I am not religious, but for a brief period when I was around fifteen or sixteen, I was so certain that I’d spend entire nights wondering what hell was like. This certainty came from the fact that I, fairly frequently, thought I could hear His voice in my head.
Now, about five years later, I know the voices in my head are not the product of heaven but of depression, anxiety and paranoia, and I’m more likely to respond to them with exhausted frustration than religious dread. But in many ways they run my life as much as they did when I thought they had the power to send me to Hell.
This doesn’t mean I do everything the voices tell me, you understand. If I did that, then I’d be either in a jail or a graveyard rather than a room in St Andrews. But the desire not to listen to them seeps into more or less everything I do. If I study too intensely and relax too little, it’s because that gives me an excuse not to listen when the whispers start. If I take on too much extracurricular stuff, it’s because I can use all the exhausting projects these hobbies afford me to tire out the invasive creatures in my brain so they don’t have the energy to start smashing the place up. If I randomly message my friends in the middle of the night, it’s because I’m desperate to talk to someone who isn’t telling me to hurt myself.
And that’s just the stuff that happens when I don’t listen to my voices. When I do.. .Well, there’s a reason why I’m making this article anonymous.
Again, most of the stuff I end up doing isn’t that dramatic. I’ve cut myself with a razor a couple of times, and on one memorable occasion snatched up a fag butt someone had dropped outside the Union and absent-mindedly stubbed it out on my skin, but usually the bad stuff is more subtle. I avoid spending money, to the point of scrounging meals out of bins. I apologise, randomly, profusely and unnecessarily for more or less everything I do. I don’t sleep, shower, change my clothes, pay any attention to health or hygiene. I take random walks out to West Sands at 4 am and just stand there, fantasising about who would come to my funeral.
Am I proud of this behaviour? Of course not. I’m blanching a little as I write it. But sometimes my mind stops working and I do weird things. And I know that sounds like the weakest of weak excuses, but it’s the only way I can describe it.
There’s an upside to all of this, though. St Andrews is possibly the best place there is to be my particular brand of crazy. I’m not just talking about Student Services, though they are helpful. The voices find it easiest to get to me when my mind’s not occupied by anything else, and that’s not an easy situation to find yourself in in St Andrews. Sure, overwork-as-therapy probably isn’t healthy and I probably shouldn’t be doing it, but if it helps me shut up my uninvited guests then I’ll be forever grateful to this place for letting that happen.
And if it doesn’t? Well, I’m sure The Stand will provide excellent reportage on whatever hideous thing I end up doing.