Having grown up in Ardwick, and Newton Heath, I think it is fair to say our Bob fits the stereotype of a ‘Manc’. All of which is fine by us – but he is so much more.
Opening up about your mental health is not easy for anyone, but we all know from reported stats that men particularly struggle with it – but not Bob – he sees it as an opportunity to be able to help others. Here he tells us about his two breakdowns, dealing with anxiety and depression – and breaking free from his dark cloud, and at the age of 66 he feels in the best shape of his life. We are all very proud of you, Bob!
Bob says: “I have always wanted to teach, it felt like a calling, but my dad said I needed a trade! In 1977, after serving my time as an engineer, I qualified as a teacher and started my first job at the high school I attended as a child – Wright Robinson – teaching metalwork. Some of my old teachers were still there, so that was interesting! I spent three and a half years there before moving to Our Lady’s High School, where I became Head of Metalwork, and I stayed there until I finished teaching.
“I loved teaching, but changes came in that meant more paperwork and less time in the classroom and it felt very admin-like. My anxiety and stress levels increased with the added work pressures and I didn’t get any support. One day it all became too much and I collapsed – I didn’t know it was coming and it was a complete shock. I was off work for 14 months and saw a psychiatrist, counsellor and employer-appointed doctor. A month later my contract was terminated! I remember the wording in the letter so well: “You are no longer fit to carry out the duties which you were employed to do.” I felt like I had been tossed onto the scrap heap.
Before my breakdown, I was very confident, but my personality has changed completely now. I got very teary with my depression, my nerves were always on edge and I used to walk for miles just to get out of the house. At points, I felt suicidal but thinking about my family stopped me. I had a second breakdown three years later when I was made redundant from another job. I didn’t go back to work after this; so it was difficult with just one wage coming in the house.
“Over the years, I have had a range of therapies and medication – but I felt like it was just a plaster rather than a long-term fix. I decided to take on volunteering roles when I was ready and it has really helped me personally.
I also had a breakthrough in treatment – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is a form of psychotherapy. This lasted for 16 weeks and it is the best thing I ever had – it changed my life. It helped me to delve deeper into why I had had the breakdowns in the first place, and how to put into place strategies to help avoid them happening again. I have now weaned myself off my anti-depressants, as I did not want to take them for the rest of my life – but they were very necessary, and people should not feel
a stigma in taking them. My family have also been a great support system, as well as my faith, and when my wife had a breakdown also, I felt I was able to see the signs and help her deal with it better than I was able to for myself.
“I now really enjoy the volunteering, it really helps – and if I can help others at the same time, then great!”
Bob volunteers for Talking About My Generation and the Grafton Centre in Hyde, and previously Age UK Tameside.