Beginning of a great adventure

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You leave the chaotic scene behind. Your daughter is singing ‘Jingle Bells’ over and over and over and over. It’s March 23rd. Your son is simultaneously watching ‘Adventure Time’ on TV while playing ‘Minecraft’ on his tablet. Oh, and he also has music blaring out at a level higher than the engines of an Airbus A380 (it’s AC/DC so you don’t mind that). The cat meows repetitively at 5 second intervals. It is unclear what she wants. You’ve opened the door for her and filled her food bowl. You’re out of options. It’s possible she’s just being a dick.

The dog however, is completely and utterly focused on her task – TAILTAILTAILTAILTAILTAILTAIL – round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. You swear she pauses and grins at you. Then: CATCATCATCATOHBOYIJUSTLOVETHECATSOMUCHIWANTTOBITEHERLEG. Your partner is in the kitchen, possibly washing or cleaning something, but more probably pretending to wash or clean something simply to escape the bedlam.

And so, you trudge upstairs, time to answer the call of nature. You’re looking forward to it. Ten minutes of peace, checking out Facebook and finding out how many twats are doing shuttle runs in the rain, thinking that everyone cares (nobody does), while you carry out your business. When you get to the toilet, what appears to be Mike Tyson’s forearm is in the bowl, complete with an entire roll of Andrex. You consider yelling downstairs but it will prove futile, as nobody will hear you or actually cares anyway. You deal with it and clean up the mess.

Now that that’s done, you can carry on. But you’re forgetting one thing: the toilet door is a magic door, for as soon as you shut it, a child mysteriously appears outside.

“Daddy, are you going to be long?”

“I really need to go!”

“Are you finished yet?”

Truth is, you haven’t even begun. You let the child in, let them go about their way, send them out and carry on. As you are browsing Facebook, looking at videos of cats in impossibly small spaces, something catches your eye beside the toilet roll. You peer closer and and discover that one of the kids appears to have used the wall as a tissue. You picture the scene: index finger all the way up the nose, rummaging about until it reaches its goal. The finger is withdrawn, the child inspects the lime green trophy, is satisfied, then inexplicably wipes it on the wall instead of using something sensible, like toilet paper. Which is just beside the toilet.

It’s just then, as you are planning the kids’ lecture in your head, that something else grabs your attention.

A brown smear.

“Is that…. shite?” you think to yourself.

A closer inspection confirms your suspicions. You stare at the shitty arc, this Satan’s Rainbow and wonder what else has been touched by the Brown Finger of Doom, how long ago it happened, and which child was responsible. In the end you decide you don’t care and try to remember where you put the Dulux bathroom paint.

Good old parenthood. Our sole purpose on Earth. But why did nobody tell us it was this hard? People smiled, hugged you, shook your hand and told you how wonderful it was. Not one person told you that one day your baby would shit so much, it not only filled the nappy but overflowed, meaning you had to cut the child’s vest off completely rather than paint them with brown, sticky tar.

However, a shitey baby is not the worst thing. No, it’s not when your toddler ate bolognese for dinner, then had their nightly bottle of milk, then vomited everything, everywhere (Parmesan cheese anyone?). It’s the tiredness. The bone-crushing, all-consuming tiredness. Nobody prepares you for that.

When you first bring your little darling home from the hospital, you are a jittery bag of emotions, with a mind full of fear and a body wracked with exhaustion. The former two dissipate over time but the latter just keeps growing. The late nights and early mornings. The middle-of-the-night feeds. The constant attention. It just keeps on rollin’.

And just when you get used to this constant daze, you have your second child.

Fucking Armageddon

What the fresh hell is this? It’s utter chaos. As the old saying goes, one’s a pet but two’s a zoo. How very, very true. You now wonder just what the heck you were doing complaining when you had a solitary child. You find this out when your parents take your older child away for the afternoon, “to give you a bit of peace and quiet with the baby”. And that’s exactly what you get. It’s an ocean of serenity.

Oh look, the baby is crying. There, there, wee baby, shoosh now.

Ah, the baby wants fed. Here, have a bottle.

Uh-oh, a dirty nappy. Let’s change that.

It’s easy. Problem? Solution. Done! Then your first born is delivered back to you. AWOOGA! AWOOGA! Now there’s two. And they both want attention, right here, right now, and if they don’t get it, BOOOOOOOOOOOM! Remember when you used to put the child down for a nap and you could grab a little sit-down with a cup of tea? Hahaha, it’s a distant memory, for no longer will you get any time to yourself, for the best part of, oh, eighteen years?

As time goes on, people who don’t have kids and moan about being tired begin to annoy you. Your work colleague tells you about how nice and relaxed they feel after a lovely evening:

“Yeah, so I thought because we had such a hectic day yesterday, I’d treat myself to an easy night. I got my pyjamas on, cooked a lovely dinner, then watched a great movie on Netflix with a glass of wine. I went to bed early, had a deep sleep then when I got up this morning, feeling refreshed and invigorated, I made a cooked breakfast with fresh coffee and caught up with the news before coming into work. Bring today on!”

Your eyebrow develops a twitch as you recall your evening/morning:

Because you stayed late at work, you were pissing against the wind to get home in time for the childminder. You drove at 248mph and made it back just the ten minutes late. She’s a lovely woman so she doesn’t charge you any more. The kids whine that they are hungry. You announced that since they enjoyed hot dogs so much last week, you got some more. Both children wailed simultaneously that they don’t like them anymore and burst into tears. After what felt like hours of persuasion, they agreed to eat them. In the meantime, you folded one lot of laundry away, emptied the washing machine and hung another one up. Then filled the washing machine again. Dishes were cleaned, dried and put away. Strawberries were chopped and cleaned for dessert. Juice was poured, then spilled, then cleaned up, then poured again. Some of the folded laundry was put in the gargantuan ironing pile, some was put away upstairs.

The kids’ room appears to have exploded. You gently persuade them to tidy it up.

Meltdown.

A compromise is reached, consisting of them putting one thing away while you do the rest. You consider this to be a huge achievement. You now announce that it is bedtime.

Nuclear meltdown.

After what feels like a week, teeth and faces are washed and both are in bed. You go downstairs and realise that you have absolutely nothing for your own dinner. There is zero in the fridge or the cupboards. You have a cheese sandwich. As you munch on stale bread and plastic budget cheddar, it sounds like there is a troupe of acrobats upstairs in the kids’ room. You don’t care. Your partner comes home from working their shift. You are both very tired. It’s time for bed.

The older child has been sick in bed. One of you pulls the puke-covered sheets from the mattress, while the other has to stick the poor thing in the shower at 3:17am. You are all fighting the urge to add your own wee pile of vomit. You are informed that this is what happens when they are forced to eat hot dogs.

In the morning, you kiss your partner goodbye as they start their early shift. Both of you resemble zombies. You wake up the kids and it appears Pukey McVomitface has made a Lazarus-style recovery. In fact, they are really hungry. You get breakfast ready, as well as school uniforms and then make the packed lunches. The kids are placed in the shower like a conveyor belt, dried and dressed and ready for school. There is an average of fourteen arguments by this point. Before you go, another washing is hung up and another one goes on. The kids are dropped of at school and you dash to work, realising that you’ll probably be late.

“How was your night?” your colleague asks.

“Oh, same as yours,” you lie.

Being a parent is tough. It’s filled with a whole load of challenges, some obvious, some you would never even envisage, but all equally fraught with peril that looms around every corner. And while you may read this piece as a long moan about being a parent, I’d like to tell you now how wrong you are. Yes, I’ve listed a whole load of hardships, and made it sound like an absolute chore at the same time. But it isn’t. It’s far from that. In fact, it’s the greatest job that you’ll ever do.

You will never forget the exact moment you see your children for the first time. It’s magical, breathtaking and steeped with emotion. No matter how long ago it was, you can close your eyes, picture it and be taken back into that little snapshot in time. In fact, raising kids is full of these moments and memories, which you store in a giant photo album in your mind.

The responsibility hits you like a sledghammer. WHAM! You have a baby! This fragile little thing is yours to mould and shape, and the journey towards that is both satisfying and beautiful at the same time. Parenthood is the best club in the world, and the rewards are limitless.

Yes, the road is most definitely long and winding, full of more obstacles and challenges than you could ever imagine. But you love those little monsters more than you can ever put into words.

And you wouldn’t swap them for the world.

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Common people

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Let me tell you a story about an awful thing that happened to me. We were shopping in Aldi a few weeks ago and got to the aisle where they sell their awesome yoghurts when – DISASTER – they weren’t there. This happened the week after and the week after that. My wife and I had to accept that our after-dinner treats were discontinued and we wouldn’t see their likes again.

What? Whaddya mean that’s a shite story? We pure LOVED these yoghurts, man. You cannae get them anywhere now. It’s a sad situation.

We didn’t always shop in Aldi. A few years ago, I earned good money and we had a lot of disposable income. It didn’t matter where we shopped. Sainsbury’s, M&S, you name it, we paid it. Did I need new shoes? HELLO SMASHING NEW LOAFERS. Hey, it’s Saturday, let’s go crazy and spend a fortune on a lavishly opulent dinner. Oh look, wine. I think I’ll buy that. And that one. And that one. And tha…. you get the idea.

But then a terrible thing happened to us. It caused us to rack up an enormous amount of debt. But I don’t regret it and I’ll bet that every single one of you out there would agree with us. And then it got worse. I was forced out of my job. A person who I thought I could rely on, instead of being compassionate and caring, became the devil in disguise. Things became so bad, I had no choice but to find other employment. I thought this would be no problem. I am highly-skilled and thoroughly professional. This will be a breeze.

Naw.

I literally called every place in Scotland in my profession. I applied for jobs in Newcastle, London and even Jersey. No dice. Eventually, a job became available but it meant that my salary became half of what it used to be. I took the job, I have always said I would do anything it takes to make sure my kids had a decent standard of life.

But it was a living hell. Our lives changed. We had to tighten out belts, adjust our way of life. We couldn’t get the things we used to or live the way we did before. It was hard but we got there. We’re now on the right track. I have a better job and am getting close to the kind of salary I had before.

And it’s now at this point that you should hate me. And if you don’t, how can you not?

Why?

I am a king.

Why?

Because every time I am hungry, I simply go to the kitchen and get some food. It’s there, every day and every week. Yes, the cupboards may be more bare than they used to but I always have something to eat.

Listen to me, whining away about how I can’t afford to make a lamb roast on a Sunday.

Hear me complain that things are that tight, I can’t afford a weekend away with my friends.

Oh please give me some sympathy, I can’t afford my Scotland ticket anymore.

Who the fuck am I to complain? Me, in my nice house that is always well-heated with food in the cupboards. What the bloody hell do I have to moan about?

I can feed my children, unlike the 30,000 kids who’s parents can’t afford food for them.

I have nice clothes, unlike the 400,000 adults who don’t have essential clothing at this time of year.

My house is nice and warm, unlike the 200,000 children who live in damp homes or the 30% of people who can’t afford to heat where they live.

I don’t have to borrow money like 1 in 5 adults have had to simply to make ends meet.

I am an absolute king, a prince of the people. I am lucky, so very, very lucky.

The policies of this government have created the need for food banks. These millionaire men and women, completely oblivious to the needs of the poorest in this country, have ensured that families will suffer nothing but misery, poverty, cold and hunger this Christmas. While people weep at what little they have, these bastards, these absolute bastards, will be planning which lavish gift to swap and mull over how extravagant their Christmas dinner will be.

Something has to change.

But until it does, food banks are vital. With so many people relying on handouts, it is absolutely essential that those who can afford to give, actually do. It is vital that we continue to support these lifelines and make sure that people are not choosing between food or heat this winter.

Maybe one day we’ll look back in absolute horror at this particular period, but until then, let’s give all we can to make life a better place for those less fortunate than us. We’re all an illness or an accident away from relying on handouts ourselves.

How would you want to be treated in that situation?

Monsters!

Seeing as it’s Hallowe’en, I thought I’d share a wee story with you. I wrote it a while ago and have tried to have it published on a few occasions with no success. Enjoy!

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There’s a monster in the cupboard and a werewolf over there
A vampire in the wardrobe and a ghost beneath the stairs
Lots of different beasties live beneath my bed
Are these demons really real or live inside my head?

I have a little problem, I cannot get to sleep
It’s no ordinary problem and it’s proving hard to beat
Every time I close my eyes, fierce monsters fill the room
I only want to get to sleep, I’m hoping that it’s soon

There’s a monster in the cupboard and a werewolf over there
A vampire in the wardrobe and a ghost beneath the stairs
Lots of different beasties live beneath my bed
Are these demons really real or live inside my head?

My parents don’t believe me, “This is silly!” they will say
“Monsters? Don’t talk nonsense!” then they send me on my way
But to me the creatures live here, in shadows long and deep
I wish that they would go away and leave me to my sleep

There’s a monster in the cupboard and a werewolf over there
A vampire in the wardrobe and a ghost beneath the stairs
Lots of different beasties live beneath my bed
Are these demons really real or live inside my head?

So I’ll have to make this better, I’ll do this on my own
I’ll show these beasties who’s the boss. I’ll stop their howls and moans
I know that deep inside my mind, I’m dreaming all this up
Its up to me to train my brain and make the whole thing stop
I need a plan to chase away the creatures and their scares
How about a fiendish troll in just his underwear?
Monsters aren’t scary! I’m starting to believe!
A beastie gets embarrassed, just like you and just like me
I want to think these creatures don’t howl or bite or scream
If I think of them doing normal things, perhaps they’ll leave my dreams
The vampire’s at a wedding in a silly looking suit
His parents made him wear it and they think he looks so cute
The shirt is really itchy, it makes him stress and fret
The tie is also far too tight and chokes him round his neck
The werewolf’s getting told off for eating with her paws
There’s spaghetti on her fingers and her fur is full of sauce
She’s not a baby anymore and must eat properly
Her dad is very angry shouting “Use your cutlery!”’
The ghost is doing his homework, he’s learning how to spell
But is struggling with some harder words and will have to ask for help
He’s not a spooky spectre when he finds it tough to read
Not so much a ghastly ghoul, he’s simply just like me
Now the monster isn’t scary, the vampire’s lost his bite
The ghost is getting paler and the werewolf needs a fright
The beasties are just babies, I’ve made the demons dance
The creatures are a comfort and the troll’s in just his pants
So maybe you are like me, you’ve got monsters in the bed
Those fiery eyes that burn so bright, a thousand shades of red
The fear it seems to grab you and dance and grow and spread
Then please remember these five words –
IT’S ALL INSIDE YOUR HEAD!!

O Captain! My Captain!

“NO MATTER WHAT ANYBODY TELLS YOU, WORDS AND IDEAS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.”

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**WARNING. CONTAINS TRIGGERS**

Last Saturday, I thought about Dead Poets Society. The kids were watching Night at the Museum (it was really Karen and I, Jake and Amy were upstairs playing), a film in which Robin Williams appears. He made me think about the time when, as a teenage boy, I watched Dead Poets Society and felt moved. And I mean really moved.

Those who know me will vouch I’m not one of these ridiculous, gushing sycophants (see: Jo Whiley’s cringe-inducing commentary on the ’96 Oasis Knebworth gigs) who laud praise on anyone who moves or has the misfortune to die on us. But back then, in the mid-nineties, I watched a film that had a huge impact on me. I remember being emotionally bludgeoned and sitting, numb while the credits rolled.

Williams’ performance – a stand out in his career – made me think “Wow, this guy is my favourite actor in the whole world!”. The final scene, aw man, that final scene. If that doesn’t move you, well, I guess your heart is made out of cold, cold stone.

And the other day I watched it again, feeling those same emotions and thinking how incredibly tragic his death was.

I’m not sure why I connected so easily with the film. Maybe it was my own desire to have an inspiration such as John Keating. Most folk I know always say they had that one, special teacher; that shining light in an otherwise dim few years at High School, the one that brought out the best in them and made them the outstanding human being they are today.

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I didn’t have one. I wish I did. I wish my Higher English teacher was an inspiration to me but she wasn’t. I wish she spotted the potential in a seventeen year old me but she didn’t. I had to discover I could write when I was thirty, leading me to a never-ending whirl of what-could’ve-beens waltzing through my mind. I know. I’ve had a hard life.

Mrs Gordon hated me. I was too cheeky, too fly, too loud for her. She thought she was punishing me by giving me the part of Romeo to read out. Aye right hen, cos I pure hate being the centre of attention and all that.

I remember writing a 2500 word essay on the history of religious bigotry in Glasgow, specifically to do with the Old Firm. It was impressively researched and well presented. It was tossed back to me; apparently the subject matter wasn’t appropriate. I remember one time where I nearly made her explode with rage. While we were studying Romeo & Juliet, we had a discussion about the different types of love Shakespeare used. We had the paternal love, sexual love – was there any other kind? I immediately shot up my hand and quipped “Well, according to Phil Collins, you can get a groovy kind of love.” I’ll never forget her dagger-like stare as the class flew into fits of hysterics.

So maybe that’s why I hold that film so dear. But no one could have played Keating the way Robin Williams did. As much as I admire him as a comedian and enjoy some of his light-hearted roles, it’s always his more serious films I connect with. And the world is a far worse place without him.

The way his death was reported, however, was fucking hideous. I awoke to Sky News, was shocked to find out about it, then flattened by the cause. Initially, the media did well. No major triggers and responsible reporting. But then came the usual suspects. The shit-stirrers; the scandalmongerers; the hate-filled and fuelled rags that some people call TV stations or newspapers.

Exhibit ‘A’ – Fox News

“One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight because their father killed himself in a fit of depression.”

“You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known.

“And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.”

Yes, that’s right. Fox News’ Shepard Smith called Robin Williams ‘a coward’. I mean, for the love of absolute fuck, can you think of anything more atrocious? Would Smith call a member of his own family a coward in the same circumstances? Why are right-wingers such monumental tadgers?

Exhibit ‘B’ – The Daily Fucking Mail

The worst of all news publications in this country broke pretty much every single one of the guidelines put forward by The Samaritans on how to report suicide safely. No thought on how it would affect some people, a blatant disregard for any trigger warnings and a complete lack of respect for Robin Williams and his family. It shouldn’t scream out at us on the front pages.  But we don’t expect anything less from that rag.

But what I noticed was a small, shining light, peeking out from beneath this monumental tragedy. People’s attitudes to mental health are changing. And changing for the better. On social media, people discussed the situation with tenderness and reacted with caution. The issue was identified, help was offered, problems were shared, conditions were discussed. But all in a mature way, a way that showed that we as a society have grown up and accepted that those of us who suffer a mental illness are real, we exist, and require help. And from what I have seen recently, things are moving in the right direction.

The stark and graphic reporting affected me. Yes, happy-old me, laughing-old me, always-got-a-joke old me. What have got to be sad about, eh? It reminded me of the time I started to plan my own demise. I’ve written about this before and I still think the same. Was I really going to go through with it? I dunno. I planned a date. I planned a method. I planned a note. Was I really going to do it? Well, I’m not sure but I’m sure as hell glad I never got the chance to find out.

But then, way back then, when I was deep, deep down in the dark, shrouded in the shadows and lost in the bleakness, it all made sense. Of course! This is what I’ll do! And here’s how I’ll do it! And why yes, this date makes perfect sense! And boy, is that a clever note to use!

I’m lucky. I got myself/was dragged out of the darkness. Others aren’t so lucky. And that is why we have a moral duty, a civic responsibility to report similar cases with absolute delicacy and such fierce guidelines.

People still get in touch with me because of these blogs, and that’s something that I’ll always welcome. We’re all in this big club, you and I, and we get stronger and more supportive with each passing day. Folk I know and folk I don’t know contact me to say hello, ask how I’m doing and to tell me how they’re doing. I’m no trained therapist but sometimes a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear or a simple “me too” means more than any therapy session ever could. But this doesn’t mean we miss our appointments, friends!

But sometimes it’s perhaps the voices who don’t get in touch that shout loudest. The vast, empty echo of something unspoken can often say as much as a thousand words. The cynics, the sceptics, the so-called non-believers. The ones who still think we’re at it. The ones who still think it’s all just attention-seeking. The ones who roll their eyes when we put messages of support on Facebook or updates of how we feel on Twitter. The ones who can’t see beyond their petty prejudices and call us out for frauds. Sometimes, just sometimes, they can shout the loudest.

But there’s a change-a-comin’. I can feel it in my own wee mental bones. I sense this almighty change in society’s attitudes. The tide is surging in, it’s roaring down wave after wave, crashing and cascading down on top of those people, wearing them away until they dissipate into tiny grains of sand. Until they almost don’t exist. Until they simply don’t matter any more.

And when that happens, you and I and everyone else in this most inspirational of clubs can get on with our recovery and be the person we know we can be again.

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“TO QUOTE FROM WHITMAN, ‘O ME! O LIFE!… OF THE QUESTIONS OF THESE RECURRING; OF THE ENDLESS TRAINS OF THE FAITHLESS… OF CITIES FILLED WITH THE FOOLISH; WHAT GOOD AMID THESE, O ME, O LIFE?’

ANSWER. THAT YOU ARE HERE — THAT LIFE EXISTS, AND IDENTITY; THAT THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE. THAT THE POWERFUL PLAY GOES ON AND YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE. WHAT WILL YOUR VERSE BE?”

Talking Mince

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Recently, on a bit of a whim, I decided to become an Agony Uncle for an Indyref based website. I received literally twos of letters. I thought it’d be a good idea to share one of them with you.

This person was confused about how to vote and was seeking some guidance. Here’s her letter.

“Dear Scott,

I was wondering if you could help me. I really want to perform my democratic right in September and vote in the referendum. However, i’m so confused. You see, I’m not really sure which way to vote.

I’m a bit celebrity-obsessed. I love TOWIE and reading Heat Magazine. Famous people dictate how I dress and talk, and I’m easily influenced by whichever bimbo or brainless slab of meat is the media’s favourite this month.

Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of famous people have voiced their opinion and it’s now REALLY messing with my tiny brain.

I mean, last week there were 200 that said I should vote No. These people are all really famous and some were even, like doctors and things. One of them I think was called David Starkey or something. Is he related to the Iron Man? Anyway, he said we should stay within the UK and he’s all like dead clever and that cos he’s got letters after his name. So I was ready to do that but then I saw someone on Facebook had put a picture of him on with some really bad photoshopped quotes saying that he didn’t like Scotland. That really confused me because why would he want to keep Britain together if he didn’t like us. Is there more to it than that?

I also recently saw Geraaaard Butler had got involved. I always listen to him because he has muscles and is pretty and that is all that is important in a man. I saw on Facebook that he said he wanted Scotland to be independent. It was a nice picture of him and the font they used for the quote was nice. But then the next day I saw an even nicer picture of him, maybe he had used Lorrea… L’awrea…. that moisturiser he advertises, saying, again a nice font (not Comic Sans) that he was wrong to support independence and was voting No. If he had a vote, that is. You can understand why I get confused. And anyway, whereabouts in Scotland is Sparta?

So I’m awfully confused. I also hear lots of stories on Facebook. And if something is on Facebook, it must be true. I read a story that said that during last week’s debate between Scotland’s King and the man who looks like a badger that people who were voting Yes weren’t allowed into the debate. I thought this was very sad, so I put on my tinfoil hat and cried a little.

But then I saw something else on Twitter. Again, nobody lies or uses proper gander on there. It was a man who’s car had been smashed up a little bit. He said it was because he had a ‘No Thanks’ sticker on it and I believe him. I mean, for what other reason would a car get randomly damaged by a ned off his tits on glue other than because of the referendum. It obvious.

So please could you help me Scott? I really want to vote but I can’t pick what celebrity to believe.

Thanks very much,

Kelly-Marie”

So there you go, folks. I was wondering if you could help me with my reply.

Any thoughts?

Down Among the Dead Men

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Gary wants your money. He asks nicely but most people pass him by. Sheltered in the darkness of Mitchell Lane, most folk sweep by without even a glance towards him. They don’t even know he’s there. The few who do notice him, abuse him. He’s told to get a job, a life, some respect, to sort himself out and to clear off; though not as politely. He’s also told where to put his little paper cup that he holds out. Once, a young guy in a sharp suit and funny hair kicked the cup out of his hand, sending the small amount of change in it spinning down the lane. Gary could hear the guy and his mates laughing and heckling him. He didn’t care. He just wanted to find his money so he could go and buy a hot cup of tea. But tea isn’t the only thing Gary buys with whatever money he is given. Gary is a drug addict. A junkie to you and me. And all junkies are scum aren’t they?
Aren’t they?
Let me tell you about Gary. He came into the world in 1979 and was the only child to parents Gordon and Mary. His dad worked as an engineer for an electronics company and his mother was a primary school teacher. They were reasonably well-off and lived in a village in the south side of Glasgow, which was well-known as a prevalent area. Gary had a happy childhood. As an only child to middle-class parents, he received a lot more than he should have. He had all the coolest toys and was the first pupil in his school to have a shell suit; the late 80s were good to Gary.
He was a bright pupil and performed well above average for his age. In Primary 3, there was talk of him being put in the class above but it never went through. He carried on in his intellectual ways through high school, breezing through his exams without breaking sweat and gaining impressive results. When it came to Fifth Year though, things started to change.
You see, Gary was always a bit of a Jack the Lad. He was quite a popular boy and had a knack of making people laugh. The trouble was, he started concentrating too closely on the humour and less on the learning. His prelim exams grades were all over the place. He wasn’t enjoying school and everybody knew it. However, as luck would have it, a way out appeared. A friend’s father had an electrical business and was looking for an apprentice; did Gary want to come and work for him? Yes he did.
His parents had reservations. Why didn’t he just stay and get his Highers? He might regret this decision. In the end, his dad was happy with his choice as he was learning a trade and he would always have that to fall back on if times got tough. The boy was now a man.
Gary continued his way through life. He played for the local football team. He went out with his mates. He liked a drink. Doesn’t everyone in Glasgow? As Gary got older, the more he liked to drink. “Slow it down,” he was told but Gary was unstoppable. He was the life and soul of the party, the king of the room. A lot of this period Gary doesn’t remember. Huge black holes in his memory. He was told he had a good time but couldn’t recall it himself. Everything changed though, when he met Sarah.
The love of his life. Love at first sight he used to tell people. Unfortunately, Sarah didn’t see it this way but after a while of charming and wooing, she too, fell in love. A fast engagement, then marriage, then first child, then second child all happened in four fantastic years. Gary had the perfect life. Then it all fell apart.
Gary and Sarah were travelling home in a taxi after a night out alone. About a mile from their house, the taxi hit a pedestrian and screeched to a halt. Gary first made sure Sarah was okay, then burst out the taxi to help the victim. It was a girl, no more than seventeen. Gary knew her. She was dressed to go out and smelled of alcohol. She must have been at the pub and had been on her way home when she staggered in front of the taxi. Gary knelt down beside her. From the mess of her, it was clear she was in a bad way. She was struggling for breath. Gary had a vague idea of first aid but didn’t know where to start here. Suddenly her eyes shot open. Her wide, panicking gaze met Gary’s confused and helpless eyes. And then she died; held loosely in Gary’s arms, the girl took one last breath and fell lifeless.
Somewhere in the distance, Gary heard sirens.
In the months that followed, Gary’s behaviour changed. Mood swings; short temper; lack of desire; drinking. For the first while, Sarah tolerated it, putting it down his way of coping with the accident. He’ll get over it, she thought.
He didn’t.
Sarah persuaded Gary to go to the doctors. He reluctantly agreed and was surprised to be diagnosed with PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was confused as he only thought soldiers suffered from that. The doctor explained how any traumatic experience could trigger it. And Gary had suffered a whopper. He was put on medication and sent for counselling.
It didn’t work.
He couldn’t accept he was ill. Some of his mates called him a lightweight for needing medication, so he binned it.
“A real man would doesn’t need pills,” he was told.
“Give yourself a shake and get on with it”.
“You just need a good night out with the boys.”
In truth, that was the last thing he needed.
“A legend like you doesn’t get depression,” someone told him.
“Stop this silly therapy.”
“Talking about your feelings?” What was he, a woman? Man up.
Inside, Gary was screaming for help. There was this odd blackness that seemed to consume him most days, like a cartoon cloud that sat just above his head. He wanted to tell Sarah but if the lads thought he was some sort of joke, then what would she think of him? He needed to be strong to support her and the kids. He couldn’t have her thinking he wasn’t a good enough husband and father. So he put everything in a wee box in his mind and tried to push it away. Except the box kept breaking and everything kept falling out.
His drinking was now out of control; most nights he would be drunk. Sarah tried to stop him but she was becoming scared. One night, she tried to take the bottle of whisky from him. Gary flew into a rage and tried to get the bottle back. She refused, so he hit her. Immediately, he backed down, broke down and apologised. It wasn’t him, it was the drink. He was going to stop, he was going to get help. Sarah forgave him on the promise he did just that.
He didn’t
The night that haunts Gary is a blank to him; he can’t remember it at all. He is haunted by memories he does not have. He came home drunk; Sarah read the riot act; Gary reacted badly. He beat Sarah until she was bleeding and sitting slumped in the kitchen, unable to cry any more tears. The kids heard the commotion and came running downstairs. Gary roared at the kids to get back to bed but they were terrified and protested. Gary moved towards them and they ran back upstairs. To this day, Sarah is convinced that he was going to hit the children. He never got the chance. An empty wine bottle, sitting waiting to be put out for recycling, was within Sarah’s reach and was smashed across Gary’s head before he could chase them upstairs.
She called an ambulance and put Gary in it. She didn’t go to hospital with him. Instead, she went upstairs and packed his belongings.
He had nowhere to go, he begged. He was sorry. He didn’t mean it. He would change. Sarah wouldn’t let him in and told him to go or the police would be called. He had been disowned by everyone, including his parents, too. They were appalled at the state of Sarah and the effect it had on the kids. They slammed the door shut on him; they needed to protect their grandchildren. He checked into a hotel as he had nowhere else to go. He survived at his job for just a week longer before his boss had to fire him. He was late, unreliable and not up to the standard required anymore. He was turning up to work drunk and in an unfit state to perform. He had had chance after chance, warning after warning. It was too late. With no job, he soon maxed out his credit cards. With no way to pay, he was out on the street.
He turned up at home on a rainy evening. He battered on the door and rattled the windows. He just wanted in. He was different now, he promised. Sarah sat inside, sobbing. Eventually she plucked up enough courage and shouted through the letterbox to go away, for the sake of the kids, just go. Gary accepted defeat and left. To where though?
For a while, he tried different sheltered places in the village but each time was moved on by someone angry about what he had done. News travels fast in a village, you see. Eventually, he used the last change in his pocket to get the bus into Glasgow and headed for the homeless shelter. The people there were kind and gave him a meal and a chance to wash. Nobody asked him his story. They didn’t have any room that night as they were busy but he was welcome to try tomorrow. A broken man, he walked out into the cool autumn night and realised he didn’t know what to do. He did know that he wanted a drink but had no way of getting one. That was until Aldo turned up.
Aldo was homeless too and like Gary, had nowhere to sleep that night. But Aldo had a bottle of whisky. Stolen from some guy who said he stole it from the Co-Op, Gary was told. Aldo asked if he wanted some. Gary said yes. So both of them sat in a damp, derelict building, swigging away on the bottle and telling each other their stories. With each drink, Gary felt better. Eventually he closed his eyes and dreamed of his children.
The next day was the day he tried heroin. He was woken from his dream by the noise of traffic outside. He felt awful, then the enormity of what had happened to him set in and he wept. He sobbed and wailed and moaned until he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Aldo. He knew a way to make Gary forget about everything. Did he want to know? Gary thought about his wife and children and said yes.
He doesn’t remember much about the rest of the day. He gets flashbacks every now and then. He remembers going into a block of flats but no idea where. He remembers being told that the first hit was free but not much else. But what he won’t forget is how he was magically transported to a wonderful world, where all his worries disappeared and everything made sense. Now he wants to go back as often as he can. And he’ll try to get there any way he can. Which means sitting in Mitchell Lane and asking you for money.
Not all junkies are scum. It was easy for Gary to become one and it could easily be you and me. We’re all a few simple steps away from being in the gutter. This may be an exaggerated tale but characters like Gary certainly exist. And sometimes it’s they who are the victims.
What Gary did to his family was unforgivable. But it was preventable. Gary was suffering terribly from mental health problems but the stigma attached to the illness made it impossible to get the help he so desperately needed. Out attitudes need to change. If we all tried to understand and learn what it is like to have a mental illness, then stories like this will become few and far between.
Maybe you know someone similar to Gary. Maybe you could help. Ask. Talk. Be there. You never know what difference you may make.

Dressed for success

 

It’s not often that I’m speechless. In fact, it’s very rare. I’ve always got something to say. Well, maybe not always. Last Saturday night was one of these occasions.

I was asked to make a short speech at a fundraiser for SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health), superbly organised and well attended. It was called “Dress for Depression”, the premise being that people kindly donated their old dresses which in turn, went up for auction with the proceeds going to SAMH. Bargains aplenty.

What happened next was amazing. It certainly wasn’t simply because of me or anything I said, that wasn’t the case at all. It was more a sense of togetherness that we all felt. Everyone had gathered because of a cause that was personal to each and every one of us in the hall. There was definitely something in the air, like some form of electric magic. It was honesty, acceptance and unity. It’s as if each one of us had a light bulb switch on above our heads. Or maybe it was more than that. Maybe we were all these wee racing cars, sitting on the starting grid, ready for the off.  One by one, we all switched on our engines and revved them to the max, waiting for the signal to change and to race for the prize.

Well, the lights are at green, what are you waiting for?

Many people have requested to see the speech, so here it is. It borrows from previous writing but there’s some new bits too. I hope you like it. Oh, and I promise, nay swear, never to perform “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” ever again.

“My name is Scott and I suffer from mental health problems. I’ve been blogging for a couple of years on the subject and have been lucky enough to have a few articles published by the global magazine, The Good Men Project. I’ve been very kindly asked by Martin and Jennifer to talk to you tonight about the stigmas and challenges that face people with mental health problems, along with sharing some of my own battles with the illness.

Just as a warning, some of the content does contain triggers. I’m not going to go too deep but this is an issue I feel strongly about and we all need to know what it is like to suffer from these incredibly common problems. Yes, this isn’t the most pleasant of subjects but this is why we are all here – to raise awareness.

I first suffered from depression in my mid twenties. To this day, I don’t really know why. I had a few bad things happen, I messed some things up but there wasn’t one particular thing that kick started it. And this is incredibly common. Many people think that that to suffer from depression, a million and one bad things must have happened to you. It isn’t as simple as that.

At first, I simply started to feel down. A wee bit miserable. And I couldn’t shake it off. No alarm bells went off at this point. I stopped eating. However, it didn’t stop me drinking. More on this soon. I found that I struggled to motivate myself to do anything. Even the simplest of tasks was a challenge. I didn’t want to see anyone. I found that talking to people, even my close friends and family, was a chore. Then it stepped up a level.

Why was I crying for no reason? I was 25, had millions of friends and loved my life. I played football for Eaglesham and enjoyed my job. Why would I feel so down, so utterly, utterly miserable that all I wanted to do was lie in bed all day? Why couldn’t I motivate myself? Why couldn’t I talk about it. All I had to do was open my mouth. I didn’t. I chose drinking. I know! That’ll work!! A wee pint here. A wee pint there. I drank them wee pints everywhere. Too often. Too much. The trouble is, it wasn’t working. I got worse. But still, all the time, I was push, push pushing how I felt away. Maybe if I keep pushing, all these problems will simply disappear! What a strategy.

The next thing that happened was I cut myself. To this day, I don’t know why I did. It happened on 3 occasions and each time I did it, I felt awful afterwards, like some form of guilt, which then manifested itself into more pain in my tortured mind. But at the time, when I cut my arms, it felt so right to be doing it. But we all know how wrong it is. I have one wee scar to remind me of these times. I don’t hate it, it’s a memento of a past that I can’t change, but I can look back on to help me in the future.

Eventually, I got help. I broke down and told my parents. I told them about my drinking. I showed them my arms. We made a pact, there and then, to ensure I got better and never, ever felt that low again. And it worked. Sort of. I went to the doctors, I was put on medication, and after a great deal of time and a short while “aff the bevvy”, I began to function normally again. All went well until 2010.

At the start of that year, something horrendous happened to us as a family. Some of you in here know about it and some of you don’t. That’s fine. For tonight’s purpose, I don’t need to go into detail about it. It’s still painful for me to discuss it and it’ll be a long time, if ever, I can speak publicly about it.

But it has taken me so long to get over it. I’m still not. The funny thing is, last year, I started blogging about my previous mental health issues and was telling people to seek help if they thought they were suffering and to open up to someone. And I was ignoring my own advice. Eventually, I realised just how badly I was suffering and this time, admitting to myself and loved ones was easier, given what I had been through in the past. I’m on medication, I’ve had counselling and I’ve been diagnosed not only with depression, but PTSD as well. Not the most normal case but PTSD nonetheless. This year, I’ve been writing about my battles and how I’ve been dealing with my diagnosis. I won’t go too much into them as a lot of you may have read them and are easily accessed online.

What is it like to have a mental health problem? That’s a hard question. Everyone is different and suffers in their individual way. All I can do is tell you how I feel and what issues I have.

Nothing or no-one can prepare you for the bleak emptiness of depression. The hollow, cavernous solitude grows inside you like a seed and can at times become completely unstoppable. When I’m on a downer, it seems like this dark cloud has descended. It sits right in front of my forehead. I swear it’s physical and it’s heavy. I often think it changes the shape of my face. I want to shake it away, to shirk it off, to break it into tiny pieces and get rid of it. But it stays. It affects my mood. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m temperamental. I don’t know why. I’ll stay that way for a time. How long, I don’t know. The time isn’t a constant. It can be fleeting, it can be for a whole morning or a whole day. I’m not in charge of it. I hope that these dark days will become few and far between. I hope that something will happen, something will break and I’ll make it through. Never underestimate the power of the dark side. Bloody hell, it’s strong. This odd, cataclysmic vortex of darkness that continues to drag you down, no matter if you feel happy or not.

Attitudes to mental health do not help in any way. I found out a statistic from our friends at SAMH that simply astonished me. 40% of employers would not employ me because of my mental health issues. Slow hand claps all round, eh? The media doesn’t help either. That excuse for a newspaper The Sun recently had an awful headline about mental health patients being killers which it retracted 2 days later. Only, not screaming out of their front page but on a tiny wee column on the inner pages. I have mental health problems, but it’s ok, I’m not going to kill you. I won’t hit you or hurt you. Hell I’m not even going to shout abuse at you. But society thinks otherwise. Not only are you socially unacceptable, you’re now a psychotic killer, too. Here we are in late 2013 and still society continues to vilify, bully and stigmatise those who suffer from mental health issues. We’re still stuck with the same old attitudes. To have a mental illness is to be a loony, a violent, unpredictable character capable of harm and brutal acts. Well, the truth is quite the opposite. Those who suffer from mental illness are far more likely to come to harm themselves rather than commit a vicious act. But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good, ill researched opinion, eh? Society has deemed us who suffer as outcasts. How the hell can anyone who suffers ask to get help if they’re made to feel like a fraud for having an illness. We’ve all heard the statistics. One in four of us will suffer some form of mental illness in our lives at some point. So, if 25% of the population have it, why are there so few who speak openly about it? Probably because of front pages like The Sun’s.

I know there are people in this room who suffer. You’ve got in touch with me to tell me. What would happen to you if you opened up about your illness? What would people think? Badly of you? No. Less of you? Quite the opposite. You’d get a hug, a smile, a welcome look that says “Me too, I’m with you brother or sister”. You’ll get help, you’ll get better, you’ll go places, go forward out of the darkness and into the light. You’ll get a high five, a handshake, a slap on the back, not a slap in the face from a society so deep in the shadows and so set in its ridiculous ways that one day we’ll look upon this time with shame and embarrassment.

If you are worried about what people will think of you because of your depression, then stop. Stop it now. It doesn’t matter what they say because you are better than them. It doesn’t matter what they think because you are a hero. It doesn’t matter what they do because you are still you, and there’s nobody out there better than you. You are you, the same person you always were. You’re no different. Except you’re not wired correctly. There’s a bulb out. You’re a wee bitty wonky. And that’s ok. Nobody is perfect. We’re not meant to be. We are designed to have imperfections, to have failings, to be flawed. It’s just that some of us are more flawed than others. But when that flaw happens to be a back problem or a skin complaint or a whole multitude of other things, then it is ok to talk about them. However, if it’s this. If it’s up here. It’s taboo. And this is madness. The brain is the most complex organ in the body so it’s no surprise it often fails. And it’s so common. Yet we can’t talk about it’s malfunctions. And it is a malfunction. You’re not just sad, you’re ill.

We have to open up. You are not going to get any better until you do. Other people want to help. Loved ones are concerned. But of you keep building those barriers, they can’t get through. How can we expect other people to understand us or treat us if we don’t tell them how we feel. But sometimes it isn’t as simple as that. Often the sufferer doesn’t know or can comprehend what is happening to them. And that’s where the rest of us can come in.

It is an illness. It can’t be solved by giving ourselves a good shake. A good night out with the boys will probably make us worse. We can’t just cheer up. It isn’t attention seeking. It’s not all of the above and it’s a million other things.

We have to change as a society. We have to smash the stigma that has been associated for far too long with mental health. We need to speak out about our experiences and encourage those that are suffering to seek help. We need to make mental illness a socially acceptable illness to have. It’s a long road. But it’s a fight worth fighting, one that I want to to tackle head on and I hope you will too.

You may think that because I can stand up here and talk to you that this comes easy to me. It doesn’t. I’ve fought with myself over this for weeks. Yes, I can talk but this is a completely different story. It’s all very well confessing to everyone from behind a keyboard. Standing up here and talking to you hasn’t been easy and I thank you for your time and patience. There are times when it gets incredibly difficult for me to simply function as a human being and I couldn’t do it without the support I receive from my family and friends. In fact, Karen deserves a medal for putting up with me at times. I dont know how she does it but every day I’m thankful that I’m married to such a wonderful, caring and understanding person.

So here I am. I’ve told you how I feel. I bet some of you feel the same. Like a fragile bubble of glass. Here we are, all carrying on with being wee glass bubbles. Until something handles us too roughly, not carefully enough. We’re tender, you see. We shatter. We smash into all these tiny pieces and although we are surrounded by people who nurture us and put us back together, the pieces we break in to are becoming smaller and smaller. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to piece us back together. The glue isn’t holding. We just want to become whole again and not be these silly wee delicate humans.

Yes, some of us have a mental illness. But there’s no shame in it. It’s how you deal with it that counts. When you’re up, savour how that feels, it’s normal. Don’t be dragged down by the vortex. Yes, the depression will always be there, like a darkness on the edge of town. But keep it there. In fact, banish it from town. Run it out of town. Chase it away, scare it, frighten it so much that it only ever dares dip a toe over the county line. And when it does, you and your posse are on it like a flash, charging like heroes to make sure it knows the message.

And the message? You are not alone. I am not alone. We are not alone. There are so many like you. You don’t have to do this by yourself. We are your posse and we are plenty. And we are coming to get the darkness. And we will win.”