And I used to be strong
And I used to be a man
But now I fold at your feet
Like a burning letter
I’m sitting in my car, late at night, watching the blood well from the lines I’ve just sliced into my arm, and I’m wondering just why I did it. In hindsight I’ll manufacture some kind of explanation, but in the moment all I can think of is, I’ve got to find a reason for someone to care.
And in the moment, I am out of my mind.
Shaking from head to toe, I grab my phone and I call my wife and ask her to remind me why I’m worth keeping around. She talks me down, but I keep shaking all the way home.
And there you have just one of the recent skirmishes fought between my brain and itself.
To say depression has only just wrapped me in its loving embrace would be wrong. I’ve been falling into that pit off and on for most of the last 20 years. But it was this year that everything came to a head. It was this year that, as I spun my wheels frantically trying to deal with the release of two books, the writing of two regular columns, my first-ever comedy festival show, a full-time night job and the accompanying sleep deprivation, and providing for a wife and three children, I finally cracked open, and lost my ability to keep it together. Thankfully, this also meant I stopped pretending everything was OK. The meltdown came suddenly, frighteningly and with devastating force, but it was the meltdown I had to have.
It’s been a terrifying, strange, surreal, ridiculous time, suddenly finding myself buffeted by waves of panic, sweating and gasping for air and sobbing for no good reason, stricken suddenly by the all-pervading terror that everyone I love has finally become fed up with me and left, as undoubtedly they will, and as undoubtedly I deserve. Suddenly finding myself shrunken and diminished, huddling in a ball against the pain of the world. Suddenly finding myself clenching my teeth and wondering how long I have been. Suddenly finding myself completely unable to cope.
Always the fear, the fear. That an unanswered text message means a friend has cut all ties. That when I’m not around, people talk about me, saying what they really think. That I’m pathetic, weak, worthless and the voice that won’t stop whispering to me — “Fat loser, why don’t you give up? Nobody could love a THING like you” — is right. The creeping feeling that even though I know depression is just an illness for everyone else, maybe I’m that one person for whom it’s justified. For whom it’s no more than what I deserve.
And the guilt. Knowing what a burden this crisis is placing on the people I love. Knowing how much I must be hurting them. Knowing how hard it is for my family, and cursing myself for my selfishness. The agony of knowing you could ruin lives by leaving, and feeling that you’re ruining them even more by staying.
And the mad, hysterical absurdity. The hindsight hilarity of dissolving into tears in the doctor’s office, and then explaining through the choking sobs that I’m a comedian. The ludicrousness of my trying to be a rock for my friends and dispense wise advice when I have no idea how to save myself from the treachery of my own psyche. The sick joke of sitting in a room full of friends, all talking and laughing raucously, and feeling lonelier than I have in my life.
And through it I kept writing, and I kept joking, and I stepped up on stage 10 times to perform that festival show, cracking jokes about my own death of all things! And I opened up to the world about my problems and let people know, and somehow I struggled through. And I kept breaking down, and gasping for air, and crying, and putting my family through hell, and scaring everyone around me, and reaching out desperately to find someone, anyone, to constantly reassure me that I’m loved, and that the world is, even slightly, a better place for my existence.
I have enough friends who’ve gone through, and are going through, similar things to know I’m not unique, and I’m not special. I have been struck by an illness, not a romantic genius’s curse. And I still don’t quite know how to handle it. I don’t even know if this blog post is a good idea. I rarely write so personally about myself, and it’s possible that what I’ve written is an awful bunch of old rubbish.
But hopefully it’ll go a little way to helping me remember in the dark moments that I’m not alone, and that this too shall pass. The traitor in my head will continue to make his sorties, attacking furiously in an attempt to crush me. Maybe he will succeed, and maybe he won’t. I have resolved to fight him. I will keep struggling on, trying to retain my rational mind and keep somewhere at all times that as bad as things get, it won’t last forever, that things will be all right, and that most importantly, I’m not alone.
And hopefully, writing this might help others know that they’re not alone. I’m so grateful for everyone who has read my work, who’s come to see me on stage, who follows me on Twitter, etcetc. I owe you all a debt of gratitude, and I know that problems and demons beset many of you too. You’re not alone. Darkness can strike us all at any time, but I know there are people who love me — no matter how much it feels, so often, that there are none — and I have to work on remembering that. And I’ve learned that when you’re sick, you need help. You need to seek out those who are trained to help you survive. I’m popping pills like nobody’s business, and that is weird and alien to me. But it’s what has to be done, and it’s no big deal.
Or … perhaps that’s all a colossal wank, and I’m kidding myself and this won’t really help anyone. A definite possibility. But hopefully my attempt to sort out all the thoughts that have invaded me as a result of this breakdown, to get down in blog form the persistent buzzing in my head, will have a positive effect on someone, somewhere. Hopefully that’ll include myself!
Because I know now the desperate flailing, the horrific suffocation that comes when those black waves come crashing over and you find yourself just about incapable of keeping your head up in the face of the merciless tides. But we’re all capable. We may have to lean on others from time to time, but we don’t have to fall. Tomorrow I may feel them crashing again, and become convinced that none of this is true, but now I have to affirm that it IS.
The scars on my arm are healing. I know I want to live, and even though I don’t exactly know how to go about it, I think I will.
Thank you all. You’re lovely.
I promise I’ll start joking again soon.
I weep on your feet and reach for your hand
And beg for some sign of your love
And I used to be a man
And I used to be strong
*This piece was originally published at Ben Pobjie’s Wonderful World of Objects
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