The opening lyrics of The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel sum it well.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
It doesn’t take much to send me spiralling into depression and mulling over the mistakes and mistreatment I have suffered at the hands of others.
Mainly I am hovering on the boundaries of depression, I struggle to cope with the chronic pain, fatigue and disability and so a dream, a sound, a memory or even a specific smell can cause me to dip and start to struggle mentally!
It is almost 30 years ago now that I left a career that I loved, I had started to struggle and didn’t actually understand what was happening because back then, people didn’t really discuss mental health, I had never heard of a panic attack and so I didn’t know what the strange sensations were.
I felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I feared that would be seen as a weakness and I was working around a lot of military and ex military who I looked up to and back then I didn’t realise that these courageous people could also struggle in this way.
So I tried to run from it and quit my job and joined another Fire Service and went into training again and that was never going to work. In training you are pushed mentally and physically and so I wasn’t able to handle it and so I was suddenly no longer a fire fighter and that hurt.
My anxiety grew worse, luckily my wife who was then my fiance was great and I couldn’t have carried on if she wasn’t there, but still I was very unwell and I started avoiding things that caused the anxiety.
- Public transport
- Closed in spaces
- Crowded places
And soon I stopped going out all together!
Slowly I started to push back and I returned to work and even though I still avoided certain things like roads where if the traffic stopped I was stuck, so I knew all the routes where this wouldn’t happen,
Then in December 1996 I collapsed with chest pains.
I was told I had pericarditis and was admitted to be monitored and when and ECG showed changes, I was taking into cardiac care and two days later rushed to the London Chest Hospital. There I had an Angiogram the next day and then sent back to Southend Hospital.
A consultant said all the tests were negative and basically accused me of faking it and so I was sent home, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t manage as I had before. The fatigue was so bad and I felt so unwell, I tried to push past it but the harder I pushed, the harder I fell.
in 1997 I was diagnosed with ME now called CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), I was very unwell for a lot of years but through pacing and managing the symptoms.
In 1999 I had a breakdown, doctors wanted to admit me to the local mental care unit but we managed to persuade them that I would be okay at home. I was given medication that made me so sleepy and I slept most of the time and then with a change of meds I was able to attend therapy at the local mental health care outpatients clinic.
Through my daughters going to the local Catholic school I became involved in the church, I volunteered and helped at the communion classes and soon I went further and was accepted onto the Pastoral Assistants course which took place one night a week at Brentwood Cathedral.
Of course I took all the back roads to get there to avoid traffic and it meant sleeping that afternoon so I had the energy to go. I was by far the youngest on the course and on the first session I walked in, grade 1 haircut, goatee beard, tee-shirt and shorts whilst the rest were dressed very smart and I got some looks for sure!
Two weeks later as I turned up to Mass, I was greeted by a different Priest, he explained that our Priest had a mental breakdown and so he would say Mass at the weekends and I would look after the Communion, Confirmation and RCIA courses and also weekday church services.
It was hard, I wasn’t ready to handle that but I had no choice and so I balanced it by sleeping before and after being at the church and I ended up missing some of the course sessions at the cathedral because I was feeling so unwell. I also made excuses instead of attending retreat weekends as I felt I couldn’t own up to having anxiety attacks.
It was about 6 months before the Priest returned, by then I had gotten used to church life and the Priest who covered had guided me and I trusted him and enjoyed him teaching me about life in Ministry.
So this caused problems, I can only guess but I think the Parish Priest still wasn’t 100% when he returned, people trusted me and I was doing a good job and I think he felt as though I had taken over, but my only purpose was to keep the parish going in his absence.
I ended up returning to full-time work, I felt that I was able to take this on and so I got a job in the workshop of a medical endoscope company.
One month in and I had knee surgery, I took an agreed two weeks holiday and two weeks unpaid leave but the surgery was harder than I though and the recovery was long, painful and hard work.
Still trying to juggle home life, the church and work I kept pushing on. Things weren’t right with the Priest, I knew he didn’t like me very much but I just focused on what I should be doing.
Then one night I get a call that he hadn’t turned up for Mass and so I went and opened up, set up and put on my Alb and started a service in replace of the Mass. Just after reading the Gospel I spotted the priest at the back and so I excused myself and went and asked him if he was coming onto the sanctuary for the Eucharist and communion and he nodded. So I set up the altar whilst the parishioners half killed a hymn and when the priest approached my stomach churned.
I realised he was more than slightly worse for wear and had consumed more alcohol than he should have. I had a decision! Do I tell him to go home or do I serve him and help him through? I decided I couldn’t ask a priest to leave and so I assisted the best I could and the parishioners were split! Some looked concerned, some looked disgusted and some were doing their best not to laugh!
He kind of made it through the Eucharistic prayer, I then said he didn’t look well and would he like me to give Communion and he agreed and sat down and we made it through and I cleared up and went home knowing that the phone would be ringing!
It did and before long I had a Monsignor on the phone and I should have told the truth but I said it was a one off, that the Priest was okay and we would be fine.
This is where I wish I had kept a diary, the events, the struggle and his behaviour made it very hard to carry out my ministry, I did quit several times only to return because it meant so much to me and I firmly believe I had a calling and I could not turn my back on that.
Not long after I had an accident at work and damaged the same knee that had been operated on. I complained as it was because of a health and safety issue and they then decided they would do everything they could to sack me.
Gross breach of contract for passing on a message from a woman who left saying goodbye to a few people, I was told by doing this I revealed her contract status and that was a written warning.
Intimidation – yes I went to HR to a parishioner I knew who was a manager, I was upset as I was in pain, tired and stressed and they said I had intimidated her. So I went to apologise in case I had come across like this and I was banned from HR and subsequently fired.
The knock on of this was that our landlord wanted us out as we were a week late with the rent and he also phoned the Priest who saw his chance and took my ministry away.
So the outcome of all of this was that it broke me!
I lost my ministry, my job, our house and my mobility.
The Priest in a meeting asked me about a photo on social media of a stapled up knee, he asked if I was trying to say it was my knee and when I asked if I had to drop my trousers to prove it? Yes Please was the answer!
That was in 2008, we lost all of our friends at the church, it was like I suddenly had leprosy and so I contacted the Bishop and took a risk saying you need to deal with the Priest or and I quoted some part of Canon Law I canno longer remember!
The reply letter was that every Grace, Sacrament and Blessing bestowed upon me by the church had been withdrawn and a note made in the Baptismal register that I was no longer Baptised!
I was awake most nights because of the pain in my knee and most time I laid there crying because it was too much, I had an interview 2 years prior and was working towards ordination as a permanent Deacon, I had given my time, my everything to that Parish and I was cast out.
So now in late 2018, I am mostly over it, but every now and then it eats away at me, I obviously don’t have any faith anymore and I state that I don’t believe in a God. The truth is I do but it its best if I say that as it is a wound that may likely never heal.
I rarely leave the house anymore, I am in constant pain, disabled and I have lost count of the times I have thought about taking my own life. I don’t only because I could not do that to my wife, daughters and grandchildren.
People say they admire me, they say I am brave, an inspiration and really I am just a fucking mess held together by my wife!
At this moment I am battling with it all again because of a dream a few weeks ago.
I used to be happy, sociable and fun to be around and now I am far from sociable and just plain old grumpy. The scars that are physical and mental drag me down and I am so far from the surface now that I live in darkness!