On Learning Self Love
TW: for suicide and speak of depression. This piece contains footnotes, which are intended to be read roughly at the same time as they appear in the texts. Unfortunately, my website blog wasn't made with footnotes in mind, so they re quite far away from the text itself. Read them as you see fit! For me, the journey out of suicide has been a moderately easy affair. There was a time, a few years ago, in which the thought of my own death was a constant companion. (1) It teased me before every train, sat gayly atop every bridge, checked its glimmering reflection in every window. I did not hate myself; I just thought about killing myself a lot and struggled to find a reasonably good argument for remaining alive.
I had few friends and few redeemable talents, and I had done at least one thing I found reprehensible. So it seemed to me fairly clear that removing myself from this world would be a benefit. Not in the ‘great-suffering-alleviated’ kind of way, but more in the way one might remove a small splinter—a good idea, if not extremely urgent.
However, I couldn't muster up the courage (2) to do it. Instead, I stumbled into myriad fleeting reasons to continue festering on this earth: a kind friend, a kiss, a deep and harrowing eruption of my own pain. And I clung to these things, often too tightly, unaware how badly I did not want to die. Still, this lack of ‘courage’ seemed detestable, even as I encouraged friends and harrowed peoples (3) to stay and wander this wild world.
These conversations gave me some modicum of neediness. I could not fairly go until this or that persons were safe until nobody I knew was going to die. It became my purpose, for some years, to help those people live with their sadness. This practice kept me alive long enough to fall in love with a number of important people.
Most notable to this story; Maybelle Lek, Bryony Harrison, Hannah McGlashon, Tom Kirkpatrick and Sian Hopkins, Jao Woramontri, and later Maddie Shimwell, Theo Baruwa, David Colley, and Alice Bonazzi. (4)
These people taught me, amongst other things, two crucial facts about life. 1. People, good people, do bad things. They hurt the people they love (and those they don’t); they say horrible ugly things and do even worse whilst drunk or angry or tired (5). 2. Despite this, human beings are fundamentally worthy of love and forgiveness.
It might sound tragically simple. Especially point one. But 19 year old me was so lost inside his own microscopic view of the world that he had forgotten something crucial. He was also a human. At the time, I didn’t consider myself on the same level as other people. They were good and flawed, and I was mediocre to bad, any redeeming quality a falsehood, a pretence.
It was only when I was forced to reconcile the fact that these good people (6) could know me and still love me that something changed. Of course, the first thing I assumed was that I had simply fooled them. I was playing pretend good person and one day they’d realise and leave. (7) But they didn’t. Instead, they faced toward me their vulnerabilities and encouraged me to show them mine. (8) And I was. Slowly. Over 4-5 years, in the face of their love, I spilt myself out and found myself still in their radiance. We didn’t do it perfectly, I hurt many of them, and they hurt me, and somehow we still managed to get through.
And then, in 2017, I got extremely lucky. I met Lee Clayden, and he invited me out to Ireland that winter for an aerial intensive. This brought me face to face with Rachel Strickland. For those of you who have not had the irresistible pleasure of meeting Rachel, the most important thing about her is that she holds a mastery over her voice found so rarely in this world. Whilst many can see into your soul (more than you realise), Rachel has the excellent and scarce quality of being able to pierce directly through your bullshit and reveal to yourself the purring and delicate machinery of humanity hiding inside.
This is obviously an essential skill to have in her line of work. (9) However, it was most important for me on a personal level. By this point, I held in me two astute contradictions. The hollow ‘emptiness’ of my depression egging me onwards to the sweet void of nothingness, and the unbearably true lightness of being love.
In both her vocal and un-vocal wisdom, Rachel forced me to contend with this contradiction more seriously than I had before. Before I swung, somewhat random between the two, but now, I was too choose. It was clear that one could not exist beside the other.
And so, sometime in 2018, in London or Edinburgh or Limerick or all of them at once, I realised quite suddenly that I wanted to live. Being alive, it turned out, was a beautifully foolish thing to be, and giving that up would be an immense tragedy.
Now I must be clear, Rachel did not just swoop into my life and cure me of my depression. For one, I still suffer often with bouts of its voided emptiness, but now, instead of considering my stage left exit, I am much better equipped to do the good that is needed to set back on the path. (10)
More importantly, though, a lot of people saved my life. (11) My parents, first and foremost, sowed seeds of love I was too juvenile to understand at the time but am now infinitely grateful for. And with the help of many caring hands, I have finally learnt how to tend those seeds and watch them flower.
Looking back on those times now, it seems to me that happiness is an incredibly simple thing. One day I decided I didn’t want to die, and from that day forwards, I didn’t. It just took a long, difficult time to really decide. -- Footnotes: 1. I can’t accurately pinpoint where these thoughts originated. All I can say is that they had started sometime before I was 15 and that by 18, it seemed my whole history was wrought with them. 2. I say courage because it seemed to me at the time that there was some pervert bravery needed, in the absence of great pain, to drop yourself off the mortal ride of life. 3. One of the graces and curses of my life is that many times people ready to ‘leave’ arrive at my door (through shared friends or wild chance), and it seems to me imperative that they be convinced otherwise. 4. There are more than ten people to thank, but you’re already bored of reading names you don’t know. 5. or just filled with the need to be vicious. 6. For they are all Good people. 7. Someone once pointed out to me how egotistical this perspective is. ‘Do you really think so highly of yourself, or so lowly of your friends, that you could fool them all. You must think them righteous stupid, if not yourself all knowingly smart.’ That one came like a punch to the gut. 8. This is something I am excellently poor at, but I am getting better. 9. She is, amongst other things, in the business of helping people cut through their own bullshit. 10. I’ve already named names, but y’all are going to look for a simple narrative, and there just isn’t one. Rachel helped equip me with tools other people had been training me for years. 11. Thought it was rarely their intention.
Image by Takeichi Abaraya from the Opening to 'Odd Taxi'