Life can be like driving a very fast car in difficult conditions…and the bumps and scrapes can damage both you and the people around you.
Between 1997 and 2016, I wrote twenty eight books and two short stories for a bunch of the biggest publishing companies in the world. This journey transformed me in many ways. I went from having no money in a minimum wage job to earning a fortune, virtually overnight. It also turned me from someone who had never left the country (even for a holiday) into someone who visited America, France, Italy, Ireland and Bulgaria in the space of a year. I appeared in every national newspaper and on every major TV channel, bought my first house and watched as my books hit – and occasionally missed – the children’s bestseller lists. Having been quite a solitary and isolated child (I now know that I have many autistic tendencies that I simply couldn’t identify, growing up), I suddenly found myself happy and content: I had a wonderful wife and two beautiful children who I simply adored being around.
Then 2015 happened.
I say 2015, though in truth the plunge only truly began in 2015 and it took me two further years to actually hit rock bottom.
My nan (who raised me along with my mum) died on the 1st March. She had been ill for some time, refusing food and water but showing ridiculous amounts of strength and a solid determination seemingly to rot away on her own terms. I was actually in Holland & Barrett at Westwood Cross when I heard that she’d actually passed and a sort of dull numbness overcame me: I didn’t or even feel particularly sad. I felt nothing.
Sir Terry Pratchett, my favourite author, inspirational mentor and the main reason I ended up writing books for a living, died eleven days later. I had grown up reading Terry’s books to the point of obsession, regularly writing to him and carefully studying every answer for the sort of wisdom only he could provide. When he died and I heard the news, there was a sort of coldness that set in: it felt like I was sliding down the side of a mountain in a car I couldn’t control. The idea of Terry not being in the world felt as alien to me as not having my nan around. On the day after he died, I actually bought a bottle of my nan’s favourite gin in the supermarket, completed an entire shopping trip and was at the checkout before I remembered she was dead. These were all signs that I wasn’t really accepting and coping with what was happening and yet still I ploughed on, fulfilling my duties as a husband and father in a sort of robotic daze.
In 2016, we went to the Isle of Wight on holiday and while we were there I received an email that pretty much signalled the end of my career. It wasn’t entirely unexpected as sales of my books had been steadily declining but I remembering thinking ‘Oh…so that’s it, then,’ and simply continuing with the holiday. We were in the car, singing songs with the kids when something happened to me that was both physical and psychological: I can only describe it as a shockwave because that is what it felt like at the time. It was a sort of soft jolt….and then nothing. The kids’ voices faded in the background, the colour sort of seeped out of everything and I suddenly felt if not all permeating darkness then definitely a grey haze over EVERYTHING. To quote a captured memory from the iconic 80s movie ‘The Neverending Story’, what happened to me was The Nothing….
….and it got bigger.
I returned home and from the end of 2016 to the end of 2017 underwent an almost complete personality transplant: I treated my friends with complete contempt, abandoned pretty much all of my moral and ethical values and became entirely focused on anger and a spiralling negativity that completely engulfed me. I sought out people who I felt were as damaged as me (because misery truly does love company) and turned against anyone who seemed to be enjoying life in a way that I wasn’t. All this time, an underlying awareness that I was off the rails and in free fall had led me to seek help: counselling and psychotherapy became the sensible choices, alcohol and obsessive exercises the poor ones. Every drink that numbed me was a medicine, every pushup that hurt me a punishment. I became paranoid, utterly convinced I was personally cursed and damned, that the very people who had put me on the pedestal in the first place had immediately conspired to bring me down. When I had to have my dog put down (he’d been diagnosed with cancer two years before and had lasted far longer than the vets’ expectations), I literally felt like I killed him because that’s who I was, not because I was almost blind to the fact that he was suffering and had no quality of life in the first place.
During this time, I really messed with people. If I encountered someone that I thought was spiteful, aggressive or – worse – reminded me of a tormentor from my school days, I would literally engage with that person and begin to cause chaos. I became an engine of negativity with a ridiculously intense output.
The only exceptions to this behaviour seemed to centre around my children and the fact that I could still be a perfectly happy and devoted dad as long as I stayed at home in my bubble with them. As long as I could hide from the world, I was happy. It was when a ventured outside that I was a failure as a human being, an adult who was dangerous to encounter and poisonous to the people around him. I became, if not psychopathic, then certainly sociopathic. I became addicted to negatively and chaotically charged TV characters, identifying hugely with the character traits of Benjamin Linus from Lost and Noah Solloway from the Affair (arguably the one personality in the whole of TV land who seemed to share a lot of my own neuroses).
Then, in 2019, Covid happened.
I never dreamed at first that such a horrific – and it was and IS horrific – event would make me so comfortable being at home. It forced me into doing the ONE job I’d always loved that really wasn’t a job at all: being a dad. My wife went out to work and I homeschooled the children in a fairly relaxed but also autistically regimented day: blocks of time for fun and exercise mixed in with the work. I literally sat and worked with them as the online learning portals weren’t yet up and running.
I wrote two books. They’re now with agents.
I reconnected with a friend and discovered online gaming.
I moderated my exercise and didn’t actually ramp up my drinking at all.
I began to run outside and not solely on the cross-trainer, wired up to a TV screen.
I began to study meditation and other breathing techniques.
I became a huge fan of Wim Hof.
I’ve built a lot of Lego sets.
I’ve softened dramatically and also measured my judgment: I agree with the folks who think we should all stay at home AND I agree with the folks who rebel against this in the name of freedom and civil liberties.
I’ve just restarted the blog you’re reading in order to reconnect with the world.
I’m STILL a great dad and I’m a better husband than I have been for a while.
There are downsides to all this, however I’ve become even more isolated than I was before, I haven’t seen my three closest friends in person for a very long time. I drink a lot of coffee, I gamble a bit more than I did on the National Lottery – that Monopoly game is quite a addictive. You have a one in three chance of…..anyway……yeah.
Life can change you.
Generally speaking, though, this has been the journey and these are the reasons I’m slowly coming back to the world.
It’s currently February 2021, I’m now 43 years of age and I’m SO done with Lockdowns.