Sprung

One of my favourite things about Castrophe was the pre/postcoital chat between Rob and Sharon. And my frequent inability to correctly spell Catastrophe. It all came out on the pillow. His tenderness, her insecurities. Their zig-zag spooning curled up around chat. The flipping over of fears from vertical to horizontal evening out the bunched up either downs or ups.

Why couple counselling isn’t conducted by travelling bed-side therapists is a glaring oversight. Why couples don’t just lie down while talking to one another is probably the reason for the proliferation of so many office-based ones.  And the small matter of it being impractical. And the likelihood of the bed-side box of tissues causing momentary awkwardness.

Which is just as well because, in my live u-turn you’re currently reading, I don’t think it’s one of my better proposals. I wouldn’t be able to discuss other critical issues inspired by sitting upright watching TV. People complain about TV being a conversation killer. How else would I have been able to ask my fella if he’d stick with me if I was quadraplegic after a horrific accident. Documentaries (and Eastenders) are handy for bluntly raising these delicate questions. I think that one might’ve been inspired by a man who was paraplegic, so I took it from there and added a few extras (“Even if you didn’t qualify for carer’s allowance?”).

So, bedtalk is best left to releasing whimsical internal dialogue. Only last night, as we lay there basking in the post-Chinese-take-away glow, I casually disclosed I’d convinced myself  I’m going to be given the heave-ho from work next week. For some vague reason (acute paranoia), based on nothing much (nothing much), I’ve reasoned it’s The End. Insert dramatic violin music here. With funding drying up, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to jettison the weak link in their otherwise perfectly well-dressed, if inherently dysfunctional, organisation. And no amount of soothing yawns from my fella convinced me otherwise. Nor could he offer any valid reason why I am trapped by my own perpetual expectation of other folk to expect me to take responsibility for their tattered, threadbare efforts.

Too bad paranoia and socially functioning madness are only acceptable in TV form. And even at that, not by everyone. “Meh”, was the general consensus among The Other Mothers to my stage one grief (comfort eating, bad hair) over the show’s finale. As if they haven’t already given me enough reasons to hate them (e.g. an unwillingness to swear when the children aren’t around, always remembering they have children). So I’m in for a few ropey days of holding it together until Tuesday when I’ve been summoned to meet the boss. Just as well we’ve a few distractions over the weekend.

This evening we have a christening. An event normally requiring rescue remedy and the super-gluing of the left corner of my lip to my teeth to prevent it from curling. It’ll be fine.

Priest: “Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?”

Loudly from the back pew..

“Possessor of grand ego, Godfather of ineptitude, Commander-in-Chief of his one man army.”

Stunned silence from those gathered.

“Oh, sorry. I thought you were talking about my boss”

Mother-in-law narrows eyes in knowing you-had-to-say-something-inappropriate-to-ruin-it way.

Tomorrow, I’m on fake cheerleading duties at a charity run. Not content with doing an impersonation of Forrest Gump round town, my fella’s life is so empty he chooses to run in other places for free, enlisting the child to do likewise. I’ve been practising my proud face all week, which is not unlike my reaction to spotting unsolicited beetroot on my plate.

Race MC: “And lining up in the distance are members of Carlow Athletic Club. Always good to see them. Although, I’ve always doubted the existence of Carlow. Does it really exist? Has anyone ever actually been there? OK, we’ve three minutes to go before the race gets under…” 

MC elbowed aside by dishevelled woman who looks like someone just served her beetroot. She grabs the mic.

“I’d like to give a supa shout-out to Sha Nade O’Connah, rawking it live NON stop. You are tha best Sha Nade, word up.  Sorry, I’ve always wanted to that. But, really, I want you all to give it up for my man, Forest, and our wee one, eh, Forrestine. Without you, I’d be at home watching re-runs of Come Dine With Me. And if it all goes to shit on Tuesday, well so what? You’ll both still love me, right? Even if I don’t qualify for Umployment Assistance?”

Like I say, it’ll be fine.

fran

“Purveyor of stupid fucking jokes in the staffroom…”

So long as I don’t pull a Fran.

Take it away there, MC Lyte like a good man…

 

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Spaced All the Time Continuum

From the archives. For the day that’s in it #WorldMentalHealthDay

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Having bathed himself in glory over his dismissal of the existence of depression, journalist, John Waters, returned to the pages of the Irish Independent last week. Defending his freedom of expression, he expounded his theory on the existence of two clear-cut Irelands: a media-elite driven Dublin, where having personal insults thrown at him on the street is commonplace; and the “real Ireland, where people have lots of different views and engage with each other all the time and see that as being OK”.  That’s right, John. And The Quiet Man was a searing Pulitzer-winning documentary that drilled uncomfortably down into our national psyche.

A similarly crude and potentially wonky view could be formed on depression and the rest of our mental health; or Ireland, as I prefer to call all mental illness. Waters’s comments detonated an avalanche of personal accounts documenting the crippling effects of depression. Few (apart from John, and possibly people outside Dublin) could argue with the bravery and honesty of these men and women in contributing to raising awareness of a condition, which by its paralysing nature, is often impossible to articulate. They had my admiration at their opening lines for the ability to reconcile syntax with severed nerves and to talk openly about open wounds on their mind. I’d give it a go, but would end up referring you to the Blue Nile’s ‘Hats’ and a selection of cakes, preferably under fridge-light.

Meanwhile, in the rest of Ireland, there are people who have lots of different views and engage with each other all the time but are not OK with it at all. So many grown-ups fearing discovery of their winging-it status; the anxiety-ridden worker dreading another day in the office; the comfort-eating mother who has lost all confidence in herself;  the lonely man who can’t stop himself muttering monosyllabic responses in the company of women; the women wanted children, who would’ve made great mothers but didn’t get to be one; the single people constantly excusing their singlehood under the casual interrogation of company without boundaries; the ‘foreign national’ trying to fit in, the crazies, the drop-down pissed, the paranoid, golfers, oddballs, the managerial types, the misfits, the Mumford and Sons fans, those struggling to make ends meet, the lulas, the cheese-haters, the head-the-balls, the bonkers, the traumatised, the beige-wearers, the off-their-rockers, yer wans, yer man, and that one (eye-rolls). Beaten hearts and fractured souls, the reeling, the OCDs, the fuck-right-offs, the dreamless, the hopeless, the who-do-they-think-they-ares, the don’t-go-nears and the never-go-outs. And that’s just my own family. All the functioning folk hovering above emotional collapse who don’t belong under the cover of depression, of a diagnosis, of a word that helpfully nails it. Or who have to endure all the words and amateur diagnostics they could do without.

It’s doubtful there will be a National Hiding in the Toilet in Bewley’s From the World Day (true story) in my lifetime; respectability won’t extend to those chatting to themselves in the frozen food aisle in Tesco. There will never be a certain cachet attached to gymnastic mood-swings or to those so nice to people they’re in danger of giving themselves a groin injury from laughing at nothing. Saintly protection of the feelings of others won’t replace necessary banter and humour. Thank fuck. How weird would that be? We’re all too busy contending with life wherever we be on the spectrum. But maybe, along with rightfully acknowledging the gravity of depression, we might stretch to giving all of them us a break now and again. With incentives, obviously. Bun, anyone?

Out of the blue

Sauntering into a shoe shop to punch in my pin number less than a minute later for the first expensive pair tried on would not be considered the wisest move. My working hours have been chopped by 30 per cent; my wages taking a nosedive with it. But for all my reckless spending that fuelled a spontaneous past, it’s a sign my internal compass needle is attempting to get back on its axis.

For a woman with too much say, the stuff left unsaid is only so because it refuses to wear any kind of sentence; or to find a word with a zip that closes. It reached a point where the thought of another changing room encounter led me to avoid them altogether. So while I can’t articulate being at war with my mind, I’m beginning to recognise vital signs of emerging victorious from one vicious battle.

So it would seem that shopping is no longer an activity in which I’m a passive participant channelling my compulsive spending through the children’s section. My underwear drawer might still be a museum of an epoch fashion forgot, but I defiantly choose a shoe shop instead of Mother Care. Actually, I wasn’t defiant at all. My feet just kind of took me that way. There was no cross-roads, no conscious determination to turn right instead of left.

That it was trainers I purchased might not signal full sartorial rehabilitation but it’s a start. To returning to the road I pounded up yesterday after ditching the car after feeling the sunlight on my face and a giddy childhood yearning to engineer the crunch of leaves under my feet. Climbing the steep incline in the glare of weary workers inching home, the only part of me that felt exposed was my ears. I mentally scanned our kitchen trying to remember where I left my Walkman for next time, unconcerned that my glowing face was fast becoming visible from space.

Half-read books are rescued. A full head of hair resuscitated. A burning desire to tear down every set of curtains that have stayed up long past their expiry date ushers a drift towards other interiors in need of revival. Phone-calls and door-knocks no longer go unanswered. Mostly. Unless it’s the pizza delivery guy. Not really, I haven’t gone all born again. But it’s grand again, instead of grand; the grand half an octave too high that strains to mask the reality of the grand two octaves lower, and slower. My daily dose of exclamation marks has been reduced to 20 mg. And I expect to be completely off ducking and diving by the end of the month with the first of a few road-trips. First we take Manorhamilton then we take Elphin. Via the underwear shop.

Whose mental health is it anyway?

scream

Years ago, a friend of mine hosted his own photographic exhibition in a disused wing of a London psychiatric hospital. Entitled Black Dog, the show documented a series of images depicting his personal struggle with depression. Reminders of the more devastating consequences of an archaic mental health system permeated the austere space. His photos hung from crumbling bricks from which the bare minimum of paint had long since cracked and peeled. Windows fit for a doll’s house compounded the institutional atmosphere impossible to shake off; remnants of care and comfort untraceable, if they were ever present at all.

Flanked by others gathered for the opening, some commended our mutual friend’s industriousness, while others sneered at his apparent self-elevation to the ranks of artist. One particular ‘professional’ deemed the show an audacious move by a ‘non-creative’ (sic), querying his bona fides as an artist.

To my knowledge, he had never claimed to be an artist per se but I could understand her annoyance. However, as a social care worker with a dedicated interest in mental health issues combined with an appetite for the arts, he had no problem testing the boundaries of his own expression, and flung himself into the various strands of discussion he considered available to him. There was no doubt in my mind that there was also an underlying subversive element to his enterprise. Susceptible to depression, yet with a wicked sense of humour and a healthy iconoclastic streak, it was no coincidence his show emerged shortly after being snubbed by organisers of a local mental health festival. A mischievous manoeuvre that provoked some valid questions he managed to cleverly raise in a roundabout way.

The local area in question is synonymous with provision of mental health services and houses a number of iconic institutions alongside a famous art college within an edgy, unsanitised, creative scene. The resulting vibrancy has generated a number of mental health based charities and arts based mental health organisations where support services and creativity overlap with madness. Anyone familiar with these sectors will know that while the possibilities for cooperation are endless, so too are those for competition and tension. In reclaiming control over their well-being, many advocates and service-users grew intent on reclaiming the disparaging language used to describe them. From this, the ‘mad community’ was born. And from a visionary and leader within, Bonkersfest came to life:

“A free annual one-day summer arts and music festival, illuminating creativity, madness, individuality and eccentricity; combating stigma and promoting good mental health. BonkersFest! is an empowering tool for the mad community who organise and deliver the event themselves in partnership with a wide range of mad run groups and arts organisations”

The Arts. Community. Mental health. Empowerment. The scope for competing perspectives was predictably wide; my friend one of a number of casualties of this contested terrain, as many of us expected him to be. As an advocate, rather than a service-user, he failed to qualify either as an ‘artist’ or a ‘mad person’. The definition of a mad person remained vague, but a survivor or user of treatment services gave it a loose definition.

The end result was a festival as chaotic as it was enjoyable, characterised by authentic grassroots ownership devoid of corporate gloss; a showcase of creative work by mad people. They had achieved it “themselves”; the day a victorious culmination of the vision of an ex-service user and survivor of schizophrenia. A local chieftain.

In attacking and seizing control of the local discourse on mental health, the rule-book on ‘dialogue’ was temporarily torn up. The most stigmatised and silenced survivors of the mental health system took their rightful place on the stage to celebrate and validate their survival on their own creative terms. In that context, the defiance adopted in drafting the terms of engagement was understandable. In minimising the place of the ‘professional’ and the high functioning depressive, the message of madness was kept intact, untarnished from the well-meaning efforts of the mainstream professionals from which they felt alienated and who too often spoke on their behalf.

Leafing through the programme for the First Fortnight Festival, the relatively new Dublin arts festival addressing mental health issues, it’s hard not to wonder what members of the aforementioned mad community would make of it. Would they find the slick and professional production irksome? What of the programme content? The input from service users? Would it be considered mad enough? Too many of the usual commentators and broadcasters? Any humour? Not humorous enough?

It would seem churlish to criticise any efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues, and while the organisers would likely be commended for theirs overall, I suspect the programme would be pored over in pursuit of evidence of a kindred ethos and spirit.

As it happened, the strict ethos of Bonkerfest was unsustainable. It was to have a short lifespan in the end, falling victim to funding cuts, as so many other worthwhile projects did, and whatever organisational deficit that brought the curtain down. Perhaps, to be truly authentic, it was meant to be a temporary intervention. Even so, it’s tempting to imagine the potential it had to grow from strength to strength into a two-week format similar to First Fortnight, galvanising others along the way and prising wider the potential for dialogue. For that to have happened, a more inclusive and professional production would have likely been required. Whether this would have comprised the integrity of the programme, we’ll never know. I like to think there is room for everyone on the spectrum to come together. We’re all on it somewhere.

That said, is it ever possible to have a mental health festival that fits all? The rise of depression and anxiety as the dominant discourse on mental health in Ireland continues. That this development is cited as sufficient evidence of mental health being taken seriously, makes the jitters and concerns of those with very different conditions understandable. Various personality disorders and schizophrenia remain misunderstood and on the periphery of mainstream discussion, if at all. Understanding depression is a start but far removed from de-stigmatising these conditions, as is supporting the integration of survivors and sufferers into the community and the workplace.

As much as the missed opportunity for Bonkerfest is lamentable, one hopes the organisers of First Fortnight will adopt some of its patrons’ defiance and courage in attempting to bring those silenced and stigmatised in from the margins; and to help give them ownership of the dialogue and direct some questions towards the status quo.

Mind the gap

Hmmm. Can’t say I’m happy about that half centimetre gap in the curtain. I’m experiencing changing room anxiety, convinced folk on the other side of the curtain can cop a load of me through the strip the width of a cigarette. Except I’m in a hospital cubicle about to disrobe for a procedure in the day unit. Other than this, it has everything going for it. The absence of a three-way mirror and interrogation lighting; in their place a bed for a little lie-down when shopping gets too much.

I suppose to truly disrobe, I should be wearing a silk dressing gown, standing forlornly next to a stand-alone bath in a stately pile, give or take a century. I half-tried that at a spa break I was roped into a while back. At one of those lesser spotted fancy houses hidden in the midlands that manages to escape the spread of recession infection. Only it was a cotton gown that had seen one too many boiling washes, and significantly slimmer beings between its side pockets. Think a hospital gown worn back to front. Like the one I hastily get into now before sliding under the sheet designed by Hospital Property.

Lying still, Ray D’arcy competes with chatter at the nurses station across the way. I worry I’ve left my clothes untidily on the chair so I quickly leap out, shove them in the locker, and lie down again. Knickers securely inside my socks inside my boots. Trailing my eye along the neat pleats of the disposable blue curtain, I curse the total recall I have of each admission during my ropey pregnancy when I can barely remember details of the first six months of our baby’s life. My annoyance is interrupted by a clipboard with a nurse at the end of it.

There’s something about lying down in the most innocuous of circumstances that unleashes one’s inner bumbling witness in the dock of the imaginary court of public appeal. It’s the therapeutic setting. Dodge one straight forward question and risk detonating that out-of-body experience of uncharacteristic unwarranted over-sharing. Like an emotional Russian Doll shedding layers until your voice is tiny and your sentences eventually trail off mid-sense because you know you’ve started something you can’t stop so you try to cover it up with inane facial expressions by the end.

It’s a relief that eyebrow treatments take the little time they do, because being horizontally hemmed in with whale music and gaps in chat is dangerous territory. SpaGownGate culminated with being resuscitated from an emotional hemorrhage by a post-it note from the massage therapist containing the name of a revolutionary G.I. Diet Book. It was too smooth a move for her not to have had previous experience of a post-post-post partum woman breaking down over letting herself continue to be bullied by the biscuit tin. At least I didn’t cry like I did in Kilkenny years previously. I’d only gone in for a facial but misinterpreted “how are you looking after your skin these days?” as “why have you let yourself go to shit?” That wasn’t the first time the therapist had heard a break-up story. That smile had heard things before. She continued to apply it like a truth serum.

So I’m concentrating on keeping it brief here with Florence Nightingale. We quickly discover we’re from the same place and laugh conspiratorially at our superior differences to the locals we live among now. I’ll blame this bonding later; after I sail through questions on my family’s medical history, medications taken, even childbirth. I’m on the home straight. “Oh wait. Is there a chance you could be pregnant?” “No, no. Definitely not”. “Would you like to take a wee test just to be sure?”

My eyes dart over to the chair where my bag hangs. I hope I closed it shut. Ah no, I’m grand, I re-assure her. Well, I know for sure I’m not pregnant. And then just to make sure I’m sure, I tell her all about the four used tests in my bag I’ve been meaning to get rid of since the weekend. And how ridiculous anyway. Pregnant at forty two? And sure look at the state of me. Insert lots of inane laughter and the inevitable shoulder-shrug here. Thankfully it is soon my turn to be whisked away to have a camera shoved up my arse.

A letter to Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie

Congratulations on your crusade to cure folk of their sugar addiction, and reverse their innate laziness that has them lounging extravagantly on their sofas comforting themselves with endless packets of Oreos. And, if they’re lucky, an entire box of snowballs. Ryan Tubridy would challenge the most disciplined of viewer not to follow suit. If anyone was going to inspire us to throw it all back up and avoid further calorie consumption , it could only have been you.

Of course, I mean that in the involuntary sense of the term ‘throw up’, lest this be interpreted as promoting bulimic type behaviour. A condition that can also be filed away under the eye-rolled, inverted-comma’d notion of “issues” you fleetingly alluded to during your enlightening “interview” (massive eye-roll) with Turbridy last night. Best ignore this end of the eating disorder spectrum anyway since the shame and self-loathing worn by its victims is conveniently less visible than that of the latest receptacles for your unique brand of activism. Which turns out to be not unlike the cheap ready-meals that have you recoiling in horror – takes roughly 5 minutes preparation , lacks any (moral) fibre, and leaves one craving something more substantial.

In ridding the world of the scourge of fat people, it is your express intention to stem the flow of funds pouring into the treatment of obesity related illnesses from the pockets of the tax payer. Most notably your own. Few would take umbrage with the exasperation felt by tax-payers at the questionable use of precious public funds.  Your anxiety is not unfounded.

As a graduate of economics, you will have a more rounded understanding of the generation and uneven distribution of national wealth and the corresponding inequalities that the trickle down fantasy of liberal capitalism has only served to widen.  You may even have awareness of the complex relationship between the unregulated sugar industry and the disproportionately higher consumption of low-cost products by those on lower incomes.  As a former employee of the British Army, even you will have raised an impeccably plucked brow at the annual defence bill. As a devout Tory supporter, you will have impaled yourself on various elite-friendly economic and social policies that maintain the status quo. As a privately educated, privileged, white woman, you will have little insight to the impact all of this has on the lives and survival psychology of those hovering on either side of the poverty line.

Perhaps inhabiting the life of a “dole scrounger” for a week in a run-down estate in Burnsley under the glare of TV cameras, in return for an immodest fee, could be your next altruistic action to save people from helping themselves to your tax contributions. That way you could crank the Raging Bull method acting up a gear and increase your chances of putting further strain on the NHS by taking up smoking. Why deny yourself the simple pleasures in life? That’s what they are for many. Fear not though, it’s highly unlikely a person will develop lung cancer from a week’s smoking.

Few would argue with the need to liberate children from the fatalistic consequences of obsesity with anything other than a sense of urgency. But in promoting responsible behaviours among parents and citizens, you might also look to your peers. Those bloated with income security, tying gastric bands around their privileges, feasting on the fat dripping from tax breaks, ill-gotten corporate gains, reckless gambling, and catastrophic bank bail-outs , all bouyed up by the taxes of the same fat people you seek to ridicule. Those presiding over the uneven protection of wealth that bankrupts citizens, puncturing the wheels of public services and diverting investment away from opportunities that can mobilise “the undisciplined” up off their “fat arses” towards the prospect of a more rewarding future. Those formulating government policies that will further exacerbate their plight. imagesBGE9HGEC

Disentangling the complexity of individual lives and responsibilities from those of society and economics, takes longer than five minutes in a mental microwave, or another irrelevant blog post. But unless the fight against obesity gives consideration to the causes of the causes of unhealthy behaviours, and the determinants of health in their entirety, all you’re serving up is the intellectual and moral equivalent of a Big Mac. I usually have fries with mine. And a strawberry milkshake on a bad day. Today I wouldn’t half mind dipping Tubridy in a vat of that gooey curry sauce but I doubt it’d leave me satisfied.

Looking forward to seeing how the project progresses on that obscure satellite TV Channel soon.

Regards

Ms. Fit Tingin

Growing up, Sunday lunch was always a cacophony of cutlery, chat, and calls from my Mother to one of our guests to be quiet. A guest that could only be heard, but who regularly commanded the atmosphere. Any one of the commentators, columnists, and politicians squabbling over who interrupted the other. That’s the beauty of radio – the power to convert ordinary dining tables into live studio audiences with everyone brave enough to release their inner heckler.

A love of radio is a habit I inherited from home along with checking out other people’s plates in restaurants to see who got the biggest portion, and rapidly flicking over from sex scenes on TV when my Dad walks into the room.

There’s welcome relief in reaching middle age when you can freely discuss age-appropriate activities such as talk radio without fear of ridicule. It’s the background to Saturday morning pottering around until the pottering becomes the background to an eavesdrop on an engaging guest, or exploration of a subject that lassoes me with the presenter’s incredulous tone.

Last Saturday’s Marian Finucane Show discussion on empathy with philosopher, Roman Krznaricon, zigzagged through the Dublin traffic I was poorly negotiating. He shared personal accounts on his relationship with his Dad growing up before meandering down the role of philosophy in brokering world and personal peace.

The hunt for a parking space was suddenly overtaken by his quietly posed question: In what ways would you like to be more courageous? A classic radio moment when the listener’s thoughts are halted by hearing something put in a way they’ve never thought about before. I drew a blank.

Until yesterday morning after coming off the phone from my boss who granted my last-minute request for a day’s annual leave. I had my answer: I would like to be able to tell the truth about myself a little more.

There will be at least one, possibly two, more such calls made before the end of the year. Yesterday’s was the second so far. Those who arrive straight to the point would call it anxiety or depression or some other shorthand. Others, like myself, would take a detour through descriptions of paralysis and glue-wading, combining it with a social form of agoraphobia when the confines of the bathroom take on an irresistible appeal. That’s if we ever managed to get our coherent speech into gear, or had the inclination to do so. Annual Leave is my shorthand for occasionally being unable to make it past my front door.

I can’t decide how much of my reluctance to tell the truth in that moment waiting for the boss to pick-up relates to a fear of stigma, my naturally neurotic privacy, my resistance to over-sharing, or the fact that I’m so casually matter-of-fact about it in umpteen other ways that seems plain to see. Like the way I see it in the demeanour of others, in the same way I know they hear it in my self-deprecating humour dripping with more clues than a psychiatrist’s filing cabinet.

It’s an aspect of living that’s not quite ‘on’ top of me; it’s just ‘of’ me. A legacy from a more distressed period of clinical depression; preceded by uncharted emotional kaleidoscopes that fused together leaving undetonated landmines I risk treading on. Not a diagnosis that can be neatly packaged, or one that needs curing.

Not a condition from which award-winning articles are written, or that fuels reactionary anger to a myopic commentator’s insensitive remarks, or something that could potentially contribute to the prevailing, and often limiting, public discourse on depression as being exclusively episodic in nature.

Not something comprised of episodes of such debilitating intensity that form the basis of personal accounts, which form the foundation of awareness campaigns, that in turn are beginning to fulfil a public service function that never fully resonates, and at times feels uncomfortably uniform in terms of sources and outcomes.

It’s just an aspect of my moderately functioning, modern life. Not particularly temporary, not particularly curable. An occasional tap on the shoulder that forces me to turn around to have an encounter with the more unsteady part of me.

That’s about the length of the truth of it, and I suspect of a great many people.

My boss only had a few seconds.