All I Know

Friday, February 28, 2014

The last day of February marks the last Life is Sweet post. How fitting that it come as a result of the show and the blog series. Andrew contacted me after seeing The Life is Sweet Project and after sharing a bit of his story with me, I asked if he would consider being one of my guest bloggers. Here he is to close out an incredible month of candor, bravery and sharing. 

I wish I knew how to begin.

I know—that’s not exactly the best way to begin, is it? Usually, when I’m writing a story or a paper or a poem, I would start by laying the basis of a scene: establish the setting, the characters, the theme, and the conflict. But this isn’t a piece of fiction; it isn’t an abstract concept that I can reason through; and it sure as hell isn’t poetic. This is my life. This is all I know.

In a certain light, I’m almost grateful that I have no memories of a time before darkness. Now, this isn’t to say that I have no happy memories at all… There have been, at times, the odd flashes of lightning through the storm. These momentary reprieves bring my world into a sharp focus; they show me the people around me; they show me how vast and magnificent my surroundings are. But, they also serve to terrify me. Nothing else shows you just quite how far the storm stretches in every direction.

I was eight when my family moved back to Canada. I’d been born in Toronto but, shortly thereafter, moved to Barbados until I was five, at which point I moved again, this time to an island in the English Channel called Jersey. Before we moved back to Canada I was already prone to bad days (I’ve since learned that there is a strong genetic tradition of mental illness in my family); but here everything became so much more magnified. My parents placed me in the local school’s French Immersion program and decided to let me skip Grade Three and go directly into Grade Four; given the fact that I already had an unusual accent and no friends, this combination of negative popularity checkmarks made me an instant favourite for bullies. School, once a source of tremendous joy for me, became instead a source of anger and anxiety. I grew to hate the other kids and the teachers who did nothing. This hatred came to tint everything I experienced, even the rare gestures of compassion from those that cared about me. Most of all, I hated the circumstances I was in—circumstances that were shaping who I was—I came to hate myself.

I won’t bore you with the details to the story of my life, in part because many of them have been blocked out of my memory, or because they’re not appropriate for civilized conversation. Suffice to say, I’ve seen a vast array of tacky art hung on doctors’ walls; I’ve seen the bottom of many a bottle of pills, both prescription and otherwise; I’ve blackened my lungs, burnt holes in my brain, bloodied my nose, and covered my body in scars—all in a vain attempt to somehow purify myself: I figured that, if the depression is part of ‘me,’ the solution is simple…change ‘me.’

That didn’t—and doesn’t—work.

This is the part where I wish I could give you a quick-fix bit of advice. Unfortunately, I can’t. I never had a ‘life is sweet’ moment of realization; no epiphanies for me, I’m sad to say. All I can really offer by way of suggestion to fellow sufferers is to seek out help. Looking back on how long I spent stewing away in my own mind, that’s the thing I regret most—that I didn’t ask for assistance. I didn’t think I needed it; I just didn’t know that what I was experiencing was unusual: that not everybody fantasizes about taking his or her final steps. I spent so much time looking at myself through a lens that only shows flaws that I couldn’t have told you what I really looked like. I could describe to you, in detail, every bad thing I’ve ever done, every bad habit I have, every time I ever failed at anything, which is why what other people had to tell me came as such a shock when I finally tried talking to them. They told me the story of my life that I couldn’t see.

Depression has an amazing ability to distort your memories. You forget pretty quickly that you just aced a test, or started a new relationship, or any number of other, positive points in your life. Instead, your mind assaults you with endless arrays of bad memories—like freezing during a final exam, or falling out of love. What you have to appreciate in all of this is that everyone experiences setbacks: life is not a linear occurrence, which would be pretty dull anyways. The sooner you speak to other people, the sooner you realize this—and that is the best way to overcome feeling alone, feeling sub-standard, and being at the mercy of your own mind.

Every day will still be tough—and there are no guarantees that you won’t get hurt by doing dangerous stuff (like living)—but, by looking at yourself through another person’s lens, at least you’ll know that you would be missed by skipping your story to get to the end.

Andrew Brobyn is a young writer and editor living in Toronto. Much of his personal body of work involves mental health issues, about which he knows far, far too much.  

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