Friday, July 4, 2008

out of the mouth of madness

In the Mouth of Madness I've recently added In the Mouth of Madness to my list of favourite films. It begins with Sam Neill confined to an old-style asylum, and flashbacks flesh out the story, or alternatively peel the layers of sanity from John Trent's (Neill's character's) mind.

Perhaps the reason that particular film has been on my mind is that my own illness, manic-depression, is active again. No flying weetabix this time, merely an ineluctable descent into a pit whose bottom I can't yet see, accompanied by my sleep-wakefulness pattern flipping so that, cognitively, I'm on the nightshift.

Often an affective disorder such as mine varies in intensity during the day, a phenomenon known as diurnal variation. I've spent a lot of time in the bedroom in the last days until my mood's started to come round late on, because supportive although my family is at these times I'm aware that I don't want to push them too far by being conspicuously slowed-down and irritable in their midst. Yesterday, in fact, able to get a bit of strength together, I went out a took a bus ride while Minima and Minora were still at school, so that Maxima could get a bit of a rest.

As may be obvious I'm not at work right now. I may find it difficult to return, for reasons I can't go into right now due to contractual considerations. At night I'm applying for jobs online, things like working in cafés or libraries. But the prospect of not managing to return to work at all has been preying on my mind, so I got off the bus at the Jobcentre, where I explained the situation to the lady at the front desk.

"To receive Incapacity Benefit you would need your doctor to agree that you couldn't work," she said, with emphases so heavy that I'm not sure they shouldn't be in bold rather than in italics. I nodded and walked off, reminded of an acquaintance from the Cambridge Clubhouse - as was - who had his Incapacity Benefit stopped, and lost his appeal in no small part because he was able to appeal. One of the staff helped him get back about this, on the basis that his mental health problems were impacting on his mental state, not on his ability to pick up a pen and write. Recovered now, he's back at work programming computers.

For me, signing on to benefit would be the last resort of last resorts. I've nothing against people who are on benefits because they are unable to work, indeed at one point I was among their numbers. I find myself baulking at the prospect of returning for three reasons.

Firstly, I genuinely believe that work confers a dignity that is not attached to the size of the wage it brings in, something Pope John Paul II (a factory-worker during the Nazi occupation of Poland) referred to when he said, "the sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one". It's good to come home and revel in that delicious change of mental scenery when work-related concerns are pushed out by Minora sings the latest song she's learnt at school, or relates how Kelsy told her that she heard from Dean that Sky says that James told Mrs Smith that...(do writers for soaps get their ideas from their children?)

Secondly, I am aware that a culture has arisen in Great Britain whereby people who could work don't want to, or don't want to do the work available, and I don't want locums etc who meet me to assume I'm part of this group. Ann Widdecombe found this in the course of making a documentary about Incapacity Benefit claimants. Martin Townsend, editor of the Sunday Express, wrote in a column called "Don't Call in Sick:

"Sickness absence accounts for £10billion [per year]...I’d like to believe that the vast majority of those claiming these benefits are doing so honestly. Indeed, I’m compelled to believe it every time I write about this subject because of the large numbers of letters I receive from genuinely sick and disabled readers pointing out how alienated they feel by the 'sick-note' tag."
Earlier this yeaclick to go to Transworld reviewr, Townsend received the Mind Book of the Year for his The Father I Had, which details the relationship between the author and his father, who was manic-depressive. This brings me to the third reason: when you don't have to go somewhere at certain times to do certain things, then despite your best intentions there comes a time when you stop. Work keeps you going, because if you are well enough to do it, then you have no option but to keep going. It keeps you thinking, and if nothing else then hopefully you will have worked through the worst of your mental state before you get home.

Anecdotal evidence shows that people who are manic depressive can point to at least one person in their close family who either has been diagnosed with a similar disorder, or whose behaviour points to similar states of mind. If the worst comes to the worst and one of my daughters should inherit the condition, I don't want a great tranche of her memories of my coping mechanisms to be allowing myself to become "stopped" to the extent that I forgot how to work.

It's 2.25am. My mood's starting to lift, but I'd better get to bed so that I can be up early enough tomorrow morning to be at least tired by this time tomorrow night; that can be half the battle to get back to the plâteau between the valley of death and the Weetabix flightpath.

Please remember me and all like me in your prayers.

Related post: Mad about the fen

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