Where Has Jon Gone. It’s admittedly a strange name for a blog. It came about from my habitual need to wander off and explore everything; for fear of missing out on something, on anything. It’s probably the most commonly asked question about me; and although this is primarily a travel blog I guess it is also a story about my life in some ways. A very good slice of which has been bogged down by my mental demons; and this post is about just that. I felt it was time to get some truths that are hidden deep in the shadowy recesses of my mind out into the open and into the light. These thoughts are locked up in a place I’ve rarely let anyone into. They’ve peered; but they have certainly never crossed the threshold.
Why now though? Why decide to go all out and reveal how I feel over social media? Well in truth, I’m shitting myself about this and I am drawing a huge amount of strength from a friend who took that bold step to talk about their demons on their blog. I’ve seen others doing it too and although I’m not one for jumping on the proverbial band wagon, I felt this might be a really good way of exploring how I feel, and getting me to understand it all. If I can help my friends and others understand me a little bit better too then that can only be a good thing right?
5 years ago, during my last couple of years at university, I was being treated for depression. I pretty much went the whole nine yards with it; medication, counselling; self harm and suicidal thoughts and if I could describe myself from that period it would be erratically angry. I would, without warning flit between bouts of rage, melancholy, euphoria and normality. At worst I was physically and socially destructive. As you can imagine this made living with me or even being around me very difficult. One of the worst was when I smashed a mirror with a hammer. The mirror remained held together by the frame but was broken into eight pieces. I felt that when I looked into it, the disjointed face that looked back was a representation of my inner being. This wasn’t the only thing I broke, I flung everything around my room and generally smashed whatever I could get my hands on – whenever I could. I remember people telling me that I actually scared them when I was in this state.
When I couldn’t break things, I would cut myself. It eventually became so regular that it became a weekly affair where I chose to sit down and dedicate a hefty chunk of time to this – sometimes two or three times a week. I was actively choosing to destroy my body. The euphoria I got from doing this was like a drug. It was easily the most dangerous period of my life so far. In fact, I eventually stopped caring if people saw the cuts, I felt so hollow inside that I just couldn’t bring myself to give a damn. I used to leave my door open, I didn’t even try to hide it. A housemate even walked in on me doing it once. The position I put them in that moment still haunts me now. It was selfish of me to not care.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on those days and I look back at them with a mixture of bitterness and resentment for it ever happening and a strange sense of gratefulness, a form of acquiescence I guess for making me into the man I am today. It has certainly made me stronger. I often think of how I feel as being weightless in a pitch black void, just floating with no direction or purpose. To pull through is in some ways a testament to my resolve; and those that know me well, know I don’t praise myself lightly, so you know when I say it I mean it.
The worst times were at the beginning of it all and it gradually got better and after two years of treatment though; including medication, counselling and attempting to make positive changes in my life I had become well enough to come off the medication and start taking back control of my mind and body. In early 2014 I was, for want of a better phrase – clean. I felt like a different man; a man ready to take on the world who was bursting with such positive vibes that I felt that anything was achievable. It felt great.
Fast Forward Three Years…
I remember watching a TED talk about depression a few years back and the guy said that “Once you’re depressed, you’re always depressed; it’s a cycle between getting better and regressing over and over again”. On the face of it, this is not something someone who has experienced these feelings wants to hear. For me though it prepared me. It made me aware that as hard as I try it would come back and I would need to fight it all over again. Well it has come back and I’ve been in combat dusk til dawn and all the way back to dusk again; every single day of the week. It started a few months back and it has got progressively worse. I cut myself again – probably as bad, if not worse than when I did at university. This was back in February and I am still waiting for the cuts to fade to scars. It was stupid and foolish. It achieved nothing other than a temporary euphoric high. I’ve been trying to hide the cuts ever since, which serves nothing up but shame and guilt.
The feeling of something like this returning is not something you ever want. I can remember the fear of what I would think or do, the loathing I had for myself, all of it came flooding back. It was like being greeted by an old friend you hadn’t seen in ages that you once got on with so well but yet parted on bad terms with. I’ve always found with depression that a part of me wants to feel like this, that I actually enjoy this crushing sense of defeat day in, day out. I guess that is why depression is such a bastard. Trying to defeat it goes against your very instincts. You don’t want to feel any different to how you feel when your depressed. That my friends is where we are wrong. We do want to feel different – we want to feel better. We can’t let depression get it’s disgusting tendrils wrapped around our thoughts. We can’t allow it to control us and make us think that we can’t be better.
Everyone experiences depression differently but the overall outcome is roughly the same. Low self-worth, lack of confidence, loss of enjoyment for what you love, self-doubt, paranoia, anxiety. For me It’s like I’ve got several versions of myself trapped inside my body – I guess that is why I connected to the broken mirror so much. One of these versions revels in the sadness as well as the panic and chaos my emotions cause. I think of it as my Alpha, because when it comes along it dominates every other thought process and it can take me days to be rid of it again. Another part of me is the logic and reasoning. It knows what I want but doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to get it. It wouldn’t even know where to begin. It is perpetually stressed and subservient and when Alpha comes along it cowardly bows down and makes way. I refer to this as my Beta. They are in constant conflict with one another and sometimes Beta allows a bit of happiness to shine through and I feel on top of the world. However, for the most part I just feel empty like I am trapped in a void, crushing and cold. Like being in a cage while your doubts and negative thoughts stand around laughing and poking you.
There are a number of reasons why I feel like this. The biggest though is an overbearing sense of loneliness and this weekend has actually been pretty bad. I had a great night on Friday with two of my best mates but since then its been a spiral of negativity. It is a bit of a vicious cycle. I physically couldn’t force myself to leave the house this weekend even though I wanted to get out and do things- just getting into the garden to cut the grass was a strain. I would look out the window and think how great it would be to be outside in the sunshine and yet without even trying I just ignored it and went back to playing video games. I have what I consider to be pretty crippling social anxiety. I cannot for love nor money talk to new people. Being with new people stresses me and it takes me a lot of time to open up and get to know them. This makes it almost impossible for me to try and meet new people. Which is not helped much by a condition called “resting bitch face”. I look moody and generally pissed off a lot of the time and people think I either don’t want to talk or I am not interested. Which is not true at all. All the while my anxiety tells me that I’m boring, uncool, unfunny and that I am wasting my time trying to make friends. At the same time my paranoia tells me that my friends don’t really like me anyway and that it must be a bet or some joke as to why they hang around with me. I despise being complimented and will also think someone is lying when they tell me something nice about myself – despite how much I trust them. It’s infuriating. It has made me an overtly negative person who belittles them-self constantly. I have become self defeatist by nature. I know from experience just how draining that can be to work with. That leads me to being terrified of pushing people who mean the world to me away. yet in the back of my mind Beta is telling me that none of the above is true. I just can’t seem to keep him at the forefront and keep Alpha locked away.
This is just one of the issues that my mind battles daily. I live with a great deal of frustrations that really shouldn’t be frustrations at all. It is simply that I can no longer get my mind in a place to process, understand and accept things. The largest of these is the fact that I identify as gay. I know it shouldn’t bother me but it does. A part of me is happy with who I am, another wishes wholeheartedly that I was just straight no contest about it. I can accept the fact of being gay – there’s nothing wrong with it, but there is something eating away at me about it. I thought I had come to terms with it but I haven’t and I don’t know why. I just cannot explain it. I know my friends don’t care about me being gay in anyway and I become frustrated because I have no reason whatsoever to feel the way I do. Yet here I am getting steadily more annoyed and angry with being who I am and wanting, but not being able to accept myself. It’s like I’m in the driving seat of my body but it’s not my hands on the wheel. Hell whoever’s driving is all over the shop to the point that I have begun to question whether I might be gay at all… confused? Good. I am too.
That said having recently taken up climbing, I feel like I have a sense of control over my actions. I choose where to climb, I choose where my foot goes, my hand. I choose the challenge and whether I can beat it. The best bit is I can see the progress too. It’s helping me keep my demons at bay and the feeling I get whenever I go is almost euphoria. I fucking love it. This makes me over excitable because I feel like for the first time in my life I have found a real practical hobby – something that I am not half bad at and makes me feel good at the same time. It has allowed me to fight this fight harder than I could have before.
Although the way I am feeling is similar to last time, I am more melancholic than destructive now, to what I have felt before, my circumstances are different. I am closer to more of my friends and I see them more regularly than I did at university. I am at home with my family as well. I have experienced this before and because of this I can read the warning signs. I am able to walk away and attempt to control my thought processes. I tend to know my limits now. Admittedly it doesn’t always work; this weekend being a case in point. However, I know that I am a stronger individual now than I was and I’ve beaten it before so I know I can do it again.
I tend to work with logic that is blunt and to the point – very black and white if you will. One friend is very much like this too and when they found out about my recent bout of self harm – they grabbed my arm and showed me a tattoo I had done. It is an ‘X’ across my wrist – a logo of my favourite band (not the XX or Ed Sheeran mind) placed there to remind myself not to self harm ever again and as a reminder of what that leads to. I had failed. My friend reminded me what it meant and to have that put so bluntly but yet lovingly back at me was a real eye opener. I don’t ever recall telling them the meaning of that tattoo, it went to show just how well my friends do actually know me and how poorly I know myself. I’ve never told them how important that moment was for me.
It has however, got to a stage where I can no longer ignore the warning signs. I feel like I have come to the limits of what I can do on my own. I am going to need medical help to battle this and it will require some big changes in my life to overcome. So I intend this week to move forward with getting this sorted. No longer will I be the same old guy that bottles up my emotions and won’t talk to anyone. I don’t want to be a burden, but I am coming to realize that real friends won’t find it a burden because that is part and parcel of what friendship is – being able to help one another. I don’t have to force it on anyone, but if people are asking then they must care and want to help. I’ve been foolish so far as I have largely ignored these opportunities to get them to help me. As such, any of my friends that have read this far I would firstly offer my congratulations, I’m glad I didn’t bore you as much as my now infamous bridge story but secondly and more importantly if you do want to know why I feel the way I feel I encourage you to ask me – I will resist, I’ll fight back and I will probably get annoyed but I deep down I know I would really appreciate someone who keeps digging and forces me out of my comfort zone. So please get digging.
I know things will get better and I know I have a huge amount of positives in my life – just writing this has really made me feel a bit more in control. For the first time this weekend I am actually smiling. It just goes to show that depression really is just a voice in our head that want’s us to feel shit and that it can be beaten. I’ve seen friends struggle with their own demons and I’ve seen them help me during my darkest days. I once heard that one in three of us will suffer from some form of depression or mental health issue in their lifetime and as weird as it may sound there is a form of comfort to be had from that. Think of all the people you know and a third of them will statistically suffer a mental health issue at some point. If everyone on my Facebook read this post then nearly 175 of them could relate to it in some way. Honestly that tells me that I am not alone and that I feel this is the positive here. We are not alone and I know it can be beaten. Mental health is a real issue and being one out of those three means I am thrilled that it is now being taken more seriously by the world at large.
I want to leave you with a quote given to me by one of best friends without whom I probably would not have made it through my first round in the ring with depression.
“Scars are not a sign of weakness but are a sign of what I have survived”
I guess at the end of it all, it’s not so much Where Has Jon Gone. It’s more Where Is Jon Going?
Cover Photo: The “Please don’t ever go back there ‘X’ tattoo” on my wrist.