Monday, 9 October 2017

My battle with depression. Mood swings and medication #WorldMentalHealthDay


Today, Tuesday 10 October is World Mental Health Day.

As part of my commitment to speak out about my mental health issues and tackle discrimination in our communities and the workplace I have the following to say.
I am a mental health social worker.

In February 2016, my mind and body ground to a complete standstill.

I had been running on empty for far too long.

I know now that I had deliberately avoided tackling something I did not want to accept, my depression.

It was a scary day when I walked into the GP surgery.

As a mental health social worker I was fully aware of what could happen if I really said what was going around in my head day after day.

I had gone through in my head what I would say, but within minutes I broke down in front of the GP. If I am honest, it was a relief, it was not as bad as I had thought.

In my experience sometimes we can work ourselves up to the point that we become paralysed with fear and subsequently, we don’t seek help.

For others, only you will know if and when you feel able to trust and open up.

I know there are many who have opened up and the response has been brutal, either with being bullied in school or being rejected by friends and/or family or simply being ignored.
After nearly 18 months since my breakdown it is already a hazy memory.

I can’t believe that my days were largely getting up taking my mediation, drinking some coffee, reading until I fell asleep, then waking up again and doing the same.

Day after day after day the same pattern. 

(Note to employers, this is possibly one reason why workers off with depression may not respond to letters).

For those who know me, the idea that I could be so inactive is probably quite shocking but I had nothing left in me.

That is what Depression did and can still do to me.

I had ignored it and it gradually took over my life.

At this point I want to share a video made by the World Health Organisation it is called

“I had a black dog, his name was depression

I really recommend it because for me it sums up just what Depression had done to me over a long period of time.

Medication: Yes or No?
In my case I was initially offered medication which I declined, but on my second meeting I agreed reluctantly to take it.

I know I was lucky because I was also offered six counselling sessions as part of the whole treatment.

I do not like medication.

In my mental health work I have seen just how bad the side effects can be for some.
In some cases they add to the problems and often require more medication to counter the side effects.

But eventually I had to concede for the time being I would have to take Sertraline.

This was a big deal for me. Those mental health work colleagues who have worked with me would be surprised at this admission.

Yes, I had a number of side effects. Some stayed, some went away.

It took a long time for me to get used to taking medication every day and thinking ahead to remember to put in for a repeat prescription.

I have been to my GP surgery more times in the last 18 months than in the last 18 years.
But all the time I was thinking “when will I stop?”

I remember at a funeral of one of my childhood friends up north I was shocked by how many men admitted to taking anti-depressants. Many had been taking them for years and some felt they couldn’t risk coming off them.

I do admit, I have stopped taking the medication just for a few days, then started back on, just to see if I noticed anything.

I didn’t which sort of made me think I could stop.

However, in the last 18 months there have been some pretty bad times when the negative thoughts seem to flood into my brain.

When this happens I find myself asking “will this ever end?”

I do find myself trying to fight these thoughts, I try to distract myself, (not with alcohol) sometimes it works, sometimes I just let it wash over me and hope that I come out ok.

I found something that worked.

It may surprise some.

But I had my first holiday in over 7 years this summer. After spending time with Mum for her birthday in August I had a week on the ‘Riviera, the Yorkshire Riviera”.

It hit me hard but in a nice way. I was relaxing for the first time in what seems a long time ago.

Relaxing provided me with space for HOPE.

Without Hope, there is nothing and that is not a path I want to tread.

Today, Tuesday 10 October 2017 is World Mental Health Day and I am taking my last medication. I have been to my GP and we agreed a plan. I have been weaning myself off the mediation for a while.

Will I ever have to take mediation again?

I hope not, but I want to give it a try, and if it doesn’t work out there will hopefully be another time.

To everyone out there who has taken some time to read my ramblings I want to wish you a Happy World Mental Health not for just today but for the rest of your life.

#WorldMentalHealthDay


Thursday, 13 July 2017

I hate you Depression


" I hate you depression. 


You haunt me and turn up when you are not welcome. 

You disappear for months on end then bang, you're back expecting to be fed and watered. 

I know you have always been a part of me, I just never wanted to admit it to myself. 

But, you forget I am an organiser. 

I know your powers. I know your weaknesses. 

This time I'm ready for you. 

Do your worst I fear you no more!

Sssh, I'll let you into a little secret. 

I talk. 

I talk about you. 

I don't care what you say or do. 

Others know you. 

They have told me about you and what you do to them. 

Well Depression. 

We're not hiding away . 

We are talking and we are going to keep on talking because we know your game see. 

You seek to isolate us, keep us from talking to others just so we spend more and more time with you. 

We know it's not easy. You are strong but we are getting stronger together. 

We are standing together in solidarity which is something you don't like. 

I'm going now, do your worst, I'm not afraid of you anymore."

Wishing all good mental health 

Solidarity 

John 

Monday, 3 July 2017

“Would you challenge disability discrimination in the workplace?”

In March 2017 I wrote a short post entitled “Disability Workplace Scenario: What would you do?”
Here it is:
“In a workplace I know there is a regular meeting held in a room.
The room for one of the workers is inaccessible because of their disability.
Several colleagues have raised the accessibility issue with the employer, but the meetings continue to be held in the same room.
Some of the workers colleagues refuse to attend the meeting in the room with the employer and sit in solidarity with the worker with the disability, a electronic link is provided in the room, but it does not allow those not in the room to fully participate in the meetings.
My question to grassroots trade unions members is what would you do?
1. Sit in solidarity with the worker and apply pressure on the employer to move to a fully accessible room.
2. Ask the employer to move to a more accessible room but continue to sit in the room with the employer.
3. Just sit in the room with the employer and do nothing.
I know what I would do, but interested in what others think is right.”
It attracted a good deal of opinion including one which suggested contacting the union.
Well, have a read of this Blog post entitled: “I wish UNISON would make all NEC meetings fully accessible”
The post was written Wednesday, 15 July 2015 by Max Watson one of the hardest working trade union reps I have ever met.
He wrote the article to highlight the plight of one of NEC UNISON reps.
Read the article yourself, but from what I can gather the current situation is still ongoing as Max wrote
“A consistent group of conscientious NEC members, in solidarity with the Local Government General Seat member, Paul Holmes, who is not able to go up to the ninth floor, sit with him in a video conference room on the first floor. It is just not right to leave our fellow NEC member sitting alone talking through a mic to the rest of the council just because he has a disability.”
Tomorrow the new NEC are meeting for the first time.
There is now a much bigger group UNISON Action Broad Left looking to make our union more ‘transparent, accountable and democratic.’ We must get behind them.
For now they number 29.
As for the issue raised by Max I hope common sense will prevail and the current seating arrangement is dealt with, just like we would deal with it if it was an employer.
I agree with Max when he states:
“There is a simple, agreeable solution: to all meet on the ground floor.”
Do you agree with Max?

If this solution is not accepted I would hope there are at least 29 UNISON NEC reps sitting in solidarity on the first floor. 

#UNISONGATE: “Burgess & Ors” submit Appeal to Employment Appeal Tribunal


On 22 May 2017 the Assistant Certification Officer (ACO) issued a 114 page report in response to a number of complaints.

Whilst the ACO did not rule in our favour on all of our complaints she did uphold one complaint which is covered in paragraph 3 which stated:

“Pursuant to s.108B(2)(d) of the Act, I declare that the Union breached paragraph 51 of the General Secretary 2015 Election Procedures (“the Election Procedures) in that the Union’s funds, property and resources were impermissibly used to campaign for a particular candidate (Mr Dave Prentis) by reason of the following matters:”

Furthermore in Paragraph 258 the ACO states:

“In conclusion, the Union is responsible for all actions of its Regional Secretary that I have found were in breach of the Election Procedures and the Rules. The Regional Secretary was a very senior employee of Union with considerable authority and autonomy to organise meetings, and manage and direct her staff. She and her RMT engaged in deliberate breaches, as set out above. The nature of her job was to manage and direct her staff and she misused the position entrusted to her, which has injured the members of UNISON in that there has been unfairness in the General Secretary election as well as undermining the standing of the Union in the eyes of the public. There was a very close connection between her lawful activities and her improper campaigning activities by directing her staff to campaign in breach of Election Procedures. She was acting qua employee when she called the staff meeting and gave them campaigning directions in breach of the Rules. In consideration of all circumstance, it is right for her employer UNISON, to be held liable for the misuse of her position, since it was UNISON that selected and employed and managed, or purported to manage her.”

We can now confirm that Mr John Burgess, Ms Helen Davies, Mr Patrick Hunter, Ms Hannah O’Reilly, Ms Margaret Myland, Ms Claire Dixon, Mr Adam Tipple, Ms Elizabeth James, Mr Hugh Jordan, Mr Alan Wylie and Mr John Harris (“Burgess & Ors”) submitted an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

End.

#UNISONGATE LINKS

1. You can find the full report of the ACO here

2. UNISON issued the following statement:
“Today the assistant certification officer (ACO) has announced the decision in the case of Burgess and Others; Rogers; Wakefield and Bannister v UNISON.
UNISON welcomes the decision of the ACO to uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants for a rerun.”


3. Extracts from ACO report.

Paragraph 138
“In summary, the meeting was used by the Regional Secretary, openly during work time and with the support of her RMT to campaign for Mr Prentis’ re-election. She instructed her staff also to campaign for Mr Prentis in defiance of the election Procedures and directed them to report to their line manager within her RMT.

Paragraph 143
“It is clear that leaflets in support of Mr Prentis were to be covertly stored at the Greater London Regional office in breach of the Election Procedures. Ms Perks repeatedly tells her staff not to leave an email trail about using the Greater London Regional office as a distribution hub for the leaflets: “Karen will get word around the region that they are in her office even though she will not say what they are.” Ms Easton of the RMT then reiterates the message “Just a quick one on emailing that also includes you don’t email Karen to say you want more of those leaflets it’s any email and no emails at all on this. Don’t email branches you want to see.” A code term of the leaflets was set up of “special chocolate biscuits” to be used when more Vote Dave leaflets were being requested, presumably to avoid detection from breach Election Procedures.”

Paragraph 154:
“No matter how many times one re-reads the transcript the shock does not diminish. It is flagrant: Ms Perks’ tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power. I appreciate that many of the staff present were seasoned union officials, used to dealing with difficult situations and being assertive, but even so, it is deeply shocking.”

Paragraph 296:
“The failure to address the involvement of the whole of the London RMT which was explicit and apparent from the tape of the 21 October meeting is very troubling. The collusion of the Greater London RMT was deliberately ignored by the Union and no explanation for the failure to address it has been given.”

4. #Unisongate makes BBC Radio 4 Today Programme https://youtu.be/z-bIsf34e3A


6. “UNISON: Union democracy on trial.”

Unison election: Now Electoral Reform Services on trial

“Yesterday that image slipped when  deputy chief executive Simon Hearn was cross questioned about his role in supervising the  2015 election of   general secretary Dave Prentis to Britain’s biggest public sector union, Unison. The union paid ERS almost £1m of member’s money to safeguard fair play.”
Read on here http://bit.ly/2ifGlwn

7. Unison election: Now Electoral Reform Services on trial
“Why hadn’t he followed up the breaches in the Greater London area – where he admitted the union tape had revealed there was a breach of the rules at a meeting to discuss how to promote Dave Prentis to see if there was ” systematic malpractice” elsewhere ? He said he hadn’t had enough complaints to do this.”
Read on here http://bit.ly/2ifGlwn

7. Unison election: Now Electoral Reform Services on trial
“Probably the most damning point was following the inquiry by  Unison official Roger McKenzie into  the breach of union rules at the Greater London meeting which led to the suspension – now lifted – of one official, Linda Perks, when he had been told that more officials were involved.”
Read on here http://bit.ly/2ifGlwn

8. Unison: A libel threat, a database and a “cut and paste” email – all to help Dave Prentis win?


9. Unison: Former senior official says “anti democratic practices” used to elect Dave Prentis in three previous contests.


10. Rerun Dave Prentis election urge candidates at Unison malpractice hearing
Posted on February 23, 2017 by davidhencke

11. Unison’s Special Chocolate Biscuits Scandal: An insight into murky behaviour at the top of Britain’s biggest public sector union
Posted on June 4, 2017 by davidhencke





Sunday, 14 May 2017

Durham & Derby Teaching Assistants Campaigns – Please help deliver a Labour Government


The conduct of some in the Labour Party in the north east and Derby has been awful not just over the Durham & Derby Teaching Assistants campaigns but the fallout from Thatcher’s policies and successive governments which have decimated your communities.

What has happened over several decades is that working class areas have been treated as “voting fodder” that has enabled some Labour MPs to be parachuted into safe Labour Party seats and a long career in politics.

Nothing more best evidenced this practice than at the Durham Miners Gala last year when Davey said Tony Blair (Sedgefield MP) had never accepted to speak at the Gala.

For me it was shameful, an absolute disgrace, and is partly one the reasons the working class vote has declined in subsequent General Elections.

Yet knowing all of this I am campaigning to help elect Jeremy to win the General Election in 2017 and bring in Labour Policies the like of which we have never ever seen.

We have had two governments in 2010, 2015 and both have ripped up workers terms and conditions and escalated the brutality of austerity that now blemishes our communities everywhere.

Jeremy wants to offer something different a different world. No more tugging our forelocks for the scraps at the table but a world where we see the end of poverty, injustice and jobs, education and a fully funded NHS free for all of us that use it.

If you remember when the first Labour MPs coup started against Jeremy, Davey called them traitors.

and he banned them from the Gala. He pulled no punches about what he thought of them and I agreed with him.

I was having a drink with Davey and Graham before the Gala. He explained to me that this was the first time there had ever been a socialist leader of the Labour Party in his life time and he was 100% committed to helping Jeremy elected.

This is why I am going to do the best I can to play a small part to help put a Labour Government into power that will end misery, poverty and endless attacks on the disabled, workers and our communities.

I may be wrong, but I think that if Davey was still with us he would be out in Durham drumming up support for a Labour Vote in order to make sure that when Jeremy speaks at the Big Meeting this July, he will do so as Prime Minister.

What is clear that grassroots campaigns are showing time again they have a greater reach than the establishment and that includes the trade union movement.

My request.
Please turn your legendary social media skills in encouraging the young people you have taught to register to Vote by 22 May and then turning out the Labour vote in your communities.

The establishment with the support of the mainstream media say we can’t win.

Well B****x to them.

“Grassroots never give up and never give in until we win and that means with Jeremy as Prime Minister.”

Solidarity 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

My take on “Mental Health Awareness week”


Aaaaargh!

I’ve had a lot of that recently.

Last month was an anniversary I thought would never happen to me.

One year and counting I have been taking medication.

For someone who never even liked taking painkillers the idea that I would accept medication was just not something I thought would happen to me.

I don’t like it and I want to come off it, but I have this niggling feeling of the consequences if stop it. I keep saying to myself “let’s get the next few weeks away and then visit the GP and talk about coming off the medication.”

But of course there is no respite or end to stress for me and that of my members and friends and family.

We are all literally digesting the brutality of austerity and its impact on all of us is devastating.  

My plan is to see the GP after 8 June after Jeremy is elected Prime Minister, BUT, what if that doesn’t happen?

I try not to think about that.

I want an end to the pain and suffering that just seems to keep coming. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning. In the “coal face” austerity is literally killing people. The stress levels of those coming for support to our union office is off the scale. I try like all of you to be positive, offer support and solidarity. But the sheer volume is at times overwhelming.

It is at these times, ‘He returns’.

Always hanging in the background waiting for moments of weakness, whether it be tiredness or stress.

‘He’ is quick to wrap his arms around me and start pushing down on my shoulders, increasing the tension in my neck which travels quickly to the back of my eyes.

‘He’ senses an opportunity to drop in negative thoughts, at first they are like short subliminal messages, but each one increases in duration until I find myself stuck in a loop of negativity.

Who is ‘He?’

‘He’ is depression.

My instinct is always to fight, as many others do when facing depression. My past coping strategy has been to work until I drop with tiredness which brings me sleep and some respite.

But I know this coping strategy does not work and is destructive to me and to those around me.

Talking to others and listening to others has been a release.

One of my concerns about divulging my mental health issues was that it would make others wary of me, or that others would somehow think I am not able to cope or be able to support others.

I don’t think that is right.

So many people are talking to me about their experiences it has opened up another world for me.

For me if you are struggling find a support group or contact Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), they have so much knowledge and solidarity, I can find words that express my admiration for them. They take our pain straight into the back yard of the politicians and national media. For that I owe them a debt of gratitude.


That is why I am glad we have events like Mental Health Awareness week.

It isn’t a fix to the stigma and discrimination that people have to deal with, but it is an opportunity for us all to talk to others and that is not a bad thing in my book.


Solidarity to you all out there and good mental health. 

John 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

"Vote Labour to end Austerity" - from the Barnet UNISON archives No. 2

I have spent over a decade having to deal with the brutality Austerity has brought to our members and public services. 

On Thursday 8 June 2017 we have a very clear choice.
We can vote for more misery, more poverty, more job losses, more privatisation of our NHS and Schools, more cuts to public services, more social cleansing of our communities.
Or, we can vote for Hope, Vote for Life, Vote for end to misery.

Everyone will have their own experiences of what has actually happened.
Here in Barnet UNISON we have our own records of what has happened, just in case people have forgotten the destruction, pain and misery from Cuts, Outsourcing, redundancies and closures.
Over the next 6 weeks I am going to start releasing clips from protests, strikes, demonstrations we have organised with our friends and comrades in our communities.
This video clip is from one of the first One Barnet strikes. It was early days and the Council were carrying out what one Barnet Tory Councillor called the Stalinist "One Barnet Programme".
The workers at risk of outsourcing were environmental health workers, Planners, Highways inspectors, Parking staff, Revs & Bens workers, IT workers, HR & Health & Safety, Custodians, Cemetery workers, Finance workers, Building control, Regeneration workers, customers services officers. 

This clip demonstrates the passion and commitment of the in house staff to serving the residents of Barnet, something that was always ignore when the Councils expensive consultants carried out the Options Appraisal for each service.














Our members said that apart from running the picket lines they would like to do something for Barnet residents. What you see is Barnet UNISON strikers leaving the picket line and going down to a small learning difficulties day centre (not council) in Barnet and clearing it out before cleaning and painting the whole centre. As one of our strikers so eloquently stated:
 “We may have withdrawn our labour from the Council but we have not withdrawn our commitment to delivering public services to our residents.”
 I hope you enjoy and this serves as a reminder of why we need to make sure Austerity is dumped once and for all on Thursday 8 June 2017.
Solidarity 
John