Everyone has fears. For many, the feeling of fear is a minor hurdle, an inconvenient moment or two that passes as quickly as it arrives. For others though, fear can be paralyzing, causing people to retreat into themselves, hiding away from the world. In extreme cases, even leaving the house is too difficult.
The saddest thing is that it doesn’t need to be this way. All fears are learnt behaviours, developed over the course of life. When we are born, we are filled with an innocent wonder. As we grow and encounter the different situations and experiences that life presents, we absorb coping strategies from the people around us. We watch how they confront problems and what we see defines how we adapt to the world around us. When what we see is panic, we assume that to be the normal reaction. If you are taught that a spider is something scary, then you become scared of spiders. Left unchecked, this can develop into full-blown arachnophobia.
One of the biggest difficulties with mental illness is the amplification of fear. Rather than the world being full of wonder, it becomes a haven of horrors. You don’t want to go to the supermarket because you feel people are judging you. You struggle to go to work because you believe you aren’t good enough at your job, and your colleagues would be better off if you weren’t there. You become so scared of what people think of you that you isolate yourself, withdrawing from social contact as a means of self-preservation.
I speak from bitter experience. I remember the days I would shuffle around town, hood pulled up, hat down low and headphones turned up to maximum volume, just so that I didn’t have to interact with people. I may have been out in the world, but I wasn’t a part of it. I recall the time that I woke up and the decorator was downstairs, and I pulled the quilt over my head and hid in my bed until they left. I’ve fled from work on several occasions due to the overwhelming nature of panic attacks. I know about fear, because I’ve lived it.
This last two months, I have learnt that fear can be beaten, and replaced with confidence. The beauty of it is that the solution is remarkably simple. All you need to do is think of what it is you are scared of, acknowledge that fear … and then do it anyway. It doesn’t matter what it is you are scared of, if you visualise the fear in its most extreme form, you make it so much harder to overcome. You need to break it down, bit by bit. If having a conversation with a stranger scares you, then just focus on saying “Hello” to them. Scared of leaving the house? Accept the fear, and then open the front door. All you have to do is take one step, one tiny step. Maybe on the first occasion that one step is all you can manage, maybe you go no further and you go back inside. But when you have taken that step, you know that next time you can take the step again. Only then you take one more step, maybe two. Maybe you manage to go for a five minute walk, who knows?
Two months ago, I was in a very dark place. I didn’t think I had the strength to go on, and the fear of the future nearly dragged me under. I was arguably as low as I’ve ever been. Hitting rock-bottom, I looked at myself in the mirror, thought “I can’t possibly get lower, so fuck it, what have I got to lose?” and decided to take a chance. I went on holiday, and I made a vow to myself that if something scared me, rather than shying away from it I went for it. I talked to people I would never have had the confidence to speak to; I took part in activities I would normally have been too embarrassed to. I sat topless around the pool, despite feeling insecure about my beer belly. Whenever I felt nervous about something, I made myself do it. Sometimes I needed a bit of Dutch courage, but I did it, and I had the best two weeks of my life.
Fear doesn’t have to destroy your life. You have the power within yourself to overcome anything you are scared of. Depression, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses make it more difficult, but it is not impossible. I know you may be thinking that you don’t have the strength to overcome your fears, but listen to me: you do. You may think you are weak, but you are still here, you are still fighting and still living. Sometimes, just making it to the end of the day is the bravest thing anybody can do, and you have done that. Many haven’t been able to, but you have. That, in itself, proves you are stronger than you realised.
We all have our comfort zones. It is only when we challenge ourselves, when we step outside of our self-imposed chains, that we can begin to experience the truly magical aspects of life. Next time your instinctive reaction urges you to say no, say yes instead. I’ve started to, and for the first time in my life I feel love and respect for myself. It’s a bit of a strange feeling, but it’s one I never want to lose.
Fear is only as powerful as we allow it to be. Take that first step to eradicating it, and say yes. Do what scares you, because when you do, it isn’t scary anymore. Throw off the shackles and start living instead of just existing, because it is a truly invigorating feeling, and one that you deserve to experience.
Just don’t ask me to go anywhere near those damn spiders!
Let me start by saying this isn’t going to be like most of my writing. I’m not going to plan what I write, and I’m not going to edit it. I just need to try and make sense of what I’m feeling and I know no other way but through my keyboard.
Let me also say how much I have appreciated every tweet, text, email and message I have received during this time. I’ve not replied to anywhere near as many as I should have, but I’ve read them all, and they’ve helped keep me going.
With that being said, I guess I’ll begin …
I’m really struggling right now. I’ve been entrapped by depressions’ web before, but I’ve never experienced anything like this. I don’t know where I am half the time. I’m overwhelmed by even the simplest of tasks. I’m eating little, drinking too much black coffee and smoking far too many cigarettes. I don’t want to face the world. I just want it to go away, all of it.
There is so much that I wish was different about my life, and I don’t have the first clue how to fix any of it. I hate my job. Not unusual, except that it contributes to my mental problems – I really struggle to handle it at the best of times, never mind when my illness flares up. I’ve been looking for a new job for years now, and there is nothing where I live. I’m either under-qualified, under-experienced or there are better candidates for the role. So I’m still stuck, three years since my first illness, in a job that contributes towards that illness. My old manager was extremely supportive towards my illness, but he’s gone now, so that support has gone. Yet I’m still stuck there.
The love of my life left me two weeks ago, and I’m really struggling to cope with the situation. She lives next door to me, which means there is always the reminder of what I’ve lost. It doesn’t help when I stagger home drunk and make a scene, very little of which I remember, except for the pathetic spectacle of a 28 year-old man crying, begging and pleading, before being comforted by my mam for ages. I pretty much destroyed any slim hope of fixing the situation, and I barely remember what happened. Fluoxetine, heartbreak and Jack Daniels is a devastating combination.
So yeah, that’s fucked, a truly spectacular Lawes self-destruction. Not the first time, probably won’t be the last. If there is anything I have a penchant for, it is taking something beautiful in my life and destroying it, through my insecurity, anxiety, over-dependence and my extreme difficulty in handling my emotion. The only surprise is she managed to handle my issues for as long as she did. I’m a hard man to love at the best of times, never mind when the depression takes over.
I feel like the best thing to do is move to a new city, a proper fresh start. Right now, I live in a small town, one filled with bad memories and regret. Every cut I’ve made into my own body was here. Every relationship-gone-wrong was here; in addition to living next door to someone I love who doesn’t love me back, I also have an ex-wife in town, plus the memories of another relationship, which was the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever known, full of secrecy, lies and manipulation on her part, something which is probably the main cause for my trust and insecurity issues.
So yeah, a fresh start sounds good right about now. Except I have no money whatsoever. I have debts, not massive ones, but big enough to take a large chunk out of my wages, which is why I live with my parents and have no savings. Until that’s gone, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to save up enough money to move away. I couldn’t even afford a deposit on a place if I tried to move. So it looks like I’m stuck here, amidst all of the memories I need to leave behind.
There are lots of other little problems too, but they are the biggest ones. Each one; my job, money and relationship issues is a trigger for my depression. All of them striking at once has been too much for me to handle. I don’t even know where to start to fix them. It’s like everything has happened at once, and I don’t even know where to begin in the attempt to rebuild my life.
The worst thing was, a few weeks ago, I genuinely thought I’d beaten this bastard illness. I’d been off medication for 5 or 6 weeks, with no ill-effects. My mind felt clear and fresh, I had optimism for the future. Now here I am, worse than ever and back on medication. All the progress I’d made, yet when the shit hit the fan, I couldn’t cope at all.
The truth is, I feel worse than I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t know how to start again. I feel like whatever I do, I’m going to end up back where I am now – hiding from the world in my bedroom, wishing for it all to go away. I don’t know how to live in the world when this pain, this illness just won’t go away. Whatever I do, the bastard comes back. However far I get away from it, the illness always finds a way to catch me up. I just don’t know what to do.
The Fluoxetine I’m taking again, it’s probably the only thing keeping me from a complete breakdown. I know all these emotions, all these thoughts are swirling away in my subconscious, but the medication is acting like a wall, holding it back from entering my conscious mind. I’m terrified of what will happen if I can’t get a grip on things in time. I don’t want to go insane. I don’t want to be unwell. I just want it all to go away.
Let me say this now – I’m not suicidal. I’m not at any risk. I have the greatest family in the world, and they are helping me immensely; just as all the messages of support I receive are helping me too. Please don’t worry about me hurting myself, it won’t happen. I still remember my promise to my niece, Daisy, when she was born. I’ll keep on fighting. I just don’t know what the point of fighting is, when I end up back in the same dark hole again and again.
I just want peace. I want a fresh start, where I can leave all this behind. I just don’t know where it’s going to come from. I wish I had a guide, or some sort of glimpse of what the future will be like. I wish I had something to believe in, something to give me faith to keep going, because right now, getting through each day is hard enough in itself.
Anyway, that’s how I’m feeling right now. I guess this could serve as an insight into the despondency depression inflicts upon people; some sort of example of how things can overwhelm someone with depression, I don’t know. It feels like the most pointless thing I’ve ever written, but there it is.
If anyone has any sort of help, advice or guidance, I could really do with some right now.
Thank you again for the support, it means so much right now.
“Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.” – from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Passion can be the greatest feeling in the world. The all-encompassing desire for something that takes over your heart and soul, when it hits you, is unbelievable. It can strike in so many ways; the early stages of a new relationship, when everything is new and you just want to know everything about the person; discovering a new band and devouring every piece of music they’ve ever recorded; the rush when your favourite sports team grabs a last-gasp winner; passion can arise from anywhere, with such power.
One of the worst aspects of depression is the way it takes away passion, replacing it with the emptiness of apathy. It makes this change with such subtlety that you barely notice it until it envelopes you completely; until your love for life and the things in it has vanished, replaced by a void of emptiness that you don’t even care about filling.
Often, it’s the things you love the most that you withdraw from first. You find yourself caring less and less about your sports team, their results make no difference to you and, before you know it, you stop watching altogether. Your creative exploits grind to a halt; the guitar remains in the corner, gathering dust; your paintings or writings seem meaningless and pointless, so you put them to one side, intending to resume them at a later date, yet the day never comes.
Then there are relationships. When depression reduces your passion for life, it is the relationship that suffers the most. You do less social activities, because they seem unnecessary and you just want to stay inside. You get in from work, and you are too tired to do anything, so you sit watching the television. You don’t even realise the damage it’s doing to the relationship, so focussed are you on how you feel. You become so wrapped up with the thoughts in your head that you neglect the very person who is trying to help you through the situation.
The insecurities that arise with depression eat away at you. “I’m not good enough for them”, “They’re going to find someone better”, “Why would they want to be with me?” and countless other phrases run through your head, none of them complimentary, all of them attacking yourself, damaging both you and your relationship, often in ways you don’t realise until the day your loved one tells you they are leaving.
Given the stigma surrounding mental illness, to be diagnosed with depression is extremely scary. However, it is at that moment that we have a decision to make – to sit and hope we get better, or to fight, scratch and claw to improve our situation. There’s no denying it is difficult to live as you have been when you become ill, but you have to try, for the sake of your relationship and, most importantly, for yourself. You have to go out into the world. You have to do things you enjoy, even if it seems pointless. You have to fight against becoming insular. You have to fight for your passion.
Depression makes us focus on ourselves, and that is why it is so hard to be in a relationship when you have the illness. When your passion for life fades, eventually your partners’ passion fades too. That is why it is so important to fight for your passions, for the people and things you love. Ask yourself this – what is scarier, fighting the illness, facing your fears and going out into the world, or losing your partner?
Every time you challenge your fear, every time you force yourself to do something that depression tries to tell you that you don’t want to do, you come one step closer to overcoming the illness. With every step you take, your passion will return, and your depression will fade. It isn’t easy, but nothing worth having in life is. If you love somebody, then you have to face the difficult situations. You have to treat yourself with respect, even when the illness tries to convince you that you don’t deserve it.
I’ve recently lost someone I love dearly, due in part to my withdrawal from the world. I can blame the illness all I want, but losing her made me realise how foolish I was to let the illness dominate how I lived. I gave in to it, and I lost her. It wasn’t because I was ill, but because I allowed it to take my passion from me. The sad thing is that I’ve been getting better over the last month or so. I was almost at the stage where I could say that I had ‘beaten’ depression. If I had been a little braver, stopped hiding from the world sooner, then I believe we would have had an amazing life. Now, I’ll never know.
I took the easy option, I avoided scary situations, and I developed a safety net of security for myself. Yet, now I’ve lost her, none of it seems as scary as it used to appear. The pain of losing her is harder and scarier than anything I avoided due to my illness. I wish I could change my decisions, but I can’t. You still have that chance.
Don’t listen to the voice of depression, an illness designed to break you, when it tells you that you aren’t worthy of love. Listen to the words of your loved one when they say that you are. I wish I had.
One of the hardest things about recovery is when those closest to you can’t see how much healthier and stronger you are. However much you try to explain that you have overcome the latest bout of depression, however obvious it is to the wider world that you are in a good place emotionally, sometimes those closest to you refuse to believe it.
In some ways, it is understandable. Take dieting, for example. When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, it is almost impossible to see any weight loss. However, when you come across an old friend who you haven’t seen for six months, they instantly remark on how much weight you have lost. The reason for that is because they haven’t had to live with an almost imperceptible change; they get to see it in a ‘before-and-after’ situation, where it is much easier to see the difference.
Recovery is the same. Often, those who you see every day, who knew you at your worst, either refuse to acknowledge the improvement in you or are so scared that you will regress that they struggle to understand your progress – it’s almost like they are waiting for you to get ill again.
What these people can’t comprehend is that, while they believe their intentions are good and their concerns may be well-placed, they are doing a lot of damage to recovery. Those who should be most supportive are the same people that cause you to doubt yourself and, given the fragile nature of recovery, this self-doubt they inadvertently create can be the trigger of a relapse.
Of course, when this happens, it ‘proves’ to those people that they were ‘right all along’ – it justifies in their mind that their approach was the correct one, when in reality it was the toughest hurdle to overcome.
It’s comparable to teaching a child how to ride a bike: you may hold the seat while they steady themselves, but eventually you have to let go, you have to trust that they will be able to keep their balance alone. The loving-doubters never let go of the seat; they’ve seen you fall before, and now they don’t trust you to ride the bike at all.
Nobody knows how you feel inside better than you. Yes, it can be both confusing and hard to understand at times, but if you believe you are getting better, then you probably are. Loving you doesn’t give someone the justification to create doubt in yourself. When you’re trying to fly, don’t let anyone clip your wings, intentionally or otherwise. Spread them far and wide, and believe that you can soar.
As for the well-meaning-but-misguided souls who inadvertently make recovery harder, please heed this advice. Don’t burden the person in recovery with your doubts and fears; it isn’t fair, and you won’t be saying anything the person hasn’t already thought a thousand times. Your role in supporting somebody isn’t to express doubt or to add pressure to the person recovering from depression. What we need is for you to trust us in our choices. Nobody overanalyses a situation quite as much as someone with a mental illness, and if we feel ready to believe in ourselves, don’t say or do something that shakes that belief. Just support us.
Life isn’t about existing; it’s about living. That means taking risks, challenging ourselves and trying to achieve our potential as people. Sometimes we falter, and when we do, your support is invaluable. But every now and then, taking risks leads to achieving something special. Giving us belief to take risks, and trusting our judgement when we do, is the greatest support we can ask for.
When people are diagnosed with depression, one of the first things that the doctor suggests is to take up regular exercise. But can this actually cure depression? For me, the answer is no.
It’s not that regular exercise doesn’t ease the symptoms of depression – the endorphin release achieved through exercise is a great mood lifter, especially with milder-grade depressions. It is great advice for anyone, whether they have depression or not, to take up regular exercise. Indeed, studies by the Harvard Medical School show that, over 16 weeks, those who exercised rather than took antidepressants saw their symptoms ease, although it was the third group, the one that combined exercise and antidepressants, which saw the greatest improvement in their symptoms. A follow-up study conducted 6 months later showed that those who exercised were less likely to relapse into depression, irrespective of what their initial treatment was.
I can speak from experience on this matter too. When I injured my ankle a couple of months ago, I suffered a relapse into depression, which suggests that, in my case, lack of exercise can be a trigger. There were other factors that contributed to the decline in my mental health, but it would be folly to strike it off as a mere coincidence that my symptoms worsened when I was struggling to walk.
The problem I have with saying exercise can cure depression is that there is never a simple cure for such a complex, uniquely personal illness, and to think that exercise alone can eradicate depression is dangerous. All you have to do is look at the examples of athletes who have been afflicted with depression, people like Robert Enke, Frank Bruno and Monica Seles, to see that it isn’t as simple as saying that exercising more will cure the illness. These athletes were in peak physical condition, yet were still struck down with mental health problems.
I would never claim to be able to cure depression, and I am sceptical of anyone who says that they can. Depression can be, and often is, a life-long condition, and I believe the key is learning how to ride the waves when they come. Developing an exercise regime can certainly make a massive difference, but it won’t cure depression by itself.
Equally as important, if not more so, is creating a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, when the thought of getting out of bed is overwhelming, just putting some clothes on and making some breakfast can generate an immense sense of pride. For someone whose illness makes them scared of talking to people, answering the door to the postman or making a telephone call is a massive achievement, one that can serve as a springboard to better mental health. When fighting depression, rebuilding pride and confidence, two things that the illness strips you of, is the most important thing.
The beauty of exercise is that you don’t have to do it all in public; there are so many things you can do in the privacy of your own home. Running up and down the stairs; hoovering and polishing; press-ups and sit-ups; all exercises that can be completed alone, with no judgemental eyes. Remember, you don’t need to perform a massive stint of exercise – six 10-minute sessions are as beneficial as an hour-long session. It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how many people think that ‘going for a run’ means running non-stop. If you get tired, just stop and rest, walk a short distance, and jog again when you are ready. It’s the same with any other exercise.
So no, I don’t think exercise alone can cure depression. No one thing can cure something that infects the mind, tailoring its attacks to your biggest weaknesses. As part of a bigger wellness plan, however, it can certainly make a massive difference, and can serve as the springboard for everything else.
I would love to hear from other people on this subject too, especially athletes who have suffered from mental health problems. Feel free to add comments and experiences; you never know who they could help.
© 2013 by Andrew Lawes
Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Imagine being a soldier. Fighting war is the way of life. Death, destruction, and mayhem are everyday occurrences. Killing people you don’t know, because you are ordered to, for reasons you don’t understand. Living life on pure adrenaline, never quite sure if today is the day you watch a friend die. Knowing that even if it is, you can’t grieve, you must keep fighting, you must keep shooting. Watching brothers-in-arms lose limbs or suffer irreversible injuries. Hearing silence shattered by bullets and bombs, the anguished screams of people with whom you share an unbreakable bond, or even worse, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of situations out of their control.
Then imagine what it must be like to have to reintegrate into civilian society. Having to live an everyday, ‘normal’ life, when, for months, normality has consisted of a permanent adrenaline rush, of seeing sights most people can’t possibly comprehend. To go from watching people die in agony, sometimes at your own hands, to doing the weekly supermarket run and playing catch with your children in the back garden.
The effect on the human psyche of undergoing such a massive paradigm shift is very hard to comprehend. It is unsurprising to learn that many service members return from war with mental illness, and are unable to adapt. Out of the 1.7 million who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Rand Corporation suggests that an estimated 600,000 suffer from mental health conditions. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say that 11-20% of these service members experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), compared with 7-8% of the general population. Sadly, a study by Veterans for America discovered that soldiers are often expected to wait up to a month for psychological treatment, such is the demand for these services.
Due to how overwhelming the need for support is, many never receive the treatment they need. On average, 18 veterans and one active-duty service member a DAY reach a point where they feel unable to go on, and take their own lives. In 2012, 182 active soldiers died through suicide, with another 110 reported suicides that are still under investigation. In contrast, 176 soldiers were killed in combat. More soldiers took the decision to end their own life than those that had no choice.
The after-effects of army-borne mental health problems reach much further than suicide. Every single night, over 300,000 US war veterans find refuge in a homeless shelter or on the streets. Over the course of a year, the number of veterans who suffer homelessness is between 529,000 and 840,000 – 26% of the homeless population. 45% of these homeless veterans suffer from PTSD or another mental illness.
As ability to recognise and diagnose mental illness increases, excuse for these situations being allowed to happen decreases. If you risk your life serving your country, the very least you should receive is appropriate medical treatment, support and guidance, both in the midst of war and in the aftermath. It is shameful that up to 840,000 veterans risk everything for America, yet America cannot even provide them a basic home upon their return. It is disgraceful that 18 veterans a day take their own life; yet, if they seek help, they have to wait up to a month for an appointment.
There will be people reading this now saying the soldiers knew what they were signing up for. Yet, unless you have been in a war, nothing can possibly prepare you for the experience. The teenagers signing up for service can’t possibly comprehend what is to come; for most, their knowledge of war is based on Hollywood films and Call of Duty videogames, with their tendencies to glorify war. They aren’t mature enough emotionally to deal with the fact they aren’t killing ‘the bad guys’, but that they will have to take the lives of other human beings.
I have never served in the army; the thought of it is terrifying, and I strongly disagree with war. I steadfastly refuse to take the life of another human, whatever their perceived transgressions. However, I can accept that, sometimes, war is sadly inevitable. In those instances, armies need people to fight. However, when the persons’ fight is over, those that risked everything for their country need to receive support to return to a normal life, however long it takes and however much it costs. They’ve earned it.
The Iraq/Afghanistan war was floated on the idea of protecting America. Now it is time for America to protect those that fought for her.
© 2013 by Andrew Lawes
Topics: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
Ever since my worst bout of depression, I’ve lived in fear of relapsing, of going through the insanity again. There have been a few occasions where I’ve felt it creeping up on me, but I’ve managed to ride the wave – I took time off work; I sought support from my loved ones and my doctor. I increased my medication, which helped, for a while at least. I kept my mind active; through blogging, studying, reading; anything I could find to keep my thoughts at bay.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I went out one night, had a few drinks and, whilst walking home, slipped over on ice and strained the ligaments in my left ankle. As I tried to stand up, I went over on the same ankle again. I went to the doctors, and I was signed off work for two weeks, and given strict instructions to rest my ankle.
It was quite pleasant for the first couple of days. I had been feeling a little burnt-out from studying and working, and the chance to rest and relax with no pressure to do anything was enjoyable. Sadly, the feeling didn’t last.
Sitting around all day left me far too much time to think. It also left me feeling extremely lethargic, yet unable to sleep as I hadn’t done anything all day. I’d lie awake all night, with nothing to do but think. My thoughts often become dark during the night, even when I’m doing well. But I wasn’t doing well. I was struggling, my defences were lowered, and the depression was returning.
The problem I had was that I didn’t actually realise. It crept up on me slowly, with a subtlety that took me by surprise. I’ve spent so long fighting the illness that I didn’t realise that I had lost the balance of power; the depression had used my physical injury to worm its way back. I misread the usual tell-tale signs; I put them down to my injury, to boredom, to the stresses of Christmas. A foolish mistake, but one that was easy to make.
I should have noticed that I was withdrawing from interaction with people. Even though I had nothing to do with my time, I wrote nothing. I could barely muster the energy to tweet, never mind write a blog or an email. There were days I couldn’t even bring myself to turn my laptop on. I just lay in bed, repeats of Two and a Half Men and Jeremy Kyle on a seemingly endless loop. Yet, although I watched them, I wasn’t taking any of it in. It was just background sound, something to break up the tedium, the silence.
I didn’t notice that I was becoming more insecure. I didn’t realise that I was caring less and less. I couldn’t comprehend that it wasn’t the physical injury causing me to be in a bad mood – it was my mental illness flaring up.
With so much time on my hands, it flared up a lot faster than I could have expected. Previously, when my illness raised its ugly head, I could keep myself busy and stave it off. But not this time. The worst part was that it was an English winter, where it becomes dark around 4pm. Too much darkness, too much isolation, too much time to think.
The dark thoughts returned. Everything became pointless. I realised I was ill again, but that didn’t help the situation. If anything, it made it worse; because it was the very embodiment of the thing I’ve feared the most for the last couple of years – the return of the ‘madness’. Once again, I couldn’t trust my thoughts. My brain was telling me things, I was having thoughts that I knew weren’t right, yet I couldn’t stop them.
Much like the last time, I felt I was going insane. Yet, this time, I found myself wishing I actually was. That may be hard to understand, but I can’t express how hard it has been fighting this illness. I’ve been fighting it for fifteen years now, and it’s so, so tiring. The constant feeling of being on edge; overanalysing every bad day, every negative thought, it’s worn me down so much. I couldn’t face going through another massive bout of depression. I just wanted it to all go away. If I was in a hospital, if I gave in to my thoughts, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about all the particulars of daily life. I wouldn’t have to expend so much energy appearing ‘normal’ all the time. I wouldn’t have to face the world every day.
The thing is I’m not insane. I’m not a freak, or a madman. I’m just unwell. Deep down, I know that. But in many ways, that’s what makes it so hard. The mind is such a mystery, there is so much we don’t understand about how it works, and I’m scared. I don’t understand my mind, but it feels like there are two different sides in there, the ‘normal’ Andrew and the ‘mentally ill’ Andrew, and they are constantly at war. I’m terrified that one day, ‘mentally ill’ Andrew will win the war, and ‘normal’ Andrew will be lost forever.
Maybe that will happen, I don’t know. I’m exhausted from the constant battle, but I’m still fighting. I’m not going to lose ‘normal’ Andrew. I went to the doctors: my medication has been changed yet again, and I will be undergoing a psychiatric assessment in the New Year. My doctor thinks I may be bipolar, and if so, then maybe I can find the balance that has always been missing from my life. But then, maybe it isn’t bipolar. Maybe it’s something else; maybe it’s nothing at all. Part of me doesn’t even want to know if there is anything.
The thought of a psychiatric assessment is scary. Admitting it here is even scarier, and I’m concerned about the reaction. But I’m not going to hide from it, and I’m damn sure not going to be ashamed of it. After all, the only way mental health stigmas will ever be broken down is with honesty, and by confronting those who abuse people with mental illnesses. I’m not going to allow narrow-mindedness to cause me to go into hiding or to make me feel ashamed of whom I am. We look back now at the abuse people have suffered for the colour of their skin, and we are rightly appalled. I firmly believe that, at some point in the future, the abuse of people with mental health issues will be treat with the same disdain.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep fighting, both my personal battle with the illness, and the wider battle against the prejudice. It’s all I can do.
© 2012 by Andrew Lawes
Topics: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »
I’ve talked before about how music has kept me going through some dark times. I’d like to share the ten songs that define me. Some of them are songs that influenced my musical taste; others are songs that have given me a message, a way to live my life.
The beauty of music is that it can be interpreted in many ways, that songs can mean different things from one person to another. The way I interpret some of these songs may be different to how the songwriter intended, but they have affected me in a way that every writer wishes to impact upon somebody.
“What if I fell to the floor? Couldn’t take this anymore? What would you do?”
I don’t know what Jared Leto’s intentions were when writing this song, but when I listen to this song, I am instantly transported back to the insanity I felt when it seemed like I was losing my mind. On the surface, the song appears to be a song about the end of a relationship. However, I interpret the lyrics of the song as a man confronting the manifestation of his depression, a man fighting to overcome the darkness of his thoughts, desperate to defeat the monster of the illness plaguing him. During my fight with depression, 30 Seconds To Mars were one of the few bands I could face listening to. This song is the perfect representation of the band.
“‘Cause God is in these clef and tone, Salvation is found alone, Haunted by its melody, Music, it will set you free”
A very powerful song; one that came into my life during a flirtation with religion. The song itself is rather different in style to Machine Head’s usual heavy-as-fuck offerings, but the words themselves are among the most impactful Robb Flynn has ever wrote. A song about how music is the only higher power anyone could ever need, it helped me to realise that I didn’t need to find religion, just a superior force to turn to throughout my life. For some it is religion, but for me it’s music.
“How can I decide what’s right, when you’re clouding up my mind? I can’t win your losing fight all the time”
We’ve all been through that life-changing breakup, the one where somebody changes beyond all recognition, to the point where you barely recognise them. For me, this occurred when I discovered my girlfriend had been stringing me along for months, whilst seeing at least two other men behind my back. The problem was, she wouldn’t admit to it, and manipulated me to such a degree where I had no idea how to separate the truth from the fiction. This song sums up perfectly the confusion felt when you discover the person you love is just a figment of your imagination.
“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold, all that you need is in your soul”
As a man that grew up without a father, I had to learn the lessons he should have taught me elsewhere. This song has some of the greatest advice I have ever heard. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you live payday-to-payday or if you have millions of dollars in the bank – if you don’t believe in what you are doing, you will never be happy. Money is nice, and it can ease many worries, but nothing will leave you feeling as proud or as satisfied as accomplishing something you have always dreamed of. If that hasn’t happened for you yet, listen further into the song: “don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself. Follow your heart and nothing else. And you can do this if you try. All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”. That satisfaction comes from chasing dreams, whatever they are.
“Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight”
A lot of people slate the Black album, calling it the album where Metallica sold out their roots. It’s not a theory I have ever bought into. The Black album was the album that transformed me; it introduced me to a whole new world of music – heavy, aggressive, intense and yet beautiful. From the first time I heard Enter Sandman, I have immersed myself in metal music and it has shaped who I am as a person. Maybe Metallica did soften their style to reach a bigger audience, but in doing so, they introduced thousands of people to a whole new way of life, and for that they deserve immense credit.
“Fuck it all! Fuck this world! Fuck everything that you stand for! Don’t belong! Don’t exist! Don’t give a shit! Don’t ever judge me!”
Sometimes, you don’t need music to soothe you, to comfort you or to make you smile. Sometimes, you just need to hear a song that expresses every ounce of anger in your soul; a song to turn up loud and just scream along to. As a teenager who hated the world, this song came along at the perfect time for me, and is still the go-to song whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed with rage. An anthem for disaffected teenagers the world over; it still holds up today for both raw aggressive power and is the ultimate “This is me; deal with it” song.
“I used to be a little boy, so old in my shoes. What I choose is my choice, what’s a boy supposed to do?”
Billy Corgan is one of the great lyricists of my lifetime. Truthfully, I could have picked 5 or 6 songs for inclusion in this list, but I’ve opted for Disarm. Quite simply, it is the most heartbreakingly beautiful song that I have ever heard. Corgan’s broken vocals give a raw emotion that few other singers could match, and combined with his poetic words to perfectly illustrate the feelings I couldn’t verbalise. Anyone who has grown up around abuse will relate massively to this song. Simply perfect.
“See people, they don’t understand. No, girlfriends, they can’t understand. Your Grandsons, they won’t understand. And me, I aint ever gonna understand…”
Bryan Adams once sang about the summer of ’69, but for me, it was the summer of 2002 that I’ll always look back on as life-changing. I’d left school and discovered a new circle of friends, and that summer, we worked together, we partied together and we came up with outrageous schemes together. I spent most of that year either pissed or stoned, and it was utterly fantastic. We were skint, we were young, and we didn’t give a fuck about anything other than having a good time. Chicken dancing, the Penrith Prancer, Banter FM… They are all stories for another day. But what a year. Last Nite by The Strokes transports me back to that time instantly. Carefree and magnificent, the innocence of youth taking on the world without giving a damn what anybody thought. If only that mentality could be put in a bottle and sold, it would make millions.
“I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real”
Famously covered by Johnny Cash, it is the Nine Inch Nails version that affects me deeply. The first song I discovered that truly conveyed the depths of despair that depression can take you to, Reznor’s haunting vocals complimented it magnificently. The final track of The Downward Spiral, an album of such in-your-face aggression and power, it was an amazing contrast to hear such a beautiful, emotive song finish the album that was the soundtrack to a man’s mental breakdown. The opening two lines sum up self-harm, and why so many people turn to such a measure. A devastatingly bleak song, it finishes with two lines of hope “If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way”. Depression, illness or addiction, this song describes them all perfectly, and helped me realise that, somewhere out there, there was a man who understood what I was going through. When facing mental illness, that can make all the difference.
“Shine your light so bright that all can see, take pride in being whoever the fuck you want to be”
This song, quite simply, is the most inspiring song I have ever heard. Starting off telling the story of a trip into an alternative reality, it describes a world that had never experienced the revolutionary power of punk rock. It starts of promising, but Itch soon realises how distorted the world is, how apathy and the will of Parliament combine to oppress the masses, and how, sadly, nobody cares. They just accept their fate, because the lessons that punk rock brought to the world hadn’t been learned. Itch summarises the brilliance, the passion and the power of punk rock in two brilliant verses, before moving on to the lesson he will impart upon his return to his ‘normal reality zone’. It is the most spine-tingling verse in the history of music to me, one that has inspired me to chase my dreams, to take risks and to be proud of whom I am. I may falter sometimes, but I’ll always keep fighting.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve got to give in, ‘Cause you can make a difference, you can change everything. Just let your dreams be your pilot, your imagination your fuel, Tear up the book and write your own damn rules. Use all that heart, hope and soul that you’ve got, and the love and the rage that you feel in your gut, and realise that the other world you’re always searching for lies right here in front of us, just outside this door. And it’s up to you to go out there and paint the canvas. After all, you were put on the earth to do this. So shine your light so bright that all can see, take pride in being whoever the fuck you want to be! Throw your fist in the air in solidarity and shout ‘Viva la Punk, just one life, anarchy!’” – Itch, What If Punk Never Happened
Copyright © 2012 by Andrew Lawes
Tomorrow, the world ends. At least, that’s what the Mayan prophecy states. I don’t hold too much stock in it myself; I remember when Nostradamus’ apocalyptic prediction was upon us. I stayed awake for the very moment. As the clock ticked towards the end of the world, I held my breath. The clock advanced to the foreseen minute and… Nothing happened. Disappointed, I turned my light off and went to sleep. Somehow, I doubt tomorrow will be any different.
But what if it was? This question came to me earlier, and it started me thinking. If tomorrow was the last day I was alive, what would be my legacy? Would I be remembered for my sins, or for my good deeds? When it came to write my eulogy, what would be said?
The truth is, I don’t know. I’m sure that there would be as many criticisms as there would be compliments – I can’t control how people react to what I say or do. But the perception I give off is something I can control.
I know how I would like to be remembered. I’d like to be seen as someone who overcame a rough start in life and a raft of mental health issues to become a successful writer. I wrote my story of fighting depression in the hope that those closest to me could understand me better, and it has led to me using my writing skills to write various other pieces which, I believe, have made a difference to people. For the first time in my life, I’m actually proud of something I’ve done. It’s a strange feeling, and I’m still not used to it. What I’ve learned about myself is that, not only is my writing extremely therapeutic to me, but I actually really love it too. I love writing as much as I used to love playing football or computer games. It’s become a passion to me; something that dominates my thoughts when I’m at work; something I talk about with pride and feeling.
The problem I have is that the mental health issues I’m trying to overcome mean that I’m scared to publish my writing. It’s in interesting juxtaposition; the man who wants to make a career from writing, but is scared to put his writing “out there” in case people don’t like it. Part of the problem is that I do want to make a career from it, and I worry that a bad piece of writing would ruin my chances. I have a book half-written, yet I’m nervous about working on it, because once I complete it, people need to read it.
The point is, if I want to be remembered as a writer, I have to write. I have to take the chance of articles and books being disliked; I have to take the criticism and learn from it. I have to take the risk, even though the fear of failure is terrifying. But, if the world ended tomorrow, it would be too late. I would never have the chance to become the successful writer I hope to be.
I don’t know if I will ever be a success; that lies in the hands of others. But to be remembered as a writer, that is down to me. All I have to do is write something and publish it. Any success will come and go, but writing is something I can do any time. In many ways, that can be the problem. When something can be done at any time, it becomes easy to put it off until tomorrow. Then tomorrow becomes the next day, a week turns into a month. The hours of the day may drag, but the weeks and months fly by, and before you know it, all people talk about are missed opportunities and wasted potential.
The world probably won’t end tomorrow. From what I’ve heard, the Mayans didn’t factor leap years into their calendar, and if they had, the actual date would have been years ago. There’s always some prophecy creeping up, yet the world keeps on turning. The thing to remember is that one day, there will be no tomorrow. The chance to define your legacy will be over, and others will decide how to remember you.
Sadly, the world will end for some people tomorrow. None of us know how long we have left on the planet. It shouldn’t take some historical prophecy to bring that into focus, but it did for me. I have hopes and dreams, as does everyone. Yet, we put our dreams on the backburner and let life get in the way, right up until the day that it’s too late to do anything about it.
The thought of dying without ever being seen as a writer is scarier to me than criticism. Yet I’ve allowed possible negative opinions to impede my doing something that I love. If the world did end tomorrow, it would be too late to change that. My eulogy would be written, and it wouldn’t say what I would like it to say. Whatever your dreams are, whatever your hopes, your fantasies, chase them. Don’t allow fear of failure to take control. If your dreams seem unobtainable, remember this: the longest journey starts with the smallest step. So take that first step. Try to fulfil your hopes and wishes. If you don’t, then one day, it really will be too late.
I know this isn’t a great piece of writing. But publishing it is the first step I need to take. It’s not about writing brilliantly all the time – it’s about writing for the love of writing. Publishing it, opening myself up to criticism, these are necessary first steps on the path I want to travel.
So think about what your dreams are, and take the first, tiny step towards them today. If the world does end tomorrow, at least it’ll end with you chasing a dream.
© 2012 by Andrew Lawes
Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »
When it comes to beliefs, there’s a lot I struggle with. Having faith in a ‘higher power’ is something I have never been able to give myself over to; I have a lot of doubts, and nobody has ever managed to eradicate enough of them for me to believe.
There is one thing I have always believed in. Something that has captured my soul and that helps me through the darkest of days. Something all-powerful, that encapsulates everything good in this world.
That something is music.
In the darkest periods of my life, the times when I’ve felt the most alone, music is the thing that has kept me going. Music has put my emotions into words when I’ve struggled to comprehend my own thoughts; it has given me strength, confidence, and a feeling of belonging beyond anything religion has ever managed. It has never judged me, or told me that what I was doing was sinful or wrong. It’s just been there for me when I needed it, unconditionally and unequivocally.
If I’m going through a bout of depression, I can listen to music made by people who have been through similar, and know I am not alone in the world. It may be somebody I don’t know who creates the song, but just knowing that, somewhere out there, there are people who empathise with my plight helps immeasurably. Sometimes, I prefer to listen to more optimistic music, something to lift my spirits. Other times, it’s about finding the music that brings forth emotions, powerful songs that enable me to cry, to rage, to voice whatever thoughts I have that I cannot say aloud. It is an outlet unlike any other in the world.
For a person with the social anxieties that I suffer from, music is a godsend. Headphones enable me to block the world out; they allow me to avoid talking to people until I am ready. Antisocial? Maybe. But sometimes, being antisocial is necessary in order to function in the world. I can go shopping without having to talk to strangers. I can sit on a bus or train alone and go into my own private headspace where I feel safe. Without music, that becomes a thousand times harder.
Whereas people of religion normally congregate in churches, mosques or temples, my spiritual gathering consists of mosh pits, gigs and festivals. Thousands of like-minded people who share my beliefs in whatever band it is I’m going to see, mostly accepting each other for who we are. My anxieties prevented me from going to a music festival until 2011. When I finally made the pilgrimage to one, I instantly felt at home. There was no judgement, no criticism over appearance, dress or weight. Just 80,000 like-minded souls, many of whom deemed outcasts or loners, coming together in a mass show of shared love for music. Instead of feeling anxious, I’ve never felt more safe and secure, both in myself and in the presence of others. I danced with strangers, I sang with reckless abandon, and I conversed with people I would otherwise never have had the courage to engage with, all due to a shared love of rock and metal.
I used to be a musical snob; I was one of those people that sneered at cheesy pop music; that felt people that liked different genres were wrong. The beauty of music is nobody is ever wrong. You are affected by and listen to the music that speaks to you, be that metal, punk, dance, classical, rap or anything else. Everyone listens to music for different reasons, and when a piece of music touches you in a personal way, it doesn’t matter what banner the song falls under.
It may be a cliché, but the truth is, music saves more lives than anybody could measure. It is the most powerful force I have ever known, and it has opened my heart and mind to experiences and emotions I could never otherwise have known. All music has beauty; all music has a role in the world. It gives people a voice, it brings people together, it makes bad times bearable and good times great. Don’t denigrate people for having what you deem poor taste; embrace that their music makes yours sound even better.
When the opportunity presents itself, get out the house and go and see a band you like, or even better, a local band that you haven’t heard of. Bask in the community, in the atmosphere. Enjoy the vibe; allow the electricity in the air to energise you like only music can. Allow it to enter your soul, and let it take you over completely. You’ll be glad you did.
© Andrew Lawes 2012
Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »