Monday, 7 November 2011

Snowflakes and mental health

I have recently been on assignment in a terrible place. I had been there casually for many years, oftentimes without knowing so. Over the past five of my six-and-twenty years it became more apparent that I needed to visit with some purpose. And now I feel obliged to report some of my dispatches.
In part because some of you saved my life and in part because I understand the worth of a stranger/friend, even an e-stranger/friend.

And so it happened that one day I was walking to work, along that same old road. Each passing car seemed to present a terrible option until I eventually found myself cowering against some low wall off a quieter side road.

'I don't want to die.' I remember crying those words to Emma's distant voice. I didn't want to die, but the compulsion was there. For days I had been brushing off the relentless advances of my own determined self. Did I want to die? Certainly I had tied knots and brandished blades against myself. I am embarrassed to say now that the most prevalent outlet seemed to be in beating myself with my own fists so fiercely that my vision would blur and my head would ache for days. I was trying to beat down that terrible rising shadow.

There is little scarier than fighting an unknown quantity within yourself.

My life fell apart then. I was for a long time signed off as unfit to work and could do very little. The far-reaching effects this had on my physical health and my relationships with other people are well documented in the myriad accounts of others. It is startling how many people suffer from mental health issues, and I will write about this often because to my mind it is inextricably tied in with our current mode of living.

Marveling at snow flakes with Emma
pic: Sophie Mill 
For this post, though, I will touch briefly on the recovery process, which I am still going through now.

Shortly after my life fell apart back then it snowed. Whilst so many others stayed in their houses (or told their bosses so;) I managed to get out of bed and out of my house- a double win considering my bones had recently turned to aching lead.

It is becoming an increasingly common occurrence now in England, but still when the snow falls my generation skip work, ditch class and even say hello to their neighbours. Emma and I ran about with our housemates like kittens. It really took little more than a natural phenomenon to focus all of our attention away from whatever it was on before.

All captions null & void
The ultimate celebrity couple.
What did Brangelina do compared
to these two?
And that is what is keeping me on point now and is easily one of the most valuable pursuits in any self-loather's repertoire. I am not advocating escapism, but exploration. There is something hugely fulfilling about living out of your backpack for a few days, sleeping on the sides of mountains and atop hills in a bivi and just observing the world as it is. On my recent trip to Snowdonia I found more value in packing my bag efficiently and waking up within earshot of a running stream than I have found in all of the Mars Bars or self-harming before and since. The focus required of you when you're out in the hills or lost in the woods is for me a most powerful thing. Big up genetics and our paleolithic forebears. Stand up tall you bipedal legends! But seriously, those feelings, that autopilot that just kicks in when you spend enough time outdoors, it harks back to our ancestors and is so enriching and valuable. It is our nature. To draw your focus away from just yourself and to see yourself in relation to the world and to the universe is healthier than all of the pills- legal or not- that I have gobbled down in recent months. And to see things so beautiful that you forget yourself is probably even more valuable. For me, wondering at the intricacies of the above snowflakes is enough to make me want to get out and continue to live and witness all of the things that those flakes might blanket, and all of those things that they won't.

F*ck you X-factor
pic: Ollie Jones

Incidentally (and assuming anyone actually ever reads this), I think you should listen to both of these:


  1. Fat I love it & im gonna read them all!! Just make sure you let me know when you do them xxxx Love Middle xx

  2. Of course I will, Middle! xxx

  3. Rachel, thank you for your kind comments. Just the response I've had so far has given me more energy to write. I'll make sure I find the time and hopefully you will find more insight here. Thanks again.

  4. congratulations on an amazingly insightful blog, it's so nice to read non-stigmatising and frank accounts of mental health and the recovery process. i'm looking forward to reading more....thank you :)

  5. Nathan- thank you for taking the time to read. It's interesting to think how many relationships of some form or other are formed as part of the fall-out of mental health issues, and how many new pieces you pick up alongside the old broken ones.

  6. 'The far-reaching effects this had on my physical health and my relationships with other people are well documented in the myriad accounts of others.' That encapsulates it all buddy - really resonated x

  7. your wonderful blog fills me with hope,you are an inspiration. I lost my son last year after a long hard battle with his mental health ,and i,m so happy to read of your adventures and your recovery bless you may you live a long and joyfull life

  8. A lovely uplifting blog. Thank you

  9. Love your blog Anthony xx p.s.

  10. Tracy- I keep re-reading your lovely comment. Such kind words! I hope you live a long and happy life too. It's high time people started seeing mental health issues for what they are. We all know and will have read and heard so often that mental health issues account for such a high percentage of deaths and that they encompass a number of potentially terminal illnesses. But I wonder how much of the wider world really comprehend this. I am so sorry for your loss and deeply touched that I was able to instill hope in you.

  11. Thank you John. The response from it is hugely uplifting for me too :)

  12. Thanks Emily! Maybe I could incorporate your photography somehow?

  13. love Peter Gabriel music never heard of the other one thank you for sharing have nice day

  14. good to read an unashamedly personal, honest reflection about what outside means to you. I shall follow with interest. More power to you for exploring. Go well

  15. Cheers David. That's a spot on reflection of how I feel about your own writing. Particularly appreciated your post on leaving no trace and was disturbed by the pictures. What a silly species we can be!