Part One – Feel
I was watching a news story where an amputee (one leg) used his disability to raise over a quarter of a million pounds for charity and go some way to finishing his Fifty-Two by Fifty-Two bucket list, which included such things as climbing Everest etc. And while I applaud the guy for his commitment, (he’s got so much commitment that he’s actually up for a nationally recognised reward), and his support of others like himself which he uses to help raise money for other amputees to get their own cool, well fitting legs so that they can too can also follow their dreams. And yet I sit here day after day, legally disabled and I’ve got no commitment. No commitment for anything at all.
I wondered why would the public get behind the afore mentioned amputee so much yet I can’t get five likes on a Facebook post about mental health and I can’t get more than three comments on a post asking my friends to sign a petition against Terry Richardson, an awful (read bad) photographer that shoots for magazines like Vogue yet uses his celebrity to sexually abuse models, and the media that uses his work (and supports the #metoo campaign) knows this yet hypocritically does or says nothing? And I also wondered does the above amputee’s amputation make him more disabled than I, and if so, why so?
They say that perception is 9/10ths of reality. I’ve said it before about photography: The worst photographer in the world can spend money to turn up to a gig with a quality DSLR, a few spare professional lenses, a fake Rolex on his wrist and a MacBook Pro and the client sees a professional photographer. I could (the pre depression/anxiety me), (not trying to big myself up, but rather trying to illustrate a point) probably turn up with an iPhone and take better composed and lit photos, make the customer feel more comfortable and give that customer an overall better and professional service than the bad photographer with all the gear.
So an amputee looks disabled whereas someone with mental health problems looks like you. (Unless so severely mentally disabled they’re ‘window-licking’ and riding the special bus) Generally though, a person with mental health problems looks like the person next to you on the tube, or the person opposite you at the bar. Being mentally disabled generally has no outward sign, no ‘look’, you don’t get a cool, Terminator style, carbon fibre leg. You certainly don’t get people saying about you; “he’s so brave, motivated, strong, admirable etc” and sure, I’ll back his attempt at Everest because of that cool leg.
As a ‘depressive’ even your best friends shun you eventually let alone workmates and the public. I can think of many friends lost to my depression. Even one that said she’d love me forever (platonically) and we’d always end writings together with the phrase ‘to the moon and back’ avoids me now. (Like the last friend that ‘loved me’). She disappeared from social media one day, from other friends of mine as well, she was well loved, but she had her demons too… Disappearing like she did, for so many years now, she might even have died, or maybe she moved from California to Sweden to be with the man she loved? No-one knew. Until recently. I found a live profile of hers on Instagram. It wasn’t there while I was logged in, but there it was updated two days before when I was logged out. Her photographical style was unmistakeable. The profile was from Sweden and I was blocked from it. Now I end things with ‘to the moon’. Nothing is going to come back from it. The only happy thing to take from the story is supposedly the move from Cali to Sweden happened and I pray that she found her happy place.
I’m happy to lose people to their own happiness. I’m sad when they just shun me because I’m toxic. I’d like to think she found her happy place.
I’ve said many times to my Dad that I’d rather have lost a leg than feel like I feel all day, every day.
Reading that, how does that make you feel about me? That I’d ‘honestly’ rather lose a leg than suffer acute depression and anxiety, Asperger, self-harm and be ‘actively suicidal’. (Actively suicidal: A medical term meaning to have a plan (method) with which to commit your suicide and you think about committing it more days than not.)
But me, I’m not trying to climb Everest, walk across the North Pole, cycle across America. I’m not asking for your money. I’m asking for your time and support so that I can write a book that tells my own story and maybe helps others in a similar situation. Sometimes I’m just asking you to sign a petition or react to a Facebook post.
The loss of a leg means coming to terms with many things: Home as a confined space; Maintenance of symmetry and dignity in social relations; Reconstitution of bodily confidence; Hope and willpower as driving forces; Establishment of a meaningful role in life; Dependence on care and rehabilitation initiatives.(1)
Depression, anxiety and Asperger combined lead to similar symptoms, similar but different. So let me tell you what depression means to me if you can be bothered to read on and how it affects my daily life. But it’s going to take some work from you to fully appreciate what I feel. To understand. Or, like signing a petition, is that too much to ask from you?
I need you to think back now, here and now, to the loss of that ‘one’ special person in your life, be it a lost love or beloved relative. I mean that really special one, the one that still hurts, the one you still miss. The person that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with or the relative you turned to when no-one else would listen or could help. In my case I have both, a girl I wanted to marry with all my heart and my Grandad, one of the last few ‘Gentlemen’, who’d suffered at the hands of the Japanese and still came back a respectful man who held down high positions at work, supported his family, doffed his hat at women in the street and to passing funereal processions and taught me chivalry amongst many other things on our early morning walks through Spanish fish markets and along Mallorcan streets during our many holidays together.
I fucking miss them both. The lost love, and my Grandad.
Think about your own similar losses and imagine them freshly minted. Remember how they left a numb feeling in the pit of your stomach that boiled and roiled, That even though numb was also too a physical pain. It physically hurt knowing you’d never share closeness with that missing person again. Take that pain now! Relive it, roll it around in your mouth, taste it. Feel it churning the pit of your stomach, let yourself well up with tears remembering again all the things that person meant to you but most of all feel that painful numbness in your stomach, feel it tightening your diaphragm and making it hard to breathe, making you gasp for breath Feel that pain once more and start the circle over again. ‘Know’ in your heart that life will never be good again, you’ll never feel happiness again, life has been as good as it will ever get and it only goes downhill from here. LIVE that pain.
Done it? Feeling it? Good!
‘That’ is what depression is. Forget ‘woe is me’ as you put the back of your hand to your forehead like a parody of a bad period drama and state “oh, I’m so depressed”. Depression feels exactly as I’ve just described, that gnawing pit of hell boiling in your stomach where the only light at the end of the tunnel is a train heading at high speed towards you and you ‘know’ with all certainty it will hit you as there isn’t enough room to the sides of the tunnel to escape it. And far from killing you, it’ll only leave you more disfigured, broken and disabled than you already are. Death is for the suicidally brave or the lucky and I’m far from that lucky. Depression is the absence of hope. A black sticky mire. Little wonder Churchill called it his ‘Black Dog’.
Even my close family and friends know that one day I might kill myself and not to blame themselves because they all did the best they could. Some, my Dad for example did all he could and more, has been the most surprising support of all. The least likely yet the most caring. He’s gone above and beyond what anyone could ask for yet still he knows that one day I might find life unbearable and take my own, end the pain in one extra large dose of Tramadol, Fentanyl and Morphine washed down by a bottle of ‘overproof’ rum. (My actively suicidal’ plan). Forget all that bull about suicides go to hell. I’m a Christian and believe and regularly ask forgiveness for some of the shitty things that cause my PTSD and anguish. That belief and asking for forgiveness is enough to get me into Heaven and its promised happiness. But. If I’m wrong and religion is just a man-made fantasy to give us hope then I’ll just sleep forever free from dreams and pain. Suicide is a win-win situation. I can’t go wrong with suicide and Pascal’s wager. I’m certainly brave and willing enough but Sid (my dog) needs me at the moment. I’m his friend and his Alpha. The number one in his life and he’s the only one that won’t understand my death. He’ll not grasp the concept of release and will only feel loss at my absence. How could I do that to my best friend when all that he’s ever given me is love and he’ll only feel the sense of loss that loss brings? I just can’t…
So if my day to day existence is one of that roiling pain at the very centre of my core, what does my head do? Where is my head at and how does it try to make sense of that pain and deal with living with it? Every day. Living with that pain not until I get over my lost relative or meet my next special someone but all day, every day for the past fourteen years. Fourteen years of that pain that I asked ‘you’ to remember and feel again but that is already subsiding in ‘you’ but never me, once more.
<edit>Actively suicidal: For the first time ever (20th January 2018), I’ve just finished writing my last will and testament and my suicide note? I’ve never felt depressed enough to write a suicide note, but now I am, and have.</edit>
Part Two – Me
I’m currently (at the time of writing this) letting a friend down, I owe her some photos. I’ve taken them but for the love of God I can’t post-process them no matter how much I want to. It’s easier to sleep all day every day or play video games. The last time I went out and did something positive was exactly a week ago. In the seven days since, I haven’t showered, washed, changed my clothes or shaved. I often sleep in my unchanged clothes in a bed that looks like a tar pit due to the fact a muddy unkempt dog sleeps in it too. I’m hating every advert for Christmas with a passion. I’m scared of everything. Even when I do go out I take a combat knife big enough to skin an elephant because of my anxiety. Yet inversely I’m actually scared of very little and certainly not scared of anyone that might try to hurt me or mine. The saying to never corner a wounded animal rings so true as I wrote that. Never antagonise a man with nothing to lose. What ‘have’ I got to lose if I stab a would be attacker in the head? What is prison to someone with suicidal tendencies? Prison is just another cage no different to my self imposed one. At least in prison they’ll control my diabetes rather than letting me slowly use it as a long and painful way to die by not having the commitment or willpower to control what I eat or drink, at all.
I steal when I’m out. Not from friends or people, never from friends or people, but from organisations, shops. from Oakley and Starbucks only. Only but always. Not because I need for anything but because the rush of adrenaline changes my mood for a short while and because it amuses me that I focus on just two brands, one of which is pointless. How many fucking Starbucks cups and beakers is too many? At least I like Oakley sunglasses.
I self harm, blatantly by cutting and inadvertently by my lack of care of myself. The cutting is never for sympathy, it’s often on show but I never bring attention to it, it’s just because my inner forearm is the easiest place to cut. People that know me pay no attention to it and know that I abhor platitudes and sympathy. I do it because like the adrenaline from theft it makes me feel different. Cutting and often a spray of aftershave or squeeze of lemon causes a bright flash of pain, the complete opposite of the numbness I feel all day every. Clean, bright, white, shiny pain that overrides the numb. The cutting is never uncontrolled, never done in anger. It is controlled and deliberate. Cross hatched to fit as many cuts as possible on my forearm and cross hatched to overlap and cause slightly deeper welts at the points where the cuts cross. Never too deep but never quite superficial either. Think of the depth as somewhere between a paper-cut and a slash. I’ve always got a blade sharp enough for control. Whether it’s the eponymous box cutter or a scalpel blade. Never cut with a blunt knife! Never cook with a blunt knife either. You’re more likely to hurt yourself with a blunt knife, amusingly enough.
I impulse buy, not because I need anything new but because knowing something new is coming through the door tomorrow is a short lived salve for my pain. The same endorphins released by gambling and serial dating are released by impulse buying. It’s an addictive, seemingly harmless way of self medicating but just as addictive as drink or smoking. And just as hard to give up. You could say that compulsive (let’s really call it what it is) buying is harmless where drink and cigarettes actually have a detrimental affect on your health. While that’s true, the money could certainly go to better uses. I could save it, I could use it to pay for dog walking and sitting, I could eat more healthily and I could certainly do with the space that buying shit all day takes up. You can only play so many games a year, I think if I never bought another game for the next year I would have enough games to see me through the next twenty years if I aimed to complete everything.
My garden is more often than not overgrown and my flat remains undecorated even after three years in London. When I say I don’t go out I mean I don’t go out. Not even into the garden. Not if I can help it. Both the front and back garden need attention. The front garden is a bone of contention as there are three people in this building and no-one cares what the front looks like seemingly apart from me. When I have brought it up with them, that from the steps down to my basement is my responsibility but the stairs upwards and the shared area would be theirs I am met with blank stares and outright refusals. How does that make me feel? I already struggle but to be ignored when all I want to do is improve the front for all of us is freakily annoying and makes me rebel and not do anything. Perhaps we all feel like me and we’re all tramps? A building full of mental health sufferers that refuse to tidy the front garden. One day we’ll be fighting our way through empty crisp packets and nine foot tall Buddleia trees. At least the butterflies will be happy!
The back garden is mine and mine alone to deal with. Even so, I find it so hard to go out there. It isn’t like my Cornwall garden where only one house overlooked me and the garden was big enough to find privacy if I wanted to. In London, at least a hundred windows (I counted) overlook my property and again, unlike Cornwall my garden is paved, doesn’t overlook the Percuil river and the sun is mostly blocked by trees of some description and the houses next to and behind me. In Summer it isn’t a garden for sun-lovers, it’s a garden for digging weeds from in between the paving stones. In fall it isn’t a pretty garden with an Acacia tree changing colour, it’s a nightmare of wet leaves and hidden Sid poop. Even the most diligent of gardeners would struggle with the amount of leaves that get deposited over my few square meters. I tried originally to have an area that would be similar to a mulching/recycling plot. It filled after the first winter and tree/rose pruning. Now, in my aim to look after the environment I have an area overflowing with leaves and branches. So much so that the bench I used as a boundary has now become part of the mulch and is slowly rotting away. It’ll make a great home for stag beetles eventually.
My sleep-hygiene is absolutely screwed, I sleep at odd hours (I’m editing this at 03.09am) or don’t sleep at all. At this very moment I am awake since 4 am and a Paloma Faith concert on BBC catch-up. I feel that I’ll have to go and give the garden a quick go over after writing this if I don’t go to bed (I didn’t). Yesterday I woke at 9.30 am when Lolita dropped her dogs off. I went back to sleep until 11.30 am, fed Sid and the girls, played some Destiny 2 on reset day, went back to bed at 4 pm. Woke at 7 pm to feed the dogs again, Lolita came and left by 10.30 pm and I fell asleep. As already stated I was awake again at 4 am, sore from being asleep on the wooden floor. This was a pretty average day. Some days I might sleep for a full 24 hours only waking when Sid feels like eating (I keep the backdoor open for him for toilet) or I might be awake for 24 hours. It seriously makes you tired even when you spend so much time asleep. It’s no lie that we need eight hours on average and at regular times. I feel like I live in a world of permanent jet-lag. I’m never quite sure what time it is apart from being guided by what’s on the TV. If I’m watching Jeremy Kyle it’s generally morning, if I’m watching Jeremy Kyle and there’s a guy in the bottom right signing for the deaf it’s between 12 am and 9.30 am. If someone is quizzing or selling their old shit at auction it’s some time during the afternoon. It’s no way to live a life.
My health lies in tatters. Eventually my hope of having a limb amputated will come true. The dietician I should be seeing refuses to see me until my mental health is sorted. In the mean time I live on a diet of chocolate, cake, processed scum with chips and beans and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Plus more coffee with a side order of tea. The diabetes were it human would be having a field day. Crisps, chips, battered fish, pizza, burgers, sausages, milk shakes, chocolate ice cream, nothing is off limits to the depressed and slobified diabetic. My blood sugar level reads like a darts score card (180!) but due to the 30 odd tablets I take a day my cholesterol level is apparently brilliant. The diabetes and the neuropathy are the main worries though. Neuropathy is dead nerves… The same thing as missing limb syndrome. Because the nerves are dead the brain gets confused and makes them hurt or something. The same as if they were actually missing. This pain is like burning pins and needles although parts of the limb actually don’t feel anything. Confused yet? To combat the burning pins and needles, so the pain doesn’t become a distraction and the only thing I concentrate on (it’s THAT painful at times) I take Tramadol by the bucket load. At least sixteen 50mg tablets a day. I’ve actually taken thirty-six 50mg tablets in a day just out of curiosity. As an experiment the results were inconclusive: I actually felt no different to normal. But. Even 16 a day must have some negative effect? Even the Dr. at the pain clinic this week said that sixteen would put a horse to sleep so must affect the way I move through life and think. I think she was saying that I’m the equivalent of always being on an opioid bender. As opium is a narcotic the likelihood is that my mood is completely suppressed. With the help of a rehab clinic she wants me off of the Tramadol or at least on a licensed dose; two to four tablets a day. Maybe it’ll make a difference especially if another pain killer with anti-depressant effects is doubled it might have positive results. I’ll have to wait and see.
My career lies in tatters due to my inability to commit to anything or complete anything. My book remains partly written, the photography for it mostly unphotographed. My portfolio remains old, I have few fresh ideas anymore and the ones I do have remain just that, ideas. I feel like the media, however respectful I am has made it hard to approach new models without seeming creepy. I do lack a few things, lights and back-drops for example that are beyond my means that would enable me to control light well enough to be seemingly little more than a man-with-camera. I thought about a go-fund me page but seriously, if I can’t get people to sign a petition how am I going to persuade people to give up £3000 or so? Especially when ‘friends’ have recently made a mockery of the GoFund me site (similar funding sites are available) and such by asking for leisure products and holidays from myself and mutual friends.
I’ve been on my own for about seven years now, not because I want to be but because I want a partner not a nursemaid or someone to heal me. I want to be an equal part of a relationship and not the lesser half. Even there I sabotage myself because truly, the girls I fancy are the same ones I’d photograph. Women of my own age I see as friends only, not as potential partners. Women in their mid 20’s to 30’s appeal to me far more. Perhaps I don’t want the same baggage as I come with or perhaps I need the same spontaneity that I come with. Perhaps I need a Tekken competitor as much as I need a bed-partner and travel/life companion?
Bear in mind please that these effects of my depression are only skimming the surface. If I were to write everything I feel I’d be writing a book. Wait… I am meant to be writing a book on this. But maybe, just maybe, if you read this far you’ll have a better understanding of me and what I say and do. Sure, I’m not politically correct but I don’t care for political correctness. It makes me feel icky. I’m respectful and polite in my own way, a way that was taught to me by my Grandad. What was good for the 40s and 50s when men were gentlemen is good enough for me today. I might make the odd off colour joke about a particular woman but never in bad taste or meant to offend. I might make racially/physically/religiously inappropriate comments, but again, never to offend and often because I believe we have become TOO politically correct and I’m never going to stop calling wusses gay. None of my gay friends are wusses and very very few of them are camp. They know that my use of gay isn’t so much an insult to homosexuals and lesbians rather it’s an insult to people that I believe are the caricature of camp gayness and as such get the gay moniker thrown in their direction. I’ll also never get why black people can use the word ‘Nigger’ but white people can’t or why freedom of speech only applies to those that generally lack it. Let Muslims tear down a Christian religion or burn the UK/US flag outside the US embassy but question whether Sharia law is relevant in Manchester and the thought police will be knocking at your door at four in the morning and ‘racist scum’ will be sprayed across what remains of that same kicked in door.
If I jump into the Thames or steal deck-chairs/sunglasses or use an inner tube to fire conkers at people on a river path you have to cut me a break. Sure, I’m probably in the wrong but I’m also probably having a ‘manic’ moment (meant psychologically) where my thoughts translate into actions I cannot control. I think, therefore I am. I think, therefore I say. At these times no offence is intended but I’m doing/saying the only thing I can even if you personally feel it’s wrong. Please cut me a break. It’s physical Tourettes. Cuntprickballsacks!
Part Three – Bleeding…
So there you have an Andy breakdown. I am FAR from perfect. I value each and every one of my friends and take people as I find them. I judge by my own standards. We all do. If you’re a woman and want to grow a beard or have hairy armpits, have hairy armpits (just don’t show me). If you’re a male plus size model I don’t give a toss. Be a male plus-size model (just don’t eat my cake). If you want a diet coke. Have a diet coke. I believe in freedom of speech. Even the Social Justice Warrior and the Bedroom Cyber-Bully should have free speech. But with a caveat: There was a description suggested this morning for internet etiquette that I loved: 1) Would you say what you’re saying online to the same person face-to-face? Pretty much ninety-nine times out of one hundred, if I say something negative online I’d rather be saying it to your face. 2) Is the article that you’re going to comment on clickbait designed to elicit a negative response? If yes, don’t click on it and deny the owner of the site the financial marketing/advertising revenue generated by your click. If enough people remember this the demographic of internet marketing will change. 3) Just think before you get involved in an online debate. We unfortunately live in a decade where people are offended or triggered by everything, even by being offended. People are thin-skinned and our overt political correctness has led to virtually any speech becoming un-pc in some way. If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing. This won’t apply to me as I’m Aspergic but not all of you will have this excuse. Try to be kind. Even to the spazzers like me.
I’m definitely not saying be sympathetic or patronising to me. Even last night my dog sitter asked me what makes me so special when we all have problems and are all dealing with our own demons. Nothing makes me special. My only failing is that I’ve been knocked down so many times that this time I’m finding it hard to get back up again. A friend once said that that was what she most admired about me; my ability to get back up and reinvent myself slightly after every knock-back. Only an idiot would try the same thing time and time again and expect a different result. No? Isn’t that the definition of a moron? Keep repeating exactly the same thing expecting a different result? While a true genius is someone that knows a little about everything not everything about something.
This time, after selling everything I hold dear after a business failure, the loss of all my syndication money after my blasphemous stint, a search for redemption and faith ending in a proposed exorcism, the loss of an important long-term relationship, the loss of four important friendships, the miss-reading of four potential (in my head only) relationships with girls I really (really) liked, a total relocation from one of the prettiest places ever to somewhere not pretty at all, (for work and bucket-list reasons that so far have failed) and chronic illness. I’m finding this one extremely hard to bounce back from. I’ve also lost the support of the people that would normally help me bounce as even the best of friends have limits. It fucking hurts. And as that hurt becomes deeper it becomes a depression. It’s more than a sadness; far deeper down that dark pit or despair and far less forgiving.
Since 2004 it’s taken it’s toll. It’s cost me jobs and businesses. I been precious about my work to the detriment of a business, I’ve nearly worked with Santa Cruz surf and skate, I would’ve been the first person in the UK to shoot advertising for them. I’ve worked with some great models, some became friends, some of those friends I’ve lost, I’ve dated some real stunning girls and lost them, I recently found I was shooting glamour before 1986 but didn’t become a photographer for real until about 20 years later. I’ve met a bunch of my punk heroes, most are amazing but John Lydon was a prick. Good or bad I’ve stopped bouncing back for a while. I cycle and swim for my health but think cycling is a waste of time; riding in circles with no purpose. And swimming will only benefit me (really benefit me) when I’m back home in Cornwall or can effectively do the front crawl again, (where did that ability go?) I don’t think London will ever feel like home again unfortunately but at least I recognise that now. Cornwall has become my spiritual home. I want to be back by the sea. I want to be able to take someone back home with me and start again. But only after I’ve been able to finish what I started here. In London.
I pray for my depressed friends to recover, those that I know of at least (Richard), I pray for my lost and nowhere to be found loved ones (Zana) and I pray for my friends that no longer want to be friends; (Gayle and Hollie but especially Kate). I often pray for them more than I pray for myself. I pray for those that have helped me along the way (Jo, Di, Ros and Pete). In fact, at one time of another I pray for all of you.
Pascal’s Wager again… What do any of you have to lose if I pray for us all? Bear with me please.
(1) Living with clipped wings—Patients’ experience of losing a leg: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3797366/