Imagine hanging yourself. Fixing two leather belts together, strapping them around the joists of an outbuilding, noosing it around your neck. Then saying goodbye to the world you view as cruel. And jumping from the ladder to your death.
That’s what I did. I really did. But failed, and all I got was whiplash and a twisted ankle. Because I am a strong person and my depression is The Curse of the Strong*, and I have high standards, I should’ve been at best disappointed with the result, and at worst, well, erm suicidal.
I’ll describe these events in more detail later, and sorry to keep you dangling if you’ll pardon the horrendous pun, but first I’ll attempt to paint a general picture about what my depression felt like seven weeks ago.
Seven weeks ago I was in a very, very bad place. The world was blood orange. I had no money, no speaking work to speak of, no food, and no tobacco. Debts were piling up, unopened reminders and threats conspired in a drawer, and I was one step away from super-gluing the postbox. I’d stopped writing. It wasn’t writer’s block, I don’t believe in all that crap, I had plenty of stories to tell, lots to say, but just couldn’t be bothered to say it. I’d go for walks to clear my head, take anti-depressants as instructed and talk about how I felt.
I felt my life was shit. Yes I had family, a girlfriend, friends all around me, yes the sun was shining outside my window, yes there was a roof over my head, there were crosswords to do, books to read, tins of food to eat, tea bags to drink and love to love. But none of these, good things in themselves, were sufficient to take away the orange blob of loneliness, despair, poverty and hopelessness that was crushing my brain and paralysing my body. The feeling of wanting to be alone and hating the isolation, and the unbearably sapping boredom, whereby I’d forego a bowel movement in the morning because it’d leave me with nothing to do in the afternoon.
And like I said, I’d talk, enough to have a donkey limping, and feel bad about it, because everybody you talk to has a limit. They have things going on in their lives too so why would they want to listen to you? Why would they want to waste their time with you when they could be having fun? Why would people want to read what you write about this shit? That’s how it feels.
Many moons ago I gave an acceptance speech to myself, celebrating a sometimes successful career and exploring funny anecdotes from the world of television, and acknowledging it was over. I’m fifty-five, I said, so that, it would seem, is that. But sometimes laughter turns to anger as you begin to question why? Why should it be over? You’ve spent thirty years helping others carve careers far better than the one you carved for yourself, so why shouldn’t you wonder if someone could do you a favour in return, give you a lifeline? You shouldn’t because you know life just doesn’t work like that, it’s every man for himself, contacts are as contactless as your credit card, and in all your thirty years you’ve never met a soul who got a job via Linkedin. So you finally deduce that the answer to the question why is it over is because it just is. Accept it, stop whinging, shut the fuck up and get over it.
So that’s what you do. But it’s not easy. You’re in a Universal Credit trap, with not enough to live on, not enough to eat. Whichever arsehole thought that one up should be forced to try it for a couple of months and see what it feels like to grovel at the food bank. You apply and get turned down for jobs you’re overqualified for or not even qualified for at all. You disembowel your phone, deleting numbers no longer needed. It feels good because some of those numbers are 666. But this is only ephemeral relief for your system, which is actually in decay. You’re spiralling rapidly into the abyss, the colour of your depression creeps its way back into your mind and no matter how many loving people and all-weather friends there are around you, saying and doing all the right things, you finally stop listening and decide instead that life or what pitifully calls itself that, is not worth living any more.
That’s where I was, in that very dark place. Fixing two leather belts together, strapping them around the joists of an outbuilding, noosing it around my neck. Moments before, I’d written a post, my last ever. Within moments of pressing “publish” I was closing my laptop, putting out all the carefully written letters to those I love on the table, making sure I was dressed smart but casual because I wanted to die in some sort of dignity, putting photos of my kids and my parents and my brothers in my inside jacket pocket near my heart, then venturing outside for one last smoke. Puffing incongruously happily, by the canalside, listening to the birds singing – a lovely moment in picturesque Cheshire countryside colliding tunefully with the stark discordant finality of what I was about to do. Soon, I was flicking my cigarette butt into the cut and then, angry with myself for making litter, I was heading towards my fate. The outbuilding was the bin shed of the apartments where I live, carefully chosen and with not a little irony because I was rubbish.
This was no cry for help, this was the end. I’d made sure nobody knew I was there. I’d locked the door from the inside and left notes for the police. If I’m brutally honest I’d enjoyed the macabre subterfuge, it was a mental moving story with suspense and I was the handsome hero. The belts were strong leather, one of which I bought over thirty years ago, one more recently for fifty pounds, a mere snip in affluent times. I’d tested their resistance, clung onto them with my hands and let them take my not inconsiderable weight and let it swing. It was all going to plan. Not a single stone unturned. And then, saying goodbye to the world I viewed as cruel. Pausing for a second to ask if I was sure. Taking a breath. And jumping, ready for the world to go black.
But that didn’t happen.
This is what happened…
The belt I bought more recently for fifty pounds, a mere snip in affluent times, snapped. As the ladders clattered to the floor, and I was suspended on the cusp of death for maybe just a nano-second, I suddenly plunged to the concrete floor, gasping for breath, badly twisting my ankle and experiencing the judder of whiplash.
I lay there for some moments, in the putrid stench of bins, trying to take stock, scared, shaking, confused, even asking myself if I were alive or dead. Was this what death feels like? And then the pain in my ankle told me it was the former. “Bollocks!” I cried. Fifty quid, a mere snip in more affluent times, for a piece of shit, when the belt I got for a fiver thirty years ago was intact, something I could still rely on. How standards these days have slipped! “Bollocks!” I cried again at the injustice.
Moments later and feeling a complete idiot and failure, I was in my apartment with a strong coffee, spilling hopelessly in my shaking hands, the unread notes still on the table in front of me, my foot and neck sore and throbbing. I was sweating with the rush of adrenaline and confusion. What to do next? What can I use?
And then my phone began to ring and it was my beloved son Dominic, who’d read my blog and was naturally worried… It was the first of many calls from Guardian angels.
I feel I must apologise for the ominous, blunt and provocative tone of that blog. Frankly, however, it was deliberately dramatic – four simple words summing up the destructive emotions of anger, sarcasm, existentialism and self-loathing that fuel my depression. But as I sat waiting for my girlfriend, upset coffee going cold, I began to question who was the guardian angel who made the belt snap, who wasn’t yet ready for me to leave this world? I’m far from a religious man but perhaps there really was someone up there, out there, somewhere, or something, some entity, some force, up there, out there, somewhere, that wanted me alive, to live on. However, if that is indeed the case, it offers me yet another question why? Why was she, or it, helping me live on? To be honest if it’s to live on for yet more shit and misery I’d rather they hadn’t bothered.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, sitting there with my left foot throbbing and my neck still stiffening, I began to laugh. “Story of your fucking life” I said aloud, with a gallows chuckle, “You couldn’t even get that right! Next you’ll be jumping from the window of your ground floor flat!” I don’t wish to denigrate or undermine the severity of the problem, because something’s seriously wrong. It’s horrible, it’s frightening, and it’s happening to a lot of people, it’s happening right now, and it’s happening to me. Because this wasn’t seven weeks ago, it was yesterday.
So my dear friends, I’ve had seven weeks in the system and I’m still no better, hence I’m in the system again, waiting for phone calls from medics and shrinks, needing to be assessed, becoming frustrated and angry that the poor sods trying to help me are stretched to the limit. Will it be ECT or will it be changing the tablets again? It seems to go on forever and they deserve better. As for me, well I’ll be going to the bloke who sold me the belt in far more affluent times and asking for a refund. And as for wanting to die, that’s just something I must live with.
If you want to hear me speak about this and much more and want to help me, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or make a donation to any mental health charity. They need you too.
*”The Curse of the Strong” by Tim Cantopher is recommended reading.