This is a long-form personal blog about my experience of the year that just ended. It’s more than 7,400 words long and about a half-hour read. So settle in. It’s filled with oversharing.
I’m choosing to share this out of a note to people who know me. That these things happened and it’s why I am in my state today. And it’s a reminder that I will be okay, eventually. And it’s also just a few words to everyone else who might be struggling with similar circumstances. That help is readily available.
There’s also a lot of political talk and stream-of-consciousness writing. Some of it is nihilistic. There’s not that many jokes in here unless you find the apocalypse to be quite funny.
More importantly, to myself, it’s a chance to reflect and recompose for the year that has gone alongside the times ahead.
Below is a playlist that I feel best encapsulates my 2016. Think of it as more of a tonal backing track.
For the record, my experience with mental health should not be taken as the universal narrative. Nor can you expect for me to cleanly explain or express what has been going on inside of my noggin for the last few years. Yes, years, plural. 2016 wasn’t exactly the straw that broke the cranium’s back as much as it was the series of events that finally brought my illness to light. This isn’t a cry for attention either, just the truth.
I’m not going to drag solipsistic philosophy into this piece, or tell you to go read Nietzsche or listen to Lil Jon, but it is ultimately impossible to plug my brain into yours. This whole piece requires a leap of empathy. If even one single sentence I write today rings true to you, if something about this makes you think for even the briefest second that you might feel the same way, then I hope you’ll find the help you needed. I’m not here to write strictly biographically, just to string together the moments of truth I’ve found throughout the year and attempt to make coherence out of them.
A year is the orbital period of the Earth moving around the Sun. It usually represents 365 or 366 (if time is being a bit cheeky) days, or 31,622,400 seconds if you want to be incredibly pedantic.
What I’m trying to open with is that a year isn’t strictly a physical thing. You can’t reach out and strangle 2016 by its neck. Yet in our apathy and despair we throw anger at ‘2016’ in an attempt to avoid the sad stuff.
Both politically and personally I have been guilty of the same. Attempting to wrap up everything under a nice neat banner of the year ‘2016’ as the murderer of joy. But what I have to do, what we have to do, is just get real about this year.
Because, fundamentally, it was utterly surreal.
Lazarus on the Train
All the way back to January I was feeling quite whimsical. In a post I touched upon all my achievements of 2015 and how I was looking forward to an even better ‘best year’ of my life. I remember most of 2015 fondly. To look at that stretch of time and see it coloured in a single mood isn’t a true description though. I had my moments. I had horrible moments. There was the time I thought it would be funny to manage security at my college’s February ball and was awake for forty-eight hours straight. There was also the General Election, in which Ed Miliband was soundly defeated by a bacon sandwich. Oh and when I was in America I happened to travel to a political rally outside Congress and giggle whilst a blithering probable rapist mouthed off about the ‘Iran deal’ being the ‘worst deal in the history of dealmaking’. He is now becoming the 45th President of the United States on January 20th and nothing about that will ever be normal to me.
I was heading back to campus on the train, see I remember this, when I was dealing with my 2015 thoughts. David Bowie had released Blackstar which I’d eagerly awaited for months on end. There was some seriously morbid lyrics in it but I put it down to Bowie being the maestro of ambiguity that he always is. I texted my friend about one of the songs being really sweet. I listened to that album whilst unpacking my things. And then, a few days later, I didn’t feel like unpacking anything else.
Grief is a weird and difficult thing. It’s cheap and selfish to relate the grief to yourself rather than process the passing of someone significant to you. It’s why people are so quick to launch their thoughts and prayers and R.I.Ps in the face of death. Because it’s hard to deal with it in any other way, and that’s perfectly natural. I guess Bowie was the same. David Bowie was probably the most influential artist of my life and work. I fully remember listening to Hunky Dory about a decade ago and that real spine-tingling feeling of discovery still stirs with me. That there was something so odd and quirky beneath the music. That oddity was a guiding light for me. His music was a constant reminder of the absurd, the profane, the human, and the whimsy. His music was the backing track of my life. He wouldn’t just be in my head during my writing sessions but bobbing around when I was walking home from school or waiting at the train station.
When he passed I did not know how to deal with it. I had never met him but for most of my life I felt he’d been speaking to me in a one-way conversation. I’d always just been listening. And now every time I put on one of his songs there’s this different feeling. ‘Five Years’ just comes across as all the more sadder. ‘Space Oddity’ doesn’t give me that wholesome feeling anymore. ‘Quicksand’, which everybody should hear once in their life, just sounds so daintily tragic. Even ‘China Girl’, probably my favourite, has its momentum fall apart for me. His music has changed for me. That’s the weird thing about art, that it always outgrows the artist.
The year was home to the loss of many treasured artists and people of note. Carrie Fisher’s passing was especially heartbreaking, as she might have been the first voice I heard speaking truthfully about mental illness. Alan Rickman, Prince, Gene Wilder, and Leonard Cohen, just to list a few. Bowie’s passing was the first siren call of the year and it was something that seemed to physically change me.
I suppose that’s the week I started thinking 2016 was not going to be an entirely positive experience.
Grief really is a weird thing and the way it can trigger stuff inside your brain you thought were long dormant. Stuff that had been fluttering about, ignored. I’ve probably written about this before in some public forum or whatever, but what afflicted me this year is not anything new. I’ve been dealing with this for most of my life. It was abundantly clear to me around mid-January that my brain was not being normal. That the happy things in my life were not leaving me with a smile on my face. It wasn’t a constant sadness but a numbness to reality.
Whatever laughter I had was tepid, and, worst of all, I was joking a lot. Too much of a lot. Humour is my defense mechanism. It’s the thing that I use to diffuse my mood and avoid the thing in my head that’s telling me I’m not allowed to enjoy the moment. I think the problem stems from that feeling of powerlessness. You know, breathing in the world around and realising you can’t do anything to change your circumstances. And then watching those circumstances shrink tighter and grow scarier. And more orange-y.
We’ll get to that eventually.
Being the sensible imp I am, I went to my GP after a few nights of insomnia. It’s usually just routine, episodic occurrence but this one just wasn’t going away. This wasn’t even the fun variety where I write half a novel and binge a season of television in one night. I’ve used my insomnia to practically get through my degree. My all-nighters weren’t exactly a ‘choice’ but they were, in a weird way, an advantage. One that I’d grown too comfortable with and in my post-Bowie life, listening to ‘Lazarus’ in the waiting room, I’d decided to do something about the fact that I just could not be happy anymore.
Whilst talking to the doctor I began ranting about how I was feeling for about ten minutes, then I launched into a spiel that involved a joke about Lyndon Johnson’s phallus and some nonsense about m-theory. Giggling in-between my breathless sentences I ended up delirious and, after realising I was basically at confession, stuck with a lump in my throat. I asked for a few minutes to just gather my thoughts. They asked me a few questions about how my life was. What I had been thinking about. My mental health history. I was diagnosed with severe depression, given a little pamphlet, and was recommended to fill out a form.
Walking back into my college room I think I broke down and collapsed, crying on the floor for reasons I didn’t entirely understand. I put off my work. A few of my close friends probably noticed. It was a slow-motion change, really. One that took place over a series of weeks. I eventually told those looking after my academic life that I could not read ten books a day because of my brain. It was hard explaining why, but they understood completely. And my close friends were told my truth and gave me all their love and support. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
In late January I travelled back to Leeds for a brief respite and to meet my newborn half-brother, Jeg. I remember walking into my Dad’s house and then seeing this small little bundle of human. With his tiny face and closed fists. He fell asleep in my arms and I just sat there, lying with him on my chest and still a little warped in disbelief. He was so warm and small and every time he yawned a little my heart would do these little leaps. I think I could have just stayed there forever. My brain allowed me to be a little happier that day. A little bit of oxytocin or dopamine or serotonin or whatever it was in my head-space. He is the light of my life, and I remember sat there vowing to myself I’d do all I could to be happier. Not for myself, but for him and my friends and family. I suppose I’m still chasing that promise.
Iowa Caucus, Vaulting, Lyndon Johnson’s Hands, and Pritchard Fawkes
January was also interesting as it was the first primaries of the Presidential election for both parties. If you know anything about me, you’ll know I consume political affairs at a gluttonous and alarming rate. I read socialist economic textbooks, get angry at Rupert Murdoch, and just generally stay up-to-the-second on current affairs. It’s just a complete indulgent obsession. Staying up for the Iowa caucuses was just a thrill-ride of a night. My newfound political idol Bernie Sanders launched to within striking distance of winning the first primary. It was genuinely exciting stuff. And on the Republican side, the orange menace was seemingly deflating under the Zodiac Killer’s influence. Throughout the classes I took, the murmur and speculation was how long the orange man would continue to stay relevant. How long would it take for Rubio (by my estimation) to get the nom.
In February I attended my college ball under the theme of The Vault, and drank way too much to collapse on my friend’s bedroom floor. Fun stuff. There was probably infinite formal dinners and work in-between everything. By day I was reading about the evolution of liberalism in the United States, and by night I was arguing with myself about Sinhalese Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Riveting stuff.
Alongside all this I was writing my undergraduate dissertation. It was a behemoth of a piece of work. Requiring hours of trawling through audio logs of Lyndon talking about his butthole and reading tens of books. It was on the subject of Lyndon Johnson’s decision to not seek re-election in 1968. Which to me (then) was the most thrilling-terrifying year of political history. I am not so sure now. I finished my 15,000 word dissertation after countless revisions and long nights of peer review, on March 31st. The same day LBJ made the speech that he wouldn’t seek the nomination again. Spooky! Coincidences! This was after, at the very last minute, discovering a cache of images documenting LBJ’s wrinkly hands. I think they’re from his file on his personal health but I may have also just downloaded them sub-consciously.
I also happened to actually stage a few plays that I had written and just left lying around because I’m an idiot. One was put on as part of a writing festival, about Bill Clinton’s inauguration speech, and two others were staged in the main Cambridge ADC Theatre place or something. They all acquired rave reviews and huge whimsical applause! I joke, they all flat out failed and nobody liked them. Actually I’m joking again, they did so badly that I ended theatre as an art form and to this day Andrew Lloyd Webber rues the day I entered into his profession. Actuall- they all went perfectly fine. I had a lot of problems with my writing but the actual performances and directions of the things were really wonderful.
It’s a real special pleasure to watch a story in your head come to life before your very eyes.
One of them was an adaptation of my novel Trimalchio, and the other was about a guy called Pritchard Fawkes who’s an atheist campaigner discovering he’s the Second Coming. Not subtle at all.
I also started going to counselling services within the university. Talking about my problems. The effects were really positive especially heading into my exam (and final) term.
I went to and fro Leeds to visit Jeg and my family in this time, and began planning for the future. I applied for a Masters programme at Cambridge, hoping to extend my real-life deadline by a year. I got a nice little offer and cracked on with doing my exams and watching Bernie Sanders come fairly close to becoming the Democratic nominee. For the record, I had my problems with Hillary (particularly her past LGBT+ stances and neoliberal economic beliefs) but it remains fundamentally difficult to argue for a more qualified person to become President of the United States. She was a workaholic above all else, and someone who just lived to work and pour herself in to something for thirty years. To lose to a racist-probable-rapist who picked up her profession as a hobby just a year ago is just- actually we’ll get to this eventually!
Graduation Means Graduation, Brexit Means Brexit
The final weeks of my degree were filled with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and foreboding. There was a knot in my chest. It’s hard to properly take account of the timeline, because memory is an illusory thing and whatnot. It’s made all the more difficult that I am not sure where to place the peaks and valleys of my mental health situation. At one point I took medication to deal with insomnia. Those last two months of my degree were home to me being run through an academic meatgrinder. Reading up on medieval hagiography until the silly hours.
My examinations went as well as I expect them to go. I gave them my all, and took a few risks. I felt confident coming out of them, and still remain confident, that I had put across my little anarchist point of view. At some points I may have gone too far in destroying the ideas of those who would probably be marking my papers but, you know, it wouldn’t be honest of me if I wasn’t taking apart the liberal consensus! Smash the patriarchy, burn down the Ritz, and down with the monarchy!
The final month or so was just a bit weird. Stuck in this wandering limbo, attempting to plan out some vague future or something. Oh and graduation. That was a thing. I got my results, which were a tiny bit lower than expected, and had to don a gown and stuff. My progress on to doing a Master degree was left a little bit ambiguous but most people in charge of keeping me sane said I would probably be let on the course with full funding. Huzzah. So I picked up my undergraduate degree, got yelled at in Latin, and was promptly kicked out of Cambridge.
Oh and this was two days after the Brexit vote. I’ve already written my piece about how I voted and I stand by it. I also wrote a thing about the aftermath which has parts that are a little bit prophetic. Theresa May became Prime Minister as Britain was engulfed by what was simultaneously the most thrilling and nail-biting two weeks of politics since the end of the Second World War. British politics isn’t meant to be exciting. It is dirty and backstabby, but it’s usually left to the back alleys and rooms-where-it-happens. It’s not made for public spectacle. And yet the triple-bluff of Michael Gove’s backstabbing of Boris, the civil war within the Labour Party, the constant flow of economic turmoil, and an otherwise certainly uncertain future left a lot of our news media in a state of blind but entertaining panic.
It’s fair to say that the country as a whole was revealed as bitterly divided, with exacerbated inequalities and regional identities swirling into a screaming maelstrom.
I am not hopeful for the future of Britain, I have to be honest.
The Court of the Crimson King?
I may write about my political feelings in another thing but Brexit revealed to me the raw nihilism about it all. In the wake of Trump and whatnot I think I identify more strongly as apathetic. The current opposition leader has a lot of bright ideas that align with my own thinking about the world. The whole, you know, redistribution of wealth is imperative for a healthy economy. That it’s not a moral case so much as a hard facts one. The wealth generators have been fattened up by tax cuts, with the banner of austerity used as a euphemism for class warfare. Our NHS right now faces a genuine humanitarian crisis. The coming of automation (and with it mass unemployment) alongside the destruction of climate change leaves us all a bit too vulnerable.
And that’s really the thing that June 23rd revealed for me. Heading into the graduation halls and then on the ride home, it took weeks for me to intellectual digest the facts, that us slowly sliding into a Children of Men authoritarian, closed-in nation is probably the most likely outcome. There is a nice result in that, and this includes Trump, we finally solved the Fermi paradox. The Fermi paradox states that if there’s, and this is me being reductionist to the extreme here, seemingly infinite suns and solar systems and whatnot then why isn’t intelligent life under every single little stepping stone? There’s been a lot of smart science-y answers to it and all sorts of stuff about the Goldilocks zone and biological evolution but I think the jury’s still out on science.
My answer, and this isn’t entirely original, is that when an intelligent species reaches an apex, to when it can reach out and start to communicate with the infinite void, that’s when it’s most vulnerable. That’s when the old biological forces of tribalism and little quirks of psychology; fear, anxiety and perceived threats. Those things get into the mix. The old are more vulnerable to these forces and if you have decades of a toxic media environment where the power and influence over information is concentrated in too few hands, and a certain agenda is pursued, the outcome is pretty easy to gleam out. We should be thinking about the perils of climate change, the coming of automated work, mass unemployment, and all sorts of other nice existential problems to solve. Instead we’re back to fighting fascists and trying to convince people that their anxiety is misplaced. Except now everyone is trapped inside their own little echo chambers meaning that the only interaction they have is whatever reinforces their pre-existing worldview. It’s pretty astonishing when you realise that your literal reality is subject to being manipulated, and it’s probably why Donald Trump become President.
That was my Summer, really. Or most of it. Picking about the political pieces, tuning in every so often to the shambles of a Labour Leadership election. I couldn’t even enjoy David Cameron’s resignation.
For the record my current take on the Labour Party is nihilistic. I remain a member and probably always will, but becoming actively involved in politics for the present time would not do wonders for my mental health. For me, the personal is political. The Labour Party has been attacked by the media and assailed in every direction. Its torn itself apart. The long-term decline of its appeal, we’ve lost seats in every election since 2001, is coming to an acceleration point. I agree with a hefty volume of Corbyn’s ideology, even if I don’t think he’s practically up to the job. But it doesn’t matter, in my view, what happens. The political narrative has been set. Labour are unelectable because they’re unelectable. They’re far too left, whatever that means. That’s the narrative, and it’s ubiquitous. It’s a settled question, really. Owen Jones and other commentators argue that a hopeful message can cut through a viscous media landscape but, in my view, the media is the only apparatus for getting such a message to where it needs to be in the first place. Whatever the party does in the next four years is irrelevant. Its failure is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I will hopefully be a fit enough state to campaign with blood, sweat and tears in 2020. But I’m not denying the inevitable political oblivion. It might be better to plan further ahead, or just admit the Left is dead and start preparing to survive the freefall into authoritarianism. Happy New Year!
I was writing a lot around the time these thoughts became concrete. My year’s being full of writing. It’s just that whatever I finished I never felt confident in. There are whole thirds of novels and screenplays that are sitting around. It’s fair to say that my mental health had a drastic impact on my confidence in my writing ability. And it still does. There’s maybe, just maybe, one or two things in the next few months I’d be more happy sharing.
Summer of Failure
So, here comes the tragicomic bit. Most of my summer was initially spent volumes of television shows and playing videogames. I had been locked away in a library for three years so I thought it would be nice to catch up on everything I missed. I wrote a few things, visited friends and family, and walked my dog a lot.
Oh and then sad things happened all on the same day.
I think it was late July or August or something. In the morning I was denied funding for my Masters, meaning I simply could not do the extra year of study. Not to bother, I had a back-up plan. At noon, after having a breakfast of noodles or something, I was sent an email about my back-up plan and how I’d been denied a job that I’d spent weeks preparing and writing for. Okay. And then in the afternoon I was sent the longform bill for my student debt.
They always come in threes, I guess.
That’s basically where my year fell apart. That’s around the time that I think I laughed for a few minutes at how everything had happened in such quick succession. That I was stupid enough to have only a few back-up plans and for them all to collapse. I said at the very start of the year that it could only be ‘the worst’ if Brexit happened, Trump won, and if I was unemployed by the end. Well, yeah guess what…
I kept looking for the cameras and laughing track but I was just sat there scrolling through these emails that ended all my plans for the future and spun me into complete uncertainty.
My brain did not take it well. For a long while I just seemed to stop bothering to do anything. I read a few books here and there but my level of productivity just slid. I allowed myself to binge and sleep in and ignore socialising. There was plenty of opportunity for me to pick myself up and try to do something about my situation but then left-field nonsense kept happening to me.
My insomnia returned to ridiculous force. The whole US election became this dark cavalcade of nightmares that were just daily drip-fed terrors. I mean, Hillary was going to win in the end but whatever Trump did was revealed a disturbing underbelly in American society. I mean, obviously she was going to win. Obviously. Obviously.
The Olympics came and went. Corbyn won re-election. I had my 22nd birthday. I travelled to Prague with my closest friends and had a wonderful respite from my recurring depressive episodes. I was holding steady. More or less comfortable with the fact that I wasn’t smiling that much.
I’d stopped counselling after leaving university and now I was just rather indifferent. Just spaced out, really. Waiting for me to wake up from my lack of plans. And then when October came and I realised I wasn’t going back to Cambridge, that I was away from most of my friends and support system, I don’t think my brain reacted well.
Oh, It Gets Worse
I think this was the worst, but I’m not sure. My 2016 became a neat routine of applying for a job and then getting a rejection for it the next week. It started with me punching above my career weight, probably, and applying for things sort of outside of my reach. I was basically scrambling to find something to give me some footing, to give me some place so I could re-assess and find peace and write again more comfortably. And then I moved on to mid-level positions. And then, after fifty rejections, I moved on to entry stuff. And that’s where I am, more or less, the bit after that. Where I apply for jobs which appear menial but open for people who are fresh out of university with a heft of writing/communications experience. And there’s where I am, stuck in employment limbo. Here and there I get some research work or some tutoring to do but otherwise I’m quite, well, stuck.
I visited Cambridge again and again throughout the final months. It was odd being back and not having a room key in my pocket. It was odd seeing too many new people. It was, and remains, odd to me that I don’t wake up there anymore. I love Leeds and my family and dog and Jeg and everyone here, but the truth of the matter is that I got too settled into Cambridge. That type of settlement needs time to detach but I’m not sure I want to let go just yet.
I was in Cambridge when the world ended, or it seemed like that. I remember waking up on November 8th with a little ping of anxiety in my chest. Just counting down the hours until all my fears would be quashed and I could go back to thinking about normal things, and not about climate change and the comeback of fascist ideology. I had stayed up to watch the debates and follow coverage, and this felt like not just eighteen months of build-up. This was, in essence, eight years of it. When Obama ran for President, that’s when I became politically galvanized. When I started paying attention to the world around me. I moved from watching personalities to reading policy, and consumed so much information daily that it became all too unhealthy. To become so emotionally attached to politics, especially on the Left, is really asking for it. I suppose my own circumstances of growing up disadvantaged and whatnot, and seeing all too many injustices throughout my community, led me to see political defeat as so personal. Every loss just felt like an attack on my reality.
I was sat in the Cambridge Union in the very early hours. The room was abuzz with anticipation to watch Hillary rout the embodiment of toxic masculinity. To finally smash that glass ceiling and maintain the Obama legacy. That’s what I mean by eight years. Eight years of believing in a common, complete decency to humanity. Obama later said that history does not travel in a straight line, and sometimes it just zig zags. Reading his calmness and steady reaction to the events has been a real solace to the past few months.
Needless to say, around 3.a.m in the 9th November, my entire brain collapsed in on itself. I’m not sure what happened. My main obsession throughout life, the thing you could quiz me on if the world was at stake, is the American presidency. Its history and power and just everything about it. To me, it was one of the cornerstones I could cling on to. The thing I could talk about comfortably and have nice arguments and discussions about. I’d just talk about Teddy Roosevelt or bring up stories about Lincoln whenever I needed to just say something. It’s a real odd thing to talk about, I know, but my brain works in that way. I cling on to things like comic books and science-fiction and television because they make more sense than the real world. But now the books and stories I know so well are poisoned. When Donald Trump won the Presidency, it ended my belief in the goodness of humanity and put an end to my political optimism. It ended any desire to do anything to help the world.
I’m going to be as blunt as possible. You can talk about what Trump means for race relations. You can talk about what he means for sexism. You can talk about what he means for surveillance. You can talk about what he means for the economy. You can talk about all of these sensible, prescient things. Things that we’ve seen before. As I started this piece with ‘surreal’, I have to sort of end by saying that the orange cataclysm will never be normal to me. The scale of defeat is almost too much to think about without sinking into moral abandon and pangs of anxiety. Whatever made-up obstructionist scaremongering the Republicans riled up during the Obama years, for tens of millions of white Americans to be fed further by Fox News and fake news, is nothing compared to the actual damage that a Trump administration will do. I am not talking about social justice or the things that should be being dealt but instead the basic facts of human survival.
And that’s the lesson I learned from 2016, that I’m not sure there is one. I’m trapped in uncertainty both politically and personally.
Much, Much Worse
In September of 2016 the symbolic 400 ppm mark was reached. That’s when atmospheric carbon dioxide exceeded 400 ppm. That’s the point of no return. That’s when increases in global temperature become inevitable. When the rising of seas and mass climate change starts to become normal. Mass migration has already had its first whispers with Syria. The depletion of resources in the most disadvantaged reasons has led to a turn to political extremism and violence. However climate change fully manifests itself is still up for rigorous debate but the effect on food supply and water shortage is already becoming scarily apparent.
I mean, yes, I could go through Trump’s statement on climate change being an invention by the Chinese. I could also mention his complete ignorance when it comes to vaccinations, or- actually I could go on and on with his stupidity. It doesn’t stop with him. He literally said on tape that he sexually assaults women. He argued that Barack Obama was not born in the United States because he was black. And he became President. Worse than any of those things is a danger to the survival of the human race. The exact record on climate by Obama isn’t entirely a shiny one, but he recognised it’s the greatest existential threat that we’re facing in the twenty-first century. Most of our work in the next decade or so is about minimising damage, containing it, and doing our best to reverse whatever hell we’ve wrought. When you have an incoming President who says climate change isn’t just a non-issue, but that doing anything about it is wrong, then it’s game over. If the United States says that scientific inevitability doesn’t matter then we’re done here.
I don’t want to be nihilistic. I don’t want to just sink into apathy. But when you think about it, it makes some sense. Climate change isn’t a tangible reality to the vast majority of people who could do something about it, even something as small as voting for the person who believes that it’s an actual thing. To tens of millions of people the effects of climate change won’t affect them until half-way through this century. If at all. The Trumps and Farages of the world will die long before they’re proven wrong. I haven’t seen the ice sheets melting, nor have I witnessed the depletion of resources and whatever, but I’m enough of a smug educated Leftie to know that scientific facts are kind of the root of reality. It is terrifying to me that my grandchildren may have been consigned to drown and die by the mistakes of generations before them, and there’s little I can do to stop it.
That’s my response to the idea of political hopefulness. To the idea that I can make any difference. Now that the world has been so bitterly divided into old and young, and across all sorts of cross-sections, it’s now just impossible to communicate with those who need to be informed of what’s coming. Because they don’t want to listen. If millions of people believe in complete falsehoods and are unwilling to see differently, it’s effectively hopeless. It’s a quirk of human psychology, and one that I meant to bring up when writing about the Fermi paradox, that even when their beliefs are proven incorrectly people are actually more likely to believe in the falsehood even more.
So on the 9th November 2016 I started to think about what I could do to fix the world and stopped at the first hurdle. If facts are as valid as feelings then there’s nothing I can do.
Even listening to Obama’s farewell address, charged with optimism and reflection, I was left crying just a bit. Because what comes next is nowhere near as educated or aware or decent.
So I return to that feeling of powerlessness and the root of my severe depression. In the late weeks of November, still in complete mental upheaval from the event that had just occurred, it became blindingly obvious to me, and those around me, that my mental health had further nosedived. I had taken some medication to deal with mood and insomnia in the time since leaving Cambridge, but now I needed something stronger. I am proud of myself for having been sensible and brave enough to tell my doctor that I wasn’t sure how I could be happy again, and that I needed help. I am now still on strong anti-depressants and am likely to go into a new course of counselling.
This was my thought heading into Christmas. Even after heading back for a nice little formal and performing in the college pantomime (again). And I think it was seeing Jeg again that made me think about it. He’s put on a lot of weight and he’s this bubbly, smiley baby who doesn’t realise that he’s probably going to have to solve climate change or something. He’ll probably end up as an astronaut or something amazing, because he’s Jeg and I’m going to make sure of that.
But that was my thought in the final weeks of 2016. Even alongside the constant flow of depressing news and my brain not working properly. Even on Christmas day and going into New Year’s Eve, I kept returning to thinking about my little half-brother and how lucky I am to have been blessed with fortune I didn’t even know was there. Becoming a big brother at age 22 wasn’t exactly on my to-do list, but now I’m beginning to conclude that I could not ask for anything better to happen to me. To have a little someone in my life who deserves shepherding, who deserves being told about Star Wars lore and being led around battlefields. Who deserves a world that’s healthier. Because he’s my little brother.
And that was the solution to my uncertainty. Political, personal, and otherwise. It has what has led me to revisit my writings in the past two weeks and pick out a few things to concentrate on. It’s what has made me hopeful for job prospects. It’s what has allowed me to apply and get an offer from a London university to do a Masters degree, so that I at least have something to do next year. I owe it to Jeg and everyone who cares about me to find some way out of uncertainty. To find health and happiness.
I’m not sure what I can do about the slow motion end-of-the-world. I’m not sure when my nihilistic-apathy is going to stop. But I’m going to try. For the time being I’ll accept my powerlessness, but this too will pass. I’m not a fan of the disdain people have towards New Years Resolutions and “new year, new me!” because if people see a new year as a step towards positive change then no matter how arbitrary it may seem, it doesn’t demean the positive intent. And that is my intent.
You cannot see life as a narrative series of events that is filled with inevitably sad and happy bits. You often have to make it for yourself. Happiness isn’t always a choice, as my mental health history shows, but if you hope and will for it to be in your life then it makes it that much easier. You might be wondering as to why I’m so personal and open about the events that transpired, and it’s because this is my way of therapy.
It’s also thank you to them, most of all. To my friends and family, you were what makes me life still great. 2016 was bad, yeah, but it was only a year.
I guess that’s all my oversharing done. Congratulations if managed to read all of it and make some sense of the stream of consciousness. I hope your year went better than mine. I’m not fully optimistic about the future, as you can see, but I’m more willing to at least shrug and see what’s coming.
I hope too that anything I said about my own brainspace made you think about your own problems and the solutions that are easily accessible. I am always around to be talked at or with if you have any specific questions or burning worries. I have a lot of experience with worrying; it’s basically the occupational hazard of being me.
I wish you and everyone in your life a wonderful 2017. It’s going to be a difficult year, you can just tell, but anyway to lighten to load is well worth doing.
This year I intend to finish writing a novel I’ve been rewriting for the past four years. I also intend to write some other cool things and release them or whatever. Most of all, and this is something I hope I’ll stick to above all else, I’ll be writing ‘a thing’ each week. It could be a blog, a political rant, an analysis of Elder Scrolls lore, a review of a television show, or just a few thousand words about Kanye West. It’s about time I got back to some kind of writing routine.
All the very best.
Appendix of Stuff
This is all the significant media and fiction and stuff that I consumed the past year. I like to revisit this every so often, but I thought it’d be nice to share some recommendations if you want to listen or watch or read something good.
Recommendations in bold. Thing of the year has an asterisk*.
Blackstar (David Bowie), The Life of Pablo (Kanye West), “Awaken, My Love!” (Childish Gambino), Junk (M83), We got it from Here… Thank you 4 Your service (A Tribe Called Quest), Jessica Rabbit (Sleigh Bells), Channel the Spirits (The Comet is Coming), Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels), A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead), Remember Us To Life (Regina Spektor), Blonde (Frank Ocean)*, Summer 08 (Metronomy), Forget (Twin Shadow).
Steve Jobs, Zootopia, Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Jungle Book, Best of Enemies, No Country for Old Men, Bridge of Spies, Creed, The Nice Guys, Spotlight, Boyhood, The Big Short, Suicide Squad, Slow West, CA: Civil War, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dr Strange, The Hateful Eight, Moneyball, Sicario, Anomalisa*, Arrival, Sausage Party, Star Trek Beyond, The Green Room, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Still to see: Rogue One, La La Land, Moonlight, Everybody Wants Some, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, Paterson, Nocturnal Animals, Kubo and the Two Strings, I, Daniel Blake, Silence, Jackie, Sully, Midnight Special. I am bad with films!
Undertale*, Rocket League, Crusader Kings 2, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Team Fortress 2, Fallout New Vegas, Duelyst, The Beginner’s Guide, Downwell, Spelunky (I beat hell!) and not much else!
Better Call Saul S2, People V OJ Simpson, Mr Robot S2, The Wire, Veep,The Jinx, House of Cards S4, Bojack Horseman S3*, Silicon Valley S3, Daredevil S2, Game of Thrones S6, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Horace and Pete, Garfunkel and Oates, OJ: Made in America, The Daily Show, Conan, Stranger Things, Harmonquest, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend S1/2, Inside №9, Doctor Who, Fargo S1&2, Fleabag* (tie), Westworld, The West Wing S3-S5, Cutthroat Kitchen, Designated Survivor, Brooklyn 99, Planet Earth II, Fresh Meat S4, Black Mirror S3, You’re the Worst S3, 2016 Wipe, QI, The Night Manager, Luke Cage, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Crown, Designated Survivor, Fargo S1/2, The Night Of.
Currently watching: Atlanta, The Americans, Star Trek (all of it, I’m still in TOS) ,and Buffy.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Ryan North & Erica Henderson), Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Ta-Nehisis Coates), Vision (Tom King), Superman: American Alien (Max Landis), Moon Knight (Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallword), March (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell), The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers (Joseph Hickman), Good Cop, Bad War (Neil Woods), Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (Richard Seymour), Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present (Gary Gerstle), Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (Ira Katznelson), Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow), The Rise of a Prairie Statesmen: The Life and Times of George McGovern (Thomas J. Knock), Being Nixon: A Man Divided (Evan Thomas), An Indigenous People’s History of the United States (Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz)*, Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and also a billion history books I read for my degree.
Currently reading: The Holy Roman Empire (Peter Wilson), The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead), Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay).