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How bad can this go, really?

A Blog post by someone who has never written one before…

Well, Fuck.

— The Jedi Padawan children in Revenge of the Sith, probably

The idea to start a blog had been in my head a while now, circling my brain not dissimilar to Jaws. Hopefully this doesn’t blow up in my face.

I’m not really sure who’ll read this, if anyone. I think it’s more for me to have something tangible to vent/ externalise/ quantify things somewhere other than inside my head.

The blog will be primarily used for:

-ramblings/ ruminations on depression and living with it.

-posting pictures I paint, which I normally do as a way to externalise negative feelings in order to better process them.

-sharing anecdotes about my job. I work as a prison officer, but am not willing to disclose where or for how long. Names etc will be changed, and I won’t be telling you mine.

So really I guess it’s a blog about my life, without actually telling you who I am.

Definitely doesn’t sound mad at all.

Isolating

Isolation is a way to know ourselves.

Franz Kafka

I’m currently self isolating due to presenting with symptoms of COVID-19. Which means I have to not go to work for another week. Which means staying inside and avoiding all physical contact with other humans. So no change for me really. I suppose the only real difference is I now don’t have the option to go out if I wanted to.

I have enough food, enough toiletries to last me for a while. I worry constantly about how many other people I may have given Coronavirus to before I started manifesting symptoms. I tried to get out of my head by painting again today, and I realise increasingly that I keep painting and drawing pictures of couples from very far away. I must be lonely.

I think I’m struggling a little again with myself. I find myself most days just sort of feeling very dejected about everything, wishing I didn’t have to do anything, but also wishing I had something to distract me. Depression is weirdly paralytic in that you find yourself unable to do much, but then internally screaming about how you feel trapped by it.

I don’t know how to make a comments box on these blog things, or even if I can, so I might set up an email inbox just in case of questions anybody who reads this might have. Probably in the next post.

Returning

One of the hardest things was learning that I was worth recovering,

Demi Lovato

I’ve spent a fair amount of time inactive and I apologise. I had a severe depressive episode shortly before Christmas and was signed off work for what ended up being 2 months. In this time I did very little painting, or much of anything really.

Now that I’m back at work and somewhat stable, I’m going to try to get back into the habit of regularly posting again.

I bought a big canvas a short while ago, and initially I’d planned to do a big picture of Isaac Clarke, the titular character from the horror video game series Dead Space. I love the intricate yet functional design of his Space suit, but several hours in i was not in love with the painting I had.

Going back through my computer, I discovered some photos from a life model I used to know, who shall remain unnamed. I didn’t want o just copy the photo, and it was a big canvas, so I decided to do 4, in bright colours, in a similarish sort of feel to those famous Marilyn Monroe pictures by Andy Warhol(?)

The picture isn’t wonky, my camera was. Also apologies for the chandelier shadow.

It was very simple to create it. I marked the boxes in masking tape first, and it mostly came out well. The hardest part was picking the colours for each one, and if I did these again I would change some of the colours for sure, but on the whole I like it.

I wasn’t after a masterpiece or anything incredible with this one. It was a lot more about getting back into the groove of doing the painting, after spending so long mentally stagnating. Will try to get back into more regular action now I’m more ok.

LIGHTNING ROUND

In short, I did 3 paintings today because I had nothing else I wanted to do. I wanted to try something slightly different for each of them.

First picture is actually copied from a picture I had on my phone of someone else’s painting. I just really liked the massive moon and wanted to do one similar to it.

Second painting was of a long exposure photograph of fireflies taken in Japan. This one was definitely the most challenging of the three and I’m the least pleased with how it came out. But I’m told art is a journey and even the missteps are important lessons learned, so I’m throwing it up here regardless.

Third is a twist on something more familiar to me. A pathway in a forest, with a silhouette at the end, with the leaves sponged on. Except I decided to try to use wrong colours only. The other title for this one is probably “Ghost Forest” or similar. “Negative Image”. I dunno. I kind of liked the idea though, so it gets to be here.

I couldn’t think of a thought/ quote for this one, so I’ve gone for one by one of my favourite authors.

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds that the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”

Terry Pratchett

Christmas, etc

I got written off work early December. I had a depressive episode in the office, that manifested when someone asked if I were okay. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. I hate not being at work. There’s no distractions, nothing to keep your mind off of…well, your mind. So I’ve sat in my flat over December feeling worse when I should be feeling better.

What it did do is allow me to see my family, which was nice. I don’t see them often enough, I think. I did struggle with seeing them. I felt like I’ve noticed this year how much older and slower some of them have gotten. I realise how afraid of seeing them die I am. It’s not a nice feeling. But it was good to see them.

I got a small sketchbook from an old friend, with a touching message inside it. I’ve done a couple of paintings in it, after spending time browsing other peoples stuff online for inspiration. I like the small pages and the fact I can do a picture in, like, 20 minutes.

“Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous effort merely to appear normal.”

Albert Camus.

Big Red Moon

I had a very bad day recently. So bad that work sent me home, my meds got changed and I’ve not been back in since. Everything feels bad at the moment, and when I feel bad I paint. I’ll attach the image obviously, but this is another painting that I don’t really like.

I wasn’t able to take a satisfactory picture of this.

I can’t like this picture. Partly because my head is somewhere very bad right now. I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of it, and I hate that I keep picking vibrant colours and not noticing how unreal it looks until after. I don’t know why I keep doing silhouettes at the moment, or why this one just refuses to photograph as well as the earlier ones.

Politics from a Prison Officers point of view, compared to others.

Yesterday the UK voted in a general election. Not wanting to not vote, I went straight after work, in uniform.

In the line at the polling booth, the man in front saw my uniform, before saying, “Guess you’ll be voting Tory.”

Perplexed, I asked why he thought this. He told me that Boris Johnson was building 40,000 more prison cells, and extending the time served for those sentenced.

I thought this sounded terrible. The service doesn’t have enough staff now, let alone staff to support such an expansion. There’s no point telling me we’ll hire the staff for the spaces, because we can’t even hire enough staff now. I’m the only survivor of an induction class of 19. That’s like a 90% attrition rate for staff retention, if my class is typical of all. Longer sentences likely won’t produce better people upon release either, because the system is on its knees anyway.

He didn’t really comprehend the concept of prisons requiring staff to function. No different to the NHS or police really.

Tories won again though, so I expect nothing to change soon. Moan over, I promise not to mention politics again until next election.

Small Morning Painting

Did 2 quick paintings on tiny canvases this morning. One is a sunrise/ sunset someone sent me, with the other being a man in rain I remember seeing somewhere years ago.

I’m convinced this isn’t mine and I’ve seen it or similar before, but I’ll be damned if I can remember.
Both of these are about A6 size.

Don’t really know why the 2 subjects were so different, however my breakfast today was 2 cans of Monster, which probably isn’t conducive to a normal morning anyway.

On a side note I do these posts from my phone and have no idea how to make the blog more colourful/ change font or typeface. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Working in Prison

Given the state of prisons, as depicted by the media, it’s often a wonder to me how I ended up working in one as an officer. Given that they’re rife with incidents of self-harm, overdoses, stress, confrontation and the occasional need for lawful force, you would argue that a prison is quite possibly the worst place for somebody like me, who for want of a better phrase is not always in a good frame of mind for these things.

You’d be absolutely right.

In short, I was fairly convincingly duped. Coupled with what was at the time more money than I’d ever come close to earning, a desperate need to move out of my parents’ house, and the culmination of maybe 3 years of stagnating in being depressed pushing my peers to force me out of inaction, it does often feel like there wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t even my idea, it was my father’s, bless him.

When you first apply, you get to go on what is disarmingly known as a “familiarisation day.” This is a guided tour of some of the prison units. Except it was incredibly deceiving. My tour consisted of trips to the two units comprised solely of well-behaved prisoners, a unit that was locked down, and didn’t have anyone to see in it, and the library.

Lancaster Castle, a disused prison, but similar in layout to many units in others.

This created in me a VERY rose-tinted view of this job. I actually began to look forward to working in what increasingly sounded like an incredibly holistic role, almost like a carer. I attended 10 weeks of college, which passed without incident, and on day one was assigned to one of the units that I had no knowledge of, where my first interaction with a prisoner was simply being told to fuck off, and that he wouldn’t be doing anything I told him.

Many illusions were shattered that day.

After 3 months of daily abuse I actually broke down crying while driving home, and crashed my car into a ditch. I was so far gone that I sat being held in by my seatbelt and just cried at about a 30 degree angle for an hour before I got someone to come tow me out. And then I went in the following morning like nothing had happened. I know it’s overused as all hell nowadays, but I am frequently reminded of the definition of insanity:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Narcotics Anonymous, 1981

Because it’s been a number of years now, and I’m still there. I’ve gotten better at it, but the job is identical. It’s not a rewarding job. For every inmate you help improve, there are 10 that won’t engage, or are actively awful toward you and others. Everyone feels like they’re under suspicion, and you have no idea who to trust. I don’t blame the prison for inaccurately representing the job. That much has been born of necessity. Staff cuts have crippled the service to the point where it feels it teeters on the edge of collapse, so of course they’d be fucking desperate for anyone at this point.

This post is more of an introduction to the topic in general, and I’ll fill out different posts with specific anecdotes as I go.

I don’t actually know why I’m still there, in truth. It is NOT the rehabilitative job that’s advertised. It’s often very dark and lonely, and full of suspicion and internal politics. There have been days where I’ve come home and just thought about hanging myself, but for some reason I’m always back the following morning. Maybe through sharing experiences on here I’ll find out for myself why I do this thing.

I don’t do it because I want to, certainly.

The D Word

“It’s like you’re drowning, but everyone around you is breathing.”

-Anonymous

Obviously talking about this I can only really talk about myself with any real authority. People can be depressed for any number of reasons, or no reason at all. People can be depressed as a result of a million different stresses and strains, or from just one thing that breaks them. I’ve read stories and anecdotes where people talk about a slow disintegration, a creeping descent where they don’t realise until they’re already there. For me personally it was slightly different, in that I can pinpoint the exact moment I realised things weren’t right.

I’m not really sure what triggered it, if anything. About 6 years ago I was walking down the High Street of my hometown, when I felt an odd feeling in my chest, a sort of tightening. I sat on a bench and just started crying, right there, completely unbidden. I was hit with an incredible feeling of isolation and despair, and I realised that it had been a long while since I could remember feeling “happy.” I went home, and my sister was there, and she hugged me me, all confused. I didn’t really know what to say, so I settled for “I think I’m depressed” in between sobbing.

I went to a GP the following morning, and had a long and frustrating talk with them. No, I wasn’t abused, my childhood was wonderful, and deaths in the family had not adversely affected me. Yeah, I was bullied a little at school but almost everyone is at some stage or other, I think. Eventually they took blood samples and I had to wait 2 more weeks.

On my return, I was informed that I had zero vitamin D inside me, which is apparently significant, and the GP also told me that my brain might not be properly utilising serotonin.

Imagine Your brain is a bathtub. When you run the taps, serotonin comes out, and fills the tub. Once it’s nearly full, wiggle the plug so it’s not quite in the hole right. The serotonin slowly drains out, into your body. The bathtub drains, but you can replenish it by running taps as it does so. This is how your brain should work. Imagine this setup, but the plug is two sizes too small. The serotonin runs out much faster than it can fill the tub…

My GP, showing great aptitude with metaphorical description

So essentially my brain uses serotonin faster than it can make it, apparently.

Except it doesn’t really feel like that to me. It’s more similar to the quote at the start of this post. It feels like I’m standing on a beach at night. I can see the sea, and I KNOW the tide will come in, but it’s way off in the distance, and no man alive can stop the ocean, so I don’t think about it. I’ll look away, distracted by something elsewhere, something that isn’t the beach or the sea, and when I look back, the water is around my knees, and I still won’t think about it because hey, I’m already wet so who cares. Soon I’m treading water, and suddenly everything’s not okay, because I’m not a good swimmer in this metaphor. The people nearby might see me, possibly on boats or inflatables, but don’t see that I’m struggling to stay afloat, so I have to survive until the tide goes back out again, and I’m standing on the beach, and the water is miles away, and so not worth thinking about…

The worst bit is probably knowing it’s cyclical and feeling trapped regardless. Thank god my friends and family stop me drowning.