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Interview 23

Age at interview: 50
Brief Outline: While avoiding medication, helpful approaches have included counselling, self-help books and alternative therapies (e.g. re-birthing). These approaches have helped reduce negative thinking and anxiety.
Background: Is a gay male academic. He experienced early loss of family members as a child, bullying, and sexual confusion. He has suffered ongoing anxiety and depression.

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His grandmother died and he became anxious his mother would also die. When his father later died,...

His grandmother died and he became anxious his mother would also die. When his father later died,...

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I think I can remember being a very happy little child, and then something happened when I was about 5 which changed things. So if I can tell you that story.... 

When I was about 5 my grandmother lived in our house and evidently she died one night and my mother, then the next day when I asked where she was my mother told me she had gone away on holiday and [pauses] that's all she told me. And it was around the time I was starting school. So what happened when I went to school was that when my mother left me, I became very anxious, and every morning I used to throw up in the playground and this seemed to be like a daily event. And I ended up being taken, I can remember being taken to see this man. My mother told me afterwards it was a child psychologist and he interviewed me and then he saw my mother and apparently he said to her, "His grandmother's died hasn't she?" And she said, "Yes, but we've kept it from him." And he said, "well, he knows and now he's anxious that you're going to, going to disappear". 

So I think that's probably the beginning of it and I think I was quite an anxious child looking back. When I was 8 my father died.... He died at home too and my mother, obviously had known from the previous experience, she told me the next morning that he had died in the night, although I knew he was dying. He was dying of cancer so it was obvious to me. Although nobody told me he was dying, I knew he was dying, so it wasn't a surprise to me. And then I felt that I had to be very responsible, I had to be very brave, very strong. I was the only child and I think half of me was trying to be mummy's little man. You know, I can remember trying to cut the grass with the hand mower and it was nearly as big as me, and I was trying to push this mower and I was trying to do everything I could to support her and... But at other times, I had terrible bouts of crying, I just cried and cried and cried.

 

When his depression is severe, he feels physically different, including a pressure around his...

When his depression is severe, he feels physically different, including a pressure around his...

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So, when I was in the union job I definitely had some periods of depression and possibly the first periods where I had what I called my deep depression. My mild depression is being generally pissed off, having a negative attitude to life, thinking that things will go wrong, but generally functioning reasonably well. 

The deep depression, I feel physiologically different, I have this sort of pressure around my brain, you know I feel that someone's got their hands inside there. I feel confused, I don't function properly. One of the worst periods I had about 5 years ago I went to the supermarket where I normally get my fruit and veg and I get my petrol on the way out. 

And I came back and I got my shopping and there was no fruit and veg, I mean that's where I get it for the week. I hadn't any petrol for the car. I came back and I thought' Where was I for the last hour? You know I was sort of in this other place where I, I bought some stuff but I mean, I just knew then I wasn't functioning properly.

 

Doing multiple rebirths has gradually helped him to relax and become less anxious.

Doing multiple rebirths has gradually helped him to relax and become less anxious.

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This is the idea of rebirthing, that you get right back to birth and that you relive this first experience of the world, because you live in this wonderful sort of warm womb environment and then suddenly it all starts happening. And what they say is that the baby must be very confused because the baby's grown in this, developed consciousness in this warm safe environment and suddenly dragged out to bright cold. I've got forceps marks there, that's where I was dragged out, that's where they turned my head with the forceps. Yes, so my first experience of the outside world was of somebody sticking some cold tongs in and twisting me out, you know. So Michael thinks, thinks that's a root of a lot of my anxiety problems, you know. Rebirthers trace it all back to your birth basically. Yes, after a lot of the rebirthing sessions I had felt very relaxed, very confident, very sort of cleared of all the sort of problems, but they do tend to come back , but maybe not as bad. The anxiety problems are reducing dramatically and have done over the last few years, but accelerating over the last couple of years since I done the healing journey course.... the rebirthing.

 

Describes how he has noticed he has a rational self (positive thought) and neurotic self ...

Describes how he has noticed he has a rational self (positive thought) and neurotic self ...

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OK, so I mean I was saying that I think sometimes there are 2 [selves]. There is rational [self - participant's name] which can look at things sensibly and think, "I'm OK, I can do these things" and there's neurotic [self - participant's name] which thinks, "People don't like me, they see something in me, they recognise that there is something bad about me, that's why they don't want to go out with me, that's why they don't want to," I used to think, "that's why they don't want to give me a permanent contract". Most of the time that I had been in education I had been on temporary contracts or dodgy contracts you know, and I sort of feel that they see something in me that is not good, they recognise that. And that is my way of explaining really, being single and certainly when I had job insecurity...

And when you are not neurotic how do you explain this sort of stuff? 

I don't need to explain it I just think [laughs] it's a load of rubbish. So, when I'm rational then, like here I'm sitting talking to you, I can talk about these things rationally. If I was neurotic I'd think those things were true, I would think those people really did hate me.

 

Had agoraphobia, heard how to desensitise himself, and so gradually walked further and further...

Had agoraphobia, heard how to desensitise himself, and so gradually walked further and further...

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I continued to have the anxiety attacks, it turned into.... it turned into agoraphobia actually, in that I would drive to work, I would walk down to the office, that was OK. But it was walking far from the car.... I could go to London from the train, I could go anywhere, but walking too far from buildings and things like this. 

So, I mean, I didn't really know much about I was doing. I heard something on the radio about agoraphobia and I started doing what they said on the radio. I started going out for walks and we had a very hot summer so... the summer I was there, I would walk on the seafront and I would gradually walk further and further away. And I realise now in hindsight because I know a lot about this, that I was desensitising myself, and it worked pretty well. But that, that agoraphobia kept coming back in periods of my life, when I was under stress, it kept coming back. It didn't cure it, but you know I got over it.

 

Christmas time brings the absence of family into sharper focus for him; he feels he has somehow...

Christmas time brings the absence of family into sharper focus for him; he feels he has somehow...

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It's Christmas funny enough that brings it into sharp focus, because all my friends bar this one have some sort of relationship, families they go to, and now I don't have that, I don't have a family, my older relatives are all dead, I don't have that sort of family connection. And I just had a 50th birthday party last week and 47 people were there. The fact that I counted them all [laughs] is probably instructive actually. I invited about 60 but some people couldn't come, but a lot of them have partners, not all of them, and sometimes you can feel when you're, you know, this is a real big thing in depression when you're single that you've failed in some way. And sometimes couples make you feel that you've failed, they don't always do it intentionally.

 

He was bullied in secondary school and felt school was a nightmare. He sometimes thought of suicide.

He was bullied in secondary school and felt school was a nightmare. He sometimes thought of suicide.

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And then when I went to the secondary school when I was 11 I got a shock very quickly because I was being bullied very, very quickly. And this sort of bullying hadn't really happened at junior school, it was much smaller and was much more friendly and... but suddenly there were these bigger boys and they called me a sissy and I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know for years what that meant but they obviously had it in for me, as we would have said at the time. They.... I got chased, they did everything they could to scare me by bringing in things like grass snakes and chased me round the playground. There wasn't much physical violence, although I certainly got punched and kicked a lot, but I mean it wasn't, it wasn't anything more than bruises. But I certainly felt very intimidated by them. 

And certainly by about 13, 14 I had this life which was at home quite happy, but which at school was really a nightmare. And I used to come home from school... I can remember coming home. We had a gas cooker in those days and I used to think it would be so easy to stick my head in it. That's what people used to do years ago before they had self-lighting ovens [laughs]. I used to sit and I thought well I can't do that to my mother, you know, because my mother needs me. I can't do that to her.

 

Felt sexual feelings and love for another boy at school in the 60s, but was quite shocked by it,...

Felt sexual feelings and love for another boy at school in the 60s, but was quite shocked by it,...

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I didn't form romantic relationships, although I think with this boy I met at school, I think really well it was intense, you know... 

Well, how do you see it now?

There was a lot of love there, but you know, it wasn't really a physical, it wasn't a physical relationship.

Do you think in retrospect, did you have sexual feelings?

Yes, absolutely. And he definitely had that for me. Because it started when we were about 14 we went into a new class, we sat next door to each other and he used to squeeze my knee under the table, which I was very shocked about. I mean this was.... OK this was Britain in the 60's, but the swinging 60's didn't really arrive in the provinces, you know, for a long time [laughs]. So I mean, I was fairly shocked and we did talk. I can remember we used to have our lunch in the secretary's office. While she had gone off to lunch we would eat our sandwiches in there and we would sit and talk and take phone calls and that. But we did talk about how we loved each other, but not like 'those' sort of people, you know, I forget what name we used.

Was it queer?

I don't think we knew queer, I think it might have used poofs, or whatever word we used.

What you had was different to 'poofs'?

Yes, it was different to that, it wasn't like that, we weren't like that at all, we just had this love that other people wouldn't understand. I can remember talking about that. I mean I think now, if it was happening now, we would have just explored things, you know, we were just too shocked by it all.

 

He told someone accepting about his sexuality and felt elated, but then realised he would have to...

He told someone accepting about his sexuality and felt elated, but then realised he would have to...

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I was with somebody I had known all my life, and he came out to me, and I came out to him, and we just talked and talked and talked. But I will always remember that night, we were sat in a car, and we just sat and talked for two hours, we just talked and talked and talked and then we met up and then we talked again. Because suddenly, there was somebody else to talk to. But I had just had a girlfriend, he had girlfriends over quite a long period, so we decided we must be bisexual. And I... that's what I was in my head for a couple of years. And I can remember the next day I had to go to London for a meeting and I was so elated, I can remember walking along the pavement and I felt as if I was 10ft high, you know I felt so happy because I told one other person in the whole world. But of course, as time went on, the implication was, you know, then I would have to tell other people, maybe they wouldn't understand and you know, and this was like 20 odd years ago, this was 1981 and Britain's changed a lot in that time.

 

Says doing nothing about depression does not help - it is better to try to be active in getting...

Says doing nothing about depression does not help - it is better to try to be active in getting...

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It's like a hole, it's sort of like slipping into a muddy hole and you're trying not to slide... trying to get up the sides and you keep sliding down again and you need help. I think that's what I would say. The periods of counselling I've had, self-help psychology, rebirthing. Things I've done have all helped, even going for physical therapies, like acupuncture, shiatsu, have helped, because you can talk to somebody sensible and they do give your physical system a boost, you know. I mean depression makes you feel different physically. It upsets your physiology in some way and doing those sort of things, going to the gym, doing exercise and things, getting out, doing something can help reverse that, and doing nothing never helps I've found. I mean I've tried just sort of giving in to it, just laying about and, "Oh, OK, eventually it will go", but you don't get anywhere with it.

It sounds like you been active in dealing with your depression?

I was thinking that before you came, you know, but I have been a positive person. I haven't just sat back and I haven't accepted drug treatment because I don't think they solve the problem. It may be that some people have chemical imbalance or something like that and that's a different matter. If the cause is physiological then maybe you need some drugs. But if the cause is psychological then you need to do something in order to think in a different way.

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