Mental Health Awareness Month, Repost: “Notes Of a Dirty Young Man”

As part of mental health awareness month I wanted to repost this piece that I originally wrote several years ago while I was in a state of particularly bad depression. I wrote an addendum, then later deleted it, some time afterwards because I didn’t want someone to read it without understanding the context in which it was written or without knowing I’d recovered. Since it is mental health awareness month and I’ve been thinking a lot about how the social recognition of mental health and traumas (which goes beyond depression and anxiety though that’s what I write about here) and the importance of seeking ways of talking about the way social structures are complicit in these problems and going beyond guilt and individual responsibility. For that reason I’ve decided to put this piece back up here, including the addendum. Although this piece doesn’t feature solutions I hope it at least might help speak to the way depression and anxiety can be experienced and manifests itself, and help open up a way of recognizing the need for better communication about these things that many people carry around in their lives.

-PH

This is, more than anything, a catalogue of myself for myself. Everyone and everything else is incidental. All of this: the blog, the essays, the schooling, the reading, the poems, the songs – it’s all fundamentally a selfish journey inward. I remember how, as a boy, I cared so much about everything. My time was spent studying, searching, trying to fix and make right. I was in a community garden for years, I represented it and spoke on its behalf, I was involved in the creation of the first Idaho Celebration of Human Rights Festival (along with many other students in my class) and spoke at a teacher’s conference (as a student) on holocaust education and human rights activism. This may sound like bragging, and it is, but I can’t brag on my own behalf because I don’t feel like that person anymore. There was some point where it just didn’t feel worth it, I didn’t feel like a person doing good. There was a strange sensation that I didn’t know anything about myself, or what I was doing, or why I was doing it; how many bloated, skeletal bodies and islands of trash can a person constantly look at and feel like a person? Feel like they’re doing anything? Mix that in with the ever-present pressures of social interaction and school and you’ve got an explosive mix. I had grown up working so hard to change things, to believe in my own abilities as a single person without attempting to be a person, that I just turned myself into a raw nerve of emotion incapable of dealing with anything. Caring about things so deeply that you get lost if you lose them is one thing with trees and distant wars and global warming and art, it’s another with people. Most of the people who know me chuckle at my role of the bitter old man; the aloof artist; the wannabe hermit, and they should. It is a show. But the truth is there’s a young man just torn up and raw who doesn’t know how to handle anything any other way. Eat, sleep, talk, fuck myself, to porn, to the thought of people I know (probably all the people I know), dream of getting away, drive out to some other country, make myself a name, write on receipts, die young, die too young, hope people talk about me. These are the things in my head all the time, everything serves as a distraction from something I don’t know. That’s what frustrates me so much: there’s a kind of anger and sadness that’s just inherently part of people, and some people have more and some people have less. I guess I have a lot, and it doesn’t even seem to come from anywhere, I just haveit. And sometimes I look at my friends who are just as depressed as me and who have been just as regularly suicidal and I think God-damnthey’re so much more justified to feel these things because they live through real shit that I get tired by reading about. And everything feels like I’m just wasting people’s time because I’m a silver-spoon bobo who just gets kicks off of the attention earned by his façade of intellectual bullshit and artistic snobbery and some childish attempt at sincerity: I’m a man who’s convinced he’s Pinnochio convinced he has to be real. Sometimes I want to be locked up in a white room where I can just scream and cry and be furious at everything because at least I can be somewhat honest then and not have to pander to my own expectations of what people want from me. You want to know how often I think about killing myself? Really? Every fucking day since I was fifteen. Obviously this is mostly abstract, not like “I need to kill myself now,” but “That could happen someday, given the right circumstances.” Or just thinking about it as a thing. What is suicide? Why do I think about it? What happens to people afterwards? Is it really just for the attention? Makes sense, I usually think about it in relation to legacy and the hope of being a Van Gogh. That’s how I think. Someone once told me how it’s amazing that I can see the world from so many angles: “you look at something, then you can turn it upside-down and look at it again, then turn it around again when nobody expects you to.” It was a compliment, and I took it as one, but it’s probably much more amusing for other people than it is for me. It’s not much fun flipping through thoughts constantly in your head. It’s not much fun being awake at 6:30in the morning with classes in a couple hours because of an idea caught in my brain that I’ll forget until it keeps me up again. It’s not much fun to go from being relatively okay to thinking about a shotgun in my mouth and a canvas behind my head because a terrible conversation from seven years ago just popped into my mind. It’s not much fun to be afraid to be happy because when I’m done being happy my brain will force me to claw at things dangerously in the hope that it will stop me from sliding down back into depression. It’s not fun that I don’t know if I’m justified in being angry with my friends when things they say make me feel worse, because sometimes its so tied up in these big issues that I can’t speak about and that honestly shouldn’t have much relationship at all.
I like Bukowski as a poet and as a writer. Here’s The Laughing Heart, one of my favorites:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.
I find it simple and beautiful and it puts my mind at ease. When I tell lots of people I like Bukowski they roll their eyes because it’s such a white man thing to do. And it is, isn’t it? “You’re probably a sexist if you like Bukowski.” I don’t know, maybe? Maybe most people are. Maybe I am. But why should that matter in relation to this poem making me feel good? Some of my close friends, my best friends, love this little piece that circulated around about the “types of men” on campus. So funny it made me want to kill myself, not hyperbolic. Because to me reading that poster said: You can’t escape from any of these. You are one of these men and we would be better off without you. And who am I to argue? Who am I to argue that I don’t use my sensitivity, my distance, my depression to my advantage to feel like a man? Who am I to say that I don’t try to make myself into a Bukowski: some wandering asshole who gets off with some good words and a distance from everything? Sure sounds like me. But I do care about people, don’t I? Well caring’s not enough and has never been enough. And I try to be kind but that doesn’t matter much does it in the scheme of consequences.
__
AN ADDENDUM TO NOTES OF A DIRTY YOUNG MAN
It’s been a little over a month since I posted my long rant about my depression, my most infamous post by my own standards since it gained the most views and earned me more than a few concerned messages. I suppose that happens when you drop certain words in a public forum, but now I want to say things with a clearer head on my shoulders. First, I need to thank all of my friends and family who have reached out to me, and supported me, and assisted me in getting help. Thank you to those of you who simply took the time to read some long mind dump on the Internet. The attention was appreciated, it was helpful. I don’t mean to say that it was clickbait, because I was being desperately honest. Sometimes we need to know that we are simply seen by the world, and that we can leave a mark upon it.
I have medicine now, and in less than a week of medication I feel like a person again. The part of me that is me, that is Patrick, had been distant for a long time, and I had to scream to myself at the top of my lungs to get my body and brain to function. It was exhausting, and I was growing increasingly distant. I was telling myself that I would feel better if I solved problems in myself, and it was all the more devastating when solving those problems had no payoff. So I was close to the conclusion that the problem was myself. Now, with medicine, there is still pain, there are still moments that can dig up sadness and shame and guilt, but these moments no longer close in on me. The cycle of worrying is lessened. There are still dangerous ideations, but I see them for what they are: reflexes. They are thoughts that pass by as single frames in the film of my life. They are not cloying.
Taking pills make me nauseous, I eat less than I should and am already too thin, they make me tired, I find reading more difficult, writing too, I can fuck but not cum, I cannot drink, grapefruit is poison, but I don’t really care because I actually feel interested in life and not bored with being. I have plenty of problems but now I don’t drown by thinking about them, I feel ready to move forward and face them. I feel ready to attempt reconciliation with those I have hurt, rather than relying on apologies and running. I have never believed that happiness is the true goal of living, so I am well prepared to live now with a rational sadness, but I do not feel afraid of happiness or contentment anymore either. Some caution is necessary, relapse is possible, it has happened before. There is no escaping certain cycles of life, but there are ways to learn how to bear them. I appreciate the patience of this world. I appreciate its love. I appreciate the struggles of those who are not me, and those who have put aside their own struggles to help me. I hope I can give as much love and patience and support in return.
– PH

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