John was one of those people who seemed to lead a charmed life. Always the centre and light of the room at any party, he received a first from Oxford University,
spoke Italian like a native and went on to become one of the leading lights of his year at the prestigious LAMDA drama school. It was on a holiday in Canada that John began to get headaches and went to see a doctor. Instead of an aspirin, they gave him a CAT scan and found a massive brain tumour.
It was incredibly lucky that they caught it (my cousin was not so lucky and died from a brain tumour a short while ago) but, unsurprisingly, the act of scooping out a chunk of John’s brain had a major effect upon him. Whole chunks of his memory were gone (except strangely for the lyrics of eighties music for which he has a now encyclopaedic memory), he had problems with his short-term memory and his short-circuited brain chemistry gave him severe depression.
I shared a flat with some close friends of John and he came to live with us in Kentish Town. Things seemed to be going well, though at times I would come down the stairs to hear John crying in his room. Shortly afterwards I went off on an expedition to Greenland, and when I returned John had gone. He had taken himself down to Beachy Head and prepared to jump off and kill himself. Luckily the police found him and John was strong enough to tell them that he needed help.
John was taken away and placed in a mental health institute, sharing his ward with people whose mental difficulties at time dwarfed his own. We would get the occasional phone call from John, and it was on one of these that he told us he would shortly be on day release and able to come and see us.
Sitting in our conservatory, John talked about his depression and in some ways it seemed very much linked to not being able to see a future. Acting did not seem to be a viable option anymore and John could not visualise anything else. What was the point in living if you had nothing to live for? Now, Ben and I talk a lot about the importance of goal-setting in life and attempting to do that which you are not sure you can do. I wondered if this might help John, so sitting there I said “John we have six months, next April you are going to run the London marathon”. John pointed out that I was the crazy one, he had never run before and got out of breath walking down the street. At which point I lent him some running trainers and told him we were heading out in ten minutes. Continue reading “John”