I’ve been trying to find the right way to communicate exactly what two events over the course of the last month have meant to me. The first was being invited to host a panel at Roadburn, dedicated to us queer folk. The second was Hell Bent For Metal being nominated for a Heavy Music Award, and attending the awards show as a nominee. This is the best I can manage. I hope it does it justice.
I’m not ok. I haven’t been ok for a long time, and it doesn’t get better or easier.
Every day is a battle. To get out of bed. To look after myself. To work. To take care of the pets to the standard they deserve. To be safe.
I feel like something awful is about to happen. Or that I forgot to do something important. Or that I fucked up what I did manage to do. All the time. Without relief.
I can’t do things. Often. Even really simple things like getting lunch or putting washing on. Cooking a meal, alone, is way beyond my capabilities.
My brain gets stuck on things, and ramps up my internal tension to close to breaking point. I know what I’ll be doing is making me feel like a spring coiled too tight, but I can’t stop it. I’ll be working, know I need a break because I’m making myself ill, but I won’t be able to drop it. Even if I tear myself away, I’ll be thinking about what I was working on, and won’t wind down.
If I have a day where I have a lot to do, I need the next day to be a day of total calm to recover. If I don’t get it, I become dramatically unwell, fast.
I feel overwhelmed whenever I have to do something for myself that isn’t in my routine. Even going to the shop 5 doors away can make me feel like I’m shutting down.
I have episodes where I’m unable to process… well, anything. Frequently. My vision gets tunnelled. I can’t look sideways without moving my head. I’m hypervigilant, with every sound drawing my attention like an imminent attack. My speech becomes reflex, and I can’t think what I’m about to say, and is either a torrent of consciousness, or monosyllabic responses. I do things I can’t explain after the fact – nothing dramatic, but I’ll be out and pop into the shop for something we don’t need, like chocolate I don’t want (trying to be vegan, innit), or spinach for a curry I know I can’t make. My memory of these episodes is always fuzzy after the fact, like my brain was focusing all its run-time on the task at hand that it can’t save anything it processes.
The only things that help are the company of my partner James, who’s amazing, and our pets. The cat coming for a cuddle is wonderful, obviously, but even him crying because his food bowl is only 40% full and clearly we’re monsters who are trying to starve him, is oddly grounding. And there is nothing better for clearing the thoughts than taking the pup for a walk, or playing in the kitchen with him.
But it’s not enough. I’m clinging on and nothing better. 2-4 days a week, my main goal is simply to make it to bedtime, and hope that tomorrow is better. But it’s never much better.
My passions are fading, which I know is a bad sign. The amount of time I get to spend listening to music isn’t great, and half that time is inevitably lost to my brain being too frazzled to deal with it. I can’t read much. I’ve totally lost my ability to read fiction. Film and TV are a struggle, unless it’s real low-brain-effort stuff with no plot. (Gogglebox is a lifesaver, thank you, Channel 4.) And I’m fast losing my ability to game, which has been the one thing that, up till now, has been able to distract me from how crap I feel.
All this is without mentioning that I now have persistent vertigo, and struggle to walk without falling over. I need a cane (which is my way of saying “walking stick” without making me feel 7,000 years old) to make it around even close to safely. Crossing the road has become an extreme sport, as looking to the sides makes the vertigo worse, and makes me in danger of tipping over.
Bluntly, HBFM hangs by a thread. I can’t sustain this. It’s become 90% work for 10% reward. The recording is fun. Matt R, Matt D, and Charlie are all great to natter with. The chatting to cool guests is amazing. I’ve done some things I loved, and there’s some cool stuff coming I’m dead excited to do. But I have to be honest that, unless my brain gets more well, or I can cut back my responsibilities substantially, it is unlikely to reach Christmas. I will, simply, burn out.
What’s all this got to do with Roadburn and the HMAs, you ask?
Simple: when you’re as monumentally fucked as I feel day in day out, someone sending you a completely unexpected, uninvited validation of what you do is like the sun piercing thundercloud.
To have a festival I love and adore like Roadburn say, “Would you like to be involved? We’ve got this cool thing that we want you for,” was, honestly, one of the best moments of my life. To be part of that would have been amazing under any circumstances. But for someone who’s always had a shit opinion of himself? Who felt he could never be himself and be accepted in the spaces he wanted to exist? To be told someone thinks you might be good, and that you’re welcome on their platform, was incredible.
The experience itself was even better. To be on that stage, with those four amazing people, was indescribable. To see so many people there was scarcely believable. To feel the warmth and the love of being that came from the queer folk in the audience, who were just as happy as I was that we had a place not just to exist but where our contribution was being celebrated, was something I will treasure as long as I live.
And then the HMA nod happened. That my little podcast that me and Joe Naan (legend) started in one of the interminable lockdowns of 2020, and Matt Rushton came on board to (before people spotted he’s a great talent, and a charismatic personality), got any award nomination at all was flattering. That it’s a thing that big, that I knew immediately who it was? That was mind-blowing, and I can’t put into words how it felt to be in that room, with those people. I don’t give two shits that we didn’t win (especially as We Wear Black did, and they fuckin’ deserved to). Just to be considered was unreal.
I’d like to say things like this help me keep going to bedtime when I’m struggling. The truth is, though, that they don’t. I can’t think like that at those times. A few islands of joy in an ocean of pain and torment, not knowing when or even if you might alight on another, can’t sustain you. That’s not the point though.
The point is that they were joyful. And when you’ve had fuck all of that for a very long time, and when you have little hope any will come, and it’s been that way for as long as you can remember, nothing could be more special.
If you need someone to talk to, contact the Samaritans. They listen. They won’t judge or tell you what to do.