The last few weeks have been tough mentally and physically, with depression kicking in and leaving me tired and emotional. I’ve had issues with oversleeping, then being awake until the early hours.
Today looked like it was shaping up to be another heavy day, as after I’d dropped my wife off in the morning, I thought I’d be retreating back under the duvet until she needed picking up later in the afternoon. It seems to be my default setting at the moment.
Imagine my surprise when I got home and walked our lovely dog, Breeze, cut some firewood, before settling down with 2000AD and a cuppa. Then, I managed to scrub the bathroom, unload and reload the dishwasher, before sorting the broadband and having lunch. No sign of needing a nap or hiding away from life.
And then, get this, I headed out early to go for a skate. I’ve been wanting to skate for weeks, but my depression has been stopping me by making my tired or scared. I was almost too scared to skate today, as when I got to the skatepark, there were two other people there. I have anxiety about doing stuff when other folks are around, as I worry about showing my self up. I got out of the car, almost bottled it, then picked up my board and wondered what was the worst that could happen.
So, the two at the park where younger than me, and even though they could skate better than me, they were okay, and I did my best, and managed to flow round well, getting some kick turns and fakie rolls in, feeling better with each turn on the ramp. I stayed for about 30 minutes, then went back to the car to read some Ruby Wax, feeling much better.
I’ve written about music a lot on here, about how much it means to me, and how making music really helps with my mental health. Well today, I finished off an EP of harmonica jams that I started on a few weeks back.
When I got to college back in 1987, I was an indie loving Smiths fan, and dressed accordingly, but the crowd I fell in with were all metal heads, lovers of Slayer and Metallica. Well, before you knew it, I was growing my hair long, dressing in skinny jeans and Hi-Tec boots, and listening to a lot of metal. I bought a lot of the same stuff as my friends, but the two bands that stood out for me, and which I discovered for myself were Suicidal Tendencies and The Stupids.
It wasn’t just the music that got me, both bands had strong connections with the skate scene, and I was skating a lot at the time, amongst college work and drinking Newcastle Brown. Both bands seemed like a natural fit to me, so I bought everything I could by them. Fast forward 30 years, and I still love Suicidal Tendencies and The Stupids, and have been buying up their back catalogue on CD. Heck, I’ve even started skating again!
So, making music… I’ve been slowly returning to playing harmonica again, as my mental health has improved, which has really helped with my recovery, and is really good fun too. I started working on the idea of a new EP a few weeks back, and have been playing the pieces more and more, getting the sounds I wanted. I demoed them in Garage Band first, then got a lovely new Pignose amp and a new Tascam recorder, getting the sound quality just how I like it.
Today, I played all the pieces again, and did some minimal mastering in Adobe Audition to get the sound just right. These jams are inspired by The Stupids and Suicidal Tendencies from back in the day, and Gurt from more recently. Oh, and the EP title is a Stupids song. I’m really happy with how they’ve come out… quite simple pieces, but played with gusto and energy. I did some artwork, and put them up on Bandcamp this afternoon.
Getting this EP done and dusted means a lot to me, as it’s a good indicator of where my mind and health is. I really enjoyed putting them together, and hope you enjoy listening to them. Hey, you could even download them if you want, as they’re free!
I have a pile of things I want to do… canvases to paint, models to build, books to read and so on, but they haven’t been touched.
Depression sucks the life out of you at times, sapping all of your energy, so that it takes all of your effort and energy just to make it through the day, watching the clock, and wondering when it would be okay to go to bed.
Today has been one of these days. I was up reasonably early to get to the doctors and then the gym for a planning session, but once I got home again, all I could do was curl up on the bed and go back to sleep.
We had some people round later to do some work on the house, as we are redecorating downstairs (there’s another whole can of worms/blog post…), and all I could do was stay upstairs out of the way. Depression meant I couldn’t handle interacting with others, so I hid.
I’ve not been hard on myself though, as mental health can make you, as I realised a day of not doing much apart from reading comics and watching cartoons was what I needed to feel better and be able to tackle the rest of the week. Self-care is really important.
Tomorrow we start putting our new front room together, adding some real character to our home, and over the weekend, most of our new furniture should be put out. We are creating a waram and cosy room where we can read, watch TV, draw, whatever. It will make a huge difference to our life and our health.
I bought a new ‘boombox’ today, as my old tiny one is starting to wear out. You can hear it on tapes, that weird slowing down when a tape is being stretched. As a cassette collector with OCD tendencies, I want to make sure my tapes stay in good condition.
I’ve loved having music on tape since an early age, my favourite Christmas present when I was 12 was a bright blue Sony Walkman. I was into electronica then, with lots of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre. Oh, and hip hop too…
I got through so many Walkmans in my youth, wearing them out on a regular basis. I loved making mix tapes, and taping new albums from vinyl, so they stayed in pristine condition. I carried on making mix tapes up until a few years back, until I had a big clear out and got rid of my tape collection, which I now regret. I loved having music on tape, loving the sound you can only get from cassette.
A couple of years back, I got into a few record labels, namely Riding Easy and Strange Famous, both of whom release amazing music on vinyl and cassette. I bought a tape from Riding Easy, the amazing Red Desert, and then starting buying tapes from Strange Famous, starting with B. Dolan’s ‘House of Bees Volume 3’. I tend to get obsessed with record labels, tending to collect most of their output. Strange Famous are really generous when they send out orders… I have been sent extra tapes, stickers, posters and badges when receiving packages from them. Stuff like that just makes me love a label more.
So coming full circle, I am starting to build up a tape collection again, and have a Sony to play them on, not a Walkman, but a boombox. Here’s to plenty more releases on cassette, and having a decent collection again, keeping my tendencies in check!
After struggling with depression and anxiety this morning, I planned to spend some time this evening playing my harmonicas, just seeing where the music took me.
My default setting for the harmonica is the blues, I mean, harmonicas just make me think blues straight away. Most of my favourite harmonica players are blues musicians, and slow blues and heavy rock seem to be the kids of sounds I make.
Making music is great therapy, whether alone or with others. Playing music gives me a great lift, and the upset of this morning was blown away like autumn leaves whilst I came up with riffs and solos today. I am much calmer and happier now.
I came up with a couple of pieces this evening, one a more rolling bluesy track, the other riffing on my favourite composer, Aaron Copland, and his wonderful piece ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. Copland is a family favourite, our mum loved Copland, and we played some of his ‘Appalachian Spring’ at her funeral earlier this year. Copland also scored the 1930s film version of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece ‘Of Mice and Men’ (another of mine and mum’s favourites – I still have her copy). Lots of connections.
I plan returning to ‘Fanfare’ later, blending Copland’s score with a bluesy touch, but for now, here is my first take, I hope you like it…
I’ve had a rough day today… not feeling too good about myself and my attitude, I spent the morning at college on my Counselling Diploma. This morning, we were working in groups presenting controversial issues to each other and letting the debates ensue. I dug myself further and further into my cave, withdrawing from the room and the ensuing debates.
I presented our groups issue (enforced euthanasia) with sheer bloody mindedness, stayed for the following group, made my excuses and left, knowing that my mood and mental state would not be conducive to learning that afternoon.
After a long lunch and a cuddle with my wife on my return home, I packed up my fishing rods and backpack and headed back to my favourite fishing spot of the summer, “my pond”. Just walking down the towpath in the late autumn sun made me feel better. The canal was high after heavy rain last week, and the trees were mostly bare, allowing more to be seen in the fields around the canal.
Arriving at the pond, the feelings of the morning faded, and a warm smile spread across my face. It is good to be back at one of my favourite places to relax. The pond seemed a little different, as it is not covered by so much foliage now, but it has lost none of its magic calming effect. Being in nature is such a tonic to me in times of distress and upset.
After fishing with my good friend Rolf at the end of last week down in Hampshire (I was after Pike, Rolf was after Carp), I was certain that there is a dirty great big Pike in the pond… I had seen it briefly over the Summer, and the lack of water birds on the pond confirmed it to me and my friends. Rolf has kindly set me up with Pike rigs and a bigger landing net, so Im determined to go after the Pike in the pond, alongside fishing for the larger Roach that are definitely in there too.
Here’s to an exciting Winter at a lovely spot, and catching some big fish. It makes me happy.
Urgh, what a week. My brain has been tripping me up over the last few days, leaving me in a depressed state and on occasion, close to tears.
Yes, I know it’s not my brain directly, as it is an organ which carries and processes chemical and electrical signals throughout the body, amongst other things. It’s how you choose to act on these impulses that causes the problem and issues. Of course, if you haven’t taken prescribed medication, supported a partner with serious mental health issues, written assignments, made music, drawn, written…
As I got so physically tired out by the end of Monday, after studying counselling all day, I was shattered and the week loomed ahead of me, full of meetings, conferences, projects and assignments. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me. Been there, done that. I got my fresh supply of meds, turned off my alarm and cancelled what I could. I know that getting so exhausted was an alarm call warning me to back off and slow down. I took heed and stopped. The last time this happened, I didn’t heed the warning, and ended up being signed off work for three months. Mind you, this was one of the best things to happen to me, as it gave me time to take stock, focus on my needs and decide what I wanted from the future.
The first thing to go was my job. Working in education has been amazing, but it was costing me my mental health. That last spell was my third serious ‘episode’ of depression in 10 years working in education as a teacher, library assistant and media technician, not all at the same time, however!
So, I decided to really focus on being self-employed as an artist and designer, educating myself about mental health, restarting my counselling studies, making comics and music, and looking after me. Yes, there’s my trait of taking on too much, but I was self-aware, ready for the fallout and had support in place. Since January 2014, I have rebuilt our art and design business from the ground up; written, drawn and published three comics; released loads of music and played it live (performing live was a big scary thing to tackle); passed my Level 3 Counselling course; started networking for business and pleasure; started my Level 4 Counselling course and a ton more besides. Yes, I still try and do too much, but I’m happy and in charge of my life now. I’m closer to my wife, our children and my family; I walk our dog most days and play fetch with her; cycle when possible; enjoy reading more often; listen to way more music and podcasts and generally look after myself and the world I inhabit.
I’m proud of where I am now, and as I can read the warnings now and know what to do. Life might catch me out sometimes, but I can stop it from completely pulling the rug from under me.
I got a letter from the college I’ve been studying (and used to work at…) at today, offering me a place on the CPCAB Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling Level 4 course. I’m really happy about this, as this is another big step to my becoming a qualified counsellor.
I started studying counselling 2 years ago, when the head of the counselling faculty recommended that I took the Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Studies, as there wasn’t an assertiveness course at the college, and this would be a good start. This was a short ten-week course, and as I progressed through it, the modality we studied, person centred therapy, clicked with me and made such sense. It was so natural and intuitive, and felt like this was something I’d known for years. I also had a new hero, Carl Rogers, the father of person centred therapy.
By the end of the course, I’d made some really good friends, and more importantly, realised I could help others. This was reinforced by one of my friends telling me to go onto Level 3 and become a counsellor, as there aren’t that many male counsellors, especially those that work with children…
See, after we’d been on holiday with our grandson, who was 9 at the time, I started researching child development. Our grandson was behaving like a stereotypical moody teenager at the time, and I really struggled with this. After some online research, I found out that puberty starts early with lots of younger children, around 9. This must be really scary, as it’s bad enough when you’re older dealing with mental and physical changes, but imagine going through it at such an early age… Now, the reason I’d been recommended going on an assertiveness course at my college (I was working there at the time…), was that I had issues dealing with disruptive ‘bad’ behaviour from teenagers, and needed to learn better strategies to deal with this kind of behaviour. They are going through massive changes just like our grandson was.
So at the time I started Level 3, in September 2013, I had decided that my focus was to work with younger people, and help them through this time of amazing transformation from child to adult. I got three weeks in and had a complete breakdown, and was signed off work for three months, due to mental health issues. My plan to become a counsellor had stalled, though our lovely head of faculty told me it was fine, and that I could restart the course the following year. Phew.
Level 3 Counselling was amazing. I learnt so much, about myself, about others, how we are all different and all have issues. It was also empowering for me as I became the only male student in the group, and I really learnt how to talk to and understand women as equals, not that I’ve ever had an issue with this anyhow. The course also allowed me to be completely open and congruent with others, talking about issues which had held me back for years, viewpoints I held, and attitudes which caused me issues in the past. I felt so much better as a person in all aspects, and I finally put to bed the notion that I was stupid, as I had not done well academically in the past. Being told that my course portfolio had passed was a very proud moment, as I focussed in a way I hadn’t before, reading, checking facts, cross referencing and evidencing my work. The exam was okay, and we have to wait until April for the results, but I was really happy with how I applied myself to revising, and was confident with all of the answers I gave.
Level 4 is two years of hard work, and I’m already determined to focus really hard on my studies. We’ll start counselling others too, as we have to have at least 100 hours of counselling under our belts. It’s going to be hard, but I’m relishing the opportunity to push myself and challenge my preconceptions and attitudes. After this, I’ll be looking for a placement to start my counselling career, which will run alongside my creative one.
These are amazing times, and the best is yet to come. Thanks for reading.
Revising for a counselling exam (today…) meant little time for anything else other than our business last week, so I’ve been unwinding with drawing and reading comics. The knee is still a little problematic, so physical activities have been gentle, mostly walking our lovely German Shepherd, Fizz. BUT, I did get out to ride BMX for a short while while with our grandson at the end of the week.
I ride Flatland, while is kinda like gymnastics on a bike. Flatlanders are sometimes seen as the outcasts of BMX. I’m not very good at it, but it’s a wonderful mix of fun, meditation and skill. When I’m riding, I don’t tend to think about anything else, just zoning out and being in the moment. But I love it, it makes me happy. It’s amazing to me that I still ride when I’m 45… I thought I’d stop at 40 for some silly reason. I don’t want to quit. The knee wasn’t even an issue either, which was a nice bonus.
I’ve ridden BMX on and off since I was 12. I bought a cheap BMX again in 1997, and it’s my favourite form of cycling. I have a really nice bike now, worth silly money, but it fits me like a glove, and is part of me. Flatland has led to making some amazing friends, travelling around the UK for comps and jams (I even won a prize at one!), writing for websites (www.global-flat.com), and meeting fellow riders from all over the globe. When I go to comps and jams, it’s like being with family. It’s another part of me.
I could write so much about what Flatland has given me, in fact, I used to have another blog about it, but I’ll just go out for another ride. I’ll be the older dude in the car park, rolling in circles on a BMX with a big smile on my face.
JAN: A truly fresh start. I quit my job in Further Education after almost 10 years of stress, depression and break downs. Time to focus on myself and my family and what we want out of life. After a few years of our art and design business ticking over, it was time to make it work for us and make a living doing what I do best and love doing. It was time to think of others, as my wife’s mental health collapsed, for want of a better word, and I became her carer, as she had a complete mental breakdown and was bed-ridden for the first three months of the year…
I signed on for benefit for the first time in 20 years too, whilst I worked on getting our business off the ground and making sure we had some money coming in. I also made my first attempt at running, taking our German Shepherd, Fizz to the park and running laps.
FEB: I restarted my Level 3 Counselling course, ironically at the college that used to employ me. I’d started studying counselling the year before, as it was a way to work on my assertiveness. Something clicked whilst doing that short, ten week course, and I realised I could work as a counsellor alongside my art and design work. The theory side of person-centred counselling clicked in straight away, and I was able to start learning the practical side through role play. Level 3 allowed us to study concepts and theory in greater depth, develop our practical skills in role play and trio sessions, and work towards Level 4 and qualifying as a counsellor.
The course also enabled me to address a lot of deep-rooted psychological issues that have held me back for years. The sense of friendship, support and understanding the group have given me is invaluable, and I’ve been proud to be a part of it and to see how we’ve all grown through the year.
MAR: Induction day for our business. I went on a course to develop my business skills and to start writing a business plan to get funding for our art and design business. It was an interesting day, as I was surprised by the attitude of some folks on the course, given that we were all coming from unemployment into self-employment… People were talking about properties they owned that were generating income from renting them, widescreen TVs, latest iPhones, flash cars, all that kind of thing… Is there a bigger problem with people on income being dishonest, or am I missing a trick? We have struggled really badly with debt and affording to live this year, as we have been honest about our situation, and worked really hard on making our business a success. My wife has been earning small amounts of money through on-line surveys, as she is still not well enough to work, and there are small amounts coming in through the business, but life is tough.
We are fortunate that we have a home, food and heat, but we also have debt that needs resolving. We could lose our house. This is not a whine or call for sympathy, just a statement of fact. Things will improve, as the business is working and will work even better in the New Year. Working for ourselves is the best decision we have ever made, and will work out in time.
APR: Laid a laminate floor, decorated our lounge and did lots of dog walking. Lovely sunny times…
MAY: Our business, Morgan Gleave Art and Design, officially commenced trading, and I came off benefit! We launched a brand new website, made fliers, went networking, attended events and courses, got in our village paper, and probably did lots more that I’ve forgotten!
My wife seemed to be getting much better from her breakdown in January, but was still unable to work, due to anxiety, stress and depression. Small tasks at home were her limit, and she needed company in the evenings, which meant lots of time watching stuff on iPlayer, drawing and playing Scrabble.
A really busy, eventful month.
JUN: Started ‘Offline Experiment’ blog, as a reaction to too much time and attention given to social media. The intention was to talk about stuff I was doing ‘offline’, in the real world, actually physically interacting with other people and nature. Lots of dog walking and getting back on my road bike, determined to get fitter and be outside more.
Nature has always meant a lot to me. I love walking and riding in woodland, it’s a very special place for me, and where I feel at peace.
JUL: Our dog, Fizz, turned six. We made her a birthday ‘cake’ out of dog food with candles on it and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. She liked the cake, not sure about the singing…
It was also my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, for which we threw her a surprise party in Romford… She really didn’t have a clue, even after a year of planning! She called me on the morning of the party as I was returning from the hall to drop off party food! I said I wasn’t up to much, even though I was on a main road in Romford with heavy traffic… To cap it all, she managed to hospitalise herself with de-hydration, so my stay in Essex was a little longer than expected!
AUG: Trip to London for a ‘zine workshop at the BFI Southbank, which was brilliant fun and really enjoyable. It was a little odd being the oldest person in the group (even older than the workshop leader!), as the title of the workshop was ‘Teenage Kicks’, centred around films and TV we watched when we were teenagers. We all contributed a page of artwork to a zine which was produced at the BFI whilst we watched a very unusual film ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ (1995) that was really cool. A great day, even with a late drive back up to Leicestershire.
This trip also gave me an opportunity to see my lovely friends in Hampshire, who I stayed with the night before. I also caught my first ever fish, a 10lb 8oz Carp! This was also the point that I decided to get a mini-comic of my own, with my character, Patches McGinley, Feline Occult Investigator. I did everything at home, including printing, which I’m really proud of. I’ve been writing and drawing comics for as long as I can remember, but never self-published. I never felt my work was ‘worthy’. Stuff that! I’m now writing a MASSIVE comic about the history of hip hop, and published my second mini-comic at the end of November.
SEP: Birthday month! I turned 45 this year, and have reached the point in life where age doesn’t matter. Age is an irrelevant cage put on us by society, which can mean some people never achieve their true potential as they are too scared. Rubbish. You can do what you want when you want. I love comics, cartoons, toys, BMX, and have quite a childlike outlook on life. You have to enjoy life and remember that every day is amazing.
During this month I also made ambient harmonica music, submitted my illo for ‘Teenage Kicks 2’, which was properly printed in full colour. I rediscovered my love of jazz and funk, started meditating again and found my mojo!
OCT: Business orientated, with LOTS of networking and events. Pitched on a lot of work, (some of which we got!) cycled A LOT, went for regular walks with Fizz, made harmonica hip hop, performed my ukulele songs live, did a comics workshop and started running!
There were lots of changes for the business, and lots of promotion too, which is working really well for us. I also went on a social media for business course which was excellent, and really rewarding. Oh, and our fourth grandchild was born!
NOV: Renewed efforts with ‘Offline Experiment’, as it seems the right place to talk about life. I started Trail Running, as road running is not good for my knees. Found my sport! November also saw me take on the ‘mini-comic challenge’, which was to draw at least 12 pages of comics by the end of the month. I easily managed this, and now have copies of my Carl Rogers mini-comic printed out and flying around the world!
It was a difficult month, as my wife had a very bad relapse of depression, and I had to take her to a ‘crisis team’ who specialise in psychiatric diagnosis and care. Different medication and counselling are working well now, and life is much easier.
There’s been lots of illo and design work coming in, and lots of travelling. London, Hampshire and Essex were visited before the end of the year. I went to the British Museum for the first time ever and travelled first class!
DEC: I drove so many miles in this last month, I thought I’d wear the car tyres out in record time! A full day of networking in London, including an hour of speed networking at the end… I was shattered, but proud. Essex and back twice, Hampshire, and all around Leicestershire, a nice mix of business and pleasure. And here we are at the end of the year… What a doozy!
Thanks for reading! See you in 2015!
PS: If you would to see or hear any of the projects I created this year, please get in touch!