Never Feel Ashamed Of Feeling Sh*t
Why your struggles are real and you should take them seriously
I hate the phrase ‘first world problems.’ Just because you’re not a refugee trying to navigate the channel on a Lilo while cradling your starving baby, doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to feel shit once in a while.
People go on about how there is less stigma about having mental health issues these days but that’s bollocks. If you’re diagnosed with something that has a name like bipolar, depression, acute anxiety or ADHD then maybe people won’t judge you like they once might have.
But if you’re just feeling shit about the daily grind of life - the bills you have to pay, your dickhead boss, relationship problems, the kids, back ache, the crappy weather, a creeping sense of existential dread, your inability to quit fags or booze - people will still smirk and roll their eyes at your self-entitled whinging.
It is not self-entitled whinging.
You feel the way you feel for your own reasons. I think it’s important to acknowledge that because, if you don’t, the little feelings of day-to-day shittiness will fester and accumulate into something far bigger and more dangerous.
“It’s not the elephants that will kill you, it’s the ants.”
I heard someone say that once. It made a lot of sense to me. I’ve had two or three pretty severe episodes of depression in my life. I can’t tell you that any of them were triggered by one big dramatic incident like the loss of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship. They just sort of crept up on me slowly. I couldn’t really identify why I suddenly felt miserable and devoid of all hope every single day for two months. The first time it happened (when I was 36) I tried to hide it completely. I kept it a secret and tried to pretend to be the normal me. It was exhausting. I mean that literally: during periods of depression I would be drenched in sweat at the end of ordinary interactions with friends or colleagues, such was the effort I was putting in to mask my real state of mind. (Mind you, my ‘normal self’ is particularly fucking fun and energetic to be honest. I am a very compelling presence to be around - ask anyone. But if I’m not in the zone it can demand a huge amount of exertion to fake it.)
I didn’t tell anyone the truth about how I felt because I couldn’t justify it.
Without a caste-iron excuse for being totally miserable all the time I thought I would be judged as a weak, whinging dickhead. In fact, that was how I judged myself. I had a loving wife, a beautiful kid, an enjoyable career and plenty of mates. ‘What have you got to be miserable about?’ was the recurring phrase that echoed through my mind during sleepless nights and tortured mornings. The shame and guilt grew exponentially.
But I didn’t need to justify the way I felt to myself or anyone else. I just felt the way I felt. All that mattered was to acknowledge the reality of my feelings and the fact that they had started to impact upon my life negatively. Only then could I resolve to do something about it.
One day, standing out the back of an office block having a fag break on a fire escape, I was jabbering on to my brother, Dom, in that manic way I tend to at times of high anxiety. Suddenly he turned to me and said: ‘You’re fucking nuts mate, you wanna go to the GP ask for help. Don’t worry, it’s happened to me loads of times.’
He did a good thing for me that day. Sometimes (always) you don’t need some over-sympathetic prick using psycho-babble to diagnose your problems. You just need someone to tell you that you’re acting a bit barmy without making a big song and dance about it. It makes it a bit easier to digest, especially for blokes. My brother was sufficiently casual in his diagnosis to make me feel as if being ‘fucking nuts’ was not such a big deal. It was just a sort of phase that we all go through once in a while, like catching a cold or getting into jazz music.
A lot of young dads are susceptible to severe bouts of feeling shit about themselves.
I’m 45 years old now and my kids are pretty self sufficient. I just play Playstation with them these days. I’m on easy street. But I know numerous blokes who have started out as delighted young fathers - only to become broken-down, exhausted, burnt out pissheads surviving on a diet of cocaine and Nurofen Plus within six months. That was me once, so I know all about it.
Being a dad of young kids is fucking hard (if you take it seriously and don’t leave the whole shit show to your missus to take care of, that is). What I should say is being a good dad is fucking hard. If you’re putting a proper shift in then it’s the most knackering job you’ll ever do. But when it starts to get on top of you, you don’t want to moan too much about it because (a) You think it might make you look like a shitty dad and (b) you’re aware that however hard it is for you, it’s usually twice as hard for your other half. So you just try to hide your feelings, patch yourself up in any way you can (for many people, that means drugs and booze) and wait for the kids to grow up.
Don’t do that mate. Don’t feel embarrassed. You’re not a shitty dad. Chance are, the reason you’re so strung out is because you’re trying so hard to be the best dad. Make sure you admit it when things are getting tough. Yes, men (particularly white middle class ones like me) have it easier than most. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to ever feel shit. The struggle is real. If no-one else is telling you this, just give yourself permission to acknowledge it. Ask for help. Try to get some rest. Have a wank and a Snickers once in a while - or, you know, whatever works best.
I have tried most mental health remedies
Anti-depressants, therapy, meditation, leeches, you name it. They all have their merits. But easily the number one best treatment of all is rest. I am a frantic person by nature. And when I start to feel anxious or depressed I have a tendency to ramp things up, convincing myself that the only way to get through a low ebb is to come out fighting. But working harder is guaranteed to make you feel worse. It seems too simple to be true but remembering to rest, sleep or just do stuff that helps your brain switch off for a while, is a super-cure.
It’s easier said than done. Everything in our society is designed to discourage us from ever taking our foot off the gas. Our economy is driven by a barmy protestant work ethic that tells us that hard graft is of value in itself. The omnipotent agents of rampant capitalism tell us that wealth is the solution to everything and material possessions are the only comforts we need. Popular culture has, for the past fifty years, told us that sex and drugs and rock n roll is a legitimate manifesto for fun and fulfilment. Any of these phenomena in isolation would be destructive enough. But the workaholism, the turbo consumerism, the fixation with wealth, the cult of hedonism - when mixed together and force fed to us like grain into a goose’s throat by an unscrupulous French farmer - it is lethal.
Have you seen that new BBC show Industry?
It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s about a bunch of graduate interns at a city firm. It is an excellent depiction of how these toxic forces I list above combine to make the lives of young people starting out in the working world completely unmanageable. Watching it, I found myself wondering: “How is there anyone left in this country who isn’t a cocaine addict?” Mind you, maybe there isn’t.
Anyway, if you want some guidance on how to chill the fuck out…
A book that always works for me is How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson. It is full of convincing meditations on why being a bit lazy is essential to a happy life. It’s supported by all sorts of compelling references from history and literature. The sort of thing you can dip in and out of whenever a demon needs resetting. I keep it to hand at all times.
Well, that’s it for now. As always, would love to hear from you and am doing my best to respond to your comments (which you can leave below) and your tweets @delaneyman. I’m not a pro at this sort of thing (for that, check out the links below), I am just trying to share the way I feel in the hope that it might be of some use to you lot.
Love this one. 👌
It’s beginning to get scary how much this echoes where I am.
I’ve been on anti-depressants for about 6 months (age 38). Our daughter is 4. The above completely describes how it’s gone for me.
Keep them coming, Sam. I really appreciate them and I know I’m not alone.