I recently published a piece of fiction as part of Vocal’s Little Black Book Short Story Competition.
If you’d like to read my entry, you can do so by following the link below:
It goes without saying that the world is in really bad way right now. As I write this, nations all around the globe are struggling to contain a global pandemic that has already claimed over 100,000 lives, infected more than 1.6 million people, and left millions more financially devastated. In addition to this, entire countries are locked down as shelter in place restrictions attempt to slow the spread of a virus that is overwhelming healthcare systems and has already significantly altered the course of human history.
Covid-19 is everywhere. It’s on our televisions and radios; in our newspapers and magazines. It’s on the tips of our tongues when we talk to our friends and family, and in the back of our minds with just about every decision we make.
Right now the world appears to be stuck in this morbid state of doom and gloom. We’re afraid. And we should be. We’re living through a fucking scary time with no clear ending in sight. We don’t know how long shelter in place restrictions will be needed, if our jobs are safe, or even when we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. But we do know that while each of us is trying their best to get through this pandemic, we’re collectively at risk of being overcome by the gravity of our situation if all we do is consume negativity.
So rather than talk directly about how Covid-19 has reshaped our lives, I want to talk about the relationship between the pandemic we’re living through and a long-misconstrued societal belief whose etymology is derived from wolves instead.
About a year ago, I was visiting my Mum interstate. As we often do when I go home to see her, we were sitting around her kitchen drinking coffee and talking; catching up about all the little things that never seem to come up in conversation when we’re on the phone. I have no idea why, but for some reason our conversation on this particular day turned to the subject of masculinity; and in true Chris Nicholas fashion, my over confidence was on full display. As someone in his thirties who has experienced death, battles with mental health and masochistic behaviour, financial ruin, failed relationships, and family illness, I considered myself to be a man. I have taken a few big hits in life, and although I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count, I have always found a way to stand back up and face whatever life threw at me next.
But as Mum and I waxed philosophical about what it meant to be a man, she told me that she never really considered me to be a stereotypical alpha-male. The comment was supposed to be a compliment; and part of me took it that way. As a society, we often perceive an alpha character as a dominant individual with greater access to power, money, and respect. These people are often abrasive, intimidating, and sit at the top of a social status hierarchy.
When compared to these criteria, I wasn’t, am still am not an alpha-male. I like to keep fit, but am by no means the most powerful person I know. I’m prepared to fight for what I believe in, but I’ll never initiate conflict or be perceived as intimidating. And I have a couple of bucks in my back pocket, but I’m not exactly rolling around in piles of cash making frivolous investments without a care in the world. And yet, despite not meeting any of the criteria that society needed to consider me an alpha, Mum’s well-intentioned comment rankled me. Because if I wasn’t an alpha, then what was I?
So, I started researching what it truly meant to be an alpha.
The term alpha as society now knows it was first coined in during the 1940s by Rudolph Schenkel of the University of Basel in Switzerland as he studied a pack of grey wolves held captive in a zoo. During his study Schenkel observed as the wolves competed for status within their own sex, until over time, the pack established a clearly defined alpha pair, documenting his findings and sharing them with the world. Then almost thirty years later, the American scientist L. David Mech penned a book called The Wolf which built upon Schenkel’s findings and helped to popularise the concept of alpha and beta wolves within the pack.
Throughout their respective papers, both researchers noted pack dynamics that used competition to define rank. The duo used the phrase alpha to identify the wolves who used domineering, violence, and aggression to become the clear leader of a pack. The savage imagery that these papers presented was hugely appealing to popular culture, particularly in mediums such as film where an alpha could be defined as a win at all cost protagonist who would burn down an entire village just to serve his own selfish ends.
And so, thanks in part to these two studies (and a myriad of similar research papers), society began to use term alpha wolf as a term of endearment to define those members of our society that climbed the social, financial, or political hierarchy at any cost. Thanks to stylised film and television, it became cool to be seen as a badass who didn’t give a shit, and who used animalistic dominance to achieve their goals. Because these characteristics were typically given to male roles within movies, the phrase was adapted, and the alpha wolf became the alpha male. He was the asshole you hated for his ruthlessness, but admired for his success.
But it turns out that the studies used to define the hierarchy of man were flawed. The wolves in the two researcher’s studies weren’t in their natural environment while under observation. They were captives forced to coexist in a foreign climate that stunted their natural instinct. And so, operating in a high-stress situation, they turned on each other and used violence to determine their pack structure.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, researchers began to question the findings of Schenkel and Mech, tracking grey wolves in the wild to test their hypotheses. Until this point scientists had believed that independent and unrelated grey wolves formed packs each winter out of necessity. They thought that wolves lived in close proximity, and banded together during winter to increase their chances of survival, using dominance and violence to establish their pack’s structure.
But through this process of tracking the movements of packs, researchers learned that a pack isn’t a group of individuals drawn together by circumstance, it is a nuclear family of wolves that consists of two parents, and their children. The alpha of a pack is not the most violent, or aggressive. The alpha is simply a paternal figure who co-parents his offspring with his mate.
In his natural habitat, the alpha, like so many great father figures in our own species, treats his family with love, generosity and kindness. He’s notorious for playful roughhousing with his pups, and is even known to pay special attention to the upbringing of the runt of a litter. That doesn’t mean that the alpha is all warm and fuzzy though; wolves are still incredibly dangerous apex predators. And the alpha will ferociously protect his pack against a threat when he needs to. But, as renowned wolf researcher Richard McIntyre says:
The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence; quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that.
Which means that not only did researchers like Schenkel and Mech get it wrong when they assumed that being an alpha meant being domineering (a viewpoint that Mech later recanted). But it also means that society has it wrong when we assume an alpha to be intimidating or powerful; or even that their purpose in life is to serve themselves. Those are the characteristics of an asshole. An alpha is calm, level headed, knows what is best for their pack, and isn’t afraid to put the need of others above their own. They show sensitivity and love to those they care for, and are willing to do violence only when necessary.
Perhaps if my mum were to compare me against these criteria, rather than the misguided version of an alpha popular culture has led us to believe in, her opinion about whether I am a stereotypical alpha-male might have been different.
You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do Covid-19…
And you’d be right for doing so. The truth is, the concept of being an alpha has as much to do with Covid-19 as you allow it to.
As I said at the top of this post, the world is a very scary place right now. We’re surrounded by a perpetual feeling of doom and gloom. We’re worried about our families, our livelihood, and our future. But through all this uncertainty, we as individuals have been afforded with the opportunity to do something great. And that greatness is to be calm, to lead by example, and to be who your loved ones need you to be during a difficult time.
The last thing this world needs right now is the version of an alpha that society has been misled to believe is true. We already have an overabundance of assholes who put their needs before everyone else’s even without the added stresses of a global pandemic. Instead, the world needs more true alphas; leaders within family and friendship units who recognise that we’re living in uncertain times, who understand what their pack needs, and who have the self-assuredness and confidence to support and nurture the people they care about.
Whether that support is making your partner a cup of tea, turning off the television to play with your kids, or just phoning to check in on your friend or relative who may be struggling, every little moment of kindness matters in a time like this.
Years from now future generations are going to learn about the Covid-19 pandemic in schools. They’re going to learn about the lives lost, countries locked down, and the stories of human compassion that kept us all together. When that time comes, imagine how rewarding it would be to tell them that during one of the defining moments of our generation, you had what it took to be a true alpha, and that you made a difference in the lives of those you cared about. That rather than being a domineering asshole who thought the world revolved around you, you showed kindness and generosity even when others around you may not have. That you kept people safe, made sure that they were loved, and played your small part in a global effort to overcome adversity.
I know that it may not seem like it right now, but eventually this pandemic will pass, and our lives will return to some semblance of normality. It’s just going to take some time. Until then, stay home, stay safe, support your loved ones, and be a wolf.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with fellow blogger W. for a short interview about life and writing.
It is always such an honour to be able to share a part of myself with the world, and I am extremely thankful to W. for reaching out to me.
The following is an interview with Chris Nicholas, a writer/blogger from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels and currently working on his third. He also runs a successful website, The Renegade Press (https://therenegadepress.com/), and have contributed publications in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
W.: What makes you start writing? And how did you find inspiration for each of your pieces?
Chris Nicholas: People often ask me what it is that inspires me to write, and the truth is that I never know how to answer. There are so many things that inspire me to write; be it music, films, books, conversations, or just sporadic thoughts that surface in my mind. I mean, I once wrote a blog post about a conversation between a little girl and her grandmother that I overheard while lacing up my shoes.
But if I did have to choose one thing that…
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“Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
There has always been a lot of conjecture about the true ownership of the quote above. While most people believe that it belongs to a Scottish author by the name of Ian Maclaren, there are some that attribute it to Plato, or argue that it was Philo of Alexandria who first uttered the phrase. Regardless of who owns it, the simple, yet profound meaning it conveys speaks volumes, especially in a world where we so often feel as though we are struggling, and forget that we are not alone.
Every single person in this world is living through their own unique version of reality. And in that reality, they are fighting battles both within themselves, and with the world around them as they try their best to survive. While some people face battles that manifest themselves as physical disabilities or ailments; others struggle with cognitive or developmental issues, fight emotional demons, or find themselves pitted against the hazards of circumstance. Yet even though we all have moments where we feel as though we are the only one struggling, the truth is that we are not alone in the wars that we wage, no matter the obstacles we face.
Believe me when I say that there’s a lot more that I want to say here. But before I do, it seems appropriate to take a break for a moment and acknowledge that it has been more than a year since I have written a blog post. And while there are a few reasons why I chose to step away from my website, the largest contributing factor for my absence has been that I’ve been busy fighting a battle alongside someone very special to me…
On November 18th, 2019, my Dad passed away. At the time of his passing, he was sick. Really sick. Yet even though I knew that the phone call to tell me that he was gone was imminent, it still hurt like hell when a nurse phoned to say that he was gone. Dad was, and always will be, one of my closest friends. He was a confidant, a provider of advice, and a royal pain in my backside at times. He was the man who taught me how to ride a bike, drive a car, to respect those around me, and a million other things. But he was also a deeply troubled soul, and a man who was fighting a few battles that in the end, he just couldn’t win.
Physically, Dad’s issues started in 2011 when an aneurism in his aorta ruptured and he was airlifted to hospital to undergo emergency surgery. Mentally, he had begun struggling years before that. After more than two decades serving as a police officer, Dad had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and had been self-medicating with alcohol and cigarettes for several years. It was because of these dependancies that his aorta swelled to six times its normal size before eventually rupturing and causing internal bleeding.
Whilst it would be easy to say that the aneurysm was solely a result of his actions, his excessive alcohol consumption and addiction to cigarettes wasn’t entirely a weakness on Dad’s part. He had spent his formative years in the police force during an era where colleagues actively encouraged drinking and smoking as a means of coping with stress. If you had a rough day on the job, your boss told you to go grab a cigarette, or a colleague took you down to the local bar for a few beers. So, by the time Dad’s health had started to decline, drinking and smoking were so ingrained in his DNA that even as medical experts told him that they were the cause of his sickness, he turned to them as a means of coping.
Over time, his post-traumatic stress turned into depression, and his reliance on his vices became so consuming that he transitioned through states of homelessness, staying with family, attending mental health facilities, and living out of a car, plastic bags and whatever else he could, just so that he could keep a couple of bucks in his pocket to buy a beer and a packet of cigarettes.
At his best, Dad was self-sufficient, and could find ways to get by on his police pension. At his lowest, he was sleeping on my lounge and borrowing large sums of money to feed his addictions, or checking himself into clinics just so that he had a roof over his head and something to eat.
There were days when I could barely look at him. I hated seeing what he had allowed himself to become. It broke my heart to watch the person who had taught me everything that I knew about being a man falling apart before my eyes. Yet although I hated seeing his circumstances deteriorate, I still loved him, and I still did anything that I could just to show him that no matter how bad things got, he’d never have to face anything alone.
In January of this year, things got worse again. Dad was rushed to hospital with another aneurysm, and was told that because his health had declined so much since 2011, he wouldn’t survive. I can still remember sitting in a quiet space at work when he called me in tears and told me that the doctors had said that he needed to be airlifted to another hospital where a specialist surgeon would attempt to operate if he somehow made it through the flight. He was petrified as we said our goodbyes, and I told him that I loved him, and that I was proud of him, and that I always would be.
Then, just like he had done in 2011, he did the unthinkable and not only survived the plane ride, but the surgery too.
But his luck was to be short lived. In June he was back in hospital again where he went into surgery to have stents put into his arteries to allow blood to flow into his kidneys which had begun shutting down. Again, Dad defied the odds and pulled through, but was told that he would need to give up his vices and begin dialysis treatment that he would need to remain on for the rest of his life.
Because he had no place of residence, almost no money or possessions to his name, and needed support, he came to stay with me, and then with my younger brother. Then when things got tough, he said that he couldn’t live with us and chose to check himself into temporary accommodation while we helped him look for a more permanent place to live. He hated dialysis. It left him feeling ill, and depressed. So although those around him tried to keep him focused on improving his situation, we could see that he was slipping away.
In early September, Dad decided he had had enough, and that he didn’t want to continue with dialysis anymore, electing to see out his days rather than pursue treatment. On the day that he told me, I was so angry at him. I had fought so hard to help him over the years that him telling me that he wanted to give up sent me into a rage. I swore at him. A lot. And I reminded him that doctors had suggested he could live another five years with treatment. I said that within that time I hoped that I’d be married, and have a family of my own, and asked him if he wanted to be around to see that. When he looked me in the eye and told he couldn’t imagine himself living through another five years of pain, I realised just how emotionally exhausted he was. And that while he may have physically been capable of surviving another five years with treatment, mentally, he had nothing left to give.
Over the next few weeks shit got rough. Dad deteriorated rapidly both physically and mentally. His body filled with toxins and his head became so clouded with anger that he began lashing out at the people who were trying to help him. From early September to when he passed away was one of the most difficult periods that we had ever experienced in our relationship. He and I fought more than we ever had, and I lost patience with him more than once as we both said some pretty hurtful things to one another out of frustration. I loved and cared for him so fucking much and it was destroying me to watch him just give up. But for every fight that we had, we also had discussions about my life, and his, and about what he wanted when he passed.
The night before my Dad died, he called me from a hospital bed and told me that he loved me, and that he appreciated everything that I had done for him. We cried. And then we spoke for a few minutes about what he wanted me to say as a farewell to each member of our family before he hung up the phone, and the period in my life where I had a father who was alive came to a premature end.
I know that some of this probably sounds like I’m condemning his decision not to undergo dialysis. Or that I’m harbouring some kind of pent up frustration at him for his actions. But I’m not. I’m not writing any of this to disparage my Dad, or his memory…
It’s important for me to say that. Because I love my Dad. I always will. And in a way, I’m still trying to shelter him by only talking about some of the things that my family has been through; particularly over the past twelve months. Instead, I’m writing about my experiences with him because I hope that by doing so, I can help whoever reads this to understand that every one of us are fighting our own battles; and that sometimes the kindness of the people around us is the only thing in this world that we have left to hold onto.
Mental illness is not something to be trifled with. Even though I’ve had my own battles with anxiety and depression, and had friends take their own lives, it wasn’t until I watched my father in his final weeks that I realized just how overwhelming a fight with the chemical imbalances inside our brains actually can be. Dad was constantly lost in his own head, battling against himself, scalding his own behaviour, and allowing his anger at his own shortcomings to fester. In the end, he was so lost that even the idea of being around for a few more years to potentailly meet his grandchildren couldn’t rouse him.
Although he’s no longer here, Dad did struggle against his illnesses for years before giving up. I truly believe that he made it as far as he did because of the kindness and generosity of the people around him, including the complete strangers who loaned him a couple of bucks, or who bent rules and gave him discounts on a safe place to sleep when he needed it. Dad might have been down and out, and on the wrong end of far too many of his own poor decisions, but people always seemed to see the good in him and reciprocated with kindness and compassion when he needed it most.
While he may not have left behind much of a legacy in a tangible sense, this lesson that people are inherently compassionate by nature, as well as everything else that he has taught me over the years, means far more to me that a life insurance policy, or a will choked full of meaningless assets ever could. I will forever be grateful to those strangers that treated my Dad with respect, and made him feel welcome. I will never meet most of them, or even know their names. But to know that their actions often helped him make it through just one more day means the world to me.
You might be wondering why I called this post Tricky…
I did so because that’s what people used to call my Dad when he was a cop. Tricky Trev was as sharp as a whip and always had a solution to a sticky situation. Yet while the title is more of a homage to him than anything else, perhaps it also lends itself to the idea that I am ultimately trying to convey here. Which is that life can be tricky sometimes. For all of us. We all have our battles to fight, and our horizons to cross as we complete our idiosyncratic journeys between birth and death. But through acknowledging that we all experience lower moments, as well as remembering the powerful effect that kindness has on each of us during those difficult times, we can create a better world for those who are struggling.
The battle that I’ve been fighting with my Dad is over now. It came to an end on November 18th, 2019. In many ways, his passing is bitter-sweet. Because as much as I miss him, at least I know that he is no longer in pain.
What we went through as a family won’t be the last hardship that I endure in my life. I will undoubtedly have plenty more ups and downs before my bones inevitably turn to dust. But hopefully the lessons that I’ve learned by fighting alongside, and against, the man who taught me how to ride a bike, drive a car, and to respect those around me, will help me to remember that I’m not alone in my struggles. And to be kind, always. Because you never know what someone else is living through, or just how deeply your compassion can move them in their times of need.
A wise man once said that patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. I always believed that I understood what he meant. I thought that he spoke of suffering; that one must sacrifice so that he may eventually prosper. I told myself that I wanted to be a writer, and that the yearning in my chest was the pain I had to endure in order to succeed. Because of this, I spent years fighting against a loneliness so encompassing that I could feel it in my bones. Then I met you. And I realised that I was wrong. It took my twenty-eight years to understand that the hole in my chest was the bitterness of waiting to meet someone who could take my breath away; and that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for a woman as beautiful as you.
It started with a photograph. Until then I had always considered myself a hopeless romantic. I thought that I would meet a girl and we’d hit it off right from the start. I dreamed that we’d bump into each other in the street, or meet through friends of a friend. I told myself that our conversation would flow easily; I would smile and say something clever, and as she laughed I would realise that our souls were destined to become intertwined.
I never imagined that I would stumble upon your photograph and feel a breath catch in the back of my throat. I didn’t think that I would spend weeks trying to introduce myself, before finally sending you an awkward message that just said hi. You were never meant to respond. You were gorgeous. I was just an ordinary man who felt his hands shake and his heart skip a beat when he saw you smile. But you wrote back and jokingly thanked me for not asking to see your feet. You seemed nonplussed by my awkward introduction, and as we spoke I realized that the beauty within you was even more incredible than the image that had captured my attention.
Since then we have spoken every day. With each conversation, I have learned more about who you are. I can remember your birthday, your favourite flowers, and the first time that you called me babe. I don’t think you meant it how I hope that you did. It was just an expression that you uttered without realising that it would make me stumble and fall head over heels for you.
But, while I’ve learned so much, I have said some stupid things too. I told you that I wanted to be your boyfriend; and you laughed and offered a polite no. It was naïve to say what I did. I know that I have found you at your lowest; when you are trying to find yourself. I understand that the timing is so wrong; but the butterflies in my stomach when I think about you just feel so damn right.
I’m not writing this to say that I love you. We have really only just met. I’m just trying to find a way to tell you that you are a drop of honey that has fallen into my soul. The sweetness of your smile and the subtle touch of your kiss have stirred awake a part of me that I never knew existed.
You are a warm glow that has spread through my chest, and down the length of my limbs. I don’t love you. Not yet. But I know that I could be the single greatest thing that has ever happened in your life. If you gave me half a chance I would be the man who picked you up at 3am and dropped you home, and who carried your shoes inside when your feet hurt. I’d be the man who rubs your tummy when you’re sick, or writes terrible stories about your dog to make you laugh. And you…
…You would be my Lacuna.
I’ve been in love before. I still have the scars to prove it. I’ve never told you this; but it’s something that we both have in common. I found a girl that I assumed I would grow old with; she left me, and I thought that I would always be alone. But then came that drop of honey: the warm amber glow that lit up my soul when I saw you smiling in a photograph and realised that all hope was not lost.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this; or if I’ll ever get a chance to buy you flowers, to celebrate Christmas a day early, or to make your next birthday the most incredible one that you have ever had. I really hope that I do. I hope that when you find yourself again and you’re ready to open your heart, you remember that awkward message that brought me into your life. I’m not asking you to rush; I’m telling you to take your time. If I can have some fun with you, and make you smile until then, I’ll be the happiest man alive.
But if I never get a chance to show you just how much you could mean to me, and what it feels like to know that you’re no longer wasting your time: I want to thank you all the same. We may have only just met, but you’ve already taught me that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for someone as incredible as you. You’re the woman that made me realise how wonderful it is to feel a swarm of nervous butterflies in my stomach. You are the drop of honey that warmed my soul.
Some days are harder than others. There are times when I barely notice that you’re not around. Some days my life can seem so busy that I almost feel complete. I have a job that despite my shortcomings, I have managed to excel at. I have my writing; I run a website, and I wrote a book. It’s a love story. I think that you would like it. I have my family and friends too. I’m trying to be a better friend, brother and son, yet I know that I don’t always tell them that I love them as much as I should.
But there are also times when I reach for your hand, only to grasp at air. There are days like today when I’m surrounded by the people that I love, and they’re all married, partnered, or engaged. Some have families; or are expecting. And I’m standing there alone, wondering when I’ll meet you. Or if I ever will.
I used to think that we had met. I found a girl who was so beautiful that I knew I was in love from the first time that I saw her. She was smart too. She taught me about flowers, about having an open mind, and how wonderful it is to feel content. I tried so hard to make her love me; and even harder to make her stay. But she left. And she broke my heart. The final lesson that she ever taught me was that true love doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, and sacrifice. She taught me that just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean that they know, that they’ll love you back, or that you’ll get the happy ending you have always longed for.
I wish that I at least knew your name. That way when I lay awake at night and picture our life together I could call you something other than Lacuna. It’s not even a real name. It’s just a word that I found in a book. But I chose it because it means a blank space; or a missing part. I’m twenty eight years old and I don’t have a woman to love, or to hold. There’s a blank space in my life that I wish I could fill; a missing part to the puzzle that is me.
I promise that when we meet I’ll do everything that I can to sweep you off your feet. I’ll spend every waking moment trying to take your breath away.
I want to be your husband; and for you to be my wife. It sounds crazy because I don’t even know what you look like, but thinking about the day that I ask you to marry me brings a smile to my face. That doesn’t mean I want to be hasty and ask you as soon as we meet. I want us to take our time. I’ll ask you out on a date, and try and hold your hand. You’ll look at me as if I’m insane, and my heart will skip a beat as our fingers interlock. At the end of the evening I’ll drop you home and walk you to the front door, placing my hands on your hips as we kiss goodnight. It probably sounds silly to you. I know that people don’t do that kind of thing anymore. But there’s no need to rush something that is meant to last forever.
I promise to take care of you too. I want to be there for you during the tough times as much as I want to share our moments of joy. When you’re sick I’ll tuck you in at night and wrap the blankets around your body before dimming the lights. I’ll make you soup when your throat hurts; or rub your stomach when you turn ill. If you need to talk I’ll listen with great patience. And I’ll buy you flowers on your birthday, when you get a promotion, or just because I can.
When we have children, I’ll be the best damn father you have ever seen. I’ll change nappies, and teach them how to count, or to read and write. We’ll laugh and cry as they say their first words, and take their first steps. I’ll make sure that they grow up in a house filled with so much love that it radiates from their smile.
If we have a little girl I’ll learn how to tie pig-tails and play with dolls. If we have a boy I’ll teach him to ride a bike and that real men treat women with respect. I’ll be at the front row of their sports carnivals, their spelling-bees, and graduations. You will too. We’ll be hand in hand, just like we were when I took your hand on our first date. We’ll be older by then; but just as in love as we have ever been.
Eventually we’ll grow old and retire. I’ll have to give away the job that I managed to excel at; I don’t know where you work, but I’m sure that you’ll be missed. We’ll travel the world, our faces cracking into a series of wrinkles as we smile gleefully at one another. When our hips give out and we can’t travel anymore we’ll find a little cottage to live in where we can form bizarre habits, like eating dinner while the sun is still up, and drinking so many cups of lukewarm tea that we spend most our nights dashing to the bathroom.
I know that one day I will find you. My parents always told me that good things come to those who wait. I just never thought that I would be twenty-eight and still searching for the woman that I grow old with. As a child, twenty-eight had seemed so old. I thought that I would have figured my life out by now. I wish I didn’t have to hurt as bad as I have in the past. I wish that I hadn’t had to lose the girl that I thought was you, and that I didn’t have to write a letter to someone that I’m still waiting to meet.
I don’t know where you are right now. Or if you’ll ever read this, but I want you to know that one day you are going to be my wife. And that I am going to love you, you are going to love me, and we are going to be happy. I promise to sweep you off your feet so that we can create a life so wonderful that your heart never aches again. When that day comes, I won’t need to call you Lacuna anymore. You won’t be a blank space, or a missing piece in my life. You’ll be my best friend; and I’ll be yours. We’ll be in love with one another, until the day that we die.
My mother knows that I am sick, but I hate that she can’t understand that whilst I am grateful for her love; it won’t stop the shaking of my hands.
One of the hardest things about dividing your time between blogging and writing manuscripts is that it often feels like one body of work must suffer so that that the other may thrive. When I blog, my desire to work on a larger manuscript wanes; and when I devote my time to creative fiction, it can be difficult to transition into the mindset required to produce entries for this site. At times it can be overwhelming to try and find an equilibrium between who I am as a blogger, as an author, and as a man. This complex balancing act is what has led to the recent lull in activity here at The Renegade Press.
I haven’t given up on blogging: I still have a notepad full of half thought out entries and epigraphs that will eventually become completed posts. But I have been focusing my attention elsewhere. In the past month, I completed the first draft of a love story; a piece unlike any other manuscript that I have ever produced. While the script needs a rewrite and a hell of a lot of editing, I can honestly say that I have never been so proud of something that I have created. I often write about concepts such as heartbreak, vulnerability, and anxiety on this site, so to be able to explore them in greater depth while producing what (I hope) will one day become a published novel has been a liberating experience.
In the excitement that followed completing the script that is named after an entry on this site, I hurriedly edited the opening two chapters so that I could share them with my mum. I sent her an email that was just under four thousand words in length, and waited with baited breath for her to tell me what she thought. While she told me that she loved it, I may never really know if she did. Mum has always supported me. I can’t ever imagine her suggesting that something I had written was shit. Yet despite her bias, being able to share something I am so proud of with someone who I love, and who has stood by me through the lowest moments of my life means more to me than I could ever express.
But that moment of intimacy sparked a thought. And that thought soon led to another, which then led to many more. Before too long I realised that although my life is no longer ruled by the anxiety and depression that I have often blogged about, I have never really taken the time to say thank you to the people who stood by me when I felt as though I was suffocating under the weight of my existence. I have always assumed that people would just instinctively know how much their support has meant to me, and that their kindness and compassion saved my life.
But I don’t want to assume anymore…
I want to say thank you to my mum. And to my dad. To my brothers and sister; to the woman with the little blue hearts that I loved and lost. To my friends, and to you, the reader. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support, and for never giving up on me; even when I was so close to giving up on myself.
When I started blogging in 2012 I was sick. When I look back through the archives of this site I can feel the pain woven into my words. Yet even though I was hurting, it took me another four years, and to lose someone that I thought I would spend my life with to finally hit rock bottom. When I did, the anxiety and depression that I had been battling with for so many years won. I lost myself. I felt like a failure. And I wanted to die.
In the months that followed I spent hours locked in my room, crying my eyes out as I read the kind words of strangers who had stumbled across my blog and learned of my heartbreak. Although I never responded to most of the people who reached out to me, I read every word that they wrote. Had it not been for the love of my family and friends, or the compassion of strangers who shared their own experiences with me, I may never have rediscovered who I was, and learned what it feels like to be happy.
I’ve always said that I want to leave the world in a better state than it was when I was brought into it. Which is why just saying thank you doesn’t feel like enough.
I mean, shit; I wanted to die. I felt so low that the idea of taking my life played over inside my head on an endless loop for longer than I care to admit. I could have easily been another man who had their life cut short by mental illness, contributing to a statistic that is already heartbreakingly larger than it should ever be. But I was lucky. The love I felt from my friends and family, and from every single person reading this was enough to help me through the fear and loneliness that I felt.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as blessed as I am. Not everyone suffering from mental illness has that support; and some that do still struggle to find the strength to carry on. Despite the love and support of their peers, they can’t find a way to face one more day in the hope that their life can get better.
So, I want you to help them. Just as you helped me. I want you to tell your family and friends that you love them. I want you to tell your work colleagues, your neighbour, and the people around you when they do something amazing. And I want you to offer a smile, a wave, or even a hello to a perfect stranger who looks as though they may just need to see a friendly face. I want you to promise to never take someone for granted. Don’t ever let someone you care about question just how much you love them. Take every opportunity that you can to show them what they mean to you.
As a society we often state that we need to have a conversation about suicide and depression. Yet we’re too scared to open our hearts to the possibility that we, or the people around us, are not OK. We feel as though opening a dialogue means that we must have a solution, an opinion, or an insightful response that will take away someone’s pain. But we don’t. There is no definitive solution to mental illness, and you’re not expected to provide one. All you need to do is listen; to allow someone who is fighting an illness inside of their head the opportunity to talk. And more importantly; to be heard.
You may never know the impact that your kindness has on someone’s life. They may never offer their thanks, or find the courage to tell you how much you mean to them. But a random act of kindness; a smile offered to a passer-by, or the compassion to ask someone if they’re OK, could be the catalyst that helps them find the strength to control the shaking in their hands. By offering to listen, you could be the reason for someone to keep fighting, even when they feel like giving up.
If we keep offering our hands to those whose hands tremble, and we continue to listen when their minds are filled with fear, then you and I can leave the world in a better place than we found it. We can help fight suicide, anxiety, and depression. And we can make a difference. With nothing more than an open heart, we can change, or possibly even save the life of someone close to us who is struggling. I know that for a fact; because you have already saved my life.
I hope that together, we can help save many more.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
August 28th, 2016.
Remember the date. Because it’s important, and I’m going to come back to it a few paragraphs from now.
In 2015, I lost a friend to suicide. In 2016, I lost another. The passing of my friends devastated me. To lose a loved one is always a sobering experience. To lose them prematurely because of mental illness is earth-shattering. I have always believed that a family is defined by much more than biology. I consider my friends to be a band of brothers that I love so dearly that I am willing to sacrifice anything to protect them. The knowledge that two of those brothers could be so affected by mental illness that suicide became their only hope of salvation breaks my heart.
I know what it’s like to feel low. I spent years feeling angry, confused, scared and alone. And for the longest of times I never believed that I could feel any other way. I used writing to express myself, and created this website as a means of trying to work my way through the endless fog inside my head. And yet despite spending years writing endlessly about my periods of self-loathing and misery, I never actually hit rock bottom. I came close. But the people I cared about had always given me hope; they were my reason to carry on, even when I felt like giving up.
And then on August 28th, 2016, my life fractured. I lost the girl that I believed I was destined to grow old with. In doing so, I lost my happiness, and the desire to be Chris Nicholas anymore. On that day, I hit rock bottom so fucking hard that I didn’t want to write, or eat, or be anything. And then fate kicked me while I was down, taking away the certainty of printing my sophomore novel with the publisher who had produced my debut piece.
Until that day, I had envisioned a life where I would marry my partner and create a living from writing books. When I was down, or angry, the knowledge that I had a woman who loved me and a future brighter than I deserved spurred me on. Her love brought a smile to my face when the demons in my head were trying to eat my alive. So, when she left, and my battered body collided with the unbreakable surface that is rock bottom; all I could do was lay in a damaged heap and cry.
As I cried, my parents asked me if I was going to be OK. When I told them that I didn’t know, they asked me something that made the hurt I was experiencing feel so much worse. My mother and my father looked me in the eye and asked:
“You’re not going to hurt yourself, are you?”
In the darkest moments of my life my parents were so concerned for my wellbeing that they were worried that I would try to harm myself, or that I would take my own life. My mental state was so fractured that they were frightened that after years of moving through cyclical battles with depression, I was going to give up. I told them that I wouldn’t. Until that point in my life I had been petrified of death, and even though I had been down, I didn’t ever want to lose myself. But what I didn’t tell them was that in the months after my partner left me, the thought of no longer existing had crossed my mind.
Agh, shit. I’m getting all teary. This isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. So, let’s take a brief interlude for a moment. I want to clarify a few things. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, or to be concerned for my state of mind. August 28th, 2016 is the most important date in the history of who I am not only because it’s the day that I hit rock bottom; but also, because it’s the day that I stopped running from my demons and began learning how to overcome them. In the months that have passed since, I have used my heartbreak and devastation to build the solid foundations of a happy life. It hasn’t been easy. I have had to confront my shortcomings, and learn to love my flaws. But in doing so, I am beginning to become the man that I should have always been.
This post isn’t about me. It’s about you. And the people you care about. It’s about talking openly about suicide and mental illness, and starting a conversation by saying:
“My name is Chris Nicholas, and know what it feels like to lose someone that I love to suicide. And I know what it is like to feel so worthless that the idea of no longer existing becomes a viable means of coping with pain.”
Maybe in doing so, I can encourage someone else who is going through what I did, and what my friends did, to reach out and ask for help. Maybe by sharing my lowest moments with you, I can encourage you to lend your heart and mind to someone who is trying their hardest to fight their way through the hells of a life plagued by depression, anxiety, or whatever else, giving them a reason to live when all hope is lost.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 45% of the global population will experience mental illness of some form in their lifetime. Of those that are diagnosed with a mental disorder, a staggering two thirds will never seek professional help. When you factor in the percentage of sufferers that remain undiagnosed, and that 90% of people who take their lives experience mental illness; and that suicide ranks within the top twenty causes of death on a global scale, the need for a societal change to how we perceive suicide and mental illness becomes apparent.
The bullshit inference society has created that says that mental illness, anxiety or depression shows a weakness of character is wrong. You are not weak for feeling down. You are not alone for feeling fractured. There is no shame, stigma, or dishonour in admitting that you need help. Mental illness is a fault in your psychological makeup caused by a chemical imbalance inside of your brain that you are in no way accountable for.
Take it from someone who has stood on the precipice between life and death and found the strength to survive: it is alright to not be OK. It is alright to feel unwell; or to be angry, or scared at times. That doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. What isn’t alright, is for our society to continue to lose so many lives to self-harm because we’re simply not doing enough to help those in need.
When I hit rock bottom I found a peace in myself that I never thought existed. Sure, falling from grace hurt. I lost someone who I had believed would love me for the rest of my life, and in doing so I lost myself. But I talked to my loved ones, and they listened with endless patience as I cried myself through the hurt and attempted to find who I was once again. Had I not have known what it was like to lose people that I love to suicide, I may never have found the courage to confide in them, and to get out of bed and face each new day.
Through conversation, my friends and family saved me. And I guarantee that if you ever find yourself feeling as low, and as worthless as I did, your loved ones will do anything in their power to help you through too. All you need to do is cast aside the stigma of mental illness and ask for help; or to offer your heart to someone you know who is going through difficult times. Once you start a conversation and remove the perception of weakness and fear that surrounds mental illness, you can find hope, compassion and love within your peers.
When I began to talk, I realised that the people around me weren’t afraid of holding a conversation about my depression. I had just been so angry for so long that they didn’t know how to approach the subject without pushing me further away. They had been waiting for years for me to open up and tell them why I felt the way that I did. And, maybe if I had of confided in them earlier, I wouldn’t have lost as much as I did. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to hit rock bottom and start over again.
I used to be a boy who suffered from depression. I called myself a world eater and a wolf as a means of inspiring the strength within myself that I needed to keep fighting when I felt like I was falling apart. Since August 28th, 2016, I have become a man who calls himself a world eater because by doing so I can inspire strength within others when they feel as worthless as I once did. I don’t feel down anymore. I don’t feel angry. And I have just two regrets in my life. The first is that I didn’t speak out about how low I felt sooner. And the second… Well, I think that goes without saying.
To anyone who is struggling through anxiety or depression right now I would say this: It is alright to not be OK. And you are not alone for feeling broken. You’re with me; and millions of other individuals who make up the estimated 45% of people who experience mental illness in their lifetime. If you ever find yourself standing on the precipice between life and death, searching desperately for a reason to continue to live; I want you to reach out and take the hand of someone that you care about. Do what I did: cry. Cry your fucking lungs out. And when you have no tears left, talk. Let your loved ones help you find yourself once again.
If you’re not ready to talk to the people that you love; then use this page. Talk to me, or the other people who will read this post. Share yourself, and find solace in the knowledge that no matter how low you may feel, you are never alone.
Authors note: On November 17th, 2015, my friend Jason lost his battle with depression and took his own life. Since his passing, his brother Ben has been working tirelessly to raise awareness for anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. In June of this year, Ben will be riding his bike around Australia, covering more than eighteen thousand kilometres as he attempts to encourage others to talk openly about mental health and suicide. Ben’s courage in the face of adversity and heartbreak has been a huge inspiration to me, my friends, and family. If you would like to follow Ben’s journey, or offer your support: you can find more information here at www.rideforjase.org.
I’ve always had this strange idea that the day I become a published author I’ll make a few phone calls to notify my loved ones of my success before sitting down with a glass of scotch, a cigar and a stereo pumping out one of my favourite songs of all time: Second and Sebring. It’s a weird little fantasy, and one that doesn’t really have any great significance other than to provide a moment of reflection and mark the moment when I transition into a new period within my life. The song itself is an obvious choice to me. With an opening line stating ‘I believe it’s time for me to be famous’, it just seems like the logical choice for an author with an ego as grand as mine. But when you start to dissect the lyrics a deeper meaning emerges as Austin Carlile and Shayley Bourget pay homage to those who raised them and allowed them to succeed.
So this time I’ll make you proud.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been sitting on some pretty big news and was so close to having my own Second & Sebring moment. But sadly it just wasn’t meant to be. That homage to my family and friends for their refusal to give up on my stubborn arse was put on hiatus.
You may remember that a few months ago I ventured across the globe to chase down my dreams and the result was pretty damn positive. I walked away from the experience with a list of agents and film companies reviewing my work and a renewed passion for what I do. Since then I’ve been sitting on my hands awaiting feedback from those companies, twiddling my thumbs and averaging about five hours sleep a night. Then two weeks ago I got notification that my work was being presented to a board of directors for potential representation and publication. Suddenly that five hours of sleep I was averaging was cut in half and my mind went into overdrive as I started to imagine what it would be like when that phone call came through saying you’ve made it. Success was so damn close that I could taste it.
For two achingly long weeks I sat in the most fucked up version of limbo I have ever experienced. Neither a success nor a failure I moved through everyday life on autopilot, blissfully unware of anything other than my IPhone as it beeped with each call, message, or email. My phone would spring to life and my heart would skip a beat; could this be the call? And when it wasn’t a small piece of me would wither and die. Then after fifteen days of sheer hell I finally got the call every writer dreads:
We like it. It’s strong. It’s engaging. It’s just not us. Best of luck with another company.
Funnily enough I have always found positive feedback harder to take than the negative. When someone delivers the negative I feel inspired to work harder. It’s like waving a red rag to a bull. You tell me what I’ve produced is shit and I will run myself into the ground to create something better than you could ever dream of. But to be told that you are so close to everything you ever wanted is worse than being told to give up altogether. I’ve been in this situation before; a previous manuscript almost found publication, and when it fell through I crumbled. Yet this time I seem to be handling my stumble at the finish line rather well. I’m feeling inspired, confident, and grateful for the experience. It is an incredible feeling to have positive affirmations bestowed upon your work by an industry you crave to break in to.
So my gratefulness got me thinking; why do I have to wait until I’m successful or famous to pay homage to the people who have supported me throughout my journey? Why can’t I say near enough is close enough and throw out a little love to the people I would give my life to protect? Surely I can just say thankyou to my mother and father, my brothers, sister, and sister in law who have listened to my misguided tales of woe or pigheadedness over the years. And give recognition to my friends that have never given up on me when I have fallen in a heap or regressed into to a hermit like state. Surely I can have a Second & Sebring moment right now and say I’m still yet to make you proud of me, but through the positive feedback I received with my knockback I’m now more determined than ever to succeed.
Right now my work is still under review by a number of other companies and I hope and pray every single day that it will find a home with one of them. But even if it doesn’t I’m young, determined and not afraid to be knocked down anymore. If all of this fails I’ll remind myself that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger and rise once more to take this industry by force. Until then the scotch and cigars remain untouched, but that song of homage and my love for those who inspire me will be screamed at decibels usually reserved for the wails of the damned.
To paraphrase Carlile and Bourget, when I break through I’ll make you proud to see me overcome all day life.
Proud of who you raised.