What I learnt during my Quarter Life Crisis. (15/02/17)

Written 15/02/17
In transit – UK to Australia.

I was going to call this, ‘I had a quarter life meltdown so you didn’t have to’, but that sounds straight out of the whirlpool of provocative VICE articles that you inevitably read but wish you could have those 10 minutes back immediately following. I thought I should write this as I sit at Heathrow airport waiting for my plane. A lot has happened in the past eight months in this dense and incredibly intense city and this astounding continent. Some of it I regret, most of it I will reflect on for a very long time to come. Lisbon; riding a wave of electricity at a local street party, Glastonbury; sucking in the oxygen of a life defining performance by Sigur Ros and Bristol with its rustic charm and irresistible aura. Berlin, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Leeds, Paris, Geneva, Chamonix, Lagos, and who could forget Northamptonshire! Alright, not the most action packed town, but it certainly had its rural appeal.

And yet, with the travel, and so many places left that I didn’t tread through, it was London where some of the most significant periods of my life took place. The cocaine kick ons, the date with a Hungarian that took me to all points of panic and bewilderment, the afternoon with Caribou, dog walking, beer pouring, law firming and Deliveroo contemplating… Enhancing my reputation as a cartoonish womaniser to the point of shame, regret and misery. Friends for life, dancing in the street, kissing strangers, pint after pint after pint, crashing on the couches of comrades, Wembley, North London footy, a bookstore at 6am, the return of serve straight into my broken heart and the anxiety. The depression. The meltdown. The tears. The drinking. The drugs. The panic attacks and the self-love capitulating to a deep hatred for whom I’d become. Who I’d become.

Who I’d become.

Who have I become?

I suppose I’ve come a long way.

From staring into the abyss of a supermarket aisle with cheese stacked upon cheese, eyes full of tears to the episodes of tingles, numbness and adrenaline that come and go. I’m going okay. I’m actually O.K. There’s a lot still to come. There are people I will bump into who might feel pity for me and those who won’t understand the difference between feeling anxious and having clinical anxiety. I’m no longer here to please. I’m here to be. I’m here to breathe. I’m here to challenge myself to reboot and analyse the mistakes I have made and how to undo them. I’m not ashamed to say that I might be considered to have one of those ‘stress related illnesses’ or one of those people who is ‘struggling’, as we colloquially refer to it as in the workplace. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m heading home. I’m happy. I’m excited. I’m not a failure. I’m proud that I’m not hiding anymore. I used to hide from the shame that comes with the things that I struggle with. Now I wear those scars as a tattoo to remind me of where I’ve been and where I’m heading. I’ve thrown my watch into the ocean. Time runs, I’ll stroll.

What I’m subsequently left with is a completely altered state of thought. I suppose that comes with age and experience. Every time we exit our bedrooms we face a sensory overload of messages, opinions, slogans, ideas, jingles, broken promises and painted on blank faces. Some of us have hard skulls; others are made out of plastic. Considering that, I may as well impart a few pieces of advice to anyone who is going through a difficult period, be it for a few weeks, a few months or what can feel like a few lifetimes. I’ll throw in a few of the songs that have helped me along the way.

  1. Social media is a trap.

Social media is essentially a magnificent concept, but for all the supposed pros of staying in contact with friends, talking about social issues and learning new things, it has just dumbed us down. Mainstream journalism has taken a huge hit in quality, with clickbait dominating our feeds and crossing over into our newspapers and major news programs that are working desperately hard to stay relevant. Lazy journalism leads to lazy citizens. We need a transparent government, we need open forums, we need investigative journalism that we can believe in, without agendas that aren’t even hidden anymore.

We have arguments taking place between computer illiterate people where no one wins. There is no logic in arguing online. Argue in person. Argue at a rally. Occasionally there’s a spectacular debate, but it’s generally in a controlled atmosphere – like over the phone, or in a café, or at your Uncle Bob’s between two brothers who hate each other but also make some pretty good points in between the explosion of personal attacks they’ve repressed since the backyard cricket incident. The increased size of circles containing people you’ve long since outgrown, the beautiful people of Instagram, the intermittent hit of serotonin when you hear a beep or a buzz. It’s terrible for people’s mental health. You’re seeing people in the perfect situations, with the perfect lighting, eating the perfect food, having the perfect day, smelling the perfect rose and drinking the perfect wine. I know it’s an idealistic vision, but social media is supposed to portray something real. What do we learn from scripts? What do we learn from plastered on perfection?

In saying that, I’m genuinely addicted to it, and there’s a lot of amusing shit on there. We just need to remember that our standards filter down, and that we can’t take our need to stay vigilant and switched on. Malcolm Turnbull threw $1.75 million of his own money into his election campaign… Why did we only just find this out recently? Mike Baird’s lockout clearly infringing on old businesses operating in the King’s Cross and assisting his mates at Star Casino and those attempting to push their way into the real estate market. The Democratic National Congress stole Bernie Sanders’ opportunity to change the course of American politics. Well, it has changed now… and it is as interesting as it is fucking terrifying. We have a right to know when big money and big influence is being thrown around. As interesting as it is to know about Joe Blow ripping off Centrelink for $200 a month every other night, it’s more interesting when the people who have so much keep ripping off the system.

And there are only so many listicles you can read to distract you before you have an existential breakdown…

  1. Just because you know something is bad for you doesn’t mean it is easy to give up. 

    I avoided drugs for a long time. Then I fell back into the trap and fell down the rabbit hole once again. Now I’m out of there and I’m never going back. But it’s hard. Drugs are kind of fun. That extra kick at a festival, everything tastes different so I can’t rest on my laurels. I’m not addicted to any particular drug, I’m just addicted to feeling so sensually alive that I’m about to burst. Be it incredible happiness, laugh til you holler amusement and weep until your lungs feel like they are going to burst sadness. We all have a bit of that in us. I guess for me I just expected my life to be so special that sometimes I can’t handle the downtime, the regularity of it all, and with that it is hard for me to go half hearted when I’m out with friends. As my dad asked me to promise when I laid in a hospital bed in a Richmond emergency room after a panic attack, I will never snort another line, drop another pill, inject another load of… You get the drill. Sometimes you just have to accept when something is really fucking bad for you in the long run.

Then there’s the sweet nectar. Beer. I drink a lot, and I’m finding it hard to pull back my drinking so I need to fill it with an alternative pleasure. I’ve given myself the challenge from the moment I step foot in Melbourne to adhere to the 6-4-2 rule over the next six months. I will allow myself 6 days where I can have one to two drinks. 4 sessions with 2-4 drinks. And 2 blowouts. Instead of sitting here and saying, yep, I’m going six months without a drop when I know that I’m rolling into see some of my best pals for the first time in eight months, I thought I’d pick a happy medium. I like beer too much. Bloody beer. Bloody god’s nectar. Bloody God. Bloody Mary. Virgin Mary. Really makes you think.

Giving things up is hard. Conscious change is very difficult, particularly when practically everyone in your circle is enjoying it without the severe consequences that you face when you dabble. Even when you know that the decision you are to make will ensure the quality of your life is so much better. It’s just human nature.

  1. I know it’s hard to reconcile, but we can’t simply shut down the opinions of people by locking them out of our country or censoring their right to speak. Without freedom of speech, we are nothing.

We are nothing. We are boring. We are uniform. We let governing bodies walk all over us. Debate is stymied. The smog of 1984 will drift across us, choke us of that individuality we all have within. Voltaire’s famous quip, ‘I hate what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it’, lays the foundation for what we must continue fighting for. For every disgusting breath that comes out of the orange one’s (I refuse to use capital letters for that Dorito eating piece of shite) mouth, we will find the answer. If we cannot allow people to have their say because we don’t like what they are saying, how are we to rise above bar through censorship and peer pressure? It tarnishes democracy.

I am not talking about hate speech. That’s in a completely different category, but we have attacked a person’s right to have an opinion to the point of aversion to argument and debate from the reasonable among us and left it to the extremists to gallivant all the way to the White House; Milos Yiannopolous, Steve Bannon and poor Nigel Farage in tow. A knife attack in the Louvre committed by a Muslim is condemned and and a attack on a mosque in Quebec by a Christian is basically ignored. These lessons in political opportunism must be courageously pointed out. The amount of individuals that you should never argue with are growing by the day on account of the fact that they are making money from their agenda, genuinely delusional or they fear that their masculinity may drip from their body along with their own sweat if they concede a single point.

There are so many mixed messages that are pressed up against our chest so hard that your ribs are on the verge of snapping in two. Pick your battles, release some of that guilt, and don’t be afraid to tell someone they are a fuckwit if you think they are wrong. Alright, the fuckwit part might be left to your personal judgment. Nonetheless, the world’s problems currently exist in this vacuum of reasonable people not speaking out due to being brandished a nuisance, an uppity know it all or a mature aged university student.

We live in the age of opinion, and it can fill us with regret, guilt and a reluctance to put ourselves on the line. Stand up for what you believe in, the people who immediately turn to personal attacks without addressing the issue are just bitter and ignorant. With the whole Trump saga, Brexit, the growing divide between the east and the west, the far right movement increasing in potency, it is more important than ever to defend your stance. It’s more important than ever to avoid being drawn to the bottom rung’s level.

To argue our points, to stand in solidarity for what we truly believe in. How Australia still won’t budge on two men or two women getting married… How renewable energy alternatives are still being given the two finger Stone Cold salute… How we drag people through mud when they make minor mistakes. How we destroy programs that assist kids who need protection in schools because of political agenda. How mainstream religion still claims to be an authority on how women should use their bodies. How children are brainwashed at young ages. How wealth distribution is out of control. The public sector being ripped apart by those in a privileged place. Australia’s tough stance on drugs killing kids through their own ruthless ignorance. The homeless on Melbourne’s streets treated worse than vermin and then told to get up and piss off. The war on drugs that failed decades ago and punishes the easy targets. These are all my opinions and I feel privileged to be able to fight for that right. If you want to argue about it, let’s meet up for a beer and have a chat.

  Bonus level

Only the very insecure celebrate when you fuck up.

If you treat people like shit, they will leave your life. No brainer really. We can’t be friends with everyone, but it’s nicer to not have to worry about people resenting you because you treated them like dirt. 

People with ideas that are so firm that they speak over anyone with a different view haven’t been socialised properly. Be confident in your stances, but remember that we’re not all cut from the same cloth – This goes out to all of those who so confidently state, ‘Well, you know the centre right are clearly more capable when it comes to spending our money,’ without a shred of evidence except for the fact that they have a big house and their family votes for the Liberal party, the ‘Tories or the Republicans.

Just avoid Google symptoms. Go straight to your GP, or at the very least head to forums where people discuss their bizarre anxiety symptoms. Google symptoms have their place, but they are severely detrimental to anyone who has a form of anxiety or depression. I sat in the office I was working at in Holborn, attempting to work hard, take things in and learn but I was just obsessed with the symptoms that were pulsating through my body. Like clockwork they would hit me at 3PM, and from there I was completely distracted and searching on my phone, searching on my computer and searching my head for an answer, any answer that would clear my mind or confirm my fears. Sectioned as a leper when you reveal you are struggling, as if you are weak. So I kept it in for weeks, months… Some days I left the office so exhausted that I had a shower before and after I popped in to the gym. I couldn’t work out for more than 20 minutes before losing all my energy. I lost my sense of self, I lost my voice and I lost my direction. All I found was my phone. ‘Face flushed, pins and needles symptoms’, ‘Racing heart, tremors, vertigo anxiety’, ‘so you’re going to die 101’. The British NHS is hell on earth for the hypochondriac.

  1. Find contentment in your own company.

Spending time alone, away from your phone, away from your friends for at least a small percentage of your week doesn’t have to be so daunting. I’m a bit of a loner at heart. I used to spend a lot of time by myself when I didn’t have many friends. Now I have a lot of friends but I also feel obliged to see them a lot… Bloody inconsiderate friendly people. But being by yourself and enjoying the time you have in your own head is incredibly important. I spoke to a friend about our personal battles recently and he told me that he used to really despise being alone because the thoughts that would come up were terrifying.

I had a similar experience during my time staying at a friend’s place in Kensington. I’d be left alone and my mind was so scrambled that all I wanted to do was scream and punch the wall. My eyes were bruised by the constant spate of tears dripping from my ducts. And maybe it is just me, but I really like a bit of mystery. I like when things are a bit jilted and intense and exciting. So it’s nice to break away from that and just allow myself to breathe.

I know we all hear the tick tock of the clock as it races toward the milestones in our life, but it really doesn’t matter. Life is a journey, filled with struggle, elation, excitement, sadness, desire, lust and loss. Fill it with poetry, empathy, healthy debate and marvellous adventures in between. For people who think too much… Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know how hard it can be, but your mind is a beautiful thing. Respect and embrace it in all of its weird and wonderful glory. For those who are like the woman who I sat next to on the train, watching a video about how to avoid sinful thinking… Fuck that guilt. Go and have sex with a man or a woman (if they say you can). This world can break you, people will bully you and say that they are only doing what is right for society and some people will spit you out with little more than a pat on the back. Don’t let them break you.

Don’t be scared to go to the movies alone. It’s only sad on Saturdays.

5, 6, 7, 8.

You might not think you mean much, but you do, and you matter, even if you are an Iraqi who has been banned from entering the US or a kid trapped behind a wire fence in Nauru, or a Palestinian in a camp, a kid being bullied after coming out in the deep South of the USA, a man who believes he is losing his mind in London, a woman who is told how she should dress, or a trans woman being hissed at by a dirty old man. Left, right, in between, indifferent, disillusioned, dismembered, disabled, dynamic, uncoordinated, maligned, overexposed, under appreciated, whomever the fuck they label you as, there’s someone, somewhere who cares about you.

Terrible things are happening on this planet, from the cruel deaths of animals kept locked up for months in tiny pens on their way to our plate, to the travesty that is Malcolm Roberts being elected into Australian public office with 77 votes and then using his undeserved soap box to spout shit that he barely understands. However, the world is capable of very good things. We can’t afford to allow the very, very powerful to intimidate, manipulate, isolate, demean and denigrate us. Treat us like babies, fine us for jaywalking, throw us into the same basket after one incident with a young whippersnapper (‘you’re all lazy degenerates!’) You know what is sad? Being in a tutorial full of young, bright minds, asked by their tutor to talk through what the fall of the Berlin Wall must have meant to the youth of the DDR and West Germany and no one speaks. Either they were genuinely disinterested or what seemed to be the case, they simply were too afraid to speak up in fear of being wrong or being judged. Deliberate, nasty negativity is bullshit. Negativity is not cool.

I know a lot of what I just said contradicts the other points, but essentially what I’m saying is that we’re all on this planet for a certain amount of time and it’s not meant to be easy the whole time. It’s not always going to be #paradise because it isn’t supposed to be. Life is supposed to be about challenging ourselves, and dipping out of our comfort zone, even if it is only for a couple of minutes. There are going to be people who piss you off and decisions made by authorities that you hate, so utilise your right to have a say.

Fuck the constraints people place on you for the sake of their own agenda. If someone dislikes you, that’s okay, just find people you like. If you don’t like people, go into competitive fighting where you can involve yourself in sanctioned violence. Much better than whacking some innocent kid in a pub brawl to make yourself feel more masculine. Your mother is a woman, don’t be a fuckwit to women. For the men who attack ‘feminazis’ and call women sluts and whores, at least they are fighting for something worthwhile, while you are sitting behind your keyboard wasting your day when you could be out talking to a woman who refers to herself as a ‘feminist’ and you could have an open discussion about what it means to her and why you feel threatened or frustrated by it.

I know, I know, I’ve heard the argument that ‘it’s just that some of them fucking hate men!’ ‘Clementine Ford is a bitch!’ Well bloody boo-hoo mate. I don’t agree with everything she says, but at least she’s out there fighting the battle for the woman sitting in her flat, terrified to leave her husband who relentlessly abuses her when he gets back from the pub, because she feels the system won’t protect her… in Australia. Just open the conversation. You will feel closer to the woman behind the vagina. The same conversation goes for women really. We put this divide between the genders and it’s opened this gulf of misunderstanding and distrust. We’re better than that. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been that dickhead, and looking at my sisters, my mother, my grandmothers, my niece and my friends, I am a man who has a lot of work to do to improve my relations with the fairest sex. To grow in my understanding of more than just where the clitoris sits. (I still don’t think it exists…). Be a man, not a boy.

  1. Life is all about the story. All about the journey. All about the struggle, the highs and the lows.

It’s why I like theatre. It’s why I like underdog stories. It’s why I love Springsteen and Van Morrison. It’s why I love jazz and gospel music. It’s why I like it gritty and real. It’s why I like the story of the contest even more than a great contest itself – see Ashes 2005. It’s why I love old school wrestling. It’s why I love writing and talking to people about their deepest and darkest secrets and dancing through a night without having to worry whether the man on the other side of the room wants to kick the shit out of you. Listen to great albums, go to events you find a little confronting, and talk to people from a different background with a different perspective.

Talk about your feelings, your crushing disappointments, the things that make you proud and the things you wish were a little better. Get therapy if you feel out of your depth. Make your friends feel special, give a stranger a hug and don’t compare your story to those of the guy next to you like it’s a competition. Life isn’t a contest. What’s the point of having millions of dollars if all you really want is for people to shine your shoes and tell you how good you are always looking? The sad man who never grows out of telling a bouncer how much better he is than him when he’s thrown out for acting like a fucking dickhead.

The only thing worse than feeling low is feeling numb. The feeling that you are nothing more than a pedestrian, leading a life that is dictated to you by someone else. Even if you work a dull job, express yourself in your way. Choose rainbow tights, choose hair under your arms, choose acting classes with a bunch of misfits, choose a fetish club and finding yourself, choose crying in the middle of the street because you can’t hold it in anymore, choose hugging a stranger because your girlfriend is pregnant, choose romanticism or pragmatism or your own fucking ism.

CHOOSE LIFE. (T2 is near on the best sequel I’ve seen – Apologies to FFC.)

10a) Never take your mental health for granted. Learn about your body’s tolerance levels before you jump into the deep end.

Mental health treatments are underfunded across the board. Getting help is expensive and time consuming. Having a mental disorder is not a walk in the park. It’s a lifelong consideration. Learn about your body’s chemistry, about your triggers. If you are young and considering hitting the psychedelics, the powders or the pills, ask someone you trust for some advice. Talk to someone who has been there before. It might just save yourself from a few very dark places. Take it from me…

  1. b) Mental health treatments are desperately underfunded and under appreciated.

The law firm I worked at offered eight counselling sessions a year free. When you look at it without considering the implications, you’d say, that’s great. But when you analyse it further, you’ve got lawyers working 60 to 70 hours week, requiring stress relief every evening to rebalance themselves for another shot at the prize, with their weekends usually jacked full of activities and errands and the bloody kids. We are starting to understand that self medicating with booze and drugs isn’t quite the same as a session at the sauna or on the yoga mat. People living on the street with no access to vital assistance. Young men not talking about the stress and pain they are feeling. The LGBTI community facing intolerance, brutality and exclusion. Women isolated after childbirth. Kids being bullied, victimised and thinking it is their fault.

As a society we are simply not doing enough. We need to do more. We have to do more.

I stand with all of those who have felt like they can’t do it anymore.

I stand with anyone who has felt terribly alone, sad and out of answers.

I stand with those who have to hide their symptoms, have to run from their sadness, confusion and anxiety.

I stand with those who still can’t deal with the memories of a troubling past.

I weep for you, but I also know we will get there someway, somehow, for the better days will come.

  1. c) Understanding mental disorders is very difficult for those who have never experienced it.

I had the situation at my last job where a person in my office had a go at me via message for not communicating where I was with my return to employment. Of course, they had a point, but they also illustrated that gulf of understanding between those who know and those who just don’t. It’s not a competition, but work is work. The individual wasn’t my line manager; they were just a person in my office. If someone in your office is away for a period of time a little unexplained, it’s most likely for something reasonably serious. Have a little empathy, read into the disorders and perhaps you’ll reach a point where you close in on the understanding that there is ‘feeling depressed’ and being diagnosed as clinically depressed, or those who have ‘a bit of OCD’ and those who have a debilitating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or biting your nails at the end of a close football match and feeling like you can’t move in fear that your heart will fail. You know… that sort of thing.

I know how hard it is for people to understand without having dealt with it firsthand, or seen a family member or friend go through their very personal moments, but it is fucking painful, and makes people incredibly miserable. Sometimes it even leads to self-harm or suicide. You don’t have to pity people, or treat them with kid gloves, but take a second before you have a go at someone who is unstable. I’ve cried so many tears over my own plight even when I’m trying to be as strong as possible in the middle of a crowded tube. You see people in worse places than me everyday. No one deserves to be treated like they have the plague just because of their condition. If you look close enough, if you listen hard enough, you’ll notice when someone is struggling.

I’ll finish this piece with a snippet of a story I wrote eighteen months ago when I slowly descending into what I now refer to as my quarter life crisis;

‘I’m a worrier. And I’m vulnerable and fragile. But all that worry fuels my tank, enriches my existence and turns me into this creature with plastic wings and a bruised and battered helmet. A worrier with a story, lessons to learn and teach, tears to be shed, smiles to be shared, clichés to spout and a long, long list of apologies to be made. This life is our fatal flaw, and that worries me. But I’ll be okay for now. I haven’t self-combusted today, I haven’t run out of peanut butter, I haven’t been hit by a car… And I suppose that kind of makes me worry a little less… Then I realise I’ve started a sentence with the word and. In a way, there’s a kind of reckless beauty to that.’

To London, I will see you again. To Melbourne, I am ready.

 

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