This photo is a year old today. I only know that because a part of me knew I would get better and therefore kept note of the date. I don’t know if you can tell but this is me at a real low. The lowest I had felt in a very long time. I got so ill that I had to go and stay at my dad’s, in the spare room. I was 29 years old and I felt like I had ruined absolutely everything. The days were dark. I couldn’t see a way out. I wanted to die.
Most people won’t know about this. They know I suffer from depression and anxiety because I try to make it known but it is often hard for people to understand just how consuming, overwhelming and encompassing it can be. I am very much a victim of wearing the painted on smile. That’s why I talk about it. Talking makes it better. A problem shared is a problem solved and all that jazz.
It was only thanks to the incredible people in my life that I was able to get through those dark days. I had panic attacks at work. I spent my weekends and evenings in bed. I struggled to do anything but I knew I had to. I was a functioning depressive. I got through the days but I was not living, not by a long shot.
I didn’t feel comfortable in my own home. Nobody else felt comfortable with me being in my own home.
I was fortunate that my dad had a spare room. He knew that at some point, in his own words, “one of his boys would need it”. He still refers to it as Paul’s Room. When I had an operation in November, I ended up there again.
I packed the things I would need and I stayed at my dad’s while everyone did their absolute best to pull me through, when a lot of the time, I was loathed to try and do it myself. I owe those people my life.
So, what’s the point?
Why am I telling you this?
It’s because it is important.
Suicide is the number one killer of men between 25 – 40.
For far too long, we have been made to bottle up our feelings, to stiff-upper-lip our way through difficult situations and it’s toxic and it has to stop. That’s why I am sharing.
So what can you do?
You can do what the people around me did.
They asked what they could do.
A friend at work took me aside and told me that she didn’t personally understand what I was going through but that if I felt comfortable explaining it to her, then she was happy to listen, and maybe, it would help. That olive branch got me through another day.
A lot of the time, I didn’t have the answer. People were there for me when I needed them and even when I pushed them away, I knew it was at my request and that they would be ready and waiting when I was able to talk. It’s a hard thing to get your head around, for all concerned.
Just listen to people.
There are some things that help when you feel that low, even when you think they aren’t going to:
· Get outside
· Drink plenty of water
· Watch old films
· Stare out to sea
· Tell people you love them
· Create something
· Destroy something
· Pet a dog
· Read “Reasons To Stay Alive” by Matt Haig
While on the subject, Reasons To Stay Alive became an incredible source of strength for me. So much so that when I felt better and one of my friends was feeling low, we met for lunch and I gave him my copy. For over an hour we talked about the misunderstandings that come from friends and family when your mental health is bad and what we could do to combat it. We have a project in the pipeline as a result.
There are so many people around you who are in a very similar head space, even if your twisted melon wants to make you feel like you are completely on your own.
Fuck it, talk to me if you can’t find anyone else. I’m all ears.
So, here we are. A year on from the sad face and the silk sheets. What’s happened since?
Well, I took a trip to Asia to forget about everything.
I shaved my head.
I came back and realised I was still me and I was going to have to deal with that.
I lost weight from depression.
I threw away or gave away a lot of possessions.
I got a few more tattoos.
I lost my dignity in a strip club in Krakow.
My anti-depressants flattened any sensation so I switched to others which made my hair fall out.
I gained weight from anti-depressants.
I tried being vegan.
I took up meditation.
I tried being gay.
I joined a gym.
I became an uncle.
I bought a freezer.
I remembered what it was to love myself.
I got my creativity back.
I’ve managed to get a lot of the flying monkeys off my back and day-to-day, I feel pretty good.
That’s why I am able to look at that picture, and know that I am well and truly on the other side of the lens.