” The difference between giving in and starting anew”

I’ve never been that much of a rebel. As a teenager, when my friends were out drinking or smoking weed, my escape from the crushing nihilism of depression was to throw myself into the loving arms of being a geek.


I hated the real world. Things like having babies, mortgages, work and actual stuff you do in life just seemed pointless. I thought I was so much better than everyone else – and that’s a conceit I still have to try and beat every day. I would hold ideas as far more important than people – so I would judge my fellow school mates for being dysfunctional, whilst spending hours studying, reading Lord of the Rings, watching Star Wars, and listening to Radio 4, as if that were somehow a superior way to cope with life. The time I spent in my bedroom just seemed so much more important than any of the pointless rubbish people were up to outside.


Now, I would heartily encourage anyone to enjoy these nerdy things I love, but I took it to silly levels. I used to wave a stick around with a piece of string on it to imagine alternate Star Wars scenarios or other things in life, and I also developed an addiction. As a true geek, it wasn’t to alcohol or drugs, but rather to various forms of chocolate – even though curiously, I never got fat! Although there were several dicey episodes, such as a period of university where I got through eighteen breakaways in the space of two hours. These traits were as much an indication of massive unhappiness as alcoholism, or drug addiction might be. But I never faced up to them. To a certain extent, I never have, properly, and still enjoy sweets far too much, and occasionally enjoy a good stick-wiggle, particularly if I’ve just watched a particularly fun episode of the new Star Wars TV series.


The first time I would say that I found myself happy would be at college, which co-incided roughly with the first time that I started properly snogging girls. But I didn’t have a clue what I was doing really, and ended up hurting a few people, as well as being hurt by others, in the tempestuous spring of romantic discontent that is late adolescence. But for the first time, I had real friends, and was able to do daft things like turn up at college dressed as Luke Skywalker and have lightsabre fights without judgement or some wassock slagging me off.


But even those happy periods were marred by intense self-doubt – academically, at work, and most of all, with girls. I didn’t really understand much of life then, and I was forever looking for that girl who would fill the void in my life. Of course, life isn’t that simple, and no such girl existed. When I did get close to girls, if, god forbid, they would have issues of their own, I would rather arrogantly shirk them off, and if they didn’t, I would cling to them so much and chuck so many of my own issues at them that they would run a mile. I had a huge hole in my life, despite being the happiest I’d ever felt, and it was a hole that no other person could ever truly fill.


It was a hole that still went unfilled at University, even though I was truly blessed in the sense I was able to get the absolute most out of the experience. I’ll never forget my first night there as long as I live. I never felt so lonely or isolated, or like I’d made such a huge mistake. But, clichéd as this is, after night, there’s always dawn. And things were so busy at Uni, that I was genuinely too occupied by survival to worry about how I was going to do it.


Managing money was, and remains, a real challenge for me. When my dad left my mum when I was ten, we really struggled for cash, and I had to live off ready meals frequently because they were cheap. It wasn’t the easiest part of my life, and it gave me a real fear of poverty which I carry to this day – I find it all too easy to imagine a scenario when I’m homeless, with no money or ability to survive. I found the stress of being a grown-up massively overbearing, and was drinking far too heavily. I kept on with the tried-and-tested tactic of becoming over-needy for girls, and pushing them away as a result. But I was very lucky in the sense that I’d found the energy to throw myself into many things – I found my passion in student radio, as well as enjoying my course, and making lots of really great friends. It was one of those parts of life which is trial by fire, and luckily, despite at the time it felt as if I was barely treading water, I managed, I think, to make the best of it I could.


In my second year, around Christmas, two wonderful things happened; I’d gotten my first professional work experience, and I’d met a girl. The work experience was incredible – I was in a professional radio studio, reporting and producing, and I loved it. And the girl was unbelievable – gorgeous, incredibly sexy, as well as kind and funny to boot.


I started having my first sexual experiences. Which was a bit like a fish learning how to cycle, for how horrendously inept I was. But I found myself in a remarkably loving relationship quite soon, and had what I thought I’d always wanted – someone to help you through the shit periods, someone incredibly sexy to live out your fantasies with, someone who didn’t expect me to drop huge swathes of my life for them, and most importantly, I developed confidence. Not arrogance, not the temporary manic happiness that would occasionally fill the void in myself left over when something went right, but genuine, honest-to-god, belief in myself. That was a gift that person gave to me, and if you’d have told me at the time I was going to squander it, I’d have told you to sod off.


I graduated with everything in the palm of my hand – a brand new, jet-set job, a loving relationship, good results, and the promise of a bit of travel in the meantime. Well, by travel, I went to Rome and Dublin to see my favourite band, U2, in their home city. No, it wasn’t backpacking through Malaysia, but it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. After a great summer, I made my way to London for opportunity and adventure.


The first thing I became acutely aware of whilst in the capital was that this wasn’t like Uni. Instead of a plethora of societies to join and new friends to make, I found myself in a tiny attic in Shepherd’s Bush, five minutes from work which quickly began to take over my life, and in a long-distance relationship. But worse than all of that, my confidence, so recently earned, was destroyed within months.


An awful lot of pressure was piled on me as a result of landing my dream job. It didn’t come externally, as everyone I knew was proud of me, but from within, from that dark and dingy place underneath the frontal lobes where our deepest and darkest insecurities dwell. I became rude, aggressive, unhealthy, and constantly unhappy. I stopped listening to music, doing things I enjoyed, and was surrounded by things in my life that simply added to pressure and made me unhappy.


As I was moved to Edinburgh to work on radio documentaries, things got progressively worse. I broke up with my girlfriend. It’s clear to me now that the main reason for it was because we were on two divergent paths, but at the time the only way I could rationale it was to make her into an object of anger and hatred. So I slagged her off to anyone and everyone I met for six months, all the time turning myself into a smaller, meaner person, full of bile and spleen.


I began to hang around new people, and worshipped at the well-trodden temple of burnt-out youth by escaping my misery through weekend binges. I stopped making an effort with the friends who had supported me through hard times or had been there my entire life. At that time, the only thing that mattered was the person I was on a night out with, or the thing right in front of me. For the first time in my life, my drinking became a real problem alongside poor diet. I was obsessed with trying to sleep with girls, and as a result – nature seems to have a way of protecting both women and myself when I’m acting like a dick – got nowhere. I leeched off people’s good will by being a miserable person. I’d always, up until now, been positive, but I began to see the wayward glances in conversation that I myself had made to others when they were being self-indulgent or negative.


I barely managed to cling to employment, and a huge effort in self-discipline saw me score a new contract in the department I’d worked in. Part of this was passion, but most of this was gritting my teeth and forcing myself to learn facts, figures and come up with ideas so that I could continue my troubling lifestyle. I managed it, and headed back to London with mixed feelings. I was proud I was still employed, but terrified of who I was becoming.


When I got back, things weren’t better. I was back in my attic, and would frequently sneak off at work to burst into tears. I decided enough was enough. At the time, my answer was to once again find the answer outside myself. I then did one of the most cowardly things I’ve ever done. I begged my ex for a second chance, hoping to find salvation in someone else’s empathy when I knew deep down in my bones that it wasn’t an answer.


But things were different. She was, quite understandably pissed off, and, although we did get back together – and stayed together for a year, the pain I’d caused her by the initial break up had left her consumed with anger. Although she tried her best to overcome it, she began to make unreasonable demands of me by implication – pressuring me to move somewhere I didn’t want to live, making quips and put-downs, and before I knew it, the thing that once had caused me so much joy had become an instrument of self-abuse. I withdrew from my friends, my family, I didn’t treat my job, which was a privilege to do, with the respect it deserved, and I became a nightmare to be around once again. I found it difficult to leave the house, and my life outside of work was non-existent. I withdrew, hugely, and instead of having the courage to speak the truth to my partner, ended the relationship again like a coward, crying in self-indulgence over the phone.


This was the worst I have ever felt in my entire life. To anyone reading this who’s feeling suicidal, I won’t patronise you by saying I understand how it feels, because nobody does. Severe depression is an all-consuming fog of irrationality. All any of us can do when it strikes is try to make sense of it, and then share the experience in the hope that it might provide some modicum of empathy to those who are suffering. In my own experience, I simply felt horrifically, inexorably, deflated – like there was no point to anything.


Somehow, most days I managed to drag myself to work, but then I would spend hours, days at a time, lying in bed, embracing a form of nihilistic self-abuse. I didn’t self-harm; even in these desperate throes, I searched for the nerdiest form of abuse. I became addicted to googling self-help on my iPhone – the browser history of the device was filled with phrases such as ‘I just want to end it’, ‘how to win back your self-respect’, and other such self-indulgence. In the age of the internet, I was seeking salvation in an algorithm. Google was the void into which I was typing my own deepest and darkest thoughts.


In the worst of times, I counted out pills and tried to work out how many of them it would take to finish things. I was lucky in the sense that each time I found the fortitude not to act on the impulse, but on more than a couple of occasions, it was a close run thing. I stopped eating, pretty much totally – I lost an awful lot of weight in a short period of time. I was on a one-way trip, and I thought I wanted to die.


And yet I didn’t. I still managed to slog through work, even though I was under-performing massively. A couple of times, seeking solace, I returned home, attempting to absorb the love and support of my family and friends to re-gain my sense of self, but it wasn’t enough – I ended up draining their happiness, instead of finding my own.


No person can keep on like this, and my crisis came to a head, predictably, at work. I broke down in front of a colleague, who to this day someone I can honestly say saved my life. They had specialist knowledge of mental health, and recommended to me the Maytree Centre – a refuge in London for those contemplating suicide. It is seen as a last chance saloon for those who have nothing left to live for. Looking back, I’m still not sure how close I was to acting on my impulses, but I knew it was either this, or end up in a psychiatric unit, which some tiny corner of my subconscious was still resisting. I checked in as soon as I could.


The word I would use to describe the place is purgatorial. There is a constant silence around the centre, which is to encourage stillness and peacefulness. You are encouraged to talk as much as you feel able to, and you can spend your time reading, sleeping, cooking, or talking things through. I decided to make the most of the experience, knowing I wouldn’t have this opportunity myself, and for the first time confronted myself through talking through my darkest fears, my deepest regrets and nightmares. It was knackering. For the first time in a long time, I slept straight through the night, and I began bit by bit to be able to eat again.


The days were heavy, hard-going, and otherworldly – returning to the outside world was something that I feared more than anything. But as time does, inexorably, it continued, and I found myself checking out. As I walked back through Finsbury Park in the hazy morning sunshine, I didn’t feel miraculously better or even just happy, but I did feel as if the very worst had gone. I wasn’t ready to throw myself into life again, but I was determined to leave the pills alone. And, as one of the happy consequences of handing my phone in to the centre’s reception, I had at least stopped hunting for meaning in life through a search engine.


At this point, I had a choice – and the only thing I really knew I wanted was not to lose my independence, that I’d worked so hard for. I’d lost a relationship, and didn’t know where I wanted to head next, but I was determined to get into work, which I managed. The next days were some of the hardest I’ve ever faced. One of the awful things about the way depression affected me was that it completely eviscerated my ability to concentrate – which, when you’re doing journalistic stories that could result in a lawsuit, is quite a handicap. But the choice to go to work that week was the difference between recovery and regression. Depression affects us all in different ways, but it seems a good antidote to the way I felt it was to be busy – so long as there was something to do, I was able to keep going.


About a week after I left the Maytree, I received a letter from one of the volunteers I’d bonded with there. It remains the most succinct and accurate description of my personality I’ve ever read – and I broke down reading it. I’d rather not share the contents here, but what I would like to share is the power of having someone who barely knows you care about you. If you’ve never seen V for Vendetta, there’s a moment where the main character receives a letter in a prison, which concludes with the sentence, “even though I have never met you, I love you.” This is the best way I can think to describe how it felt.


I’m sorry this has been so long, and so irrepressibly self-referential. To be honest, it’s quite awkward to write, as I feel I have become the very self-help that I once needed to google. But I’m glad I have. Because we know that one in four people suffer from mental health problems, and that depression is the most common mental disorder in the country. We have one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, and as long as that remains the case, if you have come through it, remaining silent, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t an option.


The only thing personally I’ve found that has helped me get through my own depression is talking about it and learning from other’s experiences. Communication with others is all that stops us from the wilderness of our own negativity, and it’s a powerful weapon against it, if you’re able to let it help you. If you’re suffering from depression, please seek help. You are worth something to this world, even if you can’t see it now.


Everybody is loved, and even if you feel truly alone, then remember the scene from V for Vendetta, and I say to you – though I do not know you, I love you. I believe you have more to get from this life than pain and suffering. If I can come through it – and believe me, I never thought I would – you can too.


The way forward depends on who you are, and the only advice I know how to give is to listen to your innermost self and see what it says. Not the negative self, the one telling you just to end it, or that you’re not worth anything, because that is not your innermost self – negative self-talk, like arrogance, is the band-aid we put over our innermost soul, our deepest desires and dreams, because at some point we’ve lost hope that we can make them a reality.


What lies at the root of our individual despair is a journey we can only complete ourselves. But we don’t have to be alone to make it. Seek help – anti-depressants, if they’re the right fit for you, can help, as can therapy. Please, please talk to someone – I’m around two months from my rock bottom and things aren’t quite rosy yet, but I’m getting there. I have just achieved a contract extension at work, and am forming really strong friendships again – and though I’ve made mistakes, I’m ready to begin living again. I promise you that you can get through this, all it takes is the difference between giving in and starting anew.


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