As much as I may like to, I can never forget that I have a mental illness. I’ve spoken before on this blog about my struggles with Asperger’s and depression but sometimes I like to forget. To pretend that I’m normal, as normal can be. That’s not to say the symptoms aren’t always there, because they are.
Those symptoms are there in those small, powerful moments. Like when my brain goes a little too fast and I stumble on a word or a sentence, and end up sounding very stupid. Or when my obsession with film and television results in me writing lists and lists of my favourite TV shows for no discernible reason, wasting an entire evening. Or that panicky moment when I worry that my last social interaction was wrong and that person will hate me forever more.
But those moments pass and I have got better and digging myself out of those holes, by talking to my boyfriend Finn or watching something. What used to be unbearable has now become tolerable. And that’s nice, but it does give a false sense of security. Because right now, my entire life as I’ve known it is about to be ripped out from under me. And I’m terrified.
You see, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a structured life. I’ve attended primary school, then high school, then a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional and Creative Writing, then one in Film and Television. We Aspie people like structure, well-defined rules and a guideline. I like to be able to plan for the future, to mitigate any stress as much as within human possibility. So attending schooling has been very good, a well-defined set of rules and structures. High school was four terms and holidays. My writing degree was two terms and holidays, with assignment chaos once every one and a half months. That last structure was one of my own making. I could’ve easily done the assignments over the previous several or so weeks, but invariably left it to that one chaos week because that’s what worked for me. I liked it. But life doesn’t work like that.
My recently completed filmmaking degree was not like that. It was deadlines every week; insane with no chance for me to catch up. I had no idea what I was doing. It made me feel stupid and my marks reflected that. So did my mental health. After an especially stressful three months working as a producer on a short film, my mental health suffered. My depression-for-no-reason came back with a vengeance. I became sadder and broken all over again.
It was the fall I could’ve, should’ve predicted, because my stupid brain had been making stupid decisions for a long time. This fall began in a writing class two years ago. It was my last unit and my brain was panicking. The unit was all about selling yourself, arguing that to be a writer was a fight to get your voice heard in a crowded industry. And it’s really hard to sell yourself when you hate yourself as much as I do most of the time. That’s not something new, I’ve always been quiet and sarcastic about my self-worth. Hell, the name of this blog is a jab at my face. The only time I can think of something to say about myself it’s an insult or a sarcastic comment. My writing is deeply, deeply personal and if I don’t like myself, why am I writing in the first place? This thought grew over the weeks, before suddenly I was hit with the realisation.
For as long as I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I used to write funny stories about my elderly neighbour as a superhero. Or imagined a grand, complex sci-fi epic on my way to school where the main characters were gay and struggled with their mental illness. Writing was how I made sense of the world. It was always what I wanted to do. But I’m a lazy reader. This past year I’ve read one book (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood), but started about six others. I wanted to read them all, but I find it hard to put in the effort because I am a bad person. But with film and TV? This year, I’ve seen 247 films and 77 TV shows (and counting). There’s something nice about knowing how long it’s going to take to the exact minute. That hasn’t always been like that, the dichotomy used to be swapped, but somewhere along the line it changed (I blame Doctor Who).
And I realised this in that class. Why the fuck am I trying to be a writer when I watch so much? I’ve always imagined my stories in terms of how to represent them visually (I’m very good at dialogue, not complex description), so why not do film and television? It was a revelation and I texted Finn immediately saying (melodramatically) “I think I made the worst decision of my life”. When he asked me to elaborate, I said I should’ve studied film and television.
Six months later, there I was. But I didn’t know a thing. My attempt to have a structured, logical life collapsed as everyone else in the class knew how to do shot sizes and composition, while I was struggling to set up a light. What made it worse was that I simultaneously did a second year subject at the same time, making me feel even more behind and stupid. My stress levels shot up and I panicked. It was hell and I had made yet another wrong decision.
What’s funny is that I had always thought of myself as a bad writer, a feeling that was a combination of my intense levels of self-hatred and one teacher who hated a piece of my writing. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great piece of writing, but that atrocious mark stuck with me. Especially seeing my friends always seemed to be shooting ahead of me. Their command of language was (and remains) so much more advanced than mine. The other day, my friend Holmes was on Family Feud and invited us all around to watch this “surreal abomination”. As I said to Finn, sometimes I forget the word for soup.
But my marks had never really shown that. For writing, they had been consistently high. My feedback had also been very strong on the majority of my pieces, but for whatever reason, my brain was convinced that I’m a bad writer. So, I made a life decision based on an intense lack of self-confidence, which ended up resulting in actual bad marks and a reason to be less confidence. My brain is majestic in its stupidity.
But now, even the basic structure of my film course is going to be ripped away. Because I’m about to graduate.
I don’t deal well with change, and this is the biggest change of them all. My life is now my own and that’s fucking terrifying. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether to look for a job in writing or film or television or whether to go for a nice, simple retail job because that’s what I know.
For the last year and a bit, I’ve been volunteering at my local op shop (a Salvation Army, yes, I know) to get a bit of experience. What began as a panic attack every other day has become something I’m actually fairly good at. I know how to do retail and so I don’t panic there. I could get a job in retail (probably). But what’s scary about that, is it’s comfortable and safe and I can see my entire life plan there. Working full time in a store, until I move out and live with Finn, maybe have some kids. I could easily see myself being comfortable and happy enough there. But do I really want that? Was doing those two degrees enough of a foray into creative industries for me to be satisfied? Especially as Finn gets to live his dream of making a game (which is wonderful).
But the alternative of opening myself up to intense stress and criticism in writing and film is enough to make me feel the panic rise in my chest, for my instinct to run or make a joke about my stupid face to set in. Part of me wants really badly to pursue my dreams but the other, bigger part of me knows that I am not strong enough to do that. And I don’t know if I’ve ever put that into words. But there it is. For my mental health, it seems irresponsible to put myself through the suffering and intense hatred of pursuing an endeavour in creative arts. Why be sad every day when I could work in a simple retail job and just bury my subtle desire to do more? I’m not saying mental health is a barrier for everyone, but maybe, just maybe, it is for me.
Because as I begin to enter the work environment, its ability to stop me is becoming more prevalent. Regardless of what I decide to do, I need to find a paying job, probably starting in retail, before I even consider what to do about that last paragraph panic. So I’m on JobSeeker from Centerlink. And in my first attempt, my case worker asked me if there were any “barriers” to me finding work. In the issue of full disclosure, I said Asperger’s. I know everyone says they’d never pick it, but I feel it. And she said can you tell Centerlink cause then we can offer you more help. I’d never told them because I like to be more than my mental illness, just like I’m more than my sexuality. She wasn’t being mean or cruel, she was actually really nice and did want to help me as much as she could because according to her, I seemed keen for work unlike a lot of other people she sees (maybe I should think of a career in acting next). But that description of Asperger’s as a barrier has stuck with me. Niggled away. Not in a way that’s comfortable. Because a realisation like that can be kinda nice sometimes, like when my counsellor said I’ll probably never stop having this sadness or feelings of self-hatred, but can take the power out of them. My counsellor didn’t offer a cure, just said that there was a problem that could be made better. But barriers? A barrier is something you try not to hit into, but which you forget about, only really becoming notable when you’re smashing headlong into it. And I’m a bad driver.
And then the other day, I got summoned for jury duty. It’s something I’ve always been curious about (because c’mon, cool) and because I’m a bit like Lena Dunham’s character in Girls, always looking for some kind of life experience to write about (with results almost as destructive). But mum said you can probably get off cause of your Asperger’s. There’s a sting there. I like to think I’m normal, or to pretend I’m normal. But mental health never lets you forget that you’re different. Sometimes that’s a comfort. And sometimes it’s not.
And as I prepare for the panic of job interviews and resumes and finding a place in this world, my feelings of difference and brokenness are surely to become even more skewed and chaotic.
Which means you can expect a blog series. Probably. Literally this whole post was about how lazy I am at writing, but the last time I did a lengthy blog series was about when I first started dating Finn and all the changes that meant to how I think about myself. And I’m sure this is going to be even more apocalyptic. So come, grab a coffee and some marshmallows and warm yourself by the fire that is my broken brain. It’ll be fun.
Short disclaimer to those unfamiliar with my blog: I write a lot about myself, unvarnished and honest. It can get dark, very, very dark but usually I try to turn it back around to find some light. This post, not so much, because it’s all up in the air. But next time maybe.
Also, look forward to my annual NSV Awards coming roughly the week of December 18. They’re gonna be epic.
Until the next time.