Last May I went to the doctor for the first time in a decade. The pain had become too much and, on the advice of a friend, who I shall cherish forever, I relented and found myself in a beige waiting room. As a child, my eyes scanned those sad places guessing what ailment had brought each of them here. Old habits die hard. Another friend came with me that day, an act of kindness I shan’t forget. As my name flashed up on the LED screen we made our way anxiously along the empty corridor. When I was young I could relay any symptoms to the doctor with ease; a painful chest, a temperature, a sore throat. Telling a man you had known for five seconds that you had come close to ending your life twenty-four hours earlier wasn’t so plain. I felt consumed by an unknown darkness that had eradicated all hope & purpose. I couldn’t hide, I couldn’t run, I only saw one place to turn.
In an instant everything I had known had been shattered. All trust, hope, love and friendship was worthless. Nothing mattered to me. It was too much to cope with.
I tried to fill my days with the things I love; cycling, friends, books, films, anything I could. I tried to limit the amount of ‘alone’ time I had where my mind would play tricks and turn mole hills into mountains. I had the most vivid dreams that continued long into the day and as I traced my steps I realised I had been battling with this for more than three years without acknowledging it. After blissful teenage years which carried into my mid-twenties the relationship with my one love had started to crumble and a beautiful bubble had burst. In the years that followed I assumed it was a normal reaction to losing someone you love. I would simply continue to love her with a broken heart. I came to accept what was obviously a cold, adult world and assumed everyone felt this way (Capitalism, of course). Only after one traumatic evening did I realise something more serious was happening.
I have a friend who had suffered with something similar and she told me of strangers who approached them and offered ‘cheer up, it might never happen’. Alastair Campbell wrote an excellent article on the subject and he touched on that sentiment by substituting a few words: “What does he have to be cancerous about, diabetic about, asthmatic about?” It is not a choice.
I acknowledged something was wrong and the support I received from my family and friends was incredible. I have seen kindness that I didn’t know existed. Without the support of one friend (who herself had dealt with something similar) I would never have turned to a doctor. Thousands of people, particularly young men, are surely in the same position and it is imperative that they are aware that support is available and that it isn’t a sin or a weakness to find yourself rudderless in a black ocean. Many of your friends and family will not be able to comprehend waking up day after day wanting life to end, rejecting calls or any opportunity to engage with people. Life is rarely easy, but it is worth living. Dick Moore, the father of 21 year old Barney, who took his own life in 2011 wrote an article for the BBC about the desperate need to educate the public on issues of mental health. He concludes:
“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain…”
Indeed it is, but we can all reach a point where on our own no amount of strength, no distraction or achievement can shatter the shadow that hangs over us. People must be made aware that advice, care and support is there, on your phone, on your doorstep, in your office. The problem lies in changing the way we all think about mental health – you are not admitting defeat if you seek out help, rather, it is a sign of strength. When you take a knock on the pitch you ‘run it off’, for three years I just thought it was a bad injury that was taking a little longer to heal, ah the stiff upper lip. The goodness of others provided the vital glimmer of hope to see through the darkness and gave me the courage to seek help. My doctor has been fantastic, he has offered me all manner of practical advice, he has listened and he has kept my feet on the ground. In short he has cared for me and this has been integral to how I am dealing with everything. It takes time and it isn’t linear, a seemingly common misperception (he’s cracked a joke he can’t be that bad) but six months down the line I am transformed. Once again my friends and family see the person I am, the person they know. I feel it too.
In Return to Tipasa, Albert Camus wrote “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” I believe this invincible summer exists for everyone but you may just need some help finding it.
If you have been affected by issues raised in this article and need to talk to someone, you can call the CALM helpline on 0800 585858, open every day, 5pm to midnight.