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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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.



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.

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.

Pequeña estrella

“You… you worry me. You’ve thought about this. It’s measured. Beyond the depression, you’ve considered it. Almost calculating, weighing everything up. With you, this is existential”

And I have. When suicide first popped realistically into my head, in 2008, it was chilling. I was held transfixed, terrified. Even in 2012, I was frantic, scared, gripping friends and desperate. “I’m going to do it, I’m so scared, I’m going to do it”.

Eventually the fear fades. You’re left weighing your heart against a feather, seeing where on the scales you lie. Worthy or not. Life worth it, or not.

I’m now out of an immediate crisis point, out of what I now recognise was a dangerous ‘mixed’ episode. Both depressed and alert; despondent and electric. Still. I’m unconvinced. Unconvinced it’s worth it, unconvinced it’s worth it’s weight in effort and grit and grief. I’m holding off ultimate judgment. For now.

“It’s only in Spanish”

“That’s OK”. I sit next to my Carolina, my four year old niece. She holds the iPad, gazing transfixed. Singing in whispers to the video. I hold her, gazing, transfixed.

“Brilla, brilla, pequeña estrella
me pregunto como estas…”

And I hold her, gazing, transfixed.

And I know, like mountains know stone, that it’s all worth it. It’s worth the effort and the grit and the grief, all the grief. It’s worth sandpaper and ash and the daily grind. I hold her, gazing transfixed.

“en lo alto sobre el mundo
como un diamante en el cielo…”

Hold the feeling, gentle, close. Hold the feeling before it goes.

“Brilla, brilla, pequeña estrella
me pregunto como estas”

Before it’s gone.



I get scared.

I get scared because right now my moods are wild, flying or falling. I get scared because sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between the two until I hit the ground.

I get scared because the sun’s so bright and the days so hot and my mood can get so bleak, and I get reminded of how fierce and frantic I was, walking to that bridge, a day just like today.

I get scared because I don’t know if I can trust myself, and I get angry that I can’t, because if you can’t trust yourself who can you trust?

I get scared because I don’t know how this ends.


“And how old are you now?”

I’m sat in the small side room in Tommy’s A&E. I’ve been here before – when Nicola sent me from work. The walls are cheap comprehensive school green, a notice board advertises drug and rape crisis helplines. The – nurse? Psychiatric nurse? Not a psychiatrist, I know that – I like him. He’s got a thick file on his lap, which I assume are my notes; I’m impressed by how much they’ve got on me, given I’ve barely seen them.


His brow furrows. “That’s… That’s not a great deal of time”

I’m tired. I came – caught the bus and dragged myself to hospital – because, lying in bed, suicidal thoughts had got too loud, too insistent. I knew I had to do something. “The next time you feel like that, come here. It’s just as easy as going to a bridge“. So I came here, to A&E. They got me shuffled off to the side room fairly quickly, then left to find my notes. By the time the nurse arrived, file in hand, I’d been there a couple of hours. I’m tired. I don’t want to kill myself any more; I just want to go to home.

Still. I like him. And just because I feel immediately safe from myself… Well. That doesn’t really change anything.

“Why 34?”

I shrug. Because by then I should know for sure if I’m a failure? Because by then I should be able to weigh the happiness and misery in my life, and come to a decision? Because, by then, the pain will have become too difficult to bear.

“Thing is, you say you’re now not feeling in immediate danger… But it’s not as if you’re turning up here every week. We last saw you two years ago. I don’t want you to slip through the net. 34…

“We’ll get in touch with your GP. You should probably go and get your medication looked at”

I leave, tired. Night bus home, work in the morning.


I walk through the bleaching sunshine, over the railway bridge. Standing on tiptoe, I look over high barriers.

About 4 storeys. Not enough.

I’m just checking, anyway. Not going to do anything. Just checking.

I’m 33. My moods are wild, and I get scared.