For most of my life, I’ve been able to keep things pretty simple. I have home, and I have work. Before that, I had home and school. Even before I became depressed, this was the case – what I did in one part of my life had no bearing, no effect, on any other.
When I was little, this manifested itself as a little boy who played with Legos and make-believe at home, and acted cool in front of friends, because of course playing by yourself wasn’t cool. You certainly didn’t let your friends know what you did at home, or how your dad drank too much or your mom smoked and played solitaire all day long because she was depressed.
Later, of course, home and school became even more separate as I realized that the things I wanted to do – drink and smoke and cut and lie in bed all day – weren’t within the so-called wheelhouse of my parents. They simply couldn’t comprehend what I wanted (for that matter, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted myself), and for a long time I was able to keep the two separate.
Eventually, of course, things broke down and my parents found out about my behavior at school, and the school found out about my behavior at home, and I became so depressed that I just didn’t care, and fuck the consequences. Nothing mattered.
Then I got a job. A real job, one I had to work hard for, and at which things were expected of me. The depression didn’t go away, but it wasn’t an option for it to manifest itself at work, because there was stuff to do. Always stuff to do. At home I collapsed into bed every night, drink and razor in hand, but by day, my god – I was happy, energetic and able to do anything asked of me. (For the most part.)
This was my first experience of compartmentalization. For many years since, I’ve kept my work and home lives separate. They quite literally have nothing to do with each other. I rarely talk about work with my wife, and I never talk about home with my colleagues. They don’t belong together; they have nothing to do with each other.
But recently, things have started changing. It started with a colleague at work – a friend, you might call him – who suffers from extreme anxiety. We started talking one day, and it came to light that sometimes he takes days off work simply because he can’t cope with the idea of interacting with people that day.
I don’t want to say that this influenced me, but it definitely gave me food for thought. Maybe – just maybe – it wasn’t so unfathomable to consider that my mental well-being extended to work, as well. For so long I’d maintained a façade – what if I didn’t have to anymore?
The compartments in my mind – home, work, parents – started to break down. And then the unthinkable happened. My parents arranged a vacation for myself, my wife, our son and my father. It seemed innocuous – it seemed like a good idea.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I’ve only just started to understand that my parents form a huge barrier to the rest of my life – they are on one side, and absolutely everything else is on the other. And when they get involved, I go off the deep end. Sometimes it’s something I can tolerate, but for one reason or another, this broke this camel’s back.
You see, my parents are – without meaning to be – indescribably controlling. They arrange everything, and then tell you what’s going to happen. And I think with this recent event, it just got to me, deeper than anything ever has before.
And it’s affected my home, and my work. The carefully constructed walls between my compartments have begun to crumble. And whilst at one end it feels devastating, on another it feels somewhat liberating. Almost as if I can forget pretending to be something I’m not, and just … be me.
I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like the compartmentalization has only helped my life, but at other times it feels like it’s the worst thing ever.
What do you split off from your usual life? What compartments do you keep for yourself?