Navigating Fog

In a sea of fog, I see approaching grey tumbleweeds everywhere. The wide empty fields start to be filled to the brim. Tumbleweeds stacked on more tumbleweeds, slowly but surely creating impenetrable density. Cornered, they choke me; while my jaw is wide open, they jet to my core. How can bleakness be so aggressive and fierce? How can grey unravel its fangs so easily? This is a relentless pattern of bleak after bleak, bleak on bleak, heavy layers of bleak, wrapped around more bleak. 

An occasional storm disrupts this fierce monotonous pattern and briefly brushes away the tumbleweeds. I am engulfed by this welcomed, external distraction – it’s something that I can dive into. But I’m inevitably drawn back to that disrupted void that is the post-storm. The wreckage inevitably blends in with the grey contours of my foggy perception, and the debris slowly but surely transforms itself anew into tumbleweeds. 

I am thankful for all my friends with whom I can share everything with and for a supportive family that have taught me empathy by leading with example. I have a job that offers me what one could call “a comfortable life”. But somehow my mind – my inner world – doesn’t seem to care. The external realm of things plays no role in their machinations. And still, I can’t seem to escape the pattern of seeking for reasons to explain my emotional state of mind. I so desperately need a reason, a scapegoat, for the all encompassing negativity, confusion and anxiety. The theme is constant: I switch between different explanations for my situation. And the disdain and self-contempt is pure: The constant nagging; the constant self-doubt; the dreading thought of being cut in a narcissistic maelstrom. A stoic approach sometimes may work, albeit briefly. I am sucked back in. You see: I, I, me, myself, I, me. It’s extremely difficult to escape this repetitive pattern of introspection that leads to self-loathing and fatigue.

Two hours of walking and a large coffee later, what I have typed on my computer appears somewhat obsolete, pompous, convoluted, and slightly alien – a charade my mind has fabricated to fuck with me. I feel balanced, gleeful and clear-minded. Where is that fog, those tumbleweeds? The rush of endorphins is only a quick fix unfortunately. I have to force myself out at least two hours a day for a fast paced walk, blasting music from my headphones, in order to push away internalised patterns of self-loathing and gnawing; in order to flee, in order to get away from the internalized inhibition of pleasure and sluggishness of thoughts.

 

“A psychiatrist once told me that I had the engine of a Ferrari, but the coachwork of an old Volkswagen. To me it always felt the other way around.”


And then there are those few days where all the negativity and anxiety seems like a distant memory. I laugh, socialize, frolic, and indulge. Have I managed to shatter the fog-ridden bulletproof glass that was standing between self-appreciation and myself? Unfortunately this leads to further confusion. Why is there so much discrepancy in how I perceive myself? How can the gap be so large? Why am I constantly forced to jump from one side to the other? There is no middle ground – rather a constant oscillation between remunerations, views, moods, and emotions.

At the age of seven I was first diagnosed with Dysthymia, aka constant mild depression. Later on it was switched to ADHD comorbidity with depression and anxiety disorder. And the anxiety is fucking real – my crippling fear of the intricacies of everyday interactions, of existence. It’s a weird thing, this anxiety. I often dread social interactions. I cognitively fabricate 10,000 different potential negative outcomes. But once I force myself to be social, it’s usually fun and rewarding. But somehow, there is a part of my brain that doesn’t learn from these positive social interactions. I am not able to just “chill” and let things “happen”. A psychiatrist once told me that I had the engine of a Ferrari, but the coachwork of an old Volkswagen. To me it always felt the other way around. People see me, meet me, interact with me and very often voice positive things. I am so amazed by how wide the gap between their perception of myself and my self-perception is.   

Drugs can be a game changer. Anxiety and negativity are blown away and I transform into a flamboyant flying fuck of some sort. The illusion of liberation feels good, but the hangovers are really bad. I feel their impact for several days. I am torn when it comes to opening up, talking about what people have called “inner demons” or “the black dog”. First of all, it’s extremely difficult to put into words what I feel.  My friends and family find it hard to believe the confusion and carnage of my inner world.  The juncture is too big. Attributes such as enthusiastic, social, emphatic, tall, manly and attractive are thrown around. Besides, men must be strong and deal with shit. Everyone has to deal with shit. The image of masculinity that occupies our social consciousness is one of the main reasons I have always tried to push the negative thoughts aside. I equated my disorders with weakness – a weakness that I alone had to rid. When men suffer, it should be in silence and solitude, I was convinced. I felt like I didn’t deserve to voice my troubles.

Photograph by the author

Photograph by the author

The thought of being perceived as weak prevented me from seeking help. I lied to myself for years. “Man the fuck up” and create distance from yourself. Stop being lethargic, stop being lazy, stop the negative remunerations. I tried a lot of things that did help for a while but never fundamentally changed the way I felt substantially. In my younger years, I tried Ritalin. It turned into a love-hate relationship during high school and university. It worked to some extent – I could focus and do mundane things. But after one hour I felt like a streamlined robot built to function and not to feel.  

Is it still worth it? Yes, yes it is. I feel I owe it to life itself to keep on going. I am still curious and mesmerized by the beauty of our planet. The thought of a new dawn is appealing and I still have hope. There’s a genetic component to my depression, anxiety, ADHD, but that isn’t all. Internalizing that metamorphosis can actually manifest itself is a first subtle step towards progress. What makes my cookie crumble might make yours disintegrate or disappear. I get that. But maybe these depictions of erratic emotional fluctuations resonate with some of you guys out there. Acknowledging that something has to change and wanting it to change goes hand in hand with the recognition that it is worth the effort, and that there’s worth embedded inside you and around you.  

Words by Djan Sauerborn

If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, speak to MIND on 0300 123 3393 or on their site, Samaritans on 116 123 or on their site, or CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or on their site.