Friday, 4 April 2014


The first time I knew something was wrong with me, something strange and concrete and unavoidable, I was eleven years old and school had just broken up for the Christmas holidays. It all started with an uncomfortable physical feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't place. It wasn't just an ache - there was something else that existed alongside it, something that would hit me quickly like a shiver and make me feel physically awful. I don't know how else to describe it - my stomach would start to feel weird and then this feeling would come over me and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. For the brief few seconds that it lasted, it made me feel as though nothing was quite right and that the world was at a strange slant - it made me feel nauseous and hateful and completely ashamed of myself. It was so at odds with how I felt during the rest of the time that it was as though my brain was experiencing a glitch and giving me a quick glance at a stranger, sadder world than the one I currently lived in.
A couple of months after this I stopped sleeping at night, but it wasn't the usual kind of insomnia. I was certain that if I fell asleep during 'normal' hours then I would die or someone I loved would die, so it made sense for me to stay awake as a weird form of protection. I would bargain with people that didn't exist and make certain rules in my head - for example, if my eyes got tired I could close them for 30 seconds to rest them, but I couldn't open them before those 30 seconds were up because that would be breaking the rules. I started setting alarms to wake me up periodically during the night, in the event that I did fall asleep. I was eleven years old - this alarm clock habit stayed with me until I left University at the age of 21. My doctor said it was puberty, a normal stage for soon to be teenagers - insomnia brought on by girlish fears, anxiety driven by starting a new school, meeting new friends. Maybe those things were the catalyst, I don't know - all I do know is that puberty doesn't make you develop rituals, or scratch your skin open, or become terrified of things that aren't there. It doesn't make you fear death and also crave it. And that's something that always seemed so contradictory to me, a kind of sick joke - how I'm a major depressive with a paralysing fear of death.

So maybe that was the turning point - or maybe there was no turning point. Maybe those are just the first instances where I remember that this other world became real to me. Is there ever really a turning point? When I was 18, an appointment was made with a hypnotherapist and I spoke to her on the phone prior to what would've been our first meeting. "So you remember feeling like this when you were eleven", she said. "What on earth happened to you back then? What happened to you to traumatise you like this?" I hung up the phone and missed the meeting, never returned her calls either. There is no doubt that life events can traumatise an individual and set in motion mental illnesses, and it's ignorant to deny that this can be the case. Similarly, it's also ignorant to assume that it is the only cause for mental illness, that genetics and chemical imbalances cannot be just as responsible.
I think this is why I've never responded to therapy, and why I have to stop myself from side-eyeing people who proclaim it to be the only cure for mental illness. I am just unlucky. Mental illness is extremely prevalent in my family. If I went back and tried to think of an event that could have caused it, then I would never stop. And to me, that's important - where do we stop? Where do we draw the line between cause and effect? A lot of my childhood issues were the result of my mental illness, not the potential cause of it. I can't stress how important this is to me - that some people are just born like this and it doesn't make their illness any more or less valid than someone who can pinpoint an exact moment and say, "there, that's where it happened".
As humans it seems as though we're always looking for a reason, for some sort of logic that can be applied - and more than that, we're also looking for a lesson that can be learned. A fucked up kind of Aesop's fable. Don't do X and your child won't be Y. Because if we can ascribe a lesson to something terrible, then we can also justify its existence. However, if we accept that some people are mentally ill and live miserably due to nothing more than a chemical imbalance, then what does this say to us about the world? That life is unfair and cruel and that "everything happens for a reason" is bullshit because sometimes there just isn't a reason. It makes us question purpose and desire and meaning, and we don't like that. Ugh, the philosophy graduate in me is coming out to play, and for that I sincerely apologise.
Basically, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can explain the existence of mental illness. It might offer us some kind of strange comfort to blame an individual's difficult childhood or experience of trauma, because it's something changeable and it's something we can learn from. It's something that offers us the possibility of redemption and recovery and change. It reduces the illness to something more simple - something temporary,  something that can be cured.

And this is one thing that mentally healthy people do not seem to realise - this has never, ever felt temporary. It has never felt fleeting. I have never woken up in the morning or gone to sleep at night and thought, "this is okay because one day I will not feel like this". Even when I am stable and taking my medication (which, thankfully, is now the majority of the time) and living what I consider to be a good life defined by my own terms, I can still feel it. And it's a strange mix of feelings, happiness and fatalism - it almost feels like a kind of resignation, one that I am now very adept at handling. It has always felt - and I know that this is going to sound insulting, and potentially trivialising - terminal. But then, why should that be insulting? Why shouldn't I refer to my mental illness - to any mental illness - as terminal? I know far more people who have lived wasted and ruined lives and died young due to mental illness than any kind of physical terminal illness. It's all neatly tied up in our concept of shame, isn't it? Society's concept of shame. Mental illnesses aren't allowed to be considered terminal illnesses because the vast majority of society still views them as a personality flaw, as something that the sufferer could overcome if only they bothered to try hard enough. So many people believe that, unlike physical terminal illnesses such as cancer, mental illness is somehow under the control of the individual and can be 'cured' - if only they wish to cure it, that is. If they are unable to do so, there is always an excuse. He or she chose not to take their medication, he or she chose not to seek help - therefore, he or she chose to die. This is the other type of shame that you are tied to when you're mentally ill - when someone dies of a long illness, they are considered brave and having fought a good battle (ugh, but don't even get me started on heroic warlike terms when it comes to illnesses). With a mental illness, you have just 'given up'.

This concept of choice that is placed on those who are mentally ill refuses to acknowledge the reality of living with such an illness - that is, that it takes over your entire life. It takes over your brain, your body, it makes every day feel endless and slow, and it makes you feel disgusting and bitter, like you're rotting from the inside. Imagine waking up like that. Imagine feeling ashamed and weak and disgusted with yourself and then imagine knowing that this is only one morning, one that is going to be followed by another morning, and another, and another - and there's no guarantee that you will ever feel any different. Even if there was, you wouldn't believe it. A mental illness encompasses and controls every single moment of your life. You wake up in the morning and before even five minutes have passed you're exhausted already. Every moment you're awake, you're distracted by feelings of self-hatred. Imagine not even being able to get out of bed, say hello to your mother, cook some breakfast, even sit and watch television, because all that you can focus on is the constant pain inside of your head. The loathing and hatred that you feel. Imagine waking up one day at eleven years old and somehow just knowing that this is it - this is how you're going to feel, every minute of every day, for the rest of your life. Now, tell me that this isn't terminal.

Post 2 of probably 1000000000, first part here

Monday, 21 January 2013


"There is good news in sight but there are some dark clouds on the horizon"

Monday, 29 October 2012


I've decided to come out of my self-induced blog hibernation period in order to make a big post about Halloween, because Halloween is hands down my second favourite time of the year (Christmas comes first, obviously, because I am 12 years old inside forever and nothing beats eating and drinking as much as physically possible and watching 'Jingle All the Way' and other similar classics). Unfortunately, as much as I love Halloween, my attempts at celebrating it always seem to fall somewhat short - last year I dressed up as Veronica from Heathers (post-high school explosion, pre-cigarette and Martha Dumptruck befriending), expecting to elevate myself to this level of badass-ness:
Basically, I just wanted an excuse to have really big hair and constantly tell everyone to "lick. it. up." Unfortunately, I ended up looking less like Winona Ryder and more like Worzel Gummidge which, I mean...yeah, I guess that's kind of cool and Halloween-y and spooky and all, but it's not exactly the look I was going for. And Worzel Gummidge didn't have a cool catchphrase, and he definitely didn't chainsmoke a lot, so it was kind of a lost cause. I chickened out of dressing up, washed my poor attempt at 'soot' off my face, put on a black jumper with holes in, and told everyone I was a cobweb. No one was impressed. It was grim, to say the least.

The year before that was even more of a disaster. I went to London to visit my sister, and we started off the evening by drinking out of plastic skull shaped glasses and putting on too much eyeliner. We listened to the Monster Mash and made plans to go and see a friend's band, where dressing up was optional. I opted to yet again let my knitwear do the talking, by wearing a sweater which had a skeleton printed on the front. We saw the band, and everyone was dressed up, and everyone looked better than me (except for the guy who decided to dress up as Kurt Cobain, complete with gunshot wound - not cute, dude). However, I drank a lot and kind of numbed myself to the embarrassment of being half a skeleton, and we had fun -  that is, until I decided that it would be a totally awesome idea to travel to the other side of London to attend another Halloween party with some friends, and my sister decided that she wanted to go home and sleep, a lot. So she went home, and I went and got more drunk and felt even more inadequately scary than before. I remember almost falling asleep on the dance-floor due to extreme alcohol intoxication and trying to pass it off as part of my costume, before finally deciding to drag myself onto a night bus heading towards my sisters flat. This is where the story gets truly scary - I made it back to the flat, and rang the doorbell. No one answered, and after bashing on the door drunkenly for what felt like years, I creeped over to my sisters window and looked in. The curtain was open and I could see that she was fast asleep. I bashed on the window and screamed and yelled drunk things until it became obvious that she wasn't going to wake up. By this point it was almost 5am, and I remember calling my mum in tears - sobbing about how my sister was asleep, I was abandoned on the streets of London, I was dressed as half a skeleton, and I hated my life. My mum told me to get the first train back, so I got on another night bus to Euston, and by the time I reached the station being dressed as half a skeleton was the least of my worries, because I looked like a legitimate zombie. A zombie with a horrible drinking problem. 

So yeah, I think it's fair to say that my previous Halloween experiences could have been better. The past few years of continually bad costumes, drunk mistakes, and lack of pumpkin pies have made me realise that nothing is better than Halloween when you're young - the excitement of working on what you know will be a totally awesome costume, the thrill of being allowed to go Trick or Treating without the supervision of your parents or irritating older neighbours, and letting yourself be totally terrified by a scary movie that you know you're not quite old enough to watch. Or, failing that, watching endless reruns of The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror episodes and Are You Afraid of the Dark? whilst eating the best of the treats you hauled in, and making sure to blacklist the name of whoever gave you that packet of Polo mints. There's also that feeling you get during Halloween when you're young - that feeling that, although you know logically that monsters and zombies and vampires probably don't exist, this time of the year makes you doubt everything - that anything could happen. The world is a little bit scarier than usual, but in a different way - all of your usual, boring, real-world fears fade into insignificance when compared to the positively exotic ideas of zombies, and vampires, and werewolves. There's also the idea that these fears can be combated, that you can show the world how brave you really are - that you can step outside of yourself and be a spooky, supernatural hero for one night only.

So I've decided that, as a tribute to the best Halloween's I ever had, this Wednesday I'm going to spend my evening baking pumpkin pies, handing out the best treats I can find to the monsters at my door, carving faces into pumpkins, dressing up as something terrifying (even though I don't plan on leaving my house), and watching the shit out of a bunch of truly scary TV shows and movies. If you want to spend your evening experiencing a good bout of nostalgia, too, then here is a list of spooky things that you cannot go wrong with:

Are You Afraid of the Dark?
There's no way that I couldn't include this, and there's no way that it wouldn't be first on my list. Goosebumps was the first scary book series that entered my life, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart, but Are You Afraid of the Dark? was the first TV show that genuinely scared me - and it scared me so well that for a long time, I was certain that my hometown was going to be taken over by a team of terrifying vampire, as seen in The Tale of the Nightly Neighbours. This was the first episode of  AYAOTD that I saw, and I remember clearly the scene where the protagonist, a young girl called Emma, watches the arrival of her new, creepy neighbours from her window and feels a chill of excitement - watching them unpack their strange belongings, she hopes that they will 'shake things up' in her tiny suburb. I remember sitting on the swing in my small back garden one boring summer, and the same thought crossed my mind - and as soon as it entered my head I was taken over by fear and I spent the whole summer trembling and paranoid that I would soon be dealing with some nightly neighbours of my own. The effect the TV show had on me was that profound and terrifying, which I guess is kind of embarrassing to admit now, as looking back on it now, the show is obviously more campy than creepy. However, that doesn't take away the fear that many of us felt when watching this show as youngsters, and some of the characters remain as disturbing today as they did when we first saw them. I mean, the weird sea monster in The Tale of the Dead Man's Float? I would not want to run into that bitch in a dark alleyway - or anywhere, in fact.
 SERIOUSLY. Just be grateful I didn't choose a close-up.

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror
If I haven't yet written an ode to The Simpsons and how it has affected my life on this blog, then please forgive me for my laziness. I grew up watching The Simpsons - it first aired over here in the year that I was born, and my best childhood memories all involve sitting in front of the television with my grandad, waiting for The Simpsons to start. I'm even watching it now as I write this post (Itchy & Scratchy & Marge, in case you're curious). I feel as though anyone who grew up in the 90s with a less than perfect, dysfunctional family can relate to The Simpsons and the humour it uses. The Treehouse of Horror episodes are no exception - they're hilarious, they can be creepy, and they're also very, very clever. One of my favourite segments from the entire Treehouse of Horror back catalogue is definitely Bad Dream House, in which the family move into a haunted house and spend the majority of their time living there trying not to kill each other. The highlight of the episode for me comes at the end, when the house is told that The Simpsons will be living there and the house must therefore respect them. After allowing the house a few minutes to mull it over, it then explodes, after which Lisa comments, "It chose to destroy itself rather than live with us". So there you have it - dysfunctional families are definitely more terrifying than ghosts or haunted houses will ever be.
Another of my favourite Treehouse of Horror segments is The Shining send-up, in which Homer becomes the character played by Jack Nicholson. The segment uses many of the tropes seen in the film version of The Shining, including the infamous axe scene, but my favourite part has to be when Homer remarks that "no tv and no beer make Homer go crazy". I can relate to this a lot - I'm sure that living away from the majority of the human race in a deserted hotel on a mountain wreaks havoc with your mental health, but surely it would all be a lot more bearable with the addition of beer and television.

Freaks and Geeks Tricks and Treats
This episode of Freaks and Geeks is hands down one of my favourite things to watch during Halloween.
 Everything about it is perfect - the homemade costumes, Bill's insistence as the bionic woman that "these are all mine!", Gonna Raise Hell playing during the freaks' car trip and pumpkin smashing escapades, and the heartbreaking moment when Lindsay accidentally eggs Sam, her own brother. In his cute little robot costume, Lindsay! How could you? As much as I want to be a freak and get high all of the time and be a total badass, deep down I know that during my time at high school I could definitely relate a lot more to Sam and his group of geeks - so that egging scene really gets to me, as does the scene when Alan and his cronies beat up the geeks and steal their candy.
This episode also makes awesome use of two of my favorite characters, Sam and Lindsay's parents. One of my favourite parts of the episode definitely has to be when Lindsay ditches her mum's halloween plans (which include dressing up as a princess and handing out home-baked cookies to trick or treaters- I seriously don't know what's up with Lindsay in this episode, because that sounds like a dream to me) to hang out with the freaks, so Lindsay's dad makes a special effort and dresses up in the vampire costume Lindsay's mum has made for him. I honestly cried with laughter when he first pops out from behind the front door and genuinely terrifies the little trick or treaters. At the end of the episode, Lindsay realises her error and returns to the family home, where she dresses up and helps her mum with the Halloween treats, which leaves even my tiny cold heart feeling warm and fuzzy.
Flawless human beings.

As well as watching these three TV shows on Halloween, I also plan to drink a lot of creepy cocktails, bake an awesome pumpkin pie (although you know it'll definitely be made from tinned pumpkins and Jus-Roll pastry), watch some genuinely creepy films on Netflix, and dress up as some kind of weird spooky creature, taking my main inspiration from Sharon Needles - and there won't be a half-skeleton costume or cobweb jumper in sight. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


After extensive years of research (okay, one hour of half-hearted googling), I have discovered that most euphemisms surrounding depression are animal-based, and this does not surprise me. What else could possibly describe the true nature of depression - the debilitating, destructive hunger of it, the viciousness, the way that it is not part of the sufferer but a whole new entity, external and uncontrollable. A wild animal, an untamed beast - not something that you want to domesticate and welcome in, arms open. David Foster Wallace called it "the great white shark of pain". For Churchill, it was more like a black dog on his shoulder. When I was younger, and too young to really understand the nuances and intricacies of what was happening to me, I referred to it as 'the bugs'. It seemed logical at the time - I felt as though I was being devoured from the inside, slowly, by tiny creatures who had no mercy or limits.

It's impossible to deny the strength of both Wallace and Churchill's images, as they manage to convey the ferocity with which depression can attack you - after all, black dogs are notoriously regarded as being dangerous and unlucky, and a great white shark kind of speaks for itself (I'm assuming that the two people who read this blog are as obsessed with Jaws as I am). When I talked about depression as 'the bugs', it was an attempt to describe the self-disgust I felt - but one that was larger than just disliking myself, or pitying myself, because it was bigger than myself. Somehow, the whole world was involved in a way that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. All I know is that it made me feel frustrated, and depressed, and like a total failure. Like, I couldn't even experience a break in mental health in the right way! And who manages to fuck up depression? I mean, I spent a lot of time throwing pity parties for myself in my online journals (so what's changed, really?) but I could still function, I could still leave my bed and go to school and go through the motions of being a normal 12 year old, and then a normal teenager, and then a normal adult. Except for, you know, the times when I couldn't. But I soon covered those episodes up by adopting the adorable trait of 'lazy fuck', in an attempt to fool others (and myself) that any time I didn't leave my bed for days was through choice. What I didn't realise then is that depression is actually less of an animal and more of a shape-shifter. It doesn't always attack in the form of dead-eyed anhedonia.

And, just so you know, I'm not sure that I've ever experienced depression as pure anhedonia, ever. Actually, to me, that seems like it would be some kind of a relief - caring about nothing, sleepwalking through life, untouched by everything. Of course, this is a stupidly idealistic view - I'm sure it's horrific to those who experience depression in this way, because nothing about depression is ever relieving, or positive, or comforting, or appealing. I remember being given many questionnaires to fill out by my doctor and, later, a psychologist, during my teenage years - one question that always appeared was "Have you lost interest in activities you used you enjoy, such as reading or socialising?" and my answer was always a frustrated no - like, it's not that I've lost interest in these things, it's just that I am so permanently  and constantly distracted by the pure psychic pain in my head that even the concept of paying attention to anything else is just a total write-off. Like, one thing I've never been able to understand is when some people - doctors, friends, journalists - refuse to entertain the idea that depression is a physical issue as well as mental. That it is only anhedonia and that it does not hurt. Because it does, to me, at least - most of the time it hurts like I've taken a beating. It is exhausting and painful and it wears you down, either slowly or quickly, but either way it basically wants to obliterate you.

To me, one of the ways in which it does this is by completely removing your ability to empathise, or to feel any kind of emotion except obsession with your own psychic pain. It might seem hypocritical that I'm quoting David Foster Wallace just after emphasizing lack of empathy or understanding of others, but I read this paragraph the other day and I felt as though I'd been whacked round the head by Dave himself, like he was saying "Of course I'm still here, you big idiot, isn't it obvious that I can read your mind and that I've never really left your brain?" Like, if I was infinitely smarter and more eloquent, this is how I would describe depression:
 It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self's most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also throughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably the most indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one.
David Foster Wallace, you give me life. And like, after reading the above paragraphs and being whacked with understanding and empathy and consciousness in a way that has literally never happened to me when reading about depression before, I started thinking - why do we refuse to talk about psychic pain in the same way that we talk about physical pain? Why is it socially acceptable to discuss every private inch of your body (which you know I'm an advocate of, naturally) but only skim the surface of the mind? Why has it taken me 23 years to find one or two paragraphs that I can relate to, in terms of mental illness? And even then, they are paragraphs from the novel of a dead man. Why do I always develop gruesome stomach bugs when on the phone to my manager during a sick day? Why is it preferable to be thought of as spending your week puking and shitting out your intestines, rather than admitting the truth and saying, "I'm depressed"? Why is mental illness still so taboo? I mean, I'm disgustingly private to a fault, so you know something is fucked up with the way society views mental illness if even I feel as though I should be allowed to air my dirty laundry without raising any eyebrows.
There seems to be a hierarchy when it comes to mental health issues, too. Like, I will never have an issue telling people that I have problems dealing with anxiety, and no one bats an eyelid if I mention it - I think this is because of the way that anxiety is presented to us, as being a simple, manageable extension of something that normal, otherwise mentally sound people also experience. It is still viewed very much as a Thing, an illness, whereas depression seems to be viewed (and this is dangerous, in my opinion) as more of a character flaw. If you are depressed, that is a problem with your personality rather than an illness, and this is reflected in the way that depression is confronted - pull yourself out of it, cheer up, it can't rain all of the time  (ok I definitely just quoted The Crow and I apologise deeply for that, but it's staying.) Those kind of reactions just seem absurd to me now that I've accepted that depression is a manageable illness rather than one of my many gigantic personality flaws - kind of like telling a person who breaks their leg to just walk it off. No, you put a cast on it, and I take two different pills three times a day. And somehow we both end up less broken.

Now a confession - I'm not really sure where this post is going, or even where it has been (proofreading is for losers so enjoy my spelling mistakes!), or what the point of it all is - I guess it is my first step towards helping to end the huge taboo that surrounds discussing mental illness in public. I'm going to leave you with another paragraph from David Foster Wallace, because he managed to say all of the things that I never will, and he said them beautifully:
The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

I guess I'm going to end this by dedicating it to the putting out of flames by psychotic depressives everywhere - in honor and admiration and respect of the man who tried to, for all of us, but couldn't.

Friday, 20 July 2012


"No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable"