The 1000 Day Descent into Madness
Posted by doctoboggan
9th Jul 2018


I recently wrote this short, semi-autobiographical story about my experiences with anxiety and depression on my blog and thought I would share. It focuses on my time at university and the gradual deterioration of my mental health. I hope it is as cathartic to read as it was to write!

The first year was easy. Initially he’d been nervous. He was young and fresh-faced and he knew he was naive. But then so was everyone else. In that year, once the dust of change had settled, he became eager to learn and make new friends. He grew in confidence. There was drinking and laughter and dancing. There were deadlines too, but they hovered on the horizon like the shimmer of an oasis beneath the glare of a desert sun. All was well.

In the second year the cracks started to show. The workload expanded and his deadlines mounted. They became more pressing, more concrete. He was scared of them now. They stole his sleep and he woke in cold sweat. The pressures of life rose and fell in peaks and troughs like silent tidal waves. He rode them, but only just. One by one close friends became passing acquaintances; acquaintances became little more than half-remembered faces passing in campus corridors. He survived with his sanity in ribbons. The year could have been better.

Two weeks into his third year his brain unspooled like the tape from a broken cassette. Colours greyed. Sounds muffled. From time to time he’d leave the flat, pile into an inner-city bus, squirm between the stinking press of bodies in suits, and hold his breath until the driver reached the end of the route. Another lecture missed. On the rare occasion he found the courage to enter the classroom, the professors’ words washed over him in fits of white noise. He learned nothing. He contributed nothing. He was sinking faster than a brick thrown into a shallow pond. But he didn’t care. He wanted to sink. If he were not so numb, he knew that’s what would have hurt the most.

In the fourth month of that same year, he received an email that twisted the knife in his gut. “We need to meet to discuss your current situation,” it said. “We have set aside meeting room 11B at 6pm next Thursday. Please do not be late.” By now the weight had sloughed from his frame like dead flesh. His limbs, when lifted, were as heavy as lead. “The mirror lies,” he told himself. If he ever found an excuse to go back home and visit his family he knew they’d lie to him too.

When he awoke on that fateful day it seemed as though the world was holding its breath. He spent the morning wandering the streets alone and without purpose, watching the fabric of the city billow in the biting wind. He felt nervous. At least he thought he felt nervous. He wasn’t entirely sure what it felt like anymore.

The office was tiny and smelled of old paper. He sat down at the desk and greeted the two mentors who returned with pitying smiles, the kind a doctor would give a patient moments before delivering a fatal verdict. One was a man with wire-frame glasses, the other a woman with pale skin and frizzy hair like a bird’s nest. He couldn’t remember their names. Their expressions were impassive. Their faces, it seemed, had been carved from cold marble. They talked in hushed and serious tones and he nodded along as if he understood, but his attention was drawn to the porthole window behind their heads where he could see a sliver of the grey, winter sky and the swaying limbs of a leafless oak. They gave him chances to speak, but he had lost the will to fight.

After half an hour they bid him goodbye and he left the room. He walked back through the empty corridors and stepped out of the front door into the street. For a while he stood at the bottom of the steps, looking out into the road. His mind began to whirr. The chill of the early evening wind nipped at his cheeks. In the distance he heard the roar of car engines. It was then that his bubble collapsed and reality rushed in like oxygen being sucked into a fire.

He cried. The first time he had cried in over twenty years.

Soon shadows swallowed the streets. He dragged himself closer to the old flat where he lived, hoping that those who walked by couldn’t see the tears that stung his eyes. On the way he stopped on the bridge that crossed the city’s great river and stared into the black water. It roiled and swirled in scum-topped currents and the frozen banks stretched for miles towards the twinkle of tower block lights on the horizon. The water was cold. He had no doubt about that. But in that moment it looked warm; warmer than the night that pricked his skin.

He inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes. Thoughts flashed through his mind with snapshot speed. Past and present and future collided in a thousand sparks. His broken heart sank and he sobbed once more in heaving fits. Temptation pulled at him. It only takes a second, some spirit whispered. It’s voice glowed like the embers in a fireplace. No-one would even notice.

He exhaled. He opened his eyes. He turned away from the edge and walked the last mile home. Not today, he replied.

The rest of the year passed by in sleep. He packed his bags and left the city. He found a job back home, answering phones for a pittance, and his despair compacted into a tight ball, small and dense, that he rolled into the back of his mind. Somedays he didn’t notice it was there at all. Other days it threatened to burst open and consume him. He was sure it would one day.

His sadness of the whirlwind years gradually rotted into self-loathing, then anger and hatred. He’d never forget what they’d done to him. He’d never forget how little they’d cared or how reluctant they had been to listen. They hadn’t wanted to involve themselves in matters that might have spoiled them. Their hands were clean.

For now though his life moved on, skewed with dreams of what might have been…

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