by Tara Beckett.
I love New York City… because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.
– Lewis Black
This past July I found myself sitting in a small doctor’s office in Melbourne. There was a woman not too much older than myself sitting patiently in the chair opposite mine as I stared at the ceiling. I was trying to remember the last time I felt truly happy without the assistance of hallucinogenic drugs. As she waited for my answer, my mind scrolled back to the previous year.
“I think… New York. I was happy in New York,” I said, finally, and she smiled knowingly.
One of my favourite things is Central Park in the autumn. Of course, that’s the only time of year I’ve ever seen Central Park, but I stand by it.
A full year ago I was walking the twisting pathways alone, rugged up in a thick coat, the cool Manhattan air biting my cheeks and nose as my boots crunched through crisp auburn leaves. I was looking for the Bethesda fountain but in no real rush, taking the odd photograph along the way.
I didn’t bring many photos back with me from my month in New York. I preferred to stroll the streets and avenues like a native, stopping as little as possible so as to not paint myself as a tourist. My favourite snaps aren’t on paper (or Facebook); they’re little flashbulb memories, locked up inside my mind and triggered by the simplest things.
Last week, I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I was transported back to the first time I saw it. It was nighttime in an old cinema in Lower Manhattan and the film moved me so incredibly that when it ended I hailed a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. I needed to see the city immediately, all of it, and so I found the best view I could think of.
Alone, on top of a building, a world away from my home and all my family and friends, was the last time I could remember feeling happy. I felt so free. It was freedom from any judgment or expectations; freedom from my life.
I often muse about what it would be like if I died. How would people react? Would they go to my funeral? Would they mourn?
My doctor – my psychiatrist – says it’s very common and natural for people to think about their deaths and mortality. It only becomes dangerous when you begin to make plans. I’m inclined to believe her, and I want to make it clear that I don’t make plans. I never did, but I did occasionally wonder what it’d be like if it was all over, to peacefully slip away into nothingness.
When I first started seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t want anyone to know. I saw it as a weakness, and I was in pretty deep denial about my mental health. I thought it was perfectly normal to sleep days away, and spend an entire weekend in bed. I’d stop eating regularly and I wouldn’t shower for days at a time. My hair started falling out and my nails were brittle. But I still held down a job and paid my rent on time and had a bounty of people I called friends around me so I thought I was fine.
But you can only keep up appearances for so long.
I’d gone from this huge high of living my greatest dream and visiting New York, seeing far too many musicals, meeting incredible people including some I admired, like Matt Doyle. It’s okay, I know you don’t know who he is, but he’s amazing and he said I was sweet so it doesn’t matter.
My return to Melbourne brought with it a crash of reality. I quit my retail job two weeks after landing home because I couldn’t stand it. (I don’t know if you’d heard, but I had just been in New York, you guys).
My plan was to get an office job, work full time and pay off my ridiculous post-holiday credit card debt (maybe the $500 cut and colour at the Warren Tricomi Plaza salon was overkill) and then get straight back to New York for Christmas 2013.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, I wallowed in unemployment for six months, a string of knock-backs and unsuccessful interviews. I was struggling and living week-to-week, too proud and too stubborn to move back in with my parents. Too afraid of what people would say if my postcode slipped back to the decidedly unimpressive outer-eastern suburbs of my upbringing. Too afraid of being a failure. Too busy keeping up appearances to realise I was drowning in debt and despair.
On a friend’s sage advice, I conceded to getting a psych referral from my GP.
I hated it. I cried from shame and defeat, seeing a psychiatrist meant I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it on my own anymore, to hide it from everyone. My psychiatrist quickly diagnosed that I’d been battling depression and anxiety on my own for several years.
Every day is different. Sometimes I have good days where I love my life and I feel wonderful to be here. Some days are bad and I get lost in nostalgia and melancholy of easier times. But I can usually get out of bed now.
I know that therapy is the best thing I have ever done for myself and as I started to talk about it more openly, I realised how many of my friends were in therapy or had been thinking about seeing someone. It’s not something to be ashamed of and I implore just about everyone to try it.
I’ve mentioned my diagnosis before on social media, but deleted a post after a dear friend voiced his concern that others may “take it the wrong way” and think I was looking for attention. The opposite is true. I think it’s important to have a discussion about mental health, not deny like I did. It doesn’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist, it just gets worse.
I have grown so much as a person over the last five months, and I’m proud of my progress. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think of better days, those New York days I crave so much. This last month hasn’t been easy for me, as it’s the first anniversary of my trip. It’s difficult to explain how much that time, that freedom, meant to me. I have felt happiness since then, but it definitely hasn’t been in the same league as that gorgeous city skyline.
There are people who don’t realise how much I’ve changed this past year. They still expect a litany of wisecracks that I just can’t muster anymore. My life is different now, it’s better, and they don’t really know me anymore. They may roll their eyes and tell me to move on, but how can I move on from happiness? I can’t, I have to savour every drop. I’m tired of putting on a performance for them.
I am a person who lives with depression. I’m not afraid anymore.