I pen this alone in a cheap hotel room in South Kensington, having ejected my travelling companion from not only the room, not just the hotel, but the entire city. She’s gone to Chichester – a neat coincidence of visiting a friend and leaving me alone. But it’s no “woe is me” moment, because I couldn’t be more relieved.
Since she arrived for a UK trip for which I was happy to tag along, I got progressively worse. That is – anxiety, irritability, frustration, an inability to converse, and IBS. It peaked on Wednesday when we visited the Harry Potter studios in Watford. I know what you’re thinking – Harry Potter, if not causing the problem, at least exacerbated it ho ho. But on the day in question I was indifferent to everything, thereby barring the potentially nausea-inducing Potterness. Instead, I was emotionally drained, and the victim of intense stabbing pains in unmentionable areas.
Sadly though, my lack of fun rubbed off on my poor friend, who got increasingly upset with me, all the while apologising for something, for being somehow responsible for my predicament. All I could do was quietly attempt to console her, to feign interest at magic wands and Dickensian potion shops, and try not to squirm so much from the agony.
Whilst my problem has a physical dimension, there is no “cause”. I’ve been probed and tested and examined and sent on my way with a slap on the back and some pills. The effectiveness of them comes and goes arbitrarily and it’s incredibly hard to conclude that medication is working – put me in another location, with other people, and the whole constitution changes. Hence, anxiety is deemed to be the villain.
As was the case when my visiting friend and I went to a barbecue at my father’s house. This was the weekend before we went to London. Eating events leave me lacking appetite and small-talk. I slowly nibble on burnt ribs and precariously balance a corn on the cob on a weakening paper plate, all the while some well-meaning neighbour is piling burgers on me and discussing the weather. They talk about jobs and relationships and houses and holidays, none of which I have. I finish barbecues hungry, tired and hopeless, and bewildered at how such an event can be so emotionally unsettling.
During this particular barbecue I was able to sneak off for a nap under the pretext of an early trip to the airport. The next day, back at my mother’s house, I was able to steer clear of the family because of a recent bust-up with them due to my perceived laziness. (I’m often in bed, and hence not working or doing housework, which has led to resentment). Following this strange weekend and the rather morbid Harry Potter experience, I was not surprised when my friend decided to escape for a day.
And it’s been a pleasant day spent alone – only mild-to-minimum pain. Has the relative calm been because I’m alone or despite it? I don’t know. I had the chance to visit other London friends, but didn’t risk it. Instead, I went to the Royal Academy of Arts, got bemused and disgusted by the ugly wealth exhibited in Mayfair, and drank tea by the side of the road. I wanted to share experience with an unknown someone, but that someone ends up being an inner voice. Being alone is like Stockholm Syndrome: you depend on it once it’s caught you. Nowadays socialising is almost unbearable, or at best a chore. Humans have become like another species, and talking to them requires careful micro-management, deep breaths, the need to express things accurately and concisely to avoid the panic of my interlocutor not understanding. Even social networks make me sick. Few people stick by you when you can’t handle being around them; those that do get tired. It’s a bummer because I like people i n theory . As Bill Hicks said, “I’m a misanthropic humanist.”
We live in a world of awakening voices. The voices of LGBT(QIA+), of women, of various minorities which have experienced some form of oppression or suppression. The voice of mental health is getting louder, as it has been since Freud ruptured Victorian notions of psychological normality, and the trend has continued with people like Stephen Fry, Davina McCall and Alastair Campbell coming out of the depression closet. If this makes for a more understanding and less judgemental society, then all for the better, but I can’t help thinking that rampant “celebritism” and all the twisted values it promotes is one of the factors driving people towards a gloomy sense of inadequacy.
In this age of personal brand identities, introversion and even depression is sometimes sold as a Unique Selling Point. Myers-Briggs initials are thrown about on dating websites like OBEs or PhDs. Depressed Twitter users share their plight with followers using the hashtag #depression. The Introvert seems to offer something more than your everyday citizen – a quiet, brooding intelligence, something unspoken, subversive and mysterious. But not everyone is a Nietzsche or a Kurt Cobain or a Romantic poet, with hidden brilliance trapped far below like an illuminated pool in a dark cave. Not everyone is a protagonist in a slow-burning success story.
Of course I’m only referring to myself at the end there. If writing poetry, tweeting about depression or reading about Davina McCall’s hard times has any positive effect for anyone, then it’s worth it. It’s good to talk, so they say. As for my own rather invisible brand of mental illness, I’ve said just about all I can.
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