Mr Elastic Brain
Posted Tuesday 20 September 2011
This is a guest blog from Douglas Cairns, AKA Sid Ozalid, who talks about the road from punk poet to corporate high-flyer, his new book and how he learned to balance his mental health with a high-pressure job.
I fitted in very well at school until I had to learn something. Although having a vivid imagination my dyslexia went unnoticed in the school system of the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in me spending my time at the bottom of the class. My teachers thought I was ‘slow’ and were happy as long as I did not chat in class. I chatted in class! They were not happy.
I was deeply ashamed of my lack of education and felt as if I was living in some sort of vacuum filled with jelly. The structure of normal life was puzzling and constantly challenging when having to fill in forms, write or talk in public. My solution was to get a job and work hard. I also invented my own character that would allow me to express my inner self; in 1978 The ‘Tap Dancing Poet’ Sid Ozalid was born. Looking back this was a way to release some of my childhood frustrations that were locked inside.
The hard work paid off and I always had a job and supported my family, I also spent over 20 years performing as Sid Ozalid. I performed on TV had my own radio show and got to support bands such The Clash, Simple Minds and The Specials. People said I was a manic depressive. Manic on stage and depressive off stage, but they never saw me off stage and within the structure of family, friends and work I was never depressed, just a bit manic, so what did they know? All was fine as far as I was concerned.
Whizz forward to the year 2000, I am no longer performing. I am separated from his wife and children and quickly became depressed. Now head of information management for a major oil and gas company, my solution is to work harder. The harder I push the worse I get.
I am asked to take time off work as my behaviour is upsetting to others. I am diagnosed with chronic depression. I am physically and mentally exhausted and can sleep for up to 20 hours a day
Welcome back to the world filled with jelly. I find it difficult to talk; I need help crossing the road. My mail piles up and my phone is cut off. I hide in the corner of the room and cry. The pain inside is so bad I cut my chest open to let it out. This does not work.
This may or may not sound familiar to you, who knows. I was very lucky that the company I worked for was supportive and gave me the required time to recover. The advice from my doctor was a mix of medication, rest, counselling and exercise. This was fully endorsed by my company doctor. Not everyone is so lucky.
After an absence of six months I went back to work part time and was amazed that some people would not talk to me and were vindictive and others found it easy and would offer support. It hurts me to tell you that one of my brothers still does not talk to me, but it’s not his fault. In his rational world it all makes sense.
It took a long time before I could function fully in the workplace. On my first day back I had forgotten how to use the phone or switch on my PC. It was easier not to eat than own up to the fact that I could not function and was distressed and disorientated in the works restaurant.
I had to re-learn a number of fundamental skills, but with the help of a number of caring friends and colleagues I managed to get back to work and establish myself as a successful facilitator, change manager and behavioural safety expert. I now have a global role as a behavioural change manager.
I have to take care not to overwork myself, or I can find myself back in the slow-thinking, dizzy ‘jelly’. I had to have a short spell off work again in 2006. Since then I have got better and better at managing my ‘illness’. Recognising that prevention is preferable to cure, I live by the maxim: look after yourself and do not be afraid to reach out and look after others.
Thinking back I remember all those people who reached out to help me, people who approached me and told me of their own experience or the experience of someone close, what a gift this was. On the other hand people who did not understand what was happening, some were hurtful out of ignorance and some were hurtful out of spite. As they say what goes around comes around and I got back what I had given out.
To help keep myself both physically and mentally fit I have done a number of sponsored cycle rides and raised thousands of pounds for charity. Two of these were for Mind. I was very lucky to meet and married a very nice lady and slowly started writing and performing again.
In April of this year I had a book published: ‘Mr Elastic Brain – The Life and Poems of Sid Ozalid’. It touches on my illness and also covers my time as a one legged tap dancing poet. All profits go to Mind and I am very happy to report that it went into the Amazon top-ten bestsellers list for both poetry and mental health for its first four weeks of release.
I still have challenges, each time I get a new boss I have to decide if I should tell them that I am constantly managing my mental health. Sometimes I feel safe and sometimes I have come unstuck and felt ‘broken inside’. No one said it would be easy.
On the upside, finding time to be creative and write my book has given me so much internal peace, but best of all are the people who have made contact with me to thanked me for the impact the book has had on them and how it touched them in ways I would never have imagined.
So remember - look after yourself and do not be afraid to reach out and look after others.
Douglas Cairns, aka Sid Ozalid
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