A few years ago, I sat next to Danny at work for just over a year. My father had passed away not long before and my family and I were not in a good place. I was also feeling lonely in London at the time, and this all led me to pick at old wounds and dabble in my favourite pastime of being attracted to emotionally unavailable men, which in turn reinforced my feelings of self-loathing. AWESOME TIMES.
From the day that an office move placed us beside each other, until the time I left the business for pastures new, Danny was my ray of sunshine every day at work. Each morning we’d go to the kitchen where I made a cup of tea and he’d faff about with some complex coffee-making contraption while we talked about a girl he liked and the shifty guy with a glint in his eye that I had my mind made up on ‘saving’ (you can guess how that went). I often couldn’t wait to get to the office to start my day with Danny, who, with his humour and gentle presence, would always lift the cloud I'd had overnight.
For a whole year he was both my confidant and my spin class/lunch/Friday afternoon pub companion. We always cheered each other on, no matter what issues we were facing.
I knew that he really suffered with low self-confidence and I would always tell him how awesome he was, wishing that he could see what I see, because to me he is just one of a kind. He always listened and he told me that I was worth more than I knew as I traded one toxic relationship for another in a year. He made me laugh at myself, and showed me what it looked like to be truly kind and empathetic. I wanted to be more like him.
Despite knowing a lot about my friend and some of the sadness he had experienced in earlier years, I now know that there was much he never told me. I know this because he sent me the story below a few weeks ago.
Having read it and knowing Danny as I do, it seems unfathomable that he's the person that he is after all he has endured, and I have so much respect and admiration for him. I want him to know today, when he reads this, how much he has meant in my life and no doubt in the lives of countless others that he inspires by just being the generous and compassionate soul that he is.
Danny – to use my dad’s words, ‘You are 10 men’ in my eyes.
The lesson that I’m sure you’ll find when you read the story below is that you may never really know what anyone is going through (Danny is synonymous with his cheeky grin). This story has also taught me that the most rare and beautiful flowers really do grow in adversity.
*Trigger warning* The following piece is a brave and inspirational story of survival against the odds that features references of self-harm and attempted suicide.
My story isn't really very commonly known – I'm a hugely private person, and while I wouldn't say I'm a closed book, I've always struggled to be open and trusting with any personal details of my life.
I read Surviving Sundays and felt inspired to write my story. I've since written and re-written this so many times, because at first it felt too depressing, and then it felt unworthy of telling, and then it felt almost indulgent. But this is what we do with so many aspects of our lives – only wanting to publish our polished side.
From as early as nursery, and into primary school, I was bullied regularly by an older boy, who started off physically hurting me but then this progressed into something much worse ... calling me names and destroying the small amount of confidence that I was trying to establish in my formative years. My parents were aware of this and went to the headmaster, but the early 1980s was still stuck on the convenient, not to mention awful, rhyming couplet that was used to write off most of the signs of potential mental health issues: 'Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.'
As a result of this, I began retreating into myself hugely over the next few years ... at least until I was 13, when I became quite destructive. Experimenting with drinking and drugs for several years seemed to outwardly improve my anxiety and fears of being accepted, but this went horribly wrong at 16, when my best friend died of a drugs overdose after a night out.
I was devastated to have lost such an important person in my life and wasn't really able to process or cope with the situation. I decided to give up on the alcohol and substances that I realised I had become dependent on to function in a way that I thought was normal, but the grief and the comedown of this was too much for a teenager, and I decided to end my life.
I survived this attempt and, after recovery, I was put on a strong course of anti-depressants and went through counselling – something I found hugely beneficial but incredibly shameful. However, I'm certain that this episode would definitely have been much worse without this and would have been repeated much sooner.
The next few years brought the death of my grandma and my father, both of whom were hugely important in my life, and then came the end of my first serious relationship with a girl who had become my fiancée until she lost her battle with cancer at the age of 21. This was the catalyst for the second attempt on my life, which had started as cutting myself on my arms and body for several months, and then ultimately became a cut too far, which sent me to A&E.
Counselling and medication continued, until the cost of both became too much for me and so anti-depressants became the thing that helped me function on a day-to-day basis. Then around 10 years ago I was stuck in a job that had such a negative effect on my mental and physical wellbeing that I questioned living for the third time. I eventually came to the realisation that I had never fully dealt with any of the situations that made me feel so awful in myself, instead relying on medication to solve all of my problems for me. I knew that I would need to face past traumas in order to heal.
I have now had more years living as a sufferer of depression than I have without it, and far from seeing this as a badge of honour, I definitely no longer see it as a badge of shame. I continue to tackle new situations that are thrown at me and challenge my internal status quo. Along the way, I have found a whole set of activities that really help re-balance myself mentally: spin classes and boxing lessons give me a boost of positivity, cooking up feasts in the kitchen for myself are a testament to the fact that I value myself, and developing my love of music by DJing at friends' events gives me confidence.
In the last year, I have become a 'Mental Health Ally' at my company – a group set up to help remove the stigma of conversations about things that have a negative impact on people's mental wellbeing. Besides having to share elements of my story with a company of 1,000 people, which I found liberating, it has also been fantastic to be there for people in need of a supportive ear.
The most helpful thing I've learned, which became something of a game changer for me, is the knowledge that being honest about my feelings with people makes it so much easier to own the negative feelings that I sometimes find coming to the forefront. Sharing this story here is yet another positive step for me – owning my story and freeing myself from the fears that once held me back.