It is hard sometimes with mental illness to know. One minute you are flying and the next you are hurtling downwards, able to make out the individual windows in the buildings and the colours of jackets and the patterns of chewing gum on the streets. There can be triggers and there can be signs, and sometimes the triggers come first and sometimes the signs, and in some instances the descent or ascent can be difficult to comprehend.
As we know, even the richest of people, the most successful, the most popular can become depressed and experience mental illness (and poor mental health, which is not the same, though they intertwine. We all experience bouts of poor mental health). More and more people are aware that these illnesses do not discriminate. People can be predisposed, genetically, to mental illness or a vulnerability to mental ill health, but environment also factors. Of course the outside can affect the inside. That is why torture is a thing. That is why animals bite themselves in zoos. That is why we close our eyes in frustration on buses when people don’t use headphones.
Here’s the thing: I am struggling. And I didn’t see it coming. Sometimes there isn’t a reason, it’s just because my brain does not work so well. But sometimes there is. A break-up, a fuck-up, realising you’ve come to the end of Killing Eve. I wasn’t sure this time.
But it strikes me now that I think, this time, a big part of it might be living in the middle of the absolute never-ending cluster-fuck that is the world today reflected in the news. The scandals I grew up with were things like Carole Caplan’s weird friendship with Cherie Blair (it involved crystals). There was Afghanistan and Iraq. The death of David Kelly. Huge, obviously – but I was too young to grasp the full impact and implications. I went on marches, but perhaps I didn’t fully understand them. There was the Kosovan war – but the school I went to happily took in refugees, and we shared football games with sponge balls that smelled bad when it rained. I discovered names like Muhamet.
Politically then, I am a coddled child of the 90s. Labour was elected three times, and whatever you make of that, things seemed relatively stable. The key moral concerns were that candy sticks came in packets that resembled cigarettes. I am not saying everything was all sweetness and light – the Rwandan genocide, hello – but each day didn’t feel like being strapped to a rack.
In 2019, our government is a pick ’n’ mix of incompetence, narcissism and bigotry. We have people in charge of things who seem to not know what they are talking about, and even worse, who aren’t afraid to show it. And even worse than that, often wear their ignorance as though it were a medal.
Our treasured NHS is creaking; those three letters threatening to fall apart like an old shop sign. People die, weeks after being declared fit for work. The Windrush generation is subjected to appalling treatment, lives ruined. 440 homeless people die on our streets in a calendar year. Amid the catastrophe that is Brexit we have politicians in peacetime harking back to the good old times of war. Just when I think something can’t get either more farcical or more morally decrepit, I am proved wrong. We are all proved wrong.
I wake up to the back of the world’s screaming throat. You can ignore social media. You can switch off – both metaphorically and literally. But it is hard for my job and for many of our jobs. People I know who are all good and likeable people offline spit insults at each other online. People I have never met call me a “cunt”. Sometimes it’s for agreeing with something; sometimes for disagreeing with something; sometimes for reserving judgement. Sometimes for holding two ideas in my head at the same time, which is apparently no longer permissible.
The front pages of newspapers declare Enemies of the People. A serial liar, so many serial liars, still have a shot at becoming the next prime minister. Come to think of it, a serial liar is the prime minister. The opposition is in disarray. Across the Atlantic, a guy who said he could shoot someone in the street is President. People carry tiki torches and change their avatars to swastikas. Babies are torn from their parents’ grasp and might never be reunited. I re-read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and it doesn’t seem so bad.
In Europe, the right is rising. Hungary’s quasi-fascistic Viktor Orbán writes a thank you letter to the Conservative MEPs that supported him. A British man murders an MP. A Polish mayor is knifed to death on stage. Kids are blown apart in pop concerts. The left shrugs its shoulders at anti-Semitism, the right against Islamophobia. Elsewhere, Bolsonaro, Brazil’s “proud homophobe” is elected in a landslide. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, boasts that he once stabbed someone to death. Saudi Arabia splits its time between brutally killing journalists, bombing Yemen, imprisoning women and publicly crucifying and decapitating a man in part for gay sex.
I am exhausted. The globe – which some people now feel confident again to voice is flat – weighs on me. I am not in danger. I am not a Russian thrown in jail. I am not a Syrian sheltering in a basement.
Sure, I struggle to pay rent. Sometimes if I kiss a girlfriend in public, a guy with a night out on his breath will ask whether he can join in. I mutter childhood traumas at therapists’ shoes. But mostly I am fatigued of being incredulous. Of seeing people in newspaper columns and on television shows talk about how they are being censored. The planet is dying and countries pull out of the Paris Agreement. School kids marching for their lives are chastised.
Sometimes, when I read the news by blue light or I pick apart the most vitriolic polemic in a paper, I can barely take it. God, we hear people say, the world is so depressing right now! And it is. I really, genuinely, think it is. My head feels as though I have twenty tabs open and all the autoplay videos are clashing.
I know I am not the only one who feels this. I know one doesn’t have to have a mental illness to feel it; these febrile times are affecting the mental health of so many people. It isn’t being a snowflake (and aren’t the people who make those accusations always the most thin-skinned?) It is being utterly drained and drowning, as though every breath is just taking in water.
I want to end with hope, though I fear it will be a long road ahead. But it’s there, in the women (and men) leading the #MeToo movement; the kids campaigning for gun reform (though it’s further emotionally exhausting to read the stories behind those). And even Twitter can make me laugh out loud, or deeply impress: there are people out there, witty as hell, sharp as nails, smart as professors – because they are professors. Hearing the testimonies from people who lived through the tumult of the past, and to keep going.
But I am struggling. I am calling the doctors, again. I go for walks to hide from the world in copses of trees. I switch my phone to airplane mode.