I was a quiet child, quite introverted. I often preferred my own company. My mam often tells of family get togethers where I’d disappear at the first opportunity. I still feel like that a lot today. I’m not exactly the most social of people, often preferring to be on my own in the house than being out. The internet and social media has kind of helped me create a side of me that’s been a bit more outgoing. I suppose this has been helpful to me.
Thinking back on it, my dark moods and melancholia first started showing signs in my early teens. The early eighties were a hard time for my family. My dad was a miner as were his family, so we were hugely affected by the miner’s strikes. The Conservative government of the time tried to tighten is grip on what was already a dying industry. They wanted to finally destroy it like they seemed hell bent on doing with most of the working class industries. My dad went on strike, fighting for his livelihood. I saw the view of the picket line a few times, pretty grim. My dad would come back from visits to other picket lines elsewhere in the country with tales of violence and brutality, but also of the kindness and helpful nature of strangers.
The strain on my family was tough. Money became scarce but we tried to make do. We were given free meals at school. I remember being bullied and beaten a few times at school by some of my friends for my dad being on strike. They called the ‘game’ Strikers and Police. They would hit me and kick me, trying to break me. Kids can be cruel. The pressure on my parents became unbearable leading them to decide to separate from each other. The main difficulty at the time was because of when it happened neither of them had anywhere else to go immediately. So, my sisters stayed in their room, my mam took my room and I ended sharing a room with my dad for several months. A pretty odd situation.
After a while, we moved. My mam, my sisters and me moved a couple of miles away to Penshaw, my dad moved a bit further away to Askern, a pit village near Doncaster, where he had some cousins and had spent quite a bit of time when he was growing up.
My parents both wanted me to do well at school. I was always academically bright so I think they thought I would do well. Unientionally it out pressure on me. I don’t blame them, they’ve always wanted the best for us. I remember when I was younger my dad sat me down and said that he never wanted me to work down the pits. Not that I’d ever have the chance. By the time I was old enough my of the North East industry had been consigned to history.
Iseemed to do well at school. I enjoyed science and English. I’d always loved reading so I loved literature. I’d also developed a good imagination and a way with writing so I was in my element when we had had to express ourselves through writing. I did quite well with my O-Levels and went to a local sixth form to study further. It would prove to be a pivotal time for me.
At first it was great. I was studying Chemistry and Biology, as well as English Literature. I was hoping to go on to study biotechnology but my heart was falling more and more for literature. I had a teacher who really encouraged me and my writing, something that was slowly developing. It had started when he asked us to write a haiku. I can remember writing mine quite quickly. After the next lesson he asked me to stay back and complimented me on my writing. He offered to help me with my writing, giving me private classes at school. I relished it. I felt like it was the first time someone had seen something in me that was worthwhile, that I had some kind of talent. I’d write and write, just letting my imagine stretch itself. It was mainly poetry I was writing. I’m sure looking back on it now most of it was rubbish, but it certainly helped me. I still have quite a bit of it today. Occasionally I’ll look through it, then put it away.
Around this time I went to the doctors. I realised my mood wasn’t quite the way it should be. I would feel a certain darkness sitting at my shoulder, always there in varying degrees. I found it hard to articulate things verbally, which seemed really odd as I could easily write with metaphor and imagery to describe how I was. My frustration would lead to a point where I would lash out physically. Not at anyone but at walls, solid objects. I punched walls so much my little fingers both now pop when I flex them. I would scratch away at my arms and my chest, cutting away at it, trying to draw blood but more importantly trying to articulate what I was feeling inside, trying to physicalise my confusion and mood. Don’t worry, said the doctor. It’s common in people of your age. You’re maturing, it’s a chemical imbalance, you’ll grow out of it.
You’ll grow out of it. I wonder how many people have heard that in the same situation?
Things slowly started slipping away more and more. I was feeling removed from everyone, distant to family and friends, and started behaving quite erratically and ways that were completely out of character. I felt hollow. Everything I wanted seemed like a fiction and were unobtainable.
Then came my tipping point.
My English teacher was replaced. Instead of someone who would listen to me and help nurture me, they were replaced by someone who was purely there to get the job done. The one outlet I felt I had was gone. There was something between us that didn’t click together. We had a lot of work to do in a short period of time. I started to crumble, I started to break down. I was rapidly becoming a mess. Even I was starting to worry about myself.
I talked to my parents and we decided I would go away to my dad’s for a couple of weeks to decompress and find myself a bit. I prepared to leave by going through the last thing we had to read, Doctor Faustus by Marlow. I fell in love with the play and wrote a lot about my understanding of it, tackling it’s themes and it’s ties with other classical works, linking it with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Paradise Triology. It was hard work pre internet times but I loved it. I handed the file of my work in to the sixth form along with a short letter to my teacher saying that I wasn’t going to be there but I was still working away.
About a month later I was back and almost ready. I went back to sixth form and was immediately greeted by a shit storm and was dragged in front of my head of sixth form. I was confused as I didn’t know what was going on. My crime was the Doctor Faustus work. My teacher took offence to it, especially one part where I suggested how it could be approached in class. Apparently I was undermining her authority by it and was trying to subvert the class. Don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t organise myself nevermind stage a revolution. I faced being kicked out, just before my exams unless I apologised to her and promised I wouldn’t disrupt her class anymore.
I felt betrayed and hurt. I apologised and shrunk further and deeper into myself. It broke my spirit and I all but gave up with sixth form. I turned up for my exams but couldn’t put together a cohesive answer to anything. I went one better in the English exam by writing pure gibberish. Everything that I’d had and worked hard towards felt like it had been stolen away from me.
I was lost. I couldn’t think straight. And I felt alone. Things possibly couldn’t get any worse, right?
I would totally bottom out within months.
After the debacle that sixth form turned out to be I decided to give college a try. My heart and spirit had been broken by the reigimentation of sixth form and destroyed my love of science. College seemed a lot more bohemian to me and a lot more forgiving. My study choices reflected th8 changes in me too. I decided now to focus on artier pursuits and took up Theatre and Communication studies instead of science. But I still felt like a ghost, just shuffling through my life hoping that nobody would really notice me.
And then I completely succumbed to the dog.
Thursday 4th January 1990 I took an overdose, I’d had enough and wanted my invisibility to be complete.
My girlfriend at the time had been cheating on me with a friend of mine. That seemed to be the final straw for me but in all honesty by then I’d pretty much stopped caring about anything at all. I just remember feeling hollow and empty. Before I’d realised it that afternoon I’d taken a lot of mixed prescription painkillers washed down with some lager. I honestly don’t even realise I had done it, my actions had been processed completely on autopilot.
Within a short while I was completely out of my head. By hour two by bodily reflexes had kicked in and I threw up in on the toilet. It was odd looking into the toilet bowl, seeing vomit mixed with tablets. Surreal. I felt that my body had divorced me and I seemed to be watching everything from a little distance in both space and time. I was fucked.
Early evening, I admitted to my sister what I’d done. Phone calls were made and I was rushed to the nearest hospital, my mam coming from work and my dad driving up as quick as he could from Doncaster. I went through A&E pretty fast. There was no point in pumping my stomach as by then they were already in my blood stream, so I had to wait it out.
I have a really vivid memory from the time, something that’s burned so much in my memory that I can’t remember now if it was real or if I’d imagined it. I was being wheeled down a hospital corridor. My long hair hung limp from my head. My flesh seemed yellow and clung to my bones. I felt completely emaciated, my skeletal arms and hands rested upon the arms of the wheelchair. My immediate surroundings made me feel like I was looking through a fish-eye lense, a distorted bubble while the corridor ahead headed off to infinity.
I was taken up into a ward and placed into a chair beside a hospital bed. I wasn’t allowed to sleep, I just had to let me body sweat and expel the toxins out.
My vomit was black by this point. It was like I was throwing up tar. By then it was a mix of liquid, charcoal and lumps of my stomach lining. My throat burned as I’d been sick that much. All I could do was sit and think. All I could see was the hurt and worry on my family’s faces and eyes. I knew they couldn’t understand why. Who could? All I could do was sit like a skeleton king on my throne and watch the night slowly dissolve through the hospital window into a pale washed out dawn, wondering what would come next.
To be continued…..