How cruel insults sparked descent into darkness
THE sun rises in the morning, the alarm goes off and the memories come flooding back.
It's dawn and the days of my life flash before my eyes like a videotape.
I'm nine years old and I can feel the skipping line used as a makeshift rope tightening around my chest as my classmates bind me to a tree.
Their cricket bats are already in their hands ready for the torture which followed.
The bone-deep feelings of humiliation, pain and confusion are still fresh nearly 25 years later
April 1996 fades to black and the time jumps again.
It's March 2002, I'm 14 years old and standing in a different schoolyard but it's the same old scene.
Classmates laugh and brand me a "fag" for being a fan of Queen and David Bowie.
The insult makes no sense but the words cut like glass.
Time jumps again.
It is November 2019 and I'm sitting at my desk in Southport reading a Facebook post by a man I don't know comparing me to a Nazi and kicking off a cruel conversation about my parentage and love of costumes.
The likes are flying in for the post, even from people once respected.
The feelings of humiliation and self-loathing return in overwhelming waves and the same dark thoughts from 1996 and 2002 burst through the door again. They never knock.
It is overwhelming. Darkness falls and a soul-deep sadness clouds every moment.
Many mornings I wake up and those memories come back. Most days I can push them out of my mind but others, they remain front and centre no matter how much I try to forget them.
The Rolling Stones summed it up well in the 1966 song Paint in Black: "Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts. It's not easy facing up, when your whole world is black,"
Every time I've been on the brink, I've been pulled back. By family, by friends.
Others have not been so lucky.
Thursday is R U OK Day, the annual event which encourages people to reach out and check in with the people in their lives who they are worried about.
It's an event which is incredibly important, particularly in 2020, during which we have faced the most unprecedented challenges.
From destructive bushfires to a COVID-19 pandemic that has affected every facet of our lives, this year is one where nobody has come through totally unscathed.
I've struggled with mental health for the great bulk of my life and the memories of the moments I write about today, as well as others, play on my mind years and decades later, long after the people who said and did those things have forgotten and moved on.
It was four years ago this week that I first spoke about it when I wrote a column in the Gold Coast Bulletin about the role science fiction series Star Trek played in saving my life in the aftermath of being tortured.
A lot has changed in the past 25 years and, thankfully, the stigma attached with mental health struggles have dissipated somewhat in that time, as obviously evidenced by something like R U OK Day even existing.
It's a profoundly difficult thing to talk about, particularly for men whose fragile emotional state butts up against the societal expectation that boys don't cry.
Everybody cries, everybody hurts. Not everyone is as fortunate as I have been to have good friends or family who have stepped in and made a difference at the right time.
In some cases, they didn't even realise the difference they made in that moment.
Mental health struggles can come in all shapes and sizes and there is no one universal experience.
For me, my experiences of melancholy and distress have always been accompanied by a feeling of profound and all-consuming loneliness, adrift in a sea of indifference.
On the flip side, it's easy to feel helpless when someone you love is struggling, but simply saying hello, offering to have a cup of coffee, or sharing a meme can mean all the difference in the world.
In this most difficult of years when more people than ever before are under a significant form of stress, I implore you to both think carefully about what you say and to reach out.
Not just today but every day, don't let silence or fear stop you from being there for friends and loved ones.
It can make all the difference.
If you need someone to talk to phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.
Originally published as How cruel insults sparked descent into darkness