Being Without Broadband: A story of mental health in rural Britain

I’m sitting in a Starbucks. I was here yesterday, too. The day before that, I went to Costa. Rather than doing this to feed my usual coffee addiction, I’m doing it to be connected to the outside world. I’d much rather be home.

On 1 January, we had a storm that dislodged something in the wiring for our phone line. That day, just before 3 pm, I called BT to get the issue worked out. The earliest engineer appointment they could offer was Tuesday afternoon. We waited. We went to coffee shops. We felt increasingly cut off, particularly as we live in a rural area with limited mobile coverage. Depending on what room you’re in, or even which part of a room, you can lose signal completely.

Yesterday, during the 1 pm to 6 pm window, at around 4:30 pm, I had a call from Openreach saying that the engineer simply wouldn’t be coming out. No reason given, no apology, no explanation. The earliest appointment they could give me was Thursday afternoon.

I called back later to explain the seriousness of our need for a phone and was told nothing was available. When I tried to ask for a supervisor, my call was disconnected. I called back, only to get a message about long wait times and that my call was in a queue. If I wanted, though, I could use BT’s helpful online self-service portal.

Right now, having a phone line and a broadband connection is a pretty significant need. Much of the work I do as a writer requires me to be online. Having no phone or internet for a week means no income for a week. But it also means much more than that.

For the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a pretty severe depression. I have had appointments every week, sometimes more than once a week, with members of the local mental health team. We’re working on getting me through this, but I’m not there yet. I’m very far from ‘there’.

There’s a lot I could say about why I’ve swung so deeply into depression. Changes in my life, changes in medication, and the holidays are but three of the items on a very long list. Regardless of why I ended up in these doldrums, I’m here now.

It’s not a pretty thing to talk about, but a real problem with depression is the risk of death. I hate writing it, but there’s a very real risk of suicide with this level of depression. There’s the potential that my husband will need to call emergency services because of my illness. Without a phone, that isn’t possible.

Although it wasn’t mentioned as an option in any of my phone calls to BT, even in the one where I explained that I need a phone line because of ill health, they do offer a Priority Fault Repair Scheme. This service offers those with serious health problems the ability to jump the queue of service requests.

The problem with this scheme is that it is limited to those who meet a very specific set of criteria:

You, or someone who lives with you, are registered as Chronically Sick & Disabled by your local authority social services under the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA) 1970


Incapacitated and therefore housebound, due to a chronic long-term illness or disability which prevents you leaving the house without the assistance of another person. For example, on the National Organ Transplant waiting list.

While this will cover a large number of people, it leaves those of us with severe mental illness in a bit of a grey area. Applying as a disabled person with a local authority is notoriously difficult when doing so for mental health reasons. Even with psychiatric care, the burden of ‘proof’ is difficult. Mental illness is a hidden disease, one that people don’t like to talk about, and one that is largely misunderstood.

The need for an active phone line is also a psychological issue. For me, and many others with mental illness, being online has offered a way to interact with the outside world. It’s a way of being connected to society, even when you aren’t well enough to do basic things like get out of bed, shower, get dressed, and walk outside.

Being online is a way for me to contribute to my family’s upkeep, too. It’s a way I can bring in some pittance of money, giving me a purpose when I’m not well enough to be the primary caregiver for my son. Even if I’m not a very good wife when I’m not well, I can offer something to my husband in this way.

The feeling of isolation that comes with depression is crippling. When you aren’t well, the thoughts of your worthlessness are overwhelming. Being cut off from the rest of the world, however virtual they may be, leaves you with nothing but these intrusive thoughts of worthlessness.

The need for communications — phone and internet — in modern life are essential for most people. The most basic elements of life are only handled through these means. For those with mental illness, the need is even greater, something I’ve felt with some severity this past week.

While my service will — hopefully — be on in a few days, I’m sure there are others who aren’t in a position to argue their side for service repairs. When in the grips of the darkest depression, it is difficult to communicate your needs, and even more difficult to launch into discussions of service repairs with a noisy call centre. I know that, in some of my worst depressions, the cacophony of accented call centre representatives over the crackly mobile line would have set off a bout of paranoia. The murmur of voices was always a problem for me when I dipped into psychotic states, a type of life that was so horribly painful, I often felt the only solution was to end my own life.

I’m not alone in this, either. But there are no options for sufferers of mental illness. We don’t have access to faster service for repairs, or even the understanding of most members of the public. Without a phone or internet, I don’t have access to the emergency services that could save my life, or a way to find out the contact information for local support options.

My problem is something that needs to be addressed. It’s the intersection of rural coverage and mental illness being seen as the serious issue it is. It’s something that is being ignored by BT and others. It’s something that could be a matter of life and death.

I Am Bipolar vs. I Have Bipolar vs. Wavering Terminology of Disease

This past week was everyone’s favourite holiday, Mental Health Day. It’s that one day of the year where all flavours of crazy get to openly talk about stuff on the news and everyone pats themselves on the back for how far we’ve come and how there’s totally no stigma whatsoever anymore and treatment is there if you want it. And then the next day we can all go back to the reality of the situation.

My reality, which I’ve openly written about on here before, is that I’m bipolar. I tend towards depression, which is why I was initially misdiagnosed and treated for unipolar depression. That triggered a pretty massive mania, which messed up a lot of things in my life, but got me the right diagnosis. When I’m at my worst, when I hit absolute rock bottom or soar to Himalayan heights, I get the fun of what are referred to as ‘psychotic features’, too. If you ask me my full mental health diagnosis, my answer is always ‘I’m Bipolar I with psychotic features’.

Of course, reading through all the many posts that came out on the aforementioned holiday, it seems that I’m in a minority with that. There are plenty of bipolar folks out there, some with the same diagnosis, but there seems to be a backlash against the ‘I am’ part of my statement.

It seems the more popular choices are to say ‘I have bipolar disorder’ or ‘I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder’ or ‘my diagnosis is bipolar disorder’.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

While I could easily say bipolar is something I have or have been diagnosed with, like you would say you have or have been diagnosed with arthritis, it doesn’t seem quite right for me. To me, bipolar is the fundamental description of my brain. It’s not an ailment, it’s part of who I am. Without bipolar, my personality, my achievements, my life would not be what it is.

I am bipolar.

It’s also acceptance that it’s not something that will ever go away. While medication can keep me stable, balanced carefully between depression and mania, it will always be a balancing act. I’ll always be up there, teetering away with the risk of tipping to one side or the other. One combination of medication might work for years, and then stop working. Something else might change that makes it impossible to take those medications. Underneath all of that, I’ll still be bipolar.

Right now, I’m in one of those teetering stages. After giving birth, I’ve had to change my medication. What was working before I was pregnant, and through part of my pregnancy, no longer suits me. It makes me very drowsy, which was great for my occasional insomnia and pain issues, but not great when you have a toddler. So with the depression lingering around, I went to a different medication. It didn’t work. I switched to another, and it gave me unacceptable side effects.

Today, between when I started writing this and when I’m now finishing it, I had another appointment to discuss my medication. Bipolar depression isn’t an easy thing to treat, especially when sedation has to be avoided. The two-page list of medications I’ve tried in the past only complicates things more. While I’m at this stage, though, we have the ability to try things out. I’ve been in situations so dark there hasn’t been that luxury. I’ve been at points where hitting things heavy is the only choice, and the only way to keep me alive.

am bipolar because I’ll always be bipolar. There will never be a day where I wake up and no longer have it. There is no hope for a cure. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want it if there was. Because I am bipolar. It’s not a disease or a disorder or a syndrome. It’s a whole package of traits that I wouldn’t want to give up, a club whose members I am proud to stand with. It’s who I am.

The Long-Term Process of Dying

I feel I need to edit to add that I’m not suicidal. I’m a little depressed, but getting treatment. If you’re worried about somebody else, though, please call a group like the Samaritins.

My head is telling me not to write this. My head is telling me to just shut up, to not be one of what will end up being far too many blog posts about a celebrity death. But I feel compelled to write this, if only to serve as a way of replying to various posts on various social media. It will be a way to stop me from getting into petty arguments with people who aren’t worth arguing with.

Today has been filled with the news that Robin Williams, hirsute comedian and actor, killed himself. He hanged himself with a belt in his bedroom, in his home. He was found by his assistant. He was married, he had a family. He was a celebrity. He was an alcoholic. He was depressed. He committed suicide.

It’s easy to take to social media and bemoan the lack of treatment for depression. It’s easy to make flippant comments about suicide being the easy way out. It’s easy to be upset that somebody you enjoyed watching in films has died.

It isn’t easy to live with depression, or any of the many diseases that include depressive episodes in their symptoms. And it isn’t easy to commit suicide. It isn’t something that one comes to flippantly, on the spur of the moment.

You don’t simply wake up one day, stub your toe as you get out of bed, find out you’re out of coffee, and then grab a shotgun.

Suicide is a long-term process. The act of killing oneself is the culmination of a lot of things. It’s something that builds up, with false starts, reconsiderations, and internal struggles.

That’s not to say it doesn’t come fast. For some, it can be a quick process, with so much packed into a few hellish days or hours. But it’s been there for longer. It’s been there, creeping in the corners of one’s mind, waiting for the right moment.

I’ve battled with depression for many years as part of bipolar disorder. I have been on the brink of death more than once. I’d like to hope that I won’t be there again, but I know I can never say that as an absolute. The thing about depression is that no matter how great life can be, how much you have going for you, it can still creep up on you and kick you in the face. It can always still win. It will always try to win.

My current mental state isn’t the best. I’m still battling with a flare up of depression that came about through pregnancy and after birth. But I’m in remission when it comes to suicide. And I do consider it something that you go into remission with. You aren’t cured, but you might get lucky and end up suicide free for the rest of your life.

Or you might not. It might come back. It might be more than you can handle. It might eat away at you until you aren’t part of life anymore. Until you’re just a shell of a body, empty inside and feeling like you’re already dead. But even then — even in that last moment — you try to fight. Suicide isn’t a cowardly way to die any more than cancer is, or heart disease is, or any other deadly disease. And just as you wouldn’t lament how somebody could allow themselves to die through any of those diseases, nor should you when they die of depression.

There isn’t enough care for mental health diseases. There is a taboo when it comes to speaking out about them. And that isn’t right. That does need to change. There needs to be early intervention and regular treatment. Really, once suicidal depression has taken hold in such a way, it probably is too late. There is the chance for a miracle treatment that cuts through, that extends life. (I know this for a fact. For me, it was a pill called quetiapine, which I agreed to take in a compromise, being told by a very wise doctor that it would knock me out in a ‘temporary suicide’ of sleep. Were it not for that pill and that doctor, I wouldn’t be here to write this post.)

For too many, though, it’s just too late. Having somebody who is suicidally depressed pop a few Prozac is about as effective as tossing ibuprofen at cancer.

It really is a shame that Robin Williams got to that point, and that suicide won. And it’s a shame that so many others get there, too. It’s a shame that this disease goes untreated, undertreated, and underdiagnosed. Whether it’s through lack of insurance, social stigma, or something else, too many don’t get the help they need. I’ve been lucky where others haven’t. But I haven’t been courageous. I’m no more of a fighter. I’ve just been lucky.

Again, I feel I need to edit to add that I’m not suicidal. I’m a little depressed, but getting treatment. If you’re worried about somebody else, though, please call a group like the Samaritins.

On Being 35

Yesterday I turned 35, and it was an odd day.

From the start, it was all a bit off. Jack woke up at 6; by 6:30 it was more than clear he wouldn’t be going back to sleep. I walked into the bathroom and Shamu had crapped on the floor. While I cleaned that up, Jack filled his nappy with great gusto.

I had planned on starting the day with a trip to a local auction. My weekly trips to the general auction have been good for me. They’re a time where I’m not looking after a baby or trying to catch up with work. They’re a time to observe the buyers, enjoy the atmosphere, and snag a few thing here and there. In spite of our early start, I still managed to get to the auction half an hour after it started.

I walked in as the auctioneer began to call the lot I actually wanted to bid on. Frantically digging through my bag for my bidder number, I managed to get in the bidding, but didn’t win the lot. I bid a little beyond what I had set as my limit, pushing the sale price past the real value of the items. The rest of the auction followed suit, with nothing ending at the price I wanted to pay.

From there, Adam picked me up. I had gone outside to call him and say I was ready, only for him to be waiting there. Jack had been in a foul mood, so he had left the house just to calm him down. We’re in the midst of a heat wave, and none of us — none of England — is handling it particularly well.

We went to my favourite farm shop for brunch. I had a savoury tea — cheese scones, cheddar cheese, chutney, and grapes — all of which Jack messily shared. We saw a woman who was pretty much leather on a skeleton. Adam couldn’t look at her while he ate for fear of vomiting.

By this point, I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep, Jack didn’t. I gave up and went to pick up a cookbook. It would give Jack a chance to sleep and I would get to be in air conditioning. Only it was rush hour. And halfway back, the fuel light came on. Because I was driving through a very hilly area, I couldn’t count on the fuel gauge’s mileage estimate. Instead, I got to have a hot, panicked drive where I kept an eye on how many gallons of petrol had been used. In rush hour.

I made it home and we went out for dinner. We had wanted to go to Lyme Regis, like we did last year. I was going to have mussels again. We got to Lyme Regis and it was stupendously crowded. (Lifeboat Week and school holidays combined with hot weather meant everyone was out.) We went to the restaurant, were finally seated in a hot indoor area and told they were out of mussels. After a good 10 minutes of waiting for service, I realised I couldn’t sit there any longer. We left, with the intention of heading to Seaton for another restaurant. (As an aside, we had another look for Adam’s left shoe, which went missing when we were on a family trip to Lyme Regis earlier in the week. Still missing.)

In the car, Jack was tired and grumpy, and I decided I would rather come home. We got a bunch of ready-made tapas stuff from Tesco and came back. Jack finally fell asleep and we watched Big Brother and Orange is the New Black.

So it was an odd birthday, full of overheating and frustration. But I spent it with Adam and Jack, and all things considered, it might have been one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had just for that reason.

And I’m thinking 35 will be a good year. For all the frustrations and poop, I’ve got a good life.

Another Day Without Writing

Quite frankly, I don’t want to write tonight. So I’m not going to. I’m going to carry on having a good day, without fighting to find something worth writing about, or performing some soul-searching exercise.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel like writing.

My Structural Struggle

When I decided to take on NaBloPoMo, I knew it would be a challenge. I don’t do daily things very well. I always end up having one day that doesn’t pan out, that interrupts the flow, and then I give up. I stop completely. I accept defeat.

Yesterday was the second time I haven’t posted in the less than two weeks of this month of daily posts. That’s pretty piss poor performance.

But I’m forcing myself to write now. As much as I really don’t want to, would rather work on something else, and can’t think of anything to write about, this is me forcing myself to not give in.

It isn’t just with writing, though. Anything that involves a rigid structure — or even a structure that I could perceive as rigid — is a problem. I don’t do well without structure, either, though. I need to find the right balance of structure and freedom.

The problem is that I’ve never found that balance. Never.

I honestly don’t know if it even exists. I might just need to keep fighting with myself to find whatever is the closest to that balance.

5 Things I Didn’t Do Today

We woke up early, before the sun was properly shining. I enjoyed getting out early yesterday, but was too tired this morning. I had great plans, though. None of them happened.

1. I would take Jack to the beach. After failing to get a parking space on a sunny Sunday, I thought Monday would give us more of a chance. Instead, we both fell asleep.

2. I would take Jack to a National Trust property. Instead, he fell asleep on my lap.

3. I would take Jack to Tesco. Instead, he watched me tidy the kitchen and played with a teether.

4. I would walk the trash bag down to the end of the road with Jack. Instead, we worked on sitting and invented a game called ‘daredevil baby’.

5. I would get Jack to sleep on time and do some writing tonight. Instead, he fell asleep, then woke up again, had a massive tantrum, and has been sleeping on my lap for several hours.

Oh well… it was still a nice day.

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