Conversations with my Inner Dickhead

It's World Mental Health Day today, so I thought I'd share something that I wrote a couple of days ago, when I didn't know that today was going to be World Mental Health Day. This piece was sparked by listening to Wil Wheaton being interviewed on the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression, a truly wonderful podcast that's well worth your time.


I have an inner dickhead. An imaginary frenemy. He likes to try to make me miserable; as far as I can tell, for his own amusement.

I have decided, just now, to call him "Jeff". Important note: Jeff is not real. Except to me.

Jeff doesn't think I'm very good at what I do — as an artist, anyway. Tech, code, building devices that do interesting things over networks, sure. Jeff says I'm good at those. Art? Jeff thinks I suck.

And Jeff not only thinks that I suck. He thinks that I suck so hard that everyone has noticed, but that all the people who have noticed, all the people I've ever worked with, are just far too polite to come out and say it.

Jeff tells me that everyone who ever congratulated me, who ever told me my images were good, was lying or a fool. Friends, loved ones, professionals. All of them, Jeff says, are either full of shit or empty of brains. And if someone doesn't congratulate me — if a client, say, isn't overflowing with adoration for the work we did together — it's evidence that they, too, think I suck; they're just keeping it to themselves to spare me the embarassment of having to face my failures.

I think Jeff has been with me for a long time. I can remember him not being there — or at least I think I can. He wasn't there when I wrote plays at school that were largely Star Trek rip-offs, and got my friends to star in them, and filmed them, and made props for them.

But he was there when I was meant to solo in the brass quartet that I played in back then. And when I hit a bad note, he shouted at me as I played. On stage.

Jeff is the art teacher who told me that my self portrait was pretty rubbish, actually. He's the boss who told me that I wasn't shaping up, and asked me where my pride was.

Jeff's a shit.

Jeff will happily take anything that I'm happy with and turn it on its head within minutes. He's why I procrastinate about looking at images from a shoot — because I know Jeff will pipe up. He always does.

The worst thing of all, though, is that Jeff is a part of me. And so by hating him, and getting angry at him, all I am doing is hating and getting angry at myself. Which makes Jeff all the stronger — he feeds on that kind of thing.

The only ways to combat Jeff are:

  1. To accept that he's there, and give myself permission to sulk, and hope he'll be gone by morning.
  2. To tell him I don't have time for his bullshit right now, and to get on with what I'm doing.

I haven't really tried #2, if I'm honest. I really ought to. Because I often don't have time for Jeff's BS — but I give it to him anyway.

If Jeff had had his way, I would have thrown all of my camera equipment, and hard drives, and negatives, into the Manchester Ship Canal years ago. Sometimes, Jeff likes to have me think about doing this from the top of the Barton Bridge (he always neglects the fact that there's no hard shoulder there, so it would be impractical and inconvenient and would get me arrested).

Jeff is, I know, the scared part of me that doesn't like doing something he's not used to doing (or at least not used enough to doing yet). He's got my best interests at heart, but unfortunately he's a complete cock-end about actually trying to look after me. He's the cruel-to-be kind voice of friends who half want to not see you hurt, and half want to hold you back because if you get happy, they'll have to look at their own lives and realise how much they don't have themselves.

I could say that I hate Jeff, but I don't. That'd be like hating my left kidney, or my nostril. I don't like him much, either. But I do have to live with him.

So some day, if you're with me, and I'm seeming a bit glum, don't worry. It might just be that Jeff's jumping around and throwing a tantrum because I'm doing something cool and scary. He'll go away again.

He usually does.

Except for me.