If you’ve been reading along with my blog for the past few months, you know that I’ve been pretty vocal about stress, anxiety, and mental illness as a whole. It’s important to me that I openly talk about what ails my addled brain. Perhaps it’s because of my own journey, but anything related to this topic catches my eye.
Lately, I’ve been seeing A LOT of posts on social media from my friends who are talking about their own mental health issues. I’ve seen posts on depression, anxiety, co-dependency, panic attacks, bi-polar. We’re currently living in a world where we’re worried about loved ones, about being infected, about dying, about our jobs, our livelihood…
I understand this completely…because I suffer from this shit, too.
To give you a little more background into my own mental health journey…
Hop in your time machine of choice (I’m torn between Delorean and Tardis!) and let me take you back to the late 90s.
Jon Ford Author grew up, fell in love and got married. Needless to say, that marriage ended horribly less than a year later. I won’t go into details here, but the fallout of that spectacular marital breakdown sent me reeling for years. Decades.
Something inside me fundamentally snapped. Broke beyond repair.
I bounced around between badly judged relationships, struggled with debt, health, and work. I’d never put much countenance into mental health issues until one day…I had a breakdown at work.
I knew I was stressed, not sleeping, feeling on the edge of something bad…but to literally burst into tears in the middle of the office in front of everyone… Well, that was a new experience. My friend Erica recognised it at the time, and it was she who pushed me into getting the help I needed.
Of course I was skeptical. I was like Scully on season one of the X-Files.
The problem was, I couldn’t deny I felt…different. Fundamentally changed.
So, I went to the doctor, and sought help from professional counsellors. It didn’t take long for me to find out that I suffered from what they called ‘anxiety with underlying depression’. I started taking tablets to rebalance my brain chemistry, and saw a counsellor once a week to sort out my head. It wasn’t an easy or quick fix (or cheap!), but over the course of about a year I started to feel more like me again.
Now, I don’t know if something broke irrevocably in me that day at the office, but while I feel okay most of the time these days…the darkness is an ever-present companion. It bubbles away just beneath the surface and doesn’t take much to jump back into the driver’s seat. The past couple of years have been kinda brutal on that front. I faced health issues (a lump in my jaw, a busted up knee, and the ever-present losing battle against my weight!), family issues, work stress, financial stress and, what I like to refer to as my mid-life crisis!
What that leaves us with is that I understand how it feels to internally battle this shit. I take the subject very seriously. There are nights I don’t sleep, simply stare at the ceiling in the dark. There are mornings when I wake up two hours before the alarm with my heart racing and a sense of dread I can’t place. There are days when I really want to talk to someone, anyone…but I can’t open my mouth to ask. Days when I want to go out and do something, but my brain wants to sit alone in the dark and the quiet. Withdrawing, even though I KNOW that I shouldn’t.
Worse still, I comfort eat and I can’t help it! I WANT to lose weight, but my head overrides my willpower!
Maybe all of this describes you to a T. Maybe you only identify with some of it. Perhaps you can’t relate at all, but you have a friend or family member who has reached out with similar thoughts.
I used to think I was alone.
But none of us are. NONE of us.
The thing about these illnesses is…we can’t help them. There are people out there who just don’t get it.
“All you need is a positive mental attitude and everything will be okay.”
But there is something off kilter in our brains that makes us this way.
Studies into the science of depression, for instance, have found that there are multiple factors at play to create the perfect storm of a mental health crisis. It can be linked to genetic vulnerabilities you never knew you had, other illnesses, medications you’re taking, stressful life events and faulty brain chemistry. You throw a number of those things into the mixing pot and you have a meaty broth of depression.
For me, the counselling revealed something else, though. Something I’d never seen before, but, in hindsight, it was glaringly obvious. In one of the early sessions, I mentioned my string of misjudged relationships. My therapist had me discuss each one in detail. After a long, exhaustive hour of explaining to her how fucked up these relationships always were, she smiled and said,
“Jon, you have a particularly strong case of White Knight Syndrome. Being as you’re struggling to fix yourself, you’re displacing your focus to fix others. You’re attracted to women who you feel you can help fix.”
Epiphany! Mind blown!
She was abso-fucking-lutely right.
Now, the definition of White Knight Syndrome really applies to romantic relationships… Here’s a little excerpt from Pyschologypaedia.org:
In the study of couples’ conflicts, clinical psychologists Mary Lamia and Marilyn Krieger call them “white knight syndrome”, presented by men and women who fall in love with troubled or vulnerable people seeking to rescue them from critical situations, their behaviors, and even from their own lives, in the hope that their love will transform them into princes or princesses of tale and in the end a happy ending will be given.
For me, though, it’s worse than that because it’s not limited to romantic partners. If I see ANYONE who shows some kind of distress or worry, I feel COMPELLED to try and help.
Other than identifying my problems, something good had to come out of all this, right? I mean, this therapist and I were digging deep into what makes me tick, so I get a prize…don’t I?
Yup! Something emotional and wonderful and a piece of my life that acts as a daily therapeutic foundation – my writing. But not JUST my writing…my favourite character.
We’re going to jump in the Delorean and dial in to 2005. I had started playing an online MMORPG called City of Heroes. It’s a game where you basically create your own superhero. I fucking adored it! I wanted to create a healer character. One who followed my own natural instinct to fix things. So, I created an empath and called him ‘The White Knight.’
Upon clicking the OK button, I was given an error.
‘That name is already taken’
I thought about it for a while, before getting clever!
I took the ‘Knight’ part of the name, and then grabbed inspiration from Florence Nightingale. I gender-flipped the character, put her in a red and white suit with a Red Cross emblem on the front, and called her ‘Knightingale’…aka Gayle Knightley (see what I did there?).
That character is now 15 years old and she is one of the main characters in my books. A lot has changed for Gayle since the days of her creation on CoH, but her trademark pink hair and green eyes still remain. She’s the reason that the series is called ‘The Ballad of the Songbird’.
(For those true geeks, it’s also a nod to Alan Moore’s ‘The Ballad of Halo Jones,’ which I loved as a kid!)
So, you see, sometimes these bad things can be turned into motivation for good things. If I wasn’t so fucked up in the head, Gayle Knightley wouldn’t exist. I’d never have written ‘Hunters’. When I see friends struggling with their own mental burdens, like my friendly guest blogger Chell who was having trouble reconciling the story she is writing to the current crisis, I try and encourage them to push ahead. Use this fear and anxiety to create something real.
Something positive. Out of darkness must come light.
And while everything that I am talking about here is enough to deal with on any old normal day, now we’re faced with a global crisis the likes of which we’ve only read about in history books to this point. And it is starting to feel like this bubbling cauldron of quarantine is reaching a boiling point.
When this all began, there was a kind of solidarity. Apart from the mad bastards who bought all the toilet paper and pasta, the people of the world were oddly united. We had a common foe. An unseen virus that was killing our family and friends. We weren’t going to stand for it, and countries steeled themselves in the face of adversity.
Governments swung into action for our protection.
Communities were shut down as new hospitals were set up. Businesses figured out how to operate remotely. Restaurants and social gatherings were shuttered. Huge financial rescue packages were announced. Retired medical personnel returned to work as the rest of us were encouraged to ‘stay home: save lives’. We clapped for the NHS, watched daily briefings tell a terrible tale of the rising death toll…
But strangely, through it all, we stood firm.
In the past week, that all seems to have changed.
The tabloids are back to fanning flames, and people are back to being petty and stupid. We’re seeing protests in the US regarding getting the lockdown ended, even as people are still dying in the thousands! Selfishness appears to be creeping back in through the cracks and crevices of this international disaster that we are all facing.
But what is the true source of this behaviour?
Fear. Loneliness. Struggle. And for anyone who is directly touched by the virus, pain and suffering.
That’s a heavy burden to deal with for anyone who isn’t affected by mental illness, let alone for those who are.
It’s a big subject to tackle and I know I can’t do it justice in one little blog post. But, because right now I’m seeing A LOT of people struggling in a variety of ways, I wanted to address it. I don’t know whether any of the people I noticed who were having problems will read this, but I wanted to explore the topic a little. And try to let them (and anyone else reading this) know that you are NOT alone.
Yes, YOU! I’m talking to you directly now, my troubled chum! You’re not alone in any of this.
If you need to, just reach out to a friend. Or call a helpline. One good thing that has come from all of the mental illness making its way out of the closet in recent years is awareness. Those “chin up” people still exist, but they’re quickly becoming the minority and more of society is recognizing the importance of really listening to those who ask for help.
You might just need an ear, or you may need more specific assistance with what you’re feeling, but either way, help isn’t far.
We are in this one together. This isn’t one of those situations we watch on the news, something happening in a faraway land that doesn’t directly impact us. Everyone is feeling this. From each little community to all the big cities. And through it all, you are not alone.
Love & Books