Dear Journal – On Mental Health
It will not be a secret to those who know me well that I struggle with mental health, particularly with bouts of depression and periods of time where I find myself lost in a mire of self-doubt and worthlessness. During these periods it is as though a heavy fog has descended upon me, sapping the colour from the world around me and blotting out the contrast. Near objects seem far and far objects seem intangible. It is an existential mire of my own making.
What is the point of it all? Why am I here? Why am I even bothering? I know what I have to do, and I know this is all on my head, so why don’t I just stop moping and do it?
Shit— I’m on the couch again. Didn’t I just say that I was going to do something about this? Okay, I’m going to go outside. I need to leave the house. Deep breath. I’ll find a cafe. I’ll set myself up there. I’ll—
Fuck, how is it three o’clock? What have I done with the day? This is hopeless.
And so on and so on, endlessly spiraling down. Onwards the internal conversation goes, in and out through patches of time, some remembered, some forgotten. Yesterday, I found a lantern in the distance and managed to follow it out. The day before, I did not. Today, I feel as though I have wandered up to the outskirts again. Will I enter or will I steer myself clear? I started this article two days ago and I am finishing it today in hope that by taking this action I will avoid reentering the mire and will return to life. This article is my trail of bread crumbs and I hope that with luck, next time, writing it will help me find my way out a little quicker.
So what the hell is going on with me?
I have stepped back from teaching and am mostly unemployed. I am freelancing in television for money to pay the bills and spend most of my time writing or reading. My main objective is to complete the novel I have been working on since 2014. The sub-objectives are to improve my mental and physical health, and to explore other creative avenues to become a more well-rounded artist and find new opportunities for meaningful employment in the future.
I should be happy about all of this but I am finding the increase in free time challenging. It’s very easy to lose yourself in the tasks that you must do, those that are set by an external person or workplace, but very hard to discipline oneself to complete tasks for yourself that may or may not have any future reward.
I have started a new relationship with a lovely guy who I am judging too harshly. I feel as though I am holding him up against impossible ideals and am looking for reasons for the relationship to fail. (I am worried about him reading this but felt that it would be dishonest to leave it out.) I am simultaneously emotionally needy whilst lacking in emotional reciprocity and, recognising this, I end up feeling selfish and broken inside. Last night I confessed to him that I felt broken and then I spent a solid twenty minutes crying in bed. My mouth was dry, my throat stopped up. I couldn’t speak and so I just laid there and cried whilst he held me.
My psychologist believes that many of the issues I’m having are related to deep feelings of shame relating to being gay and I believe she is correct. Alan Downs and Matthew Todd (the latter building on the former’s work) both discuss toxic shame as experienced by gay men in their books The Velvet Rage and Straight Jacket. Reading these books I found that I identified strongly with many of the ideas, explanations and experiences. From an early age, the world and people around me taught me that I should be fundamentally ashamed of who I was. Of liking the things that I did. Of being something that was somehow less than a man.
There is no easy fix to feeling ashamed for existing and desiring happiness in the life and dreams that cannot be exorcised from you. I believe Matthew Todd is right when he details the countless ways in which gay men try to compensate for their inherent feelings of toxic shame. We constantly have to be the best, surround ourselves with the best, and we are always looking to prove ourselves to someone, to everyone, and most importantly, ourselves. This is certainly true of myself.
‘Can you learn to love that part of yourself that isn’t perfect, that is messy, that is ugly?’
‘I guess, but I don’t know if I want to. Wouldn’t accepting that version of myself also mean that I was accepting mediocrity? That I was deciding to stagnate and accept a version of myself that isn’t the best that I could me?’
— Conversation with Monica
Things that I worry about:
I feel fat, unattractive and ugly.
I am terrified that one day I will die. That I will cease to exist and my memories will vanish. That my life will have been meaningless and that I will ultimately be forgotten. I do not believe in an afterlife and I am terrified of the void that probably exists on the other side of life.
I am scared that I will die alone and unloved.
I am terrified that I am broken and fundamentally unlovable.
I am scared that the more I try to succeed in writing, the closer I come to discovering that it is something that I am unable to do. That I do not have the talent, the nounce or skill to be a writer.
I am scared that I have nothing of value to say.
I am scared that I am wasting my time.
I am scared that I will wake up one day and discover that I am old and poor.
There is a fair amount of evidence that these fears are unreasonable and foolish, but they are fears that I can not easily dispel. As such, I write them here, foolish and unreasonable that they are.
I had planned on writing a nice conclusion to this article. Of making it something a little more literary but I won’t. As with all public journals, I want to maintain absolute honesty. And so, I leave this incomplete because it is about my own journey, and my own journey is far from complete. I will say one more thing though. I do feel better now. I feel better for having written this. For having put my fears down and made an attempt, at least, at explaining them and at explaining my thinking. I find it tremendously useful to put my feelings and experiences into words. Doing so drags them out of my mind and transforms the boogiemen into nothing more terrifying than words on the page. Once this is done, the creatures seem much more assailable and the pathway out of, or around the mire, becomes clear.