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Thursday, 7 December 2017

A conversation with my depression

Spare hours before work, quiet hours, moments in which to sip coffee, write. The sky outside is smudged in ripples of rose quartz, graphite and slate. Away at the horizon a tear in the clouds, golden-tinged, gloriously-rimmed, lips parted over a mouth going back and back and back. Within the mouth a clear, dense nothingness, a bright emptiness, an eternal cavern crying out the light of creation itself.

Telephone wires dance erratically in the wind. Dark, fist-sized birds are buffeted on the breeze. The ornamental plum tree beneath the wide bay window scratches at the surrounding air, bends, but does not break. Fush-ush against the window's seal's deteriorating rubber; on the desk the coffee sits and steams.

The gargoyle of my depression has been vociferous today, crabby, circling to pounce. He's getting angrier because I've been choosing to ignore him. Well, I'll let him out now and see what he wants...

Hullo, my friend. What is going on?

Everything is hopeless, everything is broken, everything is lost.

Thank you. Thank you for your opinion. But it is just that, an opinion, not a fact, and one that I choose not to agree with. But I respect your right to voice it.

You know it's true. You're weak, wretched, pathetic. You're wasting your entire life.

Again, thank you. Thank you for your opinion. Thank you for trusting me enough to say that. But, again, it is only an opinion, and a biased one, although you're stating it as fact. Look, I suppose I may be the things you say -- but if so then what good is criticising myself for them? Might as well shout at the water for being wet. Or on the other hand I may in fact be strong, be doing exactly what I should be doing, and it's only believing your opinions that makes me weak. In fact this is a theme, isn't it? You yell something awful at me, and I take it as truth, and therefore it comes to be true.

This writing isn't working. This post is a mess.

You only ever say the same few things, you know? Variations on a few simple themes. When you feel threatened you attack me where you know it will hurt me the most, the things I worry about the most. Well, I'm afraid I've stopped worrying. I am who I am. Let the chips fall where they may. If you know a constructive way to make this writing better then go ahead. Otherwise it'll have to stay as it is. I'd rather give things a try and move on, and concentrate on finding goodness in the world, on helping people, than get hung up wringing my hands over concerns of the ego, which are so small in the wider scheme of things.

But you can't concentrate on goodness, you feel no happiness, you are self-obsessed rotten broken you have lost the ability to feel pleasure you know it to be true.

OK, ouch. I'm just going to pause for a second...

See. You can't deny it.

No, wait. You're doing exactly what I said you would do! I have your number. And, yes, every time, I admit, you hurt me for a moment, I believe you for a moment, and it stabs at my heart. But then I remember: you speak opinions, with an agenda, and you want me to fail. You feel safe when I fail, it lets you remain in charge. I mean, come on, I have felt lots of fragile, beautiful moments of happiness of late, many more since I began challenging your lies. And the self-obsession is precisely those lies that you are continually whispering to me. Friend, you are what is at fault. But, yes, thank you for voicing your opinions. I respect your right to them.

Ungh, you are such a freak. You're actually crazy. Everyone is going to read this and realise what a freak you are. You need to delete this right away.

Come on, give it up. People don't care how weird I secretly am, they're far too worried about anyone discovering how weird they secretly are. Loosen up. Being a freak is when things finally get interesting. Your world that you convince me to inhabit is so normal and lifeless and grey, let yourself get freaky, get crazy, learn to have some fun. Start jiggling, be wonky, push out that little bum.

Jeez, please, stop. You're embarrassing us both.

You're scared, I get it. You're that kid with acne who was too ashamed to look people in the eye. You're the voice of the classmates who bullied you because you were different. You're lost and alone and you've woken up to existence on a pebble hurtling round a cosmic nuclear reactor with only a short time alive in which to make yourself ready to die. Well, welcome to the club of the rest of us. This is what we get. It's shit for everyone. But there is also ginger-infused dark chocolate and bouncy castles and literature, so there is also lots to enjoy.

This post has no structure to it you know? This stuff is nothing like the beginning, with its ripples of rose quartz and winter trees clawing at the air.

That's because I'm a maverick and I care not for your simplistic conventions. I stride through writing styles like a god commanding dimensions and elements, beholden to no primitive human conceptions of right and wrong. And also I'm in a hurry to get this finished before work. So thanks, friend, but I am done listening to your crap. It is flawed, boring, motivated solely by fear. It does not tell the truth of reality, but an opinion about reality, one that comes true only when it is believed. You have had power for so long, but what I forgot was that I was always the one handing you that power, allowing you to take control. I'm not going to fight you, because I don't have to. I simply have to say: No. See? I'm doing nothing now. I'm here. Do your worst.

Arajgjskjkgfjkfgjkgfjkgfjk gjkfjkgfjk dfgjkafglkasjklasdfjklfg ajkljgl ajklasjklgsdf.

Yep, thought so. You have no real power at all. I'm not scared of you -- but I'm not threatening you, either. You have nothing to fear from me. Keep coming back. I'll keep accepting you. I'm just not going to agree with you, when you prattle on with harmful thoughts. So get away from me, or stick around and hush up, whichever you prefer.

All right, fine, fine. That'll do for now. I'm going. I'll leave you be.

Thanks. Pleasure talking to you.

Yes, yes, pleasure, ditto.

See you for all this again in, what, half an hour?

If not sooner.

I'll be here. I'll be ready.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Top 18 alternative lyrics to sing instead of the eponymous last line to Snoop Dogg's “Smoke Weed Everyday” if you want to prove that drugs no longer hold any sway upon you

  1. Scoff brie everyday
  2. Wear a fleece everyday
  3. Gluten-free everyday
  4. Listen to Creed everyday
  5. Brush your teeth everyday
  6. Buy artisanal organic honey expensive enough to have been produced by living-wage-funded and fully-unionised bees everyday
  7. Tackle greed everyday [only sing this if you believe Jeremy Corbyn will be the next prime minister]
  8. Surreptitiously dismantle the NHS before ramping up pressure on the Beeb everyday [only sing this if you believe Jacob Rees-Mogg will be the next prime minister]
  9. Hide in eaves everyday [in the current climate, best pitch this from the angle of an anthropomorphic mouse/Borrower/ninja hiding in said eaves, rather than from that of a middle-aged white man peering down into a room while masturbating furiously. A middle-aged white man with a face not unlike that of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Not that you're saying Jacob Rees-Mogg would do such a thing. Hunched, a rabid glint in his eyes, his upper half still pin-stripe-suited, his chalky legs and pallid genitalia shorn of cover, caressing a splintered wooden beam with one hand, madly grappling himself to culmination with the other. This is precisely the kind of thing you are saying Jacob Rees-Mogg would not do. He wouldn't]
  10. Laugh at dweebs everyday
  11. Use Fabreze everyday
  12. Rub knees everyday [again, steer clear of allusions to elderly news anchors/film producers/Moggs, perhaps by changing surrounding lyrics to make it clear this line is the catchphrase of a benevolent genie who appears out of old people's knees and grants them alleviation from any joint pain they may be experiencing. Or something]
  13. Watch your hairline recede everyday
  14. Fail to breed everyday
  15. Go to a bar and drink too much Jameson and attempt to flirt with the party of businesswomen on the stools next to you, but as you do so catch sight of your doughy, jowled face in the mirrored ice-well behind the bar, the reflection of your face frozen in a rictus of forced insouciance not adequately masking shame and fear, and so you hurriedly pay your tab and leave everyday
  16. Stand by your kitchen window staring sadly out at your shabby patch of garden as the sun goes down, your heart sundering at the ephemeral, delicate nature of being, aware of how lacking the shallow casings of words are to hold the enormity of your emotions, before sighing and turning back to see whether you set your Freeview box to record last night's Holby City and to pour more wine, as outside a vast darkness gathers and an unnamed wind silently soughs the bristling leaves everyday
  17. Maybe you'll just find that last illicit contact in your phone you couldn't bring yourself to delete and order just maybe one little twenty-bag to get you through the night... No, no, you mustn't... just get up and go to work and come home and go to work and retire and die and then finally the pain of existence will be over as the sum total of your experience becomes a rotting corpse upon which the worms will feed everyday
  18. Quietly weep everyday

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Thanks voice, but no

It is cold today. I have not yet ventured out. I have, however, got up, showered, made my bed in military fashion (by which I mean the quilt isn't a crumpled mess on the floor). I have put work clothes to wash, taken a damp cloth and cleaned the shelves and surfaces of my room that were furry with dust, rearranged my desk, put all the half-read books back in the bookcase to be taken out and attempted again in another six months.

It isn't much. It is more than I've managed in weeks.

And, yes, the voice was there, that one criticising my every move, telling me how small I am, how worthless, how ridiculous is any hope of change. When I felt good that I was about to stand up out of bed, about to move to the shower, the voice was there, telling me that everyone my age is buying houses and raising children and exploring the corners of the globe, and here I am patting myself on the back for shuffling under a jet of water and washing my hair. How pathetic that is, how puny.

And I almost listened. Almost climbed back into bed. Scrolled past nothing on my phone, rolled over, snoozed through the day. But it struck me the lunacy of the logic of that voice. By saying that getting a shower is a stupid thing to be happy about it persuades me to not get a shower at all. By believing that it's dumb to make small advances I end up going backwards instead.

What drivel! The voice's goal is not to tell truth, but to prevent me living my life, because the voice is cowering and uncertain and afraid. Yet how large it feels when it talks, how well it knows my weak spots, my vices, the precise angle at which to slide its knife.

So I stood up. It wasn't so hard. I walked to the bathroom. I ran the taps. I was mindful of the voice, recognised that I was separate from it, that it was but a silly function of my mind. Like a sneeze, I watched it come, felt its power, and let it go.

And of course it came back. It always comes back. In my experience it is not something to conquer, finally, like in the stories where the hero overcomes her demons and learns to accept herself and goes on to save the world. Your demons are part of you, aspects of your true self, to be acknowledged and faced down in each moment anew. You do not defeat the darkness, you work hard to slowly develop a healthier relationship with it.

If you have a voice within, whispering damaging nothings in your ear, telling you you are not good enough, not smart enough, that you will never be pretty, then that is OK. The whispering is painful, yes, but don't add to the pain by beating yourself up for the pain existing in the first place. Don't waste energy playing whack-a-mole with what is essentially part of your own brain. You mush it down, and it just pops up somewhere else. Better to let it rise, let it fall, without getting too much involved.

There it goes, doing it's thing, as it always does. "You're too fat, too weak, your skin is a mess." Let it chunder, let it bluster, then get on with your day.

That's been my approach this morning, and in doing so I have been kinder to myself, got some chores out of the way, written most of this. It isn't much, but it's the best I've done in weeks. Baby steps, one at a time, and who knows where it will end up? You toddle forwards, the voice knocks you over, you get up and toddle off again.

The voice has been there as long as I can remember. I guess it's sticking around. But then my ability to hear the voice and carry on regardless has always existed as well. And I think that is encouraging indeed.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Would You Just... Not Sweat that Oscar?

Well, I'm hungover. I drank last night by mistake. Finished work and had half an hour to kill before meeting my girlfriend, so bought a beer to sink with Steve while I waited. And then one of the regulars wanted to buy me a pint, said Go on, I said Sure. Then Fran had a crisis, a friend in need, messaged saying So sorry, she felt so bad -- but by then I had the taste and couldn't be happier and started eyeing up the spirits.

And I could have stayed later, gone out with the others after the close, got in the shots. Instead caught a taxi with Katie when she left, made sandwiches in my kitchen, fell asleep watching an episode of Sinner on my phone. But I woke up this morning gumpy and anxious and alone, angry at myself for weakness and a wasted evening and for confirming my worst beliefs about myself.

But here's a thing about happiness. It is not, and never has been, about what you have. It is about how you feel about what you have. If you live in a mansion but wish your mansion had a pool like your friends' mansions do, wish it had a helipad, a trophy room with an Academy Award sitting inside, goddamnit why have you never won an Academy Award? All your peers have won one, why do you not get the recognition you deserve? -- if you feel like this then you're going to be unhappy. But if you live in a one-bed terraced house and you feel grateful that you have a roof over your head and running water and central heating, as so many in the world do not, and you're excited about auditioning for a role in a small play, and excited about maybe one day earning enough as an actor to move to a bigger house, then you're going to be happy.

It's not what you have, it's how you feel about what you have.

And similarly, I don't think dealing with depression and low self-esteem is about changing how you act, by itself, but about changing how you feel about how you act. I continually drink too much, shirk responsibilities, avoid effort, because I'm in pain and desperately want something right now to assuage that pain -- a pint, the distraction of my phone, climbing into bed where the world is small and manageable and safe as the womb -- and then I feel ashamed of my bad choices, weak, impotent, and I'm all the more likely to make more bad choices in an attempt to assuage the pain of dealing with the previous bad choices. Repeat ad nauseam.

So that can't be the answer. Dealing with my depression can't be about just making better choices, but about feeling better about the choices I do make. And as I feel better, hopefully that will by itself lead to making better choices.

So I didn't go back to my girlfriend's and write last night, I spent money yet again and got drunk yet again and woke up with a brain feeling like it was made of the matter at the back of the vegetable drawer, yet again. But that has already happened. Absolutely nothing can change that. Beating myself up is wasted energy. Pointless.

What is happening now, in the one place I can affect, is the forming of opinions about last night.

Can I decide right now to not hate myself because of last night? To recognise that though getting drunk felt like the wrong thing to do, maybe there are valuable lessons in the experience, that no one truly knows what is "best" or "right", that what has gone can be let go of and what is coming can be embraced?

So I am up and showered, eating cashews, satsumas, drinking green tea. My head hurts, but I'm trying, trying, to see that this is all right.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Would You Just... Write It Anyway?

I don't feel like writing this. I don't feel I have anything to say. It is half one in the morning and I am in from work, foot-sore, brain chundering, listening to the rain patter and plop outside my window.

I don't feel like writing this. I have a brain racing many miles an hour with all the negatives, all the reasons to give up, all the dumbnesses that I contain.

I don't want to do this. I want to climb into bed and watch videos of goats falling down slides and posh kids rapping after anaesthetic and 1000-DEGREE WHITE HOT KNIVES CUTTING THROUGH GOLF BALLS!!! -- to stare at the screen with the folds of night wrapped around me and stay very still and almost escape my thoughts, to feel my eyes heavier and heavier and eventually fall asleep like this.

I don't want to sit here alone at my desk with the distant howl of traffic and whirr of computer and pittle-pottle of rain, my lighted room the only light in all the darkness; to sit up here above the world and whisper onto the page, sing into the screen. I don't want to whisper. I don't want to sing. I have no music in me any more that I can turn to song. My sonorous chambers are filled with sand.

I don't feel like trying. I don't feel like fighting. I don't feel like writing this at all. The depression has hold of my synapses, threads its dark desires into my mind. it pries open my mouth with chilling tendrils, squeezes vocal chords, and in my own voice out come its bitter words, blank and jagged as the grave.

Don't try, says my voice. Don't want. Do nothing. Give up. Give in.

So I'm just not going to listen. I'm going to not feel like writing this and yet write it anyway. I'm going to do the opposite of what the voice tells me, and see what happens.

I may have no words, no voice, no song right now. But I've still got an arm. Yep, I can feel it. And that arm has a hand. And that hand has a middle finger, which is sticking all the way up. Sit on it, you dickhead depression. Sit on it and swivel.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Would You Just... Write Anything At All?

Mm. My depression has been bad again guys. I haven't felt able to write. I was drinking too much, as a coping mechanism, spending all my money, trapped in a cycle of anxiety-inducing hangovers and nights out to escape the anxiety. Then I gave up alcohol, but if anything it made me feel worse. Drinking was only a way to feel mild surface pleasure while underwater oceans of sadness roiled below, but at least there was that surface pleasure. Being sober for two months I have felt flat all the time. In stasis. Not running away from my problems, but not confronting them, countenancing them, either.

Has it been worse because I have not been writing, or have I not been writing because it has been worse? I don't know.

I'm in a relationship now with a woman with whom I am in love. I value her and need her a great deal. But wonderful as she is (and infuriating and complicated and intelligent and peculiar), when I am depressed like this she is like the sun above dark storm clouds: I know she is up there, and I am glad, but it is hard to feel her warmth down here in the rain.

I am able to go to work at the moment, and mostly competent and even cheerful when I am there, but as soon as I finish my shift I am hit by a sense of hopelessness I cannot describe. I used to drink to avoid this hopelessness. Recently I have been forcing myself not to drink, and so trudging home instead in the cold grey night, sitting on the bus as icy waves crash against me. Spending evenings and days off watching nothing on Youtube, eating without appetite, spending more and more time in bed. When I see my girlfriend I'm always tired, and just want to put something easy on TV and lie with her and her dog, to have nothing required of me.

I feel like a failure and a fraud for being like this again, for falling back into this pattern after all I wrote earlier in the year, all the lessons I pretended to be learning/teaching. It's like the depression stood through all my attacks against it, paused, laughed, then swallowed me whole.

I haven't been asking for help, because it is embarrassing, it makes people uncomfortable, gets them down. For other people I feel that mental health taboos need to be addressed, that it is all better out in the open. For myself, when I am sick, I feel that I am dirty, and to tell people about it would risk spreading the dirt to them. Better to pretend to be clean and normal, not worry anyone, get through the day, and then go home and collapse.

But I'm writing this. I'm here now. So there's that. Maybe it's time to try again, to try being honest again, to face it all again. It's not going to be easy, but I've reached the point where it has to be better than the stasis, the living death, I have been going through. Let's see what happens...

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Would You Just... Eat the Cake?

I'm someone who struggles with issues of self-esteem, with thoughts of intense self-loathing. There is a reason this is my first post in months. It's like the negative voices are a monster threatening to eat me alive. As long as I stay small and quiet, as I've been doing recently -- go to my little bar job, drink beer afterwards, go home and watch YouTube videos until 3am, sleep late, repeat the cycle -- as long as I do only this, the monster is content to hover in the background, a dark, formless thing on the peripheries of my vision, prowling and watching, but not attacking.

Yet when I try to do anything I actually care about, for example writing this blog, the monster comes down with its full force, snarling that I am worthless, disgusting, that every word from my brain is lame and repugnant, that I'm making such a fool of myself I'll be cast out of society and have to limp about in the wilderness gnawing on rat carcasses and sleeping in caves and eventually succumbing to exposure and/or a mauling by a pack of ravenous ferrets -- that, in short, my only chance of survival is to quit and go back to doing nothing again.

I built up momentum with my posts before this last stumble, faced the monster of self-loathing again and again, stood in a storm of self-criticism and said, fuck it, I'm putting this up anyway.

And in a way that made things easier. It started to wear in a groove of routine. But as time went on it also became more difficult, because with each post I published the monster would just growl that here was even more pressure to keep it going, that it knew I was going to fail anyway, and it would be all the more embarrassing when I did, after so many stupid words pretending I was fixed, pretending I was healing myself, pretending <spits> that I might actually be helping anyone else.

Yeah. My brain is screwed up. But here's something I've been thinking while trying to get myself back on my feet. These cycles appear pretty unavoidable. Pretty inevitable. I write for a time, the pressure becomes too much, I crash for a time.

Maybe I should just accept that for what it is, and not worry so much about the down times. It's cool to get a chance to write at all, even if there are weeks or months when it just doesn't happen.

If that monster is going to be with me, and going to continue leaping, I just have to accept the struggle as part of my life, and make sure for every time it knocks me down, I get one extra time.

Or, hang on... get up the same number of times? Because if it knocks me down twice, I get up twice, right? Whatever.

Anyway, this all reminds me of a lesson from CBT -- which is cognitive behavioural therapy, for those of you who are less utterly mental and in need of constant help than I. The lesson is about self-esteem, and where you choose to base that esteem. The most well-adjusted people, the happiest people, aren't the ones who are the most successful, but the ones who recognise they don't need success to feel self-esteem.

It's like cake. Success, or attractiveness, or sexual prowess, being the smartest, the funniest, having the best car, winning the race -- whatever is your personal thing -- is like the icing on the cake. Everyone likes icing. Everyone likes success. It's great. But it's only a fleeting thing on top. It's there and then it's gone.

What's more important is the cake underneath. And the cake underneath is whatever you can't help but being. The person you are without even trying. When you're at your lamest and awkwardest and most trippy-over, when you finish dead last, when you work the worst job, have the biggest nose, can't remember the capital of Norway or explain the concept of socialism, when you're fat and ugly and stupid and gross -- you've still got cake all the way through.

Cake is existence. You get to be here, alive, experiencing life. You might have no icing at all, but every second you're breathing you're eating cake. Exciting, interesting, ever-novel cake. And you'd be surprised how many chocolate chips and gooey fudge bits and baked almond pieces there are to find, when you start looking.

Why not focus on that for a change?

As for me, I'll try to remember that getting to write these blog posts is delicious icing, and I sure love it when it's available, but when it's not it's no big thing. There's still all the cake I can eat. And I can eat a lot of cake.

I've written cake too many times now. Cake cake cake.

Caaaaaake.

Cake.