It seems like a long time.
My legs are hanging limp over the sharp edges. The waves lapping at my boots like a friendly dog. Darkening the ankles of my jeans.
I’ve been here before. Countless times, probably hundreds.
It’s one of my favourite spots on earth. Pale sand which stretches on until it fades into wild yellow grass.
But it’s the rocks which have always fascinated me the most. Their rugged wild shapes. Depending on your mood they can appear sinister and angry or placid and reassuring.
Many times I’ve sat here. Finding patterns in the outlines of the stone, imagining how the waves have shaped them over the centuries.
Even the most solid formations wear away with the constant pressure of time.
It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. And there’s not another person within miles.
It’s perfect for my business today.
Yes, I’ve been here hundreds of times. But never quite like this.
I’ve thought about it enough. Now it’s time.
I’ve always known this would be the location. Right from my youth. Some sort of juvenile sense of the mystical importance of place.
Just lift myself up and slide off the rock and all the pain goes away.
The endless torture. The blackness of the days.
The truth is I’m just tired of being scared all the time.
Nobody can say I haven’t tried. I’ve taken the pills. I’ve been in hospital. Saw the shrink, the counsellors. I’ve stopped drinking and smoking, started exercising, changed my diet. I’ve tried meditation, mindfulness, behavioural therapy. I’ve done it all.
When I was allowed to leave hospital I had to rebuild the wreckage of a life. As a parent, a husband, a professional.
Nothing would ever be quite the same because everybody now knew I wasn’t invulnerable. There stitching of the cloth had unpicked a little.
So I decided I would be better. Stronger.
A better husband. A better father. A better journalist. I would simply work harder at everything in my search for perfection.
The day I returned to work was one of the toughest of my life. The macho culture of the newspaper industry does not sit with this sort of vulnerability. I knew there would be rumours about where I had been, why I had been away.
I marched in as if it was a normal Monday morning. I smiled at those who looked up and met my eyes, daring them to hold the gaze.
Within a couple of weeks I was back helping to run the place. It was as if I’d never been away.
If anything I was even louder than before, more severe. As if I was proving something to others.
So the weeks went on as before.
And the dark feelings soon returned. The heaviness. The fear.
Until I just can’t do it anymore.
It’s bad enough to fall in life. But when you fall, admit you’re not strong enough, do everything they tell you, get back up….and then you fall again.
That’s the most crushing failure. The utter demoralisation of trusting the system, raising your hopes. Waking up in the morning and thinking, I can do it. Only for it all to fall to pieces again. None of it works. There is no help. It doesn’t get any better.
This is the way it’s always going to be. Unless you do something about it.
So here I am sitting on the rocks, watching the waves below. The foam rising off the surface.
I’ve always had a fascination with this. An obsession.
How it is not to be anymore.
Not to feel. Not to think. Not to care.
Not to love.
It’s terrifying but compelling. The tragic scene that you can’t look away from.
I shiver a little and check my watch. I’m supposed to be in work now. It won’t be long before I’m missed, before the questions start.
I light a cigarette. I said I’d quit but, well, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
I take out my phone.
The mobile phone. My link to every other part of society. The networking tool that binds us all to each other.
I drop it into the water.
There’s barely a splash and it sinks soundlessly to the bottom.
I almost smile at the corny melodrama of the gesture. Even now I can’t resist the urge to turn things into a grand narrative. A neat story.
But it doesn’t matter now.
I shift my position. As if to move forward.
But I don’t.
I wait a few minutes. My mind is not as clear as I imagined it would be. I smoke another cigarette.
I go to move forward again.
But still nothing happens.
My first thought is cowardice. I’m managing to fuck this up as well.
But it’s not fear. It’s something different. A feeling. Almost like a force stopping me from going on.
Of course I think about my family at this moment. What it will be like for them? But, the truth is, when your mind is this diseased you are able to get round this question.
It’s easy to convince yourself that they’ll be better off without you. To tell yourself that you don’t want to mess up your child the way you messed up yourself.
No, in reality, as I’m sitting here paralysed on this rock, my feelings are about myself.
It’s an instinct which is holding me back. It’s impossible to define. The best way I can think of expressing it is a belief coming out of my core that I’ve got more to give. That, if there is a purpose to this whole fucking mess, then I haven’t yet fulfilled it.
And that’s the thing which cracks me. I wasn’t crying before because I didn’t feel anything.
But now I am.
Because if you put your hand deep enough into the driest sand you can sometimes find a little moisture.
That I haven’t given up on myself.
And what had seemed completely smooth just seconds ago is now rough like the back of my hand.
And there’s a whole heap of new problems. The anxieties and pressures and fears begin to flood back in.
How do I kickstart this thing again?
I’m supposed to be in work an hour ago. Instead I’m sitting 50 miles away from the office in wet, muddy jeans.
I stand up and peer into the dark water. I’m looking for my phone. I can’t see it.
The small black slab of plastic and metal which connects me with every other person I know in this world.
And it’s gone.
So much for grand gestures.
I wipe mud off the arse of my trousers. Then I begin to walk back along the beach.
And as always my mind is desperately trying to make sense of it all. To find a point to what has happened.
But it’s beyond me.
So I think I’m going to have to go back to the doctor. Get stronger pills. More counselling.
But I’m afraid because these things didn’t work before.
And now a thought I had while sitting on the rocks comes back to my mind. ‘This is the way it’s always going to be. Unless you do something about it’.
So now, for the first time, I ask myself why didn’t the treatments work. Was it because of my innate, maddening refusal to accept change? To face up to my own vulnerabilities? Yes, I said and did all of the right things. Ticked all the boxes.
But how much of the process did I actually believe in? How much personal responsibility was I prepared to accept?
I can’t be better than I was. I can’t be stronger. I’ve been down that road.
And that leaves me with nowhere to go except…
Except to be worse. To be weaker.
And maybe that’s ok. Maybe accepting that is the first step in changing myself.
I’m Jonny McCambridge and I’m just not strong enough to cope on my own.
There I said it.
There’s a silence.
And then the world moves on.
I dander back along the beach, seeing lots of things for the first time today.
I notice a single, solitary line of footprints in the sand. Footprints which are heading towards the rocks.
Now there’s another line of footprints. Going the other way.
* If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog or need immediate help call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000