A warning. This post mentions in detail some things that you might find uncomfortable. But bear with me.
This year marks a strange kind of anniversary for me, I have now been alive longer than I was before the moment I decided to take my own life. It’s weird to say out loud. It’s weird to say at all. Some of my closest friends will be finding this out for the first time, and some of my family will be rediscovering what I swept under the carpet so long ago.
I spent the majority of my early teenage years depressed. Life felt like a perpetually dark and wet Wednesday afternoon. The permanent feeling of 10 minutes into double maths. Or being number 172 at the post office when number 4 has just been called. I felt numb, cold, and alone. I couldn’t really imagine a future. It felt, to me at least, that my life was at an end.
15 years ago I devoured handfuls of paracetamol and ibuprofen all washed down with bottled water. I can’t remember what day or week or month it was but I remember those actions, the physical feeling, that taste, like it was this morning.
It was a school day, I can’t remember which, it was the same as every other day. When school had finished I walked to the Lanes in Carlisle. This was the place where all my friends congregated, the outcasts and the outsiders. A church mass of faded black jeans, poorly dyed hair and bad home-piercings.
I’ll never forget the story of Mike giving himself a Prince Albert.
Anyway, it was a school day. With my hands shaking I finally went through with it. It’s not that I was planning it, actually it felt more like it was always going to happen. I had no say in the matter. It was a ritual. This was how my life was going to end.
I swallowed pill after pill until I physically couldn’t put another in my mouth. I was hunched over in a corner, hidden. Later on I would question how no-one noticed, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t care. Later again I would come to understand that they did care and that it was all in my head. Funny, that.
There isn’t any one thing I can pinpoint as responsible for how I felt. There are probably textbook examples apparent in my childhood: single parent, difficult relationship with my father, transient home life. Bullying. But there isn’t one big thing. I had a family that cared about me, a strong network of friends and was a perpetual B student.
In fact I had passions and dreams. I loved, and still do love, music. I immersed myself in comic books, films, animation. I dreamt of visiting Tokyo and living the life I read about and watched.
But you see in 2002 mental health wasn’t as widely spoken about as it is now. ‘Depressed’ was an insult, no-one applauded a celebrity for being outspoken, there was no support network. In fact later on in life I was told, more than once, not to mention my affliction when needing time off work for fear it would negatively affect my career. Yet here I am. With a job, and I’m mentioning it.
Anyway, it was a school day.
Almost immediately after stuffing my face with chalky white tablets, the taste of chemicals burning my tongue, I started to feel sick. I couldn’t risk the bus so walked 30 minutes home without saying goodbye to friends.
The walk took an hour.
I stopped. Started. Stopped again. My stomach was cramping. Finally I made it home. I mumbled something about feeling unwell and passed out in bed. That was all I really remember for around 2 days.
Rumour made it to school that the reason I was off was because I tried to kill myself. There was a phone call home. My mother was angry at me. Angry. I don’t blame her though, what are you supposed to feel when your youngest child, the baby, tries to commit suicide.
Eventually I came to, without the need for a trip to A&E. I was back in school by the end of the week, unwell, weak, and left to deal with the aftermath alone. My friends were supportive by not acknowledging it. 15 years later I am still grateful for that. Others not so much. Jenny, tears streaming down her face, told my best friend that she loved me and would miss me. Jenny didn’t speak to me when she realised I was alive. The bullying stopped though.
It was months later after a teacher spotted my self harm that I eventually got the help that I needed. I was referred to a counsellor and spent the next 12 months taking afternoons off for therapy. It was in therapy that I learned that none of this was my fault. I had a chemical imbalance. 14 year olds aren’t supposed to deal with these things.
I have since learned that if I had washed those pills down with alcohol I would not have woken up.
Not the end
There is so much more to this story that one day I’ll talk about. Like the time Holly bought me clean razor blades because she knew I was going to self-harm regardless and it was best if I didn’t give myself blood poisoning. The time my then-girlfriend had a miscarriage at 18. Or the time I cried on Martin’s shoulder when I was 22 because the medication I was on was making me permanently nauseous.
There are also positive stories that would be remiss of me to ignore. Like Mr. Turnbull taking me out of PE to re-bandage my bloody arms. Like the Sister (catholic school, you see) that told me about her own struggle with mental health and confused sexuality. Like my brother, James, the fucking trooper, and his rain man insight and his unflinching ability to freely talk about his horrible experiences while never diminishing my own. And my mother, who finally stopped being angry at me.
My troubles with mental health will always be difficult to talk about. For the most part I am good, I am happy. It’s rare that I feel anywhere near as bad as I did 15 years ago and when I do I can recognise it early enough to take myself out of the situation and do what I need to do, to get back on form, to keep my head above water. But I will never think of myself as ‘cured’. I’m terrified that the next big thing is just around the corner.
The first 15 years of my life were painful, but the 15 years since have been a rollercoaster and a whirlwind. Wonderful relationships have come and gone. My love of music allowed me to record music with friends. I went to film school. I visited Tokyo. And my career in design has introduced me to some amazing people. I’ve stood up and spoken to rooms of 100s of people and they’ve listened. To me. The quiet depressed 15 year old boy with poorly-dyed hair, home-piercings and faded black jeans. And you know what? I can’t wait for the next 15, and the next, and hopefully a few more after that.
Anyway, there’s no real point to why I’m saying any of this, except that this is my story. And I appreciate you taking the time to read it.
Oh and I’m fresh out of excuses as to why I won’t take paracetamol for this headache.