I Don't Think I Understand Mental Health - And That's A Bad Thing

Anonymous || August 22nd

Someone I love has just tried to kill themselves, it’s sent shockwaves through our family and friend groups, we’re each struggling to formulate our own response to it. This is on top of a family member actually killing themselves last year. Through both of these incidents I have realised - something I was already certain of - that mental health is not something I understand very well. This is not to say I’m heartless or a sociopath, far from it, I believe myself to be a very rounded individual, great in a crisis and supportive all the way, but when it comes to mental health ability to offer support, I’m seriously lacking. 

I’ve tried to figure out why I am this way. Is it that I believe I’m better, because I don’t suffer from the issues some of my peers do, and therefore I’ve let that supposed superiority cloud my ability to understand them? That sounds vile - maybe that’s me? My instinct is to go for the ‘chin up’ response, but would you tell someone who had just lost an arm to ‘chin up and move on’? You wouldn’t, you’d work with them to find viable solutions to the new challenges life presents. 

I believe a large part of the problem is that our society, a capitalistic western European society, places the success of the individual as a key social value. The idea that an individual is hindered from success by something intangible in their own head doesn’t sit well our social norms. We believe they are weaker, of less value to society due to their illness, we demonise them without even knowing it. The irony being that mental illness makes no distinction between class, race, ability or gender, some of the most successful people in the country (if we use high paid jobs, influence over society and achievement as the measure of success) are as likely to suffer as much as anyone else. 

The stigma is a harsh one to be branded with, we paint a path from A to B and put so much focus on point B, the point of cure, the point where the problem doesn’t exist anymore. But that’s impossible, these things, even if subdued for the rest of a person’s life, will never be erased. We are pushing away from the age of stigma, slowly but with greater progress than previous generations have made, but we still have a long way to go before mental health is not the elephant in the room and its sufferers viewed with pity, scepticism and, sometimes, scorn. 

Through my twenties I have assessed how I act, the decisions I make and am well aware I show the certain aspects of my personality that could be seen as mental health issues. Paranoia, a lack of empathy, a fear of being unsuccessful, anger issues and nihilistic dips - I think it’s called the human condition and therefore I would not class myself as having a mental health illness. Even facing those nihilistic dips I have never reached the bleak depths that my loved ones did, I can’t imagine giving even a second’s worth of consideration to the idea of ending my life - it breaks my heart that it came to that for them. 

More than ever we need to place a focus on getting people the right support, which will inevitably be professional support services and trained individuals. We need to break taboos down and praise people for coming out and speaking about their illnesses. Hopefully this way we can get to people before they make a dangerous decision that could lead to self harm or worse. Perhaps if we taught how to acknowledge and respond to the initial signs of depression, anxiety and mental trauma the same way sex education is taught in the latter years of primary school we’d have adults more equipped to supporting their friends. 

I am so thankful my loved one is still here and that I will be able to learn from their response and reactions to what’s happened how to better support people with mental health issues.

Coping With Manic Depression


An Open Letter By Daniel Johnson || August 14th

A lot of people know of me – Know my face, know my name. A lot of people have listened to my music and seen my art. A lot of people have an opinion of me, but not a lot of people know the reasons for why I am the way that I am. The reasons why they have formed the opinions that they hold. Just like everyone else, I have had struggles in my life, but unlike most others, I suffer from a relentless condition called Bipolar Disorder. With this piece of writing, I hope to explain the reasons of why I am how I am, and also expose a growing problem that is consistently ignored within the throwaway culture of the music industry – Internationally, nationally and locally.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what Bipolar Disorder is, or immediately think ‘oh, isn’t that the disease where you’re a little bit crazy?’, well, in simple terms, it is a mental health condition that entails experiencing alternating periods of extreme highs and bottomless lows – manic depression. That’s right, not just depression, but the complete opposite too. Throw a touch of OCD into the mix alongside nauseating Panic Disorder and extreme sensitivity and you have my particular breed of Bipolar Disorder.

After years and years of misdiagnosis whilst an array of mental health conditions fermented within me, continuous misuse of substances to cope with my feelings and insistent destructive behaviour, a few months ago I finally hit the point of no return and indulged in a cocktail of 40 painkillers and a bottle of whiskey. Thankfully, I was given a second chance. Though this suicide attempt was genuine and certainly not a cry for help, I somehow snapped out of wanting to die, and ended up in the back of an ambulance just in time (given another 24 hours without treatment my liver would have shut down and I’d have been no more).

A lot of people have considered me to be quite arrogant and, to be brutally honest, just a bit of a dick head, due to my reclusion from those around me. When I’m playing a show or having an interview I seem stand-offish and uninterested. Well, guess what, I don’t think I’m better than everyone else; instead I am brutally petrified and too anxious to talk to people. I’ve been in a room full of people who love the music that I have written and I genuinely feel so scared that I can’t breathe purely because there are other people in the room.

And god help me when people comment on my work – If someone says they don’t like it, I am destroyed and feel completely worthless, but if someone says it’s great then I am equally upset because I don’t feel deserving of the praise. Interaction upsets me to the point where I have what I would call a complete nervous breakdown accompanied by a heart attack, or what doctors would call a ‘panic attack’. So, I don’t hate you, I just don’t want to start hyperventilating and pass out in front of you, so I keep my distance. I’m not being rude, I promise.

I am also a victim of extreme sensitivity. Quite simply, I am so sensitive to everything that if someone so much as says they don’t like what I’m wearing I get upset. If my mother ever says ‘Oh Daniel, you can be so stubborn sometimes’ I go into a whirlwind of negativity and believe that I am the worst human being on the planet. If a male looks at my sister, or my girlfriend for longer than 5 seconds then I get so angry that I want to smash a glass in their face and rip their eyes out. It’s completely irrational and more often than not, wrong, but I literally cannot control how anything and EVERYTHING gets to me and makes me angry, upset, sad, nervous - you name it. I mean, everything. And this is the reason that I sometimes voice opinions of my own that seem a little brash or uncalled for, because when something gets under my skin, I can’t help but go just a little bit crazy and let it out. And like Panic disorder, the sensitivity is a none-stop thing. It lives within the depression, the mania and the periods of semi-normality, but certain other things reside only within one of the first two.

The depressive periods are the easiest to explain. I am, well, depressed. But not your fashionable, Tumblr post depression (it ain’t glamorous or fun), but depression to the point of completely none-existent self worth. I fucking hate myself. I am ugly and fat, I can’t write, draw or sing anymore - everything that I create is complete and utter shit. I don’t understand why anyone wants to be around me because, well, I don’t want to be around myself. I am completely incapable of doing any tasks, including the dishes or the washing. Even showering’s difficult because I lack even the tiniest ounce of energy. What’s the point when the only attractive prospect is death? Instead, I find it near impossible to get out of bed. I spend days upon days of not even getting dressed. No eating. No sleeping (or conversely, I am unable to wake up). No laughter, smiles or joy. Just pain. Constant pain and a yearning, not always to die, but certainly to go to sleep and not wake up for a very, very long time.

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson

These periods span for months, and this intense, unrelenting feeling of self-hatred and pure sadness was the driving force behind me going and sitting in my car, putting a few of my favourite albums on and swallowing 40 painkillers washed down with a bottle of straight whiskey whilst crying to the point where I couldn’t see. I genuinely couldn’t see a way forward, and I truly believed that the world would be a better place without me. Thankfully I managed to crawl back into my apartment and get help. I was too useless to even kill myself successfully because I was so scared. That, coupled with the hurt I had inflicted on those around me – my entire family knowing that the only solution I could see was death. My housemate and bandmate having to deal with me walking back in completely out of my face and just wanting to sleep – a sleep we both knew I wouldn’t wake up from – made the following days of hospitalisation without even being allowed to leave under pain of arrest and sectioning, and the following month or so, one of the most hopeless periods in my existence.

I have had maybe 4 periods of depression as severe as that one, but I constantly feel slightly lower than neutral. However, what is slightly less ‘believable’ is the high point. The mania. Whilst manic I am energetic, full of hope and wisdom. I genuinely believe that I have the answers to everything and can solve the worlds problems. I mean, seriously? Third World Poverty? I know how to stop that! World Politics? I could do a better job because I HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! Of course, I don’t, but just like everyone with Bipolar, I genuinely believe that I am greater than I am. It sounds like a cartoon, doesn’t it? Like a movie? Well, this is real life for my. It’s psychotic.

Whilst manic I am extremely creative, and I have written a lot of my music whilst in this phase, so you could say that it’s a good thing, however, whilst manic I have also spree-spent; £7,000 within 3 months to be precise. What on? Not a clue. Partying mostly; drink and drugs. Yes, here’s another cliché - a musician with a substance abuse problem. For years now I have struggled to control my misuse of substances. I predominantly use alcohol and cocaine within my manic periods, partly because I just want to party all the time, but mainly because I know that pretty soon I’m going to have a huge comedown, and the drugs help to push it off.

Honestly, thinking back now on my past periods of mania, they’re quite a blur, which makes it even harder to explain. All I can say is, I just have to go. I have to do things that no normal human being would ever dream of doing. I don’t make sense to anyone and nothing around me in the real world makes sense to me. I talk so fast and jump from topic to topic that it’s impossible for anyone to keep up, and all the while I just don’t understand why nobody else can grasp these life-changing epiphanies that I’m having.

These periods are truly crazy, but I can assure you that whilst it sounds great- Partying 24/7, spending loads, being really creative, drinking and shoving obscene amount of powder up your nose, there is also the aggression and anger that comes with it. Whilst manic I hate everyone because no one can keep up. I am ready to go all the time. Who needs sleep? Not me. Why do you? You’re weak and I don’t need you. So I look down on everyone and go off by myself. This has cost me many friendships, destroyed relationships that I’ve had with friends for years and put my family through absolute hell. I’ve also not mentioned the voices. Oh, they’re fun, trust me- ‘Go on, you can definitely down that bottle of Whiskey/do those pills/take that huge guy on in a fight’. And of course, by the end of it, I’m left even more of a shell than I was before.

The hardest part to explain is the delusions. The thoughts of grandeur. The complete belief that I can quit my job because I don’t need money to survive. Seriously, there was no plan in place. No fall back. I actually believed that I could somehow live on fresh air whilst spending obscene amounts of money on random things. Mania is extremely impulsive and delusional, and a few, shall we say, old friends, having known the issues I’ve coped with for years and years have used my illness against me and used it to hurt me, but they won’t be named.

They know who they are. You image trying to cope with delusional, impulsive, psychotic thoughts, whilst trying to refrain from going on a, what I like to call, ‘mad one’, resisting the urge to go and get completely fucked up whilst all along having a certain few people use it all against you. Well, it’s hard and quite simply, it didn’t work, and this is what caused my last manic phase, which then lead to a huge depressive period in which I tried to kill myself. A period that I am only just coming out of right now. This little trip spanned the last 9 months of my life.

Thankfully I’ve had my family, my friends, and met the most incredible partner that has seemed to make it all just about bearable. But possibly the worst part of a manic phase is the fact that whilst in it, I don’t know it’s a phase. I truly believe the delusions, the voices, the thoughts of grandeur. People sometimes say ‘slow down, you’re mental!’, or ‘Dan, you don’t seem yourself, are you ok?’ and I’m always like ‘Yes! Of course! I feel amazing! There’s nothing wrong with me!’. But of course, when I come out of the phase, I realise that it was all me living in a different world, slowing but surely sinking further and further away from reality.

As I sit here writing this now, I am truly petrified that one day I will slip so far that I won’t be able to come back. Be that a manic or depressive episode. They are fucking scary. Terrifying. I am petrified of the next episode because I don’t know when it’s coming, and any number of things could set one off (or, to be honest, they can just happen at any time. Kind of a losing battle, isn’t it?), so I try to relish the short periods of semi-normality in between each one. And no one understands that other than someone who suffers from the same affliction.

I’ve not explained everything to it’s full extent, only about 10% because if I did then I’d have to write a 100,000 page novel, and to be honest, the rest is far too graphic to be made public and I am not ready to share everything just yet – it’s taken me nearly 10 years to share this much. But hopefully this short piece explains, for those who know me, why I am the way that I am, and hopefully helps everyone to understand that unfortunately, my condition is completely uncontrollable, and whilst in a depressive or manic period, there is no stopping me. It just has to run it’s course, and yes, I have hurt and upset many people in the process, and I’m sure I will hurt more people in the future, but I have a fantastic network of support; amazing friends, girlfriend, bandmate and family that I would have surely died without, and to them, I am truly sorry for how I am, I just hope they stick with me whilst I struggle to stay on top of this disease.

I hate my condition, and I would change it if I could, but the simple fact is that any mental health condition is either hard to cure or a life sentence – mine, unfortunately, is the latter. But unlike heart disease or asthma, mental health conditions are invisible, hard to diagnose and near impossible to cure without the correct network of support around you, and this is why we, as the music industry, and we as a human race really need to understand these issues more, and be less judgemental. Yes, things are better than they were 50 years ago, but in terms of stigma, we have a LONG way to go because these conditions are rife within the arts and amongst creatives, yet there seems to be a very sparse support network within the industry. This needs to change. The industry needs to be about people and music again. About love and about helping each other, not shaming other artists for their past, or their behaviour because guess what, that is what happened to me. People used myself against me to damage me, knowing full well that I have underlying issues. Why? To get ahead? To muddy my name?

It’s disgusting and it needs to stop. AND IT HAPPENS ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Not just to me, but to thousands and thousands of people across the world. An industry that is struggling to keep its head above water in terms of identity and what it should be about (not money and pointing fun at celebs, obviously) needs to start changing its ways. Because I for one no longer wish to exist within a culture that is constantly destroying people. We need to understand mental health and stop being, well, simply, mean. Stop being knob heads, because we don’t know how someone is suffering, or what they have to battle day in, day out.

We as a collective may not understand it, but we should empathise with it and try to help any way in which we can. So all I have left to say now is be kind, be understanding, and never ever give up on someone, because if people had given up on me, I wouldn’t be here right now to write this.

One love, Daniel Johnson x

Coping With Depression

Anonymous || August 3rd

When people ask me what is the hardest thing about suffering with depression, I say that it's the fact that it's your own brain that is causing all of your problems. 

When faced with an attack from an outside source most people's natural instinct is to defend against it. If someone insults you, sling an insult right back. If someone tells you that you can't do something, you go out of your way to prove them wrong. Shields up then counter attack. It's probably not even a conscious decision for most people. It's just the thing that you do.

But what if an attack comes from within your own brain? What if you're the one slinging the insults, telling yourself you can't do something, that you're no good? 

People are inclined to value their own thoughts and judgements, especially when it comes to self evaluation. After all, who knows more about you thanyou?

For sufferers of depression it's so easy to become your own worst enemy. You get stuck in the routine of believing the worst about yourself. When things go wrong you tell yourself that it's your fault. When they don't get better; still your fault. When they get even worse...well, you get the idea.

This kind of thinking is extremely dangerous because it's incredibly isolating. If you're constantly telling yourself that you're no good and that you don't deserve good things to happen, you end up throwing the fight before you've even gotten into the ring. Worse still it becomes self fulfilling. You tell yourself that you're a failure so you don't even try to suceed. Then when good things don't happen you see it as the proof of what you told yourself. "See? If I was any good I wouldn't be in this situation", you say. This causes even lower mood which in turn makes you more self critical, which causes you to take less risks, which then exacerbates your situation and round and round it goes like the world's shittest ferris wheel. So how do you break the cycle?

Recently I've been looking for a change in career. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed what I currently do for almost ten years and it's left me with some great memories. But it's not something that I realistically see myself doing in the long term. So I've been on the job trail, applying in the majority of cases only for jobs that would represent a significant change in career and for roles that might enable me to experience that most illusive of sensations, job satisfaction.

When you're a sufferer of depression applying for jobs can be scary and extremely unpleasant. You're basically opening yourself up for judgement, or that is the way that I have experienced it at least. Yes, you're good enough for this position. No, sorry. You don't have what we're looking for. It is EXTREMELY difficult not to take any kind of rejection personally, especially when there's still the voice in the back of your head whispering, "See? Told you you wouldn't get it? What were you expecting?"

I've purposely written this piece after having my first job interview in about two years this morning. I wanted to capture how I felt in this moment, that horrible 'no mans land' between interview and the phone call letting you know how you did. 

I've made a conscious effort in the past few weeks to combat the symptoms of my depression. That's not to say that before this I'd done nothing about it. I've been on all sorts of medication, had counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, experemented with exercise, written a diary, recorded my thoughts on tape to listen back to them, the list goes on. It's just that over the past few months I haven't concentrated on my mental health as much as I should have done, and it's suffered as a result. 

What I've been reminded of late is just how important positive mental attitude and affirmative action are. Ignore the voices of self doubt. Crack on. Take risks. Tell yourself that you're good enough. It's honestly staggering just how quickly things can change. Within a week of my new mental health regime I'd found a job that I wanted. A few more days passed and I secured an interview. I went on that interview this morning. I've also found that my relationships with my friends and family have improved markedly and I'm generally feeling much better.

I don't know whether or not I've gotten the job. I don't really want to think about it for the next few days. They've said that they will let me know, so it's out of my hands. What I do know however, is that a few weeks ago, if you'd have said that I'd have had an interview for a job, any job for that matter, I wouldn't have believed you.

It's amazing how fast things can change when you start behaving positively. Whether I get the job or not, I can look at myself and say "whatever the result, it feels good to put yourself back out there and to take some risks." 

Still, wish me luck though, ey?

Here's to good mental health kids.

Coping With Dyslexia

Anonymous || July 24th

How many times I've seen someone spell something incorrectly on a text, letter, social media, and seen the response...."Haha, you dyslexic or something???" Doesn't bother me, but I live with it everyday. Thing is, spelling poorly is just the tip of the iceberg! That being said, in trying to explain something that is frankly inexplicable, let's start with basic spelling.

I am writing a piece for the website REBEL. It's a difficult piece to write. Dyslexia makes the piece difficult to physically write. 

OK, in the last paragraph I used the word "Piece" 3 times. Like all children I was taught the simple spelling rule..."I before E except after C". It’s a rule with exceptions, but something we can all understand right? Well, not quite for me. You see, I know the rule, but each and every time I write the word, I have to stop and think about it. I did so three times in that short paragraph...and still got it wrong twice! Thank you spell checker. Dyslexia does not translate to stupid – it just means the brain process is getting messed up somewhere along the way.

But, if only it was just spelling! Also, in that short paragraph I completely missed out 3 words when doing the first draft and missed the end off another! Basically my brain is working way faster than my fingers when typing. What's worse is that I had to read that 3 sentence paragraph 3 times before it was correct.

Just one more word on the written word. The brain process of writing also invades my ability to read! I mean, I can read...big words and everything, 3 plus syllables even....but in any given paragraph I will almost always miss at least one sentence out completely. It can also mean on occasions I can get a basic instruction completely wrong....

I can quite easily read "can't meet you at 8 tonight" as "meet you at 8 tonight"! It's happened. It was terrible. I used to attend church on a regular basis, but was in constant dread that I would be asked to stand up and read that days Lesson...the Story of the Good Samaritan would have sounded very different with me reading it! Basically I read what I believe should be there and not what is actually there.

Now, some of you may have an understanding of what I am saying here. More often that not when I get things wrong I get a shake of the head from my family and friends. A nice "it's OK" smile. An occasional scream of frustration. Non family or friends just think I'm either lazy, stupid, weird (yes I spelt that word "weird" incorrectly at first), or a combination of all three. All of these reactions are rational responses. I get it.

But, lets delve a little deeper into the brain of a dyslexic.....

Natural process and habit.

Let me give you this example.

In the morning you get up, clean teeth, shower, shave (male). It is always done in that order. Without thought. Habit. But, not for me. I have to think every morning which of these 3 simple things I'm doing first, second and third. Every morning. The natural process simply doesn't work in my brain. Even I think that is weird! What makes it even stranger is that I will nearly always decide on the order in my bedroom, take the 3-4 second walk to the bathroom and then do all three things in a completely different order!

Working with Imagination.

I don't mean I imagine terrible things everyday. That's not what I mean at all. But, I'm having a real struggle explaining this one. It's all about ideas. I have a lot of ideas. I mean a lot! Each time I have one I have to think it through to a conclusion...or at least try to. The problem is that that one idea cascades into other ideas and so I have to try and evaluate those as well. Now, this is all well and good, but this process can take over the basic process of life.

Another example. I have a bill to pay. Money is not a problem. I have no reason not to pay it. But I have an unrelated idea, that needs thought. I have breaks from the idea and remember to pay the bill. Now I have more ideas. Two weeks later, the bill is overdue and I eventually take the 60 seconds needed to pay the bill....unless I have an idea! Everyone puts off paying a bill, but not because an idea for a "Children's Music Festival" has taken hold. Shit, I just thought of that so the gas bill can wait. Sad thing is, while you're laughing, I'm actually working it out!

(I had an unscheduled break for an hour here as I needed to work on the Children's Music Festival idea, sigh)


Order and Disorder

Naturally as a human being we are one or the other. I have very organised friends (IE again – got it wrong first time) and many very disorganised ones. I'm both. Organised and disorganised. Now, I can hear you say, "we all are a little bit". True, But you may be organised when it comes to important things and disorganised when it's rather more trivial. Important or trivial, it makes no difference to me. Important accounts – disorganised. Unimportant thing....what order to watch my various things saved on Sky + - totally organised! You see as a Dyslexic I have no concept or order...or importance.

There is so much more that I could write, but as I struggle with understanding it myself, I am struggling to put it into words. I've put a link to a website below. I remember someone close to me suggesting I look at this site when I was looking for some answers to how I am what I am. "37 Common Traits for Dyslexia". I wondered before looking if I'd be on the "spectrum"? Erm, you may say so...I have 35 of the 37!

There are more traits not listed here I have found over the years. Strange traits. "Are you good at architectural drawing?" "What?!?" Oh God, at the age of 9 I could draw a building perfectly! Ask me to draw a bowl of fruit and you're getting nothing, but ask me to draw Windsor Castle and I'm Frank Lloyd Wright reincarnated.

By the way. Don't pity us Dyslexics. What goes on in our head is roughly the same as the effect of Magic Mushrooms. At least I imagine it is.