24 was complicated
Tomorrow I turn 25 years old. For the past couple of months I’ve been joking that I’ll finally be old enough for the quarter life crisis I’ve been having since I was 3, but it’s a joke very much grounded in reality.
By this point, if you follow me on social media or paid close attention to my previous project FTCR, you’ll know the essential details about my lifelong depression, anxiety and related conditions. That’s not news to anyone, and I’m not about to tell my life story (again). But turning 25 does give me cause for reflection, more so than most other birthdays of mine.
I turned 24 at a difficult time. I was three months clear of quitting my job, and still a good ten days from discovering I would receive the disability benefit I so desperately needed. I was shrouded, drowning in a sea of poisonous air, haunted by demons who had latched onto me with a force that sucked the life from me. I put it this way in part because there’s still a weird, twisted part of me that romanticizes my own struggles into some poetic tragedy, but also because such visuals often help to paint a clearer picture of the depressive existence. It was the worst my mental illness has ever been, and I was incapable of daily functioning at the bare minimum.
I had been on several different medications during the first half of the year, and one of them, Venlafaxine (AKA Effexor) had not only been the wrong fit for my chemical make-up, it had been actively harmful. For some people it works wonders, but for me it was dangerous. It actually made my condition worse, and for a period of time through May and June 2016 I was suicidal. I couldn’t see a way out, a way to be a normal human being again. I had no idea where my life might be going now and for the first time, I wasn’t curious to find out. I have always been strung along by the belief that I am here for a purpose, and have interesting years ahead of me, but for the first time that light had gone out. I was no longer interested in leaving my house. I was no longer interested in working, or chugging along with the rest of society. I couldn’t talk to my boyfriend and best friend of seven years, and I regularly spent hours staring into space and crying. It all seemed so terrifying, so futile, so exhausting. I wanted to lie in bed alone for the rest of eternity, and if I couldn’t do that I thought I may need to die.
I asked my doctor to take me off Venlafaxine in mid-June. It had been an experiment gone wrong, after various other anti-depressants had been unsuccessful in their quest. We agreed I would switch back to Sertraline (AKA Zoloft), one I had been taking semi-successfully for about a year before I took myself off it in March 2015, paranoid it was making me gain weight and determined to survive without it (didn’t that go well?). We decided Sertraline had at least been reliable, and I would switch to that.
However, the problem with SSRIs, the most popular form of long-term anti-depressants/anti-anxiolytics, is that they require titration. That means you need to gradually wean yourself off one type by slowly lowering in dose, then take an unmedicated breather, then start the lowest dose of the new ones and slowly work your way up until you reach a dosage that’s right for you. I spent June titrating off Venlafaxine and struggling to hold it together, and the week of my birthday was, of course, the unmedicated one. The chemical imbalance caused me to have severe dizziness that felt like my brain was taking a sharp dip into another dimension every 30 seconds, and while I was moderately more cheerful, I’m not sure to this day whether that was a placebo effect or simply intense wishful thinking on my part. Either way, I turned 24 on one of my worst days of dizziness, played a couple of rounds of crazy golf with my boyfriend and best friend Alex, and went for a quiet few drinks at a bar. It was fun but the absolute peak of what I could muster at the time; my childhood and young adult years had been so full of overblown birthday celebrations that in the weeks leading up to the 24th I had dreaded it, not able to cope at the thought of a disappointing birthday during such a traumatic time in my life.
But I survived it, and I continued to survive. A few days after my birthday Pokémon Go was released (during the heights of my Pokémon fandom resurgence, too), and I began to go outside specifically to play. Now, when I was out in public, I didn’t need to interact with others nor pretend I was even present; I could just move, and exist, and play in a bubble. It’s true that the server glitches that plagued the game for the first several weeks caused me a pathetic amount of stress, but overall it was a positive development in my life. As Sertraline began to infiltrate my system and the gradually rising doses pushed back the demonic army, I ventured further and further afield, exploring my local area and the surrounding towns properly for the first time. I took pictures, lots of them, for Instagram, and took great joy in editing and posting the visual chronicles of my solo adventures in search of Pokémon.
It was during that Summer when I first got the idea for my debut novel. I already knew I wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo, the annual novel-writing challenge, as I hadn’t had the space in my life to do so since 2008. I spent the Summer and the Autumn planning and overplanning, and that November launched into it with gusto. It was my return to fiction after eight years away, and just as traversing the length and breadth of Cheshire and Merseyside had healed me with every passing step, pouring out my imagination and newfound life experiences into created characters and storylines helped me regain purpose and control in a way I once hadn’t thought possible.
Much of the time since then, besides being your average Twitter-based social justice warrior, has been spent doing those very things. Working on my novel, playing Pokemon Go, taking photos. I began taking paid work again, here and there, when it fitted in with my mental health. I took up poetry in Spring 2016 for the first time since childhood, and I continued to advance in that respect, finding it an efficient way to deconstruct my feelings. I purchased and used adult colouring books, and watched the entire 950 episodes of Pokemon (and all 19 movies). I began singing more again, and finally plucked up the courage to start posting my music online again. All of the things that had given me such joy as a child I was reliving as an adult with a wealth of wisdom and heartache under my belt. My perspective was different, and I learned to enjoy all of these things in a different way, in a way that allowed me to take care of myself. In May 2017, a few weeks after FTCR’s database serendipitously corrupted itself, I launched a new site under my own name and set about uploading the full spread of my creative offerings. It felt good to share and to look forward to the next chapter.
I turn 25 tomorrow, and I’m not fully recovered. I’m not sure I will ever be, and maximum doses of medication keep me ticking over. But I’m also in a completely different place in my life than I was just one year ago. I can function, I can look after myself, I can laugh and I can go outside. I can work, on a flexible freelance basis. I can write and I can create and I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to produce this past year, what I know I will continue to produce as I enter the latter half of my twenties. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it has been, and I’m happier generally than I have been in a few years.
I’m truly excited to see what 25 brings me. Hopefully I’ll publish my novel. Maybe I’ll get myself out of debt (finally). I’d love more followers on Instagram, and more people reading my poetry would warm my heart. Perhaps someone will tell me they like my singing voice, undoing years of bullying and self-doubt. It’s possible I’ll even haul my ass to therapy (although, let’s be honest, unlikely). And hopefully I’ll even move out of the crappy flat I’ve lived in for six years.
Perhaps I won’t do any of those things, and I think that’s okay. I’m still living, I’m still breathing, and it won’t always be easy, but I have people in my life whom I love and who love me. Despite everything, 24 has been good to me, and 25 has the potential to keep rolling up the mountain. That’s all I ask for – to keep rolling.
So hello quarter life. I’m ready for you.