Early last year, my friend Joe died by suicide...

Joe was thirty-four and he grew up in Philadelphia. He worked in finance but loved music and spent all his spare time producing, collaborating with others, going to shows. We met, in fact, because he had discovered my music online and reached out to me and our friendship grew from there. We’d send demos back and forth and make notes or send messages of encouragement and he never failed to make me laugh. His words were sweet and his eyes were kind. Our bond strengthened through our mutual love for creating and I miss him and the light he injected into the world around him.

In my research for this project, I learnt not to use the term ‘committed suicide.’ The term stands as a reminder that until 1961, suicide was illegal, with attempted suicide punishable by law. It seems obvious but I’d never thought about it before, as today we understand suicide as desperate helplessness, not a felony against nature. We understand that mental illness is rife in its many forms and does not discriminate, it can take root within ourselves, our family, our friends.

Ashamedly, I’d never really given mental illness any thought until my late teens, when I experienced, what could only be described as my first depressive episode, spurred on most probably by the vacancy of post-graduation life. It was less a quantifiable sadness and more of a long, drawn-out emptiness, punctuated by a pendulum of extremes. I didn’t eat, I ate too much. I didn’t sleep, I slept too much. I didn’t think, I thought too much; never able to find the balance and lacking the energy reserves to even try. I was numb, overwhelmed by the immensity of the unfilled time laid out before me, no longer pinned down by the constraints of high-school and final year and busy-ness and perplexed with the task of defining myself without those identifiers. Who am I? Who am I going to be? I’ve found that, while I was privileged and it is a luxury, total freedom breeds a new kind of terror. Like Sylvia Plath’s own description in ‘The Bell Jar,’ I saw all my potential lives sprawling out in front of me like the branches of a fig tree, each fig purple, ready, plump, round, yet as I hovered, hesitant over which path to take (we are told to choose one) the figs slowly wrinkled, falling to the ground, doors closing.

We live on the promise of better futures; the belief that our lives will eventually be better regardless of what our current situations may suggest. This optimism bias isn’t our fault, it is human nature, a psychological mechanism present in all of us and proven time and time again. Yet, ultimately, our lives are the accumulation of our everyday. You are here. Your life is now; made up of the mundane, the good habits and the bad. I began to realise that if I continued to fill my days with hour-long showers and eighteen-hour naps, interspersed only with recreational wall-staring and the white glow of my phone screen, that my future would by default, be the same. The world I wanted for myself, what I thought possible; the goals, the dreams, fresh-faced and wide-eyed at seventeen, would remain just that - dreams - stuck in the abstract confines of my mind.

Thankfully though, my mind began to clear. The light began to seep in and as if perhaps this whole time I had been abseiling rather than free falling, something inside me, however small and weak, was still connected to the source. I was one of the lucky ones and step by step, I could begin to pull myself out again. I once read that when you feel you’re being suffocated or swamped or buried, it is helpful instead, to think of being planted. Like an incubation period of sorts, this dark time underground can feel terrifying or confusing and unfamiliar, but eventually, just as daffodils do in the springtime, you will sprout. I lost maybe eight months, barricaded in my bedroom, to that feeling, a numbness that felt like it would last a lifetime. Now, every so often I add another day or another week to that tally and I know it is a feeling I will spend my life warding off. Monitoring myself, checking in, keeping tabs. I am getting to know myself and I am okay with it, it is natural, normal, a part of the human condition. Yet some people, too many people, like my sweet friend Joe, have lost their lives to that feeling and it has been because of this, that the ‘Doubles’ project, however small, was born.

My song ‘Doubles,’ was mostly written as a reflection on this time in my life and when I learnt of Joe’s passing it seemed only natural to dedicate this song to him, but I hope that this project takes the sentiment further. I have designed a small line of sweatshirts, t-shirts and caps based on the lyrics from the song and it is my way of contributing to the prevention of further lives lost by mental illness, with the profits made being donated to Young Minds UK. Hopefully this project will also take a step towards normalising the conversations surrounding mental health amongst young people, because it is - surprise, surprise - normal. We all have off days but it is by having these conversations, being open about our experiences and reaching out to each other that we stop those days from turning into weeks or months or years. Don’t let the bad days take over your life, don’t let them take your life. Your mind can be your worst enemy or your greatest friend and fighting through that fog can be a battle, but no matter how much you feel you might be, you are not alone. You are loved. You are deserving. You are worthy. We all are, and all the words I should have said to Joe, I will now say relentlessly, to the world. I will say them to my friends and my family and to the people I meet, because you never know who needs to hear them.