… my mind rebels and my body just isn’t sure at all, about what it should do with itself. I stop thinking well. In fact I’m often caught wondering if I’ve been thinking at all. I’m on automatic pilot when this happens. I just put one foot in front of the other; I nod (I hope) in most of the right places when the XO is talking to me and I keep trying to make sure tasks sit out in front of me – rather than sneaking up on me from behind. I have a confession to make: I am – like many people around me – a person that struggles with depression.
Many years ago I trained in what was known as HMAS Countersunk – the Damage Control module located at HMAS Penguin down in the south of New South Wales. A multiple story steel structure that resembled a cutaway profile section of a Naval Warship from top to bottom. It looked like a big, grey, steel sandwich – your classic Dagwood kind – with the compartment between decks acting as the filling!
It consisted of several ‘sealed’ compartments that could re-construct three different kinds of flooding scenarios. It could simulate a ‘slow’ flooding scenario from a burst water main pipe. It could bring on a faster one from an explosion-damaged hull; where water flooded in through a variety of blast holes, simulating a ‘hit’ in a compartment under the water line. Then there was the FAST flood; where the compartment filled so quickly, it was all you could do to clear the space of people. Your job then was to get hold of your damage control gear and wedge shut the hatch. You had to keep the water contained within that space and stop it spreading through the rest of the ‘ship’.
The Damage Control training team in charge of HMAS Countersunk, could also do all of these things at once. They could then fill all the spaces with smoke and drop all power, just to have you stumbling about in complete darkness. Worse still, the module was mounted on hydraulic rams and shocks – so it could move under your feet, forcing you to constantly be unbalanced and feel the latent power trapped inside a large amount of water sloshing around in a steel compartment as it wrapped up your feet, then your knees, then your waist and eventually, slopped wetly about your neck.
All you had at hand was a canvas shoulder bag with a series of large wooden wedges, a wooden mallet, steel straps and rubber sheeting. To add to this there were several strategic ‘piles’ of damage control gear located throughout the ‘ship’; small repository of steel boxes with rubber linings – all of various sizes, more steel strapping and rubber sheeting, wooden posts of varying strength and a measuring stick to determine cut off lengths for timber bracings.
If it was a small hole – you jammed wooden wedges in and beat on them with the wooden mallet until you couldn’t fit anymore of the buggers in. The wood swelled eventually and slowed the water down. I have to tell you – trying to do this with a wooden mallet in a flooded compartment is a tiresome business.
If the ‘leak’ was bigger and the water was pouring in – you forced a rubber-lined steel box over it – placed a timber brace between the box’s lid and the nearest solid structure and gather the slack up by driving large wooden braces across each other until it was snug. The sheer pressure below the waterline would do the rest for you if you’ve measured the wooden brace right in the first place.
If it was huge and out of control – you abandoned the space. Your best hope was to get everyone out before the water reached the top hatch and flooded the compartment above you. If someone was inside – you shut them in. The ‘ship’ has to stay afloat at all costs – that or you all die.
To top all of this off – you could well be forced to fight a fire. Several in fact. An explosion – be it missile, torpedo, or exploding ammunition (or other flammables) driven – leads to secondary fires. Below the water line, a rush of water flooding in might well put some of this out. It also might just aggravate the situation and make it worse. Liquid fuel floats on water. An oil fire sitting on top of the water can get into all the same places that water can. All in all, it’s a bugger of a place to be in, if you don’t keep a cool head and deal with your worst threat first.
You’ve also got to restore emergency power. If needs be, you reroute it around the damaged areas. You need to get it back on line, or your fire-fighting capability is severely hampered. You need pumps to run to keep the water pressure up, or to drain water out of a flooded space. You need exhaust fans to run – you need to clear the smoke – restore the ‘breathability’ of a compartment or in the very least – give some better visibility to those people in there trying to do their jobs. You need all of this to happen as well as it can (given the circumstances) and it has to be able to happen instinctively – like a reflex.
When I’m at my lowest – this is what it’s like for me in my head. I’m getting hammered from all sides; the water’s flooding in, the smoke blinds me, the damn deck keeps moving and there’s no power anywhere, to kick start those emergency systems I need so bloody badly! When I come out the other side I’m absolutely stuffed. It takes me time to regather myself. I feel as if I’ve been beaten on so badly at times, I just don’t know how it is I’m able to get up and keep moving.
Thankfully though – for me – it’s not always like this. These are what I would describe as my absolute worst periods. They don’t happen often. If they did – I’d be a walking wreck! Most times I just hit a flat period; skim through it and pop out the other side – fairly cleanly – fairly free of social fallout.
Now if I feel like this when this happens to me – I just know you feel a similar sense of helplessness when this happens to you. It might be a completely different experience for you – of this I’m sure. However, the helplessness and the sheer bloody weariness that comes with it all – I’m willing to bet – is very much the same.
I just wanted you to know people – if this is you – you’re not alone. However it is you do it; keep moving, keep breathing, keep caring and rest when you need to. It’s a whole other ‘world’ there inside your head – and no two of us are the same. Just take care where you can eh? Anchor yourself well in those that you care for and, those who care for you. Avoid overdoing it and keep a bloody good eye on yourself. Most times, I find, I’m my own worst enemy.
You see folks; I need to cut myself some serious slack at times and perhaps – just perhaps – so do you!
Belongum – Out!