Headlights in the darkness – a personal blog on my depression

Just after we’d dropped our dad off at work and were pulling away, my sister said, “I’m thinking of getting anti-depressants”.  No build-up or anything – she simply said it. That’s not unusual of my sister though. We’ve always been close siblings, and we’ve always been there to help one another with anything that’s been bothering us. Unlike my sister, however, I don’t say what’s on my mind or come to her with my problems. In fact, she probably doesn’t even realise that she’s there to help me day to day, such is how subtle I am with my problems, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is, when my sister said that a few nights ago, I didn’t slam my foot on the brakes in shock or anything, but just drove on. It took a few minutes to get her talking but she did, as she always does. Though in this case I stressed that she needed to tell a friend of hers that she missed her in order to get through this, despite how difficult it would be, the truth I didn’t tell her – and I never do because if she were to find out this secret to my success, she would never come to me again for help – was that she was already on her way to getting past this by admitting it aloud to me.

It’s true, or in my experience it is. If it isn’t blindingly clear, I’m no psychologist and I haven’t a scoobie about the “technical” aspect to all this – this is all a personal account of my ongoing depression in light of my sister letting everything off her chest. Though it will sound terrible to say, she isn’t as badly depressed as she thinks, if at all. From everything she told me, the two common denominators that I could see were her manager and our mother, both of whom are stressing her out. But coming clean like she did and having listened to my advice to confront her manager at least means that she’ll pull through, as she always does. Last year the big dilemma of her life was coming to accept that she’s gay, but she did, despite all her doubts. Our parents may not ever accept it, but she’s stronger in not caring what they think, just as she’ll be stronger once she leaves her current issues behind too.

It probably isn’t very obvious from this blog of mine, but I get quite angry about sexism whenever I see it, particularly in artistic mediums. The friends I talk to over Facebook quite often know this about me. Quite recently, I think, I explained why this is, which I accounted to having been taught about the Suffragettes in History, a similar subject in Social Policy when I was in University, and a few other things, but concluding overall that equality is just common sense to me, which it certainly is. But I don’t think I quite put my finger on the real reason that sexism and gender discrimination pisses me off. That, of course, is all due to my sister’s role in my life.

If she were a brother instead, I think there’s a pretty high chance that I could be a completely different person today. Two old friends from high school (one of which I met several weeks ago and found out was a father – holy shit indeed) used to live a minute or two away from me, and another friend and I would walk to school with them most days. They’re twin brothers, right down to appearance, but very different from me, despite having grown up with another sibling. An entirely different friend who I’ve been long out of contact with, however, did have a younger sister like me. As you might expect, we were more similar in some respects, but not wholly, this time because of a larger age gap in his case, meaning he was in high school while his sister was only halfway through primary, whereas my sister and I are only two years apart in age.

Although I wasn’t obviously in a position unique only to me, I was as far as my life with a sibling was compared to others I knew, just as theirs were when placed against mine. Different perspectives, different people. As we grow older we all, at various stages in our lives, look back on everything we’ve done so far and desperately wish we could change past mistakes, wish we’d made another decision at this point, wish we could’ve been brought up differently, et cetera. It’s certainly something I’ve thought about it, that’s for sure. If I were writing a letter to my past self still in primary school, I’d probably say, “Look, kid, you might think you’re everything just now, but you better start treating people with more respect before you lose them all”, and god knows, there’s things about me I would change today if it were as simple as a flick of a wand.

But I wouldn’t change Lauren for anyone else if the whole world were at stake.

As I drove on and she was talking about all the stuff that was bothering her, she inevitably steered the conversation towards me, as she always does. One of the more ridiculous notions my sister gets in her head from time to time – less now that my mother constantly berates me about having no job or no useful qualifications from my several years of University – is that because I’m the sibling who has better grades, has been to University, does a lot of reading and writing, is smarter when it comes to what she perceives as more difficult subjects, etc., I’m the one who’s going to go far in life. It doesn’t really help that one of our Uncle’s pays me far more attention than he does her, not only because he’s been quite a sexist man for the whole of his life, but because he takes greater interest in my creative subjects than hers, having gone out of his way to encourage my similar interests in writing, history and art and design, but rarely her own love for music.

The guy probably sounds like a massive dick, but he’s actually someone who has greatly inspired me, despite his flaws. In the second or third year of English in high school we were asked to write a memoir of sorts about a family member, preferably a grandfather, to be read aloud as a solo talk. Though my grandad would undoubtedly have made for an interesting talk, I did write about my Uncle, a man who still fascinates me to this day, at the time spending several hours on the phone with him to learn about his life. How does a man go from being a politician to a doctor, and from a doctor to a priest? It’s a rather incredible life he’s led, to say the least, and what I admire about it is that, though he often talks to me about how different it may have been if he’d stuck with politics, he doesn’t regret his choices, being very content with everything he’s done, which is all that I suppose any of us want.

So, with his own problems or not, it’s nice to have someone in your life that you can look up to and have they in return see this, and treat your ambitions with respect. But I don’t think enough people have done the same with my sister. What she doesn’t realise is not only that she possesses these great qualities of her own – she can play guitar, she can sing, she can imaginatively create things, she’s good with computers, etc. – but that none of those things matter if they can’t make you happy.

Sure, I’ve been in University but – as I told her, still driving on – though our mum’s on my back about me passing my current out-of-school resit (I don’t have to attend classes – just resubmit the coursework), I’ve actually already failed because I haven’t handed in a single piece of the work I was supposed to – hell, I didn’t even take a look at it – for the simple reason that I do not care about it. How I’ve ended up doing that in the first place is through failing the first time, which was caused by the little effort I put in to the subjects that weren’t as interesting as those I got A’s for. In my experience then, University has been dreadful – I’ve done a year of one course and two of another, but enjoyed neither overall. Besides meeting my friends in the second course, it’s been completely meaningless. It hasn’t bought me a free ticket to a great future – you actually have to earn that through your actions, something I think she barely realises is a difference of ours, though I’ll get to that in a moment.

But what she also doesn’t know is that the very things that she gets in trouble for are actually worse in my case, yet serve a greater purpose for her as an individual. For instance, she’s constantly called a liar, and that’s true – she does a lot of lying. But it would amaze those around me if they had half a clue as to how much lying I do on a daily basis, and how smart I am about it. If my sister were lying about handing in CV’s to this shopping centre or that like I do, she would get caught easily because there wouldn’t be any proof that she’d left the house or printed off any CV’s whereas I will announce that I’m leaving to someone, have a bag which I say contains CV’s as physical evidence and actually leave for a spell. Another example where my sister gets in trouble is in that she’s apparently too blunt and forthright, yet I get off scot-free by being as sarcastic as I am day to day. Or where she stubbornly refuses to report in to our overlords on a night out, I’ll send either of my parents a text or two, yet get away with it whenever I don’t, which is as often as her. My point is, none of those things I do exactly make me feel good whereas my sister should be proud to be as honest as she is to herself and in all respects, despite how angry people may get at her.

Why I create elaborate schemes and hide my true feelings is not that difficult to explain. The hardest thing I find about continuing with depression is telling other people about it. It feels literally impossible. Every time I meet my friends at the bar we go to on a night out I just want to tell them how shit I feel, explain why they’re right in proclaiming me as the dark horse of the group, but I never do. The words are there but they aren’t caught in my throat – I just look at how happy we all are, how happy I’m feeling, and keep that shit-eating grin on my face, enjoying this night I spend with them. The only person that I love who actually knows about my long time depression – the fact that it’s never ended, I mean – is, of course, my little sister, she having brought it up a few nights and got me talking about it for a brief while, like she always does.

There isn’t a single moment I can pin down as the root of all my problems, but the one that’s planted its roots in my head most of all is something that happened in my last year of high school. Oh, I was depressed as all hell leading into that sixth year, running from a best friend in the first year after becoming unhappy with the direction our group was heading in, being slowly and painfully kicked out of the next circle a few years later, an act which resulted in me losing the friends of those friends too, which meant I then spent the remainder of my time in the school alone after that. But it was ultimately one thing in my last year of high school that brought me to my first University course, possibly the darkest moment of my life in which I was truly and utterly alone.

That final year is a very confusing time compared to the rest of the crazy shit you go through in high school because suddenly you’re faced with the very real and very frightening future, something which you’re pushed into making a decision about. It’s this moment that I imagine hits a lot of other people unexpectedly too. But I had my parents to seemingly help, my mother suggesting that I write a list of the things I’d like to do, from which we could then work out the next steps. And I did. It didn’t take a lot of thinking either, truth be told. My list included the likes of novelist, graphic novelist, comics artist, English teacher, Art teacher, History teacher, primary school teacher and a few other things. It was quite exciting to hand the list over to my mum actually. In my head I pictured her smiling, and then sitting down to talk with me about why I wanted to be any of those things, and then giving me a hand looking at University courses and whatnot.

What happened instead was she took one look at my hopes and dreams that she held in her hand and told me that we could talk about teaching, especially in primary where there was a lack of male teachers, but not the rest, which were neither “realistic” or the sort of jobs that would pay the bills. This isn’t a thing I think any parent should do to their child when their dreams are actually achievable things. It’s all well and good to say, “Sorry, kid, you’re too dumb to be an astronaut”, because that’s most certainly something only a rare amount of people can actually do; but telling me – one of six people in my year of high school that sat and passed the Advanced Higher stage of English that year, someone who once filled two notebooks with two long stories as a young boy, someone who has been all about creativity their whole life, from attending drama classes to sitting here writing entries for this blog – that I wasn’t being realistic about writing or art, ignoring my personal happiness in favour of future income, hurt me more than any time I was bullied, mocked or physically hit.

It ruptured a hole in me so huge that it threatened to swallow who I am, and all the while I sat in lectures, alone in a course that I’d somehow found myself in, no longer writing anything other than coursework, and no longer drawing anything except angry scribbles, just waiting for an intervention or the end to come. It did, in a way. One day I found myself telling my parents that I was done with the course, leaving as soon as I was able. They resisted at first, as parents do, but quickly changed their minds after their disbelief was the final straw I needed to fall apart, which I did in an atomic explosion of all the emotions I had been keeping buried. My family was there for me then. It might sound like they’re terrible parents from the last few paragraphs but they’re absolutely not, and besides, the one thing depressed people are good at is keeping the truth hidden in plain sight.

Indeed, mental breakdown or not, you don’t ever really tell those who get caught in the radius every reason that led you to such devastation. It never ends so easily. A song called Sorrow by my favourite band, The National, has the line, “Sorrow’s my body on the waves”, an image I’ve had in my dreams believe it or not, and very true about the impact even one major bout of depression can have upon you, creating what feels like a cycle where it’s like your negative emotions have assumed all control over you.

But on the other hand, there’s a Bruce Springsteen song called Jungleland, which you could interpret the meaning of which to be about the pursuit of our greatest hopes, the chase for true happiness. In the last verse there’s a series of lines, kind of depressing, that go like this:

“And the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland”

What it’s essentially saying is that these people who try to make a difference in their lives end up failing; and hurt, fall back into their everyday routines. But I think the very fact that “they wind up wounded, not even dead” is a reason for hope, however small. It felt that way in my case, after my whole world fell apart. It still hurts all these years later – the hole is still there, looming, waiting – but it’s not over yet: there’s still a chance. Like an anchor or a chain, depression keeps me from straying too far, but I can break free, through either small, baby steps that lead me out of its sight, or through daring to act, a feat that requires courage I’ve sadly yet to muster.

Please don’t mistake everything I’ve written so far as my way of comparing Lauren and I’s problems, brushing hers under my dusty carpet. If I were to continue this post much longer I could go on to show that a lot of the bad things that have happened to me, like losing friends, are things that she’s been through as well, actually moreso in some cases if you can believe it. The reason I’m sitting here writing all this is not because of my sister’s big reveal that began this post. That and her explanation got me thinking about how much I love the little bugger, but it’s not what got me moving from her story to mine, and it’s not the selfishness that depression can bring either. It was instead a question she asked after getting me to ramble about myself for a short while: “How do you deal with it?”

At a juncture I decide to take the long route home, this heavy question dropped on me. My answer was a mess, though my memory’s a little fuzzy on what exactly I attempted to say. Whatever it was, and if I had gotten it out clearly, it wouldn’t have been true. It’s funny that she of all people asked me it because my answer, if I’d said it, would have been, “It’s not a question of how I deal with it – but how you deal with it”. If there truly were a secret ingredient that makes me cope each and every day it would indeed be her. Not because she’s someone I’m so close with that, if I were to ever commit suicide (as my mother and an old friend of mine mistakenly thought I’d been thinking of after my first nervous breakdown), I couldn’t do it, knowing that it would break her heart, but because she is quite honestly the most incredible person I know and someone I aspire to be like.

Where I sit on my problems, suffocating them and myself, she stands up and does something about them, no matter how drastic. Where I sit here with my blog that no one I personally know knows exists, trying to improve my writing with no feedback, she always brings the latest song she’s written to me and asks me to help edit it. Where I often lie mentally exhausted on my bed, tired and nihilistic, she’s up and about, doing anything and everything, spiralling out of control sometimes perhaps, but living in the moment. Where I sit quietly in a corner, she engages everyone, strangers or not, in conversation. Where my hopes and dreams are but a light at the end of a dark tunnel, hers are out there for the whole world to see and though she hasn’t accomplished them, she dances happily, free, around the outskirts.

It’s my sincere hope that she gives herself a clap on the back for all of these things because, when it comes to smarts, I know she doesn’t give herself the full credit she deserves. Though she could easily tell either of our parents about me right this very instant, for example, she never does, because she knows that telling them or just doing something is an action I must take myself one day instead of continuing through a cycle where those closest to me find that there a bunch of fucked up feelings beneath my exterior only after another nervous breakdown of mine.

My sister will be fine and I will be too. Every punch to the gut makes her stronger and, though I might react more emotionally, they truthfully make me stronger as well – it’s just harder to see that this is the case when I let the hole widen, almost give it the permission it needs to consume me. Yet here I am, writing here nearly every day, doing something that makes me happy, despite the pressure threatening to cage me in from all sides – stitching this hole that’s been left in me. Tiny steps they may be, but they’re something, and keep me on the straight and narrow, intact, the same boy I’ve always been and always will be.

I could stop – there’s no traffic out here in the dark, and no one watching from a light in a window – but I instead keep driving, because it’s what she would do, this remarkable girl in the passenger seat beside me, my best of friends, this light guiding my way.


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