I’ve mentioned this before on occasion, but I want to talk about depression and healing, as this process changed my life a few years back. I still use the techniques I learned to wash away anguish.
In 2010, I finished university, came home, and started to work in a café that I had worked in since the age of 15. I was 21 years old. I had the impression, now that I had a degree, that there should be more to life than working in that “greasy spoon”. The people there were immature, and annoying to me at the time, like they were holding me back. Their conversations included sex, celebrities, going ‘out out’, and moaning about how rubbish their job was.
I used to join in on these simple but good times. Make the most of it. But now, well, it was different. I didn’t belong there any more. I had this idea in my head that I needed to move away, get a better job, and then I would…you know, do that life thing people go on about all the time.
I stormed out of the café at midday.
The boss was away, spending time with her kids, and I couldn’t handle the constant messing around inside a stainless steel box. Playing with knives, throwing ice cubes down each other’s back, stamping on toes. I wanted to be outside. Away from that enclosure. So I went with a slightly red face, down the café’s central aisle, past the empty chairs and tables, and towards my car sitting in the stony car park outside. I can still remember that joy and sense of freedom once I hit the cold air outside. And the sunlight that made me squint into the distance. There were green hills to my left, and rolling waves from the sea to my right; the café was in a prime spot for tourism. I never got to see the views.
Walking out like that, on my own accord, was a significant turning point.
That was the first time I had ever denied authority. I was supposed to be working that day. But it was pointless. I was frustrated. Normally I’d put up with it, but I didn’t need the money, and I decided there were better things to do with my life. I had a similar feeling when I was 16 and finished all of my GCSE’s. I ran home with my shirt untucked, rucksack flung around my shoulders, and threw myself on to my bed while listening to “Pathetic” by Blink-182. The drumming and whiny riff matched the excitement under my ribs, and in a sudden moment, I ran outside into my back garden and spent the entire afternoon and evening expending my energy on a trampoline. Just bouncing and burning my skin. Because I could.
I’m telling you about these moments of release because they led to my period of self-diagnosed depression (I never went to a doctor about it).
I was hopeful without the café job that I would be able to find a better paying position that wouldn’t take so much of my time up. I presumed I’d be able to find one. I mean, I did have a degree (ha!), and anyway, I was so ready and positive. Oh, the disappointment. The pain.
To see your whole world close in on you as you apply for jobs that you’re not really qualified for because you’re on a high, to get no response (unsurprisingly). To have to resort to trying for even crappier jobs than working at the café. To, even then, get no response or a straight up rejection after a week of trial work with no compensation whatsoever (I spent a lot on fuel). My naivety and lack of life experience did not prepare me for that drastic sink into myself. I could feel it in my gut.
Within months I went from being a ridiculously positive beacon of hope, to spending weeks not leaving my bed, curled in the fetal position trying to escape the world. I spoke to no-one. Did nothing (apart from apply for jobs when I could take it). I just rotted alive. I felt useless. Moronic. Worthless. Then I didn’t even grant myself the luxuries of those words. Deeply negative adjectives were above my existence. I thought I was an empty space.
For the first and only time in my life my only pleasure seemed to be causing myself pain. I never hurt myself physically, but I’d bring myself down constantly, and if something good may have been about to happen to me, I’d ensure that it didn’t. I only wanted to feel hurt inside. That’s the only thing I had left. The only thing I could rely on and trust. An inner pain. Somehow it was comforting.
It took a long time for this to change.
The strangest thing about what I consider to be the darkest part of my life is that, at the time, I thought it was perfectly normal. Once I started the gradual process of coming out of it (although it never truly leaves) I realized how bad a state I was in. You just get used to bringing yourself down. Expecting misery. Missing out on opportunities. On life. It’s the process of healing that is my main reason for dragging you through parts of my life in this writing. I’m not sure if it was worth it for the resolution, either, to be honest. It’s important to me, though, and if it helps someone else out, then great.
The recovery started when I discovered new music. I’ve always really been into the music. Not the genres, the labelling, or fancying band members. Just shutting the fuck up and listening to music. Taking it in. Doesn’t matter what it is – the instruments, tempo, attitude – I enjoy listening to the feelings that music gives me. But I’d been missing one. A vital one.
Calm. Peace. Okay, that’s two.
That concept, though, is what I’m referring to. The acceptance of yourself in reality. Not feeling constrained by the binds of society, just for a few moments. Remembering what you’ve done in the past. Smiling. Looking up at the sky. Enjoying the drone of heavy rain. Being with friends. Bruising your knees. All of those romantic memories that we have of things we can’t believe we did and are grateful for the sensual feelings they supply.
I was missing all of this because it wasn’t in my music. And I couldn’t find it by myself. I would contemplate all the time, but always over nastiness and disappointments, rather than love and calm and contentment. I found this in music and it brought it out of me. Namely, the evocative tracks of Boards of Canada, and Tycho, as well as Prefuse 73. Those three artists. Oh, and Aphex Twin. Those chill, ambient albums took a while to get to me, as if a thick smog was clouding my brain, but I knew there was something in them that I liked. It was grabbing at me.
Over and over I listened to them. Just staring out the window on my bed. Learning to appreciate people and the outside and having good memories. I was emotional, too. Crying became something I did again when I felt pain and loss. But now it wasn’t because I was insecure and without hope, instead it was because I was realizing that I had just wasted several months of my life in a single room, which I decided I would try to avoid after reading The Yellow Wallpaper when I was a teenager. I never wanted to be stuck in a room.
Eventually I healed enough to start writing online about games. I knew games, I could enjoy games, they didn’t judge me. I could just play them. But now I wanted to write about them because it’s something I’ve always had an interest in, but never thought to try. That hope came back to me because of the music. This time I would do something I wanted to do, slowly getting better, and keeping my mind active, rather than crawling into a hole.
One thing that people have said of me is that I manage to write a lot. I know the reasons. There’s a passion for sharing games with people and being able to express my thoughts on them. But that’s the positive aspect of it that distracted me from falling back into depression, which always seemed to haunt me when waking up in the morning. I wrote about games as much as I could just because I feared a moment away from it would be a slip backwards. It was survival and passion rolled into one.
After connecting with people online, as we all wrote about games, I was able to cheer up much more. I started to see a potential future. I enjoyed having a small responsibility to a team, a small group of people who wanted to talk to me, and I was doing something I really enjoyed. Then the path towards sustaining myself a little while doing part-time work behind bars and in restaurants started to show its head. But, for a lot longer, writing about games was just keeping me alive, and I want to add “literally” to that, because I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t find music and games, and if they hadn’t aided me in becoming functional again.
As a side note, one of my most profound moments was the realization that games and music could come together to bring peace. Like in Proteus. That was something else. Spiritual.
As mentioned earlier, depression never truly leaves you, it’s always there in the back of your mind. It arrives alongside stress and failure. Pulling you in. Over the last week I’ve been healing my mind once again after leaving Indie Statik. I needed to do it. Things were getting rough for me. I felt that dark pull. But I knew how to avoid it this time. Not only am I stronger in mind, but I have those serene tracks to play and drift upon somewhere above, almost outside of my physical body.
Just before writing this, I spent three hours doing just that, listening to Boards of Canada. It wasn’t even intentional this time. But it was beautiful and now I feel refreshed. Doing that makes my skull tingle with pleasure. I need it.
We all need time to heal. So, please, if you’re stressed out, feeling depressed, or are giving up, try to find something that allows you to focus on your place in the world, and try to figure out what it is you need to do to push your life into a more positive direction. I know it feels impossible sometimes, but take your time, and know that there is something out there that makes you appreciate yourself again. For me it’s music. That might be a good place to start.