Have you ever found yourself wondering when it all went wrong? Some people would no doubt find this to be an incredibly self-pitying question. Others? Well, the chances are, they can, and will relate in some way. At age 39, I’ve been living under the shadow of depression for around 27 years, although it’s only relatively recently that I’ve found myself in a position to be able to identify it, and admit to it.
These days I’m lucky enough to be happily married and generally secure, all things considered (although I could do with a permanent job, so if you’ve got one going, hit me up). However, the most important thing that the world at large doesn’t understand about depression is that once it rears its ugly head and sinks its teeth into you, you are never going to be completely free of it. There is no cure. There is no magic bullet. Your depression might fade into the background for extended periods of time (sometimes years), and convince you that its gone for good, but when you least expect it, it can creep its way back into your life. At first it will play gentle mind games with you, but it gradually builds to the point where it consumes you and dominates your life. At least that’s how it’s played out for me. The closest I can come to explaining the internal struggle, and the way in my depression manifests for me is using the Black Flag song, My War as a metaphor. Breaking it down, I have an intense persecution complex. My mind tells me that people are against me. That people are oppressing me. That they want to hold me down or hold me back. That they want to exploit me. For me, it goes beyond self doubt. It’s beyond low self esteem. It’s beyond a glass half-empty outlook (I’m not looking at a glass half full, by the way). I’m prone to obsessing over this shit. It builds and it builds.
That’s the cross I have to bear, and as I mentioned above, My War has become something of a metaphor for how I view the world and my relationship to it. I expect it’s not reasonable. I know it’s (probably) not how things are, but that’s how my brain processes the stuff that upsets me. It’s really quite unpleasant, and trust me, it’s not what I wanted from life. I’m sure many people reading this will find it to be a disconcerting concept. I’m certain some of you will find it overblown, exaggerated, or even offensive. If that’s the case, and you can’t appreciate the fact that I’m not like you, then fuck you. This is MY LIFE. This is MY WAR, and if you can’t accept that, then YOU’RE ONE OF THEM!
It’s thanks to a mental health charity called Mind, from which I received counselling that I am now in a place where I can try to openly talk (or write) about my own experience of dealing with this insidious, black-hearted, toad-faced, snake-eyed, cold-blooded, demonic motherfucker of an illness. If you need help, maybe Mind can help you too. You can self-refer to your local branch of Mind, but you may have to join a waiting list before you can be seen. It’s probably worth doing sooner rather than later, before you run the risk of becoming a full on social retard or something.
It’s also thanks to Mind that I’ve been able to get to the very root of the problem. To where it all went wrong.
I was raised in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in a normal, working class home. There was just me and my parents. They didn’t manage to conceive any other children, which I learned fairly recently they’d always felt guilty about. I suppose in some respects that I must’ve had a fairly lonely childhood in terms of not having brothers or sisters to interact with, which I suppose is something of a contributing factor to my social anxiety growing up. I was (and probably still am to an extent) socially stunted. It’s not really anyone’s fault. It’s just how it worked out. There is nobody to blame for this.
Don’t get me wrong, I had friends through infant and junior school (or whatever that is known as these days). At home I made my own fun, or read books. I’m also told that I used to sit and read the dictionary (which I suppose is better than reading the telephone directory), so at least I wasn’t cursed by own stupidity (in some ways, at least). I still have the same best friend that I’ve had since the age of 5 (Tom), although there were some ups and downs in our relationship during our teenage years and early twenties. With the people that matter, you sort shit out. Some friendships just last forever, and that’s something to be thankful for.
My first high school (St Michael’s) I was at for approximately 1 year and 4 weeks. I’d settled well, I’d made friends. I’d started to discover metal, and what was to become a seriously uncool lifelong obsession with Games Workshop products. Then, one day, and I’ll regret this for the rest of my fucking life, I came home from school and made the error of nonchalantly mentioning that the English teacher, one Mr Taylor, had spent the lesson with his feet up on the desk, reading the newspaper. Big mistake. My mum had had a strict upbringing, and was quite conservative in some ways. Lo and behold, I was pulled out of school, and sent to a different high school (St Thomas a Becket) in the next town over, Wakefield.
At 12 years old, what’s a brother to do? I didn’t realise the consequences of this, and just trusted that my parents knew best, and that they knew what they were doing. I just went along with it. Just like that I was ripped away from my circle of friends (it was only a few years back that I found out that Tom found this pretty devastating too), and the next phase of my life, in which I would play the role of a social outcast and general all purpose loser, began.
As I recall, the first week was OK. The other kids in my class seemed to take something of an interest in me. I suppose as the new kid, I was something of a curiosity. Although once it became clear that I was neither good at sports, good looking, a fan of popular music, or hard, I found myself on my own. Being something of a shy kid, it was totally against my instinct to try and force the issue. So there I was, sitting on my own in lessons, and hanging out by myself at break time and lunch. Pretty soon I became the target of choice for the kicks, punches and verbal abuse of the popular kids. The properly hard kids left me alone by and large. I can’t help but think if my mum had let me dress less like a dork things might’ve been easier on me. I still recall having “what’s it like to have no mates?” chanted at me repeatedly on a daily basis. Pretty fucking terrible is what it’s like, in case you wanted to know. It makes you believe that it’s you that is at fault. But, at least the properly hard kids got bored of giving me shit and beats pretty early on. Although last I heard, Stephen Butler is still out for my blood!
That’s another thing, actually. I was cursed (or blessed) with razor-sharp wit, so I used to give back the verbal abuse as much as I got it. If there’s one thing the popular kids didn’t like, it was being laughed at by their peers over something I’d said. Cue more beatings. They liked it even less when even they found me funny when I was mocking them…
Over the next three years I kind of settled in a bit more. The popular kids still hated me, but I became less the new kid, and I began to make some friends, and even a couple of the hard kids decided I was sort of OK. It didn’t escape my notice that over the years, several other new kids variously joined our class and school year, but for some reason they were accepted. It wasn’t all hell, though. I achieved infamy (for about one day total) after I got belly-bounced by some humongous fat kid in the top year. I’d been running to the dinner queue, run full pelt around the corner, and straight into this dude’s belly. I knocked myself out by landing on the top of my head. I was out cold for about 20 minutes, and was surrounded by a crowd of concerned kids when I woke up.
Then there was the time at the school disco at age 14, where I bizarrely (and I remember this quite clearly), decided that I was going to stare at the wall and “get depressed” because, looking back, I was, well, a bit mental. It gets a bit hazy, but the disco was in the school hall, and I found myself in the dining room sat on a chair, facing the wall from a distance of probably two or three inches. Some dick or other (I can’t remember which) wandered in and decided to start giving me shit. So I started throwing chairs at them, and they fucked off. I sat back on my chair, facing the wall. At some point the head of year and deputy head turned up, got me calmed down, and I blamed it on some totally unrelated matter of a friend getting off with some girl or something. The truth is, there was no reason behind it as far as I can recall. Build up of resentment and frustration, probably.
One thing that I can be sure of is that the initial year or more of rejection at my second high school had a lasting impact on me. All through my life, since that time I’ve desparately craved acceptance. This need for reassurance has made me try too hard time after time, and more often than not make a fool out of myself as a result. Nowadays I try to pretend I don’t care what anybody thinks of me, but the truth is that I care too much. I find myself being either too trusting of, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, overly suspicious of others. Typically speaking, I’d rather bottle shit up than open up about it. It’s that fear of the pain of rejection, I suppose. It’s something I’m always struggling with in my mind. Plus, I have a tendency to obsess over it, which just makes matters worse.
Well, pointless anecdotes aside, and glossing over the time hard kid Mark Bowers smashed me over the head with a dinner plate and called me a “heavy metal freak” during art class (this was the only time he ever spoke to me or interacted with me in any manner. Later in the same class, he smashed another hard kid, Adrian Duffy, over the head with another plate, and slashed his hand open in the process), I survived up to my final year of high school, and realised I could make myself less of a target by ‘dumbing myself down’. So that’s what I did.
Before I knew it, high school was over. I left with qualifications. Cool. Good for me. But I also left school with a whole boatload of deep-seated resentment and hatred bottled up inside me. Over the years, whenever I’d had cause to talk about it, it made me physically tense up and express myself in an excessively aggressive and hateful manner. It often made me physically shake with rage. In fact, it took several sessions of therapy with Mind for me to view my high school oppressors objectively, and be able to let go of some of my anger. The style of therapy I was having was of a self-reflective nature, and really caused me to question my own reasoning and feelings on the matter. But that wasn’t before it brought to light another tendency of mine. It seems I have some weird craving for blazing bloody vengeance. A burning desire to see people get their comeuppance, or to have the opportunity to visit upon them the same shit they inflicted on me (y’know, now I’m not afraid of them anymore). All I wanted to do was grip these people by the throat and spitefully rub their faces in the shit they put me through.
However, thanks to the therapy, I quickly came to realise that I had no idea whatsoever what may or may not have been going on in the lives of my tormentors outside of school. Their parents could have been kicking the living fuck out of them on a nightly basis, or worse. They could have been dealing with grief, or illness in the family. The list of what their own shit may or may not have been goes on and on. But, long story short, I was eventually able to compartmentalise it and let it go. I felt loads better for it.
But, having come to that realisation, that doesn’t excuse the behaviour of some adults I’ve had inflicted on me in my professional life. As Bron famously said in Game of Thrones, “There’s no cure for being a cunt”. But I can’t help but think a person has to make a conscious decision to be one though. I’m sure I’ll have a great deal more to say on this matter in future installments of this column though…
But back to my story. I left school, and then I made a really bad decision… It was time to sign up for sixth form college, as it was known is those days. For all I know (or care) it could still be known as the same fucking thing. Anyway, I decided that I would go to Barnsley College to do my A Levels. Surely there would people like me coming from a whole range of schools in Barnsley, right? Right?
Wrong. The kids I would’ve (maybe) fitted in with all went to the art college. I suppose I was trying to make an uncharacteristically bold move by going to a college where I knew nobody. Error. Error. Error. I should have stuck with the friends I eventually made at high school and gone to Wakefield Tech. Even now, I want to repeatedly punch myself in the face over this. If I’d gone to Wakey Tech, I’d have been with my friends, and not set myself up for another two years of social exile and introversion. I might have somehow learned to become cool (doubtful). I fucked up my A Levels because I was totally disengaged.
Seriously bad error number two. I did not apply to go to University. I instead decided that I would get a job, at age 18, because that’s what people in Barnsley did. Those that weren’t terminally unemployed, or destined to join the ranks of the same, that is. So I ended up working a shitty admin job for the local council for the next three years.
If I had to pick a worse period of my life than school and college (as if they hadn’t been shit enough), then working for Barnsley Council would be it.
This seems like an appropriate point to leave off for now. Getting this out there has been cathartic. It’s important that people talk about this mental health stuff, or their own experiences. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not expecting anything from the Apathy & Exhaustion audience. I just wanted to tell a bit of my story.
To be continued… one day…