Tears all taste the same

I’ve been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose
I’ve been forcing myself not to forget just to feel worse
I’ve been getting away with it all my life

– Skin*, Getting Away With It

There’s this dumb saying, said with good intent; ‘you are not your diagnosis’. It’s one of those flimsy feel-good sayings doled out with affection and aspartame, occasionally erupting on Facebook and twitter. It’s cute and comforting I guess, I guess the intention is good and I don’t believe in Hell, so hell,  go for it, I guess. But it is bullshit.

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Action potential

“Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“And are you?”
“No. That’s where it all falls down of course.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

My first degree – a BA – was in philosophy. I say was, because after four years and much grief I ended up leaving without graduating. I got a DipHE (no, I’d never heard of them either).

Shortly afterwards I enrolled with the OU and started studying both Human Biology and Ancient Greek. Which is what happens when you have undiagnosed bipolar disorder and a university prospectus.

I never finished that, either, although I can at least transliterate Greek script and get annoyed when people use the wrong sigma.

I did graduate, eventually. I got a BSc in psychology from Birkbeck, which is a college specialising in part-time degrees. It took five years (including a year off while I had a depressive breakdown), a lot of bloody mindedness, and a number of all-nighters after which I had to put in a full day at the office. Doing a degree part time while working full time is… well, 200 people started the course, 80 finished it.

Most of my peers graduated in 2002. I managed it, finally, in 2010.

I’m smart, and I always have been. I’m just not very good at it.

I used to be.

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After the last act

When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are

– Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

I’ve been feeling it, recently. Feeling it in flickers, lights in a thunderstorm. Sometimes I’m drinking to drown it, smother that black and furious part of me. It’s not a perfect solution, I know that; but what is? Tell me what is, tell me what will make the thoughts… no, not thoughts, not feelings, more than that… tell me what will silence that black and furious part of me? Silence it swiftly, make the world warm again. Drinking isn’t a perfect solution but buddy if you can give me a better one please for the love of Christ tell me. Because right now it’s the best thing I’ve got.

So I’ve been feeling it, but only in flickers. The feeling of it troubles me, which is why I drink. It troubles me, and that’s good.

And I’ve not told anyone. Because why would I? Because what would they do, what could they do? They’d fret, and they’d panic, and they’d worry about talking to me because what do you say to the suicidal, how do you behave? We make people uncomfortable, I guess; like the way the dying do.

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Black dogs and fairy gold

  1. Witchcraft; magic charm; a spell affecting the eye, making objects appear different from what they really are.

I always used to know where I stood, I think. Or at least I think I always thought I knew where I stood.

After 2006 anyway. After I accepted I had depression and worked to work my way around it. You can’t always stop it, a lot of the time with things like this it’s damage limitation. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and everything after that is working to work with that problem. You might not be over the moon that you’ve got a black dog but you’ve got one. Deal.

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Take my life

I’m not going to make a habit of posting up rediscovered journal entries (not least because I’ve got a fun post about the time I had in Birmingham before the fascists came along, and want to review Naked Boys Reading; and besides, I’m feeling ‘normal’ now so why go over upsetting stuff?), but I happened across this today. I wrote it while an inpatient in psychiatric care. I remember the confusion, the fear, the hopelessness; knowing I didn’t belong in hospital, not knowing where I belonged outside it.


So. This is weird.

I’m not sure I’m meant to be here. Everyone seems far more unstable than me. But then I think how I must look; unkempt hair, three day growth, until recently stinking of BO.

When I got to Homerton the thing that struck me was all the aimless wandering the patients were doing. Drifting slowly across the floor, shuffling through the ward. I assumed it was a symptom of schizophrenia or psychosis or medication; but then I found myself standing, drifting. You see yourself through other’s eyes, wandering. Drifting.

Some are more with it than others, of course; and I’m probably the most with it. Sometimes I think I’m completely fine but then this morning I found myself sobbing, howling, that strange adult keening and gasping, ’til a therapist came, took me aside, talked me down.

Oh, it feels so GOOD to have showered!

I’m waiting in my room at Lambeth. Finally got here this evening. It’s plusher here, and I finally have a proper room. I’ve not really had any privacy since Monday morning.

I wish my life could have turned out different. I wish I could have turned out different. Regret.

I’m not bad enough to be here, I know that. I’m sad, and confused, and maybe I’m unsafe out there. But I’m not bad enough to be here.

What am I going to do now?

What am I going to do next?

Nothing appeals. Not even death. Death only appeals as escape.

Section 3 told me he’d never take his own life since he knows he’d go straight to Hell. Cruel comfort, I guess, keeps you safe. I guess.

Take my life. That’s all I want, something to take my life, give me a new one, give mea new me. One where I have clean sheets and a good bed, and a nice flat and a boyfriend and a fun job.

Not this. Not this life.

I don’t see anything in my future. Nothing. I’ve lost my future and I’ve fucked up my present. All just a chaos of wire and broken glass on the floor.

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.


I’m going to leave here today, and I’m scared.

I’m scared because I don’t trust myself, still. I’m scared because I don’t want to face that noisy, senseless world. I’m scared because there’s nothing out there for me and I am no-one and it will be too cold, or too hot, and chaos.

I’m scared.




Under all this sound and fury

Sharing the stuff I wrote in my early 20s is probably a terribly embarrassing idea, but it does give some kind of insight into my mental health across time. And at least I’ve not shared all the stuff I wrote when I thought I was Jesus.

I’m moving out of London soon – this city might not send me crazy, but leaving it sure will help keep me sane. At least for a little while. Now seems an opportune time – I’ve no job holding me here, my studies will either finish soon or be postponed for a year. I’ve family in Sheffield. Family is good for me, as are the Pennines, as is home.

I’m being unusually pro-active about it – usually when moving I leave everything to the last minute, but I’m seeing this as a chance to declutter. You go through life, you pick up so much crap, so much stuff. I moved down here with a rucksack… now I’m going to need a car for my return.

Still. May as well get of as much as I can stand to. Almost all my books are going, and I suspect a fair few clothes will end up with charity shops. But of course in clearing out you find forgotten bits of life. And if you have a habit of writing – sometimes in fits and starts, sometimes consistently for years – you find a lot of forgotten bits of life. All dusty and discoloured. And with hindsight you can return to all those years ago, with new eyes, and wonder how some things managed to escape your attention for so damn long.

What follows are a few brief extracts – with the exception of the first one, which I’ve reproduced pretty much in its entirety since it does such a good job of evoking my frustration, confusion, and despair at the time – and how much the city (Leeds) was getting to me.

Jan 2002

(Age 20)

Clever dykes and clever dicks, how to get ahead in relationships. How to not care what women want. How to worry over what men want; how to walk past beggars and only feel a twinge of guilt, how to ignore Big Issue vendors.

How to dance and hardly care who’s watching.

“You know about helping yourself?” the woman in the cafe asks.



The exams are coming and I’m too busy smashing crockery and whimpering on the kitchen floor to do anything about it.

And outside the rain’s still pouring and the poor bastards with no homes to go to are crouching by the light, wrapped in sodden blankets with nothing but a handful of coppers in their McDonald’s cups.

And I walk by thinking poor bastard.

And I walk by thinking I want to run away.

And I walk by thinking maybe this next car.

And I walk by.

I’m plummeting. I can feel the world slip by and I slip down.

No, really. I can.

Nausea and vertigo. I wish I could throw up.

I don’t feel too good.

I’m breaking up. I no longer relate to myself. This time it’s serious, I don’t think we’re getting back together, but I don’t care. Who needs him anyway?

“Do you know about helping yourself?”

 In Border’s the coffee tastes of vanilla, and the lights are bright and anonymous.

Anonymous is a word for limericks. A nonny mouse.

My head still hurts with awesome pressure and my legs are still weary tho I don’t know why, The world is still swirling in my head.

It’s only 7:30. I’ve no desire to go home. I’ve no desire to communicate in anything other than wails and tears and screams.

Whale ant ears and cream.

Let me out.

Laugh and the world laughs with you;

Cry and you cry alone.

For this sad old earth sees little of mirth

And has troubles enough of its own


Summer 2002

(Age 21)

For the first time I can remember, I look into my future and every part of me, every fibre of my body and soul is saying yes.

Some of it is in baritone, so deep it’s a feeling more than a sound. Some so excited the sound is a babysqueal of joy. Some are so simple it’s as if the answer is so obvious it’s a non-question.  Now it all looks so simple. All the fear has left me now.

November 2007

(Age 26)

I’m flirting with depression again. Flirting, because it comes and goes, and I’m still functioning OK, for the main part.

Before, I’ve just got wound iup and more depressed about it. That’s a bad strategy. Before I get too bad and wound up, I need to deconstruct this and take some pro-active action.

  1. What do I think has triggered this?
  2. What maintains it?
  3. What makes it worse?
  4. What can I do?
  5. What can I think?

February 2008

(Age 27)

I’m sorry

I’m sorry

I’m sorry

I’m sorry

I’m so sorry

March 2009

(Age 28)

I’m sat on my bed, in my tidied-last-week (becoming messy) room, listening to Gaydar Radio.

I’m feeling OK.

Or, something’s making me feel OK. 40mg of citalopram might be involved. The exercise I did yesterday might be involved. And the alcohol I drank last night and the poor sleep I’ve had and coffee might be involved. Brains are complicated like that.

The music on the radio is sending ripples of hypomania through me. Am I bipolar or is it the drugs? That strange, pressured joy and expansive bliss.

Expansive bliss is something I’ve had for years, now and then. The first time, in mum and dad’s garden, on a summer evening, with the dark sky and violet flowers and sweet air.

E x p a n s i v e  B l i s s

March 2009

(Age 28)

I miss my past. Because in my past I only look at the good bits. In my memory everything was perfect.

Who are you, Phil? Under all this sound and fury, who are you? Can you stand still?

June 2009

(Age 28)

Sat upstairs in the Wellington, drink by my side and pen in my had, trying to write poetry and only finding commentary.

Memories insistent as rain, I shudder sometimes from little earthquakes. You don’t know where you end and the drugs begin. All those ticktock phrases gone, evaporated in the sun; all those loops, looping loops lost. Left with memories, soft and insistent as raindrops on skin.

I’m feeling good, ultimately. Sanity is underrated.


In June 2012 I visited a friend in Cardiff. He was worried about my mental health and invited me up for a break.

Leaving, we hugged, and I pulled him close, tight, kneading his flesh. Began to sob, hysterical.

I’m going to do itI’m so scared, I think I’m going to do it.

The next day I was picked up by the police and taken to hospital.

Life is full of ups and downs, as they say.


‘Ticktock phrases’ and ‘looping loops’ refers to the persistent, insistent thoughts and phrases of violence, suicide and grief which beat obsessively in my mind when I’m depressed. ‘Memories soft as rain’ refers to the side effect I get, occasionally, with antidepressants – their strange habit of bringing up old memories, neutral, long forgotten memories, often of childhood.

Nothing wants to be perfect

You fall out of love, sometimes, with life. Or at least I do. You need love to keep you going. Not romantic love or lustful love or hallmark love, but fierce love, primal, furious. Blood-bound love.

Maybe you don’t know or maybe you don’t believe me – fish rarely think about air, after all. But when that love drains away, when you forget how it feels… eventually you forget you were ever in love with the world at all.



So it’s been raining all day today, siling and dripping and spitting. Cooped up in the house, sitting, lying, sitting some more. Sitting will kill me one of these days, if boredom doesn’t get me first.

So it’s been raining all through today and eventually you just have to accept that it’s going to carry on raining. Not that I mind and not that I can complain, but even though I like the rain I’d rather not get wet. But I can’t stay in all day, that’s no good for my no good head, so eventually I set out. Out of the house and along the Thames, rain on river; water, water everywhere.

Rain. The sky grey and the Thames brown, churning. Glistening pavements and puddles, no petrichor – the day has washed it away. The Thames water rushing in, filling the banks up from low tide.


When I first moved to London, there was this story in the press. Two guys had been walking along the banks of the Thames, pissed after a post work drink. Now when mudlarkers used to walk the banks they knew to check the ground before them, stabbing down with a stick. Checking for quickmud.

These drunk guys didn’t know that; you don’t sink in quickmud, but you do get stuck. So they both got stuck, trapped at low tide.

They were rescued. The LFB fireboat pulled them out as the tide was coming in, saved them, saved them from drowning.


It’s been raining all today, and the Thames is rushing in. The smell of mud rises in the rain. And I remember.

I remember the seaside, with dad. Not sandcastles and ice creams and vinegar, but waves smashing; us clambering over boulders, us slipping. Seaweed. Cold bruised fingers and muddy clothes and a chisel and geological hammer.

I’ve not done it for years – for decades – but you get an eye for it: Fossil hunting. I might not be able to ride a bike but I bet you I can still pick the right rock, pick the right place to hit the rock. You never forget.

We found a belemnite, embedded in a boulder, perfect. Belemnites were basically ancient squid things, the way ammonites were ancient nautilus things. And this one – a slender, sleek cone. You don’t get them so close to perfect very often.

We started to chip. Or maybe dad started to chip and I watched, or maybe I started to chip and dad watched. But we started to chip. Careful, slow. Cold and wet and salty, waves smashing, mud and seaweed. Trying to lift the stone from the stone.

But stone is brittle and nothing wants to be perfect; the fossil broke, and broke, and broke again.

I want to say that I displayed a wisdom beyond my years and accepted it, but I remember being upset and dad having to comfort me and I remember being comforted. We carried on together. We could stick it back together once we got home, and broken things can still, in their way, be close to perfect.

Mum and dad still have it at home, among all the other fossils and shells and interesting rocks. I think it sits on the kitchen windowsill, next to an amazing nautilus fossil we found in Wales.


It’s been raining all through today, either pouring or drizzle. I’m not one to complain, really I like the rain. I just don’t want to get wet. But cooped up inside is no good for my no good head, and eventually you have to accept it’s going to keep on raining. I’ve got this waterproof jacket with a hood, hardly the height of fashion but who cares? I put it on, and do it up, and go for a walk by the Thames. Feel the rain. Smell the mud.

And I remember.

We talk

Another post about suicide. Less raw and bloody than the last; still – you have been warned.


The uncomfortable truth is that stereotypical forms of masculinity – stiff upper lips, “laddishness” – are killing men.

– Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian

I have no mouth and I must scream

– Harlan Ellison

Owen Jones’ makes a common claim; men’s increased risk of suicide is due to factors relating to an unwillingness to talk about depression, embedded in a wider culture of masculinity which prevents conversation in this area. It’s claimed not only by newspaper columnists but also by charities such as the Samaritans and Mind.  It’s claimed to be the case for good reason – there’s substantial evidence for it.


Let me tell you a story.


It takes me forever to see an A&E psychiatrist, these days. I’m not sure how much this is to do with them being busy, and with me having a large wad of notes to get through.

I don’t mind them reading through the wads. It means I don’t have to go over everything, everything, all over again. Doing so is exhausting. Draining. And I’m quite drained enough.

My head resting on Daniel’s lap, his strong, heavy hand resting on my shoulder. I’m hot. I’m tired. I’m running on empty.

Nurses come, check my blood pressure, my heartbeat, still beating.

“How’s your neck feeling? Your throat?”

I hold Daniel’s strong hand.

I’m tired.

The psychiatrist comes, Daniel goes. I’ve already seen the psych nurses, they’ve referred me up the chain. Been sitting in A&E, hot, cared for, empty, for hours. Since morning.

We talk.

She seems nice. Caring. I try to convince her I don’t need admission to inpatient care. Inpatient care is endless, pointless days. Wandering around blank and drugged in a room full of people wandering around drugged and blank, plastic cutlery and cheap plastic and foam mattresses. Unshaven and unsightly because you have to ask for your razor and be watched while you slide it across your skin, in case you slide too deep. Who can be bothered with that? Unshaven and unsightly. I don’t want hospital. Still; I’m unsure which way she’s going to sway.

We talk.

“Why let it get to this stage, before you seek help?”

I laugh. There is no humour.


Comprehensive school green. This is the first time I’ve been in this room. I’m howling, I’m mumbling, I’m quivering on the foul brown sofa, the foul plastic and foam sofa.

“What is it? What happened? What happened, eh?”

I don’t know who he is. He looks just like an A&E nurse. Why is he asking me these dumb fucking questions? My counsellor sent me, she called ahead, the triage nurse knew exactly who I was so why is he asking me these dumb fucking questions?

“It’s not that bad, it can’t be that bad; c’mon, talk to me”

Shut the fuck up

He leaves. I’m tired. Alone, I sleep.

The door slamming jolts me awake. Two psych nurses, one senior, one student. Clipboards. Tea.

We talk.

“…and have you tried to harm yourself?”


“Have you tried to put any of this plan into action?”


Go home. You’re stressed. Take some time off. “The next time you feel this way, just come to A&E”.

I go home.

Comprehensive school green. I’ve been in this room before.

I’m tired. I sleep alone, on the sofa. The shit brown sofa. It takes forever for a psychiatric nurse to come. Then again, it’s late.

We talk.

We even chat, which is nice. He apologises afterwards, for being unprofessional, for veering the subject away from me; but you know it’s nice, in the middle of all this. A break in the clouds.

“It’s nigh on impossible to overdose on sertraline, you see? So I realised I couldn’t do that. So I came here”

“So you didn’t actually take anything?”


“Have you tried to harm yourself in the past?”


He chews his pen. I look at the grey lino floor. I’m tired.

“Talk to your GP. Maybe get your dose looked at”

I get the bus home. I think. I come up with a far more effective plan than sertraline.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.



I’m feeling fine. Good, even. Everyone knows people are more likely to feel worse in winter and better in spring, except of course that’s not true – rates of both depression and suicide are higher in spring. Still. I’m feeling good.

Alex, less so.

“Flashes – I get these flashes of violence. Horrible things in my head, it’s like they come from outside”

I know. I tell him I know. It’s shit. It’s scary. We share the scary images that invade our heads.

“The crisis team came over, I told them. I’m scared what I might do

“They asked me if I’d tried to do anything”

I know. I tell him, “they won’t take it seriously until you do”

“But I’m not going to try anything!” grimacing, eyes frantic, mouth quivering. “I’m going to do it. The first time I try will be the last”

“I know”


Women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men tend to utilise more violent methods. Men are more likely to complete. First time.

In his article, Owen Jones does touch on the failure of psychiatric services to take seriously men’s mental health, but I think this is only part of the problem. The whole system is geared to only work once people are at crisis, but this means services remain blind to men’s cries for help even as we are screaming; we are scared, we are in danger, we are going to do it and there will be no second chance.

We talk.

People just don’t fucking listen.


Nothing hurts

Post about suicide. It’s raw, and angry. You have been warned.


Fitter, happier, more productive

– Radiohead

I’m drinking green tea again. Bitter green tea. Trying to be healthy, still. Apparently green tea is healthy.

I got a new rucksack. My old one, small hiking one, carried on my back through the Andes; zip kept breaking, all it’s shape lost, a sandy colour that went with nothing. Like most things, I’d notice every now and then, and then, forget.

But I got a new one at last. It’s a black ‘Head’ one and it looks sporty, and I got some proper breathable gym kit so I don’t get soaked on the cross trainer and some new trainers because Christ knows I was getting hobbled in my old scratty ones and now if you look at me I guess, sometimes, I almost look like a real boy.

Pants, even! You can get special breathable underwear for cardio work. I had no idea. They’re flush and lush against the skin and I can’t deny they’re more than a little bit arousing; hugging, smooth. If you’ve got the right pants I guess you can do anything.

Oil on the ocean.

People are talking about suicide, lots, right now; someone took their own life, and people do that every day but this person was famous and so everyone noticed and is saying how sad and tragic it is and everyone is talking and asking why. Unthinking people are calling it selfish and caring people are calling it tragic. I don’t don’t know why this one person did it because really, really, what do we ever know about why anyone does anything?

People are talking about suicide and people will talk, and they always talk about the hidden pain of depression – which is a fucking joke, depression is only hidden to the extent we decide to hide it, to the extent we have reason to hide it from our families, from our friends. To the extent we’re able to hide it. You don’t tell the guy serving you in Starbucks or the colleague you see every day and it’s not hidden, it’s clear as fucking day, but they just think you’re grumpy or sulking or unfriendly.

People always talk about the pain of depression, and that pain being the reason people take their own lives. Like I say I can’t know why any one really does it, maybe it’s the pain. I know it hurts, it can hurt like nothing hurts, like grief hurts, like solitude. On and on, and on. I can imagine wanting that to end, of thinking that suicide is the only way to end it. I’ve thought that. Hell, that’s where the first seed of the thought was planted for me.

But no one ever talks about boredom.


I’ve got this new bag and all this new kit. I’m trying to lose weight because you have no idea how much I put on during the past dark, bleeding months; no gym, barely any movement. Sleep, pizza and ice cream and beer. Everyone says I look fine but obviously I can see the belly and the love handles and the moobs, and I hate it, so I’m churning away on the cross trainer and eating sensibly and it’s all new day, new me, and shitting Christ I hate it.

Not in the jolly Bridget Jones ‘I’d rather be chomping on a Galaxy’ way, or the comedy Foster’s ad way where of course the real lads can get down with some beers and a laugh and fuck all that health crap, just become alcoholic or diabetic and wayhay isn’t life great. I just fucking hate it.

I hate it because it’s pointless, I hate it because it’s vain, I hate it because I’m trying to be some kind of normal productive member of society and actually, you know actually I don’t give a shit. I don’t give a shit about being healthy and I don’t give a shit about being indulgent; your taut desired abs or your lips fellating a flake; pumping iron or chugging beers, get your arse tight for the lads, get your cock out for the lads, I don’t care, I don’t give a fuck, it all bores me to tears, to cynical, bitter tears. Churning black water smothered by iridescent oil, paper thin rainbows.

In my dark moments I despise this world we’ve made, which we live in; in brighter moments, I just don’t care.

I’ve got decades ahead of me. Decades in this world. Decades of not caring, sustained only by the brilliant, blazing stars of my family. At least I have them, you could say. It’d be easier if I didn’t, I could reply.


Pain, pain I guess is easy to understand. We try to relieve pain. People can sympathise, if not empathise. It’s natural to want pain to end.

No one ever talks about boredom. Colours fading, taste fading, desire fading. Looking on, for years, for decades, a brittle, deadwood world.

I am not currently suicidal. But the idea sits there, plain and simple, a fact; crisp as a shadow on a bright sunny day. I’m glad it’s there, that potential of cool respite. Maybe one day I’ll rest there.

That, possibly, is much harder for people to understand.