Full transcript: Do you get caught in the Faff Zone? - January 18 2018

Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan and Mark Brown in a radio studio

This is a full transcript of 18 January 2018 'Do you get caught in the Faff Zone?'.

Do you procrastinate to the point that you get very little done? And how do you break free?

Presenters Mark Brown and Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan take over this week's BBC Ouch podcast to discuss what they call the Faff Zone.

MARK - I find that I'm feeling really rubbish when I get caught in the faff zone.

SEANEEN - The faff zone is infinite, isn't it?

MUSIC - This is another BBC Ouch takeover where we hand over the microphone to guest presenters and see what they do with it.

SEANEEN - Hello and it's another mental health takeover from BBC Ouch. Gone are the regular presenters because we've hijacked the podcast for this week.

MARK - I'm Mark Brown in London and that was Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan in our Belfast studio. Just to fill you in on our credentials: I mainly do mental health stuff; I write stuff; I do projects. Some of you might know me as Mark One in Four on Twitter, but I'm guessing the majority of you won't.

SEANEEN - And I'm a mental health blogger at the Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. You can also find me on Twitter as ms_molly_vog, and I am general mental around town, have mental health problems. And I am wearing bright red shoes as well - don't know why I said that but they're nice. There you go, the credentials.

MARK - Excellent.

SEANEEN - So, for the next 20 minutes or so we get to talk loads about mental health, but this time the deal is we have to pick out bits of paper from this tea caddy in front of us - [shakes caddy] that's the one - and answer questions written on them.

MARK - I've got to pick the first tea caddy question. This is me unfolding it. Right, the question is: you are both very open about having mental ill health. Why and do you have to be?

Well, do we have to be? I certainly have to be these days because it's basically my job. But going back in time there was a time in the long-distant past where it wasn't my job, and it's kind of weird the way to which I came to thinking about being open about my mental health. I kind of never had any reason to hide it. The thing about it was - and I think this might be a generational thing, certainly for people under the age of 40 - I'd always thought of my mental health as being a kind of disability, rather than thinking of my mental health as being an illness. It doesn't mean that I didn't feel shameful about it, it doesn't mean that I didn't feel embarrassed about it, but there were things to be gained by being open about my mental health in terms of access to benefits, in terms of help and support.

And also, I don't know whether this is generational as well, I felt like it was a bit like being in the closet, and I'm not sure I really want to be in the closet. But that doesn't mean that anyone else should.

How about you, what made you inspire me by your writing to be open about my mental health? What made you be open about your mental health?

SEANEEN - Initially I had no choice. I had an all-singing, all-dancing complete breakdown basically, and it was very hard to hide. Anyone could have told that I had mental health problems because when I was diagnosed with them it was after a period when I'd been in hospital and I was manic and generally thought I was amazing and…

MARK - You are amazing!

SEANEEN - Thank you very much. What I'm not is a qualified gym instructor, and I was on that level of applying for those kinds of jobs and being like, 'this is brilliant!' I just wasn't very well. Everyone in my life could tell I had mental health problems.

MARK - I was in some ways, I suppose, luckier in that my mental health difficulties tended to be more inward-facing and more quiet. Rather than doing stuff outside it was just stuff inside.

SEANEEN - I'd been going through that stuff as well for years. I'd been struggling with mental health since I was a teenager and I was doing things like self-harming and stuff which I guess is more obvious. Because what I could have done after that period is just go and hide under a bridge for 20 years. And I did want to; believe me I wanted to. It was like the worst drunken bender you've ever had in your life.

But the reason I started writing about it was because I've always kept diaries; I've always written as a way to work through feelings. And I also felt like I was basically knackering everyone around me by talking about it, so I wanted to have a space that felt to me kind of safe where I could explore it. And that's why I started writing about it: it was just a way to work through what was happening to me.

MARK - So, what would we advise the kids?

SEANEEN - The kids?

MARK - The generation after us, or even potentially the generation after the generation after us of young people experiencing mental health difficulties. Do you think people have to come out?

SEANEEN - I don't think you have to. And I think there's a bit of pressure that because there is such a bigger discourse on mental health that people feel like they're letting the side down if they don't. And I don't think that's fair and I think it's up to every individual.

I do think that now because of the internet there's a double-edged sword: it is an unsafe space in a lot of ways, but there's also a lot to be gained from reaching out to other people with similar experiences and sharing your experiences. So, I would advise be careful, look after yourself in terms of if it feels too much you don't have to say everything. For the kids of the next generation look after your hologram, keep it safe, be nice to it.

MARK - Look after your ghost data of self that lives inside the internet.


MARK - Right, get your hand in that tea caddy.

SEANEEN - My tea caddy, teacup - Belfast budgets. Right, swirly thing around, what have I got? Oh, this feels like a Christmas cracker: give me three basic tips from your personal armoury on how to hold things together when you're feeling low.

MARK - That is the worst Christmas cracker joke I've ever heard. Do you want to go first?

SEANEEN - I have to say that it winds me up, and I wish I wasn't saying it, because one of the things that gets on my nerves about these kind of self-care tips is that they're all kind of [dreamy voice] go into nature, have a bath and a cup of herbal tea. It helps. I'm sorry but it's true.

MARK - Really?

SEANEEN - To get out if you can. I think when you're feeling low the walls are literally closing in on you, and when you're in a physical space where that is what's happening if you can get out of your environment for a little while.

MARK - When you're stuck in a room with just the smell of yourself and your own failure that does tend to - it's not as good as air freshener plug-ins to be honest - it does get to you. But with the nature stuff I find it really weird. I'm okay with parks because they're parks, parks are within cities; but as soon as you get out on a hillside it's all just like doom and gloom. I turn into a Bronte character.

SEANEEN - Heathcliff.

MARK - Yeah, Heathcliff basically, I will come to your window at night.

SEANEEN - I want to come in and play on the computer.

MARK - Woo-oo. Half my family was originally from the Lake District, I spent loads of time in the Lake District; I tell you what, those trees did not have smiles painted on them. Those fells did not put out a granitey hand and shake my hand. I have never been more bloody unhappy than in some slate cottage in the Lake District stuck with nothing to do, sitting in front of the coal fire, being bored. It's a really weird thing. So, I get the get out in nature stuff…

SEANEEN - I don't even mean nature; I mean just get out.

MARK - Get out, yeah, absolutely.

SEANEEN - I like nature, trees, water, sky, wonderful.

MARK - It's all right, vegetables, parsnips, they're all right.

SEANEEN - But I also like bridges and I like buildings. This is my own personal thing. And it's a kind of warning shot to me that I am getting low is if I'm struggling to get out.

MARK - Yeah.

SEANEEN - And it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if I haven't got the energy to get up and move it's like okay, I'm not feeling well. Then the more I feel that way and the more I struggle to do it the worse I feel. And I do tend to feel better when I just get out, it doesn't matter, just out of the room, out of the house, out of the flat, out of whatever - just get out.

MARK - I get caught in that magic threshold of thinking 'right, I really, really need to go out.' There's some sort of weird dimension portal that warps time and space between my chair or my bed and the front door. And that can take two, three, four hours to get over that, it's really weird. So, I know that I'm feeling really rubbish when I get caught in the faff zone.

SEANEEN - The faff zone is infinite, isn't it?

MARK - The faff zone is infinite. And the faff zone is really weird: it's the time between the thought about doing something and its actual delivery. And I always get it practically when I have to go out and I have to do something. It'll involve doing my hair, doing my make-up, all of those sorts of things but infinitely long and faffing about and thinking and rethinking.

You know you're in the faff zone when you think right, okay, I've got to go to a meeting but I'd better install those security patches on my computer first. Or indeed, my shoes definitely need polishing, I'll definitely polish my shoes before I go out. Or, hang on, wrong pair of trousers, put on a different pair of trousers. It's kind of just a lack of forward motive force. But what it is is a kind of masking of anxiety and worry and lack of energy. It's kind of displacement.

SEANEEN - The faff zone, I'm the same, I'm exactly the same. One of the things I find with the faff zone is that it's almost like all those self-care messages in my head are getting messed up, because it's trying to get the forward momentum to do something that you need to do, but then my head goes, 'well you haven't done the dishes in three weeks so why don't you do the dishes because that's a good thing to do? That's what rational well adults do.' So, then I faff doing the dishes and then it's like 'well, now I've done that well done me.' And then the thing I needed to do has just gone - that was the important thing I've kind of managed to head it off at the pass by doing something that's kind of trivial instead.

But how do you get out of the faff zone?

MARK - How do you get out of the faff zone? You have to collect the secret seven magical crystals in the 15th dungeon, and then there's a hatch behind the big boss at the end. It's a bit like that: it's like the door sort of recedes into the background and you have to find the right place to hit it - for anyone who plays video games.

How do you get out of the faff zone? Fear, terror, apprehension, possibility of losing your job. I suppose the way that you get out of the faff zone is you tell yourself that whatever is going to come next isn't as terrible as whatever you're currently doing. It's like a transition issue, like changing from one state to another.


MARK - So, you just have to think it's going to feel a bit weird walking to the train station, but that's okay. It's kind of looking at it as literally a kind of anxiety about changing really from what is comfortable to what isn't comfortable.

SEANEEN - Yeah, and that is the tough bit really, but it's something that you have to practise a lot. Because when the worst thing doesn't happen you're like okay, good.

MARK - I like it when the worst thing doesn't happen. I'm quite happy with that.

SEANEEN - And it usually doesn't.

MARK - Well…

SEANEEN - 99% of the time it usually doesn't.

MARK - I reckon, despite the fact we're meant to both come up with three tips for looking after your mental health, I think we did sort of. We have basically been in the faff zone faffing about not taking on more questions here.

SEANEEN - Whoops.

MARK - Tea caddy. Two minutes for each of us, which is going to be really hard because we're both a bit mouthy. The first question I've got is: we toyed around with a clever way of putting this question but decided not to in the end. Does Donald Trump have a mental illness? Ooh. Right, I'll start off with this one. Well, I'm on the side of 'no'.

SEANEEN - Really?

MARK - Because I've read about this and thought about this. For me it doesn't matter.


MARK - It's like you can sit at home or you can sit in your consulting office and you can say 'this man is definitely this, this man is definitely that,' ultimately I think that kind of gets away from judging him on his actions, and his actions are political. For me, I'm not hugely happy with his political actions and that's kind of good enough. I was also thinking as well, talking about symptoms, I think he's 70 isn't he, I think he might just be really tired.

SEANEEN - What, a bit just knackered.

MARK - And rubbish at being President.

SEANEEN - I think that's fair enough to say. I always forget how old he is. It feels like he's been around forever, because he's been in most pop culture from my youth. I may be too quick to answer but at least I think if not mentally ill - and I don't want to decry mental illness with Donald Trump - but I think either he's a raging narcissist, whether that's a mental health thing or a 'I am an extraordinarily rich person who everyone around me for my entire life has said you're brilliant' which that's probably the case more than any mental illness.

MARK - He's super weird, but super weird isn't an illness. And being super bad and super wrong isn't an illness.

SEANEEN - Incidentally, just to make you all aware, those are not the views of the BBC; they are my views and Mark's views. And on that note:

MARK - Here's the question: what's the difference between mental ill health and feeling sad? Or dare I say, what's the difference between someone who's properly ill and someone who's a bit of a snowflake? Ooh, I think Donald's been in these questions! What do you reckon?

SEANEEN - Man, I hate that phrase properly ill.

MARK - Yeah.

SEANEEN - I hate snowflake as well, but properly ill is just bad. What do I reckon? I reckon it comes down to - this is my view again, not the BBC or the DSM - I think the difference comes down to how much is it impacting you basically.

MARK - Yeah.

SEANEEN - Are you still able to live your life while feeling sad? Are you still able to do the things that you may not enjoy as much but you can still do things? Are you able to sleep? Are you able to eat? Are you able to see people if that's what you want to do? Are you able to read a book? Are you able to function? And to me that's the difference between, and I'm not going to say properly sad or a snowflake, but I think in my mind that's where the line crosses from feeling sad to being depressed.

MARK - Yeah. We talk about chronic illness, and people always misunderstand the word chronic, because certainly when I was growing up we said chronic in Newcastle when we meant something was really bad. But chronic just means over time, doesn't it?


MARK - So, it's something that is doing your head in, that's getting in the way of stuff, but which lasts longer than you might expect or longer than is comfortable. You kind of know, or you don't, and that's one of the weird things because sometimes…

SEANEEN - Because if something, sorry, is over time it's hard to know because it can kind of creep up on you. You don't realise that you've made that kind of pass into the land of actually unwell.

MARK - The land of unwell.

SEANEEN - The arena of unwell, as Withnail would say, you don't realise you've made that cross over the threshold because of the length of time. In a way the more - not proper, that's not the word - the more like dramatic crash mental health issues are not easier, but they're more recognisable because of the drama of them. And depression as it creeps up is often not very dramatic; it's often really boring and sad and rubbish.

MARK - And you do that thing of limiting the choices you take because you say I'm that kind of person.


MARK - And you keep deciding not to do things. You stop making decisions.

SEANEEN - And you come to believe you're that kind of person as well.

MARK- Yeah, it's like building yourself a prison where the walls just keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Right, next question.

SEANEEN - That's our happy answer. Okay, ruffling through the teacup again. This one's a bigger one. A science question for you: January 15th was Blue Monday. Isn't it amazing that in 2018 we can already work out the day where everyone's prone to a touch of mental health?

Yes, what a scientific breakthrough that is! Blue Monday by the way is the day in which newspapers mostly, touted by some scientific study sponsored by KitKat or something, tells you that it's the most depressing day of the year. You might have seen it because lots of people were rocking stuff on Twitter over it. Isn't it amazing Mark that we can figure out when the most depressing day of the year is, by science?

MARK - It's an amazing 12-inch record which I've enjoyed very greatly. And I also enjoy the fact that it cost more as a 12-inch to produce than it did to sell, which meant that Factory Records lost about 20p for every copy they sold.

In terms of Blue Monday the PR opportunity it's really boring. I'm really fed up with it. I'm really fed up with the kind of cycle of 'oh let's all do something for Blue Monday' and then the next year it's like, 'oh let's all do something about how Blue Monday is rubbish'. And it's like yeah the PR opportunity thing is really boring if you're a person who experiences mental health difficulties because you're often in touch with other people who experience mental health difficulties. You get a kind of horrible thing where everyone is talking about something on a particular day that they don't even want to talk about.

SEANEEN - Maybe they should have Terrible Tuesday then just to keep the conversation going.

MARK - I saw someone trying to start Terrible Tuesday on Twitter. But with the Blue Monday thing it's like there's this thing about things that people say about mental health that feel about right, and when they feel about right everyone accepts them as being true. So, if you say 'oh, it's definitely the third Monday in January is definitely the worst Monday for mental health and sadness' everyone goes 'that sounds about right. And then they go 'oh yeah, it must be true then.' And that's really, really a problem because there's lots of stuff that sounds like common sense in relation to mental health that just isn't. And a lot of the stuff that we end up fighting against is what is common sense and commonly accepted because it sounds about right.

If you think about things that people will say about depression, so we were talking about nature, people say 'go out in nature, nature makes you feel much better,' that sounds about right to lots of people. And what happens is that turns from being a thing that might make you feel better into someone who doesn't experience depression's definite cure for depression.

SEANEEN - Oh yeah, the prescription.

MARK - Yeah. So, what sounds about right becomes a prescription in a way of prodding and poking and hitting other people who don't experience the same things. It's why it's so difficult for us to shake off the idea that schizophrenia means split personality, because if you take apart that word that's kind of sort of what it means and people go, 'well that must be true.' That common sense, that sounds like it must be right stuff just sticks forever.

Have you got one final question in your caddy or cup?

SEANEEN - I do, my cup, I'm going to shake. What's this one? A bit piece of paper; what's this? I've already answered that one. Sorry. I understand what guide dogs are; I understand these dogs that pull your clothes out of the washing machine and stuff. But how do mental health support dogs work? I mean, we'd all like to take our dog to work, wouldn't we?

Yes, I'd love a dog to take to work!

MARK - Yeah, support dogs are really nice. I happen to know a trained mental health support dog. She's trained to be consistent and friendly because she's trained to visit people in hospital and stuff like that. So, she's just really good at being a dog and really good at signalling quietly when she's getting a bit fed up. And the idea of just having an ally that cares about you unconditionally, that goes with you everywhere, how can that be a terrible thing? That's an absolutely wonderful thing.

SEANEEN - Yeah, I think so too. I would love to see more funding and recognition towards support dogs for people who are struggling with mental health. Because you like you said it's consistency, having a consistent thing there. I don't have a dog, I have cats, but my cats have actually been really good for me because it's meant that no matter how I'm feeling I have a responsibility towards them: I have to get up and feed them and do this and that.

MARK - It's like an anchor, isn't it?

SEANEEN - Yeah, having an anchor and having a responsibility that's not like a scary one, because there are big scary responsibilities, but a dog is a responsibility, but it's a kind friend kind of companion. And dogs are just brilliant, they're just brilliant, they're lovely and they've got lovely fur and you want to nuzzle them all the time. I love dogs. That's my line. And I'm going to say this is the BBC's opinion that dogs are great. Views of the BBC.

MARK - The studio here in London has two guide dogs in it and they're both basking on the floor like porn stars at the minute. They're sort of lying all spread-eagled, excited.

SEANEEN - Oh my god, did you have to link porn stars and guide dogs, Mark?

MARK - I'm really sorry, it's terrible. But the idea of having a guide dog with you at all times is a bit like having a familiar, isn't it?


MARK - It's weird because pets become - and that's different possibly from a support dog - but they become a repository, don't they? I was reading someone talking the other day about if you have any spare pet names in your life store them in your pet. Your animals become like a repository for feelings that you can't quite find a home for in other places.


MARK - They become like this kind of battery that stores your loving feelings.

SEANEEN - An emotional battery.

MARK - Yeah, they kind of do and they respond.

SEANEEN - You can touch it and be charged up with love.

MARK - Yeah. Honestly there isn't anything weird or wrong with that because the world's scary whether it's nature or whether you're in a city, whether you're trying to escape from the faff zone. The world is quite a scary place and we do ourselves a disservice by pretending it isn't. And just the idea of having a little creature that comes with you and makes you less scared of things, how could that be terrible?

Right, have we run out of questions then?

SEANEEN - I'm going to shift my cup. Yes, that's it.

MARK - Thank you for listening. I'm Mark Brown. She's - well who are you?

SEANEEN - I'm Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan.

MARK - Because I'm very loathe to speak for you. That's us. That's the end of this takeover. If you've got an idea for a takeover about another area of disability then email ouch@bbc.co.uk with your ideas. Every one of them will be read. And I can say that with certainty because it's not me that's going to be reading them.

SEANEEN - We'd also love to hear your feedback. You can tweet us @bbcouch, find us on Facebook or drop us an email at the address Mark mentioned. You can also find our stuff on the web at bbc.co.uk/disability, where you'll find features and the latest disability news. And you can also go to bbc.co.uk/ouch where you'll find all the podcasts. And like us, share us, review us, subscribe, love us basically. Bye.

MARK - Bye.

[Music] I know that I'm feeling really rubbish when I get caught in the faff zone.

SEANEEN - The faff zone is infinite, isn't it?