I had just put the finishing touches on yet another blog.
My finger hovered over the Publish button.
But I hesitated.
I made myself a cup of coffee and then went to sit in the garden for a moment.
I had called the article I had just written The Dark (Part 1). (https://whatsadaddyfor.blog/2017/08/12/the-dark-part-1/comment-page-1/#comment-203).
The reason for my doubts were clear.
The story documented just a little bit of my experiences in dealing with mental illness. It was a small insight into a tortured world of suffering and chronic self-doubt.
I had my suspicions and fears that the moment I published that article then my life would change forever.
As soon as I pressed that button then I’d for evermore be known as the guy who had the breakdown.
Was that something I really wanted to live with? Was it a bundle of sticks I was strong enough to carry?
I thought about the effect it would have on my family.
I thought about my circle of friends. It did cross my mind that some of them might not feel comfortable with me remaining within their social circle.
I assumed they would be sympathetic but might just find the stigma a little too toxic.
I thought about how people would find it hard to accept my story. How they might not believe me. How they might think I was exaggerating, that I simply wasn’t strong enough.
That I lacked the certain amount of steel or grit that a grown man needs.
My black coffee had gone cold in the mug. I noticed that it was raining. A fine drizzle. The sort you seem to get every day this summer.
I wondered how long ago the rain had started.
I went back inside.
All my thoughts had been about why I should not go public.
But it had felt good to put my story into a narrative. An easing of pressure. Like my skull had undergone a trephination.
Logic was telling me not to go on. Emotion was making me feel like I should have done it long ago.
I pressed Publish.
Then I turned off my laptop and went out for a meal with my wife and son.
I didn’t bring my phone with me. I told myself that I needed a few hours away from the blog. A bit of family time.
What I wasn’t admitting to myself was that I was scared what what the phone might be telling me.
It was late at night before I returned home.
Then I checked my account. The post had been read a decent number of times. I had a few encouraging comments from friends.
I went to bed relieved and slept well.
I don’t really understand the the digital age. I have analogue mind and can’t really get my head round how information spreads online.
But something had happened overnight. Like the ripples on the surface of a pond when you drop a pebble, my story seemed to have spread in every direction.
The usual few dozen views had somehow been transformed into thousands. Something puzzling was going on.
I had a direct message from Stephen Nolan on my phone asking if I would talk on his live radio show.
That was fine. I’ve done my share of broadcast over the years.
But then something very unexpected began to happen. Something I hadn’t prepared for.
The messages started to come. Slow at first, but then in a glut.
A handful. Dozens. And then hundreds.
Many were people who just wanted to give me their support. This moved me incredibly.
A very tiny number were from people who wanted to hurt me. This didn’t bother me at all.
Indeed it gave many of the visitors to my site a good laugh as we played with the Little Snowflake title.
My son and nephew have taken to calling me The Little Snowflake.
But the majority of the messages were from people who wanted to share their story with me.
And there was one thing that tied all of these correspondences. The same sentiment over and over.
‘You were describing exactly how I feel’. ‘It was like reading my own life story’. ‘Your experiences resonated so much with me’. ‘I’ve been through exactly the same thing’.
‘I cried when I read it because it was so familiar’.
I heard from wives who had lost their husbands to suicide. Mothers whose sons had been sectioned.
Young men who were afraid to tell their families. Young mothers weighed down by the burden of trying to be a perfect parent.
I read every single account and was moved to tears many times.
It was heartbreaking.
But it was also inspirational.
I never received a single message that was not without hope. Not without some defiance. Not without that wonderful human attribute of basic stubbornness.
A refusal to be beaten by this thing.
Many of the messages were from complete strangers. I was genuinely humbled that they felt enough trust to reach out to me.
But just as many were from people I knew, friends and acquaintances who had glided in and out of my life.
And this was even more revealing. I thought I knew these people.
Except I didn’t.
Some were people I had been envious of. People who had everything together. People who I had looked at and thought ‘I wish I could be like that.’
Except that they were just like me.
One morning I awoke to find I had received a message from a person I had not seen or heard from in over a quarter of a century.
This person was one of the most popular and confident I had ever encountered.
And now this person was telling me an account of a life lived in fear. Of depression and anxiety.
The message finished with the line.
‘What can I do to make it better?’
I was numb. I read the line again and again.
‘What can I do to make it better?’
This was several days ago but I still can’t get it out of my head.
‘What can I do to make it better?’
When I started writing this blog one month ago I made a decision that I would respond to every person who messaged me.
It seemed the least I could do if someone read my ramblings and then took the trouble to contact me.
But what I hadn’t expected was the sheer volume. Or the unvarnished emotion they contained.
One morning I awoke to discover I had 90 messages waiting for me. It took time but I got through them all.
Some good friends warned me to be careful. Not to take too much on my shoulders. The phrase ‘compassion fatigue’ was mentioned to me on more than one occasion.
But the truth was a bond had been formed. Friendships established. A conversation started which I didn’t feel I could stop.
I must admit there were times when I was asking myself, is there anyone out there who has not been touched by this blackness?
The often used statistic that one in four will suffer a mental illness in their life now seemed like a ludicrous underestimation of the problem.
All my life I had thought of myself as different than everyone else. A man apart. Trapped by the terror of my own mind.
Now it turned out that all the other people were thinking exactly the same thing.
It was almost comic in its poignancy.
All these people interacting on a daily basis, all thinking the same things, but all to afraid to say it out loud because they think the other will despise them for it.
I was reminded of GK Chesteron’s novel ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’.
The book tells the story of a undercover detective, Gabriel Syme, who infiltrates a secret anarchist council which wants to destroy order in the world.
All the members of the council are known by days of the week. Syme becomes Thursday.
As the story reaches its climax it is eventually revealed that all the other members are also undercover detectives.
They have all kept their true mission a secret from each other and this has allowed the real anarchists to operate freely.
The truth is I have no idea why mental illness has got such a grip in our society. Perhaps the evolution of our brains just can’t keep up with the pace of societal change.
But what does seem clear is that while there are still so many who feel they can’t talk openly about it, then our ability to understand will always be limited.
I don’t have the answers and I’ve referred a number of the people who have contacted me this week onto the proper agencies or advised them to seek help.
But the question from my friend keeps coming back to my mind.
What can I do to make it better?
Let’s start by talking about it.
Sharing our common experiences. Making it easier for those who come after us.
Let’s not feel that we have to hide from our own minds.
My initial feelings a week ago that I was about to do something which would change my life have been confirmed.
It is all different now.
And it’s one of the best things I ever did.
Now I’m back to where I started. Putting the finishing touches on yet another blog.
This time I have no hesitation in pressing Publish.
* If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog or need immediate help call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000