‘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.

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