This last summer something happened to me. Not anything particularly dramatic. But still significant.
Somehow my mood dipped very low in the early summer. In my experience, any kind of mental disorder takes many different manifestations. This certain period, which I feel is behind me now thank goodness, was characterised by tiredness—I was tired from the moment I woke up in the morning. This was the worst feeling, to have it hit you as soon as you wake up. It wasn’t a tiredness I could shake off or sleep off. That’s the thing I can remember the most. I don’t think I want to continue remembering anymore right now.
I have had a cocktail of various health problems over the years. So many that it feels like such a mess in my head. I like things to be tied up neatly, but I suppose what I’ve learned is that these kinds of things don’t cooperate with what you like. They just happen.
But this isn’t a sad story.
Sometimes I would try and go for a walk. Going on my own probably wasn’t a good idea—I felt a lot weaker by myself—but I still tried. A lot of the time I didn’t get very far and would perch on a bench in the churchyard next to our house. Just sitting down somewhere outside was a tiny respite from suffering. I can’t remember when it first happened, but while sitting on the bench one day—too tired or anxious or sad to go any further on my walk but not wanting to go back home—I decided to ring a girl in my class, Kathleen.
Because of our last names, when secondary school started Kathleen and I were seated next to each other almost all the time. The first time I spoke to her was in German lessons. For some reason, she decided to strike up a conversation by telling me she thought her house was haunted. She said that she heard footsteps in her attic. At this age I was pretty scared of ghostly things, and maybe this was a first sign of our similarities. (For example: when the prospect of Kathleen walking home from my house a few weeks ago was too frightening for her, I tried walking with her, thinking it couldn’t be that bad. I ended up equally terrified—it was absolutely pitch black in the churchyard. We ran back to my house to look for a torch. We ended up having to run together through the dark anyway.) Neither of us can stomach scary movies very well. I think we both prefer the sort of comfortable heart-thumping feeling you get when Carl Sagan is explaining black holes on Cosmos. The kind of scary where your mind is blown by incomprehensible possibilities.
One Sunday, around a month ago now, Kathleen came by and found me in a strange mood. I think she said she could tell. Suddenly on that day everything that I’d managed to dismiss (with her help—she told me that “nothing is permanent”) came back to haunt me. The memories of that tired feeling. The prospect of its being able to return at any moment. I wasn’t sad, just troubled. I don’t know how we got onto the topic, but we started talking about depression, generally at first but then more specifically. I was so upfront about my experiences in a way I have never been with anyone else. At first it was tough. The words didn’t feel right as I said them—I felt awkward and incoherent. To be honest, I don’t even know why it was Kathleen that I told all this too. Maybe it’s because she’s a great listener—sometimes you can just about see the cogs turning in her head as you speak. Or maybe she understands some of what I’ve been through from personal experience.
I think the family you live with sort of learn things about you through osmosis. They pick up little things here and there, and they put these things together to make a picture of how they understand you. But trying to explain my depression to them is really hard. I don’t know where to start, because we have all lived with it every day. Starting with a clean sheet with Kathleen and just telling her my story felt nice and simple. My feelings of anxiety and depression were secrets that I’d clutched so hard to myself for so long that as I was saying them, I couldn’t really believe what was escaping from my mouth. I mean, they’re some things that I haven’t even got around to telling any therapist I’ve had.
I’d had therapists for almost two years. In my experience it takes a lot longer to get to the really important stuff with them. You have to trust them and that can take a while, and once you start talking about something they have to analyse it all. That Sunday I was able to convey to Kathleen what seemed almost pointless trying to explain to anyone else.
Afterward I felt a sense of shock, but also a sense of relief. It was quite strange how quickly we snapped back into normal teenage mode. We returned to watching Cosmos, I burned her a CD full of the Smiths, and I am pretty sure I started asking her whether I’d look all right blonde. But I knew that wasn’t the end of this conversation. I still had so much more to tell her.
You can’t know when you’ll find the friend that you can trust with your secrets. You can’t, obviously, tell everyone you meet all the deepest, darkest things about yourself. That would be ill-advised, not to mention exhausting. But when you find that person, don’t be afraid to tell them. I can’t tell you how nice it is to finally have a friend who understands. That even more than understands, helps. ♦