I was a man living with mental illness, undiagnosed PTSD. I called it ‘The Blackness’ because I felt a hard, cold, heavy blackness in my heart region. There were days that I could control it and other days that I couldn’t. When I was at my lowest point, however, when my world was collapsing around me, the blackness controlled me.
The blackness also caused me to feel inferior and unworthy of love, and I was extremely lonely. Even in my relationships I always felt as an outsider, never quite fitting in.
I could be at a social gathering and feel like I was the only one in the room. I thought that the only way to fit in would be to do what everyone else was doing. So, I drank, told jokes and indulged in idle chit-chat and gossip which never really interested me. But I did it anyway just so I could ‘fit in’ and not feel alone. It’s funny, even while doing this I knew I was being a phoney, but I craved attention and to be accepted, so being a fake person was the price I decided to pay.
What I really wanted was to have close friends, be in a close, loving relationship with my wife and with my kids. But the loneliness birds never left. Whilst I loved my family deeply, on the inside, I was still lonely and lost.
I can recall so many occasions when I had some news I wanted to share with others but never got the chance. Whenever I tried, they would interject and go off on another tangent leaving me to feel unheard and unwanted.
I remember coming back from a family holiday to the USA and wanting to tell my friends all about it. They showed a cursory interest but not much else. Perhaps I was the problem I thought? Perhaps I was boring or uninteresting? Perhaps it IS me after all! I don’t know. So I learnt to remain silent and just smile and listen in on what others are saying.
The loneliness, I have since discovered, came as a result of burying my demons deep inside of me so I could move on in life. This was a mistake because all it did was manifest itself as ‘The Blackness’ that eventually led me down a path of self-loathing and self-destruction which nearly took my life.
It was the ‘failure’ of a business venture that unleashed the rage that followed. The Blackness had its hold on me, and it was spewing out in a way that I felt powerless to control. I will detail everything in my upcoming book due in early 2021, but needless to say, I was a broken, lost and angry soul in need of serious help. I eventually did get help from a kind psychologist who believed in me and who really listened. If it wasn’t for him I’m sure I wouldn’t be here today.
Through my sessions and after checking myself into a mental health facility, I eventually discovered what the blackness really was, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I had the more severe version, complex PTSD.
I started a treatment called EMDR which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. After many sessions, I had my breakthrough and came out the other side a changed man. The Blackness lost its control over me and I finally felt freer and light again. It was as if a feather of light had replaced the hard, cold blackness that I had been living with for so long.
It wasn’t long after that I was invited to a Christmas party at a local bowling club. I remember walking in and overheard one of the guests say that the only reason that I was invited was that someone else couldn’t make it, and so they had to make up numbers with me. I instantly felt angry but decided to walk away instead of picking a fight.
Later that afternoon one of the guests suggested that we all go back to his place to continue the party there. A few of the others said they would go, but I said that I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay out rather be stuck in another person’s house. When I said that I wouldn’t be attending, the gentleman who made the invitation looked at me and said in a not too pleasant, “You don’t have many friends do you?” Again, my hackles were up, but instead of ramming my fist through his face, I walked away.
Funnily enough, everyone decided that they didn’t want to go to this person’s place after all, and so we made our way to another club where we remained the rest of the night. After a few drinks, I felt ‘safe’ to open up about my mental health issues to 2 of my friends. They were shocked, but sadly, from that moment on the relationship changed. We have become distant and to this day rarely see one another. Again, the loneliness birds were nesting in my heart.
It was for this reason of fearing being judged and ridiculed that I never spoke to anyone else about my mental health issues. Instead, I focussed on using a system that I had created out of sheer necessity when the demons were threatening to take over my life, to keep moving forward in life.
I had written a manuscript describing my journey and the system I created to rebuild my life. I did it to gain some perspective and clarity for myself which was very cathartic for me. I asked my psychologist to review the manuscript for accuracy, which he did and asked if I was going to publish it. “Nope”. There was no way I was going to let others read my story because I was sick of being judged as well as feeling lonely. I filed the manuscript away for two years.
In 2020 a series of events changed everything for me. Firstly, I had had surgery to fix a recurring problem. Whilst laying in my hospital bed, one of the male nurses opened up to me about his life. I then briefly told him a little bit about me, and he said that there are many men out there who are really struggling and could do with some help. I then started to notice, I mean really notice, how lonely other men felt. They too were struggling and were too afraid to speak out.
Over the next few months, I started researching and talking to men as well as partners of men, and the same story rang true. Men need help. They need a place where they could feel safe and open up, without feeling weak or less of a man, especially those who were struggling with mental illness.
It was then that I knew that I had to open up and tell my story. So I re-read the manuscript, sent it to a publisher and waited. They came back to me and said that my story is one of the most powerful and inspiring they have ever read. I then chickened out and said I wouldn’t go ahead with it because it became all too real for me.
After a few weeks, I knew I was making a mistake, so I contacted the publisher and asked if they were happy to pick up where we left off. Needless to say that they were pleased with my change of heart and the book will be ready in the first few months of 2021.
In addition, I made the decision to begin coaching and mentoring men who were also struggling and have been using my time to have everything ready, (I am a fully qualified and accredited professional coach). The coaching side of things needed to happen before the book launch because it has to — there are too many stories of men who have given up or are struggling.
I know this will open me up to a world I have never experienced before. Mental illness is still a touchy subject and it still has a stigma, especially with men. As a result, there will be naysayers and those who judge and ridicule me. There will also be those who distance themselves from me, and there will be those who will cut me out of their lives completely. I get that. But there will also be those who will say ‘thank you’, and these are the people I am grateful for.
My life isn’t perfect, far from it, and I still have my issues as well as personal problems. I also don’t know what the future holds for me. But for now, I will simply continue on this path and wherever it leads me so be it.