"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the *depression*."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
* Trigger warning: mentions self-harm.
I thought I didn’t need therapy. I thought that I was just overreacting and that I’d never even been through anything difficult in my privileged little life anyway, so why bother getting my knickers in a twist and shelling out at least £35 an hour? My parents loved me unconditionally, I’d never been molested or bullied, and I’d had a more or less normal, happy childhood. I was fine. My mental health was fine. Still, ever the perfectionist and with a family history of mental illness behind me, I thought maybe it would be best to bang out a month or two of therapy. You know, just in case.
Things, as it turned out, were very much not fine. Apparently, not everyone thinks about self-harm at fourteen. Apparently, it’s not normal to skip meals so you can pretend the reason you feel empty inside is just hunger. Apparently, other people don’t feel an inexplicable RAGE over small incidents. This was all news to me, and it sounded almost too fucking wild to be true. Maybe the problem was just with everyone else? But the more I looked within, the more I realised that something was wrong, and had been wrong for a long, long time.
It’s incredibly unclear whether or not what went on in my brain in 2019 can actually be classed as a nervous breakdown or not – all I know is, things became very bad very fast. A nervous breakdown can be defined as experiencing sudden, extreme or prolonged stress, wherein you may ‘lose control of your feelings and give in to stress, anxiety or worry’ – a sentence that unfortunately sums up my entire existence rather neatly. While things had never been what one would call ‘good’ or even ‘healthy’ within my mind, they had been relatively stable and manageable for the first nineteen years. And the… Shit. Hit. The. Fan.
A series of events occurred which as isolated incidents, made for amusing pre-drinks anecdotes, but when recited as a list make it abundantly clear why I’m still in therapy almost two years later. I told my brother he would be an abusive husband, and that if he’s not going to get therapy, he should just do us all a favour and kill himself already. I told my father it was his fault I was such a whore, because I was always searching for the validation of men upon my knees. I lost a friendship of ten years because I couldn’t control my volcanic fury (though I’ve since learnt that perhaps some things are best relegated to a fleeting memory).
All of these events were linked to my problematic relationship with alcohol that had been brewing (and ignored) for years. I wasn’t addicted, but it was the only way I knew how to relax, and so once I had started, I would casually and consistently take it too far. One particularly memorable Wednesday, I went so far as to black out for ten minutes and try to leave a man’s house wearing only a cardigan, leading many people to believe that I’d been raped - only to promptly forget that I had ever tried to leave in the first place. Though the situation was resolved, it was clear that my mental health was causing problems external to my little inner world.
Then came the smaller, day to day issues: I would rarely change my bed sheets, and small spots of crimson would appear on my covers from where I had clawed at the skin on my feet and legs until I drew blood. My weight fluctuated up and down, as sometimes I was too exhausted to cook a healthy meal and would just stick on an oven pizza, while at other times I convinced myself I didn’t deserve to eat anything other than cold baked beans from the tin or plain, dry slices of bread. My bedroom became littered with bowls of days old half-eaten porridge, which had slowly become hard enough to build a house with. Unfortunately, even putting used sanitary towels in the bin was beyond me at times, and they would lay discarded on the floor with my pyjamas for hours on end. Disgusting, I know. But that’s the thing about depression – your brain convinces you that you don’t deserve any better than ‘disgusting’, that you’re worthless and you should fester away in a space as squalid and grimy as your mind.
My hygiene became so unsatisfactory that I had multiple anxiety nightmares about my teeth falling out from not brushing them enough and having what can only be described as ‘burger cheese dandruff’ from rarely washing my hair. Pea-sized lumps appeared under my armpits, leading to concerns over cancer that just proved to be blocked sweat glands. The scar tissue around my cartilage piercing blossomed into an overripe keloid lump, which now needs to be removed via surgery. These nightmares were by no means limited to health concerns. I guess the overarching theme would have to be ‘lack of control’, as my slumbering mind meandered through all sorts of charming scenarios: sexual assaults, turning all my friends against me, being too drunk to control my actions, screaming at people I love. If I was really lucky, sometimes I would get a two-for-one anxiety special, with not only nightmares but the inability to discern whether or not they were just dreams, and I would lie in bed in a puddle of sweat, heart palpating as I tried to figure out whether or not I had just ruined my own life.
I even tried self-harm for the first time, because it felt like the only way I could get people to actually take my pain seriously – perhaps my cries for help hadn’t been loud enough. Moments after promising my friend that I would ask for her help if I was ever tempted to hurt myself, I took a kitchen knife to my legs and ruined what was otherwise a very cute Halloween outfit. But I couldn’t even do that right, and I was left with only surface level scratches, not the deep engravings I’d been aiming for. I started taking anti-depressants a week later. My university work took a massive hit too, and I went from the kind of student who never got below 90% to someone who only ever scrapes a pass, to the extent where even my own friends doubt my intelligence at times.
Like many things in life, this essay does not have a satisfactory conclusion. Though therapy and medication have helped improve my mental health, it still ebbs and flows like the ocean – one step forward, two steps back. Remember kids, boyfriends and friendships will come and go, but mental illness is for life. With that in mind, I’ve decided to embrace ‘chaotic good’ and accept the fact that my life is a fucking shambles right now and potentially always will be. But, just as the world can’t stop for a hurricane, pressing on and hoping for a better tomorrow really is the only option.
Ur Neurotic Bestie (she/her) is a freelance writer aiming to spread awareness and understanding of mental health issues. Ur Neurotic Bestie wishes to remain anonymous for the time being. This artwork is owned by VectorStock, not Ur Neurotic Bestie or Gen-Z Talks. If you find yourself in a mental health emergency, please call the Samaritans at 116 123 or SupportLine on 01708765200.