It’s hard to convey the weight of despair I felt in those days, simmering away for a decade from the age of fourteen, but at its peak between eighteen and twenty.
I think that first year at university was amongst the worst of it, because it simply reaffirmed that there was something seriously wrong with me. Despite being in a completely new environment, two hundred miles from home, reactions to me were exactly the same. Everything I had experienced for the previous five years were repeating all over again.
Never could I make a clean break, it seemed. My departure from school at sixteen had been supposed to be a clean break too, but sixth form college just turned out to be even worse. The boys who went out of their way to harass me daily were simply replaced by others, while most of my contemporaries rejected me completely.
At college I became best friends with a young man who was nothing like me at all: outgoing, confident, a ladies-man, part of the under-age clubbing scene. An unlikely friendship, for he had been in trouble with the law, and was in perpetual conflict with his Muslim parents, a true rebel, enjoying drink, the odd spliff and a series of questionable relationships.
At university, rejected by my peers, I became best friends with a mature student, a decade older than me, who was nothing at all like me either. We were studying the same subjects, but that was where our commonalities ended. Or maybe we were more alike than I realised. We were both extremely gaunt. We both had anger issues, expressed in different ways. It’s just he dealt (or rather didn’t deal) with it by pickling himself in alcohol, whereas I just wrote crap poetry.
In the face of all I experienced, I could have thrown myself to oblivion. I could simply have decided to carry on pickling myself in vodka and coke. But instead I decided to set out on a path of reform, intent on transforming my own life. I broke away from the company I had kept in my first year, cutting myself off completely, determined to start over.
That was when my pursuit of faith became my overriding concern, at the expense of everything else. A strange course of action, perhaps, for a twenty year-old, who could have pursued so many other outlets to overcome or numb his despair. But there we are: I prescribed myself the pursuit of the One as the antidote for all I had experienced for years.
My arms were still like sticks then, my face still drawn, so youthful. I couldn’t maintain meaningful relationships, deep or special. I didn’t know how to overcome my lethargy. But I was determined to bring about change from within, in whatever way I could. Yes, and so I set out upon another road. A spiritual refugee, it’s true.