Taking stock…

CW: Depression, suicide references, suicidal thoughts.

Over the course of the last 365 days, I have had three full-on mental breakdowns.  Like, proper screaming, sobbing, “I want to die” type stuff.  The first occurred over Easter, brought upon by crippling loneliness, seemingly torching a long-standing friendship of mine due to my neediness, and not being able to find the break-off suction bit on the hoover so I could vacuum the stairs.  The second occurred at the beginning of June, this time caused by having spent two days working what was supposed to have been a Summer job, where my anxiety and depression conspired to turn a relatively mundane and typical work with a lengthy commute into ALL AND EVERYTHING THAT MY LIFE WILL BE FOREVER.  The third came just three weeks ago (at post-date) as a culmination of the week following the news that one of my friends from university took their own life; a period of self-reflection that turned into extreme self-loathing over almost-solely thinking about myself instead of my friend and others, a lot of punching myself in the face, strongly considering throwing myself into oncoming traffic, and finally my first car accident… at a mini-roundabout at about 5MPH, just in case you thought this was going to be properly dramatic or something.

More than any other year, I have become paralysed by my own mortality, even before I was told The News.  Early on, I had dreams involving suicide, and not always my own.  In one of them, I remember grabbing one of my friends (not even one of my close ones), us both leaping into the air, higher than skyscrapers, gliding towards and then hitting the ocean, and the both of us calmly surrendering to the water.  In another, two of my friends leapt from a window several stories up to their deaths because, in-dream (they’ve never acted anything like this in reality), they preferred that to having to associate themselves with me.  I became convinced that these dreams were a result of the anti-depressants that I was on at the start of the year and, after conversations with my counsellor at the time, I stopped taking them.  As a result, whilst I don’t have those subconscious dreams anymore, those thoughts have instead returned to penetrate my day-to-day living like they used to.  I have daydreamed about my eventual death (either from age or self-inflicted) a lot this year, and each time it has left me a panicky, hyperventilating mess, because I cannot trust my own mind anymore.

As you can probably tell, my selfie skills are still garbage.

This year, I also lost a lot of things.  My friend, for one, obviously, which is something that’s still a touch too raw for me to talk about even in a place as open as here.  I also lost much of the support system that I had in place at this semi-optimistic time last year: therapy had been, in my counsellor’s own words, “a failure” so that was terminated in late-May, and I have been in referral-limbo ever since, because the underfunded and disorganised mental health arm of the NHS in the UK right now is fucking unconscionable.  I lost many other friends in a more metaphorical sense: to geography, to jobs, to my own anxieties and depression that make it hard to message people out of the blue.  I lost my drive to write, largely, although it’s been going for a while: technically, I’ve written more articles this year (87) than I did in 2016 (80), but there were months-long stretches this year where I didn’t so much as hover over the Word shortcut on my Quick-Start bar, and 2016 had the excuse of Final Year Dissertations and the site keeping busy through Screen 1 episodes.

I lost my sense of self: who am I, what drives me, what do I enjoy, and what do I want to do?  Answers to those questions still elude me and, despite what a certain Baz Luhrmann song may try to convince me (that used to be one of my favourites growing up because I was a weird kid), I can’t find any comfort or freedom in that uncertainty.  I also lost my Twitter, although that one was intentional and self-inflicted.  During a particularly low Summer, I found that the service I had made an integral part of my life for five years was only ever making me feel worse, whether it be from the constant outrage, the backlash to the outrage, friends I had found on the service and that I considered myself close to drifting further away from, my failure to find comfort there whilst my own life fell apart, or whatever.  So, I tried deleting it for half of August, reactivated it when I realised it would help for the London Film Festival, and then permanently deleted it at the start of November.  Contrary to how I thought it would play out (but perfectly in-keeping with all of my terrible decisions being self-inflicted), I’ve found myself largely feeling even worse since I cut myself off – at least when I was bored, I used to be able to scroll through a timeline that gave the illusion of something happening in my life.   It’s like I’ve lost a limb, in a way, kind of, no, that’s stupid, delete that.

Most of all, I’ve finally hit the realisation that I am not, nor will I ever be, a writer.  I mean, for one thing alone, I’ve never even tried pitching articles anywhere.  That’s like the basic foundation of writing, and I’ve never once tried it, likely nor will I because I have absolutely no fucking idea what the etiquette for such a thing is and I can barely talk to my friends out of the blue so how the fuck am I going to message a complete stranger without cause to pitch them something (despite that being the nature of their fucking job).  I’m basically Llewyn Davis except not as talented, evidently terrified of rejection of any form, and maybe one-tenth less of an asshole.  I don’t have the hustle or the drive to be a writer, nor the productivity, the brevity, the voice, the patience, or a million other things, and to continue to think otherwise is doing little but delay the deflation for a touch longer.  Hopefully, at some point, I’ll accept that it’s just a hobby that I don’t even gain that much pleasure from – writing is often a war with my anxiety, self-loathing, and attention span, where the satisfaction doesn’t come until weeks later when I might scroll back through something I wrote and have a “holy shit, I wrote that!” moment – and then I’ll work on those aforementioned unanswered questions.

This is Vicky. Vicky is a badass.

I guess, although it felt so much like it for the vast majority, 2017 wasn’t the absolute pits for me.  There were occasional bright spots.  Even though I found it to be inferior on the whole to 2016 (and not just because that was my first time), I am still glad that I got to attend the London Film Festival, a fortnight infinitely preferable to the nothing I would have done had I stayed home.  It also meant that I got to spend my birthday away from my family (always a plus), and this year I even got to hang out with a friend on my birthday rather than be alone.  Although it meant that I never saved up enough money to start thinking about getting away from the home and family that mean well but only exacerbate my mental health problems, I got to go to more gigs this year and they’re always fun.  Relatedly, Arcade Fire played my goddamn town pre-Everything Now and it was magical, and I finally got to see Gorillaz, because that Monkey’s Paw stays its hand for no man!  As I mentioned in the #1 entry of My Top 20 Films countdown, I also fell back in love with movies, this year, as their (and music’s) outstanding year provided me with some genuine comfort and excitement whenever my brain wasn’t reminding me that they are all ultimately meaningless and trivial things when I’m in a box in the ground at some unspecified point in time missed by nobody.  Also, Lucy got married, AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!

Normally, I don’t do resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise.  When I was younger, I did, because I was a carefree child and I wouldn’t get so hung up about when I inevitably broke or failed them in some way like I do now.  Fact is, I’m weak, both physically – that aforementioned session of hitting myself during my third breakdown left absolutely no marks, bruising, or any indication at all that I spent upwards of an hour total beating my face, which is something I have mixed feelings about – and mentally, and I fear that it’s too late for me.  That I am in the dead-zone where I recognise and am aware of my various flaws and shittiness, but am just completely incapable of sustained change, despite having earnestly tried.  Still, a friend of mine was trying to sell me on the power of physically writing down to-do lists (even though I make mental to-do lists most mornings and still only fulfil half of them 25% of the time) when we last spoke, and this piece is explicitly for my own benefit (apologies if you’ve been reading this), so let’s try four semi-obtainable ones and see how that ends up.

1] Appreciate Lucy more

Lucy and I first properly met back at the start of Second Year in University, where I shanghaied her into co-hosting a radio show with me, and she has been my best friend for the past… *counts on fingers* ALMOST FOUR YEARS, WHAT THE FUCK IS TIME?!!  She’s been there for me almost every time I’ve needed her, and been forced to hear things that I’m not comfortable sharing on here – believe it or not, there are in fact limits to what I share with the void of the Net – or stream-of-consciousness self-loathing outbursts that I misguidedly feel I need to share with somebody in the dead-of-night, but she’s still voluntarily keeping in touch with me despite everything.  In 2018, I should take that fact more to heart, to focus more on how lucky I am to have a friend like that rather than obsess over those who don’t message out of the blue yet I feel close to.  (This also applies to those other friends who also make an effort to talk with me, in spite of everything about me.)  Taking it further than that, maybe also dump my shit on her less, bug her a little less, and generally let her live her own life more often.  After all, she’s MARRIED NOW, AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!  *girly squeals*

And now you have met Mac. This is his default expression on most days.

2] Feel less guilty about Mac

Mac, for those of you who don’t personally know me – in that case, I am truly sorry for making you read this article, I swear that I am not normally this self-involved when I write – is my dog, a big old dopey German Shepherd my Mum first got back in late-July of 2013 before I was set to leave for University.  He’s a silly, adorable, always-entertaining bundle of fluff and slobber, and even my worst days are elevated by the way he bobs into a room with his tail wagging and a ridiculous grin on his face.  He’s also, as a result of my Mum’s smothering coddling (she’s honestly not a great parent), got MASSIVE abandonment issues; you can’t even move cars around on the drive without him crying like a child who’s just been told Santa doesn’t exist.  Therefore, he gets really sulky whenever anybody is out of the house and it’s just me and him, which makes my brain think he resents being with me, particularly since I’m a largely sedentary person.  He allegedly also acts that way whenever I’m out of the house, so I feel guilty for leaving him.  As a result, I feel like I have a responsibility to remain at home, despite how frequently miserable being at home makes me, because otherwise he’ll get too sad.  Since the alternative is staying at home until he dies, in 2018, I need to be less hung up about these facts and instead allow myself to plan and enjoy more times when I’m not at home with him.

3] Do that Inflatable 5K I signed up for, without collapsing, and have fun with it

A week before the London Film Festival, whilst scrolling through Facebook, I saw that something called an Inflatable 5K was coming to Hull.  For those who don’t know, it’s a 5K, obviously, but every 500M you also have to traverse some kind of inflatable obstacle, like those used in Get Your Own Back and 50/50 (which I have just had the horrifying realisation will be shows that mean nothing to anybody under the age of 23).  As a kid who always loved the idea of going on those shows, I forwarded the link to Lucy (who loves doing anything that makes her feel like Lara Croft), and we signed up for it.  The thing is that I am woefully unfit, and too self-conscious (from a childhood of PE and bullying) to exercise without friends around to make me relax a bit more, so this whole thing is not just about living out the pure fantasies of 7-year-old Me.  Therefore, although I am definitely going to do it anyway – since it cost £26.50 per entry, and I had it drilled into me by my parents from an early age that you don’t throw money like that away – my resolution here is to get excited for and then enjoy it.  Focus on the fun rather than the time I finish in or how much of it I end up walking or whatever.

Also: still don’t tell my parents until it’s done, or even never if that’s possible.  They’ll only mock the idea, express puzzlement that makes me feel self-conscious, or fret that I’ll die horrifically because of my diabetes, anyway.

Wolf Alice at the XOYO in London, October 3rd.

4] Figure myself out, or become more ok with not knowing.

Shit, I was supposed to be making obtainable goals!  Still, all three of those other resolutions dovetail into the same overall sentiment, so maybe I can use this less as an absolute and more as something to check my progress by at this time next year.  I could make others like “Have no near-suicidal breakdowns” or “Don’t get so hung up on other people” or “Get a job already” or so many others that directly address my flaws, unlike the listed ones which come at them from the side, but I know that I will only feel even fucking worse when I inevitably fail at them.  At least these ones are somewhat manageable, one’s going to have to happen no matter what, whilst #4 is more of a mantra than a resolution so I can’t exactly break it.

I’m not even going to pretend that I think things may get better for me over the next 12 months, like I did last year.  I know that the only reason I have been functioning and “fine” over the past few weeks is because I’ve been immersed in this whole Year in Review thing, which is my distraction from the holiday season that would otherwise make me properly miserable.  Christmas for the enforced merriment; and New Year’s for the fact that mine involves, as it has for 22 out of 23 instances, being stuck at home, watching a shitty Channel 5 list countdown whilst my Mum gets drunk and then forces a sing-a-long of Auld Lang Syne despite my protestations through malicious guilt-tripping, because I have no other options available to me.  When it’s over, I’ll probably collapse again, I just won’t have anywhere to scream into about it like in all pre-November instances.  Still, I guess there’s at least a small, dried-up speck of me that still hopes.  I mean, if there weren’t, I wouldn’t get up out of bed… except that I largely don’t nowadays, already.  Shit.  Err… well, if there weren’t, then I guess the recurring concept of my eventually-dying wouldn’t give me such vicious panic attacks!  That’s… a positive?

I don’t have a conclusive kicker or anything.  This was just a self-indulgent ramble for my own benefit and nobody else’s.  Have a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you tomorrow for real content.

Callum Petch

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