Monday, 10 March 2014

What made me the man I am today – The final chapter

Previously on “What made me the man I am today”...

During my formative school years I had been the target of bullies, social isolation by my peers and been treated, although not necessarily maliciously, as an outcast within my own family. 

I had been seven years old when my depression first hit and suffered in silence with suicidal thoughts and a growing darkness worsened by rejection by so-called ‘friends’, family and the girls I developed crushes on.  In my desperate attempts to find friendship and love, my school work suffered, a problem made all the greater by teachers who failed to engage me in their subjects.

There were occasions when I could have been saved by family or teachers but those chances were not taken and my journey on the dark path continued unabated.

The isolation and my apparent worthlessness within my immediate family group found expression in the lack of concern regarding the attempt on my life by the man who lived next door to us and yet I still tried to be the strong one when my family needed an unwavering centre of stability and rationality when Grandma became ill.

The only bright light in my dark world was my Grandma who was tragically taken from me twice - first by the stroke which took from us all that she was and second by her death after two long years of being trapped in her own body and mind, a victim of recurrent illnesses and degradation from the damage caused by the stroke.

During my time as my Grandma’s carer, I found new reasons to hate myself as I was plagued by thoughts of wanting to put Grandma out of her misery and ours but realising that I could do nothing about it.

My lack of a girlfriend and intense curiosity in women combined with my desperate need to collect things brought on by my depression led me into an addiction to nudie magazines to satisfy the demands of my raging hormones.

When I finally entered the workplace, my problems didn’t seem to go away as I found myself different to the other men I worked with and I found myself drawn into an unrequited love that would end in my over-indulgence in alcohol to deaden the pain of rejection and betrayal.  I attempted, as I have always done, to improve my lot in life by taking on a promotion which ended in losing my job over a misspoken word and an argument not of my initiation.

My need to collect became even stronger as I tried to fill my life with something to make me feel normal as I struggled to find work and live the broken heart I was left with.  This need to find a connection resulted in the formation of a Doctor Who fan club that didn’t go anywhere but did give me a window into something that would help me express my creative side – writing.

My search for work was ultimately successful but thanks to pressures in both my work and private lives would lead to further social isolation in the workplace following my very public emotional breakdown. 

The fan club I started gave me something to do in my spare time and also brought me new friends, new interests and, after years of romantic failures, the possibility of love but at the cost of a friendship.

Finally, I had made a romantic connection but, as with everything that has happened in my life, there would be a cost involved along with the benefits of making a connection with another human being.

And now the conclusion of “What made me the man I am today”...

It was a few days before Christmas 1998 as I landed at Orlando airport in Florida with very little spending money, my luggage and two rings for the woman I was to marry, Diana.  As we had become affianced at short notice I had purchased an engagement ring and a wedding band for the trip, both relatively cheap I am embarrassed to say but they were all I could afford.  Diana was meant to meet me at the luggage carousel but I was quicker through the airport procedures than either of us expected so it was a while before we found each other but when we finally met I hugged Diana then got down on one knee to make the proposal properly.  I really thought that my life was turning around despite the fact that, due to a water leak in Diana’s house, we had to shuttle between there and a friend of Diana’s mother to have a shower, meaning that the Cook curse was still working its terrible influence on my life and the lives of those around me.

It was during the first couple of days when Diana and I had our first argument, not a big one more a disagreement.  Diana seemed to be shutting me out emotionally over something and it hurt me quite deeply seeing as how we were engaged.  I suppose I should have taken that as a sign and called things off but I’m a romantic at heart so I thought it would soon be forgotten.  To cool off, I walked to the local shops to pick up some Christmas supplies I needed.  Diana found me after a short search and we patched up the problem.

We spent the next couple of days running around trying to hide the preparations for our wedding from Diana’s mother because we couldn’t invite her without inviting Diana’s father who would have insisted on bringing Diana’s stepmother whom Diana’s mother could not get along with.  I won’t go into the details of Diana’s family history, suffice to say that it’s a complicated affair.  As a result, our wedding was a quiet affair with just the two of us and the registrar at the courthouse who conducted the ceremony.  It was also an event fraught with unimaginable stress as Diana’s mother was taking an age to leave the house, leaving Diana and I a mere hour to get dressed in our smart wedding clothes and get to the courthouse as we wanted to be married in time for Christmas and it was the final possible day we could have the ceremony before the Christmas closure.

There are no photographs of the ceremony because my camera had been dropped on the ground the day before the wedding and, although it still seemed to be working and we got the registrar to take a couple of shots, when we tried to get the roll of film processed nothing was on the film.  We do have a photograph from that day though as we went into a tourist trap and found a place that took photographs of people dressed in Old West outfits.  There happened to be a decent enough outfit for me and a Southern belle wedding dress for Diana to wear although it was a little on the small side and was not fastened at the back, however, it was good enough for us.  The only downside was that the photograph is in sepia tones so that the nice colours of our costumes are completely lost to the pages of history.

Diana had arranged for a short honeymoon at a local fishing camp starting the day after our wedding so we spent our first night as a married couple sleeping in separate beds so Diana’s mother didn’t know we had already gotten married.  I so wanted us to be together but I understood the need for secrecy so I waited like the patient man I was forced into being.

The honeymoon, when we finally got to go, was a very stressful time as well as Diana was unable to get any time off work and, as Diana’s mother was staying somewhere else for a few days, we had to keep returning to the house to feed Diana’s rabbit in order to keep our marriage secret.  It was, however, a nice place to stay and we finally got to spend some quality time together as a couple.  There was also the disappointment of Diana not wanting us to engage in intimate relations whilst we were there.  This should have been a warning of things to come but I was too much in love to care about such matters.

After some sightseeing and meeting Diana’s friends over the next few days, we stayed at Diana’s grandmother’s house in St Petersburg near the Gulf Coast.  It was there that we eventually consummated our union and we both lost our virginities.  It was a special night that I wish I could say I’ll never forget but with my poor memory, that’s all I can remember.  We were intimate a couple of times after that but we had to return to Orlando so our opportunities were few and far between.

We finally came clean to Diana’s mother about being married and she promised to keep our secret but our trip to St Petersburg was to have a negative effect on our last week together in Florida as I became very ill.  Diana and I spent a fortune getting me checked out medically as my travel insurers insisted I paid for the tests and treatment I needed and then claim the money back when I got home.  I, unfortunately, didn’t have enough and Diana was forced to spend almost every cent she had in her bank account to help me.  Oh, American healthcare may cost a lot but you get a top notch service for your money and I was diagnosed as having lower right lobe pneumonia.  I could barely catch my breath and couldn’t walk more than a few paces so my last week in Florida was spent in my bed alone.

On my last full day in Orlando, Diana surprised me with a trip to Universal Studios and she spent the entire day pushing me around in a wheelchair like an invalid.  It did get us to the front of the queues though so swings and roundabouts.  It was a fantastic day for us as we could enjoy each other’s company alone for the last time for several days as Diana couldn’t return with me to England on the same flight as she needed to get her passport changed which was to take about a week.

We spent the last day of my holiday in tears as we didn’t want to be parted from each other for a single minute but, despite the fact I had been warned not to undertake such a long flight in my condition, I felt I had to return so that I could honour my promise to my boss that I would return to work as soon as possible as he had been kind enough to allow me to spend some of my holiday entitlement for 1999 before I was technically allowed to.

I don’t know what happened to Diana after we parted company at the airport so I could board my plane but I could barely see for the floods of tears I was in.  I thought, as I had been rejected so many times before, that Diana might change her mind about wanting to be married to me and that I’d never see her again.  I was so distressed that I even considered asking the stewardess who came to see if I was alright if she could get the pilot to turn around so that I could get off the plane but my promise to my boss was too powerful.  As the aircraft took off, I looked forlornly out of the window tears streaming down my face unable to even imagine where Diana was at that point.  I doubt if I’ll ever know whether Diana reacted in a similar fashion to our enforced separation but I hope that, at that point in our relationship, she did miss me.

I returned home to be signed off work with the pneumonia that would forever affect my ability to control my breath from that point on but that did allow me a chance to move my belongings to my brother’s flat where Diana and I were to live when she came to the UK.  I had stayed in the flat the night before I left for the trip to Florida and, because I thought Diana would reject me when I got there, I had purchased a nudie magazine to console myself when I returned and left it in the drawer of the sideboard – a decision I would regret later.

When Diana followed me to England a few days later I was overjoyed to see her.  She had had to ask my brother to buy the plane ticket on his credit card as neither of us had a card of our own and the cheap deal was for credit card purchase only so Diana arrived at the airport where my brother and I were waiting with a fistful of money to repay the debt.  We then made our way to our new home, the flat I rented from my brother.

There was a certain amount of tension at home as I was not able to bring my beloved cat Merlin to the new flat as he might have damaged my brother’s furniture with his claws and Diana was missing her pet rabbit.  We, however, settled in as best we could and were finally able to openly be a married couple without having to hide it from anyone.

We loved each other and we spent some romantic evenings together getting to know each other in the most intimate way for the first few days.  I was not going to work as I was still signed off as too ill to work due to the pneumonia so, in some ways, it was like the holiday hadn’t finished.  In a way, I suppose that holiday-like quality of those first few days helped build an expectation of life for Diana and myself that real life would be hard-pressed to match and the reality of our new life was shown to us in brilliant Technicolor when Diana found the nudie magazine I had bought prior to my trip to Florida but did not have a chance to get rid of.  Diana probably jumped to the conclusion that the magazine represented me as the type of man who objectified women as nothing more than sex objects for my sexual gratification but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.  It led to a row and, with hindsight, I think that may have been where everything started to go wrong.

Our nights of intimacy became a thing of the past as Diana started to have one of her record-breakingly long menstrual cycles, some of which could last for an entire year.  This was something that Diana had not talked to me about but was not something that affected how much I loved her and I was happy to wait as long as was necessary between cycles without needing any intimate contact.  Yes, it was inconvenient for me as a hot-blooded and sexually frustrated man but I loved Diana and I was not going to let such a minor problem affect our relationship.  That said, however, I still had my sexual needs so my addiction to porn reared its head again.  If I was to be denied sexual release due to a biological issue for my wife and I was dead set against going off for sexual liaisons on the side, my only option was to take matters into my own hands so to speak and use porn to help me.  This, however, became an issue for Diana when she caught me looking at sexual images on the internet.  I didn’t want it to come between us so I promised to stop and stop I did.

Diana and I settled down into a routine during the first couple of months and I was going to work every day whilst Diana stayed at home doing stuff around the flat.  There wasn’t much in the way of stuff we could do together to begin with during that initial settling in period as Diana’s personal effects were still waiting to be shipped over from the US and Diana wasn’t able to look for work.  I was earning £10,000 a year with a £2,000 a year bonus but had very little time to enjoy the money I was bringing home.

I started looking for things to do that we could do together and I hit upon trying to renew my friendships with some of the people from the fan club.  That would allow Diana a chance to meet some new people and we might have had a chance to go out to places together.  Diana supported my idea and I got in contact with Nikira who was surprised to see me not only still alive but happy for the first time since we’d met.  Together we came up with the idea of producing a new magazine in the hope that we could sell enough to earn a steady income in addition to the wages we were getting from our jobs.  Diana was part of the team although she actually came up with her own range of children’s magazines whilst Nikira and I started work on “Enlightenment”, the magazine I described as wanting to be a ‘beginner’s guide to everything’.  It was slow work on “Enlightenment” as we couldn’t see each other that often and Nikira didn’t have a computer to work on but it still gave me something to think about as an antidote to work.

Diana’s car and personal effects finally arrived and the flat seemed to become a proper home for Diana as she had felt a bit of a stranger in our home without her own possessions around her.  She even started thinking about trying to get a job and, approximately six months into our marriage, Diana drove me up to work in London in the hopes that she could find a job up in London.  She thought that it would be good for us to be able to work close to each other so we could share travel expenses.  It wasn’t to be but she found a job locally in a veterinary practice which was well-timed as my new boss came into my work area one morning and, without any warning, told me that I was being made redundant with immediate effect and that I should go home.

I was a newly married man and I had just lost my job.  Things had been going so well that I was devastated and when I arrived home I wrote a short but passionate piece about being thought of as just a number.  The piece I wrote was one of two mini articles I published in the first issue of the magazine that resulted from the collaboration between myself, Diana and Nikira and was the only one in the issue to have inspired an academic to write an article on a similar subject after having lectured on that point for years but never thought to put it down on paper.  I think that was my greatest achievement in view of the fact that I’m an ordinary guy but one who inspired an academic with so many letters after his name that he could supply a couple of alphabets with them.

Diana and I helped Nikira move house at some point but I can’t remember exactly when and then a little later we helped him move his possessions to a storage facility when he moved in with my parents for a short while.

I wanted the magazine to be as professionally put together as I could make it despite the fact that it was an amateur production so I signed up for a distance learning course in editing as I was going to be the editor.  It’s a course I did really well in although you wouldn’t know it to read my articles as I’m terrible at editing my own work.

I was not out of work for long, taking a day’s work at a recycling centre picking through industrial waste and sorting it into piles for a twelve hour shift before taking on an evening shift at a local manufacturing company in their heavy press department.  As I got the job in the heavy press department, Diana was compelled to leave her job at the veterinary surgery after she witnessed some of the staff handling the remains of animals that had to be put down in a disrespectful way and she came home crying her eyes out.  It was the last in a long line of disrespectful treatment of animals including the euthanisation of perfectly healthy kittens because the owner didn’t want them anymore and the killing of a duckling with a deformed leg that Diana was happy to nurse at home until the RSPCA could come and collect it.  She couldn’t face going back into the surgery to quit as the other staff members had laughed at her so I went in and quit for her despite knowing that her leaving the job would leave us in a financially weak position.  My wife was upset and that was good enough for me.

It was while I was working in the manufacturing company that Nikira read a prose piece I wrote called “Solitude” and he broke it up into a poetic form.  He said that it was a very good piece so while I was on a break during one evening shift, I tried writing a poem.  I called it “Depression” and I followed it up the next night with another poem which still has no title.  As Nikira was still staying with my parents at the time I dropped off copies of the poems I wrote and he later told me that he was impressed with the quality but then as I was helping him out a lot, he would say that.

I had tried to get a job at the local Rover Cars dealership but was piped to the post by someone with a little more experience, however, after a few months, I got a call from the dealership owner asking me if I was still interested in a job with them and I was only too happy to accept the job they offered me.

In 2001, I sustained a back injury at work when I bent over to pick up an empty box of all things.  I should have been sent home to rest up but my manager had the afternoon off and I was the only other member of staff at the time so I was expected to serve customers and mechanics alike, order parts and put away the delivery of car parts by myself whilst in complete agony.  It is this same back problem that flares up occasionally even now and resulted in a bulging disc problem that catches the sciatic nerve during a flare up.

Things seemed to be going along well until, in 2002, my brother decided he wanted to move back into his flat as his relationship with his partner had broken down again.  He gave us plenty of notice but the local authority wasn’t very helpful in re-housing us; they would have been happier if we had been out on the street first.

My brother said that he was moving in alone and that he had no intention of selling the flat but he wanted us out so he could move back in although it meant that Diana and I would have nowhere to go.  He could have moved in with our parents for a short while but he had no intention of doing that.  I still could have forgiven him if he hadn’t moved into the flat and promptly moved in his girlfriend.  I could have forgiven that if he hadn’t also decided to put his flat up for sale as well.  He lied to get us out of the flat that we had been paying the bills and his mortgage on to move his girlfriend in and sell the flat.  We were two days away from being made homeless when we finally found, by chance, a privately-rented flat that we could just about afford.  I can never forgive him for his lies.  We lost all our savings paying the moving expenses and getting furniture and appliances to a flat that was nothing more than a slum.  We also had problems with a leaky toilet that it took over two months of the six months we were residents there to get fixed, meaning we had to walk across soaking wet carpet after we had a shower.

Nikira stayed with us in the new flat for a while but then he moved on and we began to see less of him.  It was while he was staying with us that I signed up for three distance learning courses in a fit of enthusiasm which abated quite quickly, as is a problem that happens quite regularly in my life.  It did, however, introduce me to political philosophy and through reading about the theories of Karl Marx, the philosophers who had inspired him.

It was my reading in philosophy that started to influence the ideas that I was coming up with for the television series I wanted to write and, as the controller of BBC2 had suggested, I started putting more thought into the content of the show.  It was the beginning of the series I wanted to write becoming more like a sort of therapy for trying to sort out my feelings, a process that is still on-going I may add.

It was while we were living in the slum property that Diana was finally offered help for her extremely long menstrual cycles which had not only stopped us from being able to enjoy physical intimacy but was also the cause of Diana’s severe anaemia.  After such a long time, Diana was fitted with an inter-uterine device that regulated her periods and opened the door to the possibility of us having a more physically intimate relationship.  However, Diana was not interested in being physically intimate with me and our marriage started to get into trouble, although neither of us would admit it.

About four months into our tenancy at the new flat, a man from the council came around to interview me about getting us re-housed in a council property and just before Christmas 2002 we moved into the property we live in today.  We, of course, again spent all our savings on the move.  The irony being that, if my brother hadn’t have been in such a hurry to kick us out and move in his girlfriend, we could have walked our possessions down the street as our new flat was just a five minute walk away from my brother’s flat.  The best thing about the new flat was that we could finally have Merlin move in with us and I was again very close to my place of work.

I had been working at the car dealership for almost three years with no promotion prospects and no raise so I started looking elsewhere for work.  Almost exactly coinciding with the move to our current property, I found a job at a retail and marine joinery firm that was further away from home but offered the chance of overtime work which was something we could do with.

The days were long and the work was dirty but it did provide more money which was just as well as it was Doctor Who’s fortieth anniversary year and the amount of collectable items started to increase exponentially.  My collecting was getting out of hand as was my absolute obsession with getting the most perfect copies of magazines, VHS tapes, DVDs, books and CDs.  If I see the smallest defect on something, it becomes all I can see so that the beauty of its appearance disappears to be replaced with a nightmarish vision of junk.

I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the job but it brought home a fair wage and it was still relatively close to home.  There wasn’t anywhere to go during lunch breaks so I took advantage of the time to read books and increase my knowledge.  There was no real reason for continuing to read about political philosophy any more as the course I was reading the book for had long since lapsed but I found a love of learning that I never had at school so I continued with my studies for fun.

The lack of intimacy in my relationship with Diana was starting to have a negative effect on my feelings of self-worth as it felt like a daily rejection by the woman who was supposed to love me.  I have to say at this juncture that I know that I am a very hard man to live with and that I have difficulty in displaying emotions like love but Diana knew that going into the marriage and, despite having a high sex drive, I never forced myself on Diana or went looking elsewhere to satisfy my urges.  Diana wasn’t able to hide her constant rejection of me behind her long menstrual cycles anymore and it hurt to think that, whilst I had been patient with her, Diana couldn’t take my needs into account even just once a month or so.

Porn became my only outlet for my sexual urges as the occasional instances of physical intimacy became fewer and further between.  Occasionally, Diana would get ‘an itch she couldn’t scratch’ and she would use me for her sexual gratification but would then act as if nothing had happened.  By this point in our relationship I don’t think I could have told you when I’d last had an orgasm that I hadn’t brought about myself but, although I felt an almost daily rejection from Diana, I still loved her.

The week before Christmas 2003 the staff at the joinery were all called into the office for a meeting.  We were told that we had to get our personal belongings together and removed from the building before lunchtime as the company had been forced to declare bankruptcy and the building would be sealed as of lunchtime.  I had just done some overtime that week so I was glad I had done it as it meant that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined but, when I went to withdraw my money from the bank with Diana, I found out I had not been paid that week’s wages.  Diana said that I visibly turned white and I sank to my knees, shaking.  Diana had to help me back home and I was in a state of panic for the entire weekend.  I have to say that, although our marriage was in serious trouble at this point, we have always been there for each other when we needed support.  I suppose it was that trait that allowed us to fool ourselves into thinking that our marriage was fine when it clearly wasn’t.

I was extremely lucky to find a job almost immediately.  It started in January 2004 and I was working sixty hours a week as a security guard  in a multi-storey car park.  I had been warned by the manager of the shopping centre that it was extremely hard on a person’s mental health but I couldn’t let stop me from providing for my family so I took the job anyway.  It was an extremely bad decision.

During my time at the car park I only ever met people at their worst because the ticket machines weren’t working, their season ticket wasn’t working or any one of a hundred different complaints and my anti-social tendencies were made worse by being left alone in a small office at the exit machines.  I was shouted at, verbally abused, attacked and accused of either vandalising a person’s car or paying someone to do it for me.  In fact, one customer did all those things after I tried to have him banned from the car park after he dangerously drove out the car park via the entry ramp at high speed mere minutes before my wife drove up to pick me up to go shopping after one of my shifts.  I had him bang to rights with video evidence from the surveillance camera but the centre manager wouldn’t back my decision to ban him from the building.

In January 2005, the legacy of the pneumonia I suffered from in Florida came back with an upper respiratory tract infection that wouldn’t shift and I was off work quite a bit during that whole month.  Before that bout of illness, I had patrolled the car park every hour or so but following it I was unable to do so.  I have been a martyr to recurrent chest infections that stick around ever since.

I had started to eat a lot of chocolate to try to cope with not getting the rush of hormones released during sex because I wasn’t getting any.  I know you can get a similar release of hormones from peas but they’re not as nice to eat as chocolate.  It was this increase in junk food intake together with my new sedentary approach to work due to my chest problems that led to me gaining a lot of weight.

On one fateful day in May 2005 I went on patrol to get some fresh air, I had become almost hermit like by this point and extremely anti-social.  I was on one of the levels when I spotted a driver driving the wrong way on the level above.  She could have caused an accident and I ran to the exit ramp from that level to stop her and make her drive the correct way around.  She refused and I called for the centre manager to come and assist me.  He arrived and immediately took her side in the discussion.  She even had a ‘witness’ who said that I ran along the level I was on, shouting for the woman to stop which was quite a feat because the ‘witness’ was on the level directly above me and couldn’t possibly have seen a thing.  The fact that the dangerous driver and the ‘witness’ were obviously friends cut no ice with the centre manager and I was suspended.  I went to the office and tendered my resignation as I realised that I would not get a fair hearing, that the centre manager had already made up his mind that I was in the wrong and that my mental health had gotten so bad I could no longer function in society.  That job would be the last one I would have.

Diana supported my decision to leave and my further decision to take a couple of months off to sort myself out.  We weren’t in any financial problems at the time so it was best to rest up before going back to work.  I sought help with my depression and got a few sessions with a counsellor whilst trying to get some writing done.  I also decided to take advantage of some of the courses at the local adult college, taking psychology, criminology, the English legal system and criminal psychology courses in an attempt to gain some qualifications and make myself more attractive in the job market.

We went out at weekends for trips and on one such trip, Diana saw a second hand pair of sofas that I used the last of my wages to purchase  just to please her.

When my money ran out, I applied for Jobseekers Allowance as I was still hoping to get back into work as soon as possible but that was not to be.  I was extremely concerned when my benefit was due to run out, so much so that I became suicidal and my psychology tutor assisted me in getting some proper help for my psychological problems.  I was prescribed Citalopram, an anti-depressant, to try to elevate my mood but all it actually did was trigger anxiety attacks and give me vivid dreams.

It was at this point, after all the running around and helping him that Diana and I had done for him including helping transport his mother to and from hospital to see him during his illness, helping him move and getting medical help for him, that Nikira turned his back on me when all I needed was for him to listen to me.  He slammed the telephone down on me one day and I never heard from him again, yet another fair weather friend after all his declarations of friendship.

I was doing well in my courses at the college and spent time creating a student help website for which I was nominated and short listed for a national award.  I became a student governor at the college and a classroom volunteer for which I was given the chance to take some free courses the following academic year as part of the professional development for volunteers.

I dropped out of one of the two courses I enrolled on that second year as I as too busy helping a student on her childcare course which she was enthusiastic to do but lacked the literacy skills to be on.  As a side note, I’d like to point out that I helped her pass the course with flying colours despite the fact that the college weren’t happy about letting her take the course in the first place.

Eventually, the requirements for being a volunteer in the classroom were changed and I didn’t want to take a full qualification in Learner Support so I gave up volunteering at the college although I remained a student governor until I was no longer a student when I asked to become a Community Co-Optioned governor for my specialist knowledge in mental health, a position I still hold today.

Diana continued to support me in my work and study at the college but it was becoming increasingly obvious that I was getting nowhere near getting back into work.  I tried going for interviews but I always seemed to be piped at the post for every vacancy I went for.  My lack of progress towards employment did, however, allow me to enter group therapy.

It was around this time that I started to spend a lot of time on Facebook although I had created a false identity so that none of my family – my brother or his children – would know what I was doing.  I became Mike, a man so much better than Myles ever could be.  A man, in fact, who Myles should have been had life not thrown up such obstacles.  I still had a Facebook account in my own name but my other account allowed me to be someone much more likeable than myself.  This was to prove to be a major mistake but one that threw into the cold light of day the fact that marriage was in serious trouble and that I had been denying that fact.

During my group therapy sessions, that the therapist extended my time on when the problems in my marriage became clear, the group helped me come to terms with my alter ego.  I was also continuing my personal studies by reading the most influential book I would ever read – Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  The book was the autobiography of Carl Jung and it was a revelation for me as he suffered with two personalities – one was philosophical whilst the other was scientific.  The book resonated with me and made me feel that I was not alone for the first time in my life even if the other person had been dead for years.  Through his autobiography, I had found a connection with someone who truly understood what it was like to live with a duality of personality.

Unfortunately, as Mike, I became infatuated with a woman slightly older than I was with whom I had begun to flirt online with.  She was in Canada so there was no possibility of us ever hooking up in the real world but I fell in love with her (or so I thought at the time).  Where Diana kept rejecting me, Tracy made me feel desirable and desired.  What Diana wasn’t giving me, Tracy was in the limited way an online relationship can. Tracy and I talked for hours on end about anything and everything but I was always in tears when we started to get romantic or lustful because I knew in my heart that I was betraying Diana and that she’d get hurt if she knew.

On Tuesday 8th October 2008, I took an overdose of Ibuprofen in a fit of depression.  I was not to know that even the massive dose I took would not kill me but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.  However, the small part of me that wanted to live made me call my therapist to apologise for wasting her time and she called an ambulance.  I was taken to hospital but I needed no treatment except to have my blood pressure monitored and then I was transferred to the mental health unit where I stayed overnight in the assessment unit.  I discharged myself when I couldn’t take the crushing boredom in the unit.

I started keeping a diary of my thoughts that I thought might prove of value in the future.

Other things were going on in my life as well.  I had gotten involved with a mental health art project, giving a couple of poetry readings during two of their sessions on the subject of art and words.  From that, I was asked to give a reading at a gallery showing of student’s work which in turn gave me the idea of organising a depression awareness event at the adult college as part of my duties as a governor.  It was 2009 and, although my marriage and personal life was in a mess, my ‘professional’ life as a mental health service user representative was just beginning.

Whilst I was trying to drum up interest for the depression awareness event I became aware of the local mental health service user and carer forum and I became a member, volunteering to chair the meeting in May when no one else would volunteer.  It was the  start of a 22 month stint as chair of the forum through which I would become involved with another mental health group.

The depression awareness event was a huge success despite a limited number of organisations being involved.  I couldn’t get anyone else to speak at the event so I ended up giving two talks and two poetry readings myself although a member of the local mental health trust gave a short talk towards the end of the daytime session.  I had also managed to get a local pop group made up of mental health service users along to perform some of their songs based on their personal experiences.

It was at this event that my parents would finally hear from my own lips how I had felt during my childhood - my suicidal thoughts, my thoughts of wanting to put Grandma out of our misery and all the other things that had driven me down the dark path of depression.  It made for a frank discussion at home during the break between the daytime and evening sessions.  My relationship with my parents changed that day although whether it can be said to be better is a matter for conjecture.

I was approached by the owner of a news website called Your Thurrock and offered the chance to write a blog column for him which I did on and off over the next few years.  Some of my contributions were better received than others but it certainly gave me the opportunity to build a portfolio of journalistic work.

I became part of the Making Involvement Matter in Essex project, getting bits of training and becoming involved with mental health service user research.  It was a good project to work on to begin with but towards the end it became toxic for me and I wish I had never got involved with it except that I made a friend out of it, a guy called Mark.

Still unable to get a job, I threw myself into my work as chair of the forum and into organising a generic mental health awareness event in 2010.  Diana supported me with everything I wanted to do to keep my sanity going but everything was to change when one night my internet connection went down and I panicked as Tracy and I had been in mid-conversation when the breakdown occurred.  I am ashamed that I ever got involved with anyone even just online but there was no denying what was going on and I confessed all to Diana.  I felt like a complete bastard, carrying on a relationship online whilst Diana was financially supporting us both.  I knew what I was doing was wrong but I was also fulfilling a need for love that Diana wasn’t meeting.

Our marriage was all but over, however, we stayed together.  I broke things off with Tracy but the damage had already been done.  I always hoped that we could start again but our marriage was now on borrowed time.

I had met a friend, Anne, through my Facebook group, The 1 in 4 Club, who wrote songs about her mental health problem and she took one of my poems and put it to music.  She said she liked working with my words but she wasn’t terribly complimentary about her own lyrics so I came up with what I thought were pretty trashy lyrics to prove to her that I could do worse.  I sent Anne the lyrics I wrote and within two hours she had put the lyrics to music and had sent me a rough recording of the completed song.  The song, Hope Despite The Hurt (Anne’s title for it), was written about Diana and how she was always there for me.  That day, Friday 12th February 2010, should have gone down in my personal history as the day I could proudly say I had become a songwriter but it would go down instead as the day my marriage ended as that evening Diana asked for us to split up.  Diana said she’d been miserable for some time and she wanted it to end. 

I was devastated although I suppose I had no right to be, seeing as how it was my actions that brought about the end of my marriage.  I could see no way of giving Diana the freedom she wanted without leaving myself homeless so I went into our spare bedroom and took an overdose of all my anti-depressants, a month’s supply of Mirtazapine and Fluoxitine.  There was no reason for Diana to have come into the room as she had made it quite clear that she didn’t want anything more to do with me but, for some reason, she entered the room and found me.  She got an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.  This time they had to flush my system and I spent Friday evening and most of Saturday in the hospital before being transferred to the mental health unit to spend the next couple of days in the assessment unit.

Over the next few weeks, I spent weekdays at home and the weekends at my parent’s flat on a camp bed in their living room but that was never going to be something I could keep up if only for the expense in travel costs.

Eventually Diana let me stay at home all the time but I had taken to sleeping on the sofa and I had started to buy all my own food and drink with my benefit money.

Things just seemed to get worse for me as the employment specialist I was working with through the mental health trust tried to force me into a type of work that would have led me into working with physically disabled people, something I said I didn’t want to do as it would bring back memories of Grandma.  She got me enrolled on a Health and Social Care course to get me closer to her goal of getting me of her books and into work regardless of what it would do for my mental health.  After a number of weeks, however, my disenchantment with the route I was being forced down against my wishes and a series of computer problems in the college I was attending left me with no option but to leave the course.  I put in a complaint about the computer problems but I still haven’t heard from them about it to this day.

A build up of problems and stresses led to me attempting to take my life again and on Saturday 30th October 2010, I tried unsuccessfully to hang myself.

Throughout the time of my marriage, I kept writing poems to try to get some of my feelings out but, apart from three poems I had published in Poetry Express (published by Survivors Poetry), I have been wholly unsuccessful in my attempts to be read.

Since late 2010, Diana and I have remained living in the same flat together, neither of us having the money to be able to move out and neither of us getting much help from the local housing department.  Diana had divorce papers made up but I was given advice not to sign by a solicitor who said that if I signed the papers I would be liable for all the court costs and alimony payments so they went unsigned.  I didn’t agree with the reasons Diana’s solicitors included on the paperwork either as, although I suffer with severe mood swings, I am certainly not the monster I have been painted to look like.  The divorce papers also tried to portray me as wholly responsible for the failure of the marriage absolving Diana of any responsibility.  It wasn’t until after the whole Tracy affair had effectively ended our marriage that Diana explained why she was reluctant to engage in physical intimacy with me.  If she is telling the truth about those reasons then I could understand why and we could have sorted something out; however, Diana has said that she never really loved me and that she only married me in the first place because I threatened to kill myself.  This is not something that I ever remember saying to her and it certainly would not be in my nature to emotionally blackmail someone in such a fashion.

Unfortunately, I may never know if Diana really ever loved me but her constant rejections of me certainly point towards a negative response.  The situation is further complicated by Diana sending mixed signals all the time, leading me to believe that we’ve reached some kind of understanding then prodding me with an emotional stick in a vulnerable area.

It is certain that my marriage has had an enormous positive influence on my life as I would not have done all the things I have done without the support of my wife; however, my marriage has also had an enormous negative influence on my life too.  I have suffered constant rejection that has deepened my depression and feelings of self-loathing and I have become a darker more hateful person, suspicious of the motives of others especially in the romance department so that I may never be able to trust another woman again.  If Diana truly never loved me then I have wasted years of my life with someone when I could have been in a loving relationship and even possibly be the father I have always wanted to be.  I am in a state of confusion as to where I stand with anyone anymore.  I know that, whether Diana really loved me or not, we both settled for the first person to show the other some kind of romantic interest in us.  Perhaps that is the mistake we both made.  We rushed into a marriage we shouldn’t have because we were scared of never having anyone love us.

Whatever the real answers are regarding our relationship, I have always tried to support Diana in everything she wanted to do and she has always done the same for me.  Despite everything, I still have feelings for Diana but it is her total inflexibility and inability to see her part in the failure of our marriage that will forever stop us trying again.  Diana prides herself on being a true Christian but doesn’t being a Christian mean that you should practice forgiveness?  I know I must have hurt Diana badly, if she ever loved me, but as nothing happened in the real world shouldn’t there be some measure of forgiveness?

During my last appointment with my consultant psychiatrist, Diana came along to give testimony about what I’m like to live with and she said that the way I am is tantamount to mental abuse.  If that is the case, I could level the same accusation at her for the years of constant rejection and withholding of affection that she has levelled at me.

As a result of all the trials and tribulations chronicled in this series I have become the man I am today – angry, mistrustful, mired in darkness, pessimistic, depressed, anti-social, filled with self-loathing, paranoid and psychologically broken.

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