Each night I take one of these things. At least, each night I remember. At roughly 22:44, the alarm on my phone begins to chime, this is my signal. Rarely do I pay attention to it. I am terrible at consistency after all. My true signal is remembering what life is like when I stop taking them. What happens when I forget.
I am addicted to nicotine. I have a mild dependency on alcohol. These are largely, socially acceptable conditions. I rarely, if ever self-mutilate any more, although my body is marked by the hundreds of scars that remain from my previous struggles with “unacceptable” coping mechanisms. Citalopram is a selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor, an anti-depressant, my new crutch seems to hold sway over my life.
If I stop taking the drug, I will suffer, but then, I’ve always suffered, it’s just that for over a decade I did nothing about it. I somehow survived.
I stopped taking the drugs around October last year, the withdrawal was horrendous, but it’s important for us to try these things, to understand ourselves and accept how fluid we really are. The human body is approximately 65% water, this is no doubt significant. We are not carved from stone or etched into copper, we are a shifting, ghost of ourselves, wrapped in skin and given a face.
I stopped taking the drugs because I was ready to die. I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts for years, for a period of around six months I contemplated my demise daily, for hours, I’d dreamt of blades, wrists and emptiness. This was different. For all that hopelessness, I never acted on it, something kept me alive, a blind, idiot faith perhaps. This time, I just felt like I might shrivel up and die, this wasn’t the battle with depression that I’d spent years fighting, it was a trap, a cage for me. Every day that I contemplated suicide, I was alive, I was fighting, I was engaged. Life is relative. My long and difficult decision to stop taking the drugs was not respected by my partner at the time, I eventually promised to write her a letter, one I never sent. Looking back now, from a position of relative calm in my life, it’s fascinating to read.
It’s difficult for me to provide you with answers. I find it difficult to communicate, to relay these thoughts in any sort of coherent fashion. There is no sentence, or word that will easily grant you access to the thought processes that it might seem I am hiding from you.
Perhaps it’s too complicated.
Perhaps it’s so elementary that words only cloud and confuse the matter.
Either way, this is a story, so there are no solutions. Who knows where the story begins? I can provide you with facts, stretching back to my birth or beyond, take these details of my life and try to piece them together into a coherent narrative that makes sense of who I am, but that would only be possible if I were no longer my self. I would have to be outside myself to make this possible. From this position as what, an indeterminate point on a trajectory? A stop along the road? What can I really say?
But then, I must try.
Let’s begin with this…
I have stopped taking citalopram, a drug, medication for the clinical depression that has blighted my life for… I don’t know how long. I was first diagnosed with depression in 2001, but that darkness has held sway over my life for longer. Whether depression itself taints my recollection I couldn’t say for certain, although I imagine to some degree it does.
I have stopped taking citalopram for unexplained, vague or incoherent reasons, and to you the only effect may well appear to be that it’s made me more irritable and self-absorbed.
It has been a difficult time for me, the drug withdrawal has been incredibly painful and I thank you for your patience in the absence of explanations.
I have stopped taking citalopram because I want to feel again.
When I was taking the drugs it didn’t end my suffering, it didn’t make me happy, it just made me more willing to bear it, so everything was dull.
In some ways, I don’t feel I can express myself to you, because so much of how I think and how I feel is… fucked up? Seemingly unreasonable. Something I don’t imagine you want to hear. I can’t expect you to understand. It’s not your problem, but then it is. It becomes your problem by virtue of your proximity to me. I feel as if I can’t explain myself to you because in the past, you have not reacted well to my explanations… No one has, no one does. I feel guilty and stupid. I feel unreasonable and suspect for my thoughts.
When I was still taking the drugs, I felt empty and pathetic and looking at the state of my life, at my failures and lack of success, from that flat, dead place I couldn’t make sense of it. I felt lazy and worthless and guilty. Within weeks of coming off the drugs my perspective shifted, the sudden shock, the horror of feeling returning was in a sense, invigorating. Of course I was where I am. I wanted to kill myself and this, this life I am living is an infinite improvement on that. When that pain moves from an abstract quantity, a vague memory, something that only really exists in the past and dreams, to the everyday, to something real, something immediate, I felt a weight lifted.
I just wanted to feel real again. I don’t know if the depression now is going to continue or if it’s just a side effect of the drug withdrawal. Initially, it certainly was.
Inevitably, it wasn’t. I got worse. Things reached a point where suicide once again became a very real option. Hence my return to the world of the drugged. Right now, it works for me, as you can imagine, suicidal thoughts are incredibly disruptive. Here I think it’s important to consider the over all tone of the letter. I was trying to justify myself, it was an apology for being who I am. At that point in time, in the twilight of that relationship, I hadn’t yet accepted that I’d been denying a part of myself, that in union we had conspired to reject something at the core of me. Perhaps, it is only in this sense that you might really know yourself – in denial. Lives lived unseen, shards of truth half glimpsed in broken mirrors. I lose track of myself, the soul wanes. We connect, we engage, we live and die together, trying to unite and undo the damage, make sense of the chaotic rumblings of realisation and revelation. Put it aside, be happy together, shut the world outside.
Between the ages of 15 and 23 I self harmed, I was hospitalised on several occasions, my body will forever bear the marks of my torment. It’s symbolic, a violent physical act that resonates metaphorically. The beauty of self-harm, once you escape the prison of mental illness, is the purity of it. There are no superficial details to distract from the essence of the act. Were I covered in tattoos, I could believe that these designs were enacted upon my flesh entirely consciously. They can be more easily divorced from their symbolic meaning, placed into the realms of aesthetics and taste. I was in danger of losing myself, this troubling dissociation led me to alter my body in order to feel real, to feel like I belonged. No doubt it changed you, the tattooed become themselves, a self fulfilling prophecy. And I become the kind of monster that could do this to man. I’m not fucking real, Matt Illman is a fictional character and five hundred something scars haven’t changed that. I can’t escape the core of me.
What I think I’m trying to communicate is that mental illness is more than just the symptoms. The most important thing is trying to understand yourself, and recognise what in you is unhealthy, what actually requires remedy. It changes you, there are things you can’t escape…
Is it that our whole lives are just that single moment – a bloated vessel, punctured, spilling its contents into the void? I rotate it, orbiting around the inevitability. The finality of that image – everything I’ve ever believed myself to be, all I’ve ever known, ever claimed is just dirt, caked on shit to be washed clean in the ocean of ubiquity. I accept this, yet still I swim.