The Short Story
So that others may live, well.
The Longer Story
I never dreamed I’d be a counsellor.
I used to find life really difficult and now I don’t.
I’ve been to Hell and the view wasn’t that great and all I brought back was a lousy T-shirt and transcendent emotional freedom.
I planned my suicide every day for a year or two. I was seeing things and hearing things that weren’t there. I was quite paranoid and I was delusionally guilty.
I could flash from euphoria to despair, and back, and back, in the space between two heartbeats.
My greatest, most terrible fear was that I would decide to kill myself and be prevented from doing so.
I was utterly desperate.
Diagnosis: Agitated Major Depression With Psychotic Features.
Translated: Fucking Sad, Fucking Hopeless, Fucking Helpless and Fucking Crazy.
You could say that my humanity was unavailable to me and to those I cared about because I had lost my mind.
But really I had just lost myself.
I stared into the abyss.
And the abyss stared back.
And the abyss blinked first.
I spent 25 years programming computers. I’m a highly trained and highly experienced software engineer. The field changes so fast you have to constantly learn to thrive. So I had to learn how to learn fast. This skill came in handy in a way I didn’t expect.
I had never learned how to emotionally self-regulate in a healthy way.
What I sought was solace.
What I found was peace.
I am intimately familiar with the structure of unbearable emotional pain/psychological pain/mental pain and I know how to transform it into lazy summer afternoons and warm milk.
The Really Long Story: Hell And Back, Got The T-Shirt
I sat in the psychiatrist’s reception area. My wife (at the time) sat next to me.
It was January, 2004. Brisbane, Australia. Hot as fuck.
I’d just turned 36. Not that I’d noticed. Or cared.
I couldn’t read the intake form I was staring at.
Well, I could kind of read it, but it somehow took an enormous effort and anyway the words had no meaning and I just didn’t give a flying crap.
I tried anyway. For the team. For the kids.
“Name:” Okay, I got that one.
“Address:” I dunno, somewhere over there.
“Phone number:” I think it’s got a ‘7’ in it.
“Health insurance number:” DIVE! DIVE! DIVE!
Brainee no workee.
My wife filled in the form for me while I stared at the green stripe on the wall.
“How did I end up here? Am I crazy? Is this my destiny? What’s going to happen to me?”
A week earlier I’d walked into my local medical centre and said to the nice doctor “I think I’m clinically depressed”.
She said “Oh?”.
I said “Yeah, about six months ago, I came really close to killing myself and I’m headed that way again”.
I decided she didn’t need to know about the hallucinations.
She said “Oh, well, start taking these pills, and go talk to Hugh. Don’t worry about overdosing on the pills, it’s impossible.”
That was okay. I had others at home for that.
I’d almost used them.
A lot of ordinary life experience had happened to me for a couple of years prior to that time and I had no skills to handle it. The problem was, I think quickly and I have creative and imaginative skills up the wazoo. And I used those skills.
Note to self: imaginary = fantasy = not real.
Warning, Bad Stuff In … 3
I tormented myself with imaginary sounds, images and movies of tortured and dismembered children. Beaten, bruised, broken, starved, orphaned, abandoned children.
I believed that I was responsible for all the pain experienced by all the children in the world and I built a monument to a giant delusional guilt.
I experienced this as very painful.
I also believed that it was my destiny to die in similar fashion.
Every person I met was my potential killer.
Everywhere I went was my potential last stand.
I couldn’t get on a bus. I couldn’t get on a train. I could last 60 seconds in the supermarket.
Apparently, this is what “paranoid” means.
I experienced all this as an ordinary, low-grade, constant terror.
To be conscious was to be in pain.
Some days it felt like someone slit my arms open from elbow to wrist and poured battery acid into my veins. Those were bad days for me, but they were ordinary bad days.
It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.
To comfort myself, I spent every day, for a year, planning my suicide.
It came down to the night I was going to go to sleep and never wake up. I’d been looking forward to that very much.
There I was, freaking out, sleeping pills in one hand, searching around with the other to find something to write my note with.
Which was when, for the first time, I came into 100% contact with the realisation that I was about to start an irreversible chain of events.
Which scared the living crap out of me.
Which didn’t help.
I considered calling a suicide hotline. Fuck that. Dying was way easier.
I decided I could take some more pain. For my family’s sake.
I drank a lot of alcohol very quickly and somehow made it through the night.
Time passed. Weeks, months, I don’t know.
The hallucinations began to really bother me.
When I entered rooms, giant demon-spiders scuttled away behind furniture.
I went over to the furniture and looked for them.
They weren’t there.
I heard mumbling voices from old men having low conversations.
I looked for them.
They weren’t there.
I asked my wife if she heard them.
She said no.
I was flashing back to infant reality, when there really are people watching you, people talking about you, and people controlling you.
When there really are monsters under the bed to rape your soul.
And no one believes you.
Although I was very frightened and ashamed of all this and in lots of pain, it was much, much easier to hide this from everyone than ask for help.
Well, I’m a guy.
I trained and worked as a software engineer - Engineers Work Stuff Out.
And after a few years of this, my very creative, very imaginative, very intelligent mind was very threatened and very exhausted.
This is the state of mind that produces the worst possible decisions.
I knew I was a bit down but I didn’t think it was serious.
Strike three, you’re out and it’s all downhill from here.
Dimly, I came to realise that one of two things was going to happen.
Either I was going to fall over the cliff and just self-destruct.
Or somehow, I don’t know how, the 1% of my brain that was still healthy was going to convince the other 99% to get help.
Brain the size of a planet. Six years at university. Two degrees. Tens of thousands of lines of code over twenty years, programming computers in five coding languages in three countries.
Cerebral work. Mentally demanding. I loved it.
Test: Fill In The Form
Hugh: “Ah, so Owen, what’s the deal with these suicidal thoughts?”
Owen: “Well, I want to die.”
Hugh: “Ah, want to die.”
Owen: “There’s no joy in my life.”
Hugh: “Ah, mind if I ask you a few questions?”
… a little later
Hugh: “Ah, sounds like a big, ah, problem.”
Owen: “So, ah, do I need to go to hospital?”
Hugh: “Ah, would you like to go to hospital?”
Owen: “I dunno, what’s it like?”
… FUCK NO, AH, ARE YOU CRAZY, IF I GO TO FUCKING HOSPITAL I’LL NEVER GET OUT
… ALSO, AH, THEY’LL PROBABLY PREVENT ME FROM KILLING MYSELF
Over the next few years, I met with Hugh thirty times or so.
He was very helpful.
The pills were too. Apart from the side effects.
Did I feel different? Yes.
Did I feel tranquilised? Yes.
Did I feel better? I guess so.
I remained alive but I was basically just a piece of sedated beef, breathing in and out, waiting to die.
My wife would ask me simple questions and I would answer and she would start laughing and I would ask “Ah, what’s funny?” and she would say “There’s a big time delay between my question and your answer”.
I hadn’t noticed.
I kept asking myself the same question:
“What’s wrong with me?”
If someone had told me it would help, I would have chewed the head off a moose and run naked around city hall anti-clockwise at midnight shouting “I’m a penguin!”.
In one of my many subsequent lightbulb moments, I realised that retarded people were having more fun than me.
Then I wondered if I was retarded for paying thousands and thousands of dollars for therapy and psychoactive drugs when I could be burning it on hookers and blow and having a way better time.
Partly by accident, partly in desperation, and wholly sceptical, I went to a hypnotherapist.
I wanted to make it the toughest test I could so I went off my high-dose antidepressants cold turkey, overnight. Just like everyone recommends you don’t do. I told no one. I’m a stubborn son-of-a-bitch.
Ten sessions over three months. Transformative.
Not easy, but not difficult either.
My anxiety vanished. My depression remained.
I was no longer spellbound by the magic white pills. I could get out and about. Life was a lot easier. I got a job programming again, although it wasn’t as fulfilling as it had been. I started thinking about a career change.
Neither of us wanted our marriage to end.
Four marriage counsellors. Heaps of reading. Social workers, family lawyers, divorce mediators.
Good things sometimes come to new beginnings.
We were together for 25 years and I wanted her every day.
Until the last day.
I marvel as I write this because this story has a happy ending.
All the pain is all gone.
I only realised that I’d been in pain when it went away.
I know that life is going to continue to happen to me, but there’s nothing I can’t handle.
And it’s official.
As part of the fallout from my high-conflict divorce, I underwent an independent psychiatric assessment.
So I found myself sitting in another psychiatrist’s reception area.
Alone this time.
“I do not believe Mr Pearn currently suffers from a mental disorder using modern techniques of psychiatric diagnosis.”
“Mr Pearn presents with a history however of a very severe mental illness. His history of anxiety and depression since he was a teenager which was not medically assessed until January 2004 is a remarkable account of perseverance and personal struggle.”
“Mr Pearn’s insight into the severity of his symptoms in 2004 is notable.”
“He does not present with symptoms of mental illness or subjective distress or functional impairment to allow such a diagnosis.”
“I can state unequivocally that Mr Pearn does not currently present with a psychotic or depressive illness and he does not currently experience suicidal and/or homicidal thinking.”
“He appears to have developed significant insight and judgment into his own personal struggle with mental health issues which seem now to possibly have spanned more than half his life.”
“Quite remarkable in the history is that it was not until 2004, after some two or three years struggle with severely disabling and distressing symptoms that he appropriately sought professional help which seems from his progress to have been effective.”
“The question of the ability to look into the future and understand how it is that the lifelong struggle with anxiety/depression which was at its worst in 2003/2004 has first of all responded to treatment but then remained in remission or at bay is a tribute to the power or effectiveness of the treatment that was provided but also the psychological insights, the reading and therapy that Mr Pearn has participated in.”
Test: Fill In The Form
Are we all born free, into a world made ready for us?
Regardless, I’m free again.
Because there’s nothing that can happen to me, nothing that anyone can do to me, that I haven’t already done to myself.
I’m free to honour myself and my family.
Free to honour my friends from the past, present and future.
Free to honour all.
I guess I had to go to that place to get to this place.
I certainly learned a few things along the way.
See, I’m a geek and geeks love learning about new technologies.
And I found some other technologies outside the medical system. Technologies for personal change. Technologies of uncommon power.
And I stole them.
Because every geek is a thief.
I’ve stolen a lot.
And I still steal.
I steal with my eyes and ears.
And I am my own medical experiment.
I am my own stainless-steel lab rat.
Everything I teach you, I have either done to myself or had done to me.
Do you want the shortcuts?
I live in Brisbane, Australia and we’ll work via Skype, so it doesn’t matter where you are in the world.
I operate in unconventional ways because I came to counselling in an unconventional way.
I’m not supposed to be here. But I am here.
And I am at your service. Say hello
I no longer believe I can save life up - it has to be spent to have any value. And that in order to live, to have adventure, you have to be willing to die. The sea taught me this, and turned me inside out - among her swells and islands I became an animal, an inhabitant of nature. You can see it in my eyes.