Breakdown Of A Breakdown

Posted by Dan | Posted in Blog, Mental Health | Posted on 05-02-2015

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Trigger Warning: This is a first-hand account of suicidal despair. If you’re going through something similar it may help remind you that you’re not alone in how you feel, and I will do my best to answer any questions and support you if you get in touch below. But please remember that you can immediately talk with a trained professional any hour of the day or night, anywhere in the world, for free. These guys know what they’re doing and choose to do it, so I promise you won’t be wasting their time. Here is an international suicide support directory.

screaming-womanOn Thursday, March 20th 2014 I had a mental breakdown and I’m not supposed to tell you that.

Think of the damage it would cause: the way people would look at me; the whispers of “be careful around him, he might snap”; the potential friends, lovers and employers I’d scare off. That’s how dialogue around mental health goes: you might be comfortable enough telling people you’ve “experience of depression” or “know what they’re going through” up to a point – after all, everyone has some emotional baggage – but it’s talked about in manageable terms. The odd sick day or excuse for missing a social occasion. What you don’t talk about is when it gets so bad you need to be hospitalised.

If you’re off work with a broken arm you’re off work with a broken arm. There’s probably a story behind it that gets passed around the office and you can expect visitors and Get Well cards filled with friendly jokes about the injury. But if you’re off work with a broken brain you’re just “ill”. There’s no story. There’s not even a specific problem. The few members of staff who need to know more are told in hushed tones and feel they ought to keep the details secret from the rest of the office. If you get a card at all it’ll be humourless; no one’s going to add a quip about you being crazy or joke about moving your office chair away from the window when you’re back.

But why? Why are people so averse to talking frankly and openly about health the moment we stick the word “mental” in front of it?

I believe we need to end this culture of attaching shame and embarrassment to talking about mental illness, thus ending the discrimination, misinformation and stigma such an attitude breeds. We’re making progress, thanks in no small part to celebrities speaking publicly about their personal battles and the great work of organisations like Time to Change, but we’ve still a long way to go before calling in sick because you want to die is as easy as calling in sick because you have a migraine.

That talking about mental health can invite awkwardness is undeniable. Suicide in particular makes people very uncomfortable and many prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. But I believe the damage of not talking about things is potentially far greater, even lethal. That’s why I’ve decided to tell the story of my breakdown. It won’t be pleasant and it certainly won’t be a quick read. I won’t sugar coat it or dot it with uplifting messages like “things will get better” which I know all-too-well fall on deaf ears to the depressed. I’m telling it to show that you can talk about mental health issues and that there is no shame in doing so. That these issues are actually quite common; you’re not as alone as you might think. And, perhaps most importantly, that such experiences – no matter how painful – might just save your life.

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Eulogy for 2014

Posted by Dan | Posted in Blog, Mental Health | Posted on 01-01-2015

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I’m not exaggerating when I say that 2014 has been the most painful year of my life. It was the year my depression finally caught up with me, proving I could never outrun my own thoughts or successfully drown them given enough distractions or Prozac. I had a complete mental breakdown which almost killed me. Every aspect of my life has been coloured by this event: work, finances, health and social life… it has defined me. I couldn’t work for months (and still can’t manage full-time). I missed out on promising projects and career opportunities. Most importantly of all: I lost friends. People I trusted and cared for – many whom I’d known for years – cut all contact with me without so much as a ‘goodbye’, let alone an explanation or an actual conversation. This was what hurt most of all and has been the biggest barrier to my recovery.

But despite everything – despite ten months of hell (and counting: believe me, I’m not out of the woods yet) – I wouldn’t change what has happened to me. Because 2014 is also the year I stopped running. If something mostly works you put up with its occasional faults; it needs to completely break down before you make a serious change. Being swallowed by that tsunami of despair was my breaking point.

That suffering has taught me more than a decade of cushy living ever could: I’ve grown as a person and am humbled at the realisation of how much more there is to learn about the world, about people, and about myself. To borrow the words of J. K. Rowling: “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Eulogy to 2014

To the friends and family who supported me through this year: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You’re the reason I’m still here today. From turning up at my door when I was scared to be alone, to letting me bend your ear late into the night when I needed to talk. For helping me with basic chores I found overwhelming, for putting me in touch with professional help, and for your endless patience while I told the same story again and again, constantly and desperately analysing every detail to try and make some sense of it all. Whether it was once or a hundred times: thank you. I will never forget it.

To those who hurt me, from those who silently removed themselves from my Facebook friends to those who actively sought to get me fired: I’m trying hard to understand why you acted the way you did and to forgive you for it. I don’t believe in holding grudges and I know you all have a capacity for kindness because I’ve seen it. There are days when I reach a state of acceptance and forgive you – taking a step back and seeing you were acting ‘for you’ rather than ‘against me’ – but there are others when I’m paralysed by resentment, sadness or fear. But I won’t give in to them: as tempting as those thoughts and feelings are, I’ve made my choice; I won’t let negativity define who I am any longer. I’m taking control of my own fate and not letting circumstance dictate what I think or feel.

Bring it at me, 2015. I’m ready for you.

Seven Days With Depression

Posted by Dan | Posted in Mental Health | Posted on 25-04-2014

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Trigger warning: self-harm, suicidal thoughts

 

I’d been meaning to try out a new illness ever since the crazy times I had on the Norovirus, so when I was offered a week’s trial of depression I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never tried a mental illness before and was curious to see how it compared to the physical kind.

As only 1 in 4 people have suffered with a mental health problem I was looking forward to being part of an elite group, and had many questions about the experience. Would my illness be apparent to those around me? Would it garner sympathy like a broken leg, or make people tactfully avoid me like when I have something contagious? How would I know when it was ready? Would there be a period of feeling a little under the weather before the onslaught, or was it lurking around a corner waiting to hit me full-force?

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I Can’t Breathe

Posted by Dan | Posted in Blog, Mental Health | Posted on 20-03-2014

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When a friend asked me to be his best man, this was the first thought to go through my head:1795529_530268430422636_1035407866_n

“If I say yes, that means I can’t kill myself until at least next June otherwise they’ll be really inconvenienced.”

I genuinely contemplated turning down the offer for that sole reason. I knew I could handle all the other commitments; I also had no particular plan or desire to commit suicide, but this should give you an idea of how high up the idea was on my list of possible future activities.

Although I’ve never directly attempted suicide, the thought has entered my mind more times than I suspect is healthy. It’s almost always because of my inability to let things go: I still feel guilty, ashamed and embarrassed about (barely) getting into trouble as a child; unkind comments from a decade ago still sting and resonate with chimes of overthinking and overanalysing, leading me to conclude I am spectacularly hated and deservedly so; friendships which ended abruptly haunt my dreams and paralyse my idle time with regret.

I think of my mind as a rucksack I’m forced to permanently carry. Every negative thought, every bad experience, every worry, is another rock added to my pack. There is no way to empty the rucksack, and I’m lucky if I get to set it down for a few minutes each day. It gets heavier when I’m alone and is worst of all when I lie down.

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To Night

Posted by Dan | Posted in Mental Health, Writing | Posted on 13-09-2012

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These are our underground days.

Lukewarm seduction while
fleeing fleeting feelings
passed around like disease.

Pain as welcome as elation;
all we crave is something
to remind us our hearts still beat.

As the numbness sets in –
rigor mortis of the soul –
Tomorrow is discarded
to allow for Tonight,

where we fuck our futures away.