Mental Health

The Absence of Epiphany

One day I realised that no one really cares that much.

I mean this in a good way: people are far too wrapped up in their own lives to spend time thinking about that one stupid comment you made earlier.

It seems obvious now, but as a person with social anxiety, convinced that literally everyone she knew hated her, this was a huge realisation for me. Of course, it didn’t eliminate my anxiety altogether, but it had a big impact on the way I felt and acted and made me slightly more able to bounce back from harmful thoughts. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of these “epiphany moments” in my lifetime.

For most of us, unfortunately, such moments are scarce. The false epiphany is much more common: we have a realisation; an “I should write a novel” or “I should tell that person I love them” moment, and then continue to live our lives exactly the same way as we did the day before. Our wild dreams bound far ahead of us, and we are left to find some path through the sticky reality.

But worse still is the absence of any epiphany. The reality that you are in the thick of it and there is no easy way out; you struggle to get through each day at a time. I am trying to see it as a good thing. Without aspiration, I become free to experience each day as it comes, free of the desperate need to better myself every day. Free to be sad, to be nothing for a while. One day at a time is hard enough.

Mental Health

Reality of Relapse

Despite writing about depression online for years, I feel like I’ve never really told “my story”. I don’t plan to now. Suffice it to say that I suffered my first major depressive episode in the autumn of 2010, went through therapy for my underlying anxiety, and came out a lot better for it. But by November 2012 I was in the doctor’s office again, presenting with a general feeling of emptiness. I started a course of anti-depressants which took me through to June 2013 feeling amazing. I had a place at my first-choice university, my poetry blog was thriving, I was in love for the first time and my future looked like it was starting to take shape. My doctor and I agreed that it would be a good idea for me to try coming off the medication and see how I felt. And, until now, I felt pretty great.

Two years later, it’s September, and as if by clockwork, the black dog is back. I’m starting the second year of my dream course at my dream uni and I do not want to die but I don’t particularly want to live, either, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Not that there is such a thing as a good time for depression. What I’m struggling to come to terms with now is that there has been no trigger this time – my earlier episodes were caused largely by underlying anxiety and self-esteem issues. This time sadness (or, more accurately, emptiness) just arrived one day without warning, and the exercise and the healthy diet couldn’t stop it. 

But the hardest thing, without a doubt, has been the creative block. You never realise what you have until it’s gone and I never realised quite how important writing was to my humanity/wellbeing until I found myself unable to do it. Sure, I’ve had periods without writing before, but those were always due to laziness or other engagements. Now I’ll sit down, pen hovering above my journal, and find myself scrawling “???” just so I’ve made an entry. I’ve read enough advice on writing that I know I just have to give it time. And let the fields lie fallow – with regard to both my creativity and my mental health. But when you really try to do that, it’s fucking hard.

The world is obsessed with productivity and even though I know, rationally, that the best thing for me now is to take some time out, I’m hardwired to equate downtime with inefficiency and react by buying three new planners and signing up to every blog, newsletter and society which offers to make me a better person. Add to that the ubiquitous FOMO and the fact that my mental illness makes it hard for me to do things others might find simple, and then makes me feel guilty for that, and then makes me feel more guilty about my disgusting self-pity and you have, essentially, a mess of a person.  It’s the typical millennial struggle between Zen and the 16 tabs on Zen you have open in your browser whilst reading this post.

Nonetheless, I know that extended internet usage, particularly of Facebook and Tumblr, is detrimental to my mental health, and I really need to do something about it. But a full-on media blackout is not a possibility (I’ve tried). I grew up with the internet and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’m slightly dependent on it. People on the internet understand the things I’m feeling and create things I can identify with. (As it turns out, so do people in real life, and I was very late in realising that!) But however much you love your best friend or partner, you can’t spend every moment of your day with another person. So why do we think it’s okay to let the internet into every corner of our lives? It’s a question which many people have already tried to answer and which I will not attempt to at this moment.

What I’m leading towards is that I’m trying to come to a compromise with myself. I’m making an attempt to leave tumblr for a second time this year and I’m certainly avoiding any poetry blogs which just make me feel awful about my lack of creativity right now. But in doing so I must also abandon the space I’ve created for myself on the internet, a space where I knew I would find sympathy and understanding, and this is scary. I can’t keep relying on the internet to feed my emotional needs. I must learn to do that myself. But there is something else the internet offers; a space for experimenting with thoughts, finding your voice, communicating with others. Ironically, it was in one of my flurries of research on productivity that I read something which suggested I might be able to continue blogging in a way which is not harmful to myself.

The deal my mind and I have come to is this:

  • I’ll leave Tumblr alone as far as possible. (Exceptions being contacting friends and reading a selected few blogs.)
  • I’ll write one blog post each week, to be published on Sundays, since they’re mysteriously useless for anything else.
  • I’ll allow myself to get excited about comments and followers on the off-chance anyone is interested in my ramblings, but more importantly
  • I will write for myself. I will record the good things where I can and I will forgive myself when I cannot. I’ll work it out as I go along. I won’t worry about readership or analytics and if I do find myself thinking about those things, I’ll go away and read a book until I remember there are more important things in life than how many people read your blog. I know from experience that having lots of followers can’t bring you happiness or contentment yet I still find myself thinking it can, hm.

So, to bring this post back round to the topic it was meant to be on, mental health always comes first… coherent blog posts quite a way down the list of priorities.


Review: Happiness Is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky

A few chapters into Happiness Is Possible, I started thinking “this reminds me of Murakami”. Zaionchkovsky’s prose style is not particularly similar, nor is the plot Murakami-esque. The reason, I think, is this: as Murakami is a sudden contrast to the Japanese classics of Natsume Soseki and Kawabata Yasunari, Zaionchkovsky’s work is a departure from the old masters (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev) who continue to dominate Russian Literature sections in bookshops throughout the West. It’s far removed even from works such as those of Bulgakov, published in relatively recent history. (That said, following in the footsteps of all great Russian novels, it does involve a visit to the dacha.)

I think of myself as a fan of Russian literature, yet this is the first contemporary Russian novel I’ve ever read. Zaionchkovsky’s Moscow, populated with computers and mobile phones and people with emotions and relationships, seems alien compared with the continuous media portrayal of Russia as a country stuck in the past- a portrayal I never thought to question until now. Zaionchkovsky’s novel is not overtly political – sometimes it seems almost complacent in its criticisms of the state – yet it forced me to confront my own ignorance in a way that no other book has.

The novel itself is full of light and life as Zaionchkovsky weaves the city in luscious prose around the personal story at the core of the book. Sometimes it feels like a modern fable and sometimes it feels like a conversation with an old friend. It is deeply human.

(N.B. Read the foreword- it offers some good ideas to keep in mind throughout the book.)