Couldn’t Somebody?

All I ever wanted was for someone to save me. I wanted someone who could sit next to me and reach inside my chest, scoop out the pain and discard it. I wanted someone who could let me sleep without seeing Amelia die over and again. Just one night, I’d like to lay down and not close my eyes to see her comatose and covered with wires. When I look back to the days after she died, I never did what I should have done; attempt to talk and heal. Instead I buried all of that hurt under layers of anger and distracted myself with talk of family meetings or holidays. I was 24; not long out of my childhood and had only recently discovered what it was to be a dad.

When I held her we created a bond unique to us. I stood in the maternity ward and cradled this small person who shared my DNA. I cried with joy that I could raise this person to live a life better than anyone could dream. She had ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes and I could wrap my arms around her to shelter her from everything. When she died, she had ten small fingers and ten small toes and I held her again – as the life had left her body. I bent towards her, to kiss her head which was already cooling and I wept, again. This time I wept for the life she would never have. I saw moments dash through my mind – her graduation, her wedding, her own children – all things that would never come to be.

As much as I know that I had all of the information I needed, it doesn’t stop the guilt from uttering the words “Should we switch off the life support?”. It doesn’t alter the fact that I – a man so used to videogames, fantasy worlds and beer – had to remove the only thing that connected my own child to this world. I had to cut that bond that we’d made only a few years before. We would no longer wake early before everyone else to watch Spongebob; we’d never laugh together and I’d never hold her hand inside of mine.

All I wanted, although illogical, was for someone to remove this moment from my history. I wanted someone who could give me Amelia as she used to be in life, rather than who she became in death. When I close my eyes I want to see her smile and watch as her eyes light up a thousand memories. I need to be able to feel her presence in some way.

What upsets me the most is that when Amelia died, I did too. I don’t mean that the version of me who was present expired. I mean that I as a person died inside, as if all of my energy had been squeezed from my core. For ten years I’ve walked as a shell, with nothing inside remaining but a boiling anger and a hideous sadness. The moment I made the decision that I needed to, I became a faded photograph – someone who is present but not quite there. I became intangible and unreachable to those around me and to myself.

I woke up the morning after Amelia died and wondered if I could continue living and I’ve done the same thing every day since then. The “accident” as we call it created a fissure through me that I cannot cross. I can see what might have been or what could be across the chasm, but I cannot reach it. And so I wake each day wondering whether today will be the day that I take my own life, in the hope that this act is what builds the bridge over the void.

All happiness is tinged with despair and heartbreak. Each moment of joy is shaded with grey or muted beneath a fog. Love became something else entirely – maybe out of the need for distance to prevent future hurt or maybe because I cursed myself every single day and wanted those around me to live a better life. I became so good at hiding who I was and how I felt, yet I yearned for someone to invite me out for a beer and talk about her. I wanted someone else the whole time. I protected everyone around me and forgot about myself. I didn’t want to open the conversation because how could I do that? What words do you use when you want to tell someone you love and who loves you that all you think of is death. How do you pick up the phone and tell the other person that today you considered killing yourself?

In this dark world everything changes. Love becomes hate, joy becomes sadness and ambition becomes failure. When you wake every day and tell yourself that you are worthless, it becomes ingrained and a part of who you are. For so many years I told myself that I was worth nothing and that my grief was ridiculous. It was only very recently that I gave myself permission to grieve for my daughter. Depression from bereavement creates a glass box around the person who lost another. A glass box that can only be broken from the outside and yet everyone who walks past cannot see the self created prison. They can’t see me banging and pleading to be let out. So they continue on and the glass gets thicker.

All I wanted was for someone to notice. I went to all the appointments, I took all the pills, I cut myself and wrote endless blog posts about my misery and depression and yet so many people kept on walking past. They stop by the box with post it notes that say “I’m here if you need a shoulder” or “You can talk to me anytime”, but I can’t do that. I can’t ask for help, just like I can’t turn back time and stop my family from having a day at the park.

As each person walked past and offered a sincere, but impossible to grab, helping hand, I slipped further away. I began to hate and fear; to spit and cry. My words became a venom which poisoned all around me… And all I wanted was for someone to save me.

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The Letter

Before you scroll down and begin reading this blog post, I want to make one thing abundantly clear; this is not an intention to end my life. This is purely something I want to write. Not as a goodbye or anything so dramatic, but as an example (or an exercise) of what goes on within the mind of a suicidal person who fights depression on a daily basis.

Please, if you are feeling as low as me or having ideas of self harm or suicide, please call someone. If you’re in the UK you can talk to the Samaritans on 116 123 (same for ROI). If you’re in the US then call 1-800-273-8255. Thank you.

This letter is to tell you why. It’s to inform you as to why, from this day, you will miss me and long for me to walk into a room. I need to state how depression rules my every day life. It’s a constant pressure that weighs me down with each step I take and it’s the interfering nuisance that spoils situations and ruins relationships. Moving through life with the burden of mental health is like walking the Atlantic ocean while carrying a pile of boulders. It isn’t easy to get out of bed, or brush your teeth or make a cup of tea. Having depression is like having something suck the life from you and bottle it within unbreakable glass – you can see happiness, energy and motivation, but you can never grasp it.

My battles with mental health started when I was younger. My childhood was an odd one because I had the best mum in all of the world. She fell pregnant with me at 17 and gave up her dreams to bring me into her life. She worked countless jobs, taught me life skills and she became my best friend. When I was a teenager a lot of my mates were jealous of our relationship because she raised me to be honest, loyal and confident. We could exchange filthy jokes, cuss out those who did us wrong and she was always there to talk openly. But, there was always an absence. My dad left before I was born – he had an affair, mum threw plates at him and he fucked off. I saw him a handful of times growing up but only one encounter sticks in my mind and it isn’t a pleasant memory.

I was an oddball kind of kid – always on the fringes of groups rather than mingling. I avoided social situations for fear of looking stupid. I was picked on quite a bit and in senior school I was bullied for the first couple of years. My first thoughts of suicide were when I was 12. I’d been headbutted by the notorious school bully for no reason other than fun. I was at a point in my life where I was questioning everything I felt and after this happened I remember looking all over the car park on my estate for a shard of glass to cut my wrists. I scratched away at my flesh unable to commit to pushing hard enough, gave up and cried in the stairwell of our block of flats.

When I was 16 I became angry at everything. I started crossing roads without looking in the hope that a car would hit me and save me the trouble of ending my life by my own hand. I began self harming, but only mildly. I pinched myself and hit myself when I felt bad or angry. I never told anybody because I thought I was a freak or that I’d be taken away from my mum.

The depression has always been there and when I was in my early twenties the anxiety arrived. I began to worry over everything. Each small twinge or ache became a monstrous disease in my mind. Stomach aches were cancer, headaches were tumours. It began to rule my life and when I was 23 I wanted to end my life because I couldn’t cope with the constant voice in my head. I started drinking a lot, wanting to get into fights. I never pushed it too far because I always had a safety net in my friends, but the edge was there.

Then, of course, Amelia died when I was 24. From that day my depression transformed from an irritant to an overbearing entity. I’ve contemplated suicide every single day since she died. I can’t think of a moment when it wasn’t in my mind to hang myself, cut my wrists or jump from a bridge. Depression, grief and my mental stability has ruined everything in my life.

I’ve pushed away good friends. I’ve given up on great opportunities. I’ve turned love into hatred and despised myself so much that I began to believe that’s how everyone else saw me. I’ve been an awful parent, neglecting to spend time with my kids in fear that something will happen to them and I’ll get hurt all over again. With every person I meet, I throw up a wall between us so I can’t get hurt or hurt them. I’ve destroyed my marriage by feeding my mind so much hate that any idea of love has vanished (something I will write about soon) and I let my anxiety rule constantly. I blamed myself for Amelia’s death, because I was the one who made the decision to remove her life support – I (unfairly) blamed my wife and family for not being able to make that decision for me or remove the years of pain I’ve felt since.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it time and again, my wanting to commit suicide is not a want to die, but a want to stop. I want to be able to not feel any of the constant pain. I want to be able to step out of life and not feel guilt, shame, anger or hate. When it feels as if everything is against you, suicide becomes an option because it erases everything. Some people call it selfish, but they are usually the ones who have no concept of how much it hurts to exist.

Every day I wake up and wonder whether today will be the day I do it. I wonder if today will be the day that something pushes me a fraction too far and I stumble over the edge. Each day I look at my wife and see pain, regret and sadness. I look at my children and see Amelia’s features looking back at me and I wonder how long I can look at them.

Two days ago I stood waiting to cross a busy street. I hooked my arm through a railing by my side because I knew that if I didn’t hold onto something I’d step out into the road. Whenever I walk near my house (through countryside) I think about filling my pockets with rocks and jumping into the river. Because doing these things would be easier than having to struggle through arguments, upset and self destruction.

I find little to no enjoyment in hobbies and activities. I spend most of my time sitting on my bed listening to music in order to drown out the constant thoughts that run through my mind. I don’t find fun in books or games, though I try to. Usually my focus only lasts about 30 minutes before I either give up or my emotions overwhelm me.

As I sit here, writing this, I have one good thing in my life – my two daughters. That’s all I have left. I have no job (despite looking every single day, thank you Theresa May), no money (because my benefits keep getting cut), my marriage is dust because my mental health has driven me to a point of destruction and no return. This latter point will make me homeless. I despise every aspect of my being from my looks to my weight, from my bad teeth to my shitty confidence. I feel like a burden to those I know and I constantly ponder that those around me would be better off were I to die.

THAT, is what suicidal thoughts are. THAT, is what depression is. THAT, is what will kill me if I’m not careful. And the thing is, I’m not careful. I don’t look out for myself. I’ll always pick up the phone or send a message if I know one of my friends is feeling low. I’ll tell them all the things I should tell myself. I can give all the advice, but I can’t take it.

After writing all these words I wanted to end on something positive, but I honestly can’t. I don’t have the energy to put out false words that will make you feel better after reading this. Do I consider death every single day? Yes, I do. Would I take my own life if I knew it wouldn’t pass the pain on to my kids? Yes, I would. Because that is what depression has done to me. It has ruined and broken me; turning me into something I truly despise.

If it ever takes my life, I would want people to know I tried. I got up every day and forced myself to dress and wash. I battled every thought that crossed my mind with all the strength I could muster, but it beat me. And more than those things, I would want everyone to know I loved them, deep down – under all that anger and hate – and I wish I could have shown it to them, but more importantly, to myself.

I Got Next

The smell of copper on our fingers, lingers, long into the evening.

Trill sounds and bright lights, fight… a battle for sensual dominance.

A new callous is worn in the crook of our thumbs, numb, this is the umpteenth Saturday.

Fireballs fly, spears soar; Let’s Go Away to Daytona USA.

Hitting flippers, there stands Tom, high score undone.

Silver and gold, tales told of buttons pushed when nudges roll, through.

Old men cradle minuscule roll up cigarettes, searching for forgotten two pence pieces.

And the carpet crunches underfoot, as we look,

for another root through the crowds to find old faithful with a line already forming.

He performs tricks and skills as each man falls and another steps up,

clutching the reward from broken parents claiming,

I got next.

The Estate

I always thought I was a piece of shit, grown on a council estate, a weed from cracked concrete.

No Daddy at home, wearing hand knit clothes and hand-me-down, secondhand shoes with the laces missing, tongue hanging out; gazing at strawberry bon-bons, stealing chocolate or The Beano.

Burning cars, ragging bikes and running foot races for kisses from girls in bushes that outline a car park. Landings and stairways stunk to high heaven, rubbish bags dropped to six foot bins that might as well be hell, like life on this estate,

and my bike was stolen after three days of ownership.

Our clothes too were stolen from where we built snowmen. Then the two whirling washing lines needed fencing in to protect them while we stomped fag ends into the mud, tried to breathe life into injured birds who ended up buried with ice lolly stick grave markers.

I wonder if they’re still there or if they escaped like so many of us.

Losing a Child

Over the past ten years I’ve written extensively about my daughter, her death and how my mental health broke down in the aftermath of tragedy. I’ve written about depression, anxiety, OCD and many other issues. I’ve written accounts of the accident that took her life, but I’ve never written about how it felt. I’ve always steered away from writing about what went through my mind and body in the immediate moments (and the subsequent years) following her death. I think it’s time, now.

When Amelia died it opened a void inside of me. A yawning chasm ruptured and sent shockwaves through me. My first thought was relief. I’d spent five intense days staring at her, waiting for her to either die or wake. I no longer needed to feel that pressure and it was a weight lifted. Of course, I felt horribly guilty because this small person who I’d cradled and carried through life for three years was now gone. But she wouldn’t be in pain, she wouldn’t be comatose in a vegetative state and I was thankful that I wouldn’t have to carry on watching her.

Once that feeling passed, the guilt spilled over. What if I’d made the wrong decision? What if she might have been one of those miracle children who overcomes the odds and percentages to make a full recovery… or even a partial one? It was as if someone had reached inside my chest and squeezed my heart to pulp. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I’ve said before that I felt proud of her in the last moments, because she made the trip into death on her own – without her parents to guide her. I still feel that pride, but it’s a sick joke played on my family because it’s a pride that nobody wants. I was supposed to see her go to school and grow into a woman.

Above everything I feel anger and hatred and frustration. It’s an anger I’ve never previously felt. The sensation of wanting to smash everything into tiny pieces is a constant presence and it’s something that everyone thinks they understand, but they don’t. It’s rage, it’s fire, it’s an incandescent urge to destroy until all that’s left is me and my grief. It’s not like wanting to punch or kick, it’s a want to break things – material, spiritual and mental – down to atoms that can be split open and pulverise all of creation. The animosity that sits in my core is something I fear because it’s slowly destroying everything I love and hold dear.

It’s a shout in the dark, it’s a diatribe of expletives aimed at every God ever conceived by the human brain. It’s unjust, unfair and a pain that cuts so deep that it will never heal. The fury has, over the years, become a resentment towards those around me for being unable to reach inside me and remove the pain. I hate more than I ever have previously and I want nothing more than to forgive, forget and heal. I want to place blame so that I can aim my hatred of life towards them and spit in their face. I want a whirlpool to open beneath me and erase the very notion of my existence along with my body and soul.

I feel like it’s all unfair. She was supposed to grow old; to have children of her own, or become a lesbian, or walk on Mars. She was meant to exist. That one moment in the darkness of night that sparked her creation was meant to allow her to live whether it be in happiness or fear. And that was stolen from me.

I wish I could bottle the sense of fear I experience when I hear another parent call her name. The icy feeling that creeps down my spine when I hear her name uttered by anyone else but me makes me want to scream because that name only belongs in my mouth. I wish I could walk through life carrying a sign that bears my soul to the world and then destroy every person who would comment on it with that pathetic head tilt and register drop in their voice.

The worst of it is that it’s all so ridiculous. It’s ludicrous that I can feel this way or that I can hate the people I love because they can’t save me. I can’t help it. We are, as humans, reckless and unpredictable. I wish more than anything that I could look could look at my daughters and not see her face, which causes my heart to shatter. I wish I could think of my mother or my wife without a burning rage that consumes all other feelings just because they couldn’t take away that pain or that fateful decision.

I want to run away and bury myself in a hole or build a cabin in a glade that nobody could find; but I want to scream and have everyone run to me and hold me and love me. I want her back. I want her beside me again. I want to hear her voice whether she tells me she loves me “big much” or whether she’s crying from a nightmare. It’s a want that can never be sated.

I’ve searched years for something to fill the void inside me, in the desperate hope that as the wound heals I can begin to feel something different to all of this. It’s an emptiness that can never be filled. My life, since that day, has felt like a pencil drawing slowly being erased, only to leave behind a constant trace of what once was.

The Art of Pretending

The act of pretending to be something you are not, or are not feeling, is a skill in which I’ve become highly talented. It’s something you learn over the years from the inception point of your depression starting. Most people refer to it as wearing a mask or putting up a facade – both of which are good responses, but for me, they just don’t pinpoint the act enough. In my mind, putting on the mask of a ‘happy person’ when I’m low isn’t right, because I’m fundamentally still myself and my thoughts are still controlling how I act.

It’s more about morphing my words, face and personality into something more appealing to others, rather than wearing a mask. I can’t pretend to be somebody else, because my thoughts and actions will remain the same and this is exactly why it gets so tiring. If it was as simple as putting on a different coat, then socialising and moving about in the public wouldn’t be an issue. However, I have to work hard in order to hold up the image of a ‘stable member of society’.

It has taken a lot of practice. In the beginning years of my depression I would cry a lot and for seemingly no reason. I could be rocking myself to sleep in bed or standing in the supermarket when the tears came on. Now, I can hold them back behind a thick wall of beta blocking bricks. I would suffer panic attacks from the idea of talking to someone I don’t know, whereas now I can confidently chat away as if there was no issue, because I know that I’ve put those thoughts on pause. What I mean by that is, that I will halt all emotional response until later in the day.

An example of this would be meeting a new person in a familiar surrounding. I can act like a modified version of myself in order to get through the situation, knowing that later that day I will revert back to who I really am and let all the insecurities flood back. In a recent conversation with a relatively new friend, I told of my shyness and lack of confidence. He was shocked and exclaimed that I seemed to be entirely confident in who I am. Such is the practice that has gone into hiding my insecurities. All while I’m chatting to someone my brain is storing up hideous thoughts like an experience bar in a videogame. There I am talking away while…

“You realise how stupid you sound?” – “They are looking at you that way because you’re ugly” – “Don’t move like that, your fat will jiggle and that’s gross” – “You’re gross in general” – “And stupid, why are you even bothering” – “Are you aware that this person thinks you’re a moron?” – “You aren’t an appealing person in any way” – “Just stop”.

And all those thoughts sit there in some twisted energy bank waiting until I can get away. Then they attack my senses and I become a gibbering wreck that doesn’t move for several days. It’s easy to sit here now and say “Well, mental health just lies all the time”, but in the moment that voice gets lost. And it’s all so damn exhausting.

Many people with mental health problems express a wish that others could know how they feel or that when entering a conversation the other person is aware of your internal issues. Because it would all be so much easier wouldn’t it? There’s also a sense that if you were to let out all those thoughts and feelings it would only make things worse – perhaps the other person would feel awkward or maybe they’d think you insane.

It’s ironically depressing that depression makes you more depressed. It becomes a disembodied voice that haunts your every day. I’ve genuinely walked away from people because I felt so awful about myself that I could no longer stand to be in their presence. As someone who is overweight, not particularly attractive, balding, has bad teeth and often says silly things, I generally shy away from social opportunities. Because it’s so easy to judge myself harshly I believe others will do the same.

I’m hoping that in my practice of mindfulness, I will learn to not judge so quickly or so harshly. It’s something I’ve said repeatedly over time, but I believe the first step in coming to terms with any mental health problem is that you must learn to love yourself. It’s very difficult to love anyone else or venture out of your comfort zone when you spend most of your time ridiculing yourself.

Before my daughter died and I spiralled to this place I used to think good things about myself. I thought I was decent looking, I was a great sales person – I thought I could sell ice to Inuits – so I had confidence and swagger, I wasn’t obese and was generally fit. But, as soon as that negative spin comes in, those things fly out the window. And it’s made worse by those around us even when they mean well.

Something I’ve heard more than I care to count is the phrase “We just want the old Dan back”. This is something that came up for me in my counselling sessions recently. It’s something others express because they want the depressed/anxious person to be happy. They believe that the older version of you wouldn’t feel the way you currently do. That’s wrong in so many ways, because that person was eroded by the constant internal and external pressures they place upon themselves. And your continual wanting the old person to return makes the current version of us feel like shit. It’s like you’ve abandoned the person in order to chase something that will never return.

Depression, anxiety, OCD – whatever a person may suffer with – changes them fundamentally. They don’t want it to, but it will because it warps every thought that leaves their brain. This brings me back to my initial point… It’s so tiring trying to be something I’m not, especially for other people. I’m sorry if that changes how I feel or talk or act in certain situations, but by constantly pretending, I’m compounding the pressure and making things worse. Not just for me, but for those around me. If the person you see isn’t really the true me, then we’re all just living a lie.