THROWING SPAGHETTI ON THE WALL
WORDS BY JOSH RIVERS
On a Wednesday morning in September 2012, I awoke to find that I couldn’t move my head from my pillow. As I stared at myself in the mirrored closet doors next to my bed, eyes sunken and skin pallid, I started crying. I couldn’t understand how I had gotten here, how I could look at myself and hate what I saw so much, nor how anyone else was ever going to see anything in me worth saving. I pulled my duvet over my head, closed my eyes and went back to sleep. It was only in sleep that I found an escape from the torrent of emotions and self-loathing that so overwhelmed me.
At the time, I didn’t know I was in a bout of depression, and it took me a couple of years before I would fully admit that I was depressed. There was a great deal of shame attached to the word ‘depression.’ It felt like something that happened to other people, people who couldn’t get their lives together, who were self-indulgent and narcissistic. I always thought my outlook on life was pretty good, that I had my shit together, but I would soon learn that the tools I had taken up to help me cope with resentment and anger, and my subsequent disorientation in the world, were actually my undoing. I wasn’t building anything in my life that would last.
All I knew was that I had to leave — this city, my flat, my friendships, everything. So, I applied for a visa, and landed in Sydney on 3 January 2013. That’s when the real crying began. I opened my laptop and cried into the camera. I cried on beaches, on buses and in barber chairs, and as I kept crying, I started to feel a little lighter. With no one to talk to and thousands of miles away from anyone I knew, I felt I could let out all of the things I had bottled up. I went on long walks from Bondi to Bronte, made new friends who had healthy habits and started swimming. I even went to my first AA meetings. It was the first time I had gotten out of my head and thought, “Wait, I can be okay.”
“… in that realisation is the progress. I have made a decision to prioritize myself, to begin the process of healing, and it’s more progress than I’ve made my entire life.”
Now, this is not to say I figured it all out in Sydney. I certainly did not. In fact, when I arrived back in London eight months later, it took all of a week to undo all the progress I had made. I fell back into the same habits with the same friends and in the same places, and the dark cloud that had cleared in Sydney rolled back in stronger than ever. What I realised years later, in therapy, was that I hadn’t actually done the work of addressing my problems in the first place. I may have been sunkissed and bouncing around in my speedos (looking fit as), but it was just a new way of ignoring the same problems. A new way of ignoring the same problems.
And so this is what I’ve learned about my mental health: I can’t have good mental health unless I address the underlying causes of my depressive states. This means having difficult conversations with myself about why I’m prone to addiction, what and who I’m trying to escape from and — most importantly — why I so often feel like I’m not good enough. I can’t have good mental health unless I go to the gym. I can’t have good mental health unless I find time for deep and meaningful conversations with my mum and my best friend. I can’t have good mental health unless I try to repair connections severed by disappointments. I can’t have good mental health drinking and doing drugs. I can’t have good mental health unless I work at it.
I don’t have my mental health completely in check (does anyone?!). There’s a lot I need to do to quell the fears and concerns I’ve carried with me for so many years. But in that realisation is the progress. I have made a decision to prioritize myself, to begin the process of healing, and it’s more progress than I’ve made my entire life.