Warning! This is not my usual unfathomable nonsense about music or films, it’s the unedited, off the cuff version of something very personal that I recently posted on Facebook however I also thought it was interesting enough to merit a blog post. I fully expected to be metaphorically patted on the head and told to have a little sit down and a nice cuppa, however, the response has been overwhelming. It has also given me a renewed sense that most people are genuinely kind and loving.
On August 2nd 2018 it was exactly 40 years since my dad died. He was only 38. I was just about to turn 15.
So, this particularly noteworthy anniversary, combined with the death of a childhood friend last week, has prompted me to share my story with you. And if, after reading my words, just one of you finds enough courage to speak to someone about your own problems, I’ll be a very happy man.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here goes…
Somewhere in between my parents’ bitter divorce and my dad’s premature death just a few weeks before I started my last year at secondary school, an important part of my mind became cast adrift and lost in a horrible, oppressive fog.
Being a sensitive child slap in the middle of an imploding marriage was really tough for me, so much so that even though it wasn’t a great moment, when my dad did eventually move out, it was something of a relief; at least there were no more rows that I had to pretend not to hear or stony silences that I had to sit through. Sadly, this relief was short-lived and things were about to get a whole lot worse.
During the following months, not only did I have to deal with my mother’s two suicide attempts, I was also the lucky recipient of a letter she left me one evening after “going out for a drink with a friend”. The letter stated that she couldn’t cope with things anymore and had left home, never to return. Bearing in mind that my dad had already left us, the mental anguish that I felt from reading the last line of that letter: “never forget your mum”, remains the single most horrific moment of my entire life. It was such a profound and shattering moment that all I can remember thinking for many years afterwards was “why does everyone that I care about always try to leave me”?
At the time of these events, I was still only about 11 or 12. They say kids are resilient, but how I coped during that period is anyone’s guess.
With subtle, probably unwitting coercion from my mother (at every opportunity she would declare that I was “just like my father” – it wasn’t a positive statement) combined with a large dollop of hormonal teenage angst, my self-confidence during what should have been a joyful, carefree part of my life, was largely replaced by a mixture of terror but mostly, numbness. The very essence of who my dad was or what he meant to me had been systematically erased from my young mind, mostly due, I guess, to my own attempts at mental self-preservation. In fact, I had blanked everything out so well that on the day he died, although I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I was told the news, I can remember feeling nothing. That fact still saddens me greatly to this day.
Because my formative years were such a massive, psychological disaster for me, as an adult, getting too close to anyone emotionally used to be a terrifying prospect; the trail of disastrous and broken relationships left in my wake is testament to this. I’ve also suffered several bouts of depression and anxiety and I have a tendency to self-destruct at any given opportunity. Although I’ve dealt with many of my issues now, many of you will be surprised to learn that despite my godlike comedy-genius and outwardly confident persona, I live my life overcome by crippling self-doubt and have very little self-confidence. Like many of us, I’ve just learned to hide it well.
My reason for sharing this very personal story is just to highlight that there truly is hope for anyone who is suffering from depression or anxiety. When I was at a really low ebb, just before my 40th birthday, I plucked up the courage to speak to people. Firstly, my doctor and then, a brilliant counsellor. I was desperate and, I suspect, not far away from chucking myself off a tall building, but she listened and listened and then listened some more.
Gradually, through her patience and skill (and lots of my tears), I started to understand why I felt like I did and she gave me some tools and strategies to help me cope with these feelings. I do still have my dark moments, as my amazing and patient wife Rachel knows only too well, but, if I hadn’t had the courage to take those first difficult steps and open myself up to someone, who knows what would have happened.
Don’t suffer in silence because I promise you that there is ALWAYS someone out there ready to listen and help.
RIP dad – I wish things could have been different x