One day, I can find myself so incredibly energetic: like a fire has lit up my core; my head, brimming with passion, pride, and the overwhelming will to make change happen. Running around campus, from meeting to meeting; frantically typing excited messages to friends and colleagues, for genuine fear of losing the idea or, worse still, the energy for the idea.
I feel literally high.
That fire can last for hours, days, weeks, even. And then, thud. The energy, dissipated, leaves a void of helplessness in its wake. I bury my head under the sheets for another hour. More sleep. Just an hour. I’ll get up soon.
Moments later – or so it seems – it’s 3pm, and I’m still not out of bed. I make it to the sofa, and switch on the TV. I message my girlfriend, and tell her it’s ‘another one of those days’. Then, I put the phone on silent. No emails today. Waves of easy-TV flood my head like chimney smoke, and I zone out. My mind is fogged. It won’t clear until tomorrow, at the earliest. It might be a few days before I resurface. I never know for sure until it’s gone.
Most of what I’m writing about here is depression: a mental health condition I have gradually come to terms with over the last three years. My case is not exceptional in any particular way. Several people I know in academia live with the condition as well. Many of us only realised we had it at university. Once or twice, over a pint or two, one or two of us have even considered the idea that university might actually bring depression on.
I’m not sure depression’s the full picture here, though. My experiences may vary to some degree with my fellow students and colleagues, regardless of the state of our mental health. But ultimately, every passionate academic I’ve ever come across has faced some sort of wall to their ambitions at one point or another. A system resistant to change; a traditionalist who hates to adapt; an academic who prides the preservation of their own social status above all other things.
That’s when the thud comes. And all of that momentum that once carried me forward, recoils. It sometimes feels as if the faster I run, the harder I fall; the brighter the candle burns, the sooner the flame goes out, and the tougher it is to relight it again.
I only have so many matches.