This is going to be a different sort of blog entry. My other blogs are short and sweet and are really only about angiosarcoma and my journey with that disease. Writing about the journey has helped me in different ways. Some ways I hoped for others I discovered by chance. I want to write about something slightly different.
When I was 19 I went to college. I went to the HE college that was closest to home. The entry requirements were very low so there was no pressure on me to perform well in my A’ Levels. I was not a student with high expectations or ambitions. In fact I am not sure why I had elected to go to college at all. It just seemed to be the natural thing that you do after your A’ levels and school. It meant I didn’t have to think of an alternative.
I liked school. I had found my niche in high school by the time I was 15 and it worked for me. I had a wide network of friends and when we started going out to the pubs when we were 16/17 I went out with a group of up to 8-9 people I could call close friends. We were quite a disparate band of waifs and strays. We created some mayhem together and I made my fair share of mistakes, drinking too much and making a fool of myself but it was all good fun. I did ok at school, I was a ‘B’ grade student and I did enough to keep under the radar and just scrape by. There was little romance for me at that time, I was too shy and lacking in confidence. There was a very brief time when I had a girlfriend at school but I was so lacking in any self confidence that she got fed up with me after a few weeks. She was the only girlfriend I had at school and we are still friends. So aside from this unfulfilled physical/romantic side I was very happy at that time. The change that came when I left school was huge and I never saw it coming.
I left school and travelled a mere 50 miles up the A40 to start teacher training at college. Did I have a burning desire to teach? Not really but I liked playing with youngsters. I used to volunteer at an arts and crafts group on a Saturday morning and each week two friends and I would get covered in paint, glue or whatever medium was in use that day. It was fun. So I liked playing with children and I could help to instruct with certain tasks so teaching seemed to be an easy solution to the problem of what to do next.
Despite being only 50 miles away I never considered travelling back and forth each day. I was going to stay there and immerse myself in student life. That was the plan, until I got there and the friends who had helped me to move left. I had a room in a building called Dewi. All the residential buildings had names like Dewi, Non and Myrddin which I think were from Welsh history and folklore, Tower or Twr was the only ugly exception. Dewi was old and refurbishment was long overdue. There were two floors, the boys on the ground floor and girls on the first floor. It was laid out in two long corridors with students rooms on either side, directly opposite one another. There was a main, communal toilet and shower block in the middle of each floor. I started to unpack my frugal belongings and made a fatal flaw, I closed my door. I was anxious about meeting all these new people. They all seemed to be very loud and confident. I didn’t feel confident or loud. I closed the door on the world and in that time people started to make bonds, form new fledgling friendships. Meanwhile I sat in my room, listening to music, thinking ‘what am I doing here?’
In my mind I thought that all of these young, attractive, able bodied people were better than me. I thought they must look down on me and I withdrew into myself. The more I withdrew the harder it was to come out again and a downward spiral began. Like one of those novelty money collection bins you sometimes see, I rolled like a 2p coin around and around and inexorably down.
It wasn’t all gloom though (it just seemed that way at the time). I made some friends. Thinking about it they were all girls, at least half of whom I ‘fancied’. The word fancied is quite colloquial and childish. I tried to think of a more grown up word but fancied sums up the childish, attraction I had for practically any girl who paid me any attention. Of course I was still too shy and lacked in confidence even more by this stage. So acting upon my these impulses was out of the question, unless plied with copious amounts of alcohol and then I was just an arse.
So I had some friends. I would spend time with them and there was much laughter. I am grateful to them all now, they probably helped save my life, although I didn’t realise it at the time. So thank you to; Carla, Louise, Georgia, Hannah, Abbie, Claire, Tina, Rachel and Jayne. There are probably others but I have a terrible memory these days. All of those people brought some happiness and friendship to my life and I am grateful. They provided some friction to slow my descent.
Despite the happy times I was depressed. I didn’t know it at first. I had not really heard of the term depression as a medical diagnosis before. I skipped about 80% of my lectures, choosing to walk around the small town of Carmarthen instead with headphones in my ears, blocking out the world. Sometimes I would get on a train and visit friends in Swansea, Cardiff, Bridgend, Aberystwyth, Slough or anywhere really. It was rarely a planned trip. I just wanted to escape. I hated being at college. I had dropped out of the teacher training course after a few weeks and enrolled on a BA instead. I had quickly realised that the thought of standing in front of a classroom and teaching, particularly when I was being watched, filmed and critiqued, terrified me. I did the only BA course available at that time. I didn’t attend many of these lectures either and college became a prison for me. I would keep my head down and do my time and that was all. I don’t know how to quit so I had to just endure.
Eventually I went to see a Dr and he prescribed me antidepressants. At first it was quite a heavy dose, I was numbed to some of the pain. Soon my body got used to the dose.
Things didn’t really improve in the second year. In fact they got worse. I moved into a shared house with three girls, two of whom were friends, one was a fresh faced first year. It was a mistake. I had a huge crush on one of the girls and she did the worst thing, she was kind to me and tolerated my affection. She let me lay on her bedroom floor talking with her into the early hours. She took my calls when I rang her every day that we were apart. She accepted my gifts. I cupped the flame of potential love in my hands. It would have been kinder to tell me she wasn’t interested from the start. Unrequited love is a dangerous thing. I became frustrated and I knew the relationship would never go anywhere but I was locked in. My depression got deeper. I started to write. Sometimes pages and pages about the pain I felt in a diary. I started to use a kitchen knife on myself to relieve some of the tension. Small cuts. I would get so drunk I would black out and become more self destructive. My fists would often be swollen and deformed after being thumped into walls. It was a horrible time. I lived for those moments when I could lie in awe on her bedroom floor and cry oh oh smother me mother – (a bit of The Smiths there). I listened to dark, pain filled music made by depressed souls and sometimes I would sit in the bottom of my wardrobe, cocooned in a wooden womb.
It came to a head. I was receiving counselling. I had been referred to a counsellor through the NHS but being avoidant I missed a session so they cancelled all future sessions. Then I had started to see a counsellor who worked for a Christian organisation. We talked and I felt a little better. Then later after reflecting on the stuff we’d just talked about I felt worse. I was taking 150mg of Prothiaden a day and that helped me to sleep at least.
The counselling and the drugs could not protect my fragile ego though when one night I was finally spurned. She slammed the door on me and told me to ‘fuck off’. in hindsight this isn’t surprising, I was like a leech, sucking all I could from our ‘friendship’. It must have been suffocating for her. The rejection was all that was needed to tip the balance. It was late in the night and I tried to drown the pain with more antidepressants. I don’t know how many I took. I felt the weight of drowsiness in my chest but I couldn’t sleep. I wrote down my feelings, trying to exorcise the demons. I listened to loud music through headphones to drown out the voices. I cut myself, tiny cuts. In the morning the pain was still there and now it was coupled with the fear of seeing her. I couldn’t leave, I felt trapped in my room. I just wanted a release from my feelings and the darkness I felt. I found one in the form of a knife. After watching the blood pumping from my body for a short while I felt fear and grabbed a towel.
I felt ethereal and numb. I remember standing outside the kitchen door waiting for a pause in the two girl’s conversation before asking them for help. I had a blood stained towel wrapped around my arms and my t-shirt and jeans were also bloody. I must have been a frightening sight. One of the other girls kindly escorted me to the hospital on the bus where they stitched me up. I am grateful to her. By the time I got back to the house, it was empty. They must have decided it best that they give me space and leave me alone to pack my things. I had called a friend from home to come and collect me. The college chaplain chaired a meeting where I could apologise to the girls and they could voice their feelings. I don’t recall much about it. I think that two of the girls were there, not the one girl I was so infatuated with. I don’t know when this happened, I think it was within a couple of hours of returning from hospital. I was hollow inside. I don’t think I felt much more than shame. I left college that afternoon and I never saw the girls again. Upon returning home I visited relatives who lived in my home town to tell them what I’d done and apologise to them. I was like a little boy whose ball had broken a window. I had to explain my actions and say sorry. I felt I had brought shame upon myself and my family. It seems odd now. I was ill not a naughty boy. Such was the attitude to mental health.
I didn’t quit. I came back and started my final year again a few months later. College wasn’t any better than before, this time, I just completed the work – not to a high standard and sat my exams. It was a struggle but I completed it.
This was the start of a long history of depression. I have never quite sunk that low since, although I have come close a couple of times. For many years I had the horrible experience of waking up and going to sleep to the same suicidal fantasies. That was just part of my normal daily routine. It was bleak, it was normal. It took an awful long time and lots of hard work to get past those thoughts. I still get down from time to time. Those neural pathways are well trod so it’s easy to slip back into that way of thinking. But like a horseman, I have to notice where I’m going wrong and redirect the beast.