If you’d told me I would still be here I wouldn’t have believed you. I was going to die, you see. But I don’t think I would have called it that. In my mind I was already gone, my tether to the universe already lacerated with devastating efficiency. As far as I was concerned if I didn’t kill myself the alcohol would have done the job, taking culpability and blame away from me, allowing my loved ones to believe the conceit that it may have been an accident.
If you would have told me I’d be writing about this is any semi-coherent way now, I would have laughed at you, listed off the reasons why it wouldn’t be happening. Anyone who told me such things hadn’t touched the darkness and taken it by the hand, they were inhabiting a different universe with different geographical references. A place where the abstract ideas of happiness and contentment were real and tangible, even achievable.
It was this ethic that made me act in the way that I did at that time. I spent seventy odd pounds or more a night on alcohol because as far as I was concerned a dead man didn’t need money. I was a dead man walking and I knew it. I did everything with a desperate and wild abandon. A dead man doesn’t care who they hurt or how they embarrass themselves. It simply ceases to matter.
I didn’t attend lectures and gave up on all notions of being an academic success, ceasing to attend lectures, as a dead man didn’t need grades or an education. Beyond the stink of my flesh I could comprehend nothing. The world appeared foreign to me. It was as though the universe and its every atom presents you with irrefutable evidence of what a bastard you are. How you’ve failed and will continue to fail, how you’ve let people down, how you’ve lost yourself in some important and fundamental sense. And its final mantra to you is this: that things will progress downwards indefinitely. I couldn’t believe in anything then. I couldn’t even believe in nihilism.
I wanted someone to press a button and make me better, or make me vanish. Either or. I just couldn’t bear it. It’s a level of existence that is wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. One night, I had an epiphany. My life would entail nothing more than an endless succession of appointments that weren’t helping, endless nights of drinking and endless mornings of feeling like shit about it. As I sat on that bar stool I made up my mind as coolly and quickly as I’d decide what I would’ve eaten for breakfast. I was going to kill myself. My mind was made up. It was an idea that was as comfortable and familiar to me as a childhood blanket. I attempted and failed.
My life bore ceaselessly on against the waves. To construct this as a simple, I had a hiccup and got better narrative wouldn’t be accurate and it wouldn’t do that experience justice. So, as painful as it may be at times I just try to be honest and convey that experience as best I can. Through words, words and more words, and talking. Talking talking talking.
Yet, miraculously, here I am. And I don’t mean that in an optimistic, patronising way. I mean that in an extraordinary way. Often to mould these experiences into a straightforward recovery narrative robs the experience of its integrity and multifaceted nature. It discredits the experience and almost spits in the face of the sufferer.
Depression and illness in general are often framed as a narrative of struggle, of battle. However when one is in a depression it doesn’t feel as though you’re battling it, it’s killing you, anesthetizing you, cell by sickening cell. There is simply no fight to be won when you’re in that state.
Further, I think to see depression in the context of a recovery narrative may prove dangerous in some instances. To do this denies the serious nature of the thing being tackled here. Depression cannot be faced with anything other than a steely eye.
To be clear, I’m not cured. I simply manage my depression, and that’s the best I can hope for right now. As a letter I got in the post this morning puts it, I have a recurrent depressive disorder. If I had been asked to write that a month ago I would have been repulsed. I’m certainly more comfortable with the idea now.
Things can get complex when you analyse the wreckage of your life and try to determine what was ‘you’ and what was the disorder. Some people take the attitude that their depression is separate from them, and others accept it as a fundamental part of them. It’s a complicated business and I’m not entirely sure where I stand.
Undeniably though, I’m better than I used to be now. My depressed brain never could have comprehended that as a reality. While it would be disingenuous to frame this as a conventional recovery narrative, there’s no denying that it’s a hopeful one.