Wednesday, 29 October 2014

An app for everything and everything for an app

So tonight I've been watching how the Samaritan's announcement of their Samaritansradar app has been received.  It's given me a lot to think about and lucky old you, I'm putting my thoughts down here.  

First of all, this is not a take-down of the good work Samaritans do or a dismissal of the obvious good intentions behind the app's development in the first place.  I've called the Samaritans myself on more than a couple of occasions and found solace in the voice at the end of the phone, knowing that it's confidential and not judgemental . And so I guess this is the first thing that makes me feel uncomfortable about the app. It feels like a judgement is being applied to me.  Not just by the person who has chosen to use the app to monitor my tweets for 'keywords' that might indicate I am in a suicidal frame of mind but also by the computer-generated algorithm that identifies these keywords and by the people who put this list of of keywords together in the first place.  (Yes I feel judged by an algorithm - I'm a mental, go with it). 

The confidentiality thing bothers me as well.  My Twitter account isn't currently set to private so no, I can't claim a breach of confidentiality in the sense that someone shouldn't have read them and shared them. But when I phone The Samaritans I know what I say is between me and them. When I don't know who is using the app to monitor my tweets I feel like that confidentiality, and most certainly the implicit bond of trust I have with people who follow me on Twitter, has been broken. I choose to phone a helpline.  I don't chose to have any number of people give my twitter handle to an app. But then with this app, my choices are not considered.  In fact with this app I only get one choice  - to lock my account.  This is the solution from Joe Ferns, Samaritans Director of Policy, Research and Development, that you can just set your account to private. Right, well that is naive at best and hugely insulting at worst - yes, I could but THAT'S NOT THE POINT. Why should I have to stop being able to interact with Twitter as a whole in order to avoid an app I never signed up to?  (Incidentally, this is what the police told me way back in 2011 when someone was using my tweets to stalk me - plus ca change...)

Which leads me to another concern.  Usually for an app to be actively looking at your tweets you need to authorise them to.  Here, it's someone else identifying the need for an app to interact with me but I don't get a say and I don't get to revoke access. 

I've seen some tweets which say that this app is no different to any old Joe Bloggs scanning your tweets and picking out those with a particular subject. Ok.  First of all, this is an application developed by a commercial company on behalf of another organisation; and secondly, I don't much like the thought of old Joe Bloggs  (or Joe Ferns for that matter) scanning my tweets - it's downright creepy and exactly what my stalker did! I really don't think it's the role of the well-intentioned follower, and even less so of a well-respected charity's commercial partner. 

There are also some seemingly glaring data protection issues which Information Rights & Wrong has blogged about far better than I could (TL:DR - personal data is personal data - yes, even tweets in the public domain - and sharing/processing it with third parties is subject to the law).  I find it almost impossible to believe that no one involved in the R&D for this app, either at Samaritans or Jam, the digital agency who developed the app (I think it's the company I've linked too - it's hard to tell - happy to be corrected) had any notion that there might be any data protection issues involved.  

I'm a massively paranoid person, but is it too far fetched to worry what uses the technology behind an app that shares my personal data with third parties without my consent, could be put to by more nefarious organisations and people? is it? IS IT? 

So, to the app itself.  In the press release for SamaritanRadar it refers to Twitter followers as 'your friends' and judging by the introductory video it pre-supposes you are in physical contact with the person whose tweets you're monitoring you're concerned about. That's not really Twitter, is it? That's Facebook.  Or if you're lucky, Actual Real Life.  The fact that they've either massively missed the language and global reach of Twitter, or they've subverted it to make the app seem more touchy-feely and less intrusive, massively gets on my wick. 

To recap, I've not authorised the app, I've not consented to the sharing by a commercial entity of my personal data and I don't know which of my 'friends' are subscribed to the app which allows them to do this.  Presumably after all this the support given to them to help a person who really, truly might be about to end their life must be shit hot, yes?  Well. They get an email showing them the tweet and an option to get the following advice: 

Would it be wrong to suggest that your natural consideration and care for another you like well enough to be concerned about might cause you to try some of these things anyway? Would it be wrong to suggest it's a little bit of common sense?

I never expected when I first joined Twitter in 2009 that it would become a trusted and safe space for me to talk about the depths and despair of my mental health but it has.  It has for many.  It's a hard, sad fact that people kill themselves. That they genuinely see no place for themselves in the world, or the world they inhabit is just too damn hard. What is harder is to accept that it is their right to seek help or not.  You can show them support. You can be a friend  You can tell them you care. You really don't need an app for that. 


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Feeling gloomy

I am feeling terribly gloomy right now.

I haven't written anything on here for ages, mainly because I've been unwell and not feeling very articulate, which is funny as I keep getting told by health professionals that I'm very articulate for a depressed person, as if my varied vocabulary is an indicator that I'm not really that ill - although that's a whole other blog post.

I've been getting increasingly more ill for quite a while and it's with a heavy heart that I've had to admit to myself and everyone around me that the job I got a year ago has been a contributory factor in that. It was the job that was supposed to be the start of Great Things for me.  Back on the career ladder, the only way is up etc etc. I always had a niggling suspicion that I might not be able to manage a full time job in central London at a prestigious and pressurised institution after the experiences and breakdown I had the last time I was in something similar but I told myself not to be so negative and to think of all the good things having this job could enable me to do.  I managed to convince pretty much everyone, myself included for a time, that everything was A-OK.

It wasn't and so now I've resigned.  My management have been really great, I don't think they could have been more supportive, but at the end of the day the job that 4 years ago would have been a perfect fit, was just a bit too big for me.  It's unbelievably shit to know you're not up to the job.  My one glimpse of light on the horizon though, is that I do know it was that job, that place and this time in particular - I am capable of working, I have good skills that I can definitely use, I just have to remember that I'm not the same person I was 4 years ago and adapt my thinking accordingly. Ideally I'm looking for 1 or 2 part time jobs still in my industry, preferably without a long commute. I think it's doable.

That's it really. There's a ton of other stuff I could blather on about - we're moving, I've got no money coming in, fear of signing on -  but I'm not sure I'm in the frame of mind where putting pen to paper (yes, yes, not really) about it  is going to do anything other than send me spiralling into the catastrophising-vicious-circle-of-Hell so I'm going to stop now.  Oh but before I do, thank you. Those of you who tweet me and comment on here really do an amazing job of keeping me walking in a forwards direction. I don't know I'd manage it without you.  No pressure or anything ;)

Friday, 16 May 2014

A thank you

I am self-aware enough to know it can be a bit of a bore
When I’m unsure and feeling mentally sore
It’s a chore I know to put up with the downs
And the frowns and the constant go-rounds of me
When I’m not free of the psychological debris
That’s like a dog with a bone and I moan
And I moan
And I moan
But you see - you are here, abating my fear and I’m no longer One but We.

And when I am MAD
Or even BAD – you still care
Do you know that’s incredibly rare?
I’d go so far as to say, in your words; it is RAD.
When I am scared or unprepared or waking up shouting
From a nightmare – oh look! – You are there.

Being is hard
When there’s that sharp pointy shard
Of dark matter running through
Seemingly stuck with superglue, but you!
You soften the edges and make me feel new.

This is a mere gesture but I want you to know
I understand the pressure of caring for one so frequently undone
By a brain, quite insane, almost going down the drain,
So please know I am grateful
And it feels well, fateful that I’m part of your life
Your soon to be wife, in trouble and strife
And I am here, my dear, for you as well
In life’s heaven and hell, or the something in-between.

We are seen at our best and our worst by those who care the most
And we, you and me, will face down the ghosts
From our past and our present;
The ghasts of the night we’ll chase into the light
Come the dawn – reborn,
To try
And try
And try again
With a gentle holding of hands
And a kiss – oh the bliss -
That you understand.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Memories are made of this

Memory is a funny thing.  Being a slave to your memories is anything but. 

It is three years since the things I can't get out of my head started.  I couldn't have imagined that they would still be causing me this much distress.  Long story short? A Person who had a grudge against me started to write anonymously to my work place which culminated in them investigating me for supposedly lying about having depression.  I wasn't lying, I became suicidal, I resigned. 

When I put it like that, it doesn't sound like much. It was.  It is. That I could be hated that much is something I really struggle with but not as much as I struggle with the fact that the people I worked with at The Place, who knew my mental health history lifted not one finger to support me or defend me. The Person and The Place threw me to the wolves and stood by whilst they tore out my sense of self.

Until the last week or so, I've not told anyone how The Person and The Place infiltrate my thoughts. It's constant. One or the other, or both, are there when I go to bed, there in my dreams and there during every waking hour.  I relive each moment, I imagine it happening again, scenarios from the past and the potential future play over and over in my head.  I can see it, I can see them. 

I resigned in January 2012.  It was January 2014 before I could even go to the train station near The Place.  As for The Person,  they are still on the periphery.  Being part of my local community is great but it also means it is almost impossible for me to avoid them, although I do try.  

Last week I did an assessment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It seems to fit.  What happened to me wasn't typical of the type of events that trigger PTSD and this in itself makes me feel like a fraud - I haven't be assaulted or witnessed an act of violence, been in a war or earthquake zone, I haven't had a life-threatening illness.  I read this earlier though that I think I can justifiably say is the case:

Harmful intentions
Man-made disasters, particularly those involving deliberate acts of violence, terrorism, or exploitation, seem to cause longer-lasting and more painful emotional consequences than natural disasters. The crucial factor may be that such experiences destroys people’s trust in others, particularly if they involve someone you have depended on.
It was a disaster.  Me and my mental health were exploited by someone with harmful intentions and that experience did destroy my trust in my colleagues and employer who I depended on.  I had depended on them for nearly 9 years. 
I've been signed off work for two weeks due to depression and anxiety. I am so scared that when I go back to work next week, it will be to be told they've received an anonymous letter with allegations that I am faking a mental health condition.   I really wouldn't put it past The Person to do it again, just to fuck with me. I've only been in this job 7 months.  If an employer of 9 years wouldn't back me, can I really expect the current one to? I know the rational answers to all this, but I don't think the fear will ever go away.
Sitting here writing, I can't stop the images of The Person reading this and feeling satisfied at the role they still play in my life. I wish I could cut out the part of my brain that does this and feed it to the wolves. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Mr Bearface - Saviour of disgarded teddies.

Mr Bearface is a gardener. Yesterday he built a compost heap at a job in South London.  When he returned today, he was shocked and horrified to discover three stuffed bears, thrown away, on the compost heap.

He rescued them and brought them home.  I love him a lot I do.

Here are the three bears. I love them too.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I'm out of the Twitter closet!

Morning campers, how’s it going?

Today is a big day in the on-going trials and tribulations of me and Twitter.  I’ve come out.  My real name and my Twitter name are in the same place for the first time ever.   Given the problems I've had in the past and particularly given how I was feeling when I wrote my last post you might think this is a move of the utmost foolishness on my part.  Maybe it is. 

I’ve started blogging for the Tottenham Journal under my real name and my first piece includes a link to my Twitter account.  It seemed like a bit of a faff to have to start explaining why I couldn't actually give out my Twitter name in the same space as my real name and to be honest, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I shouldn't have to.  I am not ashamed of anything I put on Twitter and whilst this move may mean I need to be a little more circumspect in what I write on there, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – there may be a few less ‘cunts’ but the internet is littered with swearing bears (just look at who I follow on Twitter) and I doubt my lack of contribution to that arena is going to break anyone’s heart. 

There is also the fact that the more open I am the less opportunity there is for nasty mean-spirited people like The Person to try and get one over on me.   I’d like to think they’re over all that now, but I’d never be so foolish as to not give it due consideration.

I am a very open person and hiding out of fear doesn't sit naturally with me. So I’ve decided I'm not going to do that any more.

My name is Tara and I am Bear Faced Lady. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

I can’t let go

I am angry.  I am angry and I can’t get past it. I am angry and it is not doing me any good. I am writing this in the hope that it will be cathartic and I’ll stop having nightmares about the place I used to work at, that I’ll stop being terrified of not being believed, that I’ll stop thinking about it all the bloody time.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know something of what I’m going on about and might not want to read anything else about it, so here’s a Get out of Jail Free card; collect £200 and pass Go without reading any further.  I wouldn’t blame you; I’m sick to the stomach of the whole thing. If you haven’t read it before, here is a brief synopsis: I had depression and was signed off work. A nasty, grubby individual wrote to my employer saying I was faking it and using my tweets as ‘evidence’.  My employer investigated me, found me guilty of misconduct on the basis of my tweets and precious little else and began disciplinary action. I was suicidal.  I resigned.

I’ve tried so hard to get past it.  I cleared my desk on 10th January this year.  Time has gone on and yet I can’t stop thinking about it.  It affects everything I do.  I am so fucking angry.

They knew I was on a waiting list for therapy.  They had medical certificates from my GP stating I had depression.  They had letters from my GP confirming the severity of my illness.  They had reports from their own Occupational Health doctors who having met and examined me on at least three occasions agreed with my GP’s diagnosis. And yet, on the basis of what I put on Twitter and a telephone conversation with a different doctor from Occupational Health who I hadn’t even met, they told me I was a liar.  They told me my behaviour was not consistent with that of someone with depression.  

This, from a manager who, by her own admission, had no experience or understanding of depressive illness.  This from a manager, who, when I said I felt uncomfortable talking openly to her about my symptoms told me “Stephen Fry talks about his depression…” This, from a manager who whilst carrying out the investigation into the veracity of my mental illness, was also appointed as my line manager, responsible for over-seeing the phased return to work recommended by the organisation’s Occupational Health doctors.  Conflict of interest, much?

Of course, everyone asks why I didn’t take this to an employment tribunal.  I thought about it, I really did.  I sought advice.  In the end, I was still too ill.  Even though I was told that legally, I had a strong case.  The prospect, however remote, of being found guilty a second time of something I hadn’t done was just too terrifying.  I’d pulled myself back from the brink once; I knew I couldn’t do it again.  It’s too late now, you only get so long to lodge a complaint with an employment tribunal, and honestly despite being more mentally healthy now than I have been in a long while, I don’t think I’d ever be strong enough to fight that battle again, even if it were an option.

I’m starting a new job soon. I am terrified of it all happening again.  I’ll never be able to say where I work, or have any public facing role in the new organisation, for fear of the grubby individual who began all this, sending their nasty poison pen letters to my new employer as well. I’m not angry with the grubby individual anymore; they are not worth the effort.  They are nothing. I am angry with my old employer.  They knew me. They knew my past history of depression.  They knew I was good at my job. They knew me. And they called me a liar. And I can’t forgive them.