The year that was…
I sometimes like to think that I brought this past year on myself. See, back at the beginning of the year, LCD Soundsystem announced that they were reforming, going on a world tour, and planning a brand-new record. I frickin’ adore LCD Soundsystem, I’d even put them as the one of the vital cornerstones in my evolution as a music-lover through the awkward phase of your life where you’re no longer a teenager but not yet an adult either, but I didn’t discover and get into them until literally just after they broke up for the first time. I responded to this news by making a promise to the universe at large: “This year can suck as badly as it wants, just so long as I can see LCD Soundsystem and Gorillaz (who had also promised new material this year) live in person. Let me have that, and I promise I won’t complain about anything else!”
Obviously, neither of those things happened, Gorillaz didn’t even release a snippet of new material, and 2016 still ended up being so awful that the delightful term “garbage-fire” was applied to it so many times as to lose all appeal and meaning. Now, I’m not saying that this year sucked because of me, I am nowhere near that egotistical, but I sometimes like to think, somewhat jokingly, that this year was purposefully out to get me. It’s not down to me being religious or believing in fate and all that such – I don’t have the willpower and trust to be able to believe in either of those things – but I’d say it’s not too dissimilar to those who have taken to cursing this whole miserable year. Like, we know that 2016 is not a person or some kind of omniscient spectre of Death or that douchebag at a party who’s way too drunk and feels the need to ruin everybody else’s fun, but we pretend that it is because it helps us deal with everything that’s happened. It makes us feel like there’s a tangible reason as to why everything has so thoroughly gone to shit, since that kind of pretending is easier to process than the knowledge that nothing is certain, nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs everywhere, and everyone’s gonna die.
2016 has been a difficult one for me. This much should be obvious to anybody who has made the immediately-regretful error of listening to my requests at the end of each of these articles and followed me on Twitter. I graduated from university back in the Summer, cleared out from the flat that I had spent the vast majority of the past three years being situated in, never to return, and, for the first time in 16 years, began a life not structured in some way by Education. That in and of itself is a major change, even before throwing in a change of location, the loss of friends, a lack of a defined goal with understandable steps to achieve it, and so on. It is, effectively, tantamount to starting again, albeit with a 21 (now 22) year disadvantage.
I have mentioned on and off and here and there throughout the site that I was utterly miserable prior to going to university, and I need you to understand that this was major. I had felt utterly crushingly alone for so long, stifled by the Home and town I resided in and the family that I lived with, becoming more hyperaware of myself and not in a good way. I was wracked with self-doubt over what I even wanted to do and whether I was able to do it, in the throes of quite-possibly the heaviest bout of self-loathing that I have faced to date over my appearance and personality, I effectively flunked my way through my Sixth Form studies despite having been so academically-talented up to then, and what friends I had either drifted away as time went on or I always felt at some kind of distance to. The only thing I had to look forward to in my life prior to the Summer before my first year of university – and I really do mean this – was the occasional podcast recording session that I had with a few friends I had met online, and even that was starting to fall apart as it slowly became more apparent that most everybody else didn’t actually like each other.
Things were bad, I cannot stress that enough. And though things sort of picked up throughout that Summer, as I started writing semi-professional articles for a pair of now-defunct websites called Screened.com and GameSparked – whose former editor, Mat Paget, now works at GameSpot; hi, Mat, if you are for some bizarre reason reading this – the fact is that I needed to go to university. I needed to get out. For my sake, I needed to get out.
I shall spare you the blow-by-blow, because we would be here all day and these articles are long enough as is, but university on the whole was the best thing that could have happened to me. It took time, a fair bit of it even though I feel I took to life at uni relatively quickly, but I honestly believe that I grew substantially over the three years that I was there. I (somehow) regained my academic skills, I pushed myself to be more social with other people, I became more independent and resultantly felt somewhat more confident in living by myself, I juggled often-ridiculous workloads competently, I became slightly more accepting of myself – my body, my personality, my writing “skills,” my depression – and I even went out! To a club! Once! And I didn’t hate it! Sure, there were times and periods where I felt defeated and lonely and couldn’t deal with everything, but they were ultimately outweighed by the good times.
The one-year radio anniversary bowling trip I had with Lucy, Milli, and Vicky. Pete shaving his hair off for a second-year TV show production we had to do. Every single instance of Screen 1 with Lucy. The night I went “clubbing” with most of the radio exec. Seeing Ghostbusters opening night with Ciara (and, less happily, suffering through Batman: The Killing Joke with her shortly after that). The “photo party” at Bari’s that was weird without ever feeling isolating. The times that others opened up to me, even if it were only in a minor way. Finally meeting Jackson, one of my online friends, in the flesh as physical proof that they weren’t some delusion I cooked up in my head, and again when they came up to me for a weekend to watch Fifty Shades of Grey and generally hang out. The same thing happening with Ben this year, minus the Fifty Shades part. The five-hour “Top 50 Songs of 2015” show I hosted and put together entirely by myself from scratch. Listening to Johnny’s surprisingly-strong Bowie impression during a Rock Band party. The chaos of The Union Election Results show that I co-hosted. Going to my first press screening and then being in the same room as Elizabeth Banks, asking her questions like some kind of real film journalist. Interviewing the very handsome lead singer of WHITE in what amounted to a broom closet before a gig, like some kind of real member of the media.
Those are the parts that I remember, those are the parts I will always remember, and I will remember them far more vividly than the evenings spent laying on the floor of my flat staring at walls, trying to shed tears so that I could feel some kind of release from the crushing misery that is a constant of my life but failing to do so. In a way, they feel more like dreams than things that actually happened to me, particularly now that I am back home. Coming back home is like the last three years never happened, and that kind of total reset has been incredibly hard to come to terms with. To have spent three years growing, maturing, coming on so far from the near-hopeless hole I was in prior to heading off, building a life of my own… I spent close to a full week after Graduation effectively confined to my bed, because I was so defeated and hopeless that I could barely muster up the energy to get dressed, let alone write articles or put up the veneer of happiness. Ditto the time following my unlikely trip down to London at the beginning of October to cover the London Film Festival – to get a taste of The Big Time, to a degree, for two glorious weeks, only to return home with nothing else having changed hurt, it really did.
But something I’ve realised throughout the past month is that, despite how things may appear and the absolute lows that I have sank to throughout the year, I haven’t reset to zero like I am so terrified might happen. At least for the time being, I can’t reset back to zero. Not with the progress that I have made, even if it is progress that appears negligible. 2016 was the year that I finally started receiving professional treatment for my depression and anxiety, and, whilst there is obviously a long ways to go just yet, I do believe that I am starting to understand both of those conditions and how they affect my life more. I’ve actively been making efforts to try and hang out/meet up with friends more than I have done before, where I would normally be so filled with self-doubt over whether anybody would want to talk to me that I wouldn’t try to engage with people more than necessary. I’ve started writing again – which, granted, I really only stopped because Third Year was so busy that I couldn’t find the time, but it’s still something – and I think I’ve managed to pen some of my best work in these past few months.
I got invited to my first Halloween party this year, and even went in costume (bad costume but still a costume). I also got invited to my first New Year’s Eve Party, which would have been the first time I spent New Year’s with somebody other than my parents, until it was cancelled a couple of days back, but there’s a symbolic progress there! Most of all, I’m starting to realise that, at least right now, I’m not really alone. I may be separated by some distance from most of my friends, and many of them may be completely incapable of answering messages in a timely fashion, but many of them are still there. Whether they’re close confidants who have stuck by me regardless of whatever bullshit flies out of my mouth, or people whom I’ve shared almost every lecture for the previous three years with yet somehow had never properly interacted with beforehand, or minor acquaintances whom I like but never thought liked me back only for them to reach out during my worst moments to see how I am doing.
Perhaps it’s just been the past month where I have been doing a lot of stuff, writing tonnes, and started taking anti-depressants that appear to work somewhat without also leaving me an insomniac-shit-boner mess, but right now I’m feeling… OK. I’m not about to go cartwheeling into 2017, blasting Demi Lovato from a wall of speakers, middle-fingers raised high in the air and ready for anything, but that is something. With some hindsight, this year has not entirely been The Worst. It’s been a year of transition, which are awkward and painful phases in time, and much of next year will likely be the same, since it’s probably time for me to get off my arse and find a job so that I can become a productive member of society. But transition eventually reveals the scope of the change it facilitated, and even going back to Square One isn’t the same as it once may have been. I may still be in Scunthorpe, living primarily in this crushingly tiny bedroom with no money and no opportunities or events happening in this area, but I have changed. And though it’s not as tangible as my brother’s, I do have a life, and friends, and I have grown from where I was three years ago.
I’m not going to end this on a completely hopeful note, because I know how my life works and these phases of optimism and despair come and go, and even with this kind of hindsight it still doesn’t change just how monotonous and crushing and aimless my days can often be in the moment, particularly due to living with my Mother. But I’m also not completely hopeless about next year. I mean, I’m completely hopeless about the world as a whole next year – ha ha ha, we’re all going to die! – but in my personal life, my little bubble? I see more painful and draining transition, but I’m somewhat hopeful that what’s on the other side might not be so bad. Everything’s changing, but at least there will be a few constants.
One of those constants being new comments from angry parents on my Two by Two review over at Failed Critics. 18 months and they still keep on a-coming…
Thank you to everyone who reads or has read my work, listened to anything I’ve done on Hullfire Radio, followed me on Twitter, shared my shit, conversed with me or reached out to me in any way, or just physically knows me in person and puts up with me. You all mean so much to me, you truly do. Thank you. Let’s try 2017.