Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Oops I did it again !

Back in 2003 I was consumed by a bout of serious depression, at that time I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. Being ill meant taking time off to recover but taking time off when you are I the public eye and accountable for me meant explaining why I was ill to the people I represented. I also felt very strongly that I should be honest about suffering mental health illness,  didn’t want to the ‘stigma’ to silence me – it just didn’t seem right. So, I ‘went public’  I shared my story then I buggered off to get well……….  And in time I did indeed bounce back as best I could. I got myself back in the office and eventually back in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament. I had been inundated with supportive cards, comments, prayers etc etc. I was very fortunate and I really appreciated the support I received back then. Individuals and organisations appreciated my speaking out which  really helped because speaking out came at a cost. I’ve never really worked out whether being open about my health was good for me or not. Mental health illness still carries with it that terrible stigma and maybe its my imagination, dare I say my mental health, my paranoia but I still feel weakened by the fact that folk out there know about my fragility, my weakness. The thing is I’m back there again – im ill all over again. I have been for months now and I’m not getting better fast. I don’t sleep well at all, I worry when I’m out and about that something bad will happen to me and if it were not for the support of my daughters, my partner, my family and my very patient friends…… well, I’d be seriously fucked.

I get by ok and sometimes for ages even years then it  all goes haywire and my wee heid gets invaded with useless worries. I find I can’t communicate the way I need to. I become emotionally tangled, angry, lonely, sad. I make plans then I cant see them through – simple plans like meeting a friend or going to the shops or writing a letter – I plan then I can’t so I fail then I feel worse. I mean to tell my GP how I am and let him know I’m not doing well and the pills are fine but they’re not enough… but instead I joke; I smile; for fucks sake I find myself reassuring him so he can feel like a good Doctor. its not my GPs fault it’s the way I do things. Now… if he tried to see me each day for a week he would soon find out I’m a serial canceller, he would also find out the pills only work a wee bit and he would find out that I’m really a bit of a shambles. But then what could he do ? the services I need are thin on the ground, Christ I don’t even know what those services are which is funny really because I’m a mental health support worker or I would be if I could do my job, if I was well. There is a place I’m waiting to hear from, I’m waiting to hear from  PATHWAYS but I don’t know if I can go along. I don’t know if I can do the ‘talking thing’ again. I don’t know who I can trust with the part of me that’s no very well at the moment. I don’t know if I can cope with getting well, starting again, looking forward just to discover in the future that I’m fucked up at some later date.

I know what I like, I like music and drama and I like to write I love having fun with my daughters, chatting with my partner, meeting my friends and  more than anything my life is filled with the love of my wee grandson. I think that when I’m ill I’m actually funny my emotions bubble to the surface and I laugh easily, yes I also cry and shout and sulk but oddly my random thoughts seem free and uninhibited and when those thoughts and feelings are free and safe it can be nice. I feel as if I can perform which is no surprise because anyone who has been where I am knows how much of a show you have to put on just to get by. So, I’m not at all well at the moment and I feel a bit bombarded but I also think I should be able to find a way of using what’s working in my head. Why cant I be allowed, supported in this? I need flexibility when I’m ill because if I cant sustain something I run for cover and then I get worse and feel even more isolated. Last month I was fortunate enough to be involved in a musical play called Miss Smith. We did four shows. I got to sing and  dance and act. All I had to do was get to rehearsal each week for one day then two days of performances in November. I was able to do this. My friends were involved and my partner was roped in – it didn’t fail and that made me feel good and best of all I got to pretend, I got to be someone else for a wee while and people enjoyed it.

Tomorrow I’ll be forced to tell a stranger all about me. I will have to talk about how crap I feel and how lonely it can get. I will have to talk about all the bad thoughts. I have no idea who this person will be or what they will think of me, I will feel frightened and nervous and I will have my good friend by my side supporting me. This stranger will be medically trained and on another day they may help folk like me – but tomorrow they will be listening to me and ticking boxes on a computer in response to my answers. They will press a button and another stranger will decide whether or not I get my Employment Support Allowance of £67.50 a week. If the ‘me’ that is comical and supportive comes out to play and If I feel a wee bit sorry for the stranger or they look a bit awkward then that’s exactly what could happen, its what I do – then I’m guessing im seriously knackered but I cant really control that so we will have to see.

Bottom line, and this is the ACTUAL bottom line if I can tell it to this stranger for £67.50 a week then I can tell it to you.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Shut up Tommy ! You're bad news.

“I cant believe I’m involved in all this” that’s what I said last night. And that sentence and the sentiment within it wilts me a bit. It wilts me because it shows I’ve lost strength. I’ve caved in. Sheridan and everything about his twisted life is wearing me down and changing me for the worse.

It’s a complicated story, a well covered story, the talk of the steamy here in Scotland and beyond a story most folk are aware of and most folk have an opinion on. The ins and outs can be found in Downfall by Alan McCombes and I would advise people to read Downfall because its brilliant but also because I don’t have the ability Alan has to list events in chronological order with every detail carefully reconstructed, he, like so many of us has been injured deeply and is forced to recount the events which brought the SSP to its knees and Tommy Sheridan to a prison cell. I am really grateful to Alan for his courage in compiling the facts. Downfall allowed me to sit down and look at the years gone by. I was back inside the whole thing but it felt safe and just and true – yes,  Alan’s ability to gather facts an deliver them so clearly is a gift.  Im afraid what I seem to have is chaos I  wake every day to my thoughts flying about like confetti  in a wind tunnel. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all, step outside the whole thing, ignore the blogs; the news stories ;the facebook chat and sometimes I have been successful but ‘sometimes’ is not good enough and I’m beginning  to feel very consumed by the entire Sheridan saga because it won’t go away.

This week we learned the vile extent of News Of The World’s phone hacking when it was revealed by Tom Watson MP and others that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked at the hands of News Of The World and it is likely that other murder victims have had the same treatment. It is alleged that messages were removed from Milly’s phone while she was missing to allow space for more messages to feed NOtW appetite for ‘news’. This was the tip of the iceberg and soon we would hear more and more sick attacks on everyone from child murder victims to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan including a great woman and a friend Rose Gentle. Rose’s,  son Gordon, was taken from her when he was just a boy fighting an illegal war on the streets of Iraq. Rose stood up to the establishment, the government, the MOD. Her heart was broken yet she spent every waking moment demanding an end to the illegal occupation of Iraq. She had felt the loss of a child and did not want any other parent to feel the agony she was experiencing. She put her pain to one side and she fought and still fights for justice and for peace. Hacking into this woman’s life would be a horrible act.

So, It all exploded in a day… horrific, vile, unbelievable. The call came to boycott NOtW and demand all advertisers withdrew their money or they too would be targets. I have to say I have never bought The Sun or News Of The World – we were brought up to hate these papers by my socialist mother and to reject them and their attacks on workers and in particular women. It was great to see others finally ‘getting it’ .Its good to see folk demanding better and rejecting the abusive behaviour of Murdochs empire. I do wish readers had been repulsed sooner but better late than never.

As our anger built and our hearts bled for bereaved  families the inevitable happened - enter stage left…… that bloody man, yes, Sheridan. Fast to put himself in the shoes of people who have really suffered, suffered pain on a scale we can only imagine. Suffered the agony of losing a child in a horrific violent situation – yes, there he is again aligning himself with victims of the NOtW…. Cashing in on a terrible situation and making it all about Tommy.

There was a time when I looked up to this man, a man who stood up against everything I hated, he was like my voice and my courage and my hero…. But sadly I ended up knowing the real Tommy the guy who throws a tantrum and makes everything all – about – him. There he was again, this man… I would have followed him to the end of the earth; this man who sat with my family, with my mother ; this man the pride of our community is on my telly again, cashing in on tragedy and making me feel very sick.
A story about families violated by the shocking actions of Murdochs soldiers is now all about this suited, booted, fake operator. The media in Scotland are jumping up and down with excitement and Tommy has once again played them like his own personal wee fiddle. He’s screaming, via Aamer Anwar, stating that because NOtW are bastards he’s a good guy. Because they were brutal he’s and angel. He’s greetin about emails and Coulson and Murdoch etc etc but HE attended  Cupids sex club in Manchester with a News Of The World hack ! He literally got into bed with News Of The World!! So, Tommy has a selective and very strange memory but the media should know better. Newsnight Scotland could have been renamed The Sheridan Show, suddenly there is no other news in Scotland as Tommy Sheridan is once more given a platform from which to say he is a victim too…he rabbits on about folk conspiring against him and the whole time he knows he’s talking mince -  its too horrific for words and makes me cringe to think I sat with the man.
Tommy is not a victim, most people know this and can sense it but this does not stop him and his followers kidding themselves on. And what the hell is that all about ? How do you do that? How do you look in the mirror and justify this whole shebang ? See there I go again, I just cant get my head round it all, it truly is beyond my understanding of human behaviour and sadly I’m in it. I am part of the whole thing. I was at a meeting and now my life is a big chaotic confetti mix and I fear that I will never get over it – well at least not whilst Tommy keeps returning like the frightening metal hand at the end of Terminator.
Every time he or Aamer and their gang get air space I get frightened and I have every reason to get frightened. Within hours of yesterday’s wee show the messages started arriving via Facebook. The name calling then it arrived on Twitter. I would be a robot if this didn’t touch me but I ‘block’ and ‘delete’ and that’s fine. However ,the last time those calls of ‘liar’ ‘scab’ ‘NOtW collaborator’ ‘police grass’ etc  emerged from camp Sheridan it  travelled onto the streets of Glasgow where’ delete’ and ‘block’ are not an option. I was threatened, pushed, hissed at, shouted at and finally one day on my way to work a man looked right into my eyes and spat on me.
I fear its all about to erupt again. I had prepared myself for his attacks on his release but I never saw this coming and was not prepared for what happened yesterday. I know the depths Tommy will sink to in order to shore up his false life but to put himself in the frame with real victims is contempt beyond belief.
Today Tom Watson MP will meet with Aamer Anwar and we are told they will deliver a “dossier” to Strathclyde Police I assume this is a list of names of folk who have had their phones hacked by NOtW.  Tommy’s legal team seem to have been sitting on this list since the trial, this disturbs me, particularly if Rose Gentles name appears on that list. If Rose is on the list I think she should have been alerted immediately – we will have to wait and see.
It is getting harder for me to get my head above this water, I cannot lie and I will not pretend I am tough and able to cope.  I am ashamed of how weak I can be at times, I am ashamed to say I don’t know anymore where I am safe. I have learned to look over my shoulder. If I get any snash  I snap back but it’s another wee chunk of confetti  to add to the mess. I am bitter and I am angry and these are emotions I have never really known  or understood so I don’t handle them well. But for me the worst thing of all is that I have been forced to regret chunks of my life. Some really good feelings and thoughts; some amazing experiences have been tarnished.  I don’t really know what to do other than write it down in my disjointed way and stick it in this wee round box, get it out and hope for the best.

Monday, 27 June 2011

It's not only my backyard.
Tomorrow evening a whole bunch of smiling politicians and dignitaries will stand on the pristine tarmac of the M74 Northern Extension and announce to whoever is listening that it is finally open for business. They will shake hands, perhaps cut a ribbon and I’m certain some, if not all, of them will climb inside some sort of vehicle and take a trip on Glasgow’s latest motorway. Cars, vans, lorries and trucks etc will then be invited to drive with care along the 5 mile stretch from Carmyle to Tradeston. I will be close to the opening ceremony but I won’t be chaining myself to anything, nor will I be shouting at the decision makers who brought this day about, I won’t be dropping a ‘NO M74’ banner from the bridge, nope I won’t do any of that. Instead I’ll be in my Govanhill flat close to the new motorway feeling a little sick and a little sad and I’ll remember a big fight, a massive fight, a fight we lost, but a fight worth picking.
You see some of us have been keeping an eye on this for a long time, some of us saw it coming and some of us said NO!! - and stood our ground – and when I say “our ground” that’s exactly what I mean.
I was down on the M77 protests in Pollok Park, I had recently found my voice and my courage. I had kinda stumbled on the early days of the protests against the M77 which was about to cut a swathe through the park we played in as children, our bluebell woods, the huge trees we climbed, our big chance to see nature – our bit – where we lived. I had learned whilst on the M77 protest that my parents had not been consulted despite the fact that they lived near the route and that they would be hugely impacted by the roads introduction. My shallow investigations revealed that they had a wee opportunity in the 60’s to respond but only if they had read the right paper at the right time, I think bringing up 5 kids on poverty pay may well have robbed them of the luxury of getting involved in a process that would affect those 5 kids. But there it was, the big democratic deficit. The camp created to oppose the M77 was called Pollok Free State. It was a place of protest but it was also a place where you could be educated. One day, when looking over the maps checking the route of the M77, I did that thing most of us do when looking at a local map, I searched for my house in Govanhill. I found my street but I could see a familiar blue line near my flat. The same blue line I had seen marking the route of the M77 through Pollok. I remember saying “this map’s wrong, there isn’t a motorway there” My friend Colin took the map for a moment and studied it then said “you’re right hen there’s no a motorway there – bad news, hen cos I think there will be wan soon”. I then said “what are we gonna do” Colin came back with “Rosie, what are YOU gonna dae”. Jeezo, I had only just learned about urban motorways and planning and the decision making process – what the hell could anyone do?
However both the M77 and the M74 NE were part of the same Glasgow Roads Network so it was easy to link one protest to the other. Around that time two men in Govanhill had set up a local campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill. I took myself along to one of their meetings, yapped on about my concerns regarding the M74 NE and was relieved and delighted when these two men (the two Rabs) listened and supported.
We chatted a bit, then decided we should take a letter from we three residents to Strathclyde Regional council. Now the council were well used to motorway protesters because of the M77, but we were not yet in that league. We were trusting and genuinely believed that all we had to do was make a wee submission to the council. Looking back I think we thought that, like us, they didn’t know and it wouldn’t be hard not to have known as the M74 NE had first appeared on maps way back in the 50’s and like most things from back then, well, we knew better. Concrete was no longer king, it was now the 90’s and the world was trying to reduce omissions so this would be pointed out and all would be well. Ermm naw !! We arrived at the headquarters of Strathclyde Regional Council all sensible and calm. We asked for Cllr Charlie Gordon, we were asked to wait and within 15 mins the police arrived and we were removed from the building with our letter in its little envelope unopened.
I remember chatting to my pals and feeling all cheated and abused. We were gutted, One of the Rabs really, really believed we would get a hearing, be taken seriously…. I think he was particularly stunned.

I suppose that’s when it started. The two Rabs and me started telling folk – yes, just telling folk. We went round the doors of Govanhill, Toryglen, Gorbals and talked about the road. We found out that no one really knew it was coming, even those who would literally be living under it had no clue. We found householders and small local businesses who were to be served compulsory purchase notices in the future yet they had idea at this point.
Time passed and our wee movement grew, we had meetings with five folk there but eventually we were filling halls up and down the route. We were also taking direct action and drawing media attention to the route all of which was growing the campaign. The first time I was ever arrested was when I chained myself to the reception desk of the Chambers Of Commerce because I was livid with them for coming out in favour of the road. And so it went on. There were road changes in Govanhill with the introduction of a one way system. Many residents had no idea this was happening either. We just got up one day and the traffic was traveling in one direction. The kids were confused, they looked right – then left and near got run over. Parents were raging and a swift meeting took place in Daisy Street Neighbourhood centre. Near 200 folk turned up and the next morning we blocked Calder Street. However, before we got there the local fire brigade had taken the traffic lights clean out of the pavement with their turntable ladder because they had not be fully consulted or alerted to these changes either. The reason I digress to the one way system is to show the lack of consultation when major changes take place, but I also want to show a community that really wants to know, really wants to get involved and would appreciate a say. Perhaps our local folk would have agreed with the introduction of the one way system. Maybe we would have had good ideas to enhance the system or maybe we would have opposed it in the blink of an eye. We will never know because we were never asked.

So, back to the M74 NE, the movement continued to grow thanks to the one way system. Back then the price tag on the M74 was below £200 million which would come from various councils and the Scottish office, if I remember correctly. The anti M74 campaign blocked Eglington Toll, we were charged by police on horseback, a big horse stepped on my foot leaving a horse shoeprint. Then it came to our attention that business people and politicians had been invited along to a display in the planning department at Glasgow City Council. Residents had again been excluded and we were not pleased. We went along anyway. The display was massive and very impressive. Videos, thousands of folders full of drawings and projections in the centre of the room - there was a massive scale-model of the entire extension. For the first time it was evident how huge this road would be. The model was beautiful. It showed a long white road gracefully weaving through a cream coloured landscape. Again I went searching for my house WOW! My street was amazing…. No grubby buildings, no neglected dump across the road, no cars and the tenement was a lovely magnolia colour. This was fantasy, this did not reflect our community. We lived in the then Shettleston Constituency known as the ‘sick old man of Britain’ due to our poor health record, poverty and mortality rates which meant I’d be lucky to see 60.
We all worked hard and we learned our craft. We found out that Thatcher had commissioned reports to prove the anti-roads movement wrong and even the Iron Lady had to accept SACTRA’s (Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) findings. The first said that new motorways do indeed create new traffic the second stated that urban motorways negatively affect the local economy. Thatcher actually cancelled several motorways through England but the Scottish Office and local councils would not take a second look at the M74 NE.

He years flew by; meetings, groups, protests then more meeting, more protests and more groups. The struggle against the M74 NE is well documented and was hard fought.
In 2003 when I was elected to the Scottish Parliament the M74 was high on the agenda. The cost of the road was now £500 million and rising. Some of the funding would be private money under the Private Finance Initiative. Things were moving fast. Those opposed to the road were demanding a moratorium. We wanted space and time to prove the environmental, social and economic arguments against the extension. We needed time to get the entire community involved, we wanted to challenge every aspect of the M74 – we wanted environmental justice,

A Public Local Inquiry was called by the Scottish Executive. This kicked off on December 1st 2003 and ended on 3rd March 2004. The Labour-Liberal Exec sent in their top team. The PLI report concluded that the M74 NE should not proceed. The Scottish Executive who called the Public Local Inquiry tore it up in minutes and in March 2005 Transport Minister Nicol Stephen told our parliament that the M74 NE would go ahead.
This looks like a long story but I can assure you I have cut it very short and have not really done this huge struggle justice.
The M74 NE is set to cost over £700 million; there will be a chunk of private finance in there too meaning my children and my wee grandson will be paying posh HP to whoever for 30 years.
The M74 Northern Extension is five miles long; it is neither graceful nor kind. It intrudes with it’s eight lanes into our community, ironically it straddles a railway line for much of its journey. It’s a complicated road and it will carry 100,000 car journeys per day through built-up Glasgow.
For me this road is vandalism, it’s an unwanted intrusion, it will suck away our local economy and all roads will lead to some huge shopping outlet or another. We will live with the noise and the pollution and it will be invisible.  We may also choke on the fact that we were never trusted as residents to get involved. We were never given access to the big picture, we needed tools to make sense of what was on offer – and we were denied these. It’s not just our struggling communities that have come under attack, no its worse than that - democracy and social inclusion were brushed aside like rubbish lying in the way of someone else’s idea of progress.

Oh Blimey.... I've finally blogged

I’ve been meaning to do the blog thing for some time now, mainly because I like scribbling (or tapping) and also because I find it therapeutic to write stuff down and share it out a bit. I learned about writing stuff down and sharing it this some time ago. You see I was ill with depression long before I worked in the Scottish Parliament and had undergone all sorts of treatment. I’ve sat down and ‘chatted’ with more therapists than I could shake a stick at and in fairness all of them from their many diciplines gave me something good to take away with me and sometimes I learned things by accident from my therapist. I remember leaving the office of a brilliant psychotherapist in Glasgow, it was my final session and I wondered how I would cope without my weekly ‘chat’ he had been so helpful, he had made me really work on my problems and had never once said 2tell me about your childhood” Anyway, I’m walking up a busy Glasgow street when I suddenly feel a sneeze coming on, there are folk about and I don’t have a hanky….. so I cover my mouth and nose with my hand and severely stifle my sneeze by holding my face hard and keeping my mouth closed. The big sneeze rattled through my body: battered into my back and my spine responded with a loud click. I couldn’t move, my back locked and I was is agony. I managed to flag down a taxi and crawl into the back seat. Once I had explained to the driver that I would be lying down in his cab I forced out the words “casualty please”. Anyhoo, I ended up in hospital for a few hours where a few wee jabs were administered allowing me to get into a taxi, like a human being this time, and home safely. The lesson being…. Don’t hold stuff in, it WILL damage you. A few years later an entirely different therapist built on this notion when she suggested I bottle stuff up. She suggested I write down some of the stuff that was annoying me. She felt that it was better oot than in. We practiced in her therapy room. I could write wee things, big things, names, place even draw pictures! Anything I fancied as long as I was getting stuff out. Once it was down on paper I could then share it; burn it; post it or chuck it in the nearest river, bin, sea or any other place I liked. Basically it didn’t matter what I did with my ‘stuff’ as long as I did something to take it out and have a wee look at it. I found this worked for me I even posted a letter with no names, no address, no date just stuff in the local post box. I was bold at getting rid of my ‘stuff’ ask the River Clyde, she received a lot of my grief and from various bridges throughout Glasgow. The pond in Queens Park on the south side also got its fair share of my personal litter as did some bins, stanks, puddles, hedges etc. I was a like some sort of problem litter lout. I told my therapist a;l about how I had chucked various problems in various places. I think she started to worry I could end up being fined because she appeared one day with a lovely wee box she had bought for me in a second hand shop. Loved it immediately and started tormenting it with my etchings, writings, poems, letters and once my wee round box was full I would shred up my ‘stuff’ and start again.

Now all of that started way back in the early nineties and my wee round box has served me well. I had no idea back then what was ahead of me and the many amazing things I would experience, my life would change dramatically and it would not all be good. However, the changed me would cope a lot better with the tests I would be set…. I think.
Either way I would need a bigger box… a much bigger box and here it is. It started with Facebook then Twitter and now Blogging will be my round box but I will remember at all times that this round box is huge and public and I’m betting I will press ‘delete’ far more often than ‘send’ I will clear my head regularly and it will be mine.. it will be Therablog.
So, welcome to my wee round box.