An Invisible Illness:
A Way Through:
Time Out of Mind.
I am not going to depress everyone too much- although I will be mentioning the ‘d-word’. Over the last few days, human beings (and them being themselves) has made me put things into focus; consider life and people in general. I have been thinking about manners and etiquette- gentlemanly behaviour and plain decency. When I look around, I see very little hope for redemption- too many humans selfishly look at their own lives. Just today, a rather embarrassing incident occurred- for a man; not me- where someone had an ‘accident’- I shall not fill in all the needless details. Suffice it to say, a couple of men nearby snickered and made ‘jokes’. Aside from the fact the person concerned had an unfortunate occurrence; the reaction (by the men) was wholly inappropriate and unnecessary. Appalled by the lack of sympathy and humanity, I have been left feeling somewhat ashamed. Over the course of today, I have gone about business in the usual manner- done my thing and been out. Throughout my day, I have seen unacceptable lack of humanity and cohabitation- people being insular and rather detached. I am not using this blog as a rant and platform for my own ideals- I am just quite shocked by how selfish people are. I am not suggesting everyone needs to hold doors open all the time; give money to Big Issue sellers- it can be seen as overkill. Maybe it is just where I am living (that has enforced this perception), but I am left astounded by how selfish and self-absorbed people can be. I love being called ‘a gentleman’- the reception I receive when doing something as simple as letting someone get off a bus (before me)- it is these minor actions that makes me smile. As much as those sort of interactions fulfil me, they also leave me angry and cold- too many humans negate the importance of looking out for others. Friday was a particularly bad day for me- I shall touch on it more below- but I visited London. The capital was pretty grey and dull (on that day), yet it was then I decided I would never live there- for years I have always yearned to be part of the London scene. It is great going to London for the odd trip- the reality of living there is just too insane. London is the epitome of closed-off and poor manners. A wonderful and diverse city, it is one of my favourite places on earth- yet there is no human connection and interaction. When walking down Oxford Street, I see thousands of people- maybe a tiny percentage of them will make eye contact or look up from the pavement. Aside from the hordes of people who walk with their eyes glued to their phones- and expect people like me to get out of their way- people pass you by without acknowledging you. On the tube, I saw an elderly couple struggle with a suitcase (trying to get it up the stairs at Leicester Square). By the time I got there, they were at the top- suffice it to say, nobody bothered to help them or offer any assistance. Too often, I walk past and see others struggle- maybe I am old-fashioned and expect too much. The point of manners and etiquette is not my main point- it is a slight diversion from my main issue- but it does neatly lead into what I want to bring up. Following on from the death of Robin Williams- which is still causing shock waves and heartache- I thought I would add my two cents to the agenda.
I am not the most elegant or intelligent person who will write about this subject, yet I want to share a very common human experience. My blog has been provoked and inspired by people telling me to ‘get over it’; thinking my low mood is moodiness and pouting- if my limbs aren’t hanging off, then how can I be ill? Statistically, I am not the most depressed person on earth- yet people always remind me how ‘there are people worse off than you’. Aside from being the most catastrophically moronic and insulting thing you can say, I know that- it is an irrelevant detail that does not help matters. Too many people are still too ignorant when it comes to depression. Being someone who has been living with clinical depression for the past fourteen years, my day-to-day life is a tiring. I have not felt truly awake for since I was 16; I have not been ‘happy’ since I was a child. It is always awkward to tell folks I am not happy- not even close. I am not going into graphic details- I have an actual point to make- yet want to fill in some blanks. The worst part of depression is not the fatigue and constant fear- it is the loneliness. Social media sites do not really help; a lot of the people I know on Facebook and Twitter I have never met- and probably never will. To be honest, I can’t really say I have a ‘real’ friend at all- someone I see regularly. I have a lot of colleagues and former colleagues; friends of friends, but to be truthful, it does not equate to friendship. This reality is hard to swallow; the jealousy that comes with this is quite heartbreaking- seeing happy couples and happy people makes me feel incredibly hollow and sad. The human connection- or lack thereof- is quite crippling. Most people take love, sex and passion for granted- if you’re getting it, then why would you think about it? Being someone whom developed depression quite severely (from a school age), my experiences have been limited- actually non-existence. Rather than spell things out, a ticket to a monastery would not be out of the question- I am a newborn baby of sexual experiences. I have not had a good night’s sleep for months; I am scared all the time; the physical symptoms of the illness are horrifying- that can range from migraines to barely being able to walk. Throw in hallucinations and suicidality, and this is the reality of my life- yet people still say I should count my blessings and don’t seem that bad. Surface appearances and book covers are depictive things- that you should never judge. I know I will go down in a lot of people’s estimations, yet I am not a closeted and home-bound bespectacled oddity- someone who probably defines what I am saying. People’s preconceptions and judgments are almost as upsetting as the loneliness (of depression). Robin Williams’ death was a wake-up call to the naïve and narrow-minded- it should not take a treasure like Williams for people to think.
Diseases and illnesses like cancer are understandably big concerns- charities that help to eradicate cancer are promoted and highlighted with regularity and huge importance. Mental illness is a stigma and taboo that is still struggling underneath the rug- something that will never be truly recognised or understood. Maybe people are scared by depression (and other mental illnesses) but a lot of it stems down to this- depression won’t kill you and you can cheer up, after all. You know what? Depression has almost killed my half a dozen times; it is not something that will ever go from my life. When you wake up every day not sure if you will live to see the end of it, it is not something that should be ignored or diminished. Social situations can lead to embarrassment. Being a tall and not-too-bad-looking chap, I get smiles and furtive glances tossed my way- songwriters are sexy, after all! The trouble is, I am almost physically incapable of reciprocating. As attracted and touched I am by flirtatious attention, I have almost flat effect a masked appearance that is more commonly associated with Parkinson’s. Maybe I have Parkinson’s- I fucking hope not- but I can come across as brooding and rude- when all I want to do is smile and be a human being. That is what depression does to the individual- it isolates you from others and turns you numb. Because of my fastidious work ethic and alpha male attitude, I am often (jokingly) called a ‘machine’- there is an upsetting truth to that. Normal people can cry- it is a healthy thing to do. I have not cried in seventeen years. Everyone feels pain to an extent; physical hurt that slows you down- I do not really ever encounter that. I am not going to list my patheticness and list of symptoms- there is dozens- but it is all leading to a point- awareness.
As much as I rallied against the pointlessness of the dreaded Ice Bucket Challenge, I recognised my indifference and anger- so long as money is raised, then what is the harm? The trouble is, when the fad and fundraising wave has passed, people forget about things- how many people have donated to A.L.S. since then? If you are going to get angry with people who critisise pointless challenges and stunts, then you need to back it up- keep the awareness going for longer than a few weeks. It is impossible to make people aware of every charity every day- too few get caught up in fads and only donate when Internet crazes and social media dominoes start rolling. Seeing others suffer makes me want to get up and do something about it- the world is becoming more unsure and scary by the day. Having got the ball rolling on a music fundraiser- that so many people have said ‘yes’ to- I need to get some money together. It will cost upwards of five grand for one day/night’s worth of music- in addition to getting everything organised. It is proving Herculean, yet I feel I must take up my own challenge- the fact that so many musicians will be playing (for so many charities) is compelling and motivating. None of us choose our births; none of us choose what illnesses we are afflicted by- at some stage of life everyone will suffer some unpleasant illness. Coming from a family line with a predisposition to cancer, I am quite nervous about my future- it seems unfair I am 31 and have to shoulder too much. Things- in that respect- will not change at all- that is the way society and people are. What I wanted to get across was the ignorance and blindness that afflicts so many. The people who will read this- one or two- and my most loyal social media clan understand everything I am getting across- too many prefer to ignore issues and brush people aside. There are people worse off than me- which in itself is upsetting- yet there are far too many that are better off (than me)- that take their lot for granted. I will wrap things up with a couple of points…
If you are in a similar boat to me, then I share your pain and you have my sympathies. Music has been a therapeutic and redemptive source of nourishment. One of my greatest pains is stage fright and nerves. I know how well I can sing- people won’t believe me but you better take my word for it- yet the voice/voices are stuck in my mind- when presented with a microphone, I dry and succumb to huge anxiety. Few will appreciate how painful that is- for someone who writes and wants to record an album, I am genuinely terrified I will not make it happen. Listening to music is one of the most affirming and uplifting parts of my life- an ergonomic and inanimate force that is as human and real as anything in the world. If you have that emptiness and hardship; if you think about ending things and getting that low- turn to music in the first case. It is not an S.R.I. or lifeline, yet it provides a huge escape and sense of relief. Above all, let people know how you feel. I am not talking about family and friends- they are not always as understanding as you would imagine- but a wider audience. Too many people are too scared to voice things like depression- that should change. Social media is synonymous with compartmentalization and selfishness to an extent- if people are unwilling to share great music, then what hope to people like me have? The thing is, it only takes a small step to make big changes- get people raising money for a remarkable cause. I am trying to think of a way for people to get involved with mental health charities- a singular action that will unite people. Like an Ice Bucket Challenge but something a little more connective and long-lasting. I will keep you abreast next week, but I wanted people to change their attitudes- depression and mental illness is as serious as any cancer or disease; every minute you are reading this, depression will claim another life.
I hope I have not depressed too many people. It is true my sex life is a blank card; my daily existence is a struggle against my own instincts. I fear my lifespan will not be that long, as I may never achieve what I want in life- a music career; marriage and a chance at happiness. In spite of all of this, it is other people who keep me alive and sane- the need to help them and connect. I circle back to my original point; the issue of manners and looking up. Too many eyes are cast to the ground; too few let the elderly struggle with shopping- too many ignore minor needs (and chances to be a better person). If you have a love life and happiness, you should be compelled to help others; if you do not, then there is a necessity to do so- nobody has an excuse to overlook those in need. Perhaps this blog is a chance to vent and let things out- the last few days have been very hard and unforgiving for me. I want to encourage anyone reading to do some small things; make tiny changes and become more conscious of others. If departed and recent pioneers such as Stephen Sutton have taught us anything, it is that helping others can bring everyone together. I know a few social media friends that go through depression; one or two date depressed people- asking me how to deal with it or telling me how hard it can be. It is not something that is easy to answer and explain- if you do not go through it, it seems impossible to put things into words. The point is, it can be scary to live with- if you on the outside looking in, the experience can be terrifying.
My heart goes out to anyone that struggles more than I do; my anger goes to those who do not give a crap- people like that do not deserve to be more fulfilled and happier than me. Things need to change and get better. I am not suggesting everyone needs to do anything physical- attitudes and perceptions need an overhaul. If you do nothing else, then hold a door open for a woman; give your seat up on a train- ask someone how they are doing (and do not ignore the answer). As I figure out a way to get more people talking, I want to offer a genuine hand to people. I email and converse online with a lot of my social media peers- I shall never see most of them as long as I live. If that is the case, then get in touch- if you need to talk; get ignored- let me (and everyone else) know. Keeping things private augment the loneliness and sorrow- social media takes away the human connection and forces insularity and selfish behavior. If this trend changes then so can people in general- only then can so-called ‘invisible’ illnesses be recognised and given their rightful attention. Until things start to turn-about; narrowness starts to expand, remember the sane words of Radiohead (and the song Optimistic): “You can try the best you can/If you try the best you can…the best you can is good enough.”
To that end…
Words and sentiments can only go a certain distance. Actions are the most important thing- when it comes to making a change. I know I have developed into a bit of a charity bore- I hope it has not become too tiresome. In addition to raising the money to stage the music fundraiser- it may take longer than expected- and doing my half-marathon events, it occurred to me: there is an easier and faster way of involving everyone to a common cause. The Ice Bucket Challenge may have had its detractors and cynics, yet it seems to have captured the imagination- raised a lot of money in the process. The problem with this proposition may be at the grass roots- getting the message and idea spread beyond my circles and spheres of influence. In the same way the I.B.C. was shared and involved thousands of people; I would like to jettison a similar idea- raising awareness for Mind. Called Time out of Mind– I hope Steely Dan do not sue for copyright infringement- it would work in much the same way. Whereas the A.L.S. awareness was about getting soaked, I thought something more personal and meaningful is in order- hence the title. There is no need to run the idea past the charity- of course they will be informed- but I do not want the momentum to die and fizzle- within a few days. I can get things kicked off, but the concept is to take 15 minutes out of the day for Mind– do something different; a new thing that has never been done. It can either be writing a new song; telling someone how you feel about them; a personal challenge or stunt- it must not take longer than 15 minutes. Whether a video is being posted- with a song, message or film piece- it can encourage artistic creativity. It can be a photo or writing; a personal challenge- crossing something off of your Bucket List- or something you have always wanted to do. Whatever the individual does, three things must occur: it must follow guidelines (no rudeness or anything inappropriate); you must nominate three other people to follow suit (who in turn must comply; then pass it along…) and most importantly: YOU MUST DONATE. This final point is the most important; even if it is a one pound donation- there is no way you can shirk this hurdle. There will be a text number for Mind– one where you can donate three pounds; one five- a link to the website- where you can donate a one-off payment; or set a monthly debit up. Anything can be involved- with the challenge- from sharing a song through to coming up with a film idea- there are no limits. The point is not only to raise awareness for a charity- and keep it in the mind- but to challenge and push the donator- not just get wet and leave it at that. I do not intend for it to be a gimmicky and fad-driven craze- it is a way to get the masses involved and donating; do something creative and put some thought and time into an idea. I am aware that the idea may not even start; if it does, it may only attract a few people- I want to make it bigger than that; get through the barriers of social media!
I hope it makes sense and makes good common sense- if it does, then get back to me. I only have a smattering of friends across the social media channels, so I am going to need a helping hand- get the idea pushed as far and wide as possible. Not looking to steal any A.L.S. thunder- or market myself as a Stephen Sutton figure- I could never be that tremendous a human; just feel it is a cool and involving way to highlight a silent disease- ensure that some funds and recognition goes to some very vulnerable and hard-off people. If it does happen, then I hope it could be big. I am not keen in recruiting a few people- I want to get across to thousands (possibly more). Because the act- the thing that each person will do- is not the same, then there is potential to circulate the idea (for many months)- have people come back to it months down the line. Perhaps not. All I do know is there are thousands like me- many worse off- that go through a daily struggle; tired of having to wear scars- to let people know what is happening inside. Nearly all of us have, or will, be affected by mental illness at some stage in our life- if you fall victim to cancer or any illness, you will be depressed. In the order cognoscenti; the bigger picture- mental illness is the fastest-growing and most common affliction on the planet. Money will not cure the problem fast; it will not necessarily cure a single person’s depression (or other mental illness)- it will help and make a difference. Whereas cancer research is the most important step (to help beat cancer); mental illness relies on other avenues- shelters, housing, councilors and many other things. Both causes are equally worthy- television and the media tends to overlook the mentally ill. It doesn’t have to- people don’t have to. I want to know what you think; whether anyone will come join in- essentially whether they can help make the idea a huge thing. Pie-in-the-sky or whatever, I will not give up on it (and myself). I only need to know this…
WHO’S with me?