Finishing for Christmas is often the long-anticipated reward at the end of the year. As a student, the course from September has often been studded to satiate along the way – the stresses of essays, the ‘yesses’ of social events, an amalgamation of positive and negative people often pile together and summarise as a ‘student experience’. I have certainly sampled it.
There is a difference however, between ‘sampling’ and ‘tasting’. These are definitions I perhaps should have revisited being an English student. But student or not, it is easy to watch. Grazing passively upon the colours and imagery of people filling themselves with the ‘student experience’ ‘life experience’, each, either. The trait returns even now as I sift through Facebook, social media, feeding on the facades of other peoples happiness.
Life lectures us with the ideals of being – full, in abundance, blossoming. Yet so often in reality, ideals are reduced to a stab in the stomach and a taste bitter with anticipation.
Rather than feeling satisfied with myself at university, I became host to a disturbing hunger – spurned by chocolate-box fineness of glossy prospectuses, the rich, flowing voices promising contact, the layer after layer of leagues and societies. There was something within that whole richness which terrified me, turned not only my stomach, so to speak, but my thoughts, inwards.
Perhaps it would be the desirable thing to say I have expanded at university. But I haven’t. At university I retreated further and further into routines of my own invention, entertained obsessions, became preoccupied with a mounts and timings in attempt not to fuel aspirations but out of fear for the underlying emptiness that was every day affirming itself.
And then emptiness curdled to guilt. A guilt which began, and then grates, and grates, and grates away. At first I watched my skin shine in the mirror, and attempted to convince myself that this was part of the abundance I had been taught to aim for. Only it wasn’t. I became a combination of bonework and sinew, offering myself up to an ever-growing hunger. A consuming circle of self-hatred and yet ambition stirring itself, leading not only to peaks, but also to collapse.
And that, amidst the metaphors of eating and hunger, is what has happened. I watched myself move from nature to mechanical - impulses slowly frozen as if hoping to be preserved for some better picture. I have become selfish, silenced, angry – at the mercy of a mind which oft feels half-mechanistic, as if something has started to set in there. For fuel underlies both food and machinery when regarding the ultimate subject of this article – the mind, and ultimately, its afflictions. For this, I guess, is an argument with depression, depression and all its guises – whether in self-discipline or selfishness, stuffing meals and scratches – it always strived to swirl itself into something else.
It is the oft-asked aside – ‘Come on, pull yourself together, what’s eating you?’.
It has been the long, slow, sick realisation that what has been eating me, and eats away at so many others, often unidentified, is depression.
Call it with as many metaphors as you like – a machine, a black dog, a bloody great hole. For so long I have attempted to feed it with academia, obsessions, the scrabbled security of restricted eating. I convinced myself that this was sufficient.
But depression does not settle for sufficiency. It stares out of your eyes and what is tells you is ‘success’ and questions, scraping its sharp nails down the minds tabula rasa – ‘why can’t you be like that?’ ‘Why can’t you be like that?’. It is efficient, much more efficient than I ever was – a tailor, stitching a cold layer of isolation between you and every other person you look upon. If we continue the food metaphor, it is a chef, serving up life like a tar. I retch when I have not eaten anything for hours.
It assumes so many different identities I scrape desperately for some form of escapism – ashamed by the empty hours I spin through other people’s lives, social media, newspaper headlines I look upon but cannot absorb. I look upon the hands which type and wonder what I have become. I feel sorry for the apparent selfishness, the silences, the self-isolation I have presented people with.
I am sorry that I could not write this perhaps more efficiently.
But I am not sorry that it is here to be read. I used to be able to write articles quickly, enthused with an energy. This has taken me days – even stringing sentences together seem flat and formless. Flat is how I feel when I look upon not only the inflated ambitions I for so long strived for, but when I look around me at the creature which is Christmas – when we are expected to want and to wield. It would be more straight-forward to say I do not want anything, I could roll back into my isolation, close my eyes and attempt to entertain the silence.
But silence never happens. And want never stops, in a way. It is oft the case that ‘want’ is demonised, dished out as a sin in the moral meals served up by societal doctrine. But everyday too I see people driven by a want to help others, to help themselves – and not necessarily negative.
And I too want. If that is the ‘human’ part of me left, then let it. I want people to know of depression, know that it exists and that that people do not have to feel alone in facing it.
For too long now I have failed to face it – both metaphorically and concerning brutal honesty. I painted a healthy face over my own which showed life in all the right places. I spent the anticipated hours studying, pouring over texts written to reel the mind over. I felt the pressure when the function of the mind, both in discussion, and on paper, becomes the means of evaluation.
And depression smiled as it splintered, spreading through everything.
I didn’t hit the high marks in the essays. I didn’t volunteer for charity. I didn’t give my time effectively. I didn’t deal with the exams as I should have done. . I didn’t fit the concepts of ‘success’ I had for so long faced myself with.
Instead I became isolated and afraid. I still am afraid.
But they are perhaps two conclusive things of this article – want and fear. They still exist, they still strike up beneath that sour staleness of everything affirming, that ‘I’ can still feel something for myself. A want for people to understand. A fear that people won’t.
And it is my aim, over the Christmas break, and New Year, that others too, should want to understand mental illness, and fear ignorance towards it. For people to understand that they are not alone, and to face the fear of the perceived loneliness of standing up and saying something about it.
Every day I am going to attempt to share something, whether it is something I have seen, or perhaps written, that shows a want to continue. Ultimately, the terms I have long aimed for – happiness, success, achievement – are subjective, slim. But I am attempting to shift weight to a want to show what depression can be, but also what the individual can be.
I want to show that it does not have to consume everything.
I too want to taste something different.
“Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.”
― Anne Sexton