Anxiety screamed so loudly in my ears,
It had drowned out the world around me
For at least ten years.
But now, in this moment;
It is a dulled, feeble whisper,
Muted by the pounding
Of my free and fiery heart.
It's 02:35am and I am perched on a brown beanbag in a youth-hostel in Newcastle. The rushed, sleepy words that follow will never accurately capture the magnitude of this day but it's the best I'm willing to give at... now 3.46am!
My day began with the abrupt ring of a 6am alarm. Or, it began 13 years ago. It depends how you look at it.
Anxiety and to a lesser but significant extent depression began to be truly problematic for me at the age of 14 although looking back, I think there were tell-tale signs before that. I spent a lot of my teenage years wishing I only had to contend with the regular issues of a regular teenager, without this extra, heavy blanket of mental health problems on top of everything else.
Things that other people could do without thinking were physically painful for me and highly stressful. This has continued ever since. I have taken longer to achieve or become comfortable with things that those with a healthy brain would do without a second thought but what I have never done is give up or succumb to my challenges. You may have encountered me behaving oddly or working slowly but what you don’t know is the strength and mental battle it took to get to that place, on that day.
I largely cut myself off from a social life in my late teens. Telling friends I’d love to hang out then just never making concrete plans. Classrooms and lecture halls were a nightmare. Train travel became very problematic for a time. Eating in company. Education, work. Pretty much everything apart from going to gigs and trust me, the fear knocked at that door too but I took a stand and refused to be moved. This is one precious thing you will not take from me. The waves pounded at my defences but I would not be moved and eventually that ugly tide abated. My one safe space.
It’s been one fucking hell of a year with all the peaks and troughs and it’s a cliché to say but I’m going to own it. 2019 was MY year. And it’s just the start.
So back to today. At 9.15am I find myself merrily hopping into the car of a stranger and hitching a lift to Penrith. Then my train is cancelled and I’m getting bundled into a taxi with 2 strangers for a car ride to Carlisle. My train to Newcastle runs without a hitch but then I’m getting out in an unfamiliar city and finding my way to a hostel to share a room and a bathroom with who knows how many people I don’t know. Then I find myself contacting a photographer I don’t know and next thing we’re in Starbucks chatting away. Then I’m at a gig with a photo pass and I’m actively introducing myself to several photographers and holding my own in conversations. Then instead of retreating back to my seat, I sit and watch the rest of the gig with one of them. Afterwards I actually look for some of these people to have a drink with but on finding no one I head back to my hostel, only to get a message inviting me out. I ditch my bag then head back out to drink with 2 people that I only briefly introduced myself to a couple hours prior. -In 10+ years of going to gigs I’ve barely had a conversation with anyone, let alone ‘made friends’.- Last orders comes and we head out into a wet night, wandering around a city failing miserably to find the next place. Eventually we find another bar and I’m sat til 2am before exhaustion takes over and I have to call it a night.
Not one of those things could I have comfortably done without fear a year ago and today I did all of them, in one day, one after the other, in complete comfort without a single consideration to my demons. I’m skimming over this so quickly that you can’t really appreciate the struggles it has taken to get to this place but know that it has been immence.
I decided a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to try and get into gig photography in a serious way. I’ve dabbled before, shot a million local-band gigs but now I want more. Tonight I had a pass for Frank Turner’s acoustic show. I was filled with nervous excitement before-hand but I soon forgot about it when the other photographers appeared, there was conversation to be had and things to be learned. After shooting was done and I got to sit and watch, Frank talked about failed loves and I could feel myself getting emotional, reflecting on relationships in my life that haven’t worked out, people I wanted to love that I no longer have permission to and I found myself slipping back into a sadness I hadn’t felt for weeks. Then his story-telling and songs moved on and soon I found myself overwhelmed with happiness. So much that my body physically couldn’t cope and overflowed, with the happiest tears I’ve ever shed. I’ve been so happy in the last month and achieved and grown so much that it almost hurts, realising what a foreign feeling happiness has been in my life. Typically I could count on one hand how many days in a year of genuine happiness I’ve experienced and here I am, tonight, in this crowd, sat next to this other photographer, completely and utterly at peace with where I am.
It’s so easy to compare yourself to others, especially with social media where we so often only see the end product. Today I’ve spoken to a photographer who’s been doing it 13 years, another 9, another 5 and I tell myself I’m at the very start of my journey, even if technically I started shooting gigs 10 years ago. But there has been a far more important journey at work in my life. Today my whole day was filled with things I previously couldn’t do and I carried them all out with ease. It’s easy to compare to others but today, I stood triumphantly, proudly happy, the end (and only the beginning) result of a 13 year battle with my brain and body. I’m still going to have hard days for sure but life has never been so good, so consistently good. As Frank sang I cried, jubilant in my achievement, knowing not a single soul around me could imagine the monumental significance of the moment.
Recently I wrote (unpublished) about a significant chapter of my life coming to an end but tonight I see that other chapter was nothing more than a paragraph. Tonight was the greatest ending and most magnificent start of my life. So far.