“Your music kept me alive”
~ anonymous Meat Loaf fan
The Ugly Truth
These are some of the ugliest selfies that I have ever taken! But I want to share them with you, because it is time to be upfront and brutally honest.
I am a thirty-two year-old man, who has travelled all over the globe. Visiting, living, working and playing in a diverse mix of the best and most fascinating locales our small planet has to offer. Yet here I am, curled up in my mother’s lap, bawling my eyes out because I am sick to death of feeling depressed. Literally.
In the past few months, certain dark thoughts have continued to creep their way forward, from the somber depths of my currently uncontrollable brain. It started as almost a kind of curiosity. What would it feel like? Relief? Release? Or the opposite, an ironic end to being in so much pain from feeling so numb?
I have spent much of my career pushing my body to the limits. I have worked professionally in rock climbing, kayaking, sailing, various other adventure sports and am a fully qualified snowboard instructor. Having trained and worked in Whistler, Canada, for three years; I was really good at what I did. In my final season I was even bestowed the “Pro [Instructor] of the Year” award, based on feedback from my students.
At university, I studied ‘Adventure Education’. So, as you can imagine, I am very much into my extreme sports. Mum, Dad, sorry if you are finding out this way; there have been several times where the risk may have outweighed the reward. But this lifestyle dictates playing in some testing surroundings, with real environmental risks. And hey, these sports are called “extreme” for a good reason.
I have been lost in alpine storms, camped among bears, coyotes and mountain lions, and been swept out to sea by a Cornish riptide (my first thought was actually, “Oh God, I’m gonna be on that bloody coastal rescue program!”). I have made mistakes when rock climbing – mistakes that were thankfully inconsequential due to prior planning and risk assessment, I’d dearly like to add. I once got stuck on a slimy-limey Swanage cliff and I’ve free-soloed all over Scottish crags too.
I’ve had several concussions and a couple of suspected breaks from snowboarding. Upset bikes have launched me from their saddles, to the stony daggers below. Involuntary white water swimming is often a common consequence of my stepping into a kayak.
I like to push my body. This is one thing that really frustrates me about this current low. Depression saps all my energy and motivation. And so, the vicious cycle continues its downward spiral. But lately, these pushes on my body have been coming from my mind, and under very negative circumstances.
“Your music kept me alive!”
So why the tears? The short and quirky answer would be: Meat Loaf; whilst watching a biographical documentary on his career. If you’re a fan of classic rock, I’d definitely recommend it!
Towards the end of the program, he meets a fan after performing a concert. This middle-aged lady breaks into tears when she meets the legend. Upon reassurance from Meat, she tearfully tells him that his music kept her alive.
I’m sure that I will not be the only person to say that this scene hits way too close to home. This may well be the first time that I have properly cried since I was about twelve years old! Back then, I fell out with all my friends at school. So of course, I burst into tears when mum asked, “how was your day?”
I have wanted to cry since then. Heavens knows, I have felt the need to cry many, many times. But something inside me always stopped the tears from coming. This time it was very different and caught me completely by surprise.
A huge swelling force rose its way up from my guts and into my chest. I felt like my rib cage would burst open with emotion; the only relief being to let out a huge sob. A sob which continued into floods of tears as, not only the true impact of the scene hit me, but as I came to terms with my own demons.
I was crying from despair; yet also from relief. Despair, because I have felt like, ‘I cannot go on like this’ too many times lately. Relief, because I’m not the only one; other people have been there and have made it to the other side. Relief because I am finally crying and it feels good. Perhaps years of upsets, tensions, worries, guilts, losses, deceits, stresses, irritations, frustrations and anger came pouring out from that metaphorical bottle.
Watching that scene with Meat Loaf and his fan was truly heartwarming. It is only a split second, but you can see that his natural reaction almost causes the superstar to break emotionally too. However, Meat remains professional and cleverly uses humour as a tool of empathy: “Well, I think it’s kept me alive too!”
His own story can be viewed from a fairly tragic angle; and hopefully a different perspective to the predictable storyline of Rockstar biopics that seem to be always begging for an Oscar lately.
“My friends. You. Are. Not. Alone.”
So here is the honest truth: in the last few months, I have had increasing thoughts about hurting myself. Or worse. I know how I would end my own life. In fact, there are four options that I usually consider. I can’t help it, my mind can jump there the same way most adolescent boys will randomly think about sex. And once your there, you can’t just leave again.
But just like the fan in the Meat Loaf documentary, I have things that I hold on to. Life rafts, lifelines, a light at the end of the tunnel; whatever you want to call it. This/that/it/they could be the most important thing in your life. Because when you feel that low, that distraught; when you feel that shit; and there is one thing you can cling to… you’ll hold onto it with everything you’ve got.
I could bring this back to another rock climbing analogy. There is an old saying, “If you don’t let go, you can’t fall off.” I have had many instances where super-human strength in my fingertips has perhaps saved me from a hazardous fall. Rope or no rope attached. And this is no different.
When performing with his band Disturbed, David Draiman – their front man (and one incredible vocal talent, just check out their cover of The Sound of Silence!) – has stood up and conducted experiments with his crowd. After an impassioned (and rather well-educated) speech about the afflictions of both depression and addiction; he asks each member of the audience to raise their hand if they have been directly, or indirectly, affected by either.
Watching this on YouTube, you can see nearly every member of the audience raise their hand. Each member of the band also raises a hand as an eerie quiet falls across the crowd. He concludes by saying, “My friends. You are not alone”.
** For those savvy grammar nerds amongst you; I’ve used different punctuation in each version of the quote above, because I am quoting from two different sources! Plus, it is my interpretation of the spoken verse! **
My friends, your friends
Alongside music, I find there can be many other positive things that I am able to focus upon. You just need to know where to look. For me, as a photographer, traveler and environmental enthusiast; I can always find peace in nature. I am also fascinated by scientific discoveries. From hi-tech advancements to exploring the universe… especially the latter!
But of course the biggest lifeline is always family and friends. I don’t have the largest family, but I invariably maintain that we’re quality, not quantity. I couldn’t ask for a better mother, father, sister and now there are also Pete, Diane, Greg and my beautiful little niece.
In terms of friends, I feel both very lucky and unlucky. I have some of the most amazing friends in the world. I have friends who I won’t see for several months, perhaps even years; yet when we meet again, it’s like no time has passed at all.
And that’s why I also say unlucky. I’ve lived in various places in the UK, New Zealand and Canada. I’ve done seasonal work in the USA, France and Austria. So now, many of my good friends aren’t even in the same country as I am and there isn’t really any central location that I could place myself to be closer to them all at once.
That all said and done, there is social media. Ah yes, one hell of a blessing; one hell of a curse. Today, we are looking at the brighter side though. It’s how I am able to communicate with almost all of you! It doesn’t matter where on the planet a person might be. You can still send them a message or now even call them directly. From almost anywhere. Straight from a phone in your pocket. Think about it! Is that crazy, or am I just getting that old now?
The support network
However, another off-topic tangent aside, I have been able to open up to my friends over the years. Which is the reason that I display such personal accounts so publicly.
This is the importance of a support network; and you should have the ability to select it for yourself. Whether it’s someone you don’t really know, who just happens to be standing next to you in the battle, a sponsor, a family member or close friend. Perhaps an ex-partner? Hopefully they know you pretty well and still care enough to try.
And that is one experience I had recently. A song reminded me of this particular person and feeling lonely, I reached out. We had a nice catch up and thankfully, she steered me away from the conversation getting too profound (it wasn’t where I wanted it to go, but these things have a natural tendency when you’re feeling miserable). However, she was very insistent on indicating that she still cared and wanted to hear about my news and successes. Of which, I had to reply that I’d let her know when I’m better. You know who you are, and thank you. That day, you were my lifeline.
It might seem strange to some that this was an ex-partner. But under the circumstances of our history, there is no reason for us to fall out. As previously mentioned, she knew me well and still cares enough to try. We didn’t discuss my depression at all. I didn’t want to; I wasn’t going to dump all of that on her after a few months of silence. But you should never feel guilty of being a burden. If people want to help, then they will help.
And that is my point here, which may be different for others. But for me, to be in my support network, you don’t need to have advice or answers. Like the beautiful soul above, you just need to show that you care.
Part of my problem is that sometimes I feel like I am worthless, inadequate, or a complete failure; or that I’m spent, with no future. So when someone like that, shows they care enough about me, that they still want to hear about my plans and prosperities? Then you’re really helping to protect that vulnerable sand castle from the incoming tide of depression.
Maybe this feeling was amplified for me, due to our previous relationship? I mean traditionally, shouldn’t your ex-partner hate your guts and want you to rot in hell? Well okay, that’s somewhat an extreme exaggeration, but also perhaps not far from the truth for a few people!
But in this instance, despite everything, I still meant something to someone, and that ‘something’ still garnered respect and compassion. That was my lifeline. That is what a support network is for.
To be continued…
(Skip to the fifty-seventh minute for the quote)