Monday, 18 February 2013

Where I have been

I haven’t been writing much recently. The more astute of you - those who follow me on social media - will have noticed that I haven’t really been on the Internet much recently. I’ve not been posting on Twitter or Facebook, or making videos (not that I ever made that many to begin with), or commenting on things.

In an ideal world, this would be because of pressing commitments in meatspace which directed my attention elsewhere, and to some extent that is what happened. I got three months of full time temporary work. But more than that, I was in a particularly low period of depression.

Depression has fingers of ice and a voice of honey, and when it knows you’re listening it likes to tell you that your experience of it is irrelevant. It strokes your hair - you flinch from its cold touch, but it’s the only one you know - and it tells you no-one cares. The voices outside are so cacophonous and so discordant that it feels easiest to listen, and to keep your silence.

But more and more people are speaking out, now. Discussion about depression is starting to open up, partly thanks to groups like Rethink and partly because the Internet has made it easier, suddenly, for isolated people to find each other. Depression, with its sweet voice and its smothering weight - a huge blanket, too itchy and too hot to lie under, but tremendously hard to throw aside - likes to tell us we’re alone. We’re dragging our laptops under the covers with us and finding out it’s not true. It’s a revelation.

The story of my depression has a fuzzy, indistinct beginning, but I tend to tell the nice doctors that it started around 11 years ago, when I was a teenager. It’s not exactly a lie. Those were certainly the years when my diaries (now destroyed) took a turn for the dark. I don’t really remember being not-depressed, but perhaps, when things are better, I will recover some happy memories. The few people who knew me back then assure me that I was not a perpetually miserable child.

Depression hasn’t always been at the forefront of things. It makes itself known at flashpoints in my life - when I was about to take my GCSEs, for instance, or when I was about to start university, or when I was completing my Masters dissertation - but much of the time it has been a background rumble. A nagging feeling at the back of my skull, as if I’ve forgotten something. When I explore it, a faint honeyed voice says I have forgotten something: that I’m a failure, that I drive people away. In the past it’s been clutching a bauble to itself - most memorably, my queer identity - but, over the years, I’ve been able to take some of its toys away.

This particular episode began some time in 2010, when I moved away from London to study musical performance, and peaked towards the end of 2011, when the life I’d carefully constructed around this course fell away so easily and elegantly that it was as if someone had pulled the plug out of a sink full of water. I was forced to return to my parents’ home and start again. It wasn’t easy. Often I’d reach for a piece of the old life, hoping to build with it, only to find that it had a jagged edge that jabbed me as I reached for it, and wouldn’t sit flush if I tried to use it for anything else.

These metaphors are, of course, a way of obscuring details of what happened. Maybe, some day, I’ll be able to share the specifics with the world, but that day is not today. It’s still too close to everything for me to do that.

Around October of last year, things came to a head again. I was working in a job I wasn’t enjoying, for employers who didn’t seem prepared to cater to the reasonably simple requirements of my physical disability. I had reached a crisis point in my musical efforts, and wasn’t sure I wanted to do it any more.

People around me were telling me I should be happy. For a while, I had been - having a routine and a steady income for that period did boost my self-confidence. But it quickly became clear that I was expendable, and that this job was doing nothing to further any semblance of a career, and that uneasy sense of transition to an unknown place trickled back down and coloured everything else I was doing. I saw my friends, largely satisfied with their lot, making posts on social media, and I was happy for them and wistful for myself. I wanted to talk about how things were difficult for me, in the hope that it might help someone else who was hiding their disappointment about how their own life was going.

And that was when depression raised its cold hands and put that huge, heavy blanket over me, and it reminded me that no-one wanted to know.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t benefit from a social media break - in fact, I’d recommend that everyone take a hiatus from social media once in a while. Not only does it make you infinitely more productive; it also gives a heightened sense of perspective about things that concern you specifically. It helps you get your priorities straight. And it’s beautifully, refreshingly quiet, particularly if you move in activist circles.

Working with a therapist, however, has helped me to realise that there is nothing shameful or reprehensible about talking about your own experiences. This applies even more when what you’re experiencing needs more exposure than it’s currently getting.

So here I am. I have depression. I’m doing better now than I have been for a while, so I am posting this to let people know that they’re not alone. Things don’t magically get better. Over a year after that flashpoint where an entire version of my future evaporated almost overnight, I am still unemployed, still living with my parents, and still looking for that indistinct, nebulous Thing that will give me the momentum to go forward.

But I do still have my words, and I am through with letting depression take those away.

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