It’s been a while, hasn’t it? We haven’t sat and talked for the longest of times, so first of all, let me apologise. Let me explain myself, and let me tell you a little bit about my head over the last few months before you decide to completely forget about me. This is going to be an absolute essay, and for that I am sorry, but I need to say things in order to move on with myself. So much has happened in this tiny mind of mine recently that the only way for me to unpack it and sort through it is to look at each item individually and address it appropriately. This is like Marie Kondo but instead of fixing my home, she’s fixing my head, which I guess isn’t too far from her truth anyway.
First off, a little background. If you’re new here, or if you need a little refresh then here we go.
10 years ago, my life fell apart. I was coming to terms with my adoption, albeit 16 years after the events had unfolded, and my secret boyfriend had just committed suicide. In my head, nobody was going to wipe my tears and fix my sad, and so the next day I went into college as though everything was normal. At the time, I had told my best friend and that was that, I’d shared my pain through Facebook Messenger and that was adequate enough for me to move on with my life. Only it wasn’t even nearly adequate enough by any standards. I carried on my life, attempted suicide twice and eventually began to start again. I found a new boyfriend, and a new city, and we lived. Only it wasn’t living. Because I was so wrapped up in everything that had gone on in my life, so I was self destructing, and taking him with me. I saw that the latest cool trend was blogging, something which I’d done a little of in my high school years. I registered a domain and started writing about my favourite albums, the best Lush products and finally, the recipes I would try to recreate from my mums stash. I started YouTube, my first video was a review of the then brand new Amazon Echo. It was nothing special, but I was determined to make it as the next Zoella. I gave that up when I realised just how much work it would entail, and moved on to focusing my efforts as an assistant manager of a retail store. I was fresh out of university and the world was my oyster. Only it wasn’t. I was so wrapped up in grief and guilt and focused on self destructing that I failed to see the world continue to move past me. I went through a period of around three weeks, where every night I was lying awake watching the clock tick past 3:33am. It was painful, to begin with, lying awake in the middle of the night when the world around me lay silent. I would cry. I would scream into the cushions. I would sit against the fridge, opening it quietly to retrieve another comfort snack. I was angry. I would sneak out and walk the streets one or two times, often finding myself at the waterfront, minutes away from jumping. But I would tell myself that I’d even do that wrong, and fail miserably at something else. On the final night of being awake with my pain, the clock ticked passed 3:33, and I found myself opening my laptop and loading a blank word document. I didn’t know what I was doing, but eventually I wrote about my sadness. I wrote about the cracks that were etched into me, and how I found them so disgusting that I would want to throw up. I wrote and I wrote and before I knew it, I posted it on my website. An Open Letter To My Depression was the first time I’d ever been honest with the internet, but more than that, it was the first time I’d ever been honest with myself. I began to sleep through the night almost instantly. For the first time in the longest time, I felt peace.
Fast forward a little while, and people began to message me, telling me that they too, were awake at 3 in the morning, unable to cope with their own headspace. We connected in the midnight hours, relying on each other and sharing stories of why sleep had escaped us. I look back on that time now with a light heart, I couldn’t have got through those days without strangers on the internet. I stopped writing about the things I thought would make me Zoella, and I started writing about the things that kept me awake at night. It was a beautiful transition. I stopped scrutinising viewer figures and ad revenue, and I started focusing on my recovery. It was never about the money, the second I wrote about my head. It wasn’t about the figures or the statistics or the followers, it was about saving my life, and this was the only way I knew how. Ironically, it’s exactly a year ago that I was named the UK’s mental health blogger of the year. I was given an award when I really didn’t deserve it. And that’s not me playing coy, it’s me telling you once again, that I never did this for that, I did it to keep myself alive. I managed to work through my adoption, I managed to understand my anger towards J for his suicide, and I never once felt ashamed of who I was. I became a media ambassador for adoption charities, I worked with the BBC, I wrote for magazines. I was advising NHS trusts on mental health, I was fighting to change laws, I was in and out of London being offered book deals and television shows. But not once did I stop to realise the growth, or congratulate myself for the achievements I had earned. Instead, I kept pushing for more understanding about mental health. Someone once called me the mental health boy on twitter, and it stuck. Somewhere in the past five years, I stopped being Daniel Coole who wrote occasionally on his awfully messy website, and I became DanCooleDaily, the mental health boy who was trying to change the world one post at a time. It became impossible to separate the two, and it’s something I am still not ready to forgive myself over – for letting go of myself and who I am at core, somewhere in all the chaos that has become my life.
You see, if I stuck to writing about Lush, or if I had started to flaunt my latest ASOS hauls or the latest diet pill, then I probably could congratulate myself more. Because I was just doing something generic and mainstream. But instead, I always have – and probably always will – feel strange about profiting from any of this. There are a number of reasons, but the main point is that I almost feel dirty profiting off my sadness. It feels weird accepting a multiple figure sum to host a podcast or a TV show, of which I’ve been offered a few. It feels wrong for me to do any of that, because J died. Because my mum found it too difficult to keep me. Because in that anger and that sadness all those years ago, I hurt a lot of people. It doesn’t feel right that any of that should be something that pays my bills.
I could have gone back at any moment, but instead I wanted to push the mental health message as far as I could, because I could see the bigger conversation beginning to shift. I could see people around me online were talking to each other and supporting each other and I stood back, like a proud mother, but only briefly, before throwing myself back into it all. It’s been five years and I’ve never really taken a break from this gig, because I got to a point where I felt guilty if I ever focused on my own happiness.
I am so sorry for this waffle, but there is a point to all of this, I promise.
Over Christmas, my life online took the biggest turn yet with the creation of that thread. What was meant to be a story told to my few followers became headline news on Boxing Day. I had journalist calling me. I had people hailing me as their hero. I had people threatening to kill me, too. I had counted roughly 260 threats to my life, or to the life of my family, from that thread. What had started off as me being innocent and honest in my usual style, had turned into people telling me that they were going to throw acid in my face, or set fire to my dog. It was the first time I saw a truly horrible side to the internet, and it’s one that left me reeling in a PTSD spin for a couple of months. But the biggest (and the one that I would argue was the worst for me personally) change came in the form of the feelings of being viral. I can never explain it properly, but do you remember being in school and the teacher would single you out for praise? And your tummy would fill with this feeling of pure joy and your neck would tingle slightly from how happy you were to be able to run out of the gates to tell your mum at home time? Think of that, but being singled out of 58,000 people? I was on the news, I was earning a lot of money from that thread, I had merchandise companies wanting to put #hellopleasereply on t-shirts and sell them. I gained 8,000 new followers from that thread, and whilst for the majority of the time, I feel like I have 8,000 new friends, I also feel at times that I have gained 8,000 new sets of eyes watching me and scrutinising my every move. In the weeks that followed, I tried to settle back into my online life as the mental health boy, but it felt almost wrong to try and be the old me. I had new people to impress. I had a new taste for the money – and the joy – that being viral brought me. Not to mention the business offers that followed.
Just to clarify to all of you, for the record, and for hopefully the final time I will ever have to explain myself over that thread. No, I didn’t make it up. No, I didn’t deserve to be told that I should die. Yes, I donated any and all money from what happened to mental health charities. Yes his wife knows. I can confirm that there are plans for this to be made into something bigger one day, but contractually, I cannot tell you what. And finally, no, I am not entirely comfortable with how things went down. What was supposed to be my story told around the campfire, turned into a story told across tabloids globally.
At the time, I thought some good had come from it all, in the form of a new boy on the scene. He was incredible, he was amazing, he followed me because of the thread, and instantly we connected, But then he started backing away from me during the time I was horrifically trolled on the internet. He found someone new and forgot to tell me, that sort of situation. I wish them both happiness, and I hope that he goes on to live an incredible life, but I’ll always wish he had the decency to tell me. At a time where people on the internet were telling me that they were going to dig up my ex boyfriends body and force me to watch them rape him, another boy in my life was backing away and leaving me feeling like I was the problem. I’ve never quite got it right in love since J, and I can never work out why. But as each new boy becomes another failed attempt at forever, I can’t help but feel like I am the problem.
I, with the help of my therapist, have managed to box it off as a life lesson, one that I will learn from, and a moment in my life that was a turning point for everything – both the good and the bad. It’s a lesson that I didn’t put into practice straight away though, and so comes the next part of this essay.
I slowly returned to the mental health work, and I picked up where I left off, after I had been made redundant from my job in the European Union. I nearly got sacked from that job because my parliamentary checks failed on my social media. Once again, my words online had come back to haunt me, and it fell down to that thread. I realise now that I probably never should have taken that job, but at the time, I needed to escape the world of DanCooleDaily, without escaping the world of social media; a career that I have managed to carve for myself based on my self taught skills of the last five years. I tried to slide back in, but again, I had a new image to keep up; the funny kid who is always getting himself into a mess. I posted a selfie to Twitter of my body, telling you all that I had finally, despite the best efforts of the media, come to accept my body as perfect. I got 2,000 likes on that tweet, and another few hundred eyes joined the viewing party. I had messages from strangers telling me I was attractive, describing the things they would do to me if they had the chance. Let’s be real here, I am fat. I am ugly. I am awkward. There is absolutely nothing about me that is sexy or that oozes sexual appeal. Nobody messages me and tells me they want any part of my body usually. That’s not me fishing for the compliments, that’s me being honest. I will never be considered pretty, and it’s okay. I cannot stress to you just how okay I am with that. I have always championed myself on being average. I have always been proud to be nothing special on the eye. I just wish the media would give average people like me a break from being force fed bodies sculpted by the hands of Greek Gods. I don’t need that narrative being shoved down my throat when without it, I am perfectly happy with who and what I am. But to get 2000 likes on a picture, and to gain a couple of hundred followers, well my ego was stroked. Multiple times. I lured myself into the ideology that if I always pose in some mirror with my shirt unbuttoned or my running gear on, then I would be seen as sexy. Once again, it was addictive. And so, I was tricked into thinking that’s what worked for me. Further I stepped from the mental health boy and closer I stepped into being something that I have absolutely no idea existed within me.
I never did this for likes. I never did this for profit. I never did this for any other reason than to try and jumpstart a long overdue conversation. I suffer from Complex PTSD, I am diagnosed with depression. I have days where I don’t leave my bed. I have nights where the night terrors are so real that I wake up sweating and screaming. Convinced that somebody has come to murder me in my sleep, I lie awake at night too scared to close my eyes. I can’t go to places without first working out where the fire exits are, or what my plan of action would be if something was to go wrong. I cry on dates, and I overshare on the internet. I am an uncle. I am a best friend. I am a brother. I am a son, a nephew, a brother-in-law. I am a human being who is completely broken. And yet, I lost myself in the idea that I might finally be seen as popular. After years of being bullied in school, of sitting on my own at lunch time, of being called a puff in the corridor, after not being wanted by my parents, after blaming myself for the suicide of my first love, I finally felt accepted, but I now realise that it was for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve spent a week mulling this over with my friends. I’ve cried to Laura, I’ve begged Rach for her brutal advice. I’ve asked Dylan if I’m making the right decision by doing this. I’ve nearly quit the internet multiple times. I’ve nearly thrown my hands up and said I don’t care anymore, I am going to post what I want and fuck anybody who thinks I shouldn’t. But the truth of it, is that none of that is me. I am just the broken kid who wants to help other broken kids, and somewhere in all of this I lost sight of that. I changed before my own eyes, but I didn’t blink enough to see it. Instead, I have got myself into a complete and utter mental health mess by not knowing who I am. No, scratch that, by not knowing who I am allowed to be. I feel so suffocated by everything that goes on in my life online. I spread myself too thin, in a way that I think only I can achieve. I went with what worked, so I was funny for a minute, then I was sexy, then I was political, each time too focused on the follower count to not realise that I was losing myself – and you – in the process.
I know this whole essay is so pretentious, and I know that people will think that it’s not that deep, but for me it is. I changed my life with this platform, and I mean that in the terms that without it, I don’t think I’d be here. Writing about my sad gave me an outlet, a way to understand my head. In turn, it has saved the lives of other people too, and that is something I am still trying to understand, but I thank each and every single one of you personally.
The bottom of all of this? The point in everything that I am trying to say? Two things, really. First of all, I want to be the mental health boy again, I want to go back to my roots and rediscover what made me who I am. I want to be able to talk frankly about my struggles, I want to be able to talk to you about yours, in the way that we used to, you and I. But secondly, I need you all to understand that I am just a human being. I don’t deserve to be told I should die. I don’t think I necessarily deserve to have my life threatened with arson and acid attacks. Being a social influencer comes with some huge stick, and most of it is laughable, but I am tired of people thinking that I don’t have feelings. I see every single message, I see every single reply, and some days I can’t get out of bed because the weight of the words in front of me are too heavy to breathe. If I was to make a mistake before your eyes, human to human, chances are that you would forgive me and you would try and educate me to a better understanding of where I went wrong, propping me up as I try and navigate a better path. But online, you block me, you send me death threats and you almost forget that just like you, I have feelings, I have a family, and I have a story.
Every single tweet I post, every single picture comes under constant and microscopic scrutiny. The pressure from people for me to get it right 100% of the time, the fear that my friends – like I – will not be able to differentiate Daniel Coole from DanCooleDaily, the need for me to use the correct words in videos, for fear of getting it wrong and causing upset. A handful of my tweets in the past couple of weeks have come from a place of me trying to be just like you, and sometimes I forget my position on the internet as someone who holds a bar of expectations that is higher than others. I’ve had an internal conflict over this for months now, because I just want to be a carefree 27 year old who has fun on the internet. But, the life I live comes with pressure, and it comes with a certain expectation that I have to uphold. I am so, eternally sorry if anything I have done or said or shared has upset or triggered anything within you. I am sorry that I forget my position, I am sorry that sometimes, people forget that I am just a human being, too.
Sometimes, and it’s the only part of this that I will stand selfishly in front of you to say, I can’t stand up for myself. When I stand up for myself or when I respond to hate publicly, I am told to remember to be kind, or to remember that I am the mental health boy. So I get stuck between wanting to stand up for myself or letting them take the win and my mental health take a loss. I sometimes lose my voice on this platform, because it feels like I am held at a higher standard than other people in my position. I am told by you that support me to name and shame the trolls in my DMs, but if I do that, then I run the risk of another suicide sitting on my already heavy hands. You see, above all of this, above my position, my awards, my title, my everything, I am still mourning for a love that was lost a decade ago. There are days where I carry the guilt on my shoulders, and nights where I cry as I tell him I’m sorry. Theres a bulk of my therapy that is designated to unpacking all of this, and yet I sit so fragile as I place expectations on myself to get it right, because I fear history repeating itself. This isn’t a pity party, this is my venting my confusion at where I can stand comfortably in a role that I didn’t choose, more a role that I fell into and didn’t realise the impact of what was to come in the years that followed An Open Letter To My Depression.
Bare with me please, I am asking for your help. I am asking you to teach me how to be a better person whilst allowing me to find my core values again. I miss the days of posting about mental health, I miss our conversations about adoption, I miss leaning on each other more than anything in the world. I am so, so blessed to call this my job. I never, ever grew up wanting to be a social influencer. There was a time where I wanted to be Zoella because she was rich, and it looked easy. But I never, especially in recent years, signed up for the life that I am now living. It’s a blessing and a curse in equal measures. I am so fortunate to be in a position where I am my own boss, and I get to run the show how I want to. I can be funny, I can be flirty, I can be understanding, I can be broken. I just need you to realise – and I also need to accept myself – that I can be all of those things in perfect balance.
To summarise in one simple sentence, a sentence that I should have just posted instead of this lengthy essay: I miss myself, I want to come home to myself, and I need you to realise that in doing so, I will probably be perceived as selfish. But to come home to myself, to return to the person I fell in love with 5 years ago, means that I have to start doing what I love, and what makes my head feel calm again. I will return to the mental health chats, I will find the adopted voice again. I might post a little selfie from time to time, and I will definitely be standing up for myself more.
Rach said something to me earlier this week that really struck a chord, she said that the human me, the me that shows all sides of everything in equal measures, is the me that she has loved for over a decade now. That’s the me I want to be, if you’ll allow me.
All the love in all the world.
work with me: firstname.lastname@example.org