You can feel it, when you’re coming out of a depressive period. You can taste the sheer life force that your coffee contains. The scent of the slightly-squashed raspberries you’re sprinkling into your yogurt takes you right back to the summer job you had when you were seventeen. You’re dancing to Taylor Swift in your bedroom mirror, damp curly hair flying around your face, and for the first time in god knows how long, you feel ALIVE. You breathe in the pungent cigarette-smoke stench of strangers on the crowded subway — 8:30 on a Thursday morning is peak travel time, after all — and your favourite song plays in your turquoise earphones, drowning out the sounds of a world that often feels too loud. You ask yourself: is this what happy feels like?
I know when my depression has passed, because the little things feel beautiful. Raindrops on train windows, hazelnut syrup in my coffee, purple tights, purple lipstick, nail polish that hasn’t quite started to chip… Life is in high definition again. You wake up at 6am to watch the new episode of your favourite TV show before going to visit your mum, and for once television isn’t just a tool to numb the sadness. You laugh gleefully at every twist and turn of the plot, hold your hand over your chest when your heartstrings are tugged upon. You are no longer in zombie mode, you are living again.
Last night, I went for a run a little bit before midnight. I planned to go earlier in the day, but it rained, and I was sad and lazy and just wanted to watch mediocre shows on Netflix. I love walking late at night, listening to music and wandering around deserted streets. But running is even better, it makes me feel free. As I ran, I thought about all the things that were making me sad. Most of it stems from what feels like a complete lack of attention. I often joke about my attention-seeking nature, but beneath the humour I try to attach to it, I am deadly serious. Why do you think I act? Why do you think I write? I need to be seen. I can’t be the tree that falls alone in the forest and doesn’t make a sound. I want people to bear witness to my life.
I need to feel like I matter.
I’m not as sensitive as I used to be. But there is one way to get under my skin, and it is indifference.
My friendships don’t tend to last very long. A few years, tops. Sometimes they simply fade, people grow apart. Other times they end in pain and heartbreak. I’ve broken my heart enough times to know it will heal eventually. But what happens when you pour your time and love into someone for months or years, and at the end they’re indifferent to you? I am human marmite, you’ll love me or hate me. But indifference? I don’t know how to make peace with that. It takes me years to open up to people, because I have my fair share of trust issues. But once I open up to someone, I’m all in. I don’t know how to love by halves. As Florence And The Machine said “You want me to love you in moderation. Do I look moderate to you?”
Making new friends has never been my strong point, but this year has been harder than ever. I feel like I’m losing all the people I let myself rely on, and I don’t know how to replace them. Because what if I confide the darkest parts of myself in someone, and they don’t look away, they accept the worst of me, make me feel safe…then after a year I find out they don’t care if we’re friends or not, that I mean nothing to them? It’s easier to be alone, to hide at the side of the room, avoid making new connections, spend two months convincing yourself you’re angry, when underneath it all, you’re just really fucking sad.
I have learnt that I can live without anyone. For a long time I thought that meant people are replaceable. I no longer think that’s the case. You meet new people, make new connections, carve out space in your heart to love new friends. But no two friendships are the same. It’s okay to let yourself feel the pain of losing someone, even if it’s easier to call them every insult under the sun, avoid saying their name, only admit to missing them when you’re drunk or tired and all your defences are down.
At a party the other night, I drank almost an entire bottle of prosecco, and ending up telling a friend all the reasons I was sad. I started on the topic of failed friendships, went off on a tangent about robots, and finally said I don’t know how to write any more, that I feel like I’ve lost my voice. He said “but you’re speaking right now.” He said I can write about this, that I may not know what another person is thinking or feeling, but I can write about myself and my experiences.
I’m scared to write about myself. I’m scared that I can only tell one-sided stories. I’m scared my words will be taken the wrong way. I’m scared of hurting people. At the same time, I’m scared of losing myself, not knowing who I am. The times I feel most like myself are when I write, when I write about what hurts.
As I ran last night, I thought about my conversation with my friend. He’s known me for almost three years. We met in my first week in Glasgow. When people know me for long enough, they know the protocol for dealing with Emotional Eliza: conversations and cuddles, it’s that simple. When I am sad, all I need is someone to hug me, and give me space to talk about my feelings. It was what I had needed all week, but it took me a lot of alcohol to reach the point where I could make that need clear. What I realised yesterday is that it’s all good and well for us to promote messages like “there’s no shame in asking for help” but it doesn’t mean much if none of us are actually taught how to ask.
I have friends that I have seen once or twice a week for the past three years, and I would never dream of asking if I could vent to them (unless I’d downed an entire bottle of prosecco, evidently). I am closed off and riddled with trust issues. I pride myself on being an open person who tells it like it is, but I don’t have a freaking clue how to tell people I’m struggling. Better to be stoic, wear the mask of “busy” and “tired”, leave social events early, or avoid them altogether.
Yesterday, a friend told me I seem so at home in my own skin. Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I feel like an alien trapped in human body. But this comment made me realise I am a better actress than I thought, and that is terrifying. If I seem put together, no one will ever know anything is wrong. No one will check up on me, and I will struggle in silence, because I am too scared of being an inconvenience to the people I love.
I don’t know how to say “I need you.” I don’t want to burden people with my problems. And maybe there’s a part of me that doesn’t want people to think I’m weak. I’ve been friends with people who had massive saviour complexes, and it was a difficult dynamic to navigate. I felt like they never knew which box to put me in, because I was too much of a mess to be viewed as an equal, someone they could confide in and rely on. But I wasn’t enough of a trainwreck to need them to save me. I don’t want people to save me. Most of the time I just want to talk to someone, and be seen. I want them to listen to me, to look into my eyes, to put their phone away and not get distracted by fleeting images in a virtual landscape. I just want to feel like a priority, even if only for a couple of hours.
Because sometimes my sadness doesn’t come from nowhere. Sometimes there is something real and dark and serious. It’s no secret that I like to talk about my problems. I tweet about them, I blog about them, I tell my stupid drama to anyone who’ll listen because boy am I a sucker for attention. But if my world was shattering I would keep that information clutched to my chest, safe from the prying eyes of a world that is only briefly entertained by the misery of others.
Everyone processes pain differently. Personally, I like to shut people out until I’ve intellectualised my emotions (or suppressed them enough to pretend I’ve dealt with them). You know I’m really hurting if I disappear off the face of the earth. It’s worked well enough for 21 years, but it doesn’t make things better. I need people, we all do. All we have in this world is each other, and love is painful and complicated and confusing, but it is still the centre of this damn universe.
I don’t always recognise the person I grew up to be. I used to be kind, and open, and loving. I grew into a woman who was bitter and distant and unforgiving. Worst of all, she was stubborn as hell. She didn’t believe in second chances. And she was wrong.
When people hurt me, or lie to me, or break my trust, I cut them out of my life. I distance myself as much as possible. I justify it because I am upfront from the start: if you break my rules, you’re out. Simple as that. Sometimes it is the best choice. Some people just don’t belong in your life. But often I have been too hasty. I am so quick to call it quits instead of taking some time to cool off and then make amends. I’d rather lay the blame at someone else’s door than divide it evenly between us.
We’re all fucked up. We all make bad choices. We all lie and screw people over. I’ll tell you I never lie, I’ll probably even paraphrase Kant and spew some self-righteous bullshit about why I’m oh-so-honest. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I may not lie to you, but I lie to myself all the time. If I climbed down from my high horse I would see that people make mistakes, and all we can do is love them anyway. Because nothing is guaranteed. You don’t know how long someone will be in your life, you don’t know who you’re going to lose or how.
We take life for granted, we let it slip past us. Life is beautiful, if you slow down and see it. I know the planet is dying and Brexit is causing the country to go to shit and nothing is reliable or stable, but in spite of it all, life is a grand adventure. If there are people who love you, you’ve made it. In my experience, love isn’t this romantic ideal between two beautiful perfect boring people. Love is ugly, love is terrifying. Love is seeing someone exactly as they are and not looking away. It is jarring and humbling, and it is what keeps us alive. So check up on your friends, check up on your family. Forgive people for being human. Because what else do we have in this world? We need to talk, we need tell the people we love that we’re there for them. What can we rely on other than the fact that, in the end, we need each other?