(verscheen op 18-01-2020 op wideopenwriting.com)
Recently I’ve been listening to Hannah Cohen a lot. Don’t worry, I didn’t know of her either until a couple of weeks ago. One of her songs struck me in particular, mainly because of its opening lines.
‘This is your life
Don’t let it just happen to you’
I’ve tried the words on my lips, over and over again, as if to understand their meaning better. They hurt, taste foul, and I feel violated by them. Why does Hannah makes such a difficult thing, you doing you, sound so damn easy? Am I broken? Am I failing, when something that rings so true feels almost impossible to achieve?
I have a long history with mental health issues, varying from mild to severe. I have been taking medication daily for almost 20 years, have visited a myriad of therapists and was forced to quit jobs due to fatigue a couple of times too many. Still, in some ways I do think I am lucky, as the grimness of my anxiety and depression has remained controllable for some time now. And even better, it has been that way quite regularly throughout the 30 years I’ve lived on this planet. But I fear myself, and I know I tend to take a big tumble every five years or so, ever since I was a little boy. And by big, I mean HUGE. No light at the end of the tunnel and not wanting to die but not wanting to live either kind of huge. When days become weeks and weeks become months and every minute feels like the same endless pile of shit that you have to fight and bite your way through to get to that tiny bit of air that you need to keep on tumbling on for a little while longer.
I’m scared my time of relative quiet is almost over. I feel it on my bones, I read it between the lines of the thoughts that are running through my head. And when that happens, when I lose control, Hannah is lying. Because when you’re depressed life is happening to you. It’s attacking you from the inside out, trying to convince you that all the ugly lies you keep telling yourself are, in fact, the truth. That’s why hearing her sing has made me angry and upset these last few weeks.
But, and this is vital, it seems impossible for her and her confrontational lyrics to crack me fully. Somehow, I believe it’s different this time around. Other times, when I am spiraling down, there is a lack of emotions, like I’m slowly drowning in that great void people talk about, feeling numb, acting like a damaged robot. That doesn’t align with the things happening to me recently; my eyes filling up with tears every now and then, my insatiable appetite for hugs, my growing love and gratitude for my friends and family, my wish to do better every time I wake up. It’s almost like I am opening up while shutting down, instead of closing off. And I think that’s important. Maybe my hesitation to put the toxicity that is running through my veins into words , to write this piece, wasn’t necessary after all. This is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Me and my mental health are not self-fulfilling prophecies, and, with that, I am proving Hannah right, not wrong. I see what is happening very clearly. And in seeing it, I am reclaiming some control over it. This is my life. And I want it to be beautiful, special, rewarding and one of a kind (though I would gladly settle for a harmonious and somewhat balanced one). Not because I deserve it, no one deserves anything, but because I fight for it. Every day.
Perhaps Hannah has provided me with a new mantra. Something to tell myself when I feel like drifting away, like falling apart. I won’t let it just happen to me. Or maybe I will, for a little while, because I am tired of fighting and need to catch a break. And then I’ll try again. And again. And again and again and again. I am not saying it’s easy. Or fun. It’s fucking not. But I guess my life is just a bit harder than I would have bargained for, and I need to find a way to deal with that. Feeling more, instead of less, is helping. As is the reaffirmation that this life, this precious weird little thing, this extremely difficult and stupid son of a bitch, is mine and mine alone. And, finally, I’ve come to understand that that’s the most important thing that makes it worth living. We are all one of a kind and fucking precious.