Mind Altering

I have been asked to provide some material for the mental health charity MIND. Herewith my 5,000 word package of depression based pieces: two lengthy narratives and a round dozen of poems and songs. Many have been published on my blog www.seagullnic.wordpress.com while others are set for my next book Just Another Hill.

Please tell me what you think.

Thanks

Nic

When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?

THE breakdown was a long time coming… 43 years to be precise. Yes, that really is a long time to keep a secret and many events along the way could have been my undoing much sooner. So I marvel that it took so long.

Two massive battles with cancer; the loss of most of my right lung and shoulder; the ruination of a much loved career by my own stupidity; the death of my best friend and later my father; divorces and more failed relationships than you care to shake a stick at; bankruptcy; the suicide of a family member; denial of access to two of my children for 10 years; the repossession of my home; discovering my wife was enjoying sex with another man; becoming a single parent at the age of 50 and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.

Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition at the highest level, the chance to meet and talk with some stellar people, five wonderful kids, a host of amazing and loyal friends and finally, the woman who saved me, my darling wife Gill.

These are just snippits of my life so far and more than enough to form the framework of a somewhat gripping autobiography.

But casting a huge shadow over every move I have made, every tear, every relationship, every job and every sick joke was something much more sinister.

Wednesday 12 June 2013 was the day the elastic band finally broke and my life unravelled before my eyes, and those of my darling wife and precious son, who could only watch with me.

It all began in another time and another place…

I was, a young 14-year-old boy standing in darkness in open woodland, with my trousers around my ankles, being sexually abused by a 38-year-old man – a man trusted by my parents to care for me.

It was 1970.

He was the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town and over many months had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.

I was a bright, gentle and slightly quirky kid who had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.

But not anymore.

The abuse had begun some months earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend at the Scout-owned woodland campsite – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.

Over the course of 15 months, it had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.

I had been sworn to secrecy by my abuser. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.

I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ (gay) to allow this to happen. But the over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this nightmare.

I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these frequent camps. When eventually my loving parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!

How I wish I had told them the truth. But I was sure my mother would not have believed me and accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I felt he would humiliate me further, if I told him, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something. Sadly in adult hindsight he would probably have hugged me close and physically attacked my abuser had he known.

I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different then and there were many things in life that were taboo.

Anyway, the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and as I turned more introspective and aloof to friends.

I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free.

But I did eventually escape in the June of 1971.

My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.

I had met a lad called Brian from another troop and we had agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.

We arrived at this spacious bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.

The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the dark woods.  And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.

My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.

Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper!”

Without hesitation we ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac. No sign of my fecking dad! Where the hell was he?

We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway, and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.

We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.

Shaking, I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety. She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.

He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.

That night was a watershed for so many reasons.

I had begun to face this demon, by knowing that in Brian I was not alone.

From that day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to Scouts or camping again. Even when my own troop leader called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.

My passion for football and hard school work helped mask the real reasons.

But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.

I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.

Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.

The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour sometimes borders on OCD.

Once away at university in the far flung environs of Yorkshire I also had a need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight! Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ at uni’, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say yes as I could, proving to myself I was ‘straight’!

I also needed female company, as a fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me. By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a girl who promised to always care for me.

By the age of 24, we were wed. It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help!

But I survived my first divorce – and an 18 month battle with cancer – and tried to start over.

In 1990, aged 34, I moved to Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past. It involved burying myself in my job. Often working 16 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.

One year after moving north I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old, adding that I was the first person she had confided in. I could not share my abuse with her… but this was an epiphany and I saw a possible way out.

A colleague at work was married to a police officer and I used him to help me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station. He, in turn, passed on the complaint to the police force in the area of southern England where I had lived as a young teenager.

It was November 1991.

I waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and preparing to come clean with my parents if a court case was involved.

Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again. He invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!

I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.

How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice for what he had done? How could I carry on?

The anger inside me was immense.

The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.

The next 20 years were much like the previous 20 with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.

Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.

By 2003 I recognised I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.

But life happens and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.

In January 2006 I moved to Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.

Work had a purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards. This time it was treading water, but enjoyable all the same and allowed stability for a full seven years.

Stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people. I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘paedo files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like unsolicited cathartic therapy.

My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long.

Last year fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and now my darling wife. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I turned 14. Life was starting to have a meaning.

But just when life breathes fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.

Four months ago that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.

While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case we were carrying in the paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.

It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.

I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead! I double and triple checked my facts.

I still cannot comprehend what happened.

Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community? I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.

The rages and tears came again as I struggled to take back control.

Work was corrosive and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own. I felt managed out of my job and was losing control of my own newspaper and my life.

On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of these junior charge hands had changed my front page – after I had gone to press – without any reference to me. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.

But now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon. And it is my abuser who is the demon, not some bungling police officer.

The demon will never go away, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous youngest son and some amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating. I am recovering.

And it is for them that I need to live and share my inner self. The abuser has not won… I am fighting back.

This blog is the means to that end.

You’re in the wrong place my friend, you’d better leave

I GUESS I have been depressed most of my adult life… well, at least since I was 14 years old.

Depression is a condition that impacts on every aspect of life and well-being. It is much more than feeling sad. It is a mood disorder that can interfere with everyday life.

There are six types of depression: major depression, atypical depression, dysthymia, post natal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression with mania is known as bipolar disorder or manic depression.

Having untreated depression can put your life on hold for months, if not years. Major depressive disorder can also lead to thoughts of suicide or self harm.

My own depression, which was diagnosed after my nervous breakdown, was sub classified as ‘reactive depression’. In other words, it was not a clinical illness but a reaction to what life had thrown at me.

Psychologists determine that reactive depression is “triggered by a traumatic, difficult or stressful event, and people affected will feel low, anxious, irritable, and even angry. Reactive depression can also follow prolonged period of stress and can begin even after the stress is over.”

Dr Jourdan Rombaugh describes it: http://mental.healthguru.com/article/reactive-depression

My depression had always been there inside me as a reaction to many things: the sex abuse I suffered as a young teenager, a major life crisis in my late 20s, battling cancer in my early 30s, relationship breakdowns, the loss of two of my children, bankruptcy, assault, the loss of my home and the deaths of my soul-mate Andrea and my amazing father.

Any of these things could have triggered the condition and for me they did as a matter of course.

The depression manifested itself in the more obvious feelings of deep lows or worthlessness – especially in a relationship or at work – but also in many other less obvious ways such as anger and irritability, frustration, OCD behavior, selective hearing, tiredness, insomnia, over-eating, forgetfulness, clumsiness and inability to concentrate on one thing for long periods. In my case, it was all of these, plus for many years, an over-dependence on alcohol.

Some close friends and family questioned whether I might be bipolar; after all I displayed some of the signs. But the short answer to that is no, I am not and never have been.

You see, I learned from an early age to put on a mask of happiness, and even stupidity, to hide the pain inside to allow myself to function normally. Or as Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson once wrote:

Now if there’s a smile on my face It’s only they’re trying to fool the public…

But don’t let my glad expression Give you the wrong impression Really I’m sad, oh sadder than sad

Like a clown I pretend to be glad

Now there’s some sad things known to man But ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown When there’s no one around.

I used to listen to that song regularly when I was young, but it has only been in recent months it has taken on a personal significance and plays regularly on my car stereo.

But, there is a limit to how long you can lock things inside while smiling on the outside. As I wrote in When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain? my jaunty exterior collapsed in a complete nervous breakdown on 12 June this year… a day when I simply could not hold it all in any more.

It is now six months since that collapse. It has been an important period of professional help with daily medication, counselling, the love and support of family and close friends and the catharsis of writing this blog and unburdening my mind, memories and fears.

Last week I wrote here that shortly after my breakdown, I received 18 individual testimonials and references from reporters, photographers and trainees who have worked for me over the years.

Those statements arrived at a critical moment in my life and were in many ways life-saving.

But I failed to mention the many emails, text messages and private Facebook messages I also received from friends, acquaintances and colleagues that also helped in the healing process. Some of these messages were from friends I have not seen in years, but they had heard of my condition and wanted to send their love and support.

The process of healing has been long and culminated last week in my decision to leave my career in newspaper journalism behind after 28 years and dedicate the final years of my working life to writing and teaching.

I have now resurrected my old company name Time is an Ocean (thank you Bob!) as a vehicle for my future writing and lecturing. I have created a new logo and had some funky business cards printed.

I am unsure exactly where the future will take me – who does? But it is going to be an adventure and I am not too old to begin new adventures

I genuinely feel happy, positive and excited about the future for the first time in my adult life.

‘Time is an ocean it ends at the shore’… my own boat has just set sail.

If you feel depressed, talk to someone… be brave and confide, you will be amazed how many other people out there feel similar things and will let you unburden. Also don’t be shy about telling your GP… you may need a little extra help. There is light on the other side of that dark door… just have faith in yourself.

Soul

I am the self-consumer of my woes

The bed of my depression

I am the heart of a life that beats

The bed of my regression

I am the hope that burns within

The heat of my transgression

I am the demon that tempts me still

The soul of my oppression

I am the man that will not give in

The hope of my suppression I am the hands of peaceful fate

The well of my aggression

I am the smile on a face with tears

The deceit of my expression

I am the sin of empty thoughts

The redeemer of my confession

I am the clock of future years

The focus of my progression

I am the whole of a living soul

The core of my possession.

 

Nothing Happens

The cold blushes

Blue

The merciless east wind

Chills

Eyes wide on this isolated

Cliff

Confusing memories of past

Battles

Stunned by the still silence

Alone

Gulls swoop and squawk like

Ghosts

Addled senses and bones now

Ache

Twitching feet on the muddy

Turf

Dull rumours of another

Place

Behind the idling car does

Wait

Beneath the cold grey

Sea

Beyond a moments’ choice

Jump

To roll in pain on

Rocks

Or retreat sanely

Home

To write once more of

Life

This is the Sea

Swirling salt water laps at my feet The west wind finds frailties Of what remains from the sleep Greyness spreads to the dark horizon Herring gulls call me to the deep This is the end This is my friend This is the sea

Memories meander around what happened before

Questions open wounds bleakly

Yet we all know the score

Emptiness echoes as hope once evades

Waves they now crash upon the shore

This is the end This is my friend This is the sea

 

Keep on Keeping On

I’ve just reached a place where I can’t go on My friends all tell me to just be strong But strength is an illusion I have known too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

Time is a window into a world gone wrong

Far away from the maddening throng

But happiness is a façade

I have worn all along

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

Hope is the marathon we try to prolong

All the way from Memphis to far Guangdong

But music eases the pain

I have carried too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

 

Black Dog

Black dog at my feet

The darkness drifts dreaming from another place

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

Where it all will end

Black dog by my side

The dawn drowns drinking hope from the daylight

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

What the morn will bring

Black dog on my lap

The day drags drearily to the dark of noon

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the sun will set

Black dog at my back

The evening draws draping dankly upon me

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the night will end

The Edge

The morning dawns grey

A blanket on another day

The savage wind

Whispers

Of another place

Where time stands

Still

Like a bitter pill

Unswallowed

Alone

Isolated, a dark shadow above me

Alone

Again

With nothing to relate

Clouding, and alert yet jaded

Senses

Clearing

Solid within this wall

Cast-off and self-inflicted

Wounds

Brooding

Peeping out for pleasure

Hapless, at times still helpless

Cares

Wondering

Is it just a form of suicide?

Darkness

Death where is thy sting?

You came and took

Her away

And still you haunt me

In my darkest

Dreams

You sit like a cactus

By my window

In smothering

Stillness

In my darkest

Dreams

I wake in the night

Still crying

Cursing the name

Injustice

In my darkest

Dreams

You reach out darkly

And remember

It was you who died

Not me

In my darkest

Dreams

The Climb

Life is a journey we walk alone

A steady path

With no road home

Time is a war against the unknown

Fears reside

Within every bone

Strangers come and lovers go

Leaving scars

And wounds below

Age descends as years pass by

Feet on the ground

And eyes to the sky

Mistakes count too many

Yet joys are too few

We hold on tight and enjoy the view

The stumble you see is in your eyes

To me it is a pace

As I meet the rise

The stone in my shoe has been there awhile

It eases the pain

When I climb the next stile

So join me now on this lonely climb

The hill that awaits

Is yours and mine

Depression

The black veil advances

Cutting out the light

The smoke of day draws in

Dimming all in sight

The blanket haze envelops

Blurring edges of my plight

Dim memories are created

Nothing now seems right

Dark forces are advancing

Forcing hope to flight

The wind howls like a hammer

What can resist its might?

The emptiness inside me

As the day it turns to night

Standing in the doorway

The tiredness creeps upon you

It fingers icicles in the brain

The day it became outrageous

Like the end of a sad refrain

The memories they still linger

Confusing wake from sleep

Sad eyes blink quite bleary

And the pain it runs too deep

The words recall the story

Of how this all came to be

Just shadows of a victory

With nothing left to see

So brush the cobwebs daily

Feel your strength inside

Breathe deep the scent of roses

And race against the tide

Human life is all too short

We all stumble on that road

Look into the distance

With nothing left bestowed

Spring Song

My life was filled with hope and wonder

The garden was so full

The apple blossom of my senses

And clouds of cotton wool

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

I played in meadows of green pasture

The innocence of youth

The stinging nettles pricked my ankles

Learning lies from truth

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

I stumbled crying in darkened forests

Terror filled my eyes

The guilt it choked me like a bullet

The pain had no disguise

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

I looked for love in the face of strangers

Nothing could be found

I married blindly to be normal

But normality was drowned

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

The spirit in the dark green bottles

Soothed the pain inside

Numbed my senses and the nightmares

The heart of me had died

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

But then the dawn it broke quite quickly

I let my world break down

In the arms of love forever

All I lost was found

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

How can I go on?

And so we walk a chosen pathway

The horizon’s bright and clear

Holding on to those around me

Beyond the next frontier

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

My children are gone

But I have to go on

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Author: seagullnic

Writer, editor, lecturer and part-time musician. Passions in life: my family, Bob Dylan, music of many genres, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, cooking plus good food and wine.

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