Read more of Críostóir’s posts here.
I remember mixing paints in primary school. I must have been four at the time. Red and blue made purple. Blue and yellow made green. Red and yellow made orange. It was fun but it was all too simple. I decided to give myself a challenge. Instead of mixing colours I already knew, I was going think of a colour that I’d never seen before and then work out how to mix that. I concentrated and focused my mind but I was quickly frustrated. How can you imagine something you had never seen? How would describe a colour to a blind person? I still remember the feeling of frustration.
It was only ten years after my experiment with colour. That’s a life time when you’re a child. I was fourteen years old when I had my first bout of depression. How do you express what you’re going through when you don’t have the first idea what’s going on? How do you describe things when you simply don’t have the vocabulary?
I’ve heard it said that many of the emotions that we go through in puberty are repititions of what we went through during the transition from baby to toddler. Our bodies, our realities and our emotions, changing at a faster rate than our understanding of the world could keep up with.
A lot of what I went through was normal for pubescent boys. From a happy, outgoing child to an awkward teenager. I seemed to take a stretch in height earlier than everyone else. Although tall for my age at the time I probably hit my peak height around my mid-teens. I became the centre of unwanted attention, thrust into fights I never started, so someone could try to show how hard they were. I was a soft target, tall but quiet. Thankfully, I could more than handle myself.
The truth was, I never really was quiet. Not around the people the knew me at least. I quickly learned making people laugh took some of the awkwardness away. I would develop a sharp tongue and a talent for story telling that has stayed with me. A cheeky put down said with a smile, or a banal situation dramatised into an amusing anecdote. Making people laugh made me forget any notions of inadequacy. I had found the solution to my problems. The trouble was, none of this worked without an audience.
My class at school would split in half for practical subjects. Just my luck, my friends were split into the other half. I’d spend half my timetable alone with people who I would barely exchange a sentence with. Being the odd one out, I’d often end up the butt of the jokes. I’d brush it off. It was more frustrating than hurtful. More worrying was the anxiety I’d feel at the end of class. Would my friends wait for me like they promised? Or would I have to walk to the shops alone at lunch? The latter felt like a fate worse than death.
This is all very normal. Problems do seem magnified at that age. It’s all just hormones, teachers would tell us. Things would start to gradually iron out for most people, I just seemed to get worse. Eventually it would ripple out into a pattern of behaviour that would stay with me into adulthood. My self esteem would became very low, I became terribly anxious and self-conscious. I would always try to cover it with a smile. If I could keep them laughing it would distract them.
As I started to get worse, people at school would pick up on things I did, whether it was withdrawing due to low mood, blurting out something stupid or over sharing because of anxiety. Kids being kids they’d tease me about it. Any form of rejection from the opposite sex was just confirmation of how inadequate I was.
By this time I was going through bouts of depression. I was always lead to believe that depression was when you felt really sad. I’m not sure if I can describe it adequately. I’ve heard it being described as feeling numb. Maybe it’s different for other people. The best expression I have for it is a black apathy.
When I was around 15 I started to develop symptoms that were consistent with bulimia nervosa, although I was never diagnosed. I would go through a pattern of depriving myself of food followed by binge. People picked up on it and I’d get teased about it, including by people who were supposed to be my close friends. That even continued into adulthood. That hurt the most.
After about the age of 16, I noticed I didn’t really fit in with my group of friends. I always tried to break away and find a new group but I always ended up with a foot in both camps. I would drift away from them one by one before eventually cutting ties with the last of them only a few years ago.
It was around this time that I attempted suicide. I was going through another bout of depression and started to become plagued by suicidal thoughts. Even though I thought I was keeping it together my general demeanour had just become dark. It felt like thoughts of suicide plagued my mind. What would happen if I jumped off that bridge? I thought through every method of suicide. I imagined how painful they’d be, what materials I’d need, how quick they’d be. What would happen afterwards. Who would care?
Staggered trips to find materials. Every breath was a regret and a longing for the removal of this infite sadness. A feeling of panic. A false name. An ambulance. I’m lying on a hospital bed, the shadow of my parents’ worried faces blocking the glare of the bright light. My little sister’s scared eyes and her awkward smile trying to find her big brother.
A trip to the GP and a medical order to cheer up and talk about my problems. In the weeks and months leading up, my choice of humour had reflected my mood, so had my choice of music. The prevailing adult wisdom would deem this the cause rather than the symptom. I didn’t have the means to articulate what I was feeling. It wouldn’t be discussed much afterwards.
I hadn’t given much thought to the prospect of my family discussing things with our household. My gran had been worried about me without any due cause and my mum had told her what happened. She just lent on the table and a single tear ran down her cheek. I didn’t find this out until years later after she had passed away. I broke down in tears. How could I have caused so much upset to my family?
The truth is, there hadn’t been much room in my mind for much else at the time. It had clouded my thoughts like a black haze, the blackest of black. The pattern had been set and it would play out continuously throughout my adult life.