“I swim in a redundant pool of crimson despair, mind awash to the bold, barren wasteland of hypodermic nausea, to cut a swathe through the razor blade precision of isolation and cooled to the numbing certainty of a yawning chasm, a spiritless void, my curse; my folly; my existence.”
I wrote the above words in the mid-1990s. More than 20 years later and little seems to have changed. Yet even before I wrote Becalmed, I had been suffering from one form of undiagnosed mental illness or another for most of my life.
On Monday of this week, I rang in sick and ran away to Scotland to end my life. It’s been a rough year. 4am found me lying on the floor of a shower unit in a Glasgow hotel room (on Hope Street, for the comic irony), shirt off, the sharp end of a pair of scissors wedged between my chest and the tiling. I had written a note. I had left next of kin details. I even had the presence of mind to buy some blue tack to leave a note on the bathroom door, alerting the cleaning staff not to come in. Just because I’m suicidal, I thought, doesn’t mean I’m a barbarian.
I couldn’t go through with it (in case that wasn’t immediately apparent). Instead I wandered around Glasgow for the day. My father was a submariner in the Royal Navy and we spent many years of my childhood living in nearby Helensborough, where I had visited the day before. I was born not far away. I guess in my disturbed state I wanted things to come full circle.
Then I headed to Sunderland, from where I write these words, to stay with my brother and sister-in-law. I collapsed in tears as soon as I was through the door. After days of feeling numb, raw emotion had returned with avengeance. I had been holding on to it all for the entire day and couldn’t hold it any longer.
The worst part about depression is not the depression itself. The worst part about depression is the shame, humiliation, and embarrassment that come from having to admit to anyone that one is depressed. Which is ridiculous. Does a runner feel shame at pulling their hamstring? Or a singer feel humiliated when they get a throat infection?
Mental illness is, by its very definition, irrational. Unlike a hamstring injury, or throat infection, the very thing that is injured is also the thing that is assessing its reaction to the damage done. Mental illness is circular, and it is cumulative. One finds oneself trapped in a spiralling loop of bad thoughts and unhelpful images. Hating oneself for being weak and for negatively impacting on one’s friends and relatives. It is exhausting, and it is draining.
I would like to say at this point that I am fine, and you don’t need to worry about me, but that would be a lie. It’s the same denials that I have allowed myself to believe for far too many years. I’ve always lived too much in my head, avoiding talking about my issues, living a life of perceived independence, but being unable to take care of myself properly. I’ve not been to a doctor regarding anything, let alone my mental state, in nearly fifteen years. I’m drowning in debt. I’ve been single for a decade to avoid inflicting me on anyone else.
Clearly things can’t go on as they are. The centre cannot hold. I am now in the process of registering with a doctor to see about getting a proper diagnosis. I’ve started looking at consolidating the debt. I am even toying with the idea of actually leaving the house and doing this thing I’ve heard about called, socialising.
I can also see the funny side of it all, which is often the case in the immediate aftermath of an ‘episode’. As the fictional Alan Partridge once had a breakdown and drove to Scotland without any shoes, I ran away to Scotland on the train without enough socks. I should have fled to Dundee, not Glasgow, and gorged myself on Toblerone.
As a person who has lived and worked in Great Britain my entire life, I have been brought up to believe that it is vulgar to talk about oneself. Which it is. However, today is World Mental Health Day (if nothing else, my timing for once is impeccable), and I wanted to write about what’s going on with me, partly because writing helps soothe the savage beast, but also as a beacon of hope for anyone else that suffers from the same malfunctioning psyche.
These things can be difficult to talk about, because depression usually doesn’t leave any visible, physical symptoms like a torn hamstring, or vocal cord. The fear is that one will be accused of faking it or being a malingerer. I am extremely blessed to have family who are supportive and loving. I will always have somewhere I can go. I will never be forced into homelessness, or destitution. I don’t drink alcohol. Not everyone is so fortunate. You just have to trust that there are people who will understand what you are going through, whether they be family, friends, or organisations such as the Samaritans.
Mental illness is like carbon monoxide; poisoning silently when left undetected. No one should suffer and die in silence. Get the help you need. It’s taken me long enough to come to this realisation. Be well.
|An English Sloop Becalmed near the Shore - Francis Swaine|
Becalmed (full version)
I swim in a redundant pool of crimson despair, mind awash to the bold, barren wasteland of hypodermic nausea, to cut a swathe through the razor blade precision of isolation and cooled to the numbing certainty of a yawning chasm, a spiritless void, my curse; my folly; my existence.
These are my fears, daydreams of grandeur that exist in but the mind eye, passionate kingdoms where none are to be found, not even I, and what's left to do when faultless clarity is all that I have and ears bleed from the silence.
None else swim here and none will, for I am a creature of habit, a habit of addictive self-destruction, deprived of even the energy to engage this agony and all that's left to do is sink, drown in the becalmed mistress of singular euphoric demise. And none being in attendance, none will grieve, none will care, not even I, for this is the way of things. To achieve but one terminal ambition, as all others are lost to the black.