I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to make this as profound and relatable as possible but found myself feeling like nothing in what I’ve written was making sense. Reason being that I was probably lying in each thought or paragraph, to a point where I couldn’t relate to it myself. Speaking freely and openly about how my mental health has been a bittersweet symphony of both complex and simple melodies that sound harsh to the next person, but absolutely harmonious to me, has never really been a problem. Which in itself is such an odd thing to say because surely none of this should be working together to help me become the self-actualised individual I so long to be.
I think the most interesting thing about what I’m experiencing right now is the fact that I’ve just acknowledged that I’m devoid of emotions. Nothing is recognisable. Not because it isn’t familiar, but because I don’t feel it anymore. For example; I know that I love my partner. I know that I want nothing for them but the best, simply because they deserve it, and I want to spend a considerable amount of time with them. However, I know that what I’m feeling isn’t the love I felt in first year for my then partner. You would probably say, “Of course, Thato, the feeling won’t be the same because you aren’t the same person you were then.” You would be absolutely correct in saying that. Though I know that there should be this warm feeling when I think about my partner. This feeling of wanting to spend not only my time with them, but a long time too.
This is how I feel about most things in my life at this point. I know that I want to be in a certain place in my career, and to get there, there are certain things I need to do, but my will to do any of these things is close to nothing. What would be even more unsettling to the next person is that I’m completely unbothered by any of this. My brain has gotten to a point where it’s just doing things when they’re in front of me because of muscle memory. I recently started a new job and I can say that I’m enjoying the routine. I have to wake up at 5:30am, Monday to Friday, go and look after my class, assist each teacher for their subject, mark assessments, and then go home and reflect on the day, or sleep. Then I cook, clean the kitchen and go to sleep until the next morning. Five days out of the seven, I’m on the move, and my body understands that I need to work, while my brain knows that I need to be exceptional at everything I do during these months because it’ll be the beginning of my career. The problem comes where I don’t feel anything about it. I used to be excited about things like this, looking forward to the next day, being nervous. Now I find myself just floating from one moment to the next. I’m not sure if this is something I think I would want to change at this point, because it allows me to do the things I need to do in order to get to the next step.
The thing about not being able to feel means that sometimes I miss feeling. I’ve found that the only way I can get to remember myself, for a fraction of time, is to drink. I wish I had healthier vices like meditation or journaling, or whatever people do to make themselves better. I drink. I get a bottle(s) of wine and some beer(s) and have a go at it. Suddenly I can remember that I love my partner, immensely so. Not only that, I’m in love with their existence and everything they stand for. My emotions are allowed to be. They come in a rush, overwhelmingly so, but I’m grateful that I still know these things still exist within me. The tough part about it all is knowing how to drink just enough not to become a bubbling mess. Which is very rarely. I don’t believe I’ve mastered it, nor have I come close to being able to stop drinking and just wallow within those emotions. At the end of it, my mind shuts off, even though my body is still fully functioning on its own. I go on autopilot. My brain isn’t processing anymore because I’m not in control but I’m aware that I’m still up after the last thing I remember because I find evidence. My call list, food I find randomly in my bed, an untidy kitchen, people telling me that I did things but I don’t know if I really did them. What I can honestly tell you about the entire thing is that I shall definitely not be stopping with the drinking. I have so many things going on at the moment that I know that if I stop and try to deal with the reasons behind these behaviours, I’ll be pulled into an episode I won’t be able to get out of.
That’s the nice thing about either always working or always drinking. I don’t need to deal with anything, because my unproductivity will pull me into such a dark place that I know I won’t be able to pull myself out of it this time. The thing about my mental health is that I’ve found a way to coexist with it. For the longest time I thought that I needed to work through it, so I can lead a better life. I constantly see people saying they’ve gotten through their depression and anxiety and won’t be going back. Most of the time I think to myself, wow, they can tell the difference between genuine happiness and the happiness that feels so good, only to come with the heaviest wave of drowning in feelings of being purposeless and unimportant.
The cycle is a little vicious, isn’t it? Being in a good space but not being able to fully enjoy it because you’re anticipating the bad that eventually does come and you just wait on the good so that you can just wait on the bad while being happy. I think the reason why my brain doesn’t let me genuinely feel any of these emotions is because it takes too much effort to bounce between them. So, all I do is mimic these emotions really well, because I’ve seen them enough times, or I’ve felt them once before. Whenever someone says, “Oh, but you’re so dramatic,” and I respond saying, “I didn’t get an A in drama for nothing,” I really mean it. I didn’t show how well I can mask my being for an amazing mark just for me not to use it on a daily basis. It works for me more and more the older I get. I enjoy the fact that I’m able to keep everything, including myself, at an arm’s length distance while still being able to slightly monitor what goes on around me. I mean, it isn’t always that simple. It has its drawbacks.
One of those drawbacks is not being able to control anything anymore. This is with regards to the anxiety and depression showing up in the little things I do during my days. I’ll find that I’ve lost my appetite for a few days and not be aware until someone mentions it at work. I tried to watch Peter Pan the other day and I still haven’t finished it even though I’ve watched it many times. Not because I don’t have time, but because my anxiety has been peaking. I can’t pinpoint what it’s trying to tell me, but I’m not bothered enough to do anything about it. Which is where I want to isolate myself, but I know I’ll be within my head, which is a very dangerous neighbourhood to be in.
It’s a bit difficult to speak about my mental health as an entirely separate entity from me where I can say, okay, this is where I see this affects my life. It isn’t like that at this point. Everything that’s happened, happening, and is to happen is making its mark, but not to a point where I can sit it out and process it and “deal” with it. I don’t have enough processing capacity for that, and life won’t wait for me. So, we keep it moving. Whenever I find something I come across that makes moving forward a little easier in such a way that I can give my attention to other parts of my life, I will incorporate it into my daily living. However, what I seem to be doing gets me to the next day and that’s all that I can hope for (even though it’s the hope that kills).
I used to think that for me to be a better me, I’d have to go back and unpack. To be honest, that just seems extremely time consuming and that’s just something we don’t have anymore. I think some people are able to sit down and pick through the things that they went through so they move forward, and I’m so glad that they’re able to do that. Many people deserve peace, and that requires time. I don’t have the time for that. Some people go their entire lives functioning on these mental health issues, like me, and die knowing that it is what it is.
-a personal reflection by Thato Kamohelo Phinithi (they/them)