February 10, 2014

andySometime you wonder how low you can go and if you have been at the top of your profession it’s a long way down. A friend of mine was there for me when I felt I had reached that place.

I used to be a Head Teacher, but the ravages of a small school take their toll, especially for a person with anxiety. Can you imagine the variables of disaster that could lurk within a school, staff, pupils, buildings, parents, advisors, dinner ladies? When you have anxiety you try to prevent problems, cross every ‘t’, dot every ‘i’ and pre-empt potential pit falls. Impossible in a school. On the surface I was Mr Congeniality, always calm, in control, pleasant, efficient organised. In my head I was slowly burning out.

I fell into the pits of a deep depression

One day the smouldering flame extinguished and I fell into the pits of a deep depression. After six months, it was clear that there was no way back to that job, at the grand old age of 45 in the words of the Local Education Authority I was terminated. I didn’t know if I would be eligible for a retirement pension, with five children, a big mortgage and ill health I threw myself at the discretion of the benefits system. Although I had been unable to return to teaching due to my mental health difficulties, I had to have a medical to maintain incapacity benefit system. So there I was sat in the dole office waiting to plea for £87 a week.

A friend of mine had arranged to take me for a coffee

I left the dole office feeling low but a friend of mine had arranged to take me for a coffee, he listened to my woes and encouraged me to keep going and not give up. It was great that my friend had arranged this meeting on the same day as I did not know how low I would feel after this appointment. It was helpful being able to chat to somebody who was not a counsellor or a family member, someone who did not have to make a judgment, but just be there as a friend.

This small action meant I had a distraction and a chance to talk

This chat was more than just a coffee at the time; it was just at the right time. You may not know the impact or the timing of a small gesture. If I had gone back to an empty house I may have dwelt on the consequences of the day more, but this small action meant I had a distraction and a chance to talk before I burdened my family.

My friend Ernesto met me on several occasions and although sometimes I had to make a big effort to go it was always worth it as bending an ear is a great relief when you feel down. It is heartening to know that people care and are still there for you. The biggest thing I found was that my pride had been hurt and I couldn’t see a way out of the situation, as this friend knew me before my breakdown he was also aware of my achievements and could refer to these. Is it hard to go to work when you are ill, yes, but it is harder when you have no work to go to and you realise that you are not well enough to work, this is when you need a good friend.

A friend was there for me when I needed him most

On appeal I maintained my benefits and eventually got my pension. A friend was there for me when I needed him most. He could not wave a magic wand but he offered me a hand up when I was down, listened and encouraged. Now I would love to be able to use the life experience I have had to be that friend to people who find themselves heading for a low point hopefully before they arrive there.

Thanks Ernesto.

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