As Managing Editor of Obiter Dicta, I am apparently obligated to write an editorial for every third issue of our publication. Considering I editorialize so often that the words I heard most growing up were “don’t editorialize”—my parents are both intellectuals and I had an extensive vocabulary even as a child—I could probably just write one of my usual articles and no one would notice. Draft, edit, send to the printer. Simple enough, right?
Well, in some sense, I feel like taking this up to eleven, as it were.
I started my work with the Obiter by writing “You’re Not Alone,” an article chronicling the psychiatric issues I’ve struggled with for almost my entire life. Over the course of first year, if you don’t hear someone say “one in five Canadians suffers from some sort of mental illness” at least twenty times, you probably aren’t paying enough attention to your professors. Even surrounded by people as high-functioning as law students, I doubt you could glance through a seminar of fifteen people without spotting someone who struggles with mental illness. We’re everywhere.
Before I continue, I want to express my gratitude to those of you who reached out to me in the bleakest moments of last year. I had largely given up on life—let alone law school—and the support I received from people who mostly knew me as little more than an awkward but vocal classmate was truly a catalyst that inspired me to carry on. I cannot understate my appreciation to you, and also to those who encouraged me to keep writing—though most of my articles since then have been sardonic social commentary, because let’s face it, that’s just more fun. For what it’s worth, I’ve done much better over the last year, and my episodes have become much fewer and farther between. Unfortunately, they do still occur, and when they do, they’re often just as bad as they’ve ever been.
I write this article immediately following the worst episode I’ve had in about eleven months. I write this article so people can have a better idea of what it’s like succumbing to an overwhelming sense of despair and existential dread, almost at random, even as your life is going about as well as it’s ever gone. I write this article because—while people try sincerely to be sympathetic to those struggling with mental illness—the gritty details are often hard to comprehend or understand. That said, here they are. I apologize in advance.
You wake up far too early, staring out the window of your apartment, trying to guess the time from the sliver of light at the bottom of the horizon. Your phone tells you it’s a quarter past five. After about half an hour of failing to get back to sleep, you drag yourself out of bed (or off the couch), hit the john, and try to kill time before you have to get to doing whatever it is you have scheduled for the day. You look around at the empty plates and beer cans on your coffee table and floor. You want to feel embarrassed, but what do you care? You barely care to get up in the morning, let alone pretend that someone else is around to judge you for your lifestyle. You’re so used to it that it doesn’t even depress you, so you make yourself a sandwich, gulp it down as you browse Reddit, and add one more plate to the pile.
You shower, brush your teeth, put on some clean clothes, swallow a couple anti-depressants, and head out the door. You feel a creeping sensation that something’s going to go wrong today, but you ignore it. Keep going. That’s all you can do, right? You get through your class, having done enough readings to understand what the prof is talking about. You sit through your afternoon club meeting, actually contributing and feeling mostly normal. Good. But the creeping sensation lingers as you head home, as you get home, and as you prepare to do your readings before you go to hockey.
Then you realize that you’re a little bit further behind than you thought. There’s actually a textbook for your seminar class. It hasn’t been mentioned in class and you couldn’t find it on the school bookstore’s website, so you’re several chapters behind. You think “Ok, I’ll order it from some other website,” but it’s apparently an exclusive edition. And suddenly, the fear kicks in. You done goofed.
And that creeping sensation becomes a huge knot in your throat, and suddenly you’re a grown man trying his damnedest not to cry.
“It’s not the end of the world,” you tell yourself. You can catch up. You can borrow a book and spend an hour copying the relevant chapters until you can get your own copy. You’ll manage. You always do. But then you think about going to hockey in a few hours, and the knot grows. You want to cry, but you can’t even do that. That’s not productive, and you need to act.
So you act. In a fit of childish rage, you grab a broken computer mouse and whip it into a wall. It shatters into several pieces, and leaves a two-inch mark in the paint above your kitchen table. It reminds you of when your fiancé left you with a note, and how a text from your mother made you throw your phone into the wall—before you Blacked from the whisky you’d been choking down to deal with that whole mess. You wanted to get through it alone, and all you did was push away the people who would have helped you. You run your finger along the mouse’s imprint in the wall. And within a minute you collapse on the floor, alternating between sobbing and laughing.
You call your hockey league and tell them there was a scheduling mix-up. You crack open another beer, and try to remember the last time you felt whole. You slowly begin to feel better, but you can’t help but wonder if it’s the episode ending in its own right, or if you’re just happier feeling nothing at all thanks to the booze. Maybe it’s both. Either way, you stare ahead with misty eyes, and try to remember how many people are invested in your success, from the mother you can barely talk to because your issues have driven a wall between you, to the dead teacher who begged you to make something of yourself. You must keep going. You will keep going.
But you know that no matter what happens, you will relive this awful moment over and over again. At some uncertain point in the future, you will be a grown man, crying on the floor, wishing in vain that the pain will go away. It will happen time and again until the day you die.
That is what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.
If you know what that feels like, I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I reiterate, you’re not alone. It’s a modest comfort, I know, but between all the chronic anger and despair, at least you shouldn’t have to feel shame. I don’t… at least not for that.
One foot in front of the other. You can make it.