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Modern Tribes – the Depressive.

August 9, 2016

Somebody introduced me to Catherine Bennett, who was a student in her first year at Hertford College when I was in my third. “Oh you’re Chippy the depressive” she said. Her remark was perceptive, if not very friendly. I think my reputation had preceded me.
I had difficulties when I arrived for my very first term, but my mood improved during the year, in spite of a footballing accident needing a hospital operation.
From the beginning of the second year I found living in private student accommodation oppressive – all I could find was somebody’s back room in a house on Southmoor Road. Some of the people I liked left Oxford, and throughout the third year up to my Finals my mood just deteriorated.
After my finals, in addition to the chronic depression, I felt gut churning anxiety, to the extent that I was physically sick. A boy from my school had died from leukaemia recently and somebody suggested I visit my GP to see that I didn’t have a similar physical problem. Within seconds of me walking through the door the GP told me “you sound depressed” and prescribed antidepressants. I was unimpressed because I thought there was a simple reason for my feelings, because of underachievement and the dithering over going to university. I think I mistook the recent anxiety for the long-term depression, anyway I didn’t take the medicine as prescribed. I did think it ironic that I was prescribed some drugs which had appeared in the chemical pharmacology supplementary course in my second year.
I did contact the Samaritans, and rather than ring them from my parents’ landline at the bottom of our stairs, I preferred to visit in person at their rooms at the back of the Warrington Baptist Church in Sankey Street. One of those people I did find very helpful.
Returning to Oxford for the post-finals year peculiar to chemistry in Oxford, I was told that if I worked really hard, I might just scrape a second class degree. That wasn’t much of an incentive. I drank more and more and visited the physical chemistry laboratory less and less. I told the authorities at Hertford College that I would be leaving with my unclassified degree, rather than stay to collect a third. I had exit interviews with Hertford’s chemistry tutor and the Principal, “Moral Philosopher” Geoffrey Warnock. The chemistry tutor told me that in ten years’ time I’d wonder what I was worried about. I felt he was insincere. I felt he was only trying to make himself feel better. I felt “crawl away and die” would have been more honest. Warnock pointed out that there was more than one occasion when I had been unable to work at Hertford. I didn’t find that helpful either.
Although I said I was leaving I didn’t have anything planned, so I hung around at Hertford until the end of the term. My circadian rhythm evaporated, I started operating on a 28 hour, 6 days per week cycle, not seeing daylight on Sundays. There was a student counselling service at the university, and an employment service. I felt reluctant to tell anybody I was using the counselling service, in spite of all the erratic behaviour.
At some point I committed an act of incidental self-harm. It was incidental, in that I didn’t know what I did would partially sever the flexor tendon in my hand, however, neither did I know that what I did wouldn’t take the finger clean off.
I never attempted suicide, but I did indulge in pointlessly risky behaviour that might have got me killed. Closest I came I think was after leaving university. I had a job as a stores assistant at a factory in Penketh, and went to the Charity Shield game at Wembley with a friend from work, and his mates. We drank all day. On the train on the way back to Runcorn, I remember attempting to play a joke by reaching out of the slam door window and trying to tap on the outside of the adjacent window with a beer can, as if trying to get in. I bobbed my head back in whenever I saw a train approaching in the opposite direction, at a relative speed of 200 mph. Fortunately I must have been sober enough to avoid the oncoming traffic. I remember crawling on the floor of the Penketh Arms afterwards, but I must have sobered up enough to walk home.
When I found a job as a trainee computer programmer at TSB a few years later, my employer asked me to complete a medical form. My GP advised me that I should declare the period of depression. As a social environment I enjoyed TSB, but I found things happened to frustrate my career. Appraisals would go missing, courses would be offered then refused. On one occasion a senior manager told me I couldn’t be promoted, saying “you had trouble at university”. He knew nothing about my university career, he could only have been referring to my medical declaration. Then I found it difficult to be motivated by the work, and found myself in a spiral of discouragement. When I found a new employer I made sure not to say anything about depression, but then I didn’t get help when I probably should. Whether or not I was suffering from depression I found myself stigmatised by depression.

Posted on facebook – 2 August 2016.

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