Depression has long been present in my life. Some of my early teenage years were spent wrestling with ideas of self-harm and self-hate, and I went through darker, more extreme periods in my early-mid 20s, where thoughts of suicide came together with social phobia and self-isolation, resulting in some of my darkest moments.
Depression is everywhere in our society. I lost five good friends to suicide throughout my 20s – and I’m aware of other friends losing friends – so the harrowing statistic that suicide’s the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK isn't just a fact for me, but a haunting reality.
Having been on an emotional rollercoaster during these times of loss, I believe you need to find your own methods to cope with this kind of bereavement. It never gets any easier to experience, but you kind of learn how to accept it; thus those raw emotions of disbelief or anger eventually boil down to compassion.
Love and understanding is the only way I’ve managed to process these scenarios. When you’ve shared similar dark thoughts to those that you’ve lost, you quickly realise that life is so very fragile. Just one crazed moment can end up being the catalyst that sees you leave this realm. But can it be prevented?
For years I dealt with mental health issues by bottling up emotions and self-medicating with excessive amounts of alcohol. I had a hell-bent need for escapism; a need to be taken away from the harshness of the world. That's how you see the world when you're depressed – there’s a constant dark cloud looming over your head, and an impending sense of doom.
It's extremely difficult to get up in the morning, and getting to sleep in the first place is a struggle. Your routine’s non-existent, you’re constantly fatigued, and the thought of doing almost everything daunts you. It’s like you're constantly tasked with climbing the darkest of mountains, which you know will be in vain, so you choose to avoid even looking at said mountain.
Instead, you hope that your consciousness will just switch off so that you can lie, comatose, in a deep sleep for the foreseeable future. Flaking out on plans and becoming ever passive in conversations, you withdraw into a safety shell where you feel that being in control of your room, flat or house is the only thing left for you to cling on to. The worthlessness becomes overwhelming, and that's when death can seem like the easier option.
For me, music has always been a medicine for these mental conditions. It might not cure you, but it sure helps you to feel less alone. Music can provide much comfort and reassurance to one’s soul by capturing themes and feelings that are trickier to handle in any other medium. This is enormously valuable; even music that might be perceived as ‘depressing’ can, in fact, offer an empathetic hand, helping the listener to identify with, relate to, or even escape with the artist. Music can help us to find worth within the worthless.
Having something creative to put your heart and soul into can only be positive. Having spent much of my teens and early 20s studying music, learning songs, playing various instruments and writing lyrics, I can certainly say it has helped to alleviate some of my feelings of despair.
A watershed moment for me in my mental health journey was finding the strength to seek professional help, along with talking about my problems with loved ones.
I’m an identical twin, which is complex in itself as it can spawn mental issues regarding oneself and one’s sense of identity. Not many people understand or realise this, but that’s a whole other story. Having a twin is both a blessing and a curse; you end up sharing similar experiences and dark thoughts. You’d probably assume that, as twins, we’d be open to talking about our emotions together, but this was rarely the case in the past.
Whether it was due to our upbringing or environment, we’d never talk in-depth about any of the things that leave you feeling exposed or vulnerable. We’d often embrace the British ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘northern banter’ clichés to paper over the cracks. But our avoidant mentalities inevitably cracked as difficult situations arose, friends passed away, and our battles with depression grew more overpowering.
During a particularly dark period, my brother sought guidance from a confidential online mental health service to help to address his wellbeing. This brave first step – admitting that he was struggling with chronic depression to an anonymous stranger – helped to instil a confidence within him that it was OK to talk.
This then led to his decision to take things a step further, accessing the mental health services available at our university at the time, where you could speak face-to-face with counsellors. His positive experiences influenced me to also give these services a try, and it was a massive relief.
The unburdening feeling of speaking openly, without stigma, about bereavement and my mental fragilities, instantly helped to lift some of the weight I was carrying. After this, I felt encouraged to talk much more honestly about suicide, anxiety and depression, especially with my brother. We then went on to pour these emotions into our newest musical exploration, Ceiling Demons, to try to address these problems in an artistic form.
Coupling sincere words, delivered in a rhythmic flow, with emotively produced beats from our good friend George, we found that music could indeed act as an alchemist for transforming negatives into positives. We chose to use masked imagery based on Oscar Wilde’s concept that 'man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’
Since these beginnings, the project’s grown and developed in many ways. It has seen repeated loss and found new meanings. We just hope that it has helped comfort some delicate souls along the way. It has given us a platform to raise awareness and work for causes that we feel passionate about, including charities like CALM, Papyrus and, now, Men Tell Health.
It has also allowed us to express ourselves and represent fallen friends and our hometown in our own unique way. And for that opportunity, one can only be thankful.
If you'd like to support them (which supports us, which supports you), you can order the Ceiling Demons incredible debut album 'Nil' over at ceilingdemons.bandcamp.com/album/nil