put her on some other thyroid tablets without any dye in them. It was a lower amount so we had to monitor Paige to see if the new dosage worked. I asked the vet to file a report to the manufacturer so that this wouldn’t happen to any other dog. I would hate to see any other dog suffering as much as my little girl had.

We took Paige into the vets again last weekend as we were worried that we saw blackening on her skin and she was having some more cysts appearing. We were also concerned as her hair wasn’t growing back on her body. We were lucky as the blackening wasn’t a repeat of the lesions, just old age. It turns out that the dye that caused the lesions also caused the hair follicles to be destroyed.

Paige will now have to either wear a doggie coat or have sunscreen put on her if she goes out in the sunshine. I feel so sad for her being physically scarred by this medicine. We now take our walks early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to be out.

I so love Paige and hate to see her suffering in her old age. She is so much a part of our family.

Rejecting Modernity! by Luke Martin-Jones

It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.

The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.

Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.

Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.

Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, whining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.

In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 3rd June, 2018)