Too overwhelmed by, too poorly-equipped for, life.

17th June 2018.

I don’t know how to continue. I don’t know where to go or to whom to turn. I’ve been stumbling through life for more than a decade now too scared to change location, too scared to see new places, too scared to change job. Now that change – or maybe the inevitability and necessity of change – might have been thrust upon me I find myself paralysed by fear like never before. In a few weeks I have to say goodbye to someone I love, someone who has supported and protected me for over six years, someone who I trust fully and who sees the best in me. Nothing is certain now, everything is magnified and I feel on the verge of a total breakdown. This, in all honesty, has probably been a long time coming. Yet, I can tell no one. As an only child, how do you tell your two unknowing, vulnerable, divorced parents that you need help? Help that they cannot give? Help that you wouldn’t ever dream of expecting them to give? I haven’t felt this alone, this powerless – this useless – for so long and I don’t know what to do.

I turn twenty-eight next month and the fact that I have missed many of those accepted milestones is now painfully highlighted. At seventeen I wasn’t encouraged to learn to drive, I wasn’t shown how to by a parent. I was too petrified. At eighteen I didn’t go to university away from home, I didn’t go travelling, I didn’t explore. In my early twenties I didn’t move out, I didn’t share a house with friends, I didn’t even go on holiday with anyone. Maybe the easy choice was the right choice, it certainly was financially. Working in a small, nearby city I have met many truly wonderful people, people who let me “be me,” people by whom I am petrified of being forgotten and left. And I did go to university, in that same small, nearby city and, I have to say, I succeeded. I’m proud of my First Class Degree, but where has it got me? As I trundle towards thirty years of age, I don’t really feel safe anywhere but my own bedroom – I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I can’t do it on my own – emotionally and physically, I just cannot do it on my own. I need people, I need people to take me by the hand and pull me along, people to help me and show me the way. How could I even begin to imagine learning to drive and run a car when I can’t even pick up the phone to book a lesson? I am pathetic. For a little while I foolishly let myself believe that I was talented, or special – maybe even exceptional, I foolishly let myself believe that I did deserve to be happy and feel comfortable and that I had a successful future ahead of me. No longer. Two former colleagues made it their business to put it around that I was “just an unreliable, incapable alcoholic.” Maybe they were right – maybe I am incapable. Incapable. Useless.

Over the years I’ve watched, with heartfelt pride and happiness, countless friends come-and-go, countless friends pass their driving test, get married, have children. I’ve celebrated their career successes, looked on as they share a meal, a caress, a kiss with their respective partners, scrolled through their holiday photos, revelled in their tales of years-gone-by. I’ve been there to encourage, to support…to loan money if needed – a role that I’m forever happy to play. Though, I’m devastated that this heartfelt pride and happiness is often marred by personal embarrassment, shame, envy – that feeling of “why not me?” I don’t want to be alone forever, I don’t want to feel trapped forever…I can’t write another farewell card, I can’t say another goodbye. I’m fading, retreating, a little more with each passing day. All of my energy is focused on not succumbing to emotion, not collapsing in a heap, not showing how much I’m struggling to keep putting one foot in front of the other – on nine occasions in the past fours days I have failed and become awash with tears. I can’t recall from which work it comes, but the American poet Charlie Smith once wrote of “the boy starving at the feast.” This resonates.

My passport expired recently having not once been used. I’ve never had a boyfriend, so, I deduce that I am unlovable, unable to experience what it’s like to be in a relationship. I’ve been in the same job for over a third of my life, never moved out of home, haven’t travelled farther than London in over three years. This can’t be an accident. I can’t do things by myself. Everyone I love, everyone with whom I feel safe, everyone I need eventually leaves. No one can carry me forever, nor would I expect them too; they have their own lives to leave. Undoubtedly it is best that I’m left behind, left to stumble forward, left to battle to see another sunrise.

I need to make people proud. I need to achieve. I feel an utter failure.

Advertisements
Too overwhelmed by, too poorly-equipped for, life.

March 2018: A deterioration, a change, a darkening.

2nd March 2018.

A little over a month ago I filmed a short video to mark this year’s “Time to Talk Day,” spearheaded by the mental health charity, Time to Change. In it I said that I am very much of the belief that “if we are able to talk a little more, we will listen a little more. If we feel we can teach, we will all learn.” I stand by this. I’ve always tried to be open and honest about my mental health even though I fail, of late more-often-that-not, to verbalise it when faced with that rather daunting, fear-inducing, question, “How are you?”

It dawned on me that, in recent weeks, I cannot recall waking up in the morning and not desperately yearning for it to already be evening and time to retreat back to bed. Every ritual task, tasks that should be thus, so ritually easy and well-practiced – making my way downstairs to make breakfast, brushing my teeth, walking the two minutes to the bus stop – is a challenge. Mentally ticking-off each job before summoning enough will to move on to the next renders me exhausted. Indeed, my default response to that “How are you?” is now regularly a simple, “Tired.” That’s all I’ve got. At twenty-seven, that’s far from all I should have to offer, and that’s far from all that I want to offer. I’m terrified that this is all I’m ever going to have. My days off from work are solely spent sleeping, of late I’ve been unable to do anything else; I have nothing more left to give. I’ve been living with depression for at least a decade now, so it is clear to me that there has yet again been a definite shift – a deterioration – in my mental health over the past few weeks, even after my most recent phase of self-harm. I’m unsure whether or not I’ve been able to mask it – no one has expressed any explicit concern so I suppose that mask had held. I, too, am unsure whether or not this is a positive or a negative. I’ve recently come across this painfully-resonant quote from Elizabeth Gilbert:

When you’re lost in those woods it sometimes takes you a while to realise that you are lost. For the longest time you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.

I can’t quite pinpoint the moment I became so “lost,” so misguided, more-than-likely it was before I had any cognitive awareness of those metaphorical woods! If I wasn’t born lost, then where did I fall? Nor can I pinpoint the moment when I first became stuck in that cyclical mundanity, that sense of riding out each day and edging ever-closer to a more tangible, a more inevitable end.

My school years were defined by two extremes – the pain of being ostracised, silenced and bullied versus the drive to succeed and the utter ecstasy and exhilaration experienced when I did so, when I excelled. So many teachers kept telling me, “Nathan…there’s just something about you. You’re going to go on to do some remarkable things.” I don’t know when I lost faith in myself. I don’t know when their assurances were proven incorrect – the utter shame I feel at being a disappointment, at being a failure, is rarely not at the forefront. I do know that thirteen days ago someone who should be one of my most fervent advocates, someone who should be there to pick me up when I fall, someone who should want nothing but good things for me called me an “embarrassment.” I’ve fought so hard to not be a disappointment, or a failure, or a burden. It was last year when I first wrote about giving up on happiness and admitting defeat.

At twenty-seven years of age I should not be thinking that I’m at the end, I should not be giving up, I should not be passively falling ever-deeper. But I am. I no longer feel that I’m meant to be happy. That. That is the hard truth. No one ever promised me happiness, no one ever told me I was meant to be fulfilled, so why do I feel so very short-changed?! I can’t even really think of a prolonged period of time when I have been happy, even content. I’m prepared to accept that I will never be “happy” (whatever “happy” is!) – happiness is what other people experience. I just want to be well, I just want to be able to function. Too, I don’t think that I’ll ever be loved – I just want to get well enough to ensure that I am liked! Dating, relationships, even going on holiday or for a picnic with someone – these are things that maybe I just wasn’t meant to experience.

At some point over the past six months on I foolishly let myself accept that happiness is not only what other people experience. I did learn a long time ago to never get excited about anything, to never expect anything positive, but happiness, contentment – I want that. I miss that. Yet, I’m tired of fighting for it. I shouldn’t have to fight to be happy. I shouldn’t have to fight to be loved. I shouldn’t have to offer to pay friends to convince them to spend time with me! Merely functioning is no longer enough. Somehow there is a mere recurrent ember of light somewhere deep inside telling me that I deserve (and am able) to succeed; there are only so many times this ember can be extinguished.

With every passing day I am increasingly convinced that I am ill-equipped for life – maybe ill-equipped for living; I am broken, no longer capable of successfully completing life’s essential milestones. I shouldn’t have to fight to not be alone. I shouldn’t have to fight to get through each day. I am reliant so very much on others in so many ways. “I don’t think you’ll ever move out, Nathan. I don’t think you’re capable of living alone.” Maybe I should accept that. Maybe I’ll never amount to anything. I’ve resorted to seeing the world through my friends and living vicariously through their experiences. I can’t even drive to see the seaside for goodness sake – if it’s not on my regular bus route, it’s out-of-the-question! I never wanted to feel this pathetic, this worthless. I never wanted to fail – for so long I excelled. I don’t know when it all wrong. I have no prospects any more, I don’t see a future…I don’t see a life. Maybe, unlike Whitney, I was born to break. Maybe it’s time to snuff that recurrent ember of light after all.

“Some people are just not meant to be in this world. It’s too much for them.”

The Boy on Cinnamon Street, Phoebe Stone.

March 2018: A deterioration, a change, a darkening.

Self-harm: an update. *Warning: may trigger.*

19th January 2018.

A few months ago, after refraining for about three years, I’d slowly started to cut myself once more. In an attempt to curb my self-harm once more I realised that I needed to understand, and explore, its roots. After allowing myself to delve into my childhood happenings in a safe space I discovered that I’d repressed the memories of purposely injuring myself as early as the age of five or six. At the time I wrote:

Quite specific memories began flooding to the surface of me slicing my knee with a piece of flint at the bottom of my garden – I remember two occasions, one of which occurred when I was approaching my sixth birthday. I recall rubbing both of my wrists on the patio to give the impression that I’d fallen and tried to use my hands to anchor myself. At primary school I would often rub my knuckles, or an elbow on the surface of the playground – once I remember cutting the base of my right leg with a stone and putting little bits of sand and grit into it as if I’d been running and accidentally tripped up. All I wanted, all I’ve ever wanted, was to be picked up – hugged. Even at that young age I’d convinced myself that I was worthless and the only possible way I could find happiness, or safety, or love, or human contact was if I injured myself.

My next period of self-harming came many years later when I was in my early-twenties – my longstanding issues with high anxiety had spiralled out-of-control and I’d started having semi-regular panic attacks. I was frustrated at myself for letting the panic take over and I felt totally useless when I couldn’t carry out even the simplest of actions due to abject fear; it was all so overwhelming. And, while I may have wanted to punish myself the overriding reason for inflicting physical pain on myself was in an attempt to draw focus away from the turmoil on the inside:

To combat the feeling of powerlessness I have quietly slipped away, retreated to a quiet space, and gouged my arms and legs with a compass in an attempt to force my brain to focus on the physical pain rather than the panic which was multiplying within. I carried out a similar routine when I was building up to giving a presentation at university.

And now I find myself in the midst of my third period of self-harming. Since I began speaking so candidly about my struggle with poor mental health I’ve actively sought out others’ personal accounts, views and experiences as well as reading up on professional opinion and official advice. Alex Davies @alexdaviespbts regularly blogs on a range of mental health issues with the aim of supporting others who are fighting their own battle. He has recently published a piece entitled Understanding Self-Harm that I suggest you read if you are keen to learn more about this extremely difficult subject in which he offers his four very distinct personal reasons as to why he self-harms. Before I offer his reasons, and I stress that they are his, I do wish to dispel the myth that people who self-harm are attention-seekers (I shall return to this point later), encourage you to accept that it is an extremely complex issue, more-often-than-not one that is multi-layered and categorically is not limited to cutting. Self-harming can be extremely addictive – some people simply cannot stop without professional help. Fortunately, I don’t consider myself to be “addicted” to self-harm largely to its sporadic nature, the differing techniques I have used and the rather specific reasons why. Indeed, as I am writing this I have absolutely no inclination to cut again, nor do I see myself cutting again in the near future. Alex’s reasons for self-harming are self-loathing, as a form of distraction, a way of feeling something when depression renders you emotionally dead and to provide physical evidence to proof to oneself that the illness exists. So what are my reasons? At first I was surprised that the reason has differed at each period, but actually it would be perfectly reasonable that this were the case. Cutting my arms and legs was the action, and the cause varied depending on what stage of my life I was in and my mindset at the time. When I was a child I believed that the only way to feel loved was to be injured or in physical pain – you could argue that I did it for attention, but I insist it goes deeper than that as I hope you will see if you read my initial post on the subject. At the next stage fifteen years later I was overcome with debilitating anxiety on a daily basis, so I was less focused on feeling loved, I just needed to get through each day! Inflicting physical pain by scratching my legs with a compass took the place of the panic, almost overriding it – the “form of distraction” to which Alex refers – and I felt more capable of continuing. And this third phase? Well, that’s more difficult to unpick.

Last night, after sporadically cutting or scratching myself (normally just one or two small lesions on my arm or leg) over the past few months, I took a kitchen knife to the topside and underside of my left arm. I debated long-and-hard whether or not I should post a photo of the injuries I inflicted upon myself and, eventually, I concluded that I should (well, maybe “should” is the wrong word) – I wanted to accept and be honest about the stage I’d reached because, as I write this, I am confident that this is the worst it will ever get. This is the point from which I will come back. I’ve always been very honest about my mental health and it would do a huge disservice to any one out there who I may have helped over the years if I shied away from the truth.

20180119_185130.jpg

I have not published this for attention or pity, indeed if you weren’t reading this right now you wouldn’t know I’d done this – rest assured that I’ll be keeping my sleeves rolled down at work for the foreseeable future and I’ll ensure my arms are covered at all times except when alone – I’m certainly not ashamed or embarrassed, but it’s not something I wish to be defined by: eyes would fixate on it which would benefit no one. I’m sure that in time I’ll be able to fully understand what led me to this moment, but for now I find resonance in two of Alex’s reasons. The first, self-loathing – this is punishment for not being the person I want to be, for not achieving, for feeling like a total failure. For a while now I’ve felt like a burden, an annoyance, an irritation; this is my failing, no one else’s. The second, and most crucial, reason I feel is that it acts as a form of proof that I still need to work hard to get well and manage my mental health. This visual is what I am determined to come back from – the pain, the stinging, the bleeding will subside, a couple of small scars may remain, but the memory (maybe prompted by this photo) will encourage me to find the help I need. I’m not ready to roll over and give in – there’s an awful lot of fight left in me! Even writing this has proved extremely cathartic, a considerable amount of weight has been lifted; I may be starting a conversation, I may be able to help someone who is suffering, and I’m happy about that. If this is the point at which I had to arrive, then so-be-it.

I am aware that there may be a time in the future when I find myself self-harming once more, but right now, I’m confident that I have reached my limit. I now have a renewed determination to carry on, to keep fighting, to keep getting better and to succeed. Never will I stop exploring, and respecting, my mental health. I have a review with my G.P in the coming weeks and I’m keen to enter into counselling again after seven years.

20180119_221427.png

In the words of Pat Phoenix, “I looked out of the window and I suddenly thought, ‘Oh come on, get up and fight, fight for God’s sake.’ And I did.”

I continue.

If you are reading this as a friend, thank you for not judging me, thank you for not leaving me – I hope I’ve gone a little further in giving you the explanation you very much deserve. If you are reading this as someone who is secretly struggling, please know that you are most certainly not alone, nor are you a failure, nor do you have any reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. If me writing this helps just one person reach out for the help that they need, the pain was more than worth it. Start your conversation. Keep talking.

Twitter: @NathanEChard

Self-harm: an update. *Warning: may trigger.*

2018: Looking forward.

31st December 2017.

I always find the final couple of days of the year rather unsettling; the passing of one year and the commencement of the next is something I ‘ve always found disconcerting and a time at which I cannot help but look back. I suppose this is a natural response as something draws to a close – apart from maybe when we move into a new decade, the passage of time is perhaps never more evident than when we move into the next year. New Year’s Eve undoubtedly invites heightened, enhanced reminiscence. For many, myself included, this can be difficult…painful. “Where was I this time last year?” “I can’t believe that was x amount of years ago.” “If that time that has passed elapses again it’ll be…” This year I am making a conscious effort to, yes, respect and remember, indeed celebrate, the year that, in a little under three hours, we shall bid farewell to but to focus the majority of my energy on looking forward.

That being said, I do feel it is important to take stock and logically (and that’s the crucial part) look back to determine the place in which I find myself. Am I entering 2018 content with what I have achieved in 2017? Sadly not. Do I have fond memories that I can take forward? Yes, and I am doing my utmost to prevent them being clouded by the dark times and the struggles. Sadly one thing that 2017 has taught me is to never let myself look forward to anything with excitement or eager anticipation – I have been disappointed and let down, left alone, too many times this year. So, while I may have resigned myself to taking each day in isolation (a short-lived practice I hope) I have set my sights on a couple of things I want to achieve over the next twelve months. Something that gave me indescribable pleasure this year was being taken behind-the-scenes at two TV newsrooms by two people who have very quickly become so dear to me. Spending some time with the team at Al Jazeera EnglishMe Al Jazeera and then once more being taken into the BBC’s New Broadcasting House thrilled me, excited me, gave me back, albeit briefly, a sense of purpose – an aim. That was where I simply had to be. I’ve written before about my long-term career ambitions which, incidentally, is how I came to befriend the esteemed broadcast journalist, now very good friend of mine, Adrian Finighan. And, to that end, I want to try out working with an autocue and maybe have something akin to a screen-test to see how I feel speaking aloud, learn more about the craft and immerse myself in the sense of what it may feel like to be a broadcaster, commanding that desk. To make this possible I am conscious that I may need some speech therapy, so I’m keen to look at the options in that domain with the intention of learning the technique of controlled breathing and clear speech. IMG_20170916_143536_016I’ve never been a great public speaker – high anxiety makes me rush my words and stammer. Low self-esteem sometimes makes it impossible for me to “hold the floor” – learning that I may just be worthy of commanding some level of attention is something that I am determined to learn. So, career-wise, re-visit a newsroom, meet some of the team, try using an autocue and maybe offer my services for a week or two to help out as long as finances permit!

The prospect of visiting new places panics me – I haven’t been abroad for over twelve years, barring a one-hour train ride to London I haven’t travelled farther than through one county since 2003. So, I’d like to see some new places – maybe treat myself to a holiday. I’ve always been somewhat forced into doing things alone – I’ve never felt like I’ve had someone who would want to accompany me anywhere – other people took holidays with friends, not me, other people had weekends away in a group, not me. So, either alone or accompanied, I’d like to visit five places to which I have never been before. Something that may assist this is learning to drive. The idea of sitting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle fills me with dread and makes my heart race, but I want to at least try. I’m always ashamed when I admit to people that, not only is it that I can’t drive, but that the prospect utterly terrifies me. I want to achieve and I want a reason to be proud of myself.

I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve had people in the past convince me that they thought of me as a special friend – maybe even that they loved me, only to get money out of me. I’m by no means wealthy, but I’ve worked hard in a minimum wage job for nearly a decade, gone without, been very sensible and aware of my money and amassed a healthy amount of savings. I’m always first to offer to assist financially if I sense someone is struggling – sadly this has resulted in a couple of people working to gain my trust only to ditch me once I’ve helped them. Regardless of the fact that I have probably been conned (for want of a better word) out of three or four thousand pounds, I do want to treat my friends more in 2018 – send them a present out-of-the-blue, with no reason necessary, give them a card with a loving message, surprise them with a treat. I may not always be able to indulge in fun weekends away with a partner, or buy myself a new outfit for a night out, but I want those I love to be able to. One of the most important people in my life celebrates his thirtieth birthday in May and I am determined to make it as special for him as I possibly can – my presence may put a dampener on the proceedings, but if I have to give from a distance, that is what I shall do. I am nothing without those I love, and I pledge to ensure that they know most definitely as we move through 2018.

And finally, to my health. I know that I will continue to have some dark times in 2018, indeed a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know if I had the energy to even begin yet another year. I’ve also recently started cutting myself again, so I’m very much aware that I’m not in the best place right now. That said, I have spent the last few days focusing on reaching 1st January 2018. To mention one of my favourite quotes, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” This is something I wish to carry with me as we move into a new year. I am embarrassed by many things – never having been in a relationship, sometimes struggling to pluck up the courage to answer the telephone, not having a career – the list could go on – but I am alive. I am still living. I am due a review with my G.P in April (something about which I am already nervous) and I want to get well, I want to get better. I wrote about something integral to my mental wellbeing earlier in the year. In recent weeks I have lost sight of this once more, so in 2018 I am determined to focus on being mindful of not only my social media usage, but also that of others. I need to re-calibrate how much attention and importance I place upon the content others generate and publish. Remembering that people will only post what they want others to see (and judge them by!) is important. I wish to get better at this and re-address the balance to focus more on reality – what I see, not what others want me to see.

To anyone reading this who may consider me a friend I thank you for your support, your kind words, your patience. I thank you for not leaving me. “It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.” I thank you and I wish you a very happy, healthy, fun-filled 2018.

 

2018: Looking forward.

“A Nation Hooked On Happy Pills.” A response to the Daily Mail headline.

29th December 2017.

IMG_20171229_191810.jpg

The headline dominating the front page of the Daily Mail newspaper today was prompted by the publication of results from a study carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the O.E.C.D, in which it found that the number of prescriptions of antidepressants in the U.K has nearly trebled since the year 2000 – the report reveals that the rate of consumption for such medication currently sits at 94.2 doses for every 1000 inhabitants, notably higher than the 37.6 doses seventeen years ago. I wish to emphasise that I am in no doubt of this study’s high level of “newsworthiness,” indeed I feel the results come at a very pertinent juncture, coming at the end of a year when discussions surrounding mental health have undoubtedly, and quite rightly, come to the fore. I am, however, extremely troubled by the newspaper’s choice of words and rather offended by its reliance on such loaded, ill-judged language.

As someone who has taken antidepressants every day for around three years now I can fervently state that I would never describe them as “happy pills.” I cannot stress this point enough – depression is not defined by mere happiness or sadness and has no relevance to these emotions that we all feel. The medication I take (75mg and 150mg of the antidepressant Venlafaxine and up to four tablets of the beta blocker Propranolol to manage anxiety if you were wondering) is not some “quick fix” to merely put a smile on my face. The medication I take allows me to function – it allows me to get out of bed in the morning, it allows me to reach a state where I am not constantly consumed by darkness and despair and gives me the opportunity to manage my, at times, delicate mental wellbeing – it gives me a better chance of fending off the daily thoughts of suicide. Thousands of people, including myself, rely on these types of medications to survive. Would we ever say someone taking a prescribed drug for a chronic heart condition is doing so to feel “happy” without taking the time to look at the root cause?! Finding the right antidepressant and the right dosage for an individual can take time, there can be side effects and, with any drug we ingest, we need to understand its impact on the body. Education is key. Using such out-dated, flippant and inaccurate terminology only enhances the longstanding stigma levelled at those of us who suffer from poor mental health. The article may not overtly malign patients who take antidepressants but it does, rightly, allude to a failing system, mentioning lengthy waiting lists for talking therapies recognising that ‘one in ten people [have] to wait over a year to access therapy on the N.H.S’ as well as criticising the misguided notion of antidepressants acting as something of a “quick fix.” It is both saddening and worrying to see such a damaging banner headline that only works to perpetuate this inaccuracy and undermine the fact that antidepressants save lives.

My initial concern when I first read this headline was that those people who are currently suffering in silence may be further deterred from asking for help. By choosing to say that we, as a nation, are “hooked” suggests an image of an addict. Addiction is itself an illness and, of course, something about which one should definitely not feel ashamed. Nevertheless this front page is working to create a narrative whereby people who ask for help and who take antidepressants are demonised, a part of the problem – a statistic. If you’ve read any of my previous pieces you’ll be aware that I am a fervent advocate of speaking openly about mental health, both mine and the subject in general. No one should be made to feel ashamed for being unwell. The more we talk openly about our mental illnesses, without fear of repercussions, the more we reduce the stigma that many mental health patients still have to face each and every day.

There is no doubt that the mental health system is chronically underfunded, waiting lists are unacceptably long – that should be the focus of front-page newspaper articles, not covert, yet painfully recognisable, stigmatisation of those of us who ask for help when we desperately need it. I wish to end on an encouraging note by referencing the chair of the Royal College of G.Ps – Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has commented that the rise in anti-depressant use could be due to patients becoming “less inhibited to seek medical help.” This is something that I very much hope is true. If people are getting the help that they need and, crucially, are becoming less embarrassed about opening up about their mental illness then this has to be a positive move forward. And perhaps some food-for-thought to close: if we assume that everyone needs some form of help from a medical professional, or at least that the numbers thereof are exponentially increasing, should we, as a society, be looking at what needs fixing on a broader scale?

If you are struggling, feeling low or feel you may have depression and feel that it’s the right time to approach your doctor for help, please book an appointment and don’t be dissuaded by misguided headlines such as these – it can, and will, get better.

“A Nation Hooked On Happy Pills.” A response to the Daily Mail headline.

Failure. The need to combat the overwhelming, debilitating feeling of inadequacy.

26th November 2017.

A little over six months ago I met someone who, within moments, would turn into one of my dearest friends. Principally based in Qatar, we’d shared correspondence over the preceding year-or-so and immediately recognised that, despite our physical differences – location, age, familial situation and so-forth – there was something about our character, our struggles and our shared passion that ensured we soon forged a strong bond. To that end, at our first meeting in London he offered me a piece of advice that not only deeply resonated at the time, but has been a go-to every single day subsequently. Eight simple words, fused together to form the powerful sentiment that he knew I desperately needed to hear. “Do not measure yourself by someone else’s ruler.”

IMG_20171120_195832_167.jpgEarlier this month when visiting my dad he produced this photo of me that he’d recently unearthed. It was a few seconds before I even began to recognise who the little boy in the image was; it was 1994 and this was my very first school photograph! I looked into the eyes of four-year-old Nathan and pitifully thought, “If only you knew what was ahead…” He looks happy – and I’m sure he was – but I know that that happiness wouldn’t last. Beginning as soon as a year or two later, he would enter into a near-quarter-of-a-century defined by self-harm, self-doubt, depression, anxiety and failure. I didn’t recognise the smile, the innocence; I cannot recall a time in my childhood when I felt happy enough to let out an audible laugh. Now, I’m in no doubt that I did – I know that there were times of joy, but those fond memories are so blurred they have virtually disappeared. I uploaded the photo to a social media feed (seemingly a necessity in this age!) and, with little thought, captioned it thus, ‘Before it all became too difficult. With each passing day I feel less assured that I was meant for this world.’

Since I’ve been capable of cognitive thought and self-reflection one of the most pronounced questions that I asked myself is whether or not I am good enough, worthy enough. Have I done enough? Have I given enough? Am I enough? As I’m sure is evident, this self-doubt has been a continual thread through my life, a thread which has intensified and, yes, occasionally subsided, over the course of the past twenty-plus years, yet nevertheless has remained ever-present. I have written about this self-criticism before, as well as the constant intense questioning by which it is accompanied. An angle that I am yet to discuss in detail, however, is one that is centred on failure. In recent weeks I have been forced to acknowledge my failures and seemingly vast inadequacies and how they have contributed to my longstanding sense of worthlessness.

Since childhood I have been guilty of not coping with failure well. No – maybe not “failure” per se, more the prospect of failure. I’ve always insisted that I cannot be average, mediocre – I have never had that “oh that’ll do” mentality. If I attribute my name to something I have to ensure that it garners all of my attention; producing something substandard, or doing something incorrectly always filled me with dread. I suppose this is rooted in my schoolwork. I’d been badly bullied from a young age, always felt isolated and excluded from my peers, but as long as I excelled in the classroom – as long as one aspect of my life was a success – I could deal with everything else that was going wrong around me. I may have spent my lunch-hour sat alone crying in the cloakroom, but once that hour was over I’d be “top-of-the-class.” It was okay, I had a purpose! All the pain was worth something. This continued when I first started to self-harm, continued throughout my parents’ divorce, continued when I first starting exhibiting signs of depression in my early teens. Indeed, even when I had my first “episode” (I’m always reluctant to use the word “breakdown”) and was in counselling I graduated from university with a First Class Degree. I yearn to achieve again. I yearn to find that purpose again. Without a purpose I am, surely, nothing but an unattractive burden, an insignificant failure.

For the past nine years, before, during and now post-university I have worked in the retail industry, indeed the same job (admittedly with some progression and increased responsibility). I recently worked out that in that time I’ve seen over one hundred people come and go, one hundred people leave and enter into the next stages of their lives. And I’ve been there, every time, to welcome, to train, to encourage and then to bid farewell … to be left. I maintain that working with the public (in any capacity) is one of the most challenging things – you can’t do right for doing wrong, for every twenty truly nasty customers you might get two who are civil and one you’d actively describe as “nice”! With experience comes confidence and if you were to ask me if I were more, let’s say, “capable” now than before I entered into the world of work I would offer a most definite “yes.” I may have been in the midst of depression, upstairs in the toilet slicing my legs with a compass, or trying to get myself out of a panic attack, but when I came into the public domain I not only performed, but I did my job and I did it well. I pride myself on giving my all when I’m at work – no one could accuse me of shirking. I work extremely hard and I would challenge anyone who says otherwise. One might say that, when necessary, I’ve developed a heightened resilience – I can “block out” (to a degree) my inner turmoil. I remind you of the crying-in-the-cloakroom scenario at school. I at least had my work. If I were succeeding here I wasn’t a total failure.

Without going into too much unnecessary detail, something happened within the past two weeks that assured me that, actually, I was a total failure. Over the preceding week I’d worked myself to the point of absolute exhaustion – I’d actually arrived home after work one evening and passed out. When you give all that you can possibly give, when go above-and-beyond only to be told that you’re still not good enough, what more can you do? Is there anything else to physically, and mentally, give? I had nothing. And, again, I had no one. All of my previous failings and shortcomings, all of my feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy came rushing back, eradicating any sense of hope. Previous attempts at applying for work experience in my dream industry had ended in failure – am I going to still be working in a minimum wage job and unable to drive when I’m forty? Am I destined to be forever single, never to experience romance or love…destined to live and home and beg friends to be able to spend time with them? How could I ever read an autocue if I can’t even have a conversation with a friend without stammering? How could I look at myself on-screen when I am often repulsed by my appearance? I was suddenly paralysed. Is this “my lot”? Is there any point in carrying on in a life unfulfilled? Once more, I was giving up on happiness. Living with depression and anxiety is exhausting, I couldn’t see how I could go on when it sometimes takes all of my energy just to function. I was an abject failure, and I couldn’t see a time when that wouldn’t be the case.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have a passion for journalism and something of a fascination with the medium of broadcast news. I find myself, therefore, frequently attempting to live vicariously through those who I admire deeply and wish to emulate. To that end, I found myself re-watching an interview with the veteran American journalist and broadcaster Jane Pauley in which she discusses her career stemming from being a reporter for a local TV station in Indianapolis to becoming the youngest co-host of NBC’s national morning news programme, Today (a story that, no matter how many times I hear it, never fails to excite and enthral me). From this I stumbled across a short clip of her discussing the subject of failure in which she says, “Please do not fear failure. Embrace it, be proud of it. With every failure you’re learning more about not why you’re such a loser – what you’re learning is, ‘that didn’t work because…'” This struck a chord with me, and, coupled with the advice of my dear friend (who also happens to be a successful broadcast journalist) about not measuring yourself against others I began to emerge, once again, from the blackness and ask myself how one measures, indeed how one should measure, success. I haven’t yet found the answer, and, yes, I am still really struggling with feelings of inadequacy. The fact that I am even asking the question, though, gives me some encouragement, some hope that I will, once again succeed.

I continue.

Each day I live I want to be a day to give the best of me. I’m only one, but not alone. My finest day is yet unknown … I’ve lived to be the very best. I want it all, no time for less … Then in that one moment in time, I will be free.

 

 

Failure. The need to combat the overwhelming, debilitating feeling of inadequacy.