Being entombed in your own self-centeredness is not at all pleasurable, believe me. It’s a lonely prison cell, where the pass-code for exit is constantly altered, vapourising escape plans.
But the likelihood is, if you’re a decade or so younger than I, you know exactly what I mean already. I can’t be sure I’m right here, but scrolling the Tumblr and Pinterest profiles, it seems that society has produced a 18-24 age group, who a large proportion of seem locked in these aspiration-cum-desperation cells. Poor bastards – that’s how I feel about most of those ten year younger than me.
The cell is like a snow-globe, settled, shook up, settled, and shook up again; as the rebounded echoes of one’s hopes and desires are energised in a tightly sealed space, only for inevitable exhaustion by the inability for this energy to escape and materialise into anything (except art – “everyone’s an artist nowadays!”), and everything settles down into the same inert, cold, dead space; enducing the wasteland of depression.
But I feel wrong even ascribing a wider-social context to this condition. Maybe it feels wrong because at the times I find myself aware of my self-entombment, I am usually feeling at my most alone, alienated, and possessing a freakish, weirdo mind, and thus feeling immense shame. “What a fool I am thinking others are like this – I’m such a screwed up weirdo” (and then the lyrics from Just, by Radiohead, “you do it to yourself, you and no-one else” start pouring into my mind; chit chattering as a fluid of fatalist failure ferments all thought).
Why is shame felt? Why when ‘the downer’ catches you out in the middle of the day, in the middle of town, why is it shame that seems to hang from the flesh, making you feel as exposed as if you were naked?” It may sound ironic but when you’re entombed in self-centeredness you can’t actually locate a self. I don’t mean here, or believe in, the idea of a core person-hood that stays unaltered from birth to death; but I do mean at least a core security construction within a person that they can rely on.
For those entombed in self-centeredness there is nothing to rely on, no place of safety to rest in, when one’s person is attacked or thrown into a disorientating situation. Such a sense of self actually comes from interacting with and feeling part of the world; a secure self comes from that self being able to be porous to all that surrounds it – saturated by it at times.
The entombed self-centered person is envious when they see people touching, hugging, interacting, doing, and building things, seemingly without thought. He/she’s thoughts are always over-thoughts, unnecessarily rebounded contemplations of things that he/she is sure others don’t even contemplate. He/she retreats into depressive-pleasure-seeking every day instead, and the nihilist-pleasure compound of late capitalism yet again seems like the only world, and one he/she increasingly depends on when the external world looks more fucked up by the day. The only solution seems to be to share the burden – but the cell walls seem to respond like vinamold around attempts to escape them. He/she wished they could build something, join hands and build something. But art is the only thing the entombed self-centered person can produce; cave paintings, mere images of the world, painted within the cell.
Is this a externally-enduced condition that has then freed itself from it’s causation, only leaving the atomised self to answer for problems that arise? Well, surely under a dominant belief system that negates society for the individual when it comes down to success, achievement, wealth, well surely the opposite (perceived shortcomings) cannot help but becoming the individual’s burden?
Personally speaking, I have found myself caught between academia and personal experience, and find myself merely hoping my personalised analysis is somehow spotted and incorporated by one of the professionals into their own theoretical discourse – X Factor society or what?! (see here). I have found myself within a constructed reality that is way beyond comprehension for me (just hoping the theorists I quote can pick my unseen blogging-batton up). It is certainly a political issue, but explaining this to friends/family (to anyone) when the shit hits the fan (mentally) – as it is clearly doing right now – has proven unsuccesful so far. Where do I go from here?
“And teenage tears sting my eyeballs, in a town where I wasn’t born” – A New Decade, The Verve
Yeah yeah, I’m aware that what can constitute a human is an incredibly plastic thing, shaped by many factors. But here I just want refer to the human condition regarding the ability the wish to show other feelings apart from fear and anger
For some reason this only seems to occur later on in the evening. And seems to be bubbling up far more frequently of late, like air bubbles from somebody finally submerged in water after years of flapping his arms around furiously.
One recent evening springs to mind. Because on this evening I was reminded of why I have found it so hard to feel human/part of the species (rather than merely knowing I am) throughout my adult life.
This scenario was on a train heading back from Manchester, anesthetized by drink, after a boozy meet-up with a friend there being rounded off by a can of cider for the tedious local stopping service back to Sheffield (any excuse to reach the required level of numbness).
Manchester will always be a funny place for me; like London, it gives me a feeling of part of my life being left incomplete; not just the degree courses I left incomplete in these cities, but also a potential life I never managed to live in them before I returned to my home town-inertia. Something was in the way.
Whilst in Manchester, this something in the way was one year through materializing as Anorexia Nervosa, or something that most closely resembled it.
However, catching this train, now far less introverted, 11 years older, and drunk, I was some distance away from these days (for better or for worse? well that’s not as clear-cut a answer as you’d think).
Northern Rail had provided us with one of their Northern Fail trains, where you can’t hide a single facial expression from the rest of the carriage.
I found myself sat behind a young female student, probably in her late teens, the same age I was when trying to complete a course in Manchester. She had a book which I couldn’t help but notice the content of without either staring at my feet or out the window into a pitch black landscape.
The book was titled Overcoming Anorexia. Then I noticed she had that all-too-familiar look: the slow healing of starvation, of being painfully thin but with that bruised and beaten look of the half-skeletal anorexic body finally disappearing under rehabilitated flesh.
I began to feel a lot of empathy for her (not something my general fearful, frustrated goldfish bowl-self usually finds easy) when I saw that she had stuck a sheet of white paper over the book cover. She was clearly so ashamed or frightened about the world finding out she had been inflicted with this destructive thing. So much for it being ‘fashionable’ to be anorexic, it can often feel extremely humiliating.
However, despite this, it didn’t feel intrusive and disrespectful that I was more or less reading the book with her. Quite the opposite, because it was a shared world, a world we both inhabit, although it was one shared in silence – you can never break that silence, if broken the response would be incredibly defensive and dismissive. The anorexic’s world is an incredibly lonely one. A self-made tomb between life and death.
I said inhabit rather than inhabited because I never really left it, even after 10 full years of not being properly anorexic. I still usually experience the world from within a lonely goldfish bowl (from which I watch the commencing and departure of human interactions, but as something unobtainable). Yet, the train scenario made me feel overly emotional in a way I’m not used to. Despite the drunkenness maybe having a part to play I felt momentarily human. I saw her reading the chapter on how the disorder damages relationships with family and friends, I thought about the stress/worry this disorder puts families under up and down the land, and silently wished her luck with it all as she got off the train.
The same fears that caused it still form the self-made tomb between life and death (you can never really feel alive – you drive through life, but it always feels like it’s through a window). A fear of so many things webbed so seamlessly together by the bullet-pace of the world. And an impulse to avoid the hell of empty/dead time, when you suddenly run out of ‘tasks’ to complete. Once I ‘gave in’ (as it felt) and could no longer keep the regime up, and after a brief spell where I felt that a life could be lived ‘properly’ suddenly became too emotionally turbulent to maintain, I merely re-channeled my compulsive behaviours into the way I made art, my increasingly politicised way of thinking, even the way I walked, and (unfortunately) the way I do social drinking. It can’t go on, I need to become human again. But the longer you leave it, the less you have to go back to. I don’t believe we maintain a ‘core-self’.
Yet, the emotional response I felt to seeing this student reading the book was a sort of affirmation that there is still something there that isn’t just fear and anger.
“I am twiggy and I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me” (4st 7lb, Manic Street Preachers)
Perhaps it was erroneous of me to come to understand the politics of anorexia, rather than spending that time trying to properly deal with it on a personal level. But I didn’t – it is a political issue. The odd thing was that when I saw this student reading the self-help book, my internal arguments were unusually mute over books that ignore the politics: I just hoped she’d get through it, in whatever way.
I wish her luck. But I have to deal with it politically. After all, it is the fallout from my anorexic spell that probably drove me towards being politically-minded more than anything.
Anorexia is both a response to, and an embodiment of, the dark side of society’s unspoken demands of us. It isn’t a timeless human condition, but a reflexive response to a certain type of world, a world of pressures, demands, fears and horrific inhumanity that we are forced to witness through our media-pummeled eyes. It is intrinsically bound up with our cultural values of hard work, the good citizen, and the pure/innocent person who abstains from ‘indulgence’, which has still persisted, and even intensified under an era where ‘greed’ was claimed to be virtuous. But it’s persisted because these days thinness is also associated with success, as the richest, most successful generally maintain lifestyles that keep them at a socially-approved level of thin. To be skinny is bound up with success – to be unsuccessful in our ‘X-Factor Society’ is be a non-person. A failure. “Shame on you.”
In addition to ‘hard work’, the need to feel ‘pure/innocent’ is a crucial factor to kick-start the spiral into anorexia. To be conscious of the horror in the world, and our unwilling participation in it (bound up in the consumer life), is to feel guilty; guilty for being tainted with the knowledge of our unhappy planet. Whilst to be overweight, ‘lazy’, gluttonous, is to be guilty in the eyes of society. To be alive, to sweat, defecate, smell is to be guilty in the eyes of society. Sacrificing ones life to the pursuit of the model of ‘innocence’ that is skinny becomes an unacknowledged impulse and inflicts many unfortunate sensitive (still mainly young female) humans.
This is the violent age of global financial capitalism. It’s media technologies are a concrete realisation of its ideology of market individualism. We are pitted to compete against an increasingly fast, violent and unstable world, alone. And our response is to wage war on ourselves, make our bodies the world, a world we (feel we can) control. The writer Laurie Penny puts it well in her book Meat Market, saying ““when you are anorexic, your world shrinks to the size of a dinner plate”. Regarding the invisible flows of financial capitalism, and the flow of digital media, which is an expression of this dominant system, I’d go further with the violence it deals out, and say that the bruised, crushed-tin look of the war-against-the-self of anorexia, is in fact a concrete abstraction of the violence of capital flow.
Yet, in spite of this I have a life to live. And I can’t ignore it anymore as it’s bubbling over in the only way it can do so when it is repressed – destructively. Suddenly you realise ten years have gone by, and you begin kicking and screaming to get out. I can understand the political implications of Anorexia down to every last electrical node attacking the psychological state, but when I saw this student reading that book I realised “it’s nowhere near enough – life has to be lived”.
And I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me” 4st. 7lbs, Manic Street Preachers (The Holy Bible, 1994)
A short story of my last 10 years.Returning to the hills I roamed in my early 20’s for a sense of resonance with my own mental landscape..
(an image took within January/February period of 2005, when I was 21)
And not enough to stay alive
I’m sitting in the middle waiting”
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
The intensity of routine and control that made me anorexic followed on from this summer. But I would be returning to these hill tops at the other side of Anorexia, and returning to the music that had freaked me out just before I went through anorexia, because it offered no illusions and cosiness from this bleak nihilism thrown my way, music I could only return to once there was no going back into the denial-base of anorexia: the music of Joy Division, in particular.
Your life is shelved when anorexic, mainly because to live it seems unbearably hard. Everything that us human is controlled. Food, drink, relaxation and socialising are controlled as if they are visitors making prison visits to your human self. The inward-looking watch tower makes sure there’s no indulgence, that nobody gets too close – for that would be to sin in the eyes of that which is scared of being human due to being scared of having to try to live in a world that could cause irredeemable unhappiness. This inward looking watchtower also states that nothing is as important as maintaining a very active lifestyle and that all things should be sidelined in order for this to be maintained; standing when you could be sitting; walking fast when you could be strolling; running instead of walking fast; doing sit ups when you could be waking up. Looking healthy is never the objective: looking hard-worked and thin, looking the opposite of lazy, because it seems to suggest an exemption from the guilt of living in this world; you are constantly telling yourself “I am winning/I am getting better” – getting better at slipping between the cracks of the world; not touching anything. “My life is under control and I am exempt the this bleak world around me”.
Anorexia isn’t despair or hopelessness; it’s an illusion of jubilantly flying over these seemingly bottomless pits; but it can’t last, you’ve got to crash at some point(the only despair during this spell came when external convention demanded celebration/enjoyment from you, only for you to find that this is when such pain reemerges). Of course, the terror of being overweight also owes much to the advertising industry and the image world of late-capitalist ideology itself, but these causation’s aren’t separate to the other causation’s; the images of horror (buildings collapsing/people jumping to their death from buildings) and the images of glamour (which may make you feel anxiety about your own body) double-up and are part of the same visual language which we are (force)fed.
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
Once I began on the road away from anorexia, I knew that I’d have to find a way of facing this world I had once tried to escape from; I had to face what I’d ran away from 2 years previous. I quickly learned, as my body began to re-establish itself as a 20 year old male (as I regained weight) that I could no longer completely hide myself from the world, no matter how much I struggled to cope with what I saw and what that made me think of. And I began living the life that I have lived ever since.
My first steps out into society, after coming through the other side of anorexia, were in (re)finding old friends and venturing out to where society informed me everything that is meaningful could be found within: pubs, bars and nightclubs (drinking culture in general); places where the people convene, and where we are told lovers meet.
Before this, the underlying inability to cope with living was safely tame and massaged into my artworks and with my solitary Walkman moments with the music of Joy Division; a band I heard in 2002, but struggled to listen to at the time because of a bleak nihilism (that remains unchallenged in it’s potency to my ears), were now resonating strongly with my experience of life. I knew that when I was getting hooked on the dark euphoria of the track ‘Digital’ that it was because I was relating closely to the lyrics “feel it closing in…..day in, day out, day in, day out”, knowing that my own walls were still closing in on me and I’d have to face them at some point.
(Novelty by Joy Division)
Housebound, and with what had sustained my optimism out of reach, I fell into the depression that the ‘honeymoon period’ with the real world had made ‘out of mind out of sight’. In 2001/2002 the fundamental environmental worries/worries about our species’ future (a previously unlocked door for my eyes to see now via the ‘atrocity exhibitions” I saw on television and in newspapers) seemed far away; voices I respected scoffed at such ideas, and information proving things like climate change didn’t seem to be there. In 2004, these concerns, far from going away, felt like they were still slowly closing in. I’d found out that climate change was a real and big threat, and, although it couldn’t recreate the shock of my introduction to the bleakest of thoughts, it certainly reinforced the story that they told me.
As I mentioned above, the battle with my inability to cope did come back for some time between exiting anorexia but before my honeymoon with the real world period began. When I fell into depressed spells my eating habits kind of performed what my previously anorexic self has always warned me of whilst I became slowly obsessed with food as my body needed it more: I ate and ate way too much. This came back to haunt me again now I was immobile and stuck in the house with only my own thoughts to keep me company. Eating way too much, when the fear of being overweight for all the previously mentioned reasons clung on, magnified the depression.When I finally managed to get out and attempt to restart where I’d left off, I was already in an uphill struggle; the aspects of me I had foolishly thought had been left behind had returned, and I felt that it was now a rush to get something meaningful from these nights out/and other socialising situations before these aspects caught up with me. I thought I had to get a girlfriend because I believed that this would ‘eventually’ be the anchor to secure me. I was still relatively happy with the way I looked – that gave me, even if not inner confidence, at least a belief that “something would surely come along sooner or later…” – but I was terrified of the depression chasing my tail, because if it debilitated me and I started overeating permanently then I would truly be left to rot in a pit of all my worst nightmares. The level of my naivety was well and truly put to test by the fear of losing to my depression.Thus, with more expectation and desperation placed on nights out in a provincial town, uncontrollable disappointment was always on the cards. Every pub/club I went into, I would ask for Joy Division (preferably the track Digital) and dance endearingly but awfully to their tracks (which, on a side note, has made me concerned that the ‘let’s all dance to Joy Division’ song by the terrible indie-pop act The Wombats may have been written about me; although, to save me the crippling embarrassment, this is highly unlikely, as I think the ultimate death disco feel of Joy Division’s tracks has an almost universal appeal within our anti-depressant-dependent generation, mainly because it resonates with our general complete lack of optimism for the future; “get pissed and dance now, because there’s no point in saving it for the future”). In almost one out of every two nights out, I would end up getting on a massive downer, and running away from my friends and out of the club to head home.
The days after would be low days. I would feel stuck for reasons to do anything, whilst eager for something to do be done, for better or for worse, either to get me out of it or to at least allow the depression unconditional confirmation. This probably explains why I would then proceed over eat, which would exacerbate the unhappiness to dangerously low levels. That’s when I started walking up to these hill tops. Cycling up there wouldn’t have been enough; I needed to feel like I could keep walking further and further up onto those hills as if I wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t cope with the world I saw around me, so when bad things happened in my newly found social circles (girls fighting, friends getting their head stamped on, people saying things to me that hurt) it made everything unbearable and I it felt like it was all was closing in on me faster and faster.
During this period right at the beginning of being 21, suicide wasn’t just a passing thought that strangely comforted when you’d just like the ground to swallow you up, it was much closer and much more pressing. I had no coping methods, no thick skin against the world, but I was no longer in a place to avoid life like I was when I was anorexic, I was now well in deep like everybody else. The walks up onto these bleak hillsides seemed like the only route available to me.
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
(Disorder, Joy Division)
If I wasn’t struggling so much to cope with living I am sure that the events around me wouldn’t have made the impact they did. I’d left a massive gap in my growing up years 17-20, when I did almost zero socialising, which didn’t help things when situations did start to go awry. This vague idea that if I found a girlfriend that it would somehow create a safety net preventing me from free fall, a safety net against all my biggest fears about humanity within the 21st century, got more desperate. More desperate in general, than desperate for love itself, I found walking up on these hill tops and listening to Joy Division (more than any other band) the only safe mental environment whilst either escaping from the state a bad night out had put me in or waiting for the next one, with the hope that something ‘great’ may happen within it. The grueling-ness of these walks, which I tried to push further and further onto the moors each time, also tamed my despair over eating to much (linked to the despair of becoming undesirable thus unable to find this ‘safety net’, as the walking felt like I was “keeping the weight off”), as my mind was in a trance-like muteness-to-scattering-fears once I was well and truly within the middle of one of these walks.
The landscape up there is beautiful, but it is also a bleak and minimal landscape, a landscape that offers no niceties, no signs that would point to false hopes, nothing that could find soul and and prise out this inability to cope with life. On the long, quiet roads, where I couldn’t see where they ended, it felt as if I was walking up to the moon/never coming back down to the town below, and that was some sort of comfort I suppose.
(Giant, by The The)
(This Is Day by The The)
That point me to another day
………They keep calling me”
The music seemed to create a euphoria of despair, which made all the trouble in ones life to be darkly savioured, as documentation on why one ought to feel this way.
A couple of years later, one further flirtation with the possibility of having a partner, seemed to set in the stone the truth about my inability to deal with life and relax into the world, as the chance vanished the more my desperation and neediness of a safety net shone through. A safety set for my life, in the face of a more informed and growing expectation of life getting bleaker and bleaker as the 21st century dragged on, is what drove the hopes of ‘being saved’ from it ( I was still being fooled by an instilled consumer-mindset day dream; knowing otherwise but believing that these good things will certainly come to me).
The crash didn’t just coincide with the end of my university course, and a helping-handed feeling of “going somewhere” (which university provides), but I had just finally found what I’d been looking for, regarding my artwork: what I had been wanting to do/say had finally been pieced together. A tutor, who seemed to have an eerily good knack of envisaging what one was trying to say before they had even realised what it was they were trying to say, suggested to make climate change the main thing my work dealt with from now on; as opposed to what it was at that point; a stop-start-try-again jumble about my own mental state, worries about society, and climate change.
But the interesting thing was that by turning to focus on climate change, the large landscapes of ecological nightmares I began to make simply absorbed the entirety of these issues, embodying the whole. He (the tutor) seemed to get what was burning away at me which, by helping me focus on the large scale (the environmental), was shown to be the entirety, big and small. I was now at where I was always trying to get to: making a case against life as I saw it as a whole. (a realisation that came to me years later after reading an essay called Nihil Rebound: Joy Division from the K-Punk Blog, where the blog’s writer Mark Fisher says how Ian Curtis’s’, seemingly naive lyrics from earlier Joy Division/Warsaw tracks about the atrocities of war, despotic leaders of men, were parts of the case he was making against life itself, as the horrors of the 20th century, and the slow tragedy of the defeat of the working class, washed us up on the nihilistic shoreline of the so-called ‘end of history’. Indeed, I’d say that this essay possibly provided me the open doorway to realise that my early 20’s obsession with this band wasn’t something that can be signed off as immature morbidity – the way that many people refer to the adored music from their so called ‘angst years’ – but is music that appeals very much to the way, not just me, but many of us experience the world, existing whilst the amoral brutally of industrialised forces takes everything away from us, and gives us a uncomfortable meaningless back in return – hence their rising popularity as the industrial capitalist machine drags us further and further into hopelessness).
This breakthrough, felt like it should have been permanent, like I could have been in in forever, because nothing could really come afterwards. And other things I hoped for were vanishing, in a normal course of things that I just couldn’t deal with. I was in free-fall again. But I couldn’t dabble with suicide again, as the desublimination of stomach pains the next day were a warning that you cannot escape so easily and so purely. It doesn’t end easy, it lingers on. Just as the horrors of the 20th century didn’t end so easily at the dawn of the so called ‘end of history’, at beginning of the 1990’s – they are still happening; history didn’t peacefully end and fold itself nicely into an holiday package; we are fooled by the images we are shown of truth, forgetting that reality isn’t quite as streamline as this.
The emotionally exhaustive summer of vanishing (what I foolishly thought could be) certainties, a summer metaphorically and literally clinging onto bottles, had weakened my sense of who I was and what I was capable/incapable of, to the extent that I was accepting any guides’ directions on how to live my life; forgetting the mental minefields of mistakes, caused by a void when it came to the task of enjoying. I agreed to do something I would never have felt such nessecity to do if my routine had been ruining smoothly on the inside my mental barriers: I went to a music festival.
For starters, I struggle spending time in other peoples’ company for full days, especially when the people stretches far beyond ones vision – I get paranoid, exhausted, wanting to walk off for a good while, then paranoid about what people think of me for attempting to do this. Then there’s the fact that I have a very low tolerance for noise when I’m tired; I need a muteness to, and a dimming of the world when I’m too tired for my barriers to protect my wellbeing as they do in the day. When tired, after a while the sound begins to feel like violence. But it was the paranoia about things that made this event what it became.
Leeds Festival is notoriously not one of the most laid-back festivals; as well as the entire event sometimes seeming more like a Topshop fashion parade (losing sight of friends within a sea of unfestival-like manicured girls, wearing hot pants and shades, and guys wearing leather jackets and Pete Doherty-inspired straw hats; so many people, at once, looked advert-friendly-perfect, aloof and identical) it also seems to have a feeling that something could kick off at any moment, due to there being a football hooligan-like tribalism.
Then there’s the drugs. It’s not the pressure to take them in itself, it’s the sense of complete alienation from groups of people, when they are on them. “And you’ve got 4 days of this alienation mate – that Strongbow won’t suffice, that’s for sure”. Low on sense of self, I got convinced that legal highs would be a OK alternative for someone who doesn’t take drugs. Again, due to being low on sense of self, I felt a much more acute need to fit in to the group I would be spending 4 days with. I’d be lying if I denied that the first herbal high I took felt very good, but, due to this, and the relentless noises outside, I had no sleep. Got up next day having had no sleep, and paranoia started to kick in. Only slightly, but everything seemed a little more tinder-sticks to me, like it would take just one false step for everything to blow its top off.
Nobody is to blame for the general deterioration of things from this point, my inability to cope with a life lived eclipses any claims that people who knew me should have discouraged me to do things, and taken into account that their own free choice may have alienated me: like with the young lady mentioned above, this was young people doing what young people come to believe they ought to be doing; trying to have a good time, thus wanting everybody else to be joining in in the good time that they are having, by doing the same things to confirm the legitimacy of the reason for having this good time – but music festivals are a staple of the mass design of how to enjoy life, which not everyone can assign themselves to. Over the course of the next day it was becoming clear that sleep wasn’t coming, and this fact itself caused me further anxiety and worry. After spending a very uncomfortable time around a camp fire, I made my way back to the tent. I was becoming more paranoid. I can never relax (caused by a perpetual unease instilled into us by capitalism’s constant rebuilding, reshuffling, re-demanding that creates a society based on precarity, where your foremost desire to inhale oxygen and then exhale carbon dioxide is nagged to death by the reminder not to “get too comfy there, mate”) so how I expected to enjoy an event that demands relaxation or a right old mess is completely down to my loss of sense of self during the summer of 2007.
Walking back to the tent there was these human-shaped sleeping backs on a banking. Security was hovering around with torches, talking on radios. It looked bad. I got back to the tent. Couldn’t sleep. I was getting stupidly paranoid by this point. I thought the friends I’d gone with to the festival were about to run into the tent and beat me up. Why did I think this? Because they had been ever-ever-so slightly off with me in conversations earlier. My paranoia expanded this to an illogical extreme. I thought drugs had sent them violent. They’d done nothing of the sort. Every sound I heard sounded like them coming to get me; the noises I heard were being twisted by my mind into other noises to do with me.
When I went back towards where I have left off in the early hours, the place where the bodies in the sleeping bags had been was now a spot of grass surrounded by police barrier tape (something which was seen by other eyes as well as mine, but, for some reason, was never mentioned in the local news). This was the most awful feeling, and I couldn’t forget the shape of the sleeping bags the night before – a shape that was in between that of a butterfly pupa and a body of someone who perished in Pompeii. It sent my current state of mind into overdrive. Something felt damaged in my brain. The words ‘dead bodies’ were being repeated over and over again in my head, like a film real of words taking my mind into canyon inside itself that it never should enter. My anxiety grew and grew.
I was hearing all sorts now. Every time I heard a reveler at the festival speak, my mind altered what they’d said so that they were talking about me. I Kept on walking trying to shake it off. Didn’t want to find my friends, because my mind was convinced that they were after me. Kept on walking. It kept on getting worse. This was, what I could only describe later as hyper paranoia. Everybody in the festival was saying “John Ledger, John Ledger” in my ears. The more worried I became, the more I panicked the worse it became, until it started to feel like I was in the middle of my own real-life version of the trippy Disney film Fantasia.
I eventually ran out of the festival. And after being scared out of wits by noises in a local village that came from no rational source, I finally found a bus back to central Leeds, and then a train to Barnsley. That night was spent at a friends because I thought I was going permanently mad, and didn’t dare go home for that reason. I thought this was finally some kind of end. It felt like everything that I’d tried to wall myself up against was bursting through all at once. The day after when I went to the hospital after several days without sleep, I wasn’t looking for help back to a sort of normality as much as I was handing myself in, as if I was saying to them “look, I’m a walking disaster, Ive failed to live a life – give me a break” as if the hospital was an arm of an all-controlling authority, and being at breaking point I no longer wanted to be my own person, I wanted them to make me from now on, to make me do what they tell me to do without having to question (which is why this memory of walking into the hospital reminds me of the fate of Winston Smith, towards the end of George Orwell’s 1984, when, in the middle of having the humanity smashed out of him in room 101 by Big Brother, he eventually found himself in the arms of his torturer, O’Brien, as if he was his paternal guardian, weeping for it to end, whilst O’Brien momentarily cuddled and consolidated him – I felt my character couldn’t withstand the way of the world anymore). But after sleeping pills and a Valium, this time issued by the doctor, I was yet again reminded that it doesn’t end so easily.
In retrospect, many knowing voices have told me “you were just having a bad trip man” (which I hated to start with, as if I’d have had sense of self at the time I wouldn’t have gone near pills, legal or illegal), but this doesn’t take into account all the other factors at play, which culminated in this complete mess.
I was a permanently bruised atom in a rotten whole, which exacerbates its illness by refusing to accept its own mortality – this is my predicament within the capitalist system’s predicament. Something I couldn’t quite describe in words at this point, was now making itself clear within my large scale drawings. The tracks towards the politisisation of myself and obsessive dissection of the governing system were originally laid by the breakthrough that my large-scale drawings gave me, but the events of these years made it the only way I could go.
Experience has left me with no choice but to be anti-capitalist. Its offer of no future, save weekly piss ups, is because it offers humanity no future worth living in, which has crippled any vision I would possibly have had for my own atomised future. This was being played out in my walking disaster of a life I was having whenever I tried to live it. Yet I didn’t know this at 21 or 23.
It was only when I luckily stumbled upon a job working as a gallery attendant, just 1 week after the mess I got in at the festival, when I was confronted with an array other peoples’ career goals (which is in no way a criticism or to claim that their goals are futile) that I was aggressively confronted with my relative aimlessness/no-space-to-move-forward-into reality, making it much more pressing, as I began to watch workers come and go as I stood still, that I felt it an urgency to sensibly home in on what I felt were the causes of this entrapment. This feeling was coupled with a expanding inferiority complex about my general lack of knowledge, in comparison with most other people I worked with. But this I began to feel positive about. Whether I was pushed or jumped, I needed to take this plunge into the world of books.
I knew what I didn’t like in much clearer terms than before. But, whilst further hardening my inability to think long-term/think career plan due to a now growing cynicism to the whole language of aspiration within capitalism (knowing how all consuming of even the arts it is) it did nothing to help my sense of self whilst within social situations. Thus the career goals of those around me, continued to remind me of being left stranded; “no chance of that safety net of a partner now – nobody wants a person who is going nowhere”. And it isn’t that I think all careers are bad or destined to be doomed, it’s just that I have come to realise that I cannot see a future past my next artwork/next exhibition, of which is intended to be the aforementioned case I have been building (which is why since I things changed when I started working I now have most of my lowest moments after an exhibition is over, when life caries on and still nothing feels “confirmed”). Any thoughts that try to go further than this hit a grey screen in my mind.
Nevertheless, for a short time, working for a wage and then making my own work in the evening was, although forming a event-less splodge of time, OK – not too bad. A small resignation to nihilism I suppose, but not too much. The lyrics from the first Strokes album, which embodied a quintessential “yeah, but it’s not that bad” kind of nihilism, seemed perfectly fitting (as they did for me before my ‘sigh’ turned into ‘gasp’ between the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2002 world worries)
I suppose that I am back in (or never left) the existential situation I was in during anorexia. The situation that is explained so brilliantly by the sample at the beginning of 4st.1b by the Manic Street preachers (if one makes the subject wider than that of food)
My mental rooting system is too entrenched in ground that, although is slowly killing it, is stopping it from instantly toppling over. Which one is the worst is debatable, but ones natural instinct is to side with the former rather than the latter. As well as not even knowing how to, I’m pretty sure that this is the force which is preventing me breaking free of my now barred-up, passive (going nowhere) existence: an instinctive awareness that doing so could be fatal; making a big mistake, such as putting my utter trust in something or someone, giving myself to them only for it to leave me where it left me before, but with less naivety/optimism to pick me back up each time it happens, which is why I now don’t dream of finding a partner, and actually wall myself up away from the possibility, consciously now denying the one thing I thought would ‘save me’ and revving up the motor of my routine again, industrialising discontent as a force to keep going.
This is why I sometimes think that my only possible place within life is – due to being unable to deal with the world as it is, but also unable detach myself from it in order to help to think of something better – to be a maker of works that highlight the hell we have made, not as someone to help create the better but to warn and inform those who may be able to go forth and do just this. And I think that, due to the feelings of alienation and messing up whenever I do try to be alive and live for the moment (as the ‘able’ anti-capitalisters would advise to me) always (as yet) winning over, this is my only way.
But the reason for explaining this whole inability to deal with life, isn’t to leave it just as my own inability, because this inability is caused by capitalism’s saturation of our lives, it’s relentless erasing of anything not subject to direct/or indirect commodification, whilst simultaneously entrenching itself within all paths of thought so that any unsaturated spaces we find we instantly tarnish with it so that what was once an alternative is now using capitalist reality to make itself look appealing. The claim by many modern philosophers that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” is so much more cutting once one becomes aware of the sheer scale of the environmental issues that now face us.
We have a mass inability to picture a future worth living in. Some of us are better at denying it, and hoping for that cosy domestic life the system promised to us, but can very doubtfully give to us. But I think the inability plays itself out in the actions of so many of us; the weekly piss-ups instead of saving for the future; the general obsession with that pursuit of hedonism; the obsession with retro; the rising popularity of Joy Division with a generation of young people born years after the death of Ian Curtis. I couldn’t explain this when I was 21. I couldn’t explain this when I was 23. I still can’t explain it as I would like to here and now.
Just as the reaction that it is wrong to put this quite personal account on the net is missing the point, one is also missing the point here, if the reaction to this writing is to tell me how everybody has got problems, and one just needs to learn how to cope. The example used of my own depression/inability to cope is referred to here as an example of the co-ordinates of a certain depression/inability to cope which is specific to our late 20th century/early 21st century era, and is not just an age-old tale of how the young find their way in the world.
Whilst growing up, one also learned to believe that if you aren’t willing/or unable to play the (capitalism) game, then there isn’t much choice of a life left over for you, except one of loneliness and destitution, and that “it was your own fault” if this was the life you found yourself living. If you don’t aspire to strive up the career ladder; if you don’t attempt to immerse yourself in a consumerist fashion niche; if you don’t strive to be beautiful, clean and lean; if you don’t smile and say pleasantries to people when you feel like shite inside, “well, it’s your own fault” if the world feels like it has left you behind to fester in a no-new-messages-for-you-matey misery pit. All of these ‘learnings’ doubtlessly have a major role in the creeping mental illness epidemic of our times.
After each mini-breakdown period my artistic endeavours still drag me along, but more is demanded of me now than it used to be, both from myself and from others who are aware of the despair at capitalism which runs through everything I make or write. But I don’t think I can give what’s needed. The undercurrent motive for writing the events of my past 10 years is to explain why the demands of me now to participate more in activism against capitalism and for something else seem to be reviving the intensity of the feeling of everything closing in, and this inability to act seems to be precisely because cannot end up in back in the place where these events put me, as I have less reserves than I used to in order to get back out again. This is why the more awareness I have, thus the more the demand to act now I know much more, followed by the inability to act is making me revisit the experience of life I had when I didn’t know what I know now, but felt it: it is returning the need for the feeling of a suspension of time, in the landscape that seems to resonate with this feeling of having nowhere to go, whilst things are closing in fast; the hill tops west of where I live, and the need to listen to Joy Division (in particular).
But of course I agree with the collective beliefs of all those who are trying their hardest to take action to try to make a world not ruled by money, a world which is no longer in peril from the relentless attack on the ecosystem that sustains us (and there is truth, regarding the undercurrent motive for the writing of all of this, that I’m trying to explain this to those who know me and are perplexed and sometimes frustrated by my inactivity in the face of things I know full-well are destructive). If there’s one good that may arise from writing all of this, it is that by explaining all of this I might actually be able to let the last 10 years of my life now rest in peace, so I can move on; a hope that understanding it all will help me break through the grey-screen which covers all images of my future, a grey screen the events of the last 10 years helped to create. And, with this, I hope that with – what seems to be – a hell of a large amount of thinkers racking their brains on how we can move away from capitalism, now that the need is crucial, that this is also a point of letting our past rest in peace; let it rest so that our species can get over the false dreams capitalism gave to us and move on to something else, something better.
I’ve done it again. I’ve let myself slip into such an obsessional production-line of “things I have to do” that I have lost the joy and pride for what I have even made, whilst living in these endless shifts.
Even the music I listen to has been used as a motivational tool for ‘getting stuff done’, and at this moment I can’t even find any music that can satisfy this empty feeling. Also, the books I read are becoming the ‘spectres’ of my obsessive personality, just like when I started collecting retro computer games, aged 19, in a desperate attempt to attempt to un-earth some sense of enjoyment from my childhood at a time when I was rapidly slipping into an anorexic state – only for it to become part of my obsessive patterns.
Why does a glimmer of hope always end up turning into a concrete slab weighing down on me further?