The exhaustion hits me like a truck, or a sickness, or whatever description feels most appropriate. I am too tired to think of metaphors; all I know that my body feels heavy. I draw the curtains and crawl into bed at 3pm with a book, knowing I won't read it. I won't even make it past the first page. I fall asleep and don't remember my dreams.
It's 2012 and I stink like car exhaust fumes, the petrol-scented breath of a night spent drinking spirits. There was a table and I think I danced on it, alive and desperate. I think of all the ways I could recount this night to you if you weren't dead, how we'd laugh at the way I'd behaved and the ridiculous things I said. I am 24 and the sort of person who shrieks at people for being younger than me. You are 24, 24, 24 forever. I sob in the toilets and pray aloud to be taken instead.
Men pay me attention and then pay for my drinks. I crash home, overshooting the bus stop and walking back under the streetlights, earphones in and singing loudly. I strip off in the bathroom and the sight of the damp mold covering the walls feels sobering. I know how to grout and seal the side of a bath-tub but I forget to dress my wounds, letting the blood run over my thighs like paint. When I wake up my pyjama bottoms are fused to my legs.
I can't account for time. It's 11am, 2pm, 5pm. In the absence of a routine, the day stretches out in front of me like an open road. My destination is the corner shop where I pay for a glass-handled bottle of cider with silver coins. There's a knot at the end of the night when my partner looks up from his laptop and says "bedtime", and then I am inexplicitly alert. I stay up late, smoking and thinking in the kitchen.
It's 2010. The guilt is overwhelming and comes at me from every angle. My thoughts feel like the culmination of all the food in the fridge; my brain a large, disgusting dinner pieced together from the leftovers. I refuse to eat until not eating feels natural, until it hurts to ingest anything more than a packet of crisps each day, watching my hipbones glow under the pale surface of my skin. I'm skinny and confident, the dark voice inside me keeps insisting. I am alive.
I go to exhibitions and hang out in warehouses, which makes my drinking feel legitimate and stylish. I buy a blazer and start referring to myself as a poet, but mostly I get stoned and watch Twin Peaks on a sagging sofa whilst my new friends discuss their art projects. I log into my university's student portal to submit the final revision of my novel which I've written sitting on the floor, chain-smoking. It's fucking awful.
I fall asleep in the bath. There are so many metaphors for depression; swimming in it, drowning, waiting on the shoreline, waves crashing against rocks, stormy seas. It seems fitting to lie there until the water is cool and the bubbles on the surface have all deflated, leaving behind a greasy grey film.
In 2004 I am fifteen years old and still wear a training bra. The only makeup I own is a handful of free-gift lipglosses from the teen magazines I occasionally read. I won't discover hair-straighteners for another three years. In the early hours of the morning I watch Metallica's S&M live concert on low volume in the dark, hoping the noise of the DVD won't wake him up. I am stretching the faded black fabric of my hoodie over my knees as far as it will go, wondering if it's possible for a person to completely seal themselves over. I want to scrub myself clean, but the bathroom is an en-suite. Don't wake him up. I shut down like my clunky Windows 98; try to restore myself to my factory settings, pretend it never happened. I write the words in my diary but don't say them out loud until many years later.
Maybe if you slept less? Or slept more. Have you tried exercising? Maybe you should leave the house, go for a walk? Do you want me to come with you or would you prefer to be alone? I read this article about depression, can I show you? What are you grateful for today? Do you want to talk about it? Maybe if you try writing about it? Do you think it's time you quit smoking? Have you eaten today? I get grumpy when I don't eat too, maybe have some breakfast?
The doctor writes me a prescription for anti-depressants and I feel a sharp stab of panic as he warns me not to drink on them. I don't take them, I start taking them, I drink on them. I wake up with no memory of the night before except that I know in my gut I've made a big mistake. I spend the morning nauseous and waiting for my Candy Crush lives to come back.
In May 2013 I sign a new contract to rent the flat upstairs, and make a mental commitment to orange juice and twenty-minute workout videos. Jillian Michaels judges me as I sweat over the floor, slipping over the linoleum in my socks and ignoring protests from the cats. I experiment with wholesome hobbies; sewing, painting, games. I count off the days without a drink, impatient for my life to start.
In 2018 I realise for the first time that nothing is wrong. "I have no complaints" I tell people, which almost feels like a complaint in itself. This peace makes me feel uneasy, vulnerable like an open sandwich waiting to be picked apart.
I confuse contentedness with numbness, my mind a blank slate. I am the black screen of a laptop on standby. I'm a cloudy day; not exactly warm but at least it's not raining. The more people I meet, the more people I disclose my sobriety to. "It's nice to feel things again." I say, forgetting that on most days I don't feel anything at all.
2020. I've got rocks in my pocket. I hold my sadness tightly in my hand like a smooth glass paperweight, a cool marble heart. I have no more secrets left to tell you. My fingers graze yours in the silence that follows. The thick totality of it, a solid big nothing.