Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Having a Nervous Breakdown.


That’s what we called it when I, aged 10 couldn’t stop crying. F Scott Fitzgerald called it ‘The Crack up’ and wrote in 1936:

‘Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work –the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within –that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick –the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but it is realized suddenly indeed.”

http://epigraf.fisek.com.tr/index.php?num=1163 you can read the whole piece here.

Last Sunday Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s spin doctor called it both cracking up and a nervous breakdown in a television programme where he gave a frank and honest account of his experience. Eight years before he worked for Blair he crashed after habitual heavy drinking. He found the crash terrifying and was convinced he was going to die. He also suffers from bouts of depression and thinks it is important to say openly he suffers a mental illness. The shame and stigma made life for him a waking hell but he gained strength from hearing about other’s experiences and he hopes his story may shed light on the problem.

Being in Fleet St there was a culture of heavy drinking – it wasn’t recognised as a problem and pubs were all around. Two of his friends didn’t realise there was a problem but admitted he was obsessive and would smoke over three packets of cigarettes a day. His partner Fiona agrees he is obsessive, and gets bored very easily which contributes to mental instability.

Alastair sees the breakdown as a positive experience but realises it was horrible to live with and wouldn’t have blamed Fiona for walking away. He changed his job which was a mistake and increased his drinking to relieve stress and tension. On a trip to Moscow he was very hyper and was drinking vodka for breakfast. The pressure made him drink more which made him work harder. He became irrational, refused to accept criticism and said it was like the Cresta run – down hill all the way. He would fly off the handle and go berserk. He was picking fights to escape criticism.

He flew to Scotland to do a profile on Neil Kinnock and began to lose control and behave abnormally. Patricia Hewitt remembered he was like a mad dog; she found him very hyper with his mind not stopping and getting masses of ideas. Pat had a sister who had had a series of breakdowns, became an alcoholic and died in 1990. She recognised some of the signs in Alastair. When Alastair was driving in a car he would notice signs which seemed to give him messages ‘ Head quarters’ ‘Private car park’ He felt his head would burst and just wanted to speak to a loved one. He couldn’t reach any of them by phone which increased his feeling of isolation.

His mind felt like a plate of glass and trying to get it on an even keel only made it worse and it shattered. A dinner for Kinnock was going on, pipes were playing and he felt everyone was looking at him oddly. He thought he was being tested to survive without any support. He could hear voices in his head and thought he was going to die.

He had feelings of persecution and paranoia and could hear every fragment of conversation which was telling him to get rid of his worldly goods – money and passport. Two men approached him – one of whom was a police officer. They asked him why he was here and he didn’t know. It was a mystery to him how his mind and memory worked- he heard he was banged up and in a fight.

He was put in a police cell and Fiona was told later he was close to having been taken to Barlinnie- the infamous prison. He revisits the cell and remembers the noise and music he heard and the fear and panic as he tried to think rationally. He had been asked if he wanted a drink and asked for their finest champagne. When he was asked if he was alright he saw it as a political question.

Patricia Hewitt vouched for him, Fiona was phoned and realising there was something terribly wrong went with her father to Scotland. The word on the street was he’d gone bonkers in Scotland. Friends were allowed to take him as long as he was hospitalised. He had never had private health insurance as he didn’t believe in it and when he saw the BUPA signs tried to leave but was persuaded they were just advertisements.

He remembered it was room 115 and when he revisited it a nurse remembered him. They had given him something to calm him and he was worried by the red and blue buttons near his bed; red was good but blue was bad. – more right and left - politics. When he saw Fiona and her father he burst into tears. He was close to his parents but they ‘had stuff going on’ and he didn’t want to bother them.

Asked by a doctor how bad was his drinking he said about 16 pints a day and a bottle of scotch which in his environment didn’t seem excessive. He then realised that drink had played a part and that he had a drink problem and he would stop drinking for 6 months. Alastair was looking for a solution so blamed the problem all on drink. After the episode he was very subdued and fell into a deep depression. He couldn’t face returning to London so went to stay with friends in Cheltenham.

He found the depression less frightening than the breakdown. In an act of friendship he was offered his old job back but at the lowest level which increased his depression. Even his nearest and dearest couldn’t understand his depression and it just maddened him trying to explain. They went to France for a holiday but he found the depression just goes with you; he said it’s like being dead and alive at the same time and takes a toll on your loved ones. He resisted getting help and wouldn’t admit he was mentally ill

He found the maxim ’one day at a time ‘ helpful and visualised it as the cricketer Geoff Boycott hitting the ball ’Thwack’ one day over, ‘Thwack’ another day over. A doctor told him he was like a pressure cooker where the steam had not been allowed to come out- there was no safety valve and he had used drinking as a safety valve. He had never been happy about taking drugs but sometimes took anti- depressants and they ‘did the trick.’

He spoke to journalist Sally Brampton who found she was waking up each morning at 3.20 precisely. When her doctor prescribed anti- depressants she was outraged – she didn’t do depression, but the pills didn’t work as she had resistant depression and sadly she was still suffering. Alastair said re alcohol he had the occasional drink but had never got drunk since the breakdown. He was told by a psychiatrist that he was surprisingly guarded and difficult to fathom.

Alastair re-assessed his way of life – accepted his obsessive ness and learned to live with it. Since he and Fiona had children he has known real happiness. He feels he has been through hell and back.

When he went to work for Tony Blair he told him all and Blair said if Alastair wasn’t worried he wasn’t.

‘What if I’m worried?’ Alastair asked

‘I’m still not worried.’ was the answer.

Pat Hewitt thought he had found ways of coping – without drinking and with all the physical exercise he does. She had found that nothing could be as painful as dealing with the death of her sister but the experience had made her stronger.

A psychiatrist said he wanted to be loved and sought perfection and that perfection was kinked to depression

Fiona worried when he was faced with the stress of the Iraq war and the tragic death of David Kelly – it was a horrible period but his family who adore him, got him through it. He still gets depression but knows that it will end and his hope is that other sufferers will gain comfort from his story.


scarlet-blue said...

Hello Pi, thanks for this posting. I'd avoided watching this programme as I have family members who suffer with depression and I thought it would make me feel worse, but now I wish I'd watched it! If it's repeated then I will.

Kim Ayres said...

I watched it.

I also recognised an awful lot of what he said.

I thought it was interesting that there was a difference of opinon as to whether the drink was the cause, or whether he had the problems and was using the drink to medicate.

I've often wondered whether my own tendency to Depression was triggered by teenage experiements with substances of dubious legality. Although I haven't touched anything like that in over 20 years, I've medicated in other ways since, primarily with food (which is why I ended up over 19 and a half stone at my heaviest).

But that's the problem. Once you realise your self medication of choice - be it drugs, food, shopping, sex, alcohol, gambling, or anything else - exacerbates the problem, and so quit it, you no longer have anything to medicate with. Rather than blotting out the pain, you have to experience it.

Again and again.

Unless you are eventually able to find an anti-depressant that works for you.

scarlet-blue said...

Hi Kim, it's interesting what you written here. Loads of complicated issues! I've had problems myself and it's impossible to conclude whether they're genetic based or behavioural. I think you have to learn what your triggers are etc and really know yourself. This is a big subject to talk about here, but you are not alone.

PI said...

Scarlet: I sometimes wonder if I am the only one interested in programmes like these so it is a relief to get comments like yours and it makes the scribbling notes for an hour and then trying to decipher them for a day, well worth while. It certainly wasn't a depressing programme and it made me change my uncharitable view of the man himself.

PI said...

Kim: My impression was that he latched on to the drink as the problem when it seemed to me to just exacerbate the problem. So stopping the drink didn't cure him but admitting that he had a mental illness helped him to cope.
It seems to me every case is different and there doesn't seem to be any explanation as to why one person should be plunged into despair and another isn't.
When a family member had a breakdown the first thing we were asked was if he took drugs but he didn't so that wasn't the answer. Bereavement could have had something to do with it but we never really knew the reason.
I remember drawing a circle to represent his head and placing round it all the happenings that could have affected this person even down to a goldfish dying.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Pat, please don't be too charitable about Campbell. The man is a git. After what he did to David Kelly he deserves to suffer. I have great sympathy and empathy for people with depression, but I wouldn't give them the key to 10 Downing Street either. He is still a calculating spin artiste, and is no doubt trying to win back public sympathy. I can't wait to read Private Eye's review of the programme.

kenju said...

I enjoy watching stuff like this on Discovery Health. I had to say it was unnerving when I read the name Patricia Hewitt, because I have a very good friend who once had that name. She is now married to someone else.....LOL

Eryl Shields said...

I don't need to have a TV when I have you, you give me the break downs on all the programmes that I would watch! This sounds a particularly interesting one, so thanks.

You wonder, or I do, how anyone could function at all on all that booze, and how they can squeeze it all in. Glad he's got it together now, poor bugger.

problemchildbride said...

I'm glad he's found some equilibrium. It sounds like he was really out of control. Good strong friends so often make the difference.

PI said...

Scarlet: nothing should be too big to talk about here especially mental illness . It needs to be brought out in to the public arena and treated as normal as physical illness so that the shame and stigma vanishes. I know and I expect you know that one's suffering is made worse by other people's attitude towards it.
When I have done posts previously on the same subject there have been many who said how grateful they were for the subject to be brought out into the open.

PI said...

Daphnne: I hear what you are saying and you are right but one can't help feling a little compassion. Let me know about Private Eye.

Judy: Patricia Hewitt is a Labour politician who I have never had much time for but again she spoke so movingly of her sister I really felt for her.

PI said...

Eryl: happy to oblige. I think Fleet Street journalists are or were a race apart as far as booze is concerned. Both his drinking pals didn't think he had a drinking problem - for obvious reasons I suspect.

Sam: yes he would have been lost without them. Fiona had asked her father if she should leave him before the breakdown but when it happened they both rushed up to Scotland to support him. and I know what a lot of courage that takes.

AndrewM said...

Supporting Burnley is never going to be easy.

Anonymous said...

It is not without calling back,Boris Nikolaïevitch Eltsine ,George Walker Bush...

I will go in the direction of Daphné !
To our seriously ill persons who govern us ...
First of all the depression is not a disease but a mood .
Then the alcoholism is bound only to a taste ,that of the drunkenness, the drunkenness of "pouvoir"( to be able ) In opposition of "vouloir" ( to want)!
We cannot cure the alcoholism short of antidepressant ( The effect of the placebo ).

The majority of the alcoholics are not depressive,as the majority of the depressive do not drink!
Understand why of how of the depression is sometimes mission impossible.
Sometimes the disease leads to it,sometimes the incapacity to face the life ,sometimes the impotence vis-a-vis the disease of close relation .
The depression is a big unknown !
While we try to look after the effects without connaitre the previous history ...!?

sablonneuse said...

I hadn't even realised this programme was on so I really appreciate your write up. Thank you, Pat.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I can't imagine HOW MANY people go undiagnosed in this country, I don't even know if we have that many psychiatrists.

I think there were one or two discussions with doctors on tv, a call-in programme, I felt really sorry for the callers, pleading for help. There isn't a single family that's untouched by depression. I wish more folks would talk about it openly.

Shane said...

I watched this programme just yesterday: For anyone who missed it, the programme is available on BBC iPlayer - just go to the BBC2 website and all will become clear.

I would have had time for AC before this programme, and I still do having seen it. Qualities such as the obessive streak, and being intelligent - fiercely so, would raise the propensity towards depressive episodes. There are degrees to which people cannot, and probably should not, be continually stimulated. From the programme, I thought that Fiona C., and Patricia Hewitt, came across very well. Less could be said of the Fleet Street crowd.

From a very personal perspective, I appreciate what Campbell does when he is open in this sort of fashion - he doesn't seem to enjoy the sharing or the self-analysis, but he does seem to be driven by a belief that it is important and right that these things should occur - and publically so. In our own home, this programme has sparked a trickle of conversation about anxiety and depression - and what these things can manifest as in everyday life. I say a trickle of conversation, as one of the discussants seemed to become very quiet at the suggestion of some of these issues lying much closer to home than might otherwise have seemed to be the case.

PI said...

Andrew.m: I assumed as he is obsessive about Burnley that he was born and bred there - but he wasn't.

Crabtree; it is very complex and difficult to understand the whys and wherefores. I think you probably know quite a lot about it.
I think there are three separate conditions - alcoholism, depression and - for want of a better word -madness. Whilst people will fairly readily talk about the first two, the third is shrouded in secrecy. It is a very frightening condition but it would be less so if it were more readily recognised. That is what I think.

Sandy: a pleasure:)

PI said...

GG: I couldn't agree with you more. It is still quite difficult to get help here and sometimes there has to be the threat of serious injury - either to the sufferer or the family before anything is done.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Hello Pi - thank you for such a heartfelt post. Depression runs deep in our family (though personally have rebelled in the opposite direction). Everyone has experienced this, or loved someone who has - we all should talk more.

PI said...

Shane: thank you for that information. I have just read a blistering crit in the DT and I'm glad you- more or less - had the same reaction that I had. The Fleet St lot were probably so soused themselves they couldn't admit a drinking pal had a problem.
And AM had the guts not only to admit to the drinking and depression but also the madness - the most difficult of them all.
Talking about these subjects has to be good. Things are not very cheery just now and I have observed that men are more likely to let the general gloom and doom affect them. Two or three moans a day are the most allowed in this house. Keep smiling:)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, once again, I was sure I left a comment here...OY! Blogger! LOL!


I was saying that I thought this was a very very interesting and thoughtfully informative post, Pat. The struggle of Alister is quite touching and one that you can tell from your writing about it was very very difficult. One thing that was quite nice to read was Tony Blair's wonderful support of this fragile man....How that must have bolstered Alister and made him feel less alone and more at peace with having shared it all with Blair. His wife's love and devotion under the most trying circumstances was very moving a nd deeply admirable....!
I think programs about these sorts of very human struggles are so important because it is a great great comfort to others who might be going through similar kinds of difficulties, whether the person themselves or their family's. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share this with all of us Pat....
Often, one of the biggest factors of an illness like this is how alone a person feels and the need to share this and express it is essential to getting better, I think. So, I say, the Hell with 'stiff upper lip' and all that...Let it all hang out! (lol)

Anonymous said...

Perfectly all right !
Knowing that it is not necessary to put everything at the expense of the madness .
There is not so for a long time were considered as madman and an internee, the trisomic ones ,the autistics that I have already mentioned ,the list is long ...

But I yours to say that your post is excellent !

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Just caught up with this... VERY interesting; thank you.

PI said...

Hi Kate! I'm glad you liked it and agree we should bring it out into the open more.

Naomi: my feelings exactly. incidentally I forgot to say his wife was so traumatised by it one side of her face became completely numb. I was disgusted when a journalist in the Daily Telegraph actually poked fun at this. What a pathetic excuse for a human being.

PI said...

Crabtree: in the bad old days some young girls who got pregnant ended up in asylums.
Thank you for your kind words.

Zinnia: I'm glad you found it interesting.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Fragile man! Pfffttt!!!! Where's the sympathy for poor old Dr Kelly? Even if he was alive to tell the tale, I think he wouldn't speak to another journalist as long as he lived. Campbell is a bully and a git, and I will tell him so to his face if I ever meet him.

PI said...

Daphne: there certainly was shock and horror in this house about the tragedy of Dr Kelly. That is something A C has to live with for the rest of his life - to be considered responsible for somebody's death.
Anyone reading what I wrote about nervous breakdowns wouldn't necessarily know about Dr Kelly. There are many things on the American scene that I have no knowledge of. I do understand the strength of your feelings.