How to Build a Strong Mind

Should be titled: how to write your way out of feeling shit regardless of the flak you’ll get. Friends are friends. Watch and learn. Fuck, I wish I was in bed.

Fact or fiction? Decide at your own discretion.

It has been tempting to stay in bed all week. Everytime I close my eyes, I feel the hot little knot of horribleness in my tummy begin to unwind. Tension seeps from my diaphragm outwards, radiating from my fingertips into the spaces between the bed and wall. I’m here, and nobody wants me to be or do anything. I can just exist, and not know I’m existing.

You know what else is great about napping? It takes up time. Every time you nap you chip a tiny hole in the surface of your living time on this planet. I close my eyes, I re-open them; three pain-free, dreamy hours have passed and I feel like a magician. When you’re focused on feeling – feeling high, feeling low, feeling really low – an absence of feeling is like turning off a car horn that’s been blaring, non-stop, for hours. Blissful, beautiful, blank peace and quiet. Big black shutters drawn across sun streaming through a wall made of windows. Stepping into dark, air-conditioned silence after the chaos and heat and furiousness of Mumbai. This is what napping feels like for me. My default setting is bed.

There are really only three ways to get the absence of feeling I’ve been after – sleep, drugs and death. I guess if you believe in meditation that’s the fourth, and though I’ve dipped my toe once or twice, my mind wanders and I feel ridiculous. I’m not a guru. I don’t have a peaceful ashram to retreat to, just a tiny flat in Mong Kok with paper-thin walls. Upstairs practises the piano day and night, door gates clang, babies cry and old people hockle. Try and meditate through that.

Drugs scare the shit out of me, so they’re a no. And death, well – death is permanent. It’d really be over-egging the pudding to use a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Like killing an ant with a flamethrower. So, sleep it is.

Yesterday I told a guy in Brazil that I wished for a car to hit me so I could take a nice long relaxing break between clean white sheets, carried off in a dreamscape of drugs and safety. Not to kill me, just give me an excuse to start with my mind wiped fresh and blank. Ground zero. It’s vital you understand the part about not killing me, so it serves repeating. Ideation is different to realisation, and actually fairly common. I’m not planning on checking out just yet.

It says something for your mental state of mind though if everytime you cross that one intersection – in front of HSBC, next to Argyle street – and the buses groan to a stop at the pedestrian crossing, you wish please, please just come a little farther. Give me a bump. A scratch. A nick. Wake me the fuck up from this sameness of day in, day out over-privileged self-absorbed melancholia that we diagnose amongst ourselves. Give me that one, young, inexperienced driver who hesitates just a fraction too long and gives me a scare to the system. It’s not quite give me liberty or give me death. More like, dude give me a clout and I promise I’ll sort my shit out.

Needless to say, Brazil did not take this little revelation well. I think what the actual fuck were his exact words. Then I went back to feeling blank. False alarm, called my psyche – thought there was someone who kinda maybe might’ve got what I was feeling a teeny bit, but – my bad, I was wrong. I’d stuck my head above the parapet. Now it was time to submerge it once again. I sank back into the bathwater of my own mind and sighed, feeling fuzzy and dislocated and quite misunderstood. But no one wants to talk to girls who say stuff like that, and fair play.

This is all sounding a bit Bell Jar-y now. There’s a reason that novel’s a bestseller y’know. Sylvia got shit right. She hit the nail on the head over and over again. I wrote a poem, gosh, must have been in 2008 or 2009, when I was feeling the same kind of feelings but didn’t have the names, research, support system or eloquence to deal with it as well as I do now. It was called ‘Black Dog Cometh Again’. Kind of cliche and pretentious, but apt. There’s a set of lines that still resonate now, almost seven years on. I was well keen on Plath, which is why these are so copy-cat they’re practically plagiarific, but I referenced Lady Lazarus like a pro.

“dying is an art, like Sylvia said // I don’t have the talent to keep playing dead //
Rejoicing in the shedding of that outgrown, nothing snake-skin // I held my breath and nose-dived into living again”

Quite how I managed to capture the upswing from depression into normality at the tender age of 17 is beyond me (did I have a name for it then? Did I fully understand what was happening to me? I was definitely unaware that hypomania was a thing – I just thought I was going full on, batshit crazy) but I remember thinking that being unhappy – the kind of deep-seated, lethargic, misty unhappiness that seeped into everything I touched and saw and ate – was fucking boring. Everything was an effort.

But somehow, remarkably, I had the strength of mind in 2008 to struggle back into living – and I mean real living, normal living, not pretend living. I was sick of playing dead. I wish I could send an email to my former self and ask what it was that helped her down from the chair.

Yesterday was P.6 Graduation lunch and there were so many fucking photos to take. You know those lanterns you can get with imitation candles? Electric things that light up, but don’t burn like real fire? Yesterday was like that. My fire had finally been burnt out and I sat there at that table like a poor imitation and I was too empty to even cry. I looked at everyone else having fun and I was so underwater that when I opened my eyes again I was in the bathroom, leaning against the toilet stall and not even bothering to hide when, ten minutes later, my workmate came to investigate. On my way home I started counting again. This was very, very bad. I haven’t counted steps at all in Hong Kong – it’s a behaviour associated with anxiety and obsessive thoughts – but yesterday I counted all the way to the bus stop and all the way home, like little piggy lost.

Then I got home and went straight to bed and just before I slipped into sleep I thought: I don’t know how I can do this again. And again. And again, until I’m – what? Cured? Stable? Ho hum. I don’t know how I can do my job. I don’t know how I can talk to my friends. I don’t know how I can just be, when every other thought I have is about the black space under my ribcage where there seems to be fuck all.

Then three hours later my alarm rang and it was time to go to the gym and I was sorry that life – pretending to have this normal, functioning life, where my bicep curls mattered and I lied through my teeth about how I was feeling – was still happening, and was intruding so rudely – with the sun on my bed and my blanket scrunched between my toes and my mind a warm, foggy void – on me feeling nothing at all.

I did my bicep curls. Good endorphins. I drank three glasses of vodka and grapefruit juice in my apartment and watched Mock the Week. I even laughed; so far, so normal (I love Milton Jones). Then I spoke to Brazil matter of factly about how my old behaviours were coming back and he lost his shit. Then he told me I had a strong mind.

Bullshit, I said. Strong minds are for strong people. But you’re resilient, he said. Your mind bounces between high and low and you haven’t snapped yet. I exhaled and didn’t think it’d do either of us any good to tell him how close I’d come. Some little feelings are best kept, pink and fresh, as secrets.

Today, today, today. I almost crawled right back into bed at 6am but I didn’t and that’s an achievement too. I put on nice clothes; victory two. I’m not visibly unhappy – at least I wouldn’t be if anyone here were to care – I’m solid but fuck me, I’m counting down the hours until I can crawl into my bed and lose myself in memoryfoam and wake up with less hours to go feeling like this. Better go write my notes for today’s panel meeting now, it starts in 27 minutes. See – high functioning. Must be my strong mind.

About fiercemissc

Twenty-something Geordie girl living and working in Hong Kong. Young, free and single and making the most of it.
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