I’ve thought long and hard about how much to write, how much to reveal. But ultimately, through this part of the website I’m asking people to be honest with me about their problems – how can I expect that if I’m not willing to do the same?
The last four years
The last four years have seen me leave both married- and Cornish-life, move briefly to Gloucestershire then Cambridge (living in three different places there), back to Gloucestershire before finally settling late last year in Worcestershire. Hopefully for a reasonable length of time.
I also succumbed to the lure of employment, only to discover the company taking me on was on the brink of collapse (and it did, in under six months). After a severe dip in my mental health I came to the conclusion that burying my head in code was not good for me, and so I have closed the website development aspect of my business which is where it all began way back in 1998.
During that time I had a lot of fun and done some great things – away from work, I did my first standup comedy set, played guitar & sang in public for the first time, walked on fire, ran my own open mic night, made a host of new friends. But I also let people down, made mistakes, failed and fought the black dog of what I assumed was depression.
Down, down, down
I spent a large part of 2016 in a very low state of mind. In December I was trying to cycle home and found myself going slower and slower and slower. I could barely pedal, and felt a great weight upon me. Inside I felt nothing, and I knew I couldn’t carry on like this. I made it home, grabbed my phone and spewed out a message to my family, a fair chunk of which is below.
There are days when I wake up and just stare at my computer, for hours, and do nothing. There are days when I feel like I can change the world. There are days when I can’t even be fucked to change my pants. Sometimes I feel the anger and misery of every person I pass in the street, others I absorb happiness until I am ready to burst a thousand sunbeams.
In short, I’ve, finally, and with the expectation that everyone will say “Well, obviously”, come to the conclusion that that Johnson’s bastard black dog of depression has – occasionally – chased my heels and slathered over my being during the last fifteen years or so. I can’t change that. I can’t flick a switch to be happy. I can’t right the wrongs I have experienced or caused. But I can hope you understand why you don’t always get a Christmas card, or a reply to a message, or a smile. It’s why I sometimes appear to vanish. I have nothing but admiration, joy and happiness towards my family – existing and new – a lack of expression does not mean a lack of feeling. A lack of expression, or contact, is sometimes just the only way to get through the day.
The next morning, buoyed by expressions of support and love, I was at the doctors’ surgery. By some fluke I got the first appointment of the day and by found myself in front of not just a sympathetic, but highly empathic and knowledgeable GP. After hearing about my mood swings, ups-and-downs, and general approach (or not) to life he suggested I investigate cyclothymia – a mild form of bipolar – and suggested NHS courses to help.
I’ve been asked a lot about why I stopped writing my daily emails, if I’ll be starting again.
I wrote an email every day for two and a half years. That’s like my mantra, it’s THE thing I’ve accomplished in my life, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. But I’m not doing it now, today, because I stopped believing in what I was writing. I told people how to survive, when I couldn’t. I told people how to be happy, when I wasn’t. I told people how to be successful, when I failed. I lied about how to be true.
In hindsight, and with something of a clear mind, this is a befuddled exaggeration. I don’t think I ever directly claimed to have a perfect life, not deliberately anyway. But I’m quite good at giving that impression to people even when life isn’t going in the right direction.
As for starting again, we’ll see. I intend to write every day, and bringing everything together into this single website is a big step in making that easier. The first stage is to start editing the previous emails I sent, and get them brought across into a useful format in the Business DIY section here. We’ll see what happens after that.
Move & treatment
Living in Cambridge was fun, great fun. It gave me the confidence I needed after an unhappy departure from Cornwall. But I found it exhausting, I craved the countryside I’d spent most of the previous 37 years immersed in, and the support of my family. It was time to move back to the Cotswolds, where I grew-up, and attempt to fix myself.
After the move I read a fascinating book, The Moth Snowstorm, by Michael McCarthy. He summed up how I realised I’d felt in Cambridge:-
As humans we [are] hard-wired to expect certain things from a landscape, such as a harmony, certain symmetries, an expected relationship between objects … [But we cannot] cope in the same way with the relentless stream of signals emanating from the city; we become numbed to the plethora of noises, lights, smells all around us. Because we [are] exposed to them constantly, it simply [takes] too much mental energy to process everything that might be a threat, so we shut them all out, and that [is] the cause of stress – Michael McCarthy, The Moth Snowstorm
The NHS support, a subscription to the excellent online counselling service Betterhelp, and the undying support of friends and family proved invaluable in giving me the chance to ‘reset’ myself and get life back on track. It’s been a tough ride, but I can at last see a positive future, and an important part of that is to encourage people who struggle to speak-up, especially in the business community, where there is far too much emphasis on winning and fighting and strength.
It’s OK to say “I need help”.
Finally, I moved to a small village in Worcestershire, into a beautiful home in which I am hugely proud to live. There is space to work, space to cook and space to live, and combined with a small office in Cheltenham to escape to whenever I need, I am excited about the place I’m in – literally and figuratively.
The business, the future
I technically kept the business going all this time, although at times it didn’t really look like it. When I made the decision to drop the web development aspect of what I do it felt like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I could feel the confidence returning, and my desire to start working with people is burning inside me.
But it was horrible. Days where I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, or days when I could but then wasn’t able to do anything. Knowing I was letting people down, knowing I should leave the house, knowing I was letting myself down. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
I believe we are entering a new era of understanding and honesty. I want to be part of the movement that makes it OK to put up your hand and ask for help. And from talking to friends and contacts, I know I’m not the only small business owner who has struggled. Aun Aprendo represents that: I want to bring this delicate subject into the open.