August 14, 2012

Photo of a monkeyHaving suffered with depression and anxiety for many years, it came as no real surprise when I experienced a breakdown after the death of my father in '94. Having been very close to him it was a huge loss.

It came just a few months after a terrible accident at the school where I taught, in which 12 children and a close colleague were killed. The compound effects of both experiences and my inability to deal with the grief led to my collapse.

It was a collapse both physical and mental. After a period of time off work, some treatment at hospital and the support from my wife (we had only been married three months before the accident), I was able to return to work and get on with my life.

I had occasional bouts of depression but nothing like the breakdown

Things went well for the next ten years. We moved house, got established in our respective careers and in 2001 had our first child, a beautiful little boy, followed by another boy in 2004. During these years I had occasional bouts of depression but nothing like the breakdown. I dealt with these by burying myself in my new family, my career and self-medicating with alcohol, which seemed to help at the time (but of course it doesn't in the long run). All in all I was happier than I had been for many years.

After the birth of our second child, my wife became very seriously ill and was lucky to survive. However, the experience led her to re-evaluate her life and she realised she was not happy. The marriage then became increasingly difficult as we both dealt with the demands of young children and busy careers.

I moved to a new job in 2005... All was not well though

I moved to a new job in 2005, a significant promotion to a head of department post in a very prestigious college. It was the job I had always wanted and I finally felt I had arrived. All was not well though. Staff in my department seemed to resent me and I did not know why. I was not a demanding boss, put their interests before my own and generally did my best to support them . Things became increasingly difficult at work and at home. I felt I was under siege from both sides. Our youngest son had repeated bouts of illness which also added to the strain.

This situation continued until 2009 when I had another breakdown. The depression was back "big style" and I had to have time off work. My wife and I separated and I moved into a little flat. I struggled through the next two years and I'm afraid I had a pretty dreadful work attendance record. My colleagues became increasingly difficult, often making complaints to management behind my back.

My employer put me on what is known as "Capability Procedure"

I saw my boys only four days out of each month and eventually ended up in a bad state. My employer put me on what is known as "Capability Procedure", a long drawn out procedure which is supposed to be used to support staff who for whatever reason are not performing to the required standard.

In actual fact it is often used to drive "failing" staff out of their jobs by putting them under additional pressure of endless rounds of meetings, target-setting, performance management etc. I had seen this happen to other colleagues with mental health issues so I was prepared for what was to come.

My union secretary also reminded the college that "Capability" was not supposed to be used in cases of long term illness

My doctor wrote to the college asking them to suspend the procedure as it was contributing to my depression. My psychiatrist prepared a lengthy report including suggestions of how the college could support me. These representations on my behalf were largely ignored. My union secretary also reminded the college that "Capability" was not supposed to be used in cases of long term illness but to no avail. It was pretty obvious where things were going.

In March 2012 I was arrested in possession of an air-rifle, though no charges were made. Apparently, I had gone out to shoot a "rabbit for the pot". I have little recollection of the event but I was subsequently admitted to hospital and spent some time on the psych' ward.

In fairness, the college were understanding (or was it opportunistic) and provided me with a dignified way out, a voluntary redundancy package and a good reference, which I accepted. However, I would have preferred appropriate support during the preceding two years to enable me to keep my job. I am a good teacher and students I taught did well and enjoyed their studies.

my actions played a part in all of this but so did ignorance and prejudice towards mental illness

So, in the last 3 years I have lost my marriage, my children (my wife no longer allows me to see them), my home, my career (I won't be allowed to teach again), my reputation and my self-respect. Of course, my actions played a part in all of this but so did ignorance and prejudice towards mental illness.

I remain hopeful. Losing my job is actually presenting me with new opportunities (that's how I see it anyway). Getting involved in Time to Change is giving me the confidence to talk about my experiences in a way I have never done before.

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