According to Google, an iceberg is defined as “a large floating mass of ice detached from a glacier or ice sheet and carried out to sea.” The lump of ice still floats in the same water as the main body of ice it broke away from, and before it drifts away it is well within sight of its origin, but it fades further and further, until it is far from where it should be, until it stands no hope of merging with other icebergs to freeze into pack ice.
I feel like an iceberg. Or rather, I feel like I am stuck on a social iceberg. All it took was a few words, a few misunderstood utterings of phrases such as “just relax and chill out, it isn’t that bad” or, “often when a lot of little things are getting me down I find it is my own fault, stop letting life get you down” or, “just cheer up, it isn’t that hard.” And that was it – dynamite in the tiny cracks that were growing between me and the people that surround me. Emotions that not only fuelled, but instigated my isolation. I broke away from everyone else, I closed off, I shut them out. I still sat at the table with my flat mates, I still sat in the same lecture halls as my colleagues, but I didn’t feel part of anything anymore. I was still in the same environment, still ‘floating in the same sea’, but the solid foundation beneath me had broken away, and while everybody else had solid glacial ice beneath their feet, I had a shaky, melting iceberg.
I tried to talk. Because that’s what people always tell you to do. It took a lot of courage for me to try and talk about my feelings, to open up to my flat mates… And I was laughed at. My feelings were a joke. My life wasn’t deemed bad enough to warrant such emotions, “all this over some assignments?” No. Listen to me. There is more to it than that, so much more. And at the same time, there is no real reason why. This feeling just arrived and life loaded its rifle with ammunition. A very close friend of mine died a year ago this month and I’m not sure how to deal with that. I’m not sure how to deal with anything that is happening at the moment, but I’m trying, and nothing will stop me trying. I’m trying too hard, and it is exhausting.
I’m fighting something that I can’t control, something that can match any amount of effort that I throw at it, because that something is my own brain. It is the part of myself that doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, that doesn’t want to face people, that doesn’t know how to face the day. It is the part of me that whispers over every positive thought, that overthinks even the smallest things; the part of me that is so heavy that the rest of me sinks with it, crushed beneath its weight. It is the part of me that feels pointless, the part of me that feels like I don’t matter and never will – the part of me that comes and goes as it pleases without my permission and far, far beyond my control. And it fights with my rational mind constantly, because no matter how hard I try, my rational thoughts cannot override the destructive thoughts that make my mind their home.
“You don’t understand; it’s more than that. This isn’t about assignments.”
“Well what is it about then?”
“I… I don’t know.” I do know, I just don’t know how to say it. Not to you, not after you laughed, not after your reaction made me feel stupid for the way I feel, undermined the war inside my mind, added to my shame and apprehension.
I sit silently, and drift further away. And then I get desperate. I get desperate, and I want them to stop laughing and understand that this is not a joke, that these feelings are in no way funny. Won’t someone please come and take me off of this iceberg and pull me back into the warmth? Won’t somebody please wrap me in the warm blanket of a listening ear or a supportive hug and breathe some warmth into my stone cold heart? The potential to feel is still there, it can be thawed. Won’t somebody please stand by me? I just want somebody to be there.
“I wanted to jump in front of a train yesterday on my way home.”
Near hysterical laughter, “Bit dramatic”
No. Desperate. Desperate is what it was – when my iceberg had drifted so far that I didn’t feel like a person any more, when I felt so distant that I put my headphones in after our lecture on the medical school campus and walked away from everyone else; when I felt so isolated and invisible that I felt like nobody would care; when I was feeling so much all at once, and felt so alone in feeling it (with no idea how to deal with it) that I thought that was the only way to cope, because nobody was offering me support.
My leg twitched as I imagined myself walking forward. And the rest of me intervened, “NOOOOO!. I stepped right back from the edge of the platform, shaking, on the verge of tears, because what did I just consider? And won’t somebody please stop laughing? I cannot smile this away, I can simply smile it out of your sight. And I cannot open up after people have made me feel so ridiculous and embarrassed. So I shut down. And when I shut down it quickly becomes very apparent that I cannot deal with this on my own. (I would never actually take the step. Feeling and doing are very different things, so are thinking and implementing. I feel and I think but I could never do that to my family, all the people who laughed me away would be consumed with guilt and I couldn’t do that to them).
I came back home to a flat full of people that have no idea. Because they see the tip of the iceberg and laugh at me before I can tell them the bigger issues. Do there even need to be bigger issues?
In a university full of people, in a sea full of ice, I felt entirely alone, lost. I walked home scared of myself, not checking roads before I crossed because I didn’t care, holding my phone in my hand because I didn’t care if someone tried to stab me for it. And I walked into my flat, too broken to hold back tears but too empty to generate any; I walked into my room, I plastered on a smile, and I walked into the kitchen to make myself some food. I ate three dinners (as I usually do, it is very expensive but I’m losing so much weight lately so I’m extremely hungry) and then I sat at the kitchen table late into the night, listening to conversation but not joining it, watching people drink but not drinking, there but not really there… Adrift. Separated.
But what did I do yesterday while I fought with myself to complete every task? I handed in a piece of coursework. I went to a practical session where I extracted genomic DNA from human buccal cells and extracted plasmids from a sample of E.coli to carry out a PCR reaction (basically I did some complicated sciencey things for hours) and somehow got full marks. I fell apart but I continued to function. I put on a mask of a smile and I carried on. Because that’s what people do. Icebergs still float. They are still freshwater ice. They are still made from the same stuff. But they have hidden depths.
In this way people can be like icebergs. We have hidden depths, we continue to float even when we break away, even though only a tiny portion of us remains above the surface, that tiny portion is enough for us to give off the illusion that we are coping.
This afternoon I met with a friend from back home who also goes to a London university. She didn’t tell me to get over myself, or just to smile, because she knows me. She understood the reasoning behind my feelings. She didn’t make me feel ridiculous or embarrassed, she listened. She just listened. She jumped off of the sheet ice onto my rickety little iceberg and she stood by my side. And I can’t describe that feeling. I cannot put into words the sheer relief. Somebody was willing to stand by me, to invest their time and effort in me. She understood why I was freaking out about the fact that my cardiology consultant’s secretary phoned up out of the blue and told me that he wanted to see me tomorrow morning (an urgent appointment usually takes at least 1-3 months), because I cannot deal with anything else right now and I freak out at hospitals. She sat and listened to my flat mates telling me to just chill out and stop stressing, and to just be happier, and she got outraged for me, which was strangely satisfying. All it took was a listening ear, for somebody to take the time. I think she very literally saved me from my own thoughts by giving me a way to let them out.
I went to a spoken word poetry event (Spoken Word London) after I walked her back to the tube station. Kiss friend and flat brother came with me (they sort of invited themselves along, but walking through Hackney at night I was glad of their company). Kiss friend kept asking me what was wrong and I kept trying to talk but I couldn’t find words. He said that my week hadn’t even been that bad, and every time I tried to explain he talked over me and told me I just needed to be happier and smile and stop letting my mood get dragged down by every single little thing (at which point I wanted to hit him). It was my first open-mic night (I usually just watch a lot of spoken word poetry online) and I LOVED it. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry recently because it is my way of dealing with things sometimes, and I was considering performing at a few open-mic nights myself (maybe when I build a bit more confidence) The people were so friendly and passionate about poetry that it was basically heaven. I think having such a great event to attend held the breaking pieces of me together, it tamed the destructive thoughts inside my head and replaced them with creative ones.
Over the next few days/ weeks I plan to include links to some spoken word poetry in my blog posts, particularly poems that put words to feelings that so many of us experience but can never find the words to describe. Because that’s what poetry does – it turns icebergs into pack ice. (If you live in/ near London, check out Mad Poets Speak – it’s a monthly open-mic night focussed around emotional/ mental difficulties and their first event is on the 21st November)