You are your own worst enemy.
How many times have you heard that phrase? If you’re like me and surrounded by smug do-gooders who consistently like to point out the obvious (as if this somehow grants them brownie points in life), then you’ve heard no doubt heard it countless times and felt the need to dryly reply, ‘yes, I am aware, nobody can hate me more than I hate me!’ with all the light-heartedness of somebody about to enjoy a root canal.
If there’s something us people who’ve struggled with our mental health are well acquainted with, it’s that joyful thing; self-loathing. After all, it’s so ridiculously easy. Who hasn’t hated themselves after an anxiety attack has ruined a well-deserved night out? Or after a depressive period has wrecked a relationship beyond repair? Who hasn’t wanted to pull their own brain out and scrub it clean off its deformities because why the f**k can’t it be normal?!
I have. When the OCD held me in its grip (ha, who am I kidding, I still walk hand-in-hand with that bitch everyday), I despised my mind for falling victim to its tricks on a daily basis. I wanted nothing more than to chuck my brain in the bin, where it belonged, for being a thoroughly useless organ. Like, hello? Your job is to keep us going and instead we’re on the point of dehydration because we can’t drink out of the cups in the house because you’re convinced they’re contaminated? Also we can’t wash them because you say the dishcloth and the tea towel are dirty, too? What is this self-sabotage and how about you give it up?! Needless to say, Brain and I were not on good terms and I still don’t feel sympathetic towards its shenanigans. On my great journey of life, I haven’t reached that milestone yet.
What I have done, however, is found a peace with my younger self.
Like many people reading this, my mental health issues started young. I was fourteen when I was officially diagnosed with depression, but that bitch reared her ugly head the year before and the OCD, well, I’m beginning to think she’s a parasitic twin.
The depression, however, hit me around the face. I’d been a happy child. Relatively normal parents, normal upbringing, no bullying; my backstory is poor. And then, when I was thirteen, I was attacked twice in the space of a month by two different gangs of teenagers. It had never happened before, it has never happened since and I understand if you found it unbelievable. So did many people at the time. But, with God as my witness, I assure you it is the truth. Those incidents robbed me of my confidence and sense of security and, as the months turned, I developed PTSD, experiencing flashbacks and a sheer terror of leaving the house.
(This was also the time when the grooming started – I had a really shit year, that year! – but let’s not get distracted. Here’s an insight to that here; The Adult Looking Back)
This depression lasted for three years; the entirety of my final years within the education system. The most important exams I’ve taken were held during those years. The main bulk of puberty hit me during those years. We can all remember those teenage years and mine took place under the umbrella of depression, during a time when mental health wasn’t discussed as openly as it is today. A lot was lost during that period; I was pulled out of a fairly prestigious school, in case it was contributing to my stress. My grades suffered and so my final exam results reflect this. This had an adverse effect on my further education: I have never been to university. I was rejected, folks, and I was bitter about that shit for years. (Ha ha, joke’s on me, still am)
Now, personally, I feel there’s too much pressure on teenagers. The idea that one can know, for sure, what one wants to do at the age of sixteen (as it was in my day) is, frankly, terrifying. I did not figure out that writing was my jam until I was…twenty-two. A full six years later. And that’s relatively early. Some people don’t figure it out for decades. So it seems insane that teenagers are expected to be confident enough of their future plans to stack over £12,000 on them without having had any chance to live. Combine this with a mental health problem, which is becoming more and more common among teenagers, and it is of little wonder we have a society fueled by their own self-loathing.
However. Recently I have decided to look at things a little differently; firstly by alleviating the blame on myself. I didn’t give myself depression. As they say, shit happened and my brain did not know how to cope. It had never experienced anything like it before. The depression was a response to my circumstances with a mind that did not know how to process them. A shrink once said to me that the mind is like one of those baby shape toys. You know, the circle fits in the circle, the square in the square. But when shit happens, that shape can’t fit. The brain doesn’t know what to do with it. I like to think of it as a plague within the mind, pressing its smoke up against functioning areas and contaminating them with its negativity.
The more I look at it, the more I don’t think I gave my mind enough credit. Ultimately it saved me. I had dabbled with the idea of suicide and given it serious thought, particularly during the third year and in the run-up to my exams, yet my mind refused to crack. It still believed, deep down, that there was hope. The little girl I’d been before shit happened was still alive and deserved the opportunity to realise herself as an adult. I didn’t recognise this almost split-personality for another eight-odd years but I believe that’s where it began; where I began to differentiate the depressed me and the me I believed I could be.
It was this depressed me that I hated for all those years. This pitiful, worthless version of myself who allowed herself to lose her school place, who didn’t bother to try harder at her exams, who forfeited her future education and the opportunities it may have provided. Nobody hated me more than I hated me. As time went on and I watched friends graduate from the school I’d left, glowing results in hand, off to universities to begin their lives, my bitter resentment towards myself flourished. I was the walking, talking definition of you’ve let yourself down. As far as I was concerned, my brain has SPECTACULARLY let me down. It had all but SABOTAGED me. What an absolute f**king bitch. Aided, of course, by those well-meaning do-gooders who’d tell me I was “too good for a low-paid job” and “wasted not attending university.” Yeah, thanks for that, give the old hate crowd another flag, why don’t you?
And then, in 2015, a year after I’ve come to the realisation that writing was my path in life, a song lyric caught my ear. Originally sung by the Beatles, a cover version of Ticket to Ride by The Carpenters had fast become my favourite song, along with this line in particularly;
“Before he gets to saying goodbye, he oughta do right by me.”
This lyric, slightly altered by my fair hand, I wrote about a picture of myself, a school photo taken when I was eleven, before any shit happened. Before you get to say your goodbyes, you’ve got to do right by me. It was the first time I’d acknowledged that 1) wrong had been done to me and it hadn’t been my fault and 2) I pitied the depressed teenage me rather than hated her. It became a goal for me then, a life-long one if you will, to balance the scales. I explained it to my husband as: “it has to have been worth it”. Those years lost, spent suffering under the rain cloud of depression, losing so much (and that’s another thing. People are like, ‘not going to university isn’t everything’ but that’s not the point. To me, it is a loss and FEELINGS ARE VALID. Another shrink phrase), they all have to have been worth it. That depressed teenager has to come up on top on eventually. I’m not saying I want to be as successful as JK Rowling or as rich as Bill Gates. I aspire to neither of those. It is merely a message to the girl with the black eyeliner from ten years before, the girl who carried on even when she didn’t want to; you gave it your all for those years, I’ll give it mine for the rest of them.
Lola Deelay of Of the Light and the Dark