“Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.”
Some of you may not enjoy reading this, because this blog is possibly going to be the saddest one I’ve ever written. This blog gives you an insight into my struggle over the last few years. The struggle for establishing who I am, who I want to be, what I want to do and where I want to go in my life. The struggle created detachment from the world, lead to my diagnosis of chronic depression and forced me into a place I would never have believed I could ever go. This is a meaningful post to me and took a lot for me to write it initially, and now to post it. I’ve attempted to make it as logically written as I could, to help you understand the turn of events. This has by far been the most emotional blog I’ve ever written, in fact, its probably the most emotional piece of writing I’ve ever produced. Thank you so much for reading this blog, it means so much to me.
Since the end of my first year of my masters, I realised that there was something not quite right inside of me. I guess I felt a sense of loss, a sense of loneliness and general confusion about life. I had a fantastic time on my vacation scheme with the law firm that I desperately wanted to work for, I met some amazing people who made my experience beyond amazing, and I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. Following the vacation scheme, I had a couple of pieces of coursework and a few exams to complete. Usually law students take their exams and finish all their essays before their summer starts – however, I had to postpone due to the feelings I mentioned above. This lead to a nightmarish situation whereby I had to pass, with respectable grades, all those above parts to proceed into the next year.
In this time of dismay and the unknown – I met someone who became very close to me, and who due to their own circumstances ended up with a very similar situation to me. She and I spent a lot of time enjoying the social life, attempting to forget what’s happening in reality. I think that in some ways, we as Millennials, as people, try our best to escape reality and almost find ourselves in a state of delusion as if things will work out for the best, regardless of how much effort we put in. Sometimes its just easier to pretend things aren’t there because then we don’t have to address them. We spent quite a lot of time working together, and after the valiant efforts to get our work done – her parents invited me to remain a resident and work closely together to have the best possible year for my second year, and the first year of her vocational qualification (Post-Grad). She completed her essays to the best she could, I completed mine and I revised and attacked the exams with all I had in me.
In September I received my Training Contract offer from the firm I completed a vac scheme with, and I felt a sense of strength in myself, a sense of pride, a sense of achievement. However, the potential that I may not have even passed my first year was hanging over my head, so the happiness didn’t last. When I was finally told my results, and I had achieved a Merit for the first year – I was over the moon, but I felt a weakness in me, I felt quite burnt out. Having completed two thorough essays and revised for 3 exams in the space of a month – threw me off. I couldn’t completely commit myself because of a number of different factors, including the long commute to university, which for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome can be crazily overwhelming. Other factors like that I felt constant fatigue in myself, I couldn’t go to the gym anymore, I couldn’t really go out and do anything with any sense of enthusiasm. I almost felt constantly sad even though my life was actually going rather well, which is a key point. People assume that because it appears that someone has a great life, has everything going for them, or they appear happy – makes it very difficult for people to actually understand depression. There’s certainly a stereotype placed on the perception of depression, that being – someone who is constantly sad, someone who won’t leave the house, someone who looks worn out, etc. I feel that is a very ignorant perception of depression and mental health in general.
(There are many more ideas around Autism, but I’m not going to go into that now).
>>>> Fast forward to February 2018
My February wasn’t going great, for the first couple of weeks I felt extremely down – I approached my tutors because I felt that in the past, not communicating how you’re feeling is more detrimental to your mental health.
“It’s okay to feel unstable. It’s okay to disassociate. It’s okay to hide from the world. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay not to be okay. Your mental illness is not a personal failure.”
I had read a number of emails the university had sent out regarding young students who had given up on their lives, who had committed suicide because they weren’t able to cope anymore, this saddened me. I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I didn’t tell anyone, and gradually my mind broke down and I started feeling at rock bottom. I visited my GP, I spoke to my personal tutor (who has been amazing), I had been put in contact with several different people at university all desperate to ensure that there was help in place to prevent me feeling any worse. Strangely, I still felt terrible about myself, I felt hopeless. The two people I could talk to, my partner and my best friend, both tried so very hard to help me understand my problems in a more logical way. They helped me, alongside the amazing staff at the university.
Things began to build up again, I began to think about concentrating on the course and doing my best for the year and was slowly becoming ready to tackle the course. I’m passionate about law and have always had a strong logical reasoning skillset, I always enjoyed working things out, and finding solutions to problems – this is what engaged my mind in the idea of an intellectually stimulating career in law, specifically in IT Law or AI Law. However, as my passions began to show again, what was about to hit me was in no way in my mind at all, nothing could have prepared me for what was coming. I had started attending the gym again and had a routine of studying with a really close friend of mine Ed, and we had been regularly going, attempting to both help each other to be more productive, more fit, and to improve our general mental health.
On the day of Wednesday 21st February 2018, Ed and I pursued our routine – we smashed the gym, and we were going to head to his work to get some university work done, we were laughing and joking in the gym, taking the mick out of each other thoroughly. Ed went and had a shower, I grabbed my phone, and noticed a few missed calls from my mum. I called her back, and she said in a sad voice: “Josh… dad has died”. My ears didn’t quite understand what they had just heard, my brain didn’t comprehend the words, I said sorry and asked for her to say again. . . She said, “Bob, your dad, has died Josh”. It was in that moment, that everything stopped for a second in my brain, my world felt even more detached from me, even writing this now makes me tear up and shake. I hung up. I walked to the shower, upset, and told Ed what had happened. Ed quickly rushed to get dressed and took me somewhere quiet to talk to me and help me to understand what had happened. I called everyone who I truly care about and told them what had happened. The guilt of having not talked to my dad for over a year, having not tried to make amends for being such a douche to him after my parents divorced – tore me apart.
[Some context on my living arrangements during this period after the death]
When I approached my personal tutor about what happened – she set in motion several vital cogs of support for me. I was truly devastated and knew that I could no longer happily live in Bath and try to pretend I was okay because truthfully, I felt detached, very low and I needed to be near University and the help that was available for me there. My personal tutor urged me to take up what is known as ‘emergency accommodation’, which allowed me the option to stay in any university accommodation of my choosing, for a period of two weeks. During those two weeks – I visited counsellors and had a meeting regarding my future at the university. I expressly stated the all who were supporting me – that I did not want to drop out or take a break from the course. I felt an odd strength in me, deep down, to continue and to not give up. After a successful application to the university, I was granted funding that would cover me for accommodation for the remainder of the year and obtained (after much confusion and moving around) a studio flat within the accommodation I felt the most comfortable in. The accommodation has ensured that I’ve been able to attend regular meetings with counsellors, my personal tutor, and someone who I have, through this experience – become very comfortable with, Elizabeth.
When the death had happened, I felt like God was out to get me, I felt like I had suffered from my mental health issues, I wanted to get better, I wanted to get on with my life!! Then, I got served a bitter plate of pure ****. I felt devastated for my little sister, who is getting married next year, I knew how much she loved dad and how excited she was at the prospect of him walking down the aisle. I didn’t believe that he had died, I was so used to him living abroad that in my mind – I felt like he was just still away living his life in a beautiful country, photographing the beauty in the world… my brain denied the idea of it. I felt broken, every time anyone asked about what had happened, what was happening, when the funeral was, whether I was going to carry the coffin, whether I was going to write a speech – I broke. A piece of reality came together every time anyone mentioned anything, and as reality was piecing itself together – I was breaking apart. Nights became constantly restless, I would wake up scared that things were in my room, and mornings I would feel completely tired and hopeless – not wanting to even bother leaving the flat. This constant emotional roller-coaster lasted throughout the period between the death and the day of the funeral.
“Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.”
This was, in fact, the most emotional day that I’ve ever experienced in my life. My family hasn’t seen me cry since I was a child, and they’ve never seen me express any emotions in front of them. I’ve always been quite reserved in front of them and am very quiet with my family. I feel that I should only speak when I have something necessary and interesting to say – otherwise, people won’t listen to me. This day, however, my family, my sister, my mum, my grandmother, etc, were about to hear some of the most heartfelt words they’ll ever hear me say. Writing my speech was upsetting, the words were written with passion, as I wrote I felt the pain being placed onto paper – so when it came to reading it, I knew I would feel that pain again as I spoke. I asked specifically for my best friend, who had known me for the past 10 years to be there for me at the funeral. The reason I asked Ollie, is because I felt that it was right to have someone who knew the family, and who I had spoken to about my dad over the past years. Ollie knew my sister for a number of years and had spoken to my mum a lot, so he was a comfortable figure for us to have there.
When I arrived at the funeral home, I knew in my heart that today was the day that I would see my father. I spent the past two months fighting myself to avoid going and seeing him because in my mind for me to see him, would put the pieces of reality together and I would have to accept that it had happened, that he was gone. My mum decided that she wanted to go in first, and because of my acute hearing, the cries were terrifying in my ears. I could hear her through the wall, and I could hear it loudly. I decided that I wanted to go in because I wanted to see him, but I also wanted to go before my sister, as I felt that it would be better for me to judge whether she should see him. At that moment, entering that room, everything was silent, it was cold, my brain shut off. There were photos of me, my sister, my dad everywhere – and I saw him. That single moment in my life changed everything in my mind. I stepped back, and I stood there for a second and then I said “Thank you for everything you had ever done for me dad”, then I walked out. My sister asked me if she should go in, and I expressly told her not to, I said that she would find no closure and that the last memory of dad should be a happy one – and I needed to see him because I wanted to give him the respect that he deserved for doing what he did for me when I was younger.
Then, at the crematorium, my aunt (his sister) gave a wonderful Eulogy about dad, telling us some brilliant things he did that we never knew about. Then my sister spoke some of the most beautiful words about my dad, making comments about the fact that “as a woman, your father is the first man you ever love in life”, her voice echoed beautifully throughout the space we were in and I know that everyone was warmed by her words. That moment broke me, seeing my precious little sister speak in front of everyone, standing next to her father, speak about how much she loves him and is torn apart – is something that I will never forget. Next, it was my turn to speak, and I felt the hand of my best mate against my back, to show me that he was there for me to support me. Having a room full of people looking at you, standing in front of a microphone, next to your father was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I didn’t hesitate, I wanted to speak, and speak clearly about the man who brought me up to be the man I am today, and I spoke confidently, I felt the words as I spoke them, and I remembered them to the point where I could look at my father’s coffin and speak the words from my heart. I noticed my grandmother crying, my sister and my mum – all people who I had never been in front of in such a way and spoken about things so emotionally. I knew it had touched them and I will never forget those moments during the speech. My sister and I decided to have pendants specially made which contain the ashes of our father, and his initials in them, as a memory of the person we have lost. He carried us in our younger years, now we’re going to carry him.
From the funeral to now
The death changed a lot in me, I no longer believed in the idea that things will live forever and that there’s always time to see people. In fact, it made me realise that people deal with serious struggles with their mental health and don’t tell anyone, and then suddenly one day it can catch you off guard and they’re not around anymore. My father’s depression following the death of my grandparents clearly tore him apart and created for him a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. He dearly loved his parents. After living abroad for so long and then coming back to the pressures of the life in the UK, it’s going to be difficult, he was entering a job market where its difficult to obtain jobs for people who are in their 50s.
Since overcoming the funeral I’ve focused on looking after my mental health and avoiding stupid thoughts and have tried really hard to spend time with positive people so that my outlook on life is more positive. I have started swimming now and started eating healthier. I’m not saying that suddenly my life is better because it really isn’t. But I’m trying my hardest to improve my health, trying my best to find myself again. I’ve definitely noticed that I’m not able to fully concentrate on my work, and I’m still struggling to find it in myself to complete the essays to the ability I previously had, and that really sucks. Imagine knowing your capacity for learning, your ability in writing and your brain just clouding you from being able to use that.
Now all I fear is the potential that I may not fulfill my intentions to obtain a Merit in my degree, that I may lose my training contract because I won’t get a Merit. These are serious things that I now must deal with, and the struggle is now this. Unfortunately, a person can only take so much emotional turmoil before their mind sort of gives up and prevents them from being able to concentrate and from being able to do the things they were once good at. My friends, I believe, have certainly noticed a drastic change in me – they feel that I’m more reserved, less happy and evidently less willing to participate in things. I will try my best to overcome these difficulties, to come out the other side with the grade that I need and to pursue my training contract. For now, I must focus on getting better, on dealing with the grieving and to cope with my Autism.
For now – I must go on.
Q & A
Why do you no longer have Facebook?
When my father passed, I posted something on Facebook because I felt that I wasn’t being myself with my friends, I felt that I had been more detached. I posted about my father and a lot of people commented, messaged me, etc. For me, this was extremely overwhelming, and for me to constantly see the post about my dad when I logged into my account – I could no longer take it, it was a reminder that he had died. Further to this – Facebook had already been sucking my energy out of me daily, watching people post things for social media validity didn’t impress me and spending an hour of my morning when I woke up and an hour of my night before I slept – just scrolling through Facebook, wasted my time. I think that Facebook for me is now merely a messaging service, I don’t need to receive recognition for what I’m up to, I don’t need to tell the world when I go on holiday or if I’ve got something new.
What helped you to overcome the depression and get back on with your masters?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve been able to “get back on” with my masters, I’d probably word it as “attempt to continue” with it. When my dad died, I felt messed up, I needed some sort of goal – that was to finish my MA. The key for me was the fact that I knew there was no other avenue to take. If I dropped out and then went back at a later date – I would have to pay £9k of my own money (which I don’t have), I really couldn’t do that. Having people around you that are willing to help you, at university, your partner, your family, and your friends – is something that I strongly recommend. The support network for me ensured that I didn’t lock myself in a room and completely shut myself off from the world. I felt lonely when I was with people, sure, but as I spent more and more time with them – I knew that I had a reason to feel wanted and liked. My partner always called me, always watched films with me (even when she wasn’t at mine: through Skype), and would try her best to meet up with me to have enjoyable times together. My closest mates would arrange meetups and we would have coffee, grab food and just talk about the world – rather than focus in on the negative things that had happened. Never underestimate the importance of the people who care about you the most, they know you would do exactly the same for them!