I am depressed…


Mental Health Awareness Week begins today, with this year’s theme being “relationships”. Dan McLaughlin joins the open and frank discussion about mental health with his account of facing depression.

I am depressed.

Not by the recent news announced by universities minister Jo Johnson whereby academic institutions will now be able to raise tuition fees from the already staggeringly high and class dividing £9,000-a-year – ridding this lost generation of “thinkers” and replacing them with soulless “customers”.

Nor am I depressed because of the childish penis-measuring contest they call the EU Referendum where one side compares the European Union to Nazi Germany and the other tries to scaremonger the apathetic, to whom they are responsible for creating in the first place.

Or even reflecting on yet another mediocre season for Blackburn Rovers with a departing manager and incompetent owners who are beleaguering my childhood club. We were the Leicester City of the 1990s. We are now the Lib Dems of the 2010s.

I am depressed, because…well, your guess is as good as mine.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (the artist formerly known as manic depression). Bipolarity means that I experience an extreme in moods: manic highs where I think that I am the next step in human evolution, and crippling lows where I wish natural selection will do its job and add me to the list containing dinosaurs, dodos and Katie Hopkins’ common decency.

Since last Wednesday, I have been experiencing the southside of bipolar.

Lethargy, contempt, sheer dislike of human beings (with myself claiming top prize).

Like Marley in A Christmas Carol, I feel like I am burdened with weights and chains – lowering me to a pitiful and cowering stupor. I am in a disgraceful yet loyal compliance to a mood much like the Judeo-Christian Old Testament god: punishing, petty, resentful, sulking like a pubescent teenage boy.  

From Wednesday until this mood lifts, I will not look in a mirror.

I fear that it will reflect a Dorian Gray-esque magnification of my hideous traits.

I am overweight. I have horrible teeth. I am 5′ 6”. The bastardisation of East Lancashire and the occasional Derry has created a mudblood accent, where the creeping stutter and lisp will return as the sequel nobody ordered; a bit like Transformers 2.

A black and white vignette of an old memory plays out from an old, dusty cinema projector in my limbic system.

I am in a classroom at my old high school, aged 14. Two girls, whose names and faces fail me or they have simply been deleted for something much more useful in my storage, gossip and cackle about boys they fancy – as though they are selecting poor souls from a menu, whom they will devour like their spirit animal: the black widow spider.

They scour the classroom, ticking off this checklist of crushes.

“Athletic sports guys with perfect hair and an inferiority complex?”

“Yeah, he’s cute.”

“Boy destined for renowned institutions, such as Strangeways?”

“He’s fit.”

“The Class C**t?”


“What about Danny Mac?”

The tape is trapped in the cogs, playing their hysterical hyena laughs on loop.

And today, they are right to laugh.

As a man who usually takes great pride in his appearance, this begins to decline with the mood. The suits are replaced with baggy t-shirts, the shoes with trainers.

I have even grown a beard.

This lax attitude to aesthetics is not some vain attempt to join the lumberjack clone race they call hipsters; although I do already own a pair of stupid spectacles.

It is simply because I do not care.

The beard is almost a defence mechanism: with more inches on my face, that means people will be more inches further apart.

As Stephen Fry gravely remarked in the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: it’s not that I want to die, it’s just that I don’t necessarily want to live.

But I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that Stephen Fry saved my life, and continues to save it today.

No, he did not heroically save me from drowning or some other form of misadventure.

He made me aware of my illness.

There are many ways I can attempt to combat bipolar disorder.

I could temporarily release endorphins to make me happy through exercise, sex and chocolate (or if I am feeling particularly adventurous, all three at once).

Or I could swallow happy pills prescribed from a general practitioner. I have, admittedly, tried this between the years of 2012 and 2013 and whilst I do not refute it helps others cope, I have developed my own method:

Educate, not medicate.

As one of those charming atheist creatures, I value nothing more than my rationality. What I find utterly frustrating about my decline in mood is that it is so irrational.

Why should I be unhappy? I have a caring family whom support me in whatever endeavour I partake. I am in a job I love, surrounded by people I respect and whose company I enjoy. I have my own place in a city I have grown fond of. I have a Netflix subscription. You selfish, selfish man.

There’s certainly no grievance from my early years: my childhood memories are of that of sunny days, Pear Drops and Blackpool.

I have absolutely no reason to be sad.

But neither does an asthmatic to have breathing problems; or a diabetic to require insulin; or for someone to have a severe reaction against a very specific type of nut.

Depression is illogical, but it’s not selfish – it just is.

(And an excellent argument against the intelligent design theory)

Instead of hopelessly shouting in the wind, I try to check the weather report beforehand. Being aware of bipolar disorder, being aware of the symptoms wins you half the battle. If I know what’s coming, at least I am prepared to tackle it.

To carry on the weather analogy, I cannot prevent the rain from coming – but I can wear a coat or bring an umbrella.

And like the rain, as Mr Fry observes, I know that this depression will, at some point, stop.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs between Monday, May 16 and Sunday, May 22. You can find more information about the campaign here.


Photo credit: PDPics.com via Wikimedia Commons


Paris Attacks: The Smörgåsbord of Evil


In a vain attempt to appear intellectual and justify my university education, I shall quote Ernest Hemingway on the process of writing. I know Hemingway said it for the Google told me so:

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

As a tribute to Hemingway, akin to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa, I shall bastardise this phrase for my own usage:

“Write angry; edit rational.”

In the wake of the horrific murders committed in Paris, where 129 people were killed and over 99 injured in a series of co-ordinated gun and bomb attacks purportedly by the so-called ‘Islamic State’, I took to social media to vent my unadulterated rage. And then I stopped. Write drunk; edit sober. Write angry; edit rational. Instead I posted this holding message: “I find it wiser not to write posts in anger. Considered words on the horrific events in Paris can wait another day. Deeply, deeply saddened.”

In hindsight, Jason Manford should have employed the less-haste approach to his social media policy, after Facebook banned him for calling the Abrahamic god a “c**t”. Whilst the depictions of this deity are, well, cuntish, I find it somewhat difficult to think of him – certainly not a her as we would not be in half the trouble we’re in with a woman in charge of life, the universe and everything – as female genitalia because I simply do not believe he exists. Having said that, I think that Stephen Fry gets it absolutely spot on with this:

Time has passed. The red mist has lifted and in its place, philosophical musings on “what next?” After the slaughter in the French capital, US comedian Bill Maher posed the question: “Why do they hate us?”

The ‘they’ being the alleged attackers, ISIS. First and foremost, I will not give the delusional murderers the respect they lust for by naming them the ‘Islamic State’. For a while now, I have tried to conjure up a collective noun for these individuals. I toyed with “The Flamboyant Homosexuals” but I did not want to degrade the wonderful – and I daresay, fabulous – LGBT community; but I knew nothing would piss ISIS off more than being referred to as a bunch of queens.  Instead, I have opted for the powerful and the universal “The Cunts”. So if I need to refer to the artist formerly known as ISIL, much to my mother’s distaste I’m sure, they shall simply be called “The Cunts”.

Much soul-searching has occurred quite publicly on social media and otherwise. Solidarité has graciously been shown with an outpouring of grief and temporary Facebook profile pictures. Sadly, there has been opportunistic racism from the same people who are posting “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. That, Alanis Morissette, is ironic. Perhaps they should take note from that great Anglais philosopher, Rowling:

Harry Potter

Courtesy of The Best of Tumblr/Facebook

Amongst the fluctuation of French lexis – which I always considered a beautiful language with my favourite Gallic phrase oddly being “comme ci comme ça” – there were statements along the lines of “this has nothing to with religion”; which I consider, pardon the phrase, naïf.

The rise of The Cunts – which I understand sounds like a punk band record or Germaine Greer’s next book – is not solely the fault of religion, of course. I hasten to add that their version of Islam is utterly twisted and barbaric, and quite unknown to the vast majority of kind and loving Muslims in the world. The Cunts were formed (we really are going for the punk theme) due to the Smörgåsbord of Evil: the foreign policies of Western countries, mental health issues, psychopathic and narcissistic tendencies of the sexually deprived and, I’m sorry to say, a warped vision of radical Islam.

Religion is just one of many, many contributing factors. However, we cannot deny that it is one of our – to be unkind, out-of-date – ingredients on the Smörgåsbord of Evil.

I repeat: The Cunts do not represent the vast majority of Muslims who genuinely aspire to do some good in this world. However, following the equally sacred creed of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is identifying the problem. When the feminism debate ensues, a few of my peers give the lame duck argument: “But Not All Men…” We are not accusing the entire gender of being sexist, harassing women and generally being dicks, but merely stating that some men are. Of course not all men are guilty of being misogynistic, but it is a cultural problem which encapsulates the gender that we must address. In the same way, I do not believe that all Christians are homophobes but due to the hateful nature of some, there is an ingrained homophobia that we must not be reluctant to deal with. We should not shy away from the theological and sociological debate about Islam (and indeed all Abrahamic religions).

Perhaps you are aware from my sceptical writings and my general smugness (mainly because I am not prohibited from the pleasurable things in life – I am, of course, talking about bacon) that I am an atheist.



Down with this sort of thing!

Why do you want to ban religion?! (I don’t – although I fantasise about a world without it)

I would like to state on the record, Your Honour: I have absolutely no problem with faith – my problem is with religion. Faith can be a beautiful thing that inspires, unites and gives comfort to a great number of people. However, religion tends to accompany it like a drunken, bigoted uncle at a family function.

In January, I wrote a response to the freedom of speech debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo murders for The SalfordianI almost asked for it to be deleted from the website as I made a rather crude and gross over-simplification as an argument: I said that I was Islamophobic – but certainly not Muslimophobic. I regret the clumsy execution of the argument, not the sentiment. Of course, I am not Islamophobic. I do not fear Islam – how utterly preposterous! The point I was attempting to make was I would engage in debates about religion. I would, however, not mock a person’s beliefs.

Faith plus religion can lead to a pick n mix of ideology. In reaction to the far right’s interpretation of Islam following the Paris attacks, where the poor little darlings seemingly confuse race and religion, a meme – an evolutionary term coined by Professor Richard Dawkins, ironically – showing Muhammad’s rules of warfare has done the rounds. Don’t kill prisoners: marvellous! Don’t kill children: fab! Don’t mutilate corpses: quite right, too! One does tend to think why there is an idiot’s guide to warfare in the first place – surely one should be promoting peace: just don’t kill anyone please, thank you very much.

I am not refuting there are some wonderful passages in the Qur’an, giving lovely advice on how to be a better human being. But for every lovely passage, there will be those that stick at the back of the throat. And this is true of all seemingly holy texts: the Bible, the Torah, Joseph Smith’s ‘Where’s the Wally?’ For every love thy neighbour, there’s Sodom and Gomorrah (ludicrous, ludicrous tales); for every do not kill innocents, there’s a step-by-step guide on how to crucify said innocents. To call oneself a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew is not to choose a pick n mix of ideology but to take responsibility of the entire sweet (and sickly) collection on offer.

For instance, if you were to attend the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones and live to tell the tale, you would not defend the wedding on the account of the pleasing music and hor d’oeuvres. To extend this further, when you choose to support a political party, you do so because you agree with their policies. As much as I was delighted with the legalisation of same sex marriage by the ConDem coalition, I certainly would not support their views on, well, basically everything else. Adolf Hitler as Chancellor did revive the German economy, but his foreign policy and human rights record left something to be desired.

For a god that is absolute, be it Abrahamic or otherwise, the Bible and the Qur’an cannot be a series of pros and cons. If a deity, and its institution, is infallible then, as the late and great Christopher Hitchens said, why can we not tell if these texts are a sign of god having a bad day?

Whilst we are discussing religion and politics, it seems the opportune moment to quote Douglas Adams:

“If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it.’”

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Joann Sfar shared this drawing online:

Charlie Hebdo

Courtesy of Joann Sfar/Instagram

Upon sharing this image on my Facebook profile, there were some who liked the picture and some that did not. A friend of mine rightfully commented that if people didn’t kill for religion, they would kill for politics; zealousness is the problem, not faith. I find it hard to disagree with this. After President Hollande gave a speech after the attacks stating France would be “merciless”, I feared history would repeat itself. After 9/11, George Bush remarked unwisely that he would go on a “crusade”. That crusade is still feeling the effects. That crusade most likely resulting in the horrors seen on Friday. I knew, I just knew that France would retaliate and their airstrikes on the city of Raqqa in Syria sadly proved that if people didn’t kill for religion, they would kill for politics.

The Smörgåsbord of Evil has many, many ingredients and we must not be afraid of talking about each and every one of them. You may vehemently disagree with everything I have argued, and the marvellous thing is: you can. As I speak freely, you can also. In fact, I actively encourage it.

Let’s have a conversation. Freely, equally and together. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Paris Peace Sign

Appreciation in Iambic Pentameter


As National Poetry Day is met with scepticism, Dan McLaughlin examines why the art form is under appreciated.

When the average person thinks of poetry, they are transported back to the socially awkward situation of being a 14-year-old in a classroom being told to recite Shakespearean sonnet. This uncomfortable scenario brings back red-faced memories of stuttering through ‘Tyger, tyger burning bright’ whilst your teacher orders you to appreciate the poem. How does one appreciate a poem, when forced? It conjures up images of the bad cop/good cop routine, in iambic pentameter.

National Poetry Day may very well bring scepticism from those tortured with Keats and DH Lawrence during their schooldays. However, poetry is not evil. It can be a rather pleasant thing when one begins to understand and enjoy it. Stephen Fry wrote in his wonderful guide to poetry, An Ode Less Travelled:

“Among the pleasures of poetry is the sheer physical, sensual, textural, tactile pleasure of feeling the words on your lips, tongue, teeth and vocal chords.”



(‘Stephen Fry’  courtesy of GNU via WikimediaCommons)

How come they don’t teach you this in school? Mainly, because education is a sausage machine where the students are processed to get grades, not appreciation. You are never taught of the silly joy of reading Tennyson’s Kraken in a Glaswegian accent (Below the thunders of the upper deep/Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea/
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep/
The Kraken sleepeth) or attempting to read the first line of Simon Armitage’s The Christening aloud with a straight face (I am a sperm whale).

Poetry comes across as a bit archaic. Soon its windows will fail, and it will not be able to see to see. Our etymology is evolving, and once romantic language, which stemmed from our stanzas will be replaced with acronyms and LOL. This is evident via Twitter, where @Lawrah86 attempted poetry in 140 characters with:

When poetry tries to be at its most cool, it still looks pretentious with its tweed jacket and leather elbow pads. Beat poetry is a popular form of verse, but it so easily ridiculed. In the Mike Myers’ film So I Married An Axe Murderer the protagonist attempts beat poetry (or slam poetry, in the US) with these killer lines:


Woe, man!

Whoa, man!

She was a thief.

You got to belief.

She stole my heart, and my cat.”

 Although Tim Minchin’s 9 ½ minutes beat poem, called Storm, is well worth a read and a watch.



(‘Iambic Pentameter’ courtesy of Remy van Elst via Picasa)

Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”. Poetry is an uncensored form of communication flowing directly from the poet’s mind; almost like a diary that happens to rhyme. It is a personal and visceral thing, so when our teachers forced upon us ‘appreciation’, this was completely the wrong approach. I have remained unmoved by some poetry, such as Lawrence and Keats because I am hardly lovey-dovey; but I find Edgar Allan Poe enthralling, because I have been terrified of his poem Raven since my Nan bought me his anthology from a charity shop as a child.

Some of you may have attempted to write poetry, for which I congratulate you. It is a hugely daunting task, and there are only a select few who can achieve it. Primary school teachers up and down the country seek solitude in whiskey after hearing “the cat in the hat sat on the mat” fifty times over. I once tried to write some form of comprehensible poetry, when my best friend became a father for the first time. Here is my feeble attempt:

“I have no wise words for you today, my friend:                                                                                           This is where the jurisdiction of my wit ends.
                                                                                                  I’m afraid I don’t have any philosophy to cite,
                                                                                                No great thinkers to quote, try as I might.

So this is it! When art starts to make sense!
                                                                                                     No more jokes at the poet’s expense.
                                                                                                         Suddenly you start to listen to Keats and Tennyson:
                                                                                        All because of the birth of wee Lennon.”

Poetry is archaic, uncool and perhaps on life support machine awaiting a power failure, but it is also brutally honest. Do not quiver in fear of National Poetry Day, but celebrate the institution of true emotions.