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LIVING WITH BEER AND MENTAL HEALTH. Part Three: The Words I Should Have Said

I’ve struggled for many years as a beer enthusiast and a sufferer of Depression to try and correlate the two. Whilst I’ve written about the two in different ways, I’ve never really considered how the worlds collide on a consistently balanced knife-edge. Either one could take control at any moment and kill me but both are defining characteristics of Mark Johnson.

I want to finally explore how it is to be a Beer Enthusiast and a Mental Health sufferer; to explore how the two can live together. I want to look at the ways they’ve destroyed people but also at the way they’ve saved lives, the way it saved mine. The media perception of the two removes the humanity from the stories that I want to return. There are unhappy stories but there are many happy ones to coincide.

After Part One looked at one man doing it wrong and Part Two looked at how the pub saved me, we now look to the influence beer blogging had on my health

I wrote much of this beginning of this part 3 in May 2016. I felt compelled to finish it May 2017. 

"His writing is like a pear tart. You know you’re going to get this sweet fruit goodness, but there are all these other lovely things going on.”

I’m sat amongst over 6000 people at an AGM-come-beer-festival in an Aberdeen conference centre. I’ve had a couple of beers, I’ve eaten a haggis doughnut and I’ve spoken to some wonderful people. It has been a really enjoyable and unexpected weekend all round.

But I’m crying. Amongst the scene and scenario tears are streaming down my face.

I’ve had a surprising number of comments about my blog over the weekend. The continuing lack of self-belief and lack-of-confidence destroy the concept and image that people may have actually read your blogs. Every time somebody would say “Yeah, I remember you tweeting about this” or “I liked your post about that” there is a split second of confoundment and silence whilst the words are absorbed.

Yet it took two comments in quick succession about a particular blog post of mine that shook me; the post in question being Part one in this series published back in February 2016. 

When somebody wandered over to tell me there was a problem with the RSS feed of my blog, I was caught off guard. He showed me that his RSS reader couldn’t find my website and what might be causing the problems my end. Then he finished by bringing up Part One of this series of posts and telling me how incredible he thought it was before exiting. I knew I’d welled up but I could control it.

When a second person – who happened to be the famous Ms Swiggy herself, the first person being her husband Max – took a seat and also said incredibly kind words about the same post, I went. I went and didn’t stop. I’m not ashamed to cry yet most of the twelve strong table found excuses to leave fairly quickly. I didn’t know how to stop.

Of course much of it was the sheer emotion I put into the post in the first place manifesting, but there are other reasons for this outpouring of grief.

I was always writing words in some format without an intended audience. Words were often a source of comfort to me. Heck amongst the little short stories and autobiographical snippets, I used to even write raps. Beer was always one of my major interests in adulthood but I never considered blogging about it and, for a long time, didn’t realise such a life existed.

When I had reached a point, with all my 20 Twitter followers, that my fingers had become itchy, the words about beer naturally assimilated. My two forms of therapy had collided. I had no desire to be anything but somebody who could compurgate their feelings into word but the beginning of this blog occurred anyway.

Blogging is filled with crippling self doubt about how it will be received and of course mine was from the start. This is normal for most but is heightened for me by my mental health issues. I had to be drunk – literally I was drunk every time I hit the publish button on a post for the first 12 months (and looking back I was probably drunk writing them too.) It was part of that determination to get across what I felt but also to be able to ignore those worries about being judged by others.

As it settled into a hobby it became a little easier, but it changed when I found I had a platform; albeit a minute one. It changed when I found I could suddenly say what I had wanted to all along.

If I had never been a beer blogger I don’t think I would have had that platform for grief and therapy I required. And I don’t know what the outcome would have been then.

So I put the words out there; more than a few times. I spoke about the issues when I was ready. And the feedback saved me - actually saved me. If I hadn’t had this stage to write them at that time, I imagine they would have only been available in a note my nearest and dearest found by a lifeless form.

I didn’t start scribing about my beer festival experiences or thoughts about current beer trends to save myself. But nor did I write them to force some future career either. Those words about beer came from my own general thoughts; as did the further ones about my other challenges. I was at one point lower than the anxiety that wouldn’t let me write a sober word. I was staring into an emptiness that needed words to form a whole. I could stare for hours into the void but often a little beer niggle or Twitter irritant would lead to life within me enough to become myself again.

Then the reactions came, way before that trip to Aberdeen. The personal messages, the e-mails, the texts and the phone calls began. It didn't matter whether they were avid beer readers, facebook acquaintances who hadn't previously read my blog or complete strangers - suddenly people were reading and reacting to words I’d not been able to tell anybody. And some were reaching out themselves. I was desperate to help them. I was never happy to help, in that I can never be happy that somebody is suffering, but I was at least pleased that they'd reached out to somebody. I'd at least found those that saw themselves in what I'd written.

I’d written some of the most personal details of my issues knowing that anybody could react negatively at any time.

Unfortunately, that moment arose, not when discussing my mental health, but when challenging the obvious sexism in beer and society. It led to discussions like these: 

For the record, my father’s alcoholism has nothing to do with the fact that I am not sexist. My mental health issues have nothing to do with the inequality that needs to be challenged. And any relationship you have with your own father should not be made comparable to my own or anybody else’s.

Of course reading things like that are crushing; but they are also potentially damaging. They are more damaging than the bully authors perhaps know. But you always learn along the way that there are many who don’t understand and who need education. People don’t understand mental health as much as they don’t understand sexism. Sometimes I have the strength to educate. Often, I do not. You learn fast that bullies have no limits to the hurt they want to cause.

I was mostly influenced to revisit part 3 by the heartbreakingly honest words of Jim Cullen of Beers Manchester and Salford Beer Festival fame. Jim has written several posts about the subject of his own personal grief; and not one yet that hasn’t reduced me to tears – often in the office. I’m actually tearing up now writing this paragraph about him. Jim was so unbelievably supportive of me whenever I wrote about my issues and I just wish that I could give even a word back to him that showed how much his support from (what-was-then) a complete stranger meant.

But my point is that I can see in those lines that he has been brave enough to publish on several occasions the therapy that his blog is giving him. The words and the sharing of grief has provided comfort in its way. It pays to talk in these moments. I was never the best at speaking, so it pays for me to write it all down instead. That is the third part to this tale – the way that writing often daft words about beer has worked medicinally.

Not only that but it gave me new friends and some seriously important ones at that. I found an entirely new social circle and some of the best friends I now have.

I think back to that moment when I had to physically face somebody telling me about how I’d helped them. Blogging helped because somebody was listening and it resonated with them somehow. I wrote those posts for the most selfish form of compurgation; but somebody in the deep Win Tor was reading them and found comfort.

Similar apprehension still exists five years later into my beer witterings. It is within the moments found in that Aberdeen Conference centre that I will find more time to write my release, whether it be pointless ponderings about beer fanboys or another word on my unfortunate personal problems. This was my cognitive therapy, where the local health service failed me. I thank every one of you that aided my continuing recovery.

I thank everybody that gave me enough strength to have that moment of weakness in Aberdeen.   

For reference the heading picture was taken the morning of that Aberdeen AGM on the coast.


Unknown said…
Best wittering I've ever read. ;)

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