I hope you're looking after yourselves. Just a heads up that today's essay talks about mental health so if that's not something you want to read about right now, feel free to pass on this one.
Big love as always x
In 2015 I dye my hair orange and cause a scene. The manager of a renowned Mayfair nightclub, who used to be mine on a Wednesday night, does not like what I’ve done to myself and wants me to know as much. Where he once used to kiss my face he shouts and waves his fist my face, instead. And I need to get out of there. I run and run until I fall into a puddle of sobs with Leicester Square beneath me. And the next morning I wear streaky cheeks and smudged eyes as I walk home with a prescription bag full of Prozac under my arm.
That was how I fell.
In 2021 my friend sits opposite me and nurses a pint. When was the last time you felt okay? The question steals the air out of my lungs. And the only answer I can muster in that moment is a quiet mumble about having struggled on and off, always.
And even then I don’t know I’m falling. Because you often don’t until you hit the ground with a thump.
And my God it took some free-fall this time around.
In March I lose my confidence.
In April I feel so very small.
By May I am in the worst depressive episode — of my goddamn decade-long tenure of mental health struggles.
A few paper cuts to my heart — not enough to draw blood but cuts that hurt when they are flesh wounds one on top of the other.
A thousand rejections from a thousand different angles.
And a thump.
Oh, and my hair is orange again. Which is maybe important and maybe not.
And I am trying to think back to all of the other times I have clawed my way back to good health — a ritual I have somewhat become begrudgingly accustomed to, and I can’t quite locate any such point of arrival. All of the moments I once revelled in thinking ‘this is it, I am better’ have years down the line, become altered in my memory, with the sobering realisation, that I, then too, was not particularly well. I am disillusioned by the image of my own wellness.
There’s the consensus that you will look back upon your life not realising how good you had it at the time. Hindsight the ever-giving gift. But I tend to look back in shock and wonder how it’s possible to have not known how badly I was suffering. Hindsight, as far as my mental health is concerned, is a punch in the stomach. A naivety; a laugh in my face.
For a decade, the penny has dropped, over and over, with the realisation that yes, I do suffer from depression. And every time it’s as if I’m discovering something wildly unknown about myself. Like my skin is actually green and I eat small children for breakfast. I don’t know why it still comes as a shock every single time, after all this time. Why I forget this information so readily and the thump catches me off guard so easily.
In turn, I struggle to trust myself. The future becomes a place of anticipatory terror that is sure to only reveal the horrors of things I couldn’t comprehend at the time. Or that I was existing through just to survive through. Things I’d rather never recover from the bottomless pit of my memory at all.
This flight response isn’t helped when the mere mention of the D-word triggers a lot of people’s most stoic self. Sorry, did you say something??? I can’t hear you under the sweet sounds of my blissful ignorance // my straight-up denial of your lived experience.
It’s much like every time I step into any kind of medical setting it’s all are you...eating in hushed tones, never, how’s your anorexia, babe? Ok, I’m being curt now.
Is this what my life will always be? A battle with my brain? I recently whimpered, to another friend, as the mist settled in around my skull. Who, gracefully, amidst her own battles suggested that yes, it might be, but that you probably get better at coping with the fallout.
And that perhaps there is no such thing as ‘better’, just the constant moving towards it. And that better as a destination only crumples in my memory now because it was never a ‘destination’ in the first place. Just like there is no such thing as happiness on the horizon but the choice to choose it, now, whenever you possibly can.
I think the commodification of our lives as 'content' has made us believe that everything we go through has to follow a narrative structure. Or at the very least it's the neurosis of a writer. [This happened > I struggled > I got better]. And feel ashamed if we can’t maintain such a neat resolve. But real life isn’t linear like that. We fall down repeatedly, we make the same mistakes, battles are sometimes lifelong. And life isn’t a thousand independent stories but one long and large, if you are to be so lucky.
And as far as hindsight goes. Well, it’s probably relatively normal to be alarmed at all you once didn’t know. Just as I ache for my 18-year-old self who tootled down to the lobby of a five-star hotel and asked for an engineer to come up to my room to fix the lights. The self who had no idea that, in hotels, your keycard activates the lights.
Just as the way I ache for my self who, for years, paid for the contraceptive pill because no one ever told me it was free and no one ever thought to let me know whenever I stuck my card in the chip and pin machine.
That the motion sickness I feel in the discovery of all that at one time was lost to me, is a sign of me rising. And that my brain with its clever/not-clever survival mechanisms that hid certain information from me — well, maybe it’s a sign that I am ready and capable of hearing and understanding those stories now. Of holding what my fourteen and eighteen and twenty-four-year-old self couldn’t.
To not to berate my past naive and foolish self for daring to believe I was ‘better’, but to squeeze the part of me that always believed ‘better’ was possible.
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