It was the 23rd of June 2016, voting day for the messy EU Referendum that plagued the entire UK. The new Independence Day movie was released that day. How unintentionally prophetic this would be. I however didn’t care, sure I had my opinions and I knew how I’d vote, but I just didn’t care. I had hit a low point. Work had driven me to breaking point and I had been to the doctor earlier that day to get signed off for a few weeks. I didn’t want to go anywhere, speak to anyone or do anything. I just wanted to be alone. I’ve always struggled with depression. Since a young age I’ve jumped in and out of bouts of utter despair. This however was new; I didn’t feel like me any more. Simply put, I was broken.
It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining brightly and it was wonderfully warm outside. Rare for Scotland, we only get 3 days of summer a year. The gorgeous weather taunted me; it contradicted everything I was feeling. It was bad enough when I went out in the height of the afternoon to go and see my doctor. I had to navigate around all the happy people taking advantage of the good weather, prancing around in as little clothing as possible. I hated them all. It’s not their fault, I’m jealous I can’t feel like they do, but I still hate them.
Everyone was talking about the referendum, you couldn’t escape it. The news coverage went international; it was a pretty big deal. I couldn’t even hide from it in my own home. The moment I returned from seeing the doctor I got asked two questions. “How did it go?” and “Did you vote?” Honestly I wasn’t keen on either of the questions but the second one annoyed me a little. I wasn’t concerned with anything but myself and my self-involved pity. I retreated to my bedroom to hide and plan my recovery, try and find a way to regain control. I stripped off the jeans and sweat soaked t-shirt I was wearing under my favourite trench coat, clearly dressed for my mood, not for the weather. I contemplated running a bath but decided against it, I really had no plans of moving. Instead I dried myself off with the towel I’d left lying on the floor from earlier, applied a new coat of deodorant and changed into some comfortable shorts and a clean t-shirt. Moving the papers on my chair, I sat myself down and prepared myself for some deep internalising of my current plight.
The sunshine continued to torment me as I sat quietly staring at a blank notepad, hoping to turn the angst in my head into something poetic. Eventually I closed the curtains and cloaked myself in darkness. I’m a light sleeper, I don’t like ticking clocks and I don’t like any form of light when I’m trying to sleep. I have perfect curtains, I think you call them ‘black-out’ curtains and ironically enough their coloured black as well. They’re extremely handy when you want to indulge in hermit like reclusion. Sunlight still manages to find its way into the room just barely through the exposed sides. I don’t really mind this; it gives me the right about of light that I can still see the notepad in front of me.
I spend the afternoon alone; I had nothing worthwhile to say to anyone and everything I wrote was either pathetic or poorly written. I think my parents were worried when my mother eventually interrupted my self-imposed isolation. Usually there are noises from my bedroom, be it the television or a podcast, there’s always something that proves I’m actually there. On this day there was nothing, sat in quiet introspection trying to find a reason to do anything. With a chap at the door, my mum entered the room and brought the sunlight from the hallway window with her. She told me about dinner plans, my grandpa was coming over and my dad was making a stir fry, one of my favourites. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t anything. Empty and confused, tired but couldn’t sleep, more of a shell than a man. She told me to come down and at least join them; I don’t need to do anything. I agreed, it wasn’t like I was working on anything decent anyway. Besides it was still a few hours until dinner, I might feel like having something later.
When my grandpa arrived I joined my parents in the living room, the news was on the TV reporting on the referendum. I wasn’t paying much attention; I didn’t trust anything that was being said. I still don’t when it comes to politics. The reporting is never unbiased; if the Scottish Independence Referendum taught us anything it’s that the new media are whores. Money talks and news outlets can always be bought. The honest journalist, the crusader for the truth is stifled by Network Executives. The sheer gluttony and over saturation of all forms of media means Networks are clamouring for attention and will sell out morality to get it. I know it’s a very broad view but it infects my opinion whenever I’m exposed to news coverage of anything. I felt this way long before the Scottish Independence debacle, but it really shone a light on everything. Luckily the channel was quickly changed, I can’t remember to what. Something a little more relaxed, not that I was paying much attention.
I decided I’d have some of dads stir fry after all. I figured it’s one of my favourite meals and it might make me feel a little better. The way my dad makes it, it’s always delicious so at the very least I was in for a treat. There was a smattering of small talk as we ate, the weather, my grandpas’ latest medical malady, all very light as the four of us tucked into another wonderful meal. There was an announcement my grandpa saw on the bus that there was going to be some changes to the schedule. He made sure to let me know and pick me up a timetable; it’s nice to be looked after. He asked about my day and whether I’d been at work. Mother sat beside my whispered “don’t say anything about…” Thanks mum, I really didn’t need reminding. She’s said on a few occasions she doesn’t think I’m clinically depressed, but she’s knows I’m not myself. I’ve never asked anyone to label me; all I want is a little support. Besides it’s not like I was going to say anything to my grandpa, or anyone else for that matter. It’s embarrassing, I don’t want to burden anyone, and I don’t need that stigma of begging for help. I’m not ignoring it, I’ll work through it myself, there’s no need to involve anyone else. I fed my grandpa a chipper lie about being on holiday, perfect timing for the good weather. I followed this by shooting a disgruntled look at my mother, I know she means well but I really didn’t need that.
The conversation again turned to the referendum, I took this opportunity to excuse myself and return to the dark cave I called my bedroom. As I exit the room my dad asks if I’m going to bother voting. I barely respond, a “yeah” that trails off, not really a definitive answer. It’s just past seven in the evening, it’s still beautiful outside and I know if I don’t go I’m going to be parentally pestered for the rest of the evening. I really can’t be bothered but it’s just how I feel at the moment, I time my mood will stabilise and if the vote doesn’t go the way I want it to, I’ll regret not doing it. You can’t celebrate or moan about the result unless you took part. I looked over to my closet and contemplated for a second getting dressed properly. It’s going to vote, not going on a date, no-one going to care if I show up as a scruffy mess. I smarten up slightly by grabbing a suit jacket to throw on, mostly so I can have my phone in the inside pocket. Much like my mood I’m dressed in dark colours, it makes my choice of fedora much easier. Black it shall be; they say it goes with everything and this one has taken the mantle of my everyday hat. I had no illusions that the walk would do me any good; it was just an irritating task I had to perform before I could slide comfortably into despair.
Dressed to venture out in the world I headed for the cupboard in the kitchen to find my boots. My dad and grandpa are sat in the living room again whilst my mum in on the sofa in the kitchen, getting frustrated with an iPod. While I’m lacing up my boots she explains that it’s not working and she can’t get the music to play but the volume is on full. She’s treated it like her phone thinking the music will play out a speaker. I tell her she needs to use earphones and am ever so gently reminded that I’m never going to be allowed to move out. All the tech in the house would die, although there are days when I think that being tech free wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m not even that technical minded but I’ve got enough knowledge to keep me going and I’m a lifesaver if mother has any issues. It’s nice to be needed. Ready to leave my mum half-jokingly tells me how to vote. She’s done this the past few times there’s been an election or referendum, it’s not a funny, but neither was by dry witted response “oh, I thought there was two choices”. So with barely any effort put into my attire, this scruffy depressed mess of a man would gloomily take the five minute stroll to the polling station.
Earphones in, my phone starts playing the John Williams movie theme playlist I created. Inspiring works of art though they may be, I’m really not in the mood for music. I load up a new episode of one of my favourite podcasts and wander down the winding path. The glare of the sun begins to annoy me and I swap my normal glasses for my sunglasses, prescription of course. To the outside world I appear normal, confidently walking with purpose. Well as normal as a man in a fedora can look in a small Scottish town. The sun still beats down warm even this late into the evening, black was maybe a bad idea but I don’t care. There are a few young boys out playing football, the grass has been freshly cut that day and there’s that fresh summery smell in the air. On any other day I’d be in the garden, burning myself under the sun because I forget to put on sun cream. It’s the kind of day I always want, but never get to enjoy. Be it stuck in work or some kind of illness, I miss a lot of these rare days of sun. It felt nice to be outside; the cool breeze on my face wakes me up a little.
The path I take cuts around the back of the residential estate with the pavement following the winding road into the cul-de-sac and the separates the grass from the road. It leads to an underpass and a cross intersection connecting more estates. Keep walking forward and you can lose yourself in woodland nature trail, which I’ve done that many times, but I’m not in that sort of mood today. Instead I’ll take off to the right in the direction of the community centre that serves as the polling station for today. Up ahead I see two young girls playing at the start of the nature trail. They can’t be any older than seven years old, I’d never seen them before, but to be fair I don’t go outside much. I can see their bike lay on the ground; they’ve obviously been out enjoying the great weather after school. They notice me striding in their direction and begin quietly chattering. Actually, I’m not even sure if it was quiet, with the earphones in it not like I could hear. I don’t exactly look like everyone else that lives around here. The long hair, the musketeer like beard, a juxtaposed fashion sense of jean shorts and a suit jacket and the fedora of course. It’s a look that tends to attract stares and insults. I’ve never understood the need to shout your idiotic thoughts at a passer-by, you’re not funny and nobody cares about you. I’d normally be on edge but it’s usually teenage boys that give me grief, the girls seem sweet. I’m in my own head anyway, quietly allowing myself to fall further to despair.
Heading up the path to the community centre I can hear a noise over the voices from the podcast currently playing in my head. It’s unintelligible and I shrug it off assuming it’s nothing to do with me. At the same time I get the feeling I’m being followed. It’s quite common when you’re plugged into earphones, sensory awareness I think it’s called. Usually it’s people on bikes, so I walk over to the side of the road to let them pass. To my surprise it’s not a cyclist but one of the young girls I’ve just passed. She’s been running trying to catch my attention, those little legs of her working double time to catch the strides of this scruffy six foot man. I’m utterly confused; people let alone children, never stop me in the street unless they’re trying to sell me something. She has me curious, what could this little girl want from a man soon to be in his thirties. I stop and take out the earphones to say hi, she has a smile on her face, happy she’s finally caught my attention.
All that bluster and bravery from her chase disappears quickly as I say my hello. I’s replaced with the sort of cute shyness that children always have after a bold attention grabbing display. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to catch up with me and a whole lot a youthful passion; she just had to tell me what she was thinking. It was very cute watching her timidly form her words, hands clasped together, averting her gaze ever so slightly. She spoke softly as I towered over her smiling, enchanted by the importance she put on this chance encounter.
“I just wanted to tell you that I really like your hat”
Well those are words I always love to hear. What class this young girl has recognising how stylish my fedora is. I was speechless, my smile widened, it was so cute. I couldn’t believe that this young girl would chase after me just to compliment me, people don’t do that. I hope she never loses that genuinely kind heart. I responded with a thank you and followed it by tipping my hat. In that moment I was touched, I don’t deserve such niceties and I certainly didn’t feel like I deserved them when feeling so low. Usually all I get is ridicule; I really wasn’t expecting her to say something so sweet. I didn’t actually have any expectations, I was more taken aback that she even wanted to speak to me in the first place. Yet it was what happened next that really affected me.
As overjoyed as I was with the compliment the young girl was ecstatic that she had got to speak to me. She practically bounced with delight as I tipped my hat and turned to go on with my walk. She had turned towards her friend who was still down at the bottom of the underpass where I first saw them. As I was putting my earphones back in I heard her call out to her friend. Children often have no filter and let the world know exactly what they’re thinking. I don’t know if it was meant to be as loud, she was so very excited and the words she called to her friend seemed to be in the grey area between talking at shouting, like a whispered shout. In the most adorable excitable squeal she cried back to her friend
“HE’S SO AWESOME!!!”
So here’s me scruffy as you like, ‘jorts’ t-shirt, suit jacket, unkempt beard and scruffy unwashed long hair matted under a fedora. I’m in the midst of depression and questioning the very idea of me being able to do anything with the crumbling ruin of my life. Along comes this wonderfully adorable little girl to speak the kindest words I’ve heard in a long time. I was smiling before but now it’s ear to ear. There’s a spring in my step and an unshakable smile as I walk away. I was in utter disbelief, who does that? Is it the innocence of youth, that fearless passion that allows them to say such unintentionally inspiring words? She’ll never know that I’ve been feeling absolutely horrible today. She’ll never know how much her overjoyed exclamation means to me. I’ve been feeling anything but awesome, I have no idea what this young girl see’s in my, but I wish I could see it.
That very moment was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t a grand gesture of help, it wasn’t even meant for me. Three simple words strung together in one of the most powerful sentences I’ve ever heard in my life. The fact that they came from someone so young and so innocent made it all the more poignant. She wanted nothing from me, just to let me know that in her eyes I stood out, I was interesting, that I had worth. Sure it’s all based on vanity but a child isn’t jaded by life, they have no ulterior motives. All she wanted was to unburden her thoughts; she may never get another chance so gave in to youthful impatience and made a depressed man’s day. I didn’t stop smiling and replaying the moment in my head until I got back home. People talk about perfect moments and I’m not sure if I’ve really had one, at least not one that hasn’t been jaded upon reflection. This one was so innocent and pure that it can’t be corrupted.
Weeks have passed since this encounter and it’s something I hold precious. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by life I try to remember that moment and how it made me feel. I want to always be that ‘awesome’ person she saw. I know that somewhere deep beneath all the self loathing, social anxiety and lack of confidence there’s a man that can be awesome. Maybe it’s something that’ll happen when I’m not thinking, maybe as I internally struggle the world around me will see something different and as I battle to become the man I want to be people will notice even if I don’t. So as the UK falls apart after its decision to leave the EU, as Scotland gears up to vote on Independence again, as the political parties are in turmoil and as the world looks on in concern, that day done something different for me. It was the day that a little bit on sunshine broke through the cloud of darkness I was allowing to follow me. It was the day I decided maybe I can still make something of myself. It was the day I realised I really want children of my own and I want one just like that young girl I met. It was the day I voted in polling station in my head that I wanted to leave depression. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fast, but if there’s still a chance for me. I want to be awesome.
The preceding story was the true events on the day the UK decided to leave the EU. This historic vote and its result however will never be more important that those simple words spoken by a young girl who was oblivious to my internal pains. I’ve wanted to right this story for a while because it’s very rare that I have any interaction with people in the real world, most of it is of no consequence. This moment gave me a boost of inspiration to be that awesome person that she saw. It didn’t change anything over night but it made that dark day so much better and I’d go on to use the memory as a totem to aspire to awesomeness.
I actually saw the young girl again a week or so later. She waved, it was adorable. She’s my new favourite person.