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The splinter

Published (updated: ) in life.

I’m publishing this on #WorldMentalHealthDay. I wrote it over a year ago, before the pandemic. I didn’t have the courage to publish it then. Let’s have a go now.

I’ve been guilty of numb silence. My way of withdrawing from everything and everyone, not because I don’t want to be with them, but because I fear they won’t want to be with me. Another voice, a sensible one, tells me not to dwell on nonsense like that. But I hush it down and hunch my shoulders and stay silent. Or I mumble, go monosyllabic, and stare at the floor. No-one wants to talk to someone like that, so they stop talking to me. It works! It fails.

We go out on a trip to see a garden, and the rhododendrons are spectacular. I’m trying my best and working my hardest to be as uninteresting as possible. We get lost amid the looming trees and it’s ok, because we know the next path will make sense, and anyway there’s a map in my pocket.

I want to be uninteresting because I don’t want to engage in conversation because I don’t want to give away how much I’ve got so little to say.

The more I consider the world around me, the more I feel it directing its rage and indifference and mockery in my direction. So I hunch, I withdraw, I go silent.

Pretty sure that earlier this year, I went through a spell of proper, diagnosable depression. I didn’t go to a doctor, because in recent years it seems like I’ve been going to doctors far too often, about far too stupid things. It’s almost impossible to get an appointment at our local surgery anyway, thanks to a decade of Tory underfunding. Vote the fuckers out, I mutter as I hunch my way around town, and around gardens we visit like this one. The sun is out, but the wind is cold. We buy tea from a van.

I say a spell because I’m also pretty sure that I came out of it after a few weeks. It’s not completely gone, I can feel it lurking. Like a splinter that’s gone under the skin. You know it’s there, and it’s annoying and uncomfortable, but you live with it.

What’s more, I’m not sure that spell was the beginning. Looking back at weird things that have happened, bizarre decisions I’ve made and stupid things I’ve said and done, I’m pretty sure I’ve had this condition for years. I had no idea.

With the depression comes ludicrous self-loathing, because I feel guilty just for thinking that it’s a thing, or that it’s a thing for me. I’m a clichéd, middle-class, middle-age, comfortably-off cis white man in Southern England. I own 2 pairs of Bluetooth headphones for God’s sake. So many other people have so many better reasons for being so much more depressed about things than I do.

But then someone tries to talk to me, or pays me a small compliment, or asks me my opinion in a meeting, or or or –

I hunch. I withdraw. The splinter’s there. I switch on my very best fake smile, but behind it I’m desperate: disengage! Run and hide!

It’s ok. I’m ok. (Hi mum.) The worst has passed. My spells of numb silence sometimes return, but I’m better at noticing when they come near. I’m trying to pay attention. Seeking out good things: days when the rhododendrons are spectacular, and there are vans that sell tea.