If I really try to pinpoint the beginning of my relationship with poor mental health, I’d probably have to admit that I’d started ‘self-medicating’ at fourteen years old. It did not help; I was in prison by nineteen.
During these early years I didn’t know why I yearned for the effects of any and all mind altering substances, I was happy to bumble through life under the pretence that ‘everyone was doing it’ and it was therefore ‘ok’. In hindsight, I can see how even then I took it to the extreme, I was using this chemical (and herbal) distraction as a way to run away from my feelings. I was not trying to escape tremendous abuse, immense poverty or any other disgustingly cliché forms of modern torture that would normally be associated with this kind of story. In general, I was a happy child with no worries other than whether or not soaking a conker in vinegar would actually afford me victory over the almost never defeated Paul (AKA “Conker Champ”).
By five years old I was on my ‘second official Dad’. Our relationship was tumultuous.There were periods of great affection, ridiculous overspending (spoiling) and occasionally hours of attention. Deep down he is a wonderful man.
After that, days or weeks of nothing. My predominant memory is of an overweight angry man, drunk, sleeping in a chair after working more than seventy hours a week (not surprising really!).
He wasn’t traditionally absent, he just wasn’t ‘there’.
I’ve learned through, my meagre forty years, to love him more than I ever did, he has saved my life on more than one occasion. I mean literally, not metaphorically. When my Dad wasn’t too exhausted to try, I felt honest Love, when he didn’t, I felt alone (my Mother worked too, I have been a ‘latch key kid’ from seven years old).My Mother was incredible. She navigated, with no complaints, a chronic disease during her last two decades. My last gift to her was nothing more than to sort out her affairs and run paperwork here and there. I didn’t see her die, I just couldn’t. I regret that now.
She slowly bled (internally) to death in bed, in a hospice in the middle of the night, less than twelve hours after arriving. Her partner of twenty plus years was there. I was a coward and she had told me not to be there a few days before. This is the one time I wish I’d not done what my Mum told me. Don’t make the same mistake, please. The thought still makes me cry until I produce snot bubbles.Her story is for another day but I’ve never, and don’t expect to, meet another person like her.
I spent the best part of twenty years trying to slowly kill myself, in my late thirties I grew the balls to have a proper go.
Within the last three years I’ve tried to kill myself somewhere between six and eight times. I don’t know the exact answer, I can’t remember most attempts, sometimes waking and wondering if id miscalculated the number of tablets required. I’ve never kept the hospital bracelets from other more barbaric attempts so honestly have no true tally.
Over the years, I’ve cut my wrists, I’ve taken a smorgasbord of tablets, I’ve jumped in front of a bus during business travel in another country. I really have lost count of the times I’ve decided ‘enough is enough’.
For many people that sounds utterly mad, I’m sure they think I should perhaps be feeling the straps tightened around my torso before being shuffled into a comfy padded room (I have never been sectioned although have visited friends and family in such a facility).
The funny thing is I feel, and classify myself, as ‘normal’. I built a career, I have a house, a nice car, an incredibly loving partner, three (annoying) cats and a wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful grown up Daughter.
I’ve travelled the World for business and pleasure, I’ve spent time with the Mayor of London, various politicians and other more commercial ‘celebrities’, I’ve seen and done more than most and feel incredibly lucky.
It wasn’t until my late thirties that I was diagnosed and medicated for Anxiety and Depression and only then during a period of regular and consistent self-harm, attempts to leave this World and eventually a stint in residential rehab.
I can’t blame my upbringing, I can’t blame a drastically broken household, I can’t blame poverty, physical abuse, segregation from society or any of the other ‘tick boxes’ that I’m sure Social Workers are far too familiar with. I’m just me…and I’m probably ‘you’ too.
My story is not unique, in fact it is common, the only difference is that I’ve taken the time to write it and you’ve taken the time to read it.
During my ‘dark’ times I couldn’t move, I would drink wine, Scotch or Gin to stop me feeling. I distanced myself from the chemical and herbal distraction peddlers so that left me with the very legal, very available, very advertised nectar that accounts for 5% of all Worldwide deaths.
It worked, but only during that bliss half an hour when I’m was at my peak of nothingness. The rest of the time I at least had something to focus on or I was too inebriated to know how I feel and that was enough for me at the time.
Washing was never a problem for me, I’d happily stumble around in the shower before sliding into new pyjamas. I fastidiously brushed my teeth, sometimes five or more times a day; I’d even put aftershave on for no one but myself.
In contrast I rarely cared about my surroundings, cleaning only when I desperately needed to, ignoring phone calls or the doorbell and sleeping where I fell, including the garden on several occasions, which once prompted the neighbour to jump the fence and check if I was still alive.
My mental health owned me for a few years. I was but a passenger on the ramshackle bus of my disastrous life, unable to make the jerky, horrendous clamber up to the driver to discuss how lovely it would be if I could possibly depart at the next stop. When I finally got there (metaphorically) I reeled in disgust to cast my own drunken eyes on the image of myself. I was actually driving this s*** show!
Through consistent evaluation of what makes me happy, a change in career, a partner that understands and supports me, a focus on outwards warmth and charity I have just about found a plateau (no one is ever fixed 100%!). I work hard, I help others, I feel mostly content and useful.
You won’t necessarily need to focus on the ‘things’ I’ve listed; we are all, thankfully, incredibly unique. Your story may require different adjustments, that’s ok too.Perhaps what you do need is to spend a little quiet time writing down (not just thinking about) the things that make you happy. Nothing more, nothing less. Evaluate your life and your choices in the same way that you’d happily pick apart the story of a good book or film. You are the viewer, the reader but also the author and director. Don’t forget to play both parts.
Each of us will be here for a maximum of 100 or so years and perhaps you feel like you’ve already wasted some of that time in the same way that I have. It’s ok, sh** happens, prepare yourself to write the next chapter or scene.
It really is ok to not be ok.
It really does help to talk to someone.
It really is possible to make some life changes and to retake control of what often feels like a rudderless ship.
Nearly two years ago I had a tattoo of what I saw as my ‘broken compass’. This acts as a daily reminder that although I lost my way, I have been able to claw my way back from the brink and find direction once again.
Much Love and thank you for reading, Carl McGregor.
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