By John Keast
Mike King reckons he was the kid with the big head and the adult with a severe drink and drug problem.
He had his last drink when he was 45.
Now he is on the road with I Am Hope, a warts-and-all session in which he and others tell of their struggles with depression – and the way ahead.
The Ashburton Event Centre was nearly full for the talk, with Mr King and supporters arriving on scooters which will be auctioned at the end of the 48-town tour.
Mr King said that even as a boy he had low self esteem.
“I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. I was an ugly kid. I was teased. I was bullied and I was a bully.”
Mr King, who refers to himself as a former stand-up comedian, laced his talk with humour.
He said the strategy now was to bully the bully – “throw him in jail”.
But bullies bullied because they wanted to be loved.
“But for most bullies, love is a punch in the face. It might be better if people went up to them and said “Are you OK?”
He said people with confidence walked into a room and talked to people, exchanged ideas.
“I’d walk into a room and hope people liked me. I have two voices in my head – the angel and the devil.”
The devil was the voice that second-guessed decisions.
Mr King said everyone had an inner critic – and it was time that was normalised.
At school, he liked the popular kids.
He was not one.
The popular kids had friends, and girlfriends.
He did not.
His only friend was Nigel.
One day Nigel told a joke and no-one laughed.
The young Mike King told the same joke and everyone laughed.
He knew, then, he had a talent – and it was the best feeling.
He associated laughter with people liking him, so told more jokes.
But the popular kids got bored with the jokes and they would ask him to use his jokes on other kids.
King knew it was not right, but he did it anyway.
He was asked to use a joke on Nigel and he thought that wasn’t right, as Nigel had been his only friend.
But he did it anyway, and went home and cried.
That, he said, was the pattern for five years.
He told of his home life, with lots of arguments.
But there were no arguments on Friday and Saturday, when the alcohol came in.
There was fun, and he began to associate alcohol with fun.
There was more.
Alcohol gave him courage to be the person others wanted him to be; gave him the confidence to talk to girls; it took away the shame and the hurt.
It shut up the conversations in his head.
“Trust me,” he said, “no alcoholic or drug addict is having fun.”
Mr King trained as a chef, then tried stand-up.
He found he was good, “though not clever”.
He always wanted to be popular – and famous.
Jokes gave him fame, or at least a New Zealand version of it.
But through it all, his head was saying he was useless.
Things got worse, and by 45, he says, he was out of control.
One night he had a road rage incident.
He was angry and chasing someone when his phone rang.
On the line was the only policeman he knew.
He asked what he was up to – told him – and he said he had better come and have a chat.
The officer listened and said he (King) might need counselling.
King thought “nah, that’s for weak people”.
The officer said he saw a counsellor.
King went, hiding, he thought, his drug addiction and drinking.
After six weeks he was asked “what part you are playing in your own unhappiness?”
The following Monday he went back and laid it on the line: “I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict.”
She said: “I know.”
She said the biggest sign of depression was anger – and he had plenty of that.
The counsellor described his head as a boiling pot of anger with a lid on it.
Mr King said having problems was part of life.
Some 40 per cent of school children had some sort of crisis before they left school, but 80 per cent of those children never asked for help.
They were either too scared, or embarrassed, or thought people would make fun of them, and worried what their parents would say.
Mr King said older people had to change.
A billion dollars spent on mental health would not fix the problem – society had to stop being so judgemental.
Adults had to watch what they said, avoid the put-downs.
The little put-downs meant nothing in isolation, but week after week, year after year, they all added up.
Mr King said his talk was not about fixing people, but planting seeds of change. People could water the seeds or let them die.