I sat on my bed and I looked out of the loft window at the red setting sun and I knew I would never be happy again.
There isn’t much more to it than that. Towards the end of 2002, when I was eleven years old, I fell like a falling safe into my first depression. It was to last for about four or five months.
I had had a great year, all told, right up until that moment on my bed. And it wasn’t just because good things had happened to me that year, though they had. I had spent months genuinely in love with life for no good reason.
My Year 6 teacher, Mr Pownall, was brilliant. I looked forward to going to school every day, because he had found a way to both stoke and satsify my growing curiosity about the world. I don’t know how he did it but he did. And I was getting good on the guitar, spending my spare time learning Beatles songs, mainly by ear. And in the summer holidays, I spent four weeks in Japan on a CISV camp, where I met and got to know thirty-nine other kids from ten different countries. Blew my mind.
And then I came back to England, and pretty much straight away started at secondary school. It might not have been as balls-to-the-wall fun as primary school had been the past couple of years, but it certainly seemed like something I could manage. It was all very new to me, and that made it exciting in and of itself.
There were all kinds of types of people I had never come across before. Of course you had nice kids and mean kids and bitchy kids but then you also had kids that wanted you to think they were hard, kids that actually were hard, kids whose parents were addicts and sex workers and Jeremy Kyle contestants… It was fascinating.
Then six or seven weeks in, we had a week’s holiday. I remember nothing about what I did during that week, only that on the Sunday night, I sat on my bed and I looked out of the loft windows at the red sun setting and I knew I would never be happy again. Every ounce of good-feeling I had ever known – and I had known very much in my eleven years – was gone.
Poof. Just like that.
In a film, when something whacks you out of the blue like that, it’s usually the precursor to some kind of adventure – man falls into a hole, and then the rest of the story is him trying to get himself out of it. But since this is not a film, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that I did what I imagine most people do when most anything happens to them – I just carried on in the hope that it would magically sort itself out.
I was back at school the next morning, getting on with my life, trying to act as as though nothing had changed, as though I hadn’t seen what I had seen that Sunday night. And I kept up the act of being whoever it was I had been before. But it got harder and harder to do that, because deep down I knew I wasn’t that boy any more. I was a different boy. I was a very sad boy.
I have always felt a bit separate from other people. Not disliked, not rejected, just not naturally one of the pack. I find it goes against my nature to spend too much being part of a team – I have to smooth my rough edges to fit in and I resent having to do so.
And up until that point I’d also never given a solitary shit about this side of me before. I might have even taken pride in it. But over those few months, I grew to hate it. To hate everything that made me stand out. I would have given anything to be just like “everyone else”. I would lie in my bed at night and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling and feel ashamed at all the thoughts that were racing through my head. And then I would feel guilty that there were people in the world with “real” problems, and here was me with a cushty life with nothing going wrong lying in bed upset about my own brain… how dare I?
At first, my guitar was a great solace. I had been playing for nearly two years at this point, and whilst I don’t want to blow my own trumpet when there isn’t cause to, for an eleven year with less than two years experience who had never had a single lesson, I was a fucking God on that thing. I would play, and whilst I had it in my hands, there was some kind of temporary relief. But it didn’t last. There came the day when it did nothing for me. The notes that had once been so beautiful were now just sounds, no different to me than a car horn or my mum boiling some water on the hob.
I even put it under my bed for a week during the Christmas holidays so that I wouldn’t have to look at it, because looking at it just reminded me of how far I’d fallen.
It was the longest winter of my life.
There was no one day when I suddenly felt better – it happened very slowly and gradually. Whilst the depression had hit me like a ton of bricks, it had lifted like a particularly weak person picking up each brick individually and carrying it away before returning to pick up the next one.
And there was no specific thing I did or didn’t do to get better – since I had no idea what was happening to me I had no idea how to help myself. In the end I think I’d call it the blind luck of several things compounding to lift me out of it.
My family, who have never been anything but loving towards me. Making friends with Miles and now having a buddy to play guitar with. Getting a lot of exericise playing for a football team. The sun coming out a bit more. Going to youth club at St Chads on a Friday night.
But my specific “recovery” memory is of laying down on the very same bed I’d watched the sun set and felt so god-awful on, strumming my guitar and texting some girl I fancied in my class and suddenly noticing that there was no longer the black cloud above me that there had been.
I don’t know where it went. I didn’t think to ask. I was just glad to see the sky again.