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.

 

 

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

Buying my first luxury wristwatch – the Breitling Super Avenger II.

22nd October 2017.

Anyone who knows me will be acutely aware that I have an extremely strong penchant for watches. Over the past ten-years-or-so I have amassed a collection of nearly thirty pieces but until now the most expensive one had a recommended retail price of just shy of £500. Anyone with even a modicum of interest in wristwatches or the study, art or collection thereof (horology) will have a particular brand or style to which they are drawn. The “high-end,” luxury brand that has enticed and excited me the most over the years is Breitling. Three days ago I realised a dream as I purchased my first Breitling timepiece, the Super Avenger II. I wish to stress at this point that I am by no means an expert, or qualified horologist, but am a fervent advocate and admirer of quality watches. Indeed, I can’t quite understand those people who do not wear a watch on a regular (ideally, daily) basis! In this age where the smart phone reigns supreme I a staunch defender of the wristwatch. To that end I not only wanted to write about this particular model in case there is someone thinking of purchasing one, but also to comment on my personal experience of buying a luxury watch.

Breitling, a Swiss luxury watchmaker, was founded in 1884 and to this day prides itself on precision-made chronometers which makes the brand extremely desirable to those working in aviation. from my personal standpoint, however, the first thing that attracted me to the brand was the aesthetics and the sheer beauty of the watches that Breitling produces; despite a vast array of models and designs any piece which carries the Breitling name is instantly recognisable as such.

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Breitling display in Burrells Jewellers in Winchester.

You can find the particulars of my chosen watch, indeed any Breitling watch, online. I am very much of the opinion, however, that when purchasing a luxury timepiece, especially your first luxury timepiece, it is essential that you visit an official stockist of your desired brand. I also recommend not purchasing at your initial visit. At the first visit you should ensure that your jeweller is knowledgeable about the product and can confidently answer any questions you may have. Any trained jeweller will encourage, if not insist that, you try the piece, or pieces, on – this is vital. Gauge the size and weight of the watch, how it sits, feels and looks on your wrist, ask yourself if it meets all of your expectations, think about why you are buying this watch and whether or not it fulfils its purpose. You may want to compare it to others in the brand’s range. I personally viewed the watch on two separate occasions before making the purchase. I’d previously been in to “high end” jewellers and felt a tad out-of-place and noticeably intimidated by my surroundings. This was certainly not the case, however, when I entered Burrells in Winchester for the first time – I felt comfortable, wanted to give them my custom and most importantly trusted and respected the staff as well as the information they were offering me. Indeed, when I went back to make my purchase I was instantly offered a comfortable seat and a hot beverage – I was 100% assured that for the duration of my visit I was the priority. IMG_20171022_183959_449.jpg

 

The Super Avenger II measures 48mm in diameter, so is “noticeable” to say the least, something that I do tend to ask of my watches – I like them to be spotted, I enjoy the fact that people can (and do) ask me about them – anything that leads to a conversation relating to quality wrist-wear is a good thing. I’m of slender build 20171021_134645.jpgwith relatively small wrists, but despite this the watch doesn’t look so big that it borders on the ridiculous yet does still draw the eye. Without the strap the watch weighs 150.1 grams so it’s definitely a piece that you know you are wearing. Again, this was important for me. When I told my jeweller that I tend to wear my watches a tad on the loose side I was advised that I may want to wear this particular piece slightly tighter, owing to its weight and the risk of the face falling forward and catching itself on something that may cause damage, something of which I hadn’t considered. Those reassuring words “from my experience” were uttered and I was safe in the knowledge that I was being sold something by someone who was not only extremely passionate about the product she was selling, but also by someone who really knew what they were talking about. The Breitling Super Avenger II is self-winding, so doesn’t require a battery, and winds when worn and in motion but does have a power reserve of a minimum of 42 hours, so will keep ticking and keep time even when not worn for this period. Again, this was something that was explained to me when viewing the piece and the process of manually winding the watch was also demonstrated. All the features of the watch were explained, with my jeweller eager to ensure that I left knowing how to take care of it and with no remaining queries or concerns. Before leaving Burrells the two-year warrantee was activated and I was assured that if anything were to go wrong with the watch they “would like to be my first point of call,” but that any Breitling engineer anywhere in the world could help. Any luxury watch will be accompanied by a certificate of attestation confirming that it is a genuine piece (something, again which was shown to me) and have its unique reference number. In this case, my Breitling was instantly registered with the manufacturer and I was advised that I would receive a complimentary gift as a thank you for purchasing a Breitling timepiece – something that I was not expecting.

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Breitling Super Avenger II

The watch itself has a rather “professional” aesthetic with a sophisticated black dial which is combined with three small silver dials measuring seconds, up to 30 minutes and up to 12 hours. The bezel rotates and a small date window features in the 3 o’clock position. The high-polish bracelet catches the light in a stunning way and while I would consider it somewhat of a “statement piece,” it certainly does not cross into the realms of ostentatiousness. Undoubtedly sophisticated, I’ve found that it compliments any outfit – I’ve worn it poking out of a long-sleeved formal shirt as well as a casual jumper with rolled-up sleeves – it certainly doesn’t look out-of-place – and has garnered much attention by those who have spotted it. To me this piece is timeless and will remain relevant for decades to come. Oversized watches with larger faces are currently on trend and the Breitling Super Avenger II certainly steps up to the mark! As I’ve hinted, it is a very versatile piece and one that should not solely be reserved for formal occasions.

 

Twitter: @NathanEChard

Buying my first luxury wristwatch – the Breitling Super Avenger II.

Update: Autumn takes hold and my self-doubt skyrockets. Part 2: Techniques to help manage.

22nd October 2017.

Last month I wrote about the detrimental effects the transition from Summer to Autumn has, in the past many years, had on my mental wellbeing. I’m keen to stress that I have not officially been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but am of the belief that the days “getting shorter” and the reduction in light as we approach the Winter Equinox coupled with my existing “condition” does make this a risky time in the year. As I brought my piece to a close I alluded to fact that I have employed a few specific techniques to attempt to mitigate these negative effects. Fours week on, and I am relieved to say that I am in a position to report that I’m feeling noticeably more stable than, firstly, I’d predicted I would be, and secondly noticeably more stable than I have been at this juncture in years gone by. I am mindful, however, that we are yet to come to the end of British Summer Time; the process of turning the clocks back by one hour (which will occur next weekend) and the resulting dramatic reduction in day-lit hours will be the true test!

1) Accepting, and respecting, tiredness.

One of the most overt side-effects of living with depression is extreme tiredness and an overwhelming feeling of lethargy. Something I have learnt over the years is that sleep is integral to a “healthy” mind and wellbeing. This may sound obvious, but that process of re-energising, giving both your brain and body a chance to “re-fuel” after a day’s stresses and strains is vital. To that end, I try (and, I’m aware that it’s not always possible) to get 8 hours’ sleep every night. Tiredness impairs thought and focus, and prevents logical thinking. As someone who suffers from frequent bouts of extreme paranoia I’ve found that when over-tired, or when I’ve been unable to sleep, that line between reality and fantasy – logical thought and things unproven – becomes extremely blurred. To put it simply, it’s nigh on impossible to “think clearly” when hampered by tiredness. I’ve often felt guilty for feeling tired which isn’t helped by people posing questions like “Nathan, how can you still be tired?!” or “You’ve slept all night, you can’t need any more sleep!” often accompanied by a perplexed expression or a look of disdain. Sometimes I do need “more sleep.” And that’s okay. The body gets worn out but so does the mind – that’s important to remember.

When I was younger I was always up at the proverbial crack-of-dawn, bounding out of bed, arriving at school early, never finding myself rushed for time or late. As my depression has developed waking up and physically getting out of bed in the morning has become extremely difficult – sometimes impossible; there have been times when I’ve had to pinch myself to force me to sit upright and put two feet on the floor. This seems to get increasingly difficult as Autumn transitions into Winter. To help with this I’ve set my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier to enable me that extra period to rationalise thought, breathe deeply and cajole myself into commencing the day. I’ve found that my anxiety reduces slightly if I “ease myself” into the day and give myself time to mentally plot out, and yes, prepare for the process of eating breakfast, getting dressed, catching the bus to work etc.
2) Learning a new word each day.

I’ve always had somewhat of a skill in writing and been told that I have a “flair” where the written word is concerned. To that end I’ve taken to enhancing that skill by learning a new word each day. Knowledge is an incredible thing and the process of increasing or developing that knowledge is something which enthuses me greatly. If I see a word written in the newspaper, or hear one on the television that I can’t immediately define I make a point of looking for its meaning and writing it down in a notebook. Having this as a mini aim each day has helped me, again, to maintain some form or focus. Learning something new also gives me a sense of achievement – something that I yearn for and crave.

3) Embracing time alone.

Every day I make a point of taking ten minutes to just “be.” I close my eyes and focus solely on my breathing. That process of “clearing the mind” is, yes, virtually impossible, but centring oneself and only allowing yourself to be immersed in the here-and-now – and the here-and-now alone – has helped me greatly. I’ve also realised that just being quiet and still for a little portion of each day helps alleviate my anxiety (sometimes only by a fraction, sometimes by a considerable amount) and reduces my heart-rate if it happens to be racing. It’s also been reassuring for me to acknowledge that fact that I don’t need to be in constant contact with people. I kept trying to “fill the silence” with a needy text to a friend, or a Twitter post that would invite a response purely so I that I knew there was someone out there – someone on whom I had a modicum of influence. I’m learning that I don’t need to.

4) Not only eating healthily, but just eating!

Over the years I’ve gone through stages when I’ve felt extremely guilty for eating. There have been many occasions where I’ve gone for days without eating, or eating and then making myself sick convinced that I’m fat. This is something that I haven’t completely beaten just yet,  but having three meals a day and being conscious of what I am eating has also contributed to a general feeling of “wellness.” Akin to fuelling oneself with a decent amount of sleep, a rich and varied diet is also key to not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. Again, it may be obvious to many, but the body and mind are inextricably linked. Now, I’m far from expert on these matters, but I do know that what we are putting into our bodies undoubtedly has an impact on the functionality of the mind.

5) Photography.

I, of course, do not profess to be anywhere near a “professional” photographer, but that doesn’t really matter. Nevertheless I have been told that I do have somewhat of an “eye” for photographic opportunities and the images I capture do tend to be aesthetically pleasing. This hobby that I have harnessed over the past couple of years functions on many levels – firstly, the process of actually travelling to a location to take a photograph.

Visiting new places, discovering new buildings or monuments and looking on to a vast array of views does succeed in that cliché of “broadening the mind.” Recognising beauty (be it natural, or man-made) makes the world seem that bit brighter and welcoming when I’m in the midst of a dark period. It reaffirms my faith in the notion that things will get better – that there’s hope out there. Secondly, I relish the process of enhancing a photograph – adjusting the colour or tinkering with the brightness. I not only enjoy it, but it focuses my mind and encourages me to put my energy into forming something that might bring joy to others. When I’m engrossed in touching up, or publishing, my photos I’m not at risk of being overcome with negative thoughts. Having another element (you can call it a hobby) such as this to focus on can be a conversation-starter, ergo one can meet new people and, personally, it reduces the risk of me being solely defined by, or known for, my depression. IMG_20170731_072649_420Again, actively searching for (and finding!) “beauty” through photography when I have been convinced I’m surrounded by nothing but darkness and misery has given me that little bit of faith and impetus to carry on. Photographs, too, work to cement positive memories -I can look back and fondly remember a pleasant day or time spent with dear friends. When all hope is lost looking at a photograph might just help you to believe that those “pleasant days” will happen again. It’s also lovely when people have commented positively on images I have published – that sense of accomplishment enormously helps boost my self-esteem and self-worth, even if just by a little –  I can do well, I am good at something.

If you’re reading this and can relate, or you’ve found something I have written has helped you, I’d love to hear about it. Or, if you have techniques that you feel could help me as well, or those you wish to share for others please let me know.

Twitter: @NathanEChard

“Storms make trees take deeper roots [….] If you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton

Update: Autumn takes hold and my self-doubt skyrockets. Part 2: Techniques to help manage.

Not only admitting, but realising, the origin of my self-harming and how it’s inextricably linked to my behaviour today.

15th October 2017.

I was reluctant to opt for that verb “admit” when titling this piece because to admit something implies one of two things: that one has done something wrong – normally of detrimental effect to others, or that one has done something that brings upon shame. If you’re aware of me as a person, or any of the pieces I’ve written in the past you’ll be more-than-aware that I am a fervent advocate of speaking openly about mental health. I hope that you will agree that my candour and, at times, rather raw honesty helps to define my writing. It is therefore reasonable to assume that I am not at all ashamed of my struggles with poor mental health, and, in the main, you’d be correct. In recent weeks I have discovered that there is an aspect, a symptom, of my condition that I was, albeit subconsciously, ashamed of. That aspect: self-harm.

I wish to stress at this juncture that I haven’t cut myself (probably the most common action associated with that broad spectrum of “self-harm”) now for just over two years. For a long time I thought, and indeed have previously written, that my first bout of self-harm in my early-twenties was born from intense anxiety. When I was first consciously aware that my inner struggles were beginning (and rather rapidly beginning) to reveal themselves physically – short temper, frequent crying, increased alcohol intake, thoughts of suicide (the list could go on) – I began to attempt to override heightened panic and fear, curtail the panic attacks and slow my breathing, by transferring the pain to self-orchestrated physical cuts. In the midst of panic the overarching aim is survive the next thirty seconds, the next minute, the next ten any way possible until the panic begins to subside. My method of choice for a period of about a year was to retire to an area where I knew no one would go and scratch, gauge, or slice my arms, but normally legs, with a compass. Little did I know at the time that this was in fact not the first time I had self-harmed through cutting.

June 2017. I was having lunch with two dear friends in London – two friends who have reached the upper echelons of a career in broadcast journalism, two friends who I am honoured to know and proud to dub them “role models.” We reached the point in the conversation when we began discussing my career aspirations and how they wanted to help. The inevitable was uttered. “Nathan, we can only help you if you start to help yourself – you’ve got to stop using social media the way you do. Think about how you’re portraying yourself and just how publicly you do so.” This prompted me to write a piece entitled Managing Your Social Media and Being Aware of Its Effects on Your Mental Health ” in which I wrote ‘Something that has sadly come to define my own online presence is the fact that I prolifically used (and the past tense is very much deliberate) Twitter as a platform to cry out for attention when I was going through a period of poor mental health.’ I was, rightly so, forced to re-evaluate and was pleased when I managed to rather rapidly alter what, and how, I “broadcast” online.

August 2017. I was, once more, in London and coming to the end of a lovely, yet sadly for me relatively infrequent, time with a man to whom I owe my life. He knows I always find parting from him difficult so has been so kind as to learn to “warn” me if he has to leave early, or has other arrangements so I have time (if I need it) to prepare to say goodbye. This was one of the times when he had to leave early – I was aware of this from the outset. Nevertheless, any time I get to spend with him is to be cherished. I thought I was well – that evening, after his departure, it was clear that I was far from it. The last thing I remember of that day is saying goodbye to him around 3pm in the beer garden of  a Soho bar. I know I arrived home, back to Hampshire, ten hours later and I know that in the interim period my friend had received a pathetic barrage of text messages pleading for him to confirm our friendship, tell me he’ll never leave, reassure me that he won’t forget me and that he’d see me again very soon. I was terrified, for no concrete reason, that that last meeting would be just that – the very last. I was, once more, absolutely convinced that I was nothing, no one – worthless, pathetically clinging on to those I love desperate to feel love back, desperate to be a priority. I just wanted him to be excited to see, and sad to leave, me. I think – no, I know – he was, but I couldn’t see it. My default setting: I was worthless and he was leaving me. In that moment I had no one.

In my last post I wrote that ‘upsetting [the friend in question is] something for which I will forever find difficult to forgive myself.’ And while this still stands, I have opted to use this to delve further into my mental health; I want to continue to explore, explain and understand it with an aim of reaching substantial periods of stability – some semblance of “recovery.” And so to the crux of this piece. I realised a couple of weeks ago, and for the first time vocalised yesterday, that I’d repressed some early childhood instances of self-harm for over twenty years. I had totally forgotten that between the ages of five or six to ten I used to purposely injure myself. In recent weeks I’ve allowed myself time to, in a safe place, try to remember. 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. The only way I would ever be noticed and valued – just wanted – was if I were some form of victim, a victim who was eligible for pity. I was incapable of being loved. But being loved is all I’ve ever wanted. I still don’t believe that I am worthy of love.

At twenty-seven years of age I am far from comfortable, even able, to say that I love, or value, myself. It’s still difficult, but getting easier, to not look at myself without an overriding sense of revulsion and hate. Feelings of worthlessness were born at a very young age – something, evidently, I have only realised in recent weeks. As I near the end of my third decade it still summons all of my energy to accept that I’m okay (not even handsome, or special, or talented), just “okay,” when friends tell me such. That fear of loss, that fear of being forgotten and that fear of inadequacy is an ever-present thread that has run, and probably will continue to run, through my life. Every day, week, month and year I continue to survive, however, that thread becomes a little more shredded, a little weaker. In the same way that I “cried out” for help back then, I can now see that I unknowingly transferred that behaviour into the ether of social media. What was I hoping to achieve, or receive, when I wrote “I am worthless, I am nothing” on my Twitter feed? Was it for someone, anyone – a stranger, to say “No you’re not”? Would I believe them if they did? Probably not. Would it convince me to carry on if they did? Maybe…but certainly not long-term! I want to reach a place where I can allow myself to believe that I have worth – value – based on my character, that I offer something positive.

Self-harm amongst children is something that I haven’t personally read much about, but I certainly cannot be alone in my experiences. I hope that by writing this it prompts a conversation, but also goes a step further in helping those around me understand my struggles that little bit more and assures them that I am trying to get well, I am trying to get better and find techniques to help me prosper. As Stephen Fry quite rightly said, “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.”

Twitter: @NathanEChard

Not only admitting, but realising, the origin of my self-harming and how it’s inextricably linked to my behaviour today.

Update: Autumn takes hold and my self-doubt skyrockets. Part 1.

22nd September 2017.

I’d long anticipated that a change in the seasons (more specifically, the transition from Summer into Autumn) would, like many previous years, have a negative effect on my mental stability. In the past few weeks, however, the heightened intensity that such a change has caused this year has revealed itself. I’m reluctant to attribute my increased self-doubt and general feeling of unease solely to the environmental changes associated with this time of year, but it certainly has contributed to everything seeming to be that bit more daunting; every feeling, emotion, or perception has been exaggerated. Upsetting my best friend (something for which I will forever find difficult to forgive myself) when I last saw him a few weeks ago has forced me to reflect on, and accept, this latest challenging period that I find a way to navigate.

Self-doubt and low self-esteem is far from uncommon. However, when your self-esteem is so stunted to the point of non-existence, a vast array of problems can arise. This is something I know all-too-well. I could almost handle not feeling able, or worthy, of fulfilling my ambitions – accomplishing and reaching where I wanted to be career-wise – almost – if I didn’t have to try to over-compensate for what is lacking where relationships are concerned. The old adage encouraging self-acceptance, asking how can anyone expect someone else to love them if they don’t love themselves may be a tad trite and over-simplified, but there’s something to it. It’s no accident that I’ve never had a boyfriend, never been on a date, could count on one hand how many times I’ve shared a kiss with someone. I’ve never loved myself, never seen anything in me that’s attractive, an asset – there’s nothing desirable or unique about me. I haven’t learnt to even like myself yet – at twenty-seven years old I don’t know if I ever will. That scares me. I suppose it’s rather paradoxical for someone who doesn’t feel worthy of being loved to give out so much, but I do. What I’m unable to absorb, I give out tenfold. Never will I not tell people how much they mean to me, never will I not try to make someone’s life a little easier. I’m the first to accept that time spent with me isn’t the most entertaining – there’s always someone else that everyone would rather be with than me. For a long time this was just how it was, how it was supposed to be: I accepted that it had to be Nathan second, everyone else first. Now, though, it’s just too painful.

I’ve slipped back to frequently drinking heavily alone to block out feelings of utter worthlessness and I’ve started to distance myself from friends. When I’m struggling it’s better for them if they don’t have to withstand me – how can I inflict myself on those I love? I can’t, and shouldn’t. Sometimes, however, I cave – I am only human after all. Humans need a modicum of interaction to survive and I try to not feel guilty for sometimes being utterly desperate to hear from someone I love. Simply sending a text asking “how are you?” would only make the recipient feel obliged to ask me the same back and, when I’m not too well, I don’t want to lie and say I’m okay, nor do I want be honest and inevitably launch into a lengthy reply detailing my struggle – that’s not fun for the other person. I’ve written before that I struggle to find common ground with people – my fellow homosexual friends, for instance. Consequently, being able to “join in” with friends as they partake in fun activities is difficult – I either feel like I’m intruding and sapping the energy, or lack a point of reference to show an interest. It’s rather pathetic really – I’ve never been to a concert for instance, haven’t got a love life, haven’t been further than Bath in the past fifteen years – what have I got to talk about and engage someone with? There is one thing that people do associate with me: watches. I’m desperate to convince certain friends to be “watch people” so I can share my enthusiasm with them and claim a common interest.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have an extremely strong penchant for watches – it’s one of the things I always notice about a guy, I think they signal something about the owner and consider both their aesthetics and functionality vital. I also like to give them as gifts. I have sent watches to some very special people in my life and seeing them wear them makes me smile and brings a huge amount of joy. While the foremost reason for presenting friends with these gifts is to make them smile, I do have an ulterior motive.  In my (futile it may be) attempt to reduce the risk of being forgotten entirely, I take comfort in the fact that when the friends in question put it on, or go to check the time they may just think of me. They may just think of me in a positive light. They may just make contact with me.

After a period of not hearing from loved friends, my default with certain people hasScreenshot_20170402-111034 reduced to starting a conversation with “are you wearing that watch I bought you?” Do you still like it? Can you let me know when you wear it next? Is it holding up okay?” Sadly this doesn’t engage, it only irritates. I can’t even successfully share an interest and this has to be down to my active orchestration of it.  The aesthetics of the watches do genuinely interest me, but more important than that I just want to be included and feel like friends and I share something special. Is that ridiculous?

Losing friends and actively increasing distance between me and those I love isn’t the only consequence of this heightened level of unease and doubt. You may well be aware that I have a dream of forging a career in TV News (at this stage I’m unsure into precisely which area, but that arguably-redundant position of “newsreader” has always been a goal) and last week a friend who works for the BBC once again took me to visit New Broadcasting House. IMG_20170916_143536_016I’ve never been to a place where I’ve been so overwhelmed by the feeling that this is where I need to be, this is where I belong. A position here, or in any newsroom, has to be earned. Is it attainable for someone who doubts and criticises himself so much? When I was sat at this newsdesk, for a moment, a fleeting moment, I thought “yes, yes I can do this – I’m capable and worthy of sitting here and broadcasting for real one day.” I sat proud, took in my surroundings and, crucially, let out a broad, heartfelt smile. I felt happy. And then reality hit. Firstly, the practicalities of getting here – I’m about to reach my nine-year anniversary of being in a minimum-wage job which completely pushes me to my limit – I can’t therefore afford to take time off to re-train, or risk a decent amount of unpaid work experience, nor do I often have the energy on my days off to write, apply, learn and raise my profile. And then those other feelings came back – I have to take beta blockers to combat anxiety of day-to-day living (leaving the house, speaking to people) – how could I ever broadcast live to the nation? I have a stammer and cannot control my speech overly well. This only gets worse in times of intense self-doubt as I struggle to make eye-contact and rush my words as I don’t feel worthy of “holding the floor.” More often that not I have to actively fight to control my breathing to speak coherently, how could I ever be a conduit who verbally delivers the news? I couldn’t. I can’t. Again, I’m not good enough.

Returning to the notion of everything around me feeling intensified with which I introduced this piece and I’ve become aware that twilight makes me incredibly scared. As day turns into night, which, seems evermore noticeable and doom-laden at this time of year I panic. After leaving work on Monday my heart-rate dramatically increased, every sudden sound made me jump, car headlights seemed almost blinding, people’s footsteps seemed louder, I was edgy, shaking. Only once darkness had totally fallen did my anxiety begin to dissipate. My obsessiveness and paranoia has also increased in recent weeks – something “new” that I have started to really worry about is how many “X”s certain friends use to sign off their texts I receive. I’m embarrassed to admit this, and can’t bring myself to ask the two, possibly three, friends to who this refers. The person I cherish more than anything else would always, without fail, end his texts to me with three. Now it’s two at best, sometimes none. Have I done something wrong? Am I going to lose him? The rational Nathan, the Nathan who is well and competent and able would never qualify a friendship by how many kisses feature at the end of a brief text message, and I know that the person concerned might actually feel hurt and angry that I’m bringing our friendship down to a letter of the alphabet that’s meant to represent a kiss. I’m not. I know that we’re stronger than that. But the rational Nathan, the Nathan who is well and competent and able hasn’t been around for quite some time now. I’m petrified he won’t come back and that I’m going to lose everyone because, after all, isn’t that the fate I have painted for myself? If I go on believing that friends are only staying with me out of pity, that if our friendship dissolves I’ll end it all, what hope do I have of ever being happy? 

I’m working to find ways to combat these feelings and in my next blog, which I hope to publish in the next few days, I will describe some of the practical ways I’ve found to get back to some semblance of “wellness” in what is turning out to be the midst of a particularly distressing and self-punishing period. Focusing the mind on something positive, or creative (even writing this blog), even for just a little bit, helps alleviate some of the dangerous thoughts and enables me to re-think and re-assess.

Update: Autumn takes hold and my self-doubt skyrockets. Part 1.

Princess Diana’s death: Breaking the News pre-digital revolution.

1st September 2017.

“Where were you when…?” is perhaps the most clichéd question posed when reflecting on a major news event. It has the ability to sound a tad trite if not reserved for times of shock, tragedy and, crucially, national significance. In truth, there are relatively few occasions when the question is not only valid, but prompts a resonant, vivid and accurate response. One such occasion came in the early hours of Sunday the 31st of August 1997 when Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car crash in Paris. If you lived through the ensuing week twenty years ago you cannot fail to recall not only where you were when you heard the news but also your immediate reaction, the overwhelming sense of mourning on a national, indeed global, scale and the immense palpability of a country coming not only together, but to almost a complete standstill. I was seven-years-old at the time and I recall so vividly coming down the stairs on that Sunday morning. My mum had filled and turned on the kettle, then the radio and we were met with a fervent rendition, on a loop, of the national anthem. Diana 1Moments later and I remember her saying, “Oh, I bet the Queen Mum’s died. What a shame.” Eager to find out more I raced into the living room to turn on the TV. Martyn Lewis was staring back at me, with a photo of Princess Diana inserted behind her with the caption “1961-1997.” It wasn’t the Queen Mother.

In an era before smart phones, where Internet usage in the home was minimal (some figures state that less than 10% of households were online) and we were yet to enter the social media age we all received the appalling news broadly in the same way – whether you were up late into the evening and saw the story developing on television, or awoke to blanket coverage the next morning on TV and radio. Even now I’d still wager that if you were asked what the two “main” TV channels are you’d respond by stating BBC (One) and ITV. This certainly was the case in the late-nineties. Owing to the fact that there was a very small window where, and crucially how, each of us could first hear of the news the intensity of an already tragic story was immediately heightened; no possible dilution could occur as we trawled through our social media feeds as bits of information slowly dripped through as would happen today. There were just two simple banner headlines as the news was broken – initially “Princess Diana injured in a car crash” and, subsequently, “Princess Diana is dead.” Being in the era when we were on the cusp of the digital revolution meant, too, that citizen journalism was virtually non-existent – there were no eyewitness accounts in the early stages, no photos from onlookers (thankfully) and reports only coming from official channels: verified news wires. Speculative comments and unverified information were minimal, indeed news organisations would not broadcast details that weren’t validated by multiple sources. I’ve watched the coverage that is available back multiple times in the intervening years and what is striking is that interviews from members of the public at the scene (and there would have been many people enjoying the Paris nightlife available) are non-existent; the technology simply wasn’t yet available. One could argue that the next “major news event” would be 9/11 and by 2001 the practice of using footage and/or commentary from passers-by by mainstream news outlets was starting to become increasingly common. So, when Diana’s death was finally confirmed, therefore, for those at home the news quite literally flashed – there it was in an instant. A deep intake of breath followed and the ensuing reaction, and fallout, could now commence.

Viewers who had stayed up late on the Saturday evening first received news of a car accident involving Princess Diana by senior BBC News presenter Martyn Lewis on BBC One and the overnight duty newscaster Tim Willcox on ITV shortly before 2am as both channels interrupted their scheduled programming for a news flash. Details at this stage were minimal with both channels only able to report that Diana had been injured in a car crash in Paris and that her companion, believed to be Dodi Al Fayed, had been killed. Within a minute, and for the time being, both channels had returned to their regular programming with further updates being promised as details came in.

“We interrupt this film to tell you that we are getting reports that Diana, Princess of Wales has been badly injured in a car crash in France. French radio is saying that the accident happened in western Paris when the car she was travelling in collided with another vehicle in a tunnel. The Princess is reported to have been taken to hospital. There is no news of her condition and as yet the report is unconfirmed. It’s also reported that a passenger in the Princess’ car was killed. One report quoting French police says it is her friend Dodi Al Fayed. It’s also reported that the driver of the Princess’ car was killed. I must repeat that these reports are unconfirmed. We will bring you more news as soon as we have it.” – Martyn Lewis, BBC News.

ITV had been broadcasting short news updates overnight since the nineteen-eighties, so having a newsreader at ITN in the early hours was the norm, whereas BBC One would go off-the-air each night. The continuity announcer would sign off after the last programme of the day, the national anthem would play and the screen would fade to black, or show looped pages from Ceefax until Breakfast News came on the air in the morning. The practice of “Closedown” was, as it happens, coming to an end as the BBC was just three months away from launching their new digital rolling news channel, BBC News 24, which was planned to be simulcast on the corporation’s terrestrial channels overnight. At this stage, therefore, the BBC had just one live channel that broadcasted twenty-four hours a day – BBC World – the news service, however, was still limited overnight with presenter Maxine Mawhinney being the on-air representation of a very skeleton staff.

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Nik Gowing and Maxine Mawhinney.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Diana’s death Mawhinney spent the day speaking to various radio stations about her memories of that night at BBC Television Centre. At 00:58, two minutes before she was due to read the headlines at the top-of-the-hour a line flashed up on the computer – “Diana injured in a car crash in Paris.” Recalling the moment she said “I turned around to my producer and said, ‘That’s quite interesting. Shall we mention that?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, if you think you’ve got enough to say.’ So the music is running, I do the headlines, and then I said ‘Just before we move on, we’re getting reports from Paris that Diana, Princess of Wales, has been injured in a car crash.’ That’s all we had. Then, in my ear, the producer asked me to just keep going.”

 

By 02:30, it was evident that this was very rapidly turning into a major news story – for the first time BBC World was to be broadcast to viewers in the UK as it was clear rolling news throughout the night was the only option. Nik Gowing, a senior presenter on the channel, was called in to anchor the BBC’s international coverage. ITV also decided to go “open-ended” with its news coverage – Dermot Murnaghan was called in to present, being joined by Nicholas Owen, the then-ITV News Royal Correspondent, for context and comment. It would be Gowing and Murnaghan who were to have the unenviable duty to first announce to the nation that Princess Diana had died – a duty that would ultimately arrive at 05:15.

Diana 9Pictures of the wreckage began to come into newsrooms across the globe. It was arguably only then when the extent of what had happened could be fully realised. Professional broadcasters often have to be the conduit that delivers distressing news so it is necessary, upon entering the studio, that they separate themselves from their role – almost “play the part.” Sometimes, of course, emotions cannot be contained. The reactions of Gowing, Murnaghan and Owen were palpable – no one could mask their shock when those pictures flashed up. Indeed, it is well-documented that Martyn Lewis momentarily lost his composure, on the air, after former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “People’s Princess” statement. He encapsulated the feelings of the nation. Speaking of that Sunday morning Lewis said,

“It was for me the biggest professional challenge that I’ve had in my thirty-two year television career. The challenge of newscasting when you have a major story breaking around you, and you’re live on air, is that you must not convey any emotion to the viewer, you must not convey the emotion of the story. And I remember the Prime Minister made a very powerful speech…the job of the news presenter is to repeat some of the things that the Prime Minister has been saying. And I was doing this and I got to a particular point – a very powerful, emotional line – and I started to crack. And then out of the corner of my eye I saw the next interviewee coming into the studio to sit down beside me and I realised I had to pull myself together.”

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Martyn Lewis moments after Tony Blair’s “People’s Princess” statement.

Martyn Lewis had recommenced presenting coverage across the BBC network from 6:30am, with many television stations across the world “opting in” and broadcasting the corporation’s output before Peter Sissons took over at lunchtime. Bar a retrospective programme on Diana’s life presented by David Dimbleby, Sissons would present until nearly midnight with Jennie Bond, former Royal Correspondent, completing her contributions after a near-eighteen hour day. ITV also scrapped their regular schedule proving Diana 16blanket news coverage through the day with a special edition of GMTV, which was also broadcast on the American news network CNN, then rolling news from ITN and a special programme with then-News at Ten presenter Sir Trevor McDonald. TV schedules would not totally revert to normal until after Diana’s funeral the following Saturday. Indeed, in an unprecedented move, for a second night in-a-row the BBC One broadcast news coverage from its international channel. The traditional Closedown would happen the following night. This was an event, a tragedy, like no other. Even at the time the immense strain that it put on broadcast news organisations was realised – a couple of weeks later The Radio Times explained how BBC News covered the story. I was fortunate enough to track a copy of this issue down a couple of years ago which I have included below for reference.

 

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Princess Diana’s death: Breaking the News pre-digital revolution.

Admitting defeat and giving up on happiness.

27th August 2017.

Since I first started writing about my mental health I have always been keen to tell my story as truthfully and frankly as possible and without sugar-coating it. The nature of the beast ensures that in bad times it is exceptionally difficult to remember that there have been, and once again WILL BE, good days. Likewise, when things are easy and life seems to be continuing along smoothly it is hard to relate to times past when the darkness completely enveloped and everything was a struggle. Personally, therefore, it has always been important for me to document both the ups and the downs, be it publicly or privately, in an attempt to improve my understanding of my depression and overall mental health; although my character ensures that I naturally gravitate to writing in, and about, the bad times as opposed to the good. Allowing myself to remember the good times is something I’m very keen to work on going forward. Nevertheless, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from the title I am currently writing in the midst of a tricky time and, sadly, with an underlying sense that this is just the beginning of a longer period of ill-health. I don’t feel worthy of burdening anyone with this directly, so this blog once more has to act as an outlet – an outlet that I hope some of you have entered. I’m reaching out in the hope that I will receive some reassurance, so, if you’ve chosen to read this, I thank you.

There’s a painfully poignant line from the season finale of the penultimate series of Cagney and Lacey that has stuck with me since I first heard it over a decade ago. As Christine’s alcoholism reaches its peak Mary-Beth, with a sense of exasperation, comments that “nothing ever fills [Christine] up, nothing ever makes [her] feel all right.” I stress that this piece isn’t directly concerned with substance abuse, but it is important to note there is a strong link between mental illness and addiction. Those clichéd phrases of someone attempting to “mask the pain” or “fill a void” are arguably a tad trite. They do, though, hold water. Depressives, like myself, are constantly looking to find something that is lacking, without even knowing what that something is. I’ve written before about the intense loneliness that I regularly experience, how I often feel detached from society – hungrily desperate for someone to drag me in and make me feel a valued part of their lives. I’ve also written about the less-than-nurturing upbringing that I experienced, so I’ll refrain from regurgitating that. What I will say, however, is that twenty-seven years of believing that I an incapable of being loved, twenty-seven years of feeling worthless, twenty-seven years of never quite being good enough is proving extremely difficult to overcome. And filling the void, or, maybe I should say maintaining the filling of the void has been getting so very difficult of late. Impossible. The frightening truth is that until I manage to overcome then I can’t progress and grow – become a better, more valuable person. 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. Just once I want to be someone’s first choice, or for someone else to text first…for someone to be as excited about seeing me that I am about seeing them. I always find myself returning to this:

I have been privileged to have met some truly exceptional people in recent years – people who I feel safe with, who I laugh with and who I am always very keen to see more of – and, yes, people who I am letting myself call “friends.” I’m concerned though. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just rather pathetically clinging on to their coattails by my fingernails frantically hoping to be dragged along and included and live a life which I crave, even for just a little bit. Never having been in a relationship only exacerbates that feeling I have of never being someone’s priority. More and more I have in the back of my mind that thought that people wished my seat were filled by someone else. 

Am I saying that I have never been happy, there is nothing in this world that brings me pleasure? Not at all. I’m at my happiest when surrounded by good friends – some of the “truly exceptional people” to whom I refer above. I may be incapable of being loved, but certainly not of loving others. And I do, I do love many people in this world – and, am in love with one. As long as I’m living I shall endeavour to help the lives of those I love easier, for I cannot make them better. Prince once said that “parties weren’t meant to last,” and this is true – though because moments of happiness and contentment are so very fleeting for me, I am desperate to eek out every second and orchestrate it that the situation lasts as long as possible. This, I have discovered, can be counter-productive and detrimental to friendships – begging someone to “please not leave me” will only ensure that they’ll leave me that bit quicker! I don’t like begging for company, I don’t like forcing myself onto a group, but I am fuelled by convincing myself, maybe even lying to myself, that I matter. This is easier when I’m with people – being forgotten by someone you love is hard when you’re with them, less so when you’re sat alone! In the past month I have taken myself for dinner four times and every time I’ve been the only lone diner. There isn’t any shame in dining alone, indeed sometimes I rather relish it – a nice glass of wine, my newspaper contribute to a marvellous combination after a long day at work. I just wish I had somewhere to go afterwards – it’s always a necessity to dine alone, never a choice. I look around, trying to rationalise the envy (sometimes anger) and upset I feel when I see groups of friends all laughing together, all talking about something that interests then, all having a shared experience. Why not me? Why have I never been on a date? Why have I never had a boyfriend? Why do always end up feeling so alone? Maybe it isn’t an accident, maybe I wasn’t meant to be happy.

Now, I might be able to deal with all of this if I had the ability to function and be “well.” But when it regularly summons all my strength and energy to do even the simplest of tasks – answering the phone, going for a walk, tidying the house – it only emphasises and exacerbates my sense of insignificance. I’m rapidly approaching thirty years of age and I cannot drive a car, I’m yet to move out of home, nine years after starting I’m still unable to move on from my minimum-wage job where I’m treated (not by colleagues) like something people have scraped off their shoe on a daily basis. Why? I suppose a well-rounded, fulfilling live and “happiness” are inextricably linked – there’s something cyclical about it. Nevertheless it doesn’t make it any easier to accept that I seem incapable of regularly just being happy. But accept it I must. I don’t know if I’ve got the energy or strength to keep battling to find longstanding fulfilment. It takes a lot to merely function and I sense it’s about to get harder – no one ever promised me happiness, so why do I still keep fighting for it? Fighting and failing. I can’t take any more failure. There is one rather bleak question that arises; if I’ve given up on happiness, which, at this point I have, is there any point in continuing at all? What am I continuing towards?

Admitting defeat and giving up on happiness.