Anxiety, Martyn, and Reykjavík

This is the first piece of writing I have shared which is not in an academic or career focused capacity, whilst it feels strange not having to justify each point I make with a reference or source, I am quite enjoying the freedom of unconstrained rambling; so bear with. I have had the urge to write about my mental health struggles for a while now but I have never found the appropriate time or opportunity to piece my outlook together, despite Martyn and Iceland being seemingly wildly unrelated to my consistent self-doubt, I promise it should all tie up towards the end. This is largely an act of catharsis and a small method of attempting to overcome my anxieties but I sincerely hope I can make a relatively interesting piece out of this, and not just a long rambling of unintelligible drivel.

Firstly I would like to summarise, for those who do not know, that I am a white male homosexual recent law graduate on anti-depressants who adores Kate Bush and despises the Tories (finding out Kate supports the conservatives is just one of the many factors which deteriorates my mental stability). But the relevant parts of that are that I have been dealing with depressive episodes and fits of anxiety, on and off, for coming up to three years now. It began with a gross swoop into manic depression, spending large swathes of my second year at University watching episodes of The Office (U.S., obviously) on loop and not leaving my bed for days on end. The path out of this felt incredibly slow and tiring, but objectively I consider myself quite fortunate to have been able to come out of this place about a year later, weening myself off the medication and graduating from University with a grade I was bizarrely proud of. However, much like the iconic Golden Globe winning 2010 Cher ballad from Burlesque “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me”; I was back on the SSRIs within six short months. Feeling defeated, like the last years fight had been wasted, it was like any positive achievement I could attribute to myself was eclipsed by my taking a small 50mg tablet each morning. This time however it was because of anxiety, a feeling I had avoided quite successfully throughout my previous battle. Two years prior I would not leave my bedroom because I did not have the energy to, this time I could not leave because my own mind was telling me that everything outside was going to ridicule you. The people in the hallway are talking about you. The people driving past are looking at you because you look stupid. The people behind the tills at the supermarket are going to know you’re ill by just looking at me. Entirely irrational thoughts, but hey, at least I have now figured out (to some extent what is my anxiety and what is genuinely terrifying). More damaging at this point was the impact this was having on my postgraduate work; something which I have had to pause for a period of time just to let my mind settle. It is so difficult to describe how my anxiety was affecting this as, looking in as an outsider, I was achieving top grades and attending nearly all my classes. But for some unbeknownst reason, the niggling voice at the back of my head would still take joy in reminding me, after every single sentence I wrote for every essay, that it was shit and the examiner would be laughing at my feeble attempt at pretending to know what I was writing about. This escalated past the point of just being a mental worry; this grew and developed into a physical pain, where the thought of sitting down to work would make me exhausted and occasionally sick. So despite being on track to get a distinction masters degree, and despite getting a promotion at my part time job, here I am living back at home, unemployed, and writing a self-indulgent article for no fee.

So, onto the next bit. Martyn Hett. One of, nope, probably the best person I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend. He first minced into my life, like many other people, through the magical universe of gay social media. My ex-boyfriend from the GCSE years told me to watch one of his old YouTube videos called Martyn’s Memoirs (No longer online, but I thoroughly recommend scrolling through Immediately transfixed by his infectious cackle and niche sense of humour, we struck up a friendship and met ever so briefly for the first time at Brighton Pride four years ago. It must have only been a minute at max, but for that minute he made me feel like I was the most special person in the world. Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself spending time up in Stockport at his flat watching re-runs of Stars In Their Eyes, drinking copious amounts of red wine, being served stuffed marrow (the most heinous of dinners, but apparently it has something to do with Coronation Street), and laughing the nights away in the Manchester Gay Village. But most special of all was when he came down to Bristol over Valentine’s in 2015. Not particularly in any romantic capacity, but spending that day watching Eurovision 1997 and 2003 whilst he littered the side of my bed with his empty bottles of blackcurrant flavoured water and babybell waxes. He knew exactly how to make each one of his friends feel this special, how to bring out the positives in everyone and how to enjoy each and every moment. He was the first person I would text when I had the energy to tell someone I was feeling down, and he would know exactly how to respond. I never really got to thank him for how much of a difference he made in my various recoveries from mental illnesses but I guess now is as good a time as any to praise him. Since the events in Manchester in May which tragically took Martyn from us, I originally felt incredibly hopeless, like the steps I had taken to feeling better had been ripped from under my feet. The campest and most joyous support system I had was no longer with us and for a short while I could not comprehend how I would ever recover from it. But then the internet, in all its unbridled marvel, began to snowball into a Martyn Hett appreciation network. From every corner of Twitter and Facebook (and all the rest), people were sharing their love for him. Retweeting his ridiculous jokes from years ago, making a hashtag about him trend worldwide, bringing his life to the attention of all the celebrities he worshiped. His exuberance and pure passion for life was being felt the world over and it made me put aside all the hurting that was taking over my mind, and instead filled me with unprecedented joy. If someone so universally adored, purely for being his silly self, felt compelled to give a small amount of his kinship and affection to me, then why was I so bogged down in grim feelings of anxiety and depression? And so once I had asked myself this, and decided to bite the bullet and do something for myself.

This brings me to the Iceland part of my rambling. Unfortunately, Martyn had been deprived his chance to enjoy the trip to America he had been planning for years. Something he would talk about endlessly. It sounded like it was going to be the holiday to end all holidays, and tailored to his exact niche passions. So what could I do, even marginally, to act in his legacy? Well my dream holiday has for quite a while been to visit Iceland. I had even joked before that one day I will sack everything off and move to a secluded hut in Iceland to get away from everything. My bank balance won’t quite let me do that yet, but I felt that now was the most appropriate time to do something for myself. Visit the place of my dreams and take the time to reflect and de-stress in the quietest and most peaceful place I could think of. For the past years he had always encouraged me when I could not motivate myself, and supported me when my mind was seemingly uncooperative. I wanted to keep the memory of his support with me, imagining him telling me to go for it.

Last week I took myself off to Reykjavík for five nights, on my own, without anyone or anything to worry about, hoping that there I could enjoy just a short moment without anxiety. Now I know this sounds akin to the yuppy millennial hopping off to South East Asia to ~find themselves~, but I was not trying to find myself, I was trying to regain a part of me that I felt I had lost. Walking through the streets of Reykjavík from 8am to midnight, finding quiet little corners or park benches by the central lake to sit on and read my book; going to see a recital of Beethoven’s piano quartet op.16 at the Harpa; watching the new day draw in at midnight in the Blue Lagoon hot spring. Each moment of my trip I felt calm and worry-free. It would be wrong to conclude that I can thus only be mentally stable in a specific geographical location, but there was something so elevating about finally being in a place I had always dreamed of, motivated by the memory of one of my dearest friends.

Now I’m attempting to tie up all these strands of thought so this seems like a cohesive piece of writing, so I will finish by saying that it is okay to feel down, it is okay to not always feel at your best. But when you have spent so long clouded by the relentless self doubt of mental illness, try to internalise the positivity from those around you. Because without Martyn, I would never have gone to Iceland. Without knowing Martyn, my life would have been a much darker place. Thank you for the injection of confidence, and I will still be sending you screenshots of what Mel B’s mum is tweeting.