letter to my younger self

 

Hello, Past Me.

 

It’s hard, isn’t it?

 

Life. Growing up. Discovering so many versions of yourself that you cannot fathom who you actually are.

 

So you took the easy route and have begun to reflect what you believe people want to see in you but these versions conflict with one another. They rub up against each other like pieces of flint and we all know what happens then.

 

You want—so badly—to fit in, to measure up, to be loved and like a chameleon, you change your outer self to suit your present environment, your present company, your present need.

 

Stop it.

 

If you sit still long enough, if you pause for just a moment and take a time-out from the chaos of your next romantic adventure or the next dose of peer pressure or this week’s round of rebellion, you’ll figure it out. Amidst all the many masks and guises you’ve fashioned, you’ll find you in there somewhere.

 

But you’re not in the business of listening, are you? So bent are you on independence and free will, that you feel if something isn’t your idea, then it isn’t worth doing.

 

You’re wrong. 

 

But you’ll have plenty of time to realise this. And you will.

 

You’ll wake up one day and not recognise yourself. And everything you perceive as hard will get that much harder, become that much more difficult to make sense of. You’ll begin to fear what’s ahead of you.

 

Don’t be afraid.

 

Face it. Charge headlong into what scares you.

 

Except I don’t really need to tell you that because this is what you’ll do. You’ll spend so long in what seems to be a perpetual state of confusion, that by the time fear beckons at your door, the certainty of it will be the very thing that beguiles you. And when you face it, when you finally discover what drives you, what matters to you above all else—and you will, as unbelievable as it seems now—everything will fall into place.

 

That’s not to say it will be easy. When we say things fall into place, it isn’t meant to be taken literally. ‘Nothing worth having is ever easy.’  The things you desire will not land in your lap. But finding out what you desire and owning that desire is the first step to building it for yourself.

 

Have patience and be strong.

 

Every hardship you are yet to face—heartbreak, abuse, loss, mental illness—will build the very person you’re to become. It will feel as though the opposite is happening, of course. As if with every ounce of adversity, you’re being chipped away, one piece at a time. But know this:

 

You’ll get through it.

 

Despite feeling weak, you will somehow find the strength to keep standing, and the pain you feel will give you insight and understanding. It sounds like a steep price—and it is—but without it, you would not have half as much self-awareness or empathy or compassion. You would never know the breadth of what you’re truly capable of; maybe you never will.

 

Maybe we all spend our lives thinking we know how far we can be pushed while underestimating our resilience. When things get rough—and they will because that’s the way things are—remember this:

 

You are resilient. You can withstand the storm. The sun will shine again.

 

letter to my younger self
Photo by Lori M. Sousa on Unsplash

SMOKE IN THE ROOM BY EMILY MAGUIRE

Genre: CONTEMPORARY | Pages: 289

My rating: ★★★

Adam is lost in grief for his dead wife. Graeme is lost to despair for a world that can’t be fixed. And Katie is lost to depression. That’s a lot of hopelessness in one tiny Australian flat. Nevertheless, that despair is what made Smoke in the Room a compelling read.

I read Emily Maguire’s earlier novel,Taming the Beast, and fell in love with the gritty style of prose and her flawed central characters.

This one… it’s a good read. There’s a lot of truth in it and the characters, after a grotesque amount of binge drinking, gratuitous sex, and eating out of the trash, eventually (mostly) stumble their way into the light.

Katie, the main character, is as flawed as Taming the Beast’s protagonist. She’s a spirited young woman with an insightful (though bleak) view of the world but it took too long to see her fragility. Of course, she is troubled; it’s plain to see, but the initial lack of warmth in Katie’s character meant that I’d read over a third of the book before even liking her.

That said, after the slightly cold (but ridiculously intriguing) start, Katie’s vulnerability is slashed wide open. THIS I could connect with, relate to, and understand. I MARVELLED at the word-perfect emotion behind these characters as each of them faced their demons. The depiction of mental illness is so accurate it bites, and the blissful illusion of suicide is perfectly portrayed.

The book is gritty and edgy; the theme is dark and quite unforgiving. But once the wounds of these characters crack open, it is impossible to pause their story.

‘…depressed people are the ones with the realistic view of the world. It’s the rest of you that have filters. Soft filters that make everything seem nicer and easier than it really is. Maybe that’s all depression really is: life without a filter.’

 


smoke in the room book cover

 

The searing new novel from the internationally-acclaimed author of Taming the Beast, The Gospel According to Luke and Princesses & Pornstars. Summer, Sydney, and holed up in a tiny flat off Broadway are idealistic American Adam, weary activist Graeme, and wild, misunderstood Katie. Each is searching for answers to life’s biggest questions – why are we here; what is love; what constitutes betrayal – and thrust together, over an intense two-week period, they begin to form answers. In doing so, they must first confront their darkest demons, both within and without… Provocative, honest, brimming with sexual tension and crackling with intelligence, Emily Maguire’s sensational new novel cements her place as one of Australia’s hottest young talents.

 

 

I’m at the edge again. That place you find yourself after battling with something larger than life to the point of giving in, lying back, and thinking: Do your worst, fucker. I’ve been there before. Several times. More than any one of my closest friends may know, more than the busy-bodies from a small community can begin to fathom; hell—more than I can even admit to myself some days.

I hide from it; run from it. Running is my middle name. Always has been. (Not really, my middle name is Kaye with an ‘e’, and the only time you’d see me run is if I was on fire, which is the exact opposite of what someone who is on fire should actually do.)

At times like this, it’s so easy to feel like you have no one. In the middle of the night when you can’t stop crying, and can’t stop thinking and rehashing and obsessing, and you can’t sleep, and can’t relax—or by chance, you can sleep, but the nightmares come—everything else is so quiet that you want to scream just to make sure you didn’t go deaf, then, it feels like you’re alone.

At times like this, I feel like I’m losing it, (Yes, I said it, and I don’t care!) It truly feels like you’re losing the actual plot, and there’s no one left who can help you any more than they have done already. It doesn’t really get better, and it doesn’t go away. It merely hides for a while, and then jumps out and takes you hostage when you least expect it. 

Except now I know to expect it. Which is (almost) worse. Every good day I have is tinged with the threat of a bursting overhead cloud-of-crap. Like Grumpy Bear—only more suicidal—and a lot messier.

‘There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. Some days you’re floating along quite happily, being really good at doing this living thing, when apropos of nothing you’re picked up like a rag doll and shaken, and you don’t know who’s picked you up and you don’t know why they’re shaking you or when they’re going to put you down or even if they’re going to put you down. You just know that you’re being shaken, and it’s awful, and you would do anything for it to stop but it just won’t stop. You wonder to yourself whether maybe this is it, this is the time it doesn’t stop and you keep being shaken about until it’s too much and you make yourself a little rag doll noose and end your little rag doll life. It feels like it’s never going to stop, they’re never going to put you down again, and you can’t think or feel anything but pain, and it hurts all over and you’re stuck in bed and immobile but on the inside it’s like your entire mind is made of barbed wire and every single mental move you make rips open another gash in your already torn-up body.  And then it stops. You’re dropped bodily onto the ground, and you feel like maybe living life is tenable again. It’s such a wonderful relief that it merits opening an entire paragraph with a connective, and you look back on that whole period you were being shaken and wonder what on earth all the fuss was about. Surely it can’t have been that bad? Five minutes into living again, you can’t remember why you were sad, and you can’t imagine it happening again any time soon. You go on your merry way, your myopia for the past the only thing preventing you from looking back and going truly insane.  Then, when you least expect it (because it’s always when you least expect it), it happens again, maybe for a reason this time. But it’s never completely gone. Even when you’re living a normal life, pretending to be a functioning human being who can Deal With Things, there’s this sheen over everything which takes away all of the world’s gloss.’

 Tim Squirrell on Depression

 Huffington Post

This is what it’s like on the edge. 

“There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” Hunter S. Thompson

The Edge has almost become an actual place for me. A low, seedy little dive bar that no-one really likes to admit they’ve been to. I’m a regular. I’m the one in the corner, replaying the same pitiful song on a battered, old jukebox, between knocking back cheap whiskey and staggering off to pee. 

The sad reality of it all, during these times, is that I make myself a prisoner in my own house, trying and failing to distract myself, occupy myself… something, anything, to shake the fluctuating tides of numbness and pain. Sleeping is too difficult, yet getting out of bed is equally as difficult. Talking is too difficult, and the mere sound of someone else’s voice on top of the cacophony in my head is enough to make me cry and squirm like a cowering animal. Sometimes, I cry endlessly. Sometimes, I zone out. Sometimes I lock myself away with books, despite knowing that when it’s really bad, it’s too difficult to even read; the words on the page are nothing more than shapes and squiggles, and I give up after re-reading the same paragraph seventeen times over. Other times, I’m able to use books and movies to escape—so I do—and I ask not to be disturbed. Or I freak out when I am disturbed. 

Needless to say: my husband is a saint—an actual fucking saint—which is a good bloody thing, since both life at The Edge, and living with someone who frequently visits The Edge, is no picnic. 

Sometimes, when I visit, I don’t want to leave; I have to be dragged out kicking and screaming, and on very bad benders, I’m brought back slumped like a sack of potatoes over an unfortunate shoulder. When I’m there, it is as though the Real Me has truly gone to die along with three buckets of over-medicated sweat, and eighteen badly-sung choruses of ‘Things Can Only Get Better‘. When I come back to the real world, the land of the living, I can almost pretend it didn’t happen. It’s written off like a blip. I apologise as necessary, I bundle my guilt into a creaking, overstuffed closet, and everybody tries to move on.

No-one wants to talk about The Edge… and that’s where it all goes wrong. It really is. There should be a fucking rule:

Everyone should talk about it. 

I have depression. Dammit, I HAVE DEPRESSION. I don’t expect sympathy. Hell, I don’t even expect understanding. What I’d really like, though, is acceptance, and tolerance. Not just for me—hell, no. I want this for every sufferer, for every family member and friend of every sufferer. The feeling of being able to talk about exactly how you feel without judgement, and without having had to make a bloody appointment with a health professional to do so. To be able to discuss it as freely as people discuss the common cold – wouldn’t that be bloody fantastic. Not that I’m in the habit of harping on about common colds, just so you know. It’s more about the misconceptions of mental illness. It’s almost taboo… Mental health has come a long way, sure, but that god-awful stigma is still there. The whispers, the derisory comments… the blatant disrespect, even disbelief. 

Maybe she’s making it up?

Maybe he’s just lazy…

There’s no such thing as depression…

Pull yourself together!

I get depressed all the time—I still ‘get on with it’.

These things, small as they may seem to an outsider, a bystander—a non-sufferer—can become very crippling. It makes you feel small and ashamed, even more so than the depression itself has made you feel. It makes you want to do one of two things: hide away from the world, or put on that ‘brave face’, and pretend that it’s all okay

Depression - Black Dog
Illustration from ‘I Had a Black Dog’ by Matthew Johnstone

The trouble is, with depression, isolation is the enemy, and quite frankly, putting on the brave face is quite likely the very thing that escalated the illness in the first place. Whatever your trigger—whether this was a physical trigger or a traumatic event, a bereavement, an overwhelmingly stressful situation, all of the above, none of the above—an altogether different experience that became the catalyst for the downward spiral of depression and anxiety—putting a brave face on it, and smiling through the pain, and striving on, forward-march, hoping that if you covered it up with that mask long enough, it would fuck off on its own…. exactly that, is what doesn’t help.

I know this because it’s exactly what I did. It’s what I went through; it’s what I’m going through, still. Yet, instead of being able to talk about it in the same way others can discuss their illnesses with no fear of judgement, I bottled it up. I have yet to meet someone with similar struggles as those I have, who hasn’t felt this way. Depression is a very real thing, a very real illness, and yet in some form or another, there’s a wall of idiots prepared to tell you otherwise.

Imagine a person with a broken leg being told to ‘pull himself together’: ‘Don’t be a moron! You’re making that up! Your leg isn’t broken. Now—WALK.’

Nope. Never happened, and not likely to happen. 

So, this is my stand. Right here, on my public blog (with a readership of two… husband; cat; (and I’m pretty sure the cat pretends to read it)), I am making a stand. I am standing on my fucking soapbox like an imbecile, and saying it aloud: 

I have depression. It is an illness. I will not be ashamed.

Sure, it won’t solve the problem, and it won’t change the world’s opinion, but just maybe, it might change my outlook. Affirmations can be powerful. So I’m doing this for me, and maybe the next person who reads this (other than the aforementioned husband/cat), will feel inclined to make the same personal commitment, and to everyone who has a similar battle, be proud. Yes, proud. We have just made it through another day, and we’re still fucking here. Still fucking miserable… but hey, tomorrow is another day. So here’s to tomorrow—bright and breezy, full of partially fake smiles and occasional sarcasm. And if you’re lucky… a small handful of wonderful people at your side who love you exactly as you are. Black dog‘, and all. 🙂

 

There was no fall
Only the breaking,
Only the mess;
The shards
Like glass, like ice.
Fractured pieces,
that once was whole.
Not Easter eggs,
or toy balloons,
or spinning globes –

Complete like
ripened oranges,
as round, as bright 
as Sun.

The break was slow –
so quiet,
Like sock-sheathed feet,
Tip-toes on sand.
No invite, no notice;
unannounced entry –
familiar stranger,
an unknown foe
darkening doorways,
slipping in.

He gave no bow,
Offered no name,
Once, I thought I knew it.
He was soundless, intent.
Path well cut,
goal just set:
Seek and destroy,
Seek and destroy.
He left a seed.
I watered; it grew.

In full form it towered
Like Jack’s beanstalk.
Then there were two of us;
that thing and me.
I named it Doubt. Misery.
Two voices, one mind.
My mind – a shell;
That Easter egg,
Or toy balloon, 
or spinning globe.

The voices:
Mine? His?
One thin, and weak;
The other? Like hell,
Like fee-fi-fo.
Clear and sharp,
Slicing the hum.
You can’t, it says.
And I listen.
I stop.

That voice? The power…
It is big as air.
More certain than
The rise-fall 
at my breast;
As constant as
The blood-beat 
at my temple.
Unyielding as night;
Obstinate as death. 

 

July 2011