I soon settled into my new home and enjoyed having the whole house to move around in; I wasn't stuck in one room. Much of my time was spent in the living room with the others. We went out together and ate together; my life was so different now I was out of that dark room.
I began to make steps to change my life to overcome my illness. So I enrolled on to a new course at college, that I thought I would enjoy doing, a Diploma in Exercise and Fitness. I also joined a fitness club as I reckoned that getting myself fit might well make me feel better about myself.
I started to workout in the gym and soon was spending several hours a day there. Getting myself fit was quickly becoming an obsession. Within a few weeks, I was going every day. I had become addicted to exercise and would become irritable if I tried to miss a day.
It was now the middle of August and the weather was hot. So, after borrowing a tent I headed down to Cornwall with Richard and David.
We ended up finding a lovely site with views over the coastline.
Our tent was pitched right next to the swimming pool, which was good for me, as my fitness regime was not going to stop because I was on holiday.
I would swim early in the morning, then run around the site in the evening followed by a workout on my 'Bull Worker'.
After a quick shower, we would head for the clubhouse where we spent the rest of the night. We made friends with some of the staff there and they would sometimes laugh and joke about my strange regime. I didn't care what they thought; it made me feel-good about myself and that was good enough for me.
We had a good time and visited a few places. The weather had been fantastic, but it was now time to go home. I was sad to leave as in many ways I could forget that miserable life I led back in Bath.
Not long after returning, we went round to look at a new house to move into. We would leave the girls behind at Argyle Terrace and move in together on our own.
We were soon offered the place in Twerton and we quickly moved in.
Within a week September had arrived and with it, college. I fully immersed myself in my course. Unfortunately, because of the time and intensity of the course, I found no time for personal fitness; my fitness regime had ended.
I returned to the doctor who promptly increased my dosage to the maximum amount, which made me drowsy most of the time. It was making college difficult as I lost my co-ordination. At times, I had to fight against the drowsiness. Being heavily sedated left me with a real heaviness - like a huge weight on my head and shoulders, pushing me down. I walked around like a zombie, drugged up to the eyeballs. Some days I couldn't even get out of bed, unable to muster the strength or energy. Thankfully the drowsiness soon subsided and I was able to give my all to my course.
We spent most evenings down our local 'The Golden Fleece'. I was still drinking, although not as heavily as I used to. I was still having my, 'off days' and occasionally the anxiety would rear its ugly head, so I would return to the doctor for a short spell on tranquillisers. These would do the trick, but because I was still drinking, I was getting short-term memory loss. Quite often I would have no recollection of a conversation I'd just had. My housemates used to find this amusing and would often make a joke about it.
I managed to excel at college and was pleased to hear from my tutor that I was in the top three on the course. At last, I was good at something, and seemed to have an aptitude towards fitness, especially when it came to learning about the body.
Being ill had given me a negative attitude towards life and even when things were positive, I would have to analyse everything, franticly searching for something negative to dwell on, totally ignoring the positive.
When I was feeling a bit low, I would return to my parents for a few days; I would go down and visit Tony, spending most of my time there.
Throughout my illness when I had returned 'home', I went knocking on Tony's door. He was a great help as I could come and just chat, offloading everything. He would sit there taking it all in and then gradually, he would turn the conversation away from my illness and talk about a different subject.
I always seemed to have a lot to talk about and get off my chest, but also had this habit of pacing up and down.
I could never sit still while talking, so I would pace around his lounge. He had a large mahogany coffee-table in the centre that I would pace around. "For goodness sake! Phil... Sit down; you're driving me mad" he would complain.
I arrived one day to find a dartboard erected in his lounge. "I'm sick of you pacing around my coffee-table. I have bought a dartboard. We can play that instead" he explained. "Besides, look what you have done to my carpet!" he exclaimed.
I looked down to see the carpet worn in a circle around the coffee-table. "Sorry about that mate!" I apologised. From then on, every time I visited we played darts. It turned out to be a good idea, as it would always help to distract me from my own sad thoughts.
Sometimes we would have a few drinks together. Not always a good idea, as I would often return home on the bus feeling a little bit drunk.
On one particular occasion after feeling really low and depressed, I had returned home, not wanting to see my parents, I headed straight to Tony's.
After an afternoon of chatting and playing darts, I decided it was time to leave. "Oh hang on! Before you go, I've got a present for you... here take this," he said, handing me a large bottle of vodka. "I've only had a couple of sips out of it, so there's plenty left for you". "Thanks mate... I appreciate it" I said, placing it in my inside coat pocket. I then left and made my way back into town to catch the bus back to Bath.
I sat right at the back of the bus out of site of the driver so I could knock back the occasional swig of vodka. Each mouthful was warm and comforting; vodka had become my companion again.
I got off the bus at Bath bus station and started to make my way home. I was feeling a little light-headed as the vodka had begun to take effect, but I didn't have a care in the world as I almost floated home.
There was nobody home when I got there, so I grabbed a glass from the cupboard and wandered upstairs to my room. Shutting the door behind me, I sat on my bed and poured out some vodka into the glass. "You're about the only friend I've got in this cruel world" I declared, holding up the glass and then drank it.
Several glasses later, I began to pace around my room. The voices in my head I had tried to drown out before were starting to bombard me again. "Nobody loves you - everyone hates you, including yourself. You need to be punished - beat yourself up". "Yes that's right... I do" I agreed. I started thumping my fists into my body, one after the other until a blow to my jaw threw me off balance and I fell to the floor. "Drink - drink, I need more vodka" I cried, getting up off the floor and reaching for the bottle. "I'll get rid of you damn voices - you'll see" I threatened.
I had almost drunk the entire bottle when I heard David come home. I went down to greet him, almost falling down the stairs. "Hello, David me old mate... How are you?" "Gosh!! Phil... are you drunk?" he asked, surprised.
Just then, Richard came in from work. "Hello everyone... Who fancies going out for a drink then?" "Sounds good to me" I replied, delighted by the invitation.
"I think he's already drunk," said David, whispering to Richard. "Oh! He's all right... aren't you Phil" queried Richard, patting me on the back. "Yes... I'm fine" I replied.
I don't remember anything after that, apart from ordering a drink at the bar. How I got there and how I got home, I have no idea.
The next thing I remember was waking up in the morning. I wandered downstairs to find Richard and David having breakfast. "Morning" I said, "What happened last night? I can't remember a thing". "Last night? Well... We played darts down the 'Golden Fleece'- Haven't you got college today?" asked Richard. "Well! Not on a Saturday I haven't, no!" "It's Monday Phil" Richard said, starting to laugh. "What do you mean Monday? - It can't be." I said, stunned. "Have I been in bed all weekend?" "No. You've been in and out all weekend, and you played darts with us last night. Can't you remember?" enquired David. "No! I can't remember a thing" I admitted. I couldn't believe it. The whole weekend had just disappeared. "Gosh Phil", Richard laughed. "You shouldn't be drinking while taking all those pills".
He was right. I was playing a dangerous game, drinking so heavily while taking antidepressants and tranquillisers. I didn't care because it took away all the misery I felt. Even if it was for a moment, it was worth it, and if it killed me that was a bonus.
I had also noticed that morning as I was dressing that I was covered in bruises. Nobody would notice them, except for the one on my face, there for all to see.
I had to lie to everyone who asked about how I got it. "I got into a fight" I would say. I could hardly tell them that I did it myself.
After a few days, I managed to recover from my dark episode and get back to my studies. At long last, my appointment to see the clinical psychologist had come through and I would be seeing him in a few days time. I was keen to see him as I hoped he would be able to explain why this was happening and how to get stop it.
I entered his office with great anticipation; this day had been a long time coming.
He was younger than I expected. He had thick, black curly hair and big bushy eyebrows. With his tanned face, he stared at me, making me feel uncomfortable. "There's no need to be afraid - we're just going to have a chat" he reassured me, in his northern accent.
We had a long chat where I talked about my childhood and how I was feeling. I was somewhat disappointed to find that he didn't have all the answers and could do no more to help me. "When you have a difficult and disturbing childhood, I can almost guarantee there will be a serious episode of clinical depression at some point in your life" he explained. "You just need to carry on with your medication".
"But for how long?" I asked. "For as long as it takes. You may have to take it for the rest of your life". "What!" I cried. "Look, Mr Russ" he continued, getting frustrated "it might last for a few years or it might go away and come back; we just don't know". I left feeling disillusioned and made my way back home.
A couple of days later, realising my only hope of freedom was through the God route, I searched for a Christian Counselling Service, managed to find one in Bristol and arranged to visit them.
It wasn't long before I was seeing a counsellor once a week. I found our meetings helpful, it was good to allow God into the centre of all this. It was a slow process but over time we managed to work through many issues. I enjoyed these meetings and came away feeling that little bit better.
After successfully passing my first set of exams, we broke up for Christmas.
I stayed with my housemates over Christmas; we worked together to make Christmas lunch. I t was one of the best Christmases I'd had and I really believed that I had turned a corner. With God's help, we had this depression defeated.
A new year arrived and for the first time I looked forward to the coming year with optimism and hope for the future. The cloud of darkness that had covered my life was finally disappearing and the light of the sun was breaking through, bringing with it great joy and gladness.
Within a couple of months I felt free, I had my life back. It was almost like regaining my sight after living in a world of darkness. Now I could see the road ahead.
A short while later and after much prayer I stopped taking my medication. It was not a decision I took lightly. My doctor had advised me not to stop, but come off gradually, not just because of the withdrawal symptoms which could be severe but more importantly because of the risk of a relapse. I just knew God was telling me to stop taking them, as I didn't need them. Coming off gradually made sense, but somehow deep inside my spirit I knew the Lord was saying "just stop and trust me".
I'm not saying that just stopping is a wise decision, but in this instance, God had made it clear to me that this is what he wanted me to do.
Months later after stopping my medication and not suffering any withdrawal symptoms, I was finally free from the prison I had been living in. With no sign of a relapse, I could now look forward to a bright future.
There are times when it's necessary to go against the advice the world has to offer. We have a God who's in the business of miracles and making the impossible possible and he wants to demonstrate this so he can be glorified.
Even though I didn't see it at the time, God was fully involved, protecting me by intervening in those suicidal attempts.
The medication and the counselling, moving out of that dark room into a new home with the students, putting the right people in the right place. In His great love, all these steps were orchestrated by God's hand.
He was in control and knew what needed to be done to bring me through those dark times. Looking back over those dark days of depression, I can see God's master plan at work.
Depression must be one of the deepest, darkest experiences anyone could ever go through. However, in that hopeless dark place, God was there.
He brought hope where there was no hope, and when I was no longer in control, by his grace and love, God took over and carried me through it. He was right there in the centre of it all surrounding me with His love and care and keeping me safe from harm.
Our heavenly Father loves us, no matter what. Even when we are incapable of praying or having any relationship with Him, God is watching over us. He is infinitely patient. By his grace, He will sustain us with His enduring love. And even when we don't recognise it, God is always there. He will wait patiently for us, while we regain our own ability to control ourselves, and to begin to focus on Him.
I have learnt that God never wastes any experience, good or bad. He will use those experiences, to bring Him glory, and to enable us to bring hope and comfort to someone else.
He could have taken it away, but he chose to carry me through it. Why? He let me experience it so I could have a personal insight into what so many people suffer with today.
Now, because of what I went through, I feel I can help comfort others who suffer from this dark illness. I am able to see right into their pain and know how it feels - I can bring God's love to them - offering a renewed hope to their lives.