My mind is my worst enemy, and my best friend

Sometimes, I like to reflect on my life to date. I like to analyze the journeys I’ve gone through, my achievements, my struggles and my life-altering experiences. Actually, this is a lie. I do not do this sometimes. I do this quite frequently, in fact. It also does not seem apt to describe this analysis and constant over-thinking as something do. It is more something that my mind, a somewhat separate entity, does without my consent.

My mind and I have always quarreled. This was not a new development that occurred once I hit puberty. Since as long as I can remember in fact, my mind has played tricks on me. I do not mean that my imagination causes me to see something that isn’t there. I mean that my mind causes me to question my very reality and worth in this world. My mind plays tricks on me because it causes me to have false beliefs.

Hallucinations are something that I have only experienced once in my life. This was several years ago, when I was 17, and alcohol, a lack of sleep and severe sadness and stress caused me to momentarily hear false chatter between a man and a woman. I cannot even recall what they were saying, but it was not angry or threatening, they were just having general chatter.

Thankfully, I was instantly aware that I was hallucinating, and I did not harbor the false belief that this chatter was real. It is because of this, and because this was an isolated experience, that I can confidently declare that I do not have a mental illness such as schizophrenia.

I do however, have depression. And sadly, I have for several years. It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly I first became depressed. I recall feeling very lost and uncomfortable and useless throughout my childhood. I recall assuming the “class clown” role around my family; probably because I didn’t really have another role; at least not one that I could see.

Depression is a really complex problem, and one which I still don’t really understand. Medical professionals have referred to depression as “a chemical imbalance”. This is probably true to an extent. But for me, depression is a hell of a lot more than that.

You see, my depression clogs my brain’s pores forbidding any true beauty from fully shining through. My depression bullies, humiliates, undermines and uses me. She is a cowardly, mean-spirited evil spirit plagued with negativity and self destruction and poison.

When I feel truly and absolutely depressed, it often does not feel like it is truly me that is experiencing it. It feels like an outer body experience. Because when I am in modes of severe depression, the world around me stops. And all of a sudden I’m watching myself plagued with guilt, emptiness and pain.

And depression is a really fucked up thing. Because it doesn’t make sense when you really think about it. When somebody describes a bad mood as “being depressed”, you discover after you speak with them a little bit more that they’re agitated because they had car trouble or they’re stressed out about a relationship or a social event, or they’re just really tired and aren’t interested in doing anything productive because of that. And after they tell you all of this you realise that this is an isolated instance of being depressed and is situational, and once their fight with their Mam or their other half is resolved they’ll be fine again especially after they get a long hard nap.

But it’s not like that for me. My depression isn’t situational because even when I was a little kid and magic and wonder were real, and things like finances and relationships were shallow and meant nothing, even then I felt depressed. And I can’t pinpoint exactly why this is.

There have been points in my life when things have been going really well for me, and still I lay awake at night having intense anxiety about saying something stupid or embarrassing myself. And the vicious bitch that is my depression won’t shut the fuck up and allow me to be happy. Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued with complete and utter non-sensical guilt over often very stupid things that nobody cares about anyway.

I often see my mind as utterly paranoid and self-doubting. And when I think of who am as a person, I do not see myself as having those characteristics.

Obviously, because I’ve only ever been me, I can’t comment on my unhealthy thinking habits as being normal or abnormal. I do however get the impression from the world around me that thinking this way is not normal; or at least, it’s not supposed to be normal. But maybe, most people experience this negative thinking but they hide it so well that people around them won’t notice.

My mind has always been fucked up, basically. And by extension, maybe I too have always been fucked up. However, I do think that creative or artistic people are more inclined to experience the mental turmoil which I’m trying to describe. And because I am naturally that way inclined, I think I’m more prone to it.

My mind is my worst enemy because she’s troubled and negative. But she is also my best friend. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to write, create, film or express myself. It is because of her, that I overthink and overdo and over-analyze.

She is part of me, often much to my dismay.

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Finding Myself

I don’t know about you, but I have found it very difficult finding myself in this world. I’ve always wanted to share my opinions, but I feel that obstacles have always presented themselves…

I was born to very liberal, modern parents. They always encouraged me as a child, saying I could do anything I wanted to do. Early on in my childhood, I really believed it too. I had such confidence in myself. I was loud, boisterous and outspoken. My parents never hushed me, but other grownups found me irritating and poorly behaved. This instantly led me to believe that children should be seen and not heard. And slowly, as I grew older, I began silencing and shrinking myself more and more.

My childhood friends knew me as being crazy. I naturally have a pretty excitable personality and it was more intense during my childhood. I am not in contact with my childhood friends to this day, but I can only assume they would recall me as being crazy or eccentric and most definitely not opinionated or passionate.

That’s not to say I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was passionate and opinionated… in my mind. I became so extremely closeted in own beliefs that I felt embarrassed even trying to debate with someone or even go against a popular opinion.

I began to shrink more and more throughout my primary education. My perception throughout primary school was that being opinionated was a very negative trait to possess. My teachers rewarded classroom obedience, not talkativeness.

At 12, the free spirit I once was had more or less vanished into thin air. I remained quiet, cripplingly under-confident and entirely obedient to social and gender norms throughout secondary school.

But inside, I wanted to scream. I experienced examples of daily prejudice and regular instances of discrimination throughout secondary school, both by fellow students and occasionally, from teachers.

I will always remember the anger I felt towards teenage boys who would use gay as a way to insult their friends. I will always remember the pretentious, macho exterior presented by teenage boys, the pompous and sexist attitudes expressed by them. I will always remember how atheism was forbidden and even punishable in secondary school; how Catholicism was integrated into all aspects of our school activities and subjects.

Ultimately, and here’s the part that broke my teenage heart, I will always remember how each and every one of us in secondary school were assigned the same narrow box to live in, and the same narrow rules to live by.

At 17, I thankfully graduated secondary school and respectfully kissed goodbye to a damaging, restrictive and confidence-crippling institution.

I soon began to learn that who I had been taught to be in secondary school would get me virtually nowhere in the real world. A path of self discovery lay before me. I would have to learn eventually how to be a civilized, respectable member of society. But how could I do this? What was my life purpose? At 17, I was filled with so many questions but I had yet to find any answers.

I first began to gradually reject social and gender norms. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I was a girl. So I tried to be seen as strong. I began helping more people and showing compassion. I also finally learned how to stand up for myself, approaching 18 years old. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid, so I decided to go to college but this time study something I wanted to study. My secondary school academic performance was, overall, rather bleak.

I felt like there was something wrong with my brain in secondary school. A lack of interest combined with sheer boredom resulted in quite poor performance; particularly in my junior cycle. I was treated like there was something wrong with my brain, too. School encourages a system of putting people into boxes. I was horrendous at Maths, so I was deemed to have a learning difficulty. I was then treated differently by teachers and members of staff as a consequence.

I’ve come to realize that the term “learning difficulty” can cause irreversible harm to a young person. When a student struggles, they are examined and labeled a word and thus identified by that word. How can we expect the youths of Ireland to become confident, well-spoken, functioning members of society if we segregate them as being smart or stupid in school?

I had to unlearn the labels assigned to me after I graduated. Nearly five years later, I have completed my self healing process. I now reject the term “learning difficulty”. Instead, I choose to openly tell others (if brought up in conversation) that I struggle with the concept of numbers and spacial awareness. Additionally, I have extreme issues with organization and am prone to anxiety as a result to stress brought on by poor organization.

This is me. These are my shortcomings, but they do not make me “unable”. They do not cause me to suffer from a “learning difficulty”. They do not cause me unmanageable difficulty in day-to-day tasks. At 21, I can say that I am an active, functioning member of society. I will not be a label. I will not fit into a box of gender or social expectation. I will not be defined by what people call me, or what people see when they look at me. I will not be defined by the way I laugh. I will not be determined by who I used to be in the past, I will be determined by how I show myself in the present.

At 21, I am also aware that I still have a lot to learn. And I openly embrace my future experiences and lifelong lessons.

I have only begun to truly regain confidence in my opinions in recent months. In school, I was always shut down. But now, I can express myself freely without being segregated or labeled as a result.

I’m still finding myself, more and more every single day. But every day I notice something new. I notice a different form of inequality. I become aware of our failed education system, when I witness the intolerance and ignorance of young people regarding social issues. Homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, racist stereotypes, casual sexism, rape, victim blaming, etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the point in sending our children to public school at all from age 5-17 or 18; if we release them into the world as ignorant, intolerant or simply dismissive. What’s the point? I’d rather my child understands and rejects inequality and oppression instead of know how to do Algebra or cite a Yeats poem.

But maybe that’s just me. And who knows? Maybe that opinion will change. Because I am always progressing, changing and developing my mind. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still finding myself after all… I think we all are, ’till the day we die…

Aisling Kelleher