Reading this in the Herald today has made me think (8.9.18):
‘Scotland’s most senior civil servant has been commended for speaking about her personal experience of mental health problems. Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she had worked through “several tough and very stressful episodes” in the past and had seen a health professional at one point.’
In particular, the last few words in the quote above, made me think it time to tell my own story of mental health problems.
In January 2014, I published some research revealing that BBC Scotland’s reporting had been biased against the Yes campaign. It went ‘viral’. I went viral too. BBC Scotland wrote to me, copying in my boss, THE Principal (!) condemning the research as flawed. It was, a wee bit. It had ‘secretarial errors’ of the kind most research reports have but are not exposed. BBC Scotland had used a team of ten or so new graduate employees, I was told by a former senior manger there, to go through the research with a ‘fine tooth comb’ and they had found these errors. No other researcher had ever had this inquisition by the BBC. I had hurt their feelings.
Needless to say, I was very worried. Knowing the research findings were still reliable but realising the BBC would make much of the minor errors and not knowing how my employer would react.
In March, I appeared before a Holyrood committee, having unknowingly shared the train through to Edinburgh, with three senior and quite beefy BBC staff. They were of course in first-class, so they didn’t see me. The skies opened. From a quiet life as a back-room researcher and teacher, I was catapulted into public view, demonised in the Unionised media and lionised by thousands of Yes sympathisers. Back on the campus, colleagues with links to BBC Scotland were warned by them to stay away from me. In wider academia, no one spoke out to defend my academic freedom. I felt good but a bit isolated.
18 months later, suffering serious sleeping problems, I was encouraged to stay at home before ‘retiring early’. Over the next year but for reasons not yet entirely clear to me, I became addicted to opioid painkillers (as well as killing pain they make you feel good) and sleeping tablets. I also started to drink alcohol more.
In November 2016, I was hospitalised and weaned off the opioids with benzodiazepines but then became addicted to the latter which are even more addictive. Regardless of any commendation, I won’t be revealing the ‘places’ I went to in the year and more it took me ‘come off’ the benzodiazepines but by May 2018, I was clear. All is well now but I’ll never forget it. Most of all, my understanding of what it means for those suffering mental health problems today is sharp.
I’m NOT blaming BBC Scotland for anything. I’m NOT blaming anyone for anything. There were too many other factors and decisions made by me, in that time and, in the end, I’m responsible for me.
Now, what I want, is a commendation, in stylish handwriting and with a heraldic shield, for my experiences requiring me to ‘see a health professional’ or twenty, at somewhat more than ‘one point’, and surviving.
Older readers will have recognised the Spike Milligan reference in my headline. It seems right that I finish off with him too: