I wrote this song a couple of years ago when I heard the tragic news that my 29 year old nephew, Darryl, had taken his own life. I remember it so clearly – that horrible, numb shock that rooted my feet to the spot and placed a cold, hard lump of lead in my belly.
And I remember the thought that immediately followed and ricocheted around in my my skull: “He beat me to it“
At the time, I was battling with my own demons. Having been a sufferer of depression for many years, since I was a small boy in fact, I was used to having days when life was drained of colour and when all meaning was sucked out of life. I’d had several years of intense therapy and so I had what I refer to as my ‘toolbox’ – a whole bunch of excercises and tricks that I’d use to help me climb out of the pit of despair I’d often find myself in. At the time of Darryl’s passing though, none of these seemed to be working.
I remember feeling a kind of envy for him – he’d found a way to end the pain by embracing oblivion, something I’d been too terrified to do up until now. One of the tricks in my toolbox is a simple but effective one. When I get these feelings, instead of fighting them, or running away from them, I’ll stop and question them. I asked myself, ‘but why are you terrified to end it all?‘ The answer when it came was swift: ‘Because I’m afraid of hurting my loved ones‘. And on the heels of that thought came the real truth, painful as it was; ‘and I’m afraid of what they’ll think of me.’ That’s when I began to think about Darryl’s family – those he’d left behind.
Darryl was a father of two, a husband, a son, a grandson, a brother, a cousin, a nephew and a friend to so many. He lived on a small island off the coast of Scotland and was a fisherman by trade. Those closest to him had no idea that he’d been suffering with depression – it is an invisible illness that affects 1 in 4 of us in the UK and, although it’s extremely difficult to live with, it’s not so hard to hide it from others – we become oscar worthy actors. The pain is internal. The curse of the human condition I think, is that we are all our own separate universes. We are isolated from each other in our own emotional space and nobody can feel what the next person feels. Our pain is only relative to our own selves. Darryl’s pain was too much for him to bear and so he found the only way out he could see.
Some years ago, I found out an important lesson about choice. I learned that, no matter how shit life can be, however much we feel that we’re up against a wall, there is always a choice. All too often I would feel like I was trapped in a situation that life had pre-ordained for me. I was stuck with no way out and I couldn’t kill myself because my loved ones would suffer and probably hate me for what I’d done, and that thought was unbearable to me – so I drove myself slowly mad, turning and turning in my emotional and mental agony. Then someone pointed out to me that there is always a choice. Sure, they were sometimes shit choices- a) continue to suffer, b) kill myself and put my loved ones through the mill, c) go and get help. Once I realised that I wasn’t trapped, that I could end it all if I chose to, the pressure lifted. I felt strangely empowered, as though I was in charge of my own destiny at last. And suddenly, I found that I wanted to live – not just for the sake of others, but for myself. This lesson has stayed with me and has kept me alive during those dark days that still visit me from time to time. When it feels like I’m being swept along by a merciless tide, I remember that I do have a choice and the feeling of powerlessness subsides allowing me to think more clearly and try to find a solution to what was a seemingly insurmountable problem. And when I don’t find a solution? Well, that’s okay, because that’s what life is; a series of ups and downs – I know that, sooner or later, things will start to look up again and that’s what I focus on.
I wish with all my heart that I could have had this conversation with Darryl – just maybe he’d still be around today.
Writing, for me, is a kind of therapy – it’s cheaper than counseling and allows me to explore the whole spectrum of my emotions. It helps me to understand what makes me who I am. I can honestly say that, if I didn’t have this emotional outlet, I’d probably not be here today writing this blog. There is not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for this ability. I’d encourage anybody to write down their feelings regularly – whether it be a song, a poem, a journal, whatever – the simple act of writing stuff down, putting your feelings on a page so that they become a tangible, physical thing, really helps. It’s almost as if, by bringing them into the physical world, they cease to be these abstract problems that cannot be grasped, and become instead something that is easier to understand. It’s like removing a splinter – it can be painful at times, and there’s often some horrible puss to get out too, but once it’s out, you feel better. Talking works too but not as well, at least, not for me – but then, everybody is different…
When I wrote, ‘Those We Leave Behind’, I thought I was writing it for Darryl. Then I figured out that I was writing it for his mum, his wife, his kids and everyone he’d left behind. Looking back, I realise that I was also writing it for me. It was, in some ways, the goodbye note I couldn’t bring myself to write and the act of writing it reminded me that there is always a choice….. and I chose to live.
I’ve released ‘Those We Leave behind’ as an mp3 download and I’m giving all of the proceeds to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity that focuses on suicide prevention in men in the UK. To download and donate, visit my Just Giving page here.
You can donate as much as you like although the suggested amount of £2 would be gratefully received.
Please remember, if you are suffering from depression – when life seems meaningless or too painful to endure, you are not alone. Talk to someone, write it down, do something. If someone you love is suffering with depression, reach out to them – let them know that they are loved and that they make a difference to your world. Trust me, you’ll miss them when they’re gone…
Here are some useful links and phone numbers:
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) – 0800 58 58 58
The Samaritans – 116 123
Please, please, please….Choose LIFE…
Increase The Peace,