Other plans

It’s easy to get upset about things.

I know this is hardly a striking insight from someone prone to profound, paralysing depression. Still.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. And it’s easy to get upset about that.

It was meant to be redundancy, complete MSc, new and exciting job.

No, no, it was meant to be BSc, quit job, MSc, more interesting job.

No, no no no. It was meant to be move to London, get a job, have fun.

I mean, after the original plan had failed, that is. BA, job.

It was meant to be different, it wasn’t meant to be this. It wasn’t meant to be unemployed and skint and living with my family in my mid 30s. It wasn’t meant to be directionless and purposeless.

I didn’t mean to waste all that time and effort. And it’s easy to get upset about that.

Understandable too, I guess. But many understandable things are nevertheless unwise.

I think of suicide – when I think of suicide, which these days is rare but it’s a peculiarly hard habit to break – I think of suicide when I consider how much of my life I’ve wasted, which is a morbidly absurd line of reasoning. Life streams by, gentle, terrible, a single impossibly slim moment which somehow extends on forever.

I’ve taken to meditating.

I’ve dipped my toes into mindfulness based cognitive therapy before; that’s mindfulness rather than Mindfulness(TM), the latter being today’s fashionable false hope. But before mindfulness therapy was even a glimmer in Kabat-Zinn‘s eye, I was drawn to Zen Buddhism.

You try on personalities as a teenager. Try on beliefs and hobbies and ways of being, see if they’re comfortable. Drop and forget most of them, and I mostly dropped and mostly forgot all that hippy shit.

I meditate in the mornings, sometimes in the evenings. Sometimes my mind settles on my breathing with relative ease, other times it’s a butterfly in the wind. Sometimes I get frustrated at how I don’t settle, other times I don’t mind. Sometimes I breathe in and out, and in, and out, and it’s like I dissolve, the world blossoming and falling at once, every moment, endless. Other times I think of shopping lists. It doesn’t matter. The point of meditation, I’m beginning to realise, isn’t anything to do with meditation.

If only I’d been diagnosed earlier, if only they’d initially given me lamotrigine instead of citalopram, if only I’d taken my mental health more seriously, if only if only if only. I could have got the qualifications and the job and the money and the life you’re meant to have and enjoy rather than had years of tears and failure and now this, this, drifting, skint, jobless.

I walk in the park, most days. Pausing sometimes to look up at the ever changing sky, gulls wheeling on the wind, playing. Directionless. An impossibly slim moment stretched somehow into forever.

There are so very few ways, I think, that you can waste that moment. But suicide is definitely one of them.








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.

Continue reading

Back to life


Possible CW for suicide / sectioning


So now it’s autumn.

I like autumn; thick sunlight and brisk air, sweeping rain and sweeping skies. Daddy long legs and back to school.

I eat breakfast, read the news. Return to my bedroom and fire up the computer, open Gmail.

I could stay. I could just stay here. The sun is thick and the air is brisk and I could just stay away from the world for one more day. It would be so, so easy. My sick note runs from July ’til last week, but it’d be simple to get another one.

I’m scared.

Compose new mail.

To: Supervisor
Subject: I’m back

Hit send.

I’m scared.


The psych unit at Lambeth was relaxed, or as relaxed as psych units get. Wake at six, toast and meds. Breakfast at eight. Sit in a horseshoe, watching daytime TV. There was an enclosed outside area so you could nip out for a fag – Homerton hadn’t had one of those. At Homerton it was two fag breaks a day, morning and evening. Like that’s anything like a good set up for a high security male-only psych ward. I was glad for my muscles, in Homerton. But they weren’t needed in Lambeth.

People shuffle. People shuffle in psych wards; when I first walked in to one I thought, I thought ‘Jesus, these people are all smashed out of it’, looking at them shuffling up and down, staring into nowhere. But there’s fuck all to do on a psych ward, shit books and boardgames with half the pieces missing. You shuffle, up and down. Nowhere to go. Nothing do to.

Plastic cutlery. They’d go and get you a can of coke if you wanted, but obviously they’d pour it into a plastic cup for you before you got it. My stubble grew, I can’t do a proper beard, I just look patchy and scratty after a bit. So I did. Increasingly patchy and scratty. You can shave, but they’ve got your razor, then they have to sit and watch you do it. Fuck that.

Fuck that and forget the world, you don’t have to care, no one cares. It’s easy. Wake at 6, toast and meds. Morning TV and breakfast, plastic cutlery. The nurses will do a shop run, run for fags and crisps and coke. Sit in the garden, sleep on your bed. It’s easy. Suspended, above life, outside it. After being crushed nearly to death with worry, you find yourself, lose yourself, without a care in the world.

It was upsetting, and stressful, and so, so boring. But it was also easy. So very easy.


Rounds. Rounds in the psych ward drove me round the bend, a whole army of social workers, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists and a consultant psychiatrist, ranged out so you feel like you’re walking into an interview. I wanted to tell them all to fuck off, didn’t they realise how intimidating this all was?

“How do you feel now?”

OK. Detached. Not suicidal, of course not suicidal; they’d plucked me out of my life and my cares and put me in limbo. It’s hard, really, to feel anything in limbo.

“You’re probably OK for discharge”

And so I was discharged.

It was strange, coming out of a building you’d spent so much time in but had never seen from the outside. It was too bright and too hot and, suddenly, August. I had little clue of where I was except I was within walking distance of home. My phone blinked the route, almost impossible to see in the glare.

Stopped at a newsagent; a double snickers and coke. Walking felt weird. The big wide world felt weird. Sometimes flat and sometimes too deep. Sounds at times jangling into one another, other times meeting and clasping like jigsaw pieces. I was free. I could do anything and no one could stop me.

I was terrified.

The pavement rolled under me, streets swinging by, my estate drifting into view. Key in lock, pull door just so, turn key, open door. Living room. I sit.

I know what’s in my bedroom. I know exactly where it is. I’d told them I’d got rid of it – I was bored on the ward after all, I wanted to stretch my legs, I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting rid of it. But then I was suddenly home, in a dim living room, knowing what was in my bedroom.

It wouldn’t work on it’s own, the LD50 was far too high, let alone the LD100. I’d need to go out and get something else which would synergise with it, but I could pick that up from Tesco. There’s a chilling efficacy in the plan in that it requires at least two substances to work; a nuclear launch sequence. Still. The tricky part was done with. It sat waiting in my room.

I didn’t want to. Did I? But I could. I could and I might. A world of possibilities, I could do anything and I was quietly terrified.

I disposed of it.

I was still scared. I was suddenly out in the world, and I could do anything. Far from easy.

This time around, I avoided hospital by a whisper. I didn’t want to go, they’re boring, so boring. I didn’t want the shuffling, the gazing into nowhere, the plastic cutlery and the interview sessions. I just wanted everything to stop.

I had nothing home to harm myself; it’d all been removed by my house mates. They were on orders to watch for any big packages which arrived for me, open them, check they weren’t a special kind of deadly.

It maybe wasn’t the best idea. The first week, there we’re dangerous moments; bridges, roads, rail lines. Eventually I kept myself inside.

Eventually I let myself out again.

Still. Still suspended, in limbo, outside my cares and concerns. Easy. My pendulum moods slowly slowing to a more genteel swing. And while I knew I couldn’t stay there forever, the temptation… no cares, no concerns; having no responsibility is dangerous, intoxicating. Sooner or later I’d have to come off the sick notes but I could get another one, I think, for now.


I don’t. I hit send. I go back into uni. Anything could happen, now.

I’m terrified.



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.

Continue reading


I remember walking on the beach, me and mum always fell behind dad. Hands never big enough, pockets never deep enough. We’d tell ourselves we had to be strict and only get the best, but there are so many of the best that you end up with armfulls.

Dad wasn’t really any better. He was just more discerning, but then again you’d expect that of a geologist. The hint of a fossil hidden inside, really good, interesting quartz streaking against the rock, or just something weird and metamorphic.

And shells. Shells!

Shells on the shore are always beautiful, and water makes everything glisten; makes the world shine. So the three of us would walk along the beach, absurdly, picking up rocks and shells, return to the car overladen with worthless treasure.
Continue reading

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.

Goddards Pie Shop


So I’m sat in Goddards Pie Shop and I couldn’t be happier.

Drizzle, mizzling outside. Scalding coffee and piles of mash, thick gravy, meat filled pie. £4.50, you can’t go wrong.

I’ve got an MSc I need to get back to; it all seems another world away and another life away; the way long summer evenings seem impossible when you’re in midwinter.

I run out of mood stabilisers tomorrow, my normal GP unavailable until the 16th. I’m seeing any old doctor on an emergency appointment simply to get a script. And I need to talk to someone, talk to someone about the past few weeks; the way I’ve swung from chaos to a kind of fluid stability. Need to talk about what I did. What was done. But I can’t talk to someone new, can’t go over all this again, and that. It’ll have to wait.

I’m sat in Goddards Pie Shop. The place closed down a few years back, I was heartbroken. An institution for over a century. Came here with Amy once, kinda stoned, that nice kinda stoned, cosy and fuzzy. Best pie and mash in the world. Here I am again and I couldn’t be happier.

All this shit, all the shit that happened, explosions in my head; deafening, ringing, thrown to the ground and stunned, life thrown in the air, scattered. I’ve got to sort out uni, I’ve got to sort out drugs. I’ve got to sort out some kind of income and decide if I stay in London with it’s rush and sweet bruising tumble, or return North. To family, to quiet, to space.

But right now I’m in Goddards. Plate clean, mug empty. About to go into the mizzling drizzle. Waterproof jacket and hood.

And I couldn’t be happier.

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.