The power we have over each other's mental health

Sitting on the open-air platform in North London waiting for my connection, 'Strawberry Fields Forever' played through my headphones. Lennon’s melancholic beckoning to take me down to a place where nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about. My eyes tight shut and breath quickening I knew with certainty that I would not grow a day older than today. I was not meant to know tomorrow. These were my final moments alive and the next train to approach the platform would release me from the hell I was living.

In my memory my childhood was golden. I’m sure there’s some conformation bias that has crept into my recollection over the years, but to my mind it was a beautiful time, filled with playing outside and birthday parties. I was lucky, not that I would have known it at the time because I didn’t know life could be any other way.

It was high school that provided me my initiation into how dark life could be. At first it started with tolerable ribbing about say using a french accent in a french class, that was funny to other people. Or being enthusiastic about a group project, also funny to others. A love for academia and achievement was gently knocked out of me within the first two years as I was made to understand by my peers that I was in fact not talented and beautiful, but awkward and lame. By the third year I was at the centre of targeted and relentless bullying which spanned from malicious spreading of rumours to calculated physical assaults in and out of school. The community in my school and my town was my whole world, absolutely everything I knew. Upon leaving school at 17 I had a fully formed sense of self knowing that I was not only physically repulsive, but also innately hateable. In the clear knowledge about how little I was worth, alcohol and drugs quickly became my only real friends.

I stumbled through the years that followed, often in tears, often feeling completely alone, often self-destructive. And why not? Why not destroy myself when I know that I’m not worth preserving.

Following a bereavement and the loss of a close friend at 21 my inner world spiralled downwards into a state so unbearable that I found myself sitting on that train platform ready to end my life, letters to loved ones written. I just knew that I could not be in this world any more because the world hated me, it did not want me and I was so tormented that I would choose to be nowhere and feel nothing rather than to be alive and suffer the crushing pain below this deep, thick, unforgiving depression.

A quick and blurry succession of events involving a kindly stranger who saw my desperate state of mind, a phone call to my parents and then to the emergency services saw me that same evening falling asleep on a psychiatric ward on suicide watch.

From that night, 10 years ago almost to the day until this afternoon, sitting here writing you this message has been a daily effort to recover. The dedication and endurance of my family gradually brought me back to life.

I wander if the people who bullied me at school even remember me. I wander if they ever feel sorry for the actions they took or the words they used. I really don’t know. For years and years, I thought of them every day because I passionately hated them. Thought they deserved the worst life could throw at them and hoped they would one day be slowly crushed below the torturous sadness they had inflicted on me. But that hatred never touched them, it lived inside me and I was the only person it was hurting. An important step in making my peace with the world was to forgive the people who tormented me, to appreciate that they are not evil, they were just wrong.

None of us are all good or all bad, we are just hugely flawed human beings who make mistakes and need forgiveness. I am so flawed and have made so many mistakes I am forever grateful for the forgiveness people have given me in return.

You are so powerful. The words you use and the actions you take have the power to tear a person’s world apart or to put it back together. The interactions we have with each other form our whole experience of the world and our place in it. Use your power well and be forgiving.