Personal Blog of Mark Hoskins – Anarchist Writer and Activist
The first time I felt it I was eleven years old. By it, I mean this thing I’ve come to know as depression. For years I knew it only as ‘the darkness’. I thought depression was something else, I thought it meant you felt sad all the time. I didn’t feel sad all the time. I felt like there was a cloud over me. I felt like the world had stopped making sense. I felt cold. The circumstances of my introduction to the dark cloud were kind of bizarre. I was, as I said, eleven, I think that’s accurate, and I was doing what most of Ireland was doing on a Friday night, watching The Late Late Show. And there was this man on as a guest, obviously brought on to be a figure of fun. As Gay Byrne asked him questions you could see a smirk on his face. The audience laughed hysterically. The guy was a kind of cult leader it’s true, and I didn’t believe in any of what he was saying, but the laughter chilled me to the bone.
The guest in question was Claude Vorihlon aka Raël, leader of the movement known as the Raëlians. Their beliefs are pretty wacky alright, and their whole system is basically a reinterpretation of the bible where god and angels are replaced by an alien race called the Elohim who supposedly made us in their image. So yeah, you can see why people might laugh at that, but it was the obvious and intended ridicule, of one group who believed something pretty nutty by another group who believe something pretty nutty. And it was the things they laughed at; “You don’t believe in God?” “No” – laughter. “or heaven, or an afterlife?” “No” – laughter. I was brought up as a Catholic. It wasn’t drummed into me at home, it was just there, hovering, always part of your life in some way. I believed in evolution and was never taught biblical literalism. But this was the first time I think I went, “you know, this whole religion thing is a bit nuts”.
But it wasn’t just that I’d suddenly realised that there probably wasn’t an eternal reward, I was only eleven and death wasn’t something that occupied my thoughts. It was that moment of cognitive dissonance, where all the things I had believed to be true, to be certain, clashed with what I saw in front of me and the hysterical laughter of the audience who didn’t see the flaws in their own beliefs. And then I realised that this is how the world was, ‘civilisation’ made up of a series of absurd rules based on mythical premises – god, nation, state, wage labour, and that to most people these things were just common sense. Years later I discovered a quote from Octave Mirbeau’s novel The Torture Garden on the inlay of the Manic Street Preachers album The Holy Bible that struck a chord:
You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world.
Undoubtedly, my depression is a chemical phenomenon and it’s not just because of my disassociation with so called ‘common sense’, but also genetic in nature, and Ireland’s lack of sunlight plays a big part, however, this feeling of difference was the trigger that would keep getting pulled throughout my teenage years. It seems kind of self indulgent to write about this, even to feel like this, particularly when aware of the situation of members of the LGBT community. Trans people have to deal with being treated as one gender but feeling that is not their identity. Even when they have the support of family and friends, they are treated differently by wider society, they must have those feelings of dissonance every single minute. I also realise that I’m not alone in feeling this way, and that many of you reading this suffer from depression too, and some of you have this way worse than I have.
Still, that heavy dark cloud that follows me around has had a major impact on my life. Sometimes carrying out ordinary tasks at home or at work feel like trying to lift a heavy bolder off my chest. Sometimes getting out of bed feels like trying to move in gravity six times the density of the Earth’s. Sometimes trying to write will involve staring at a blank screen for ages, completely blank of mind, for what feels like seconds but is really minutes. This does not happen all the time. Sometimes writing is effortless for me and it seems that the words are on the page before I’ve thought of them, and sometimes the tasks I have to do come easy. Either state can continue for months at the extremes but more usually they alternate on a day to day or week to week basis. At the very extreme end I can feel like I want to lie down on the ground like the people in the video for ‘Just’ by Radiohead.
For years I just lived with these feelings. It was just life. I could get by. It has always made being around other people difficult at times, but it was always sufficient just to withdraw for a bit. This of course was a lot easier any time I lived on my own. I could take a few days off work, take one trip to the supermarket for supplies, lock myself up and binge watch whatever TV series I was into at the time. The heavy cloud of depression would eventually turn to an almost pleasant melancholy, a semi trance like state that was still of the darkness, but was comfortable, warm, in a strange kind of way. This manageable darkness is close to my default state, though that is less trance like, less comforting, but lets me go about my daily business. I’m not sure that any of this will make sense to you, if you haven’t had these feelings, because it’s very hard to describe.
Then there’s the anxiety. Anxiety quite often comes with depression, I suppose that’s why most anti-depressants are designed work on anxiety too. My anxiety is manageable. I’ve only had a handful of full scale panic attacks and I know people who suffer from anxiety far more than I do, where they are in constant pain from constant anxiety. My anxiety, while always in some way hovering in the back of my head, extending down my spine to the bottom of my neck, is also the flip side of how I feel when I’m writing without prefiguration, that is, when the words seem to be on the page before I think of them, in the latter scenario, accompanied by an almost euphoric feeling, but again that’s an approximation, it’s quite hard to describe.
There’s also the similar, “autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)” which a recent New Scientist article describes as “a tingly feeling often elicited by certain videos or particular mundane interactions.”
Not everyone feels it, but Suttie is by no means alone. On Reddit, a community of more than 100,000 members share videos designed to elicit the pleasurable sensation. The videos, often described as “whisper porn”, typically consist of people role-playing routine tasks, whispering softly into a microphone or making noises by crinkling objects such as crisp packets.
I get this when someone is reading something I’ve written in my presence, or even looking very closely at something I’ve bought. The first time I remember getting this is when I had a toy California Highway Patrol badge, merchandise for the hit 70’s and 80’s TV show CHiPs, and my aunt Brigitte was closely examining it. I would have been three or four. Interestingly enough, or not, depending on how much store you put in these things, I’m getting that feeling right now, perhaps because I was thinking of the first time I felt it. It’s very pleasant.
You might ask why I’ve veered off on a tangent talking about feelings of euphoria and ASMR in a blog post about depression, well, I believe that all those mental states are somehow interlinked, that they are a spectrum of cerebral responses to the outside world that together are part of what makes me who I am. And while I suffer from clinical depression, I am not a miserable person, I am not always sad, I am just somewhat different to what is considered mentally typical. Being different should not be a problem, it should be welcomed. However in a society that values conformity, acquiescence to authority and suppression of critical thinking, being different to the norm marks you out as being ill. And it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, because your outsider status will then probably actually make you ill. I can’t speak for everyone who suffers from depression, but I believe that this is the root of mine.
So how do I deal with it now? Around four years ago I described my symptoms to a doctor who immediately diagnosed me with depression. She wanted me to take medication, but I was distrustful of anything that could alter the way I thought. I went for counselling instead but the kind of therapy didn’t suit me, and it’s very expensive anyway so I gave up after a while. About a year ago I agreed to go on medication. I take 3omg of Citalopram, an SSRI, every day. In many ways it helps. The anxiety has definitely receded and nine times out of ten it staves off the extreme depressive episodes. There are side effects though. The worst for me has to be apathy. For someone who didn’t feel alive unless I was politically active, for the last year I have mostly just wanted to spend my free time at home reading sci fi, watching television or playing football manager. I’m kind of getting my urge to write and be politically active back and hopefully that will last. But meds aren’t a long term solution. I will eventually have to find a counselor that suits me and that I can afford if I want to come off them. And even then, the world will still be shit.
But I think going on the meds was the right decision over all. I would advise anyone suffering depression to at least look into it. They don’t work for everyone, but talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor probably will want to prescribe you SSRIs, because it’s their job to find the problem and try to solve it as quickly as possible. Do some research. You’ll see good and bad experiences described on the internet. If you do go on them, monitor how you are feeling and if you are experiencing drastic side affects or they are just not working, go back to your doctor.
And to the people who think those of us suffering from clinical depression are weak or faulty, you try living with this and tell me it doesn’t take strength. Indeed, the losers from 4Chan and right wing reddit forums who sometimes leave abusive comments that I don’t approve on this blog will see it that way. Well I have news for you boys, I’d rather have to live my whole life with depression than be a bigot living in fear of everyone who is different. I’d rather retain my critical faculties and see the world in all its terrible glory than believe that everyone should fit a mold designed by very wealthy and powerful white men. I believe the greatest mental deficiency of all is to look at a world where power is held by the very few, a world of racism, misogyny, transphobia, bureaucracy and hierarchy and think that this is some natural order and that everyone who disagrees is deficient and should be made fit. And there’s another piece of advice. Be around people who are understanding and leave people who think you are weak or that you should “pull your socks up” behind.
There’s not a whole lot I want to change about myself, it’s the world I want to change. Not just for me, but so that the diversity of life, of ways of seeing the world, can all have their place and contribute to building a better society, each in their own little way.
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