The degrading dilemma
NICK BRITTLEBANK leads us through some of the potential pitfalls of taking the time off
What do you do when everything goes to shit?
You wake up one morning and realise you can’t keep lurching slipshod from one thundering disaster to the next. Cambridge mocks you with obvious glee every single day. Those terse essay comments, your supervisor’s raised eyebrows, the subtle condescension of your peers all float like croutons in a soup of constant, perverted cruelty. You imposter. You thick shit. You end up with depression, panic attacks, substance abuse, hallucinations or some horrific cocktail of all of these; and that’s just a Tuesday evening. So what do you do? Seriously, what the fuck do you do?
You could try degrading. Having been through the whole sorry mess I thought I’d talk you through some of the pros and cons. Actually just cons, as it happens, because the main pros are pretty obvious – you don’t have to do work anymore for a while, and you get to go back to living in a place where the fridge refills itself by magic. But you might not have considered the negatives, so here are an arbitrary collection of several:
Your social life will never be the same
Hopefully you’ve managed to half-convince a group of people that they ought to put up with you every now and again. From now on, whenever they invite you to come and play with them you’re going to be quietly wondering whether they actually want you there or if they’re just hanging out with you because they feel like they ought to. The conversation you imagine them having might go something like this:
“Should we invite Nick? We probably should…”
“Oh god, really? He’s so weird. Like, really weird. He has that serial killer vibe, you know? I bet he’s a serial killer.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. He has the eyes of a killer. Have you noticed how he has the eyes of a killer?”
“That beard, too. It’s a devious beard.”
“I actually quite like his beard.”
The spoken and unspoken stigma
Yeah, it’s a thing. Sorry. Look at it this way: there are probably several hundred people in your college. For any group of several hundred people, it’s mathematically very likely that some of them are going to be total bastards. I’m actually quite lucky; I’ve only been openly mocked once, as far as I know. But then there’s the unspoken stigma. Voices lowering to a whisper as you walk past (did they hear me screaming from my room the other day? Shit.) The silent ‘oh’ when you explain to someone in your new year why you’ve never crossed paths before. It’s incredibly isolating, and you never did explain to anyone what was really going on with you before you left. Can you imagine?
You: “Alright mate?”
Casual acquaintance: “Not too bad, yourself?”
You: “Pretty shit actually. Last night I was so scared the voices would come back I drank myself to sleep, I’ve been having panic attacks all day and this minor social interaction is unaccountably terrifying for me. But as soon as it ends I’ll be consumed by thoughts of my own inadequacy and a crushing sense of impending doom and no matter what it’s going to follow me around like a shadow clawing at me as I desperately try to smile like everything’s ok while I silently lose my mind.”
Casual acquaintance: “Standard.”
You’ll feel like you’re letting everyone down
That’s never going to go away. I really wish I could say otherwise. You know exactly what anyone would tell you if you brought it up, so you don’t bother bringing it up. What’s the point of having a conversation when you already know exactly what the other person is going to say? The only thing you can do is use it to motivate yourself to try to change things. This, actually, can be quite helpful. It gives you a reason to try to get better.
For many of you who do degrade, though, these considerations will be moot because you won’t actually have any choice. There comes a tipping point when you realise that the pros and cons are irrelevant because it’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s about safety. You realise you’re in danger if you keep doing what you’re doing. I remember staring, first in confusion and then in terror, as blood started pouring down my leg. When I started self-harming again I knew I didn’t have a choice- but had I made a choice earlier, I wouldn’t have so many scars to carry now.
The moral of the story is something like this: it doesn’t all magically get better, and in some ways it does get worse.
But fuck it. When it comes to your safety, you just can’t afford to dick around.