Well, it’s the last week of Nexus for 2019 - and two years since I started writing for this magazine. 2018 saw me covering the music scene in Kirikiriroa but after literally running out of bands to write about, I was asked to talk about mental health, something I’m well experienced in struggling with. I’ve talked about anxiety, depression, love, anger, breakdowns - things I wouldn’t talk to my friends about, but was happy to broadcast to (as someone who emailed me helpfully pointed out) potentially thousands of strangers. It always felt sort of anonymous, in a way. Even though my name is at the top of every article, it felt safe.
But lately, after reading Frank Ocean’s latest interview with W, it’s made me think about what the fuck I was actually trying to accomplish with all of this. “I believed for a very long time that there was strength in vulnerability,” he said, directly to me and nobody else (I’d like to believe). “The expectation for artists to be vulnerable and truthful is a lot, you know? Like, in order for me to satisfy expectations, there needs to be an outpouring of my heart or my experiences in a very truthful, vulnerable way.”
It got me thinking about how much of what I say is me really, truly trying to speak light into my experiences to help other people, and at what point it becomes performative. When I wrote about obscure Hamilton hardcore bands, no one really cared. But as soon as I started writing about how I couldn’t get out of bed ‘cause I felt too shit, people started responding. After posting my articles to Instagram, I’d get flooded with DMs; thanking me for my honestly, sharing their own experiences, disagreeing with my views, or just wanting to talk. And, inevitably, that started feeding in to my ego. “Maybe I actually am making a difference,” I would think. “I’m a really great person. Take that, high school bullies. Who’s the ginger now?”
It would get to a point where Sunday night would roll around (read: Monday night. Sorry, Nexus staff) and I would sit there, picking my brain for terrible things that had happened to me/I had done in the past, or things that had particularly affected me over the past week. And, after a while, it stopped feeling so good. It wouldn’t be, “what would really help people if I spoke about it?” but more of “if I don’t sound depressed enough this week, will people still send me DMs and tell me how much of a good writer I am?”
Through things like therapy, books, and helpful strangers on Reddit, I’ve learned that self-deprecating humour and shitting on yourself before others get a chance to isn’t a substitute for a personality like I once believed - it’s more of a damaging, ugly defence mechanism that stops you from having to feel your emotions and covers up your insecurities. But, as everyone thinks at some point in their healing process: who am I without these unhealthy coping strategies? Who am I behind the jokes, the self-roasts, the deflection? Who am I, really?
As much as I hate to admit it, these stories, these articles, these pieces - they were never really for you. Maybe a part of them was, and I’m endlessly grateful for the outpouring of kind feedback I’ve received about them. I hope some of the shit I’ve said has helped, or at least made you feel less alone. But mostly, this writing has been for me. A way to think out loud, fuel my insatiable need for acceptance, and feel validated when strangers tell me that my writing is mean.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you, and I’m sorry. Thank you for emailing me and telling me my writing helped your friends to understand what struggling with mental health is really like. Thank you for messaging me on Instagram to tell me how good it felt to see someone is going through the same shit that you are. Thank you for posting quotes from my article to your story and saying “this.” Thank you for calling me out when I was wrong, or making me think about things from a perspective other than my own. And sorry for using you to validate my existence on this planet.
If I have any advice to leave you with when facing the horrifying prospects of the future, it’s this: zoom in. The world, when you look at it on a big enough scale, is a fucking horrible and ugly place, filled with war, poverty, pollution, hopelessness, and climate change-denying Hamilton city councillors - and from where we’re sitting, it doesn’t feel like we can do shit all about it. But, to butcher a quote from my favourite asshole, Dan Harmon: “when you zoom in on earth, when you zoom in to a family, when you zoom into a human brain and a childhood and experience, you see all these things that matter. We have this fleeting chance to participate in an illusion called: I love my girlfriend, I love my dog. How is that not better? Once you get that, then every place is the center of the universe. And every moment is the most important moment. And everything is the meaning of life.”