This is a personal essay I wrote as a presentation for my Masters in Creative Writing. It focuses on my experience of depression, or as it called it, my brain clouds or brain fog.
Clearing the Clouds
“I can always tell the type of day you’re having by your hair.” My stiff student support officer told me. I forced a small laugh, before asking what she meant.
“Well, if you’re having a good day then your hair is down and straightened, but if you’re having a bad day then your hair is up.”
To say I was offended would be an understatement. She had trivialised my problems down to a hairstyle. On another occasion, she was more direct and less metaphorical.
“Come on Jess, I’m sure your friends don’t want you moping around. They want the fun Jess back!”
Now, if that isn’t unhelpful advice for a depressed seventeen year old, then I don’t know what is. At no point throughout my two years at sixth form did this woman mention the word depression, or reassure me that these feelings were natural after losing my Dad to cancer at sixteen. It almost became a sport to her.
“Think of Ayesha” she said to me one day. “Ayesha lost her Dad a few months ago, and her Mum already has a new partner! Things could be much worse Jess.”
Poor Ayesha I thought, not because of her Dad or her Mum, but because everything she told this woman in confidence, was being shared as a worse alternative to my predicament. I’d barely said two words to the girl. Yet this woman found it appropriate to create a competition between us, of which bereaved child could handle it better.
And she loved to remind me that I wasn’t handling it well. That I shouldn’t miss school, shouldn’t cancel on my friends, and I couldn’t go home when I wanted even though I didn’t know how to interact with my friends, or concentrate in lessons. I struggled to return to normality after our lives had been ripped apart. I didn’t know how to be normal. I didn’t know how to get out of bed, or make small talk, to pretend that I was stressed about A-Levels or that I wanted to drink and go out. I wanted to hide in my fog.
That felt like rock bottom. It was an inescapable, unsolvable problem – I was trapped in a regimented routine when I needed time and space to grieve. The day I lost my Dad was the hardest day of my life, but it wasn’t rock bottom, not yet.
University took its toll on me. First Year I overdrank, overate, then starved myself, and dealt with being away from home. Second Year I lived with five great and wild humans, and I lived by the mantra work hard, play harder. Third Year, I cracked, quite literally. I accidentally stabbed myself in the hand. Yes, in an attempt to open a packet of chicken, I plunged a blunt Wilko’s knife through the packaging into my hand.
Like my skin, I had split open. After a three hour panic attack in A&E, I was steri-stripped and sent on my way, with only an hour before I performed in a play I wrote and directed. It was so tempting to back out, after all if a stabbing doesn’t get you out of an event, what will? But the show went on. I wiped away my tears with many a Morrison’s cookie, and then just carried on with my day, like nothing had happened. For me, that was remarkable.
I felt how far I’d come from the girl who couldn’t even get out of bed to go to school, let alone continue with her day if a cloud or two appeared to leave her brain in a fog. Post-stabbing I was clear headed. But as always, the weather changes.
The final days of my dissertation dragged, but then before I knew it, I’d completed my degree. Two bottles of Prosecco, three hundred photos and a handful of tequila shots later, it was time to head home indefinitely.
I’d been so excited to finish university and have a regular income, and get hustling like the freelancers I’d seen on Instagram. Except life isn’t like Instagram.
Those basic photos of blonde girls with fresh nails holding a Starbucks isn’t as glamorous when you’re serving the coffee, or sweeping the cookie crumbs off the sticky floor. In fact it was horrendous. As “Starbucks girl”, I was treated as a dumb, unqualified, inept adult.
The scariest realisation was that this was life now. I was in charge, and every failure or achievement was solely down to what I did next. If I stayed in bed because I felt foggy, I sabotaged myself.
In total I applied for around 50 jobs and got an interview for three. One of which I nearly didn’t go to. I’d been rejected from two jobs already, and I thought it was unlikely I’d get this one. Being an editor would be great, but I really didn’t feel like going. The clouds were back, and I couldn’t see beyond them. I thought I was fat, ugly, slow, a failure, stupid, young and a thousand other negative things that made me feel as though no one would hire me. So why should I go?
In that long list of my qualities I’d forgotten that stubborn was thankfully on there too, so I went to the interview. An hour later, I got a phone call to say I’d got the job.
Most people would be thrilled that they got a job in a field they really wanted to be in, but I was more impressed that I’d made it to the interview. Even though my mind was clouded, I ignored it and went all the same. I realised that I’d reached the point where it didn’t matter if my hair was up or down, whether my brain was clear or foggy, I could still function. I could still go.
I always wonder how I’d be, or where I’d be if I’d done a classic “Jess” and cancelled on that commitment. As it has filled the last seven months of my life with SO much positivity and fun. It’s worth getting out of bed for. I actually want to go.
I still miss my Dad, but I am not the person I was 6 years ago. Now I can endure the fogginess that returns to my mind, as I know if I resist, then I can clear the clouds and continue on to do even the smallest of tasks, like straighten my hair.
Read more about my mental health experience here.