Merry Christmas, part one: who am I?

2017 was not a kind year. It started with hope and opportunity, but slowly my whole world turned around. One of my coping strategies was to write – to share my story with anyone who would listen. On one of the worst days I wrote “I just – I know who I am, and right now, I’m not who I am. And I’m lost. And I don’t know how to get back.” Well, I’m back, and it feels so good I want to shout from the mountaintops.

Sharing my story led others to share theirs. I’ve been moved reading tales of loss, of pain, of survival – and of finding joy in a world that isn’t always easy. Most importantly, each post ends with a message of hope. On the days when I couldn’t find anything to look forward to, I was told I wasn’t alone, and that things would get better.

So for all of you who were routing for me – here’s what happened next. There’s still a long way to go, but right now I’m happy, I’m safe, and I’m excited about the future again. I feel like Antony again.

One last note – this blog is selfishly boastful. I’m not going to apologise for this. We British tend towards meekness and self-deprecation. But when you’ve spent several months unable to feel proud I think it’s no crime to shout loudly about how awesome each and every one of us is.

So, hello. My names Antony, and life is pretty fucking awesome. I’d like to start with  work, where I have slotted in to a cheerful little office, trading pleasant banter and I’m regularly accused of being “unnecessarily cheerful”. This work, and the routine it imposes upon me, have helped me feel like Antony again. The work is routine, but I’m good at it – and I’ve been asked to stay on for an extra two weeks because of this.

The future is looking better too. A few months ago I wasn’t even shortlisted for a job description that could have been written for me, and I had to fend off friensly queries about how I was getting on with job applications as I couldn’t face exposing myself to more than one at a time. This week, on my last working day, I received interview offers for both of the jobs I applied to last week – on top of being headhunted for a third job that is now out to advert. I’m a little worried about what happens if I’m offered one job but want to hold out for another… but I also acknowledge that’s a pretty plum place to be.

In my spare time I’m in two different comedy groups. I informally run one that meets just a few minutes down the road, and a few months ago we started performing monthly shows, culminating in our first paid show for Christmas a few weeks ago. It was bloody awesome. We’re an open group – some people have been doing theatre for years, for some this is their first experience of an audience. They’re warm friendship and acceptance of me has been lovely – and I’ve watched them all grow in confidence and become funnier and funnier. The second group, based in Manchester, is full of my oldest friends who have all been rocks anchoring me against successive tides of depression. Just last weekend, we had our busiest ever show in Manchester. And you know what? I knocked it out the park. A few months ago I’d stood on stage spreading every second, hyping up every mistake. But now ridiculous Antony is back. Everyone on stage was awesome, but I could feel that I was on top form, and ran with it. I did bad welsh accents, led a Noel’s House Party, fell off the building at the end of Die Hard, and even heard one audience member whisper to another, as I walked past, “oh, I like that one”. Ultimately, I was proud of myself, and I was happy, and I don’t care who knows it.

As I write this, I’m sat next to my wife on a train down to Devon. 

The scenery is nourishing and every second I am closer to the certain landscape of my youth. At Birmingham, two elderly gentlemen got on. A few months ago I’d have shrunk away into my book, but instinctively I wanted to help – I fetched one person a coffee as we were four carriages from the restaurant and the trolley couldn’t get up the train. I helped the other person off with his bag. We talked, and I explained why I was temping and that I’d had depression. One of them looked at me and explained that his wife, who he’d been talking about in the present tense, had died 6 months ago. Loneliness is insidious, and I hope that my temporary companionship brightened his day a little. This is who I am, and it feels so good to be back.

There are so many other little moments of joy that I’d love to mention. Doing the ultimate Movember, chatting with friends, dancing in the lift on my last day at work… 

But, finally, I need to tell you all just how much I love my beautiful wife. This week we went to our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. Lizzie dropped half of her first course on the table. Later on, after a toilet trip, she inquisitively pressed a button on a remote control next to the loo, and was so surprised at the jet of water that came out of the bowl that she jumped off, letting the jet spray against the cubicle door.

This incredible, innocent, gullible human being is my wife. We both adventure through life, presenting a barely coherent facade of adultness whilst simultaneously living a private life wrapped safely in a blanket of unbreakable love. When we got married, I stood up to declare publicly that I would be by her side to support her on her darkest days, and to share the best moments. Marriage is a commitment, and for the last few months I’ve not been able to put the energy into out love that I normally do. Even so, every day she has been there for me – doing extra chores, listening to me, making sure that I know I’m loved. Now we are once more planning exciting trips – our next two wedding anniversaries, a canal boat holiday (SO. EXCITED.) – and now that I know who I am again life I can truly appreciate and articulate the scale of my love for this amazing person.

– – –

Now, I’ve got two more blogs for you this year, and I’ll be posting the next one on Christmas day. If you do get a second have a look – it’s a special message from me to you. 

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