Mental health matters! We’re getting up close and personal about what happens when we cross the self-protective lines we set for ourselves, as well as chatting about therapy, stress, anxiety and more.
Two summers ago, I smoked a disproportionate amount of weed with a friend of mine, A. and promptly lost my mind. I knew A. enjoyed a joint every now and again and she had a birthday coming up, so why not buy some from my friend B., right? On A’s birthday, I went over to her flat. A. had taken the day off work for the occasion. The idea was that we’d smoke a little bit and then go to a stupid IMAX superhero movie and get a manicure afterwards, one exquisite pleasure of the body after another. There was just one glaring issue: neither of us had ever rolled our own joints before! This was so improbable - A. hails from Holland - that I hadn’t anticipated it. But we had always been passive recipients of other people’s generosity. At this point, A. and I did what we generally did in the face of our shared incompetence, which was to watch several different YouTube tutorials on the subject. And eventually a joint was constructed.
The punchline was this — I didn’t know that B. had sold me a decent quantity of weed. You know, the sort of amount that someone who knew anything about marijuana might smoke over a couple of weeks or so. I dutifully packed most of it into one joint. Which meant after we hotboxed A’s study and I’d smoked most of the joint, I found I could no longer speak. Up until this point in my life, I’d been labouring under the illusion that weed wasn’t my drug because it barely affected me!!! I was TOO STRONG and vital for weed. I’d get a little sleepy or a little more introspective and that was about it. But of course, I’d only ever done the half-hearted few puffs on a joint at a party or before sex when ONS-ing with someone who had some to hand. But this was my personality on weed: the Little Mermaid post-swapping her voice for legs. Except that my legs were now pretty shaky, too.
“The movie’ll be starting soon. Shall we head out now?” A asked and I’d nodded, but when we floated down the street, I knew deep in my bones that if I had to sit in a room filled with other people, if I was placed in a situation where I might potentially brush up against a stranger’s arm while reaching for my Pepsi, that I would stop breathing. So we beat a retreat to A’s flat.
With her talent for making the best of a bad situation, A ordered a pizza and started streaming a TV show about a mother and a daughter duo and something extraordinary happened. What you have to understand is that the show is famously funny. Modelled on old screwball comedies, it had a joke rate of something like four-five quips a minute. Suddenly I realised that I hadn’t just lost my ability to speak, I’d retreated so deep inside my flesh prison that I could no longer even understand jokes. I sat and watched episode after episode of the show for hours and every time the raven-haired mom tossed off a joke with a little moue, there was the same grinding noise a car makes when it can’t start. I started doing what I used to do when I lived abroad in Paris for the year and spoke French to a degree of competence which was fine for everyday but inadequate for the important things in life (flirting, humour). I started waiting to see when A would laugh and HA HAing along half a second later. After a while A turned and looked at me for a long time, face creased with concern. “Are you OK?” she asked, perhaps mistaking my attempts to feign normal human laughter for breathing issues, and I grimaced a silent yes at her.
Have you ever seen the Jane Campion film The Piano? It’s about a beautiful mute Scottish woman, Ada McGrath, who instead of using words, communicates through her piano playing. It won a bunch of Oscars. Anyway. A part of me wondered if there would be some sort of cosmic compensation for no longer being able to talk, no longer understanding humour. Maybe I would have become an artistic genius, like Ada. I went to the toilet and tried to compose poetry on the notes app on my phone but the words kept slithering away from me. Later, looking at the note sober, I understood why Jack Kerouac’s novels are such trash. Writing high is bullshit!!!! or at least for me.
The trip went on for hours, as these things are wont to do. And while my now-sober friend then spent her birthday tidying her flat and ferrying me glasses of water because my mouth was so dry, I spiralled into the abyss. Eventually I recovered enough words to cry down the phone to my then-boyfriend who was at work and begged him to fake being sick so he could come and look after me. “You’ll be fine,” he kept saying, which was short for no.
It felt like I would feel that way forever. Like I’d have to spend the rest of your life navigating society minus words or jokes! But eventually I felt merely shitty, rather than apocalyptic. And eventually I felt a little better than that. And by the very next day I had both words and jokes again!
You may not, at this point, be surprised to learn that such a carefree, chill individual like your narrator occasionally suffers from depression. When I’m wrestling with a bad week, I think about my friend’s terrible weed birthday a lot. Not because I learned to love live laugh, but because sometimes depression feels eerily like that day. I’d always assumed that getting goofy on weed would be precisely that - the Broad City model of lighting up. Capers! Laughter! Two pals having a time! But actually, there was the exact same sense of tunnel vision I get when I’m entering the emotional abyss: a weird timelessness that has me convinced that I’ll feel that way forever. Like I’ll have to spend the rest of my life being trapped in the velvet maze of my own head, so divorced from any sense of humour that I can’t even sniff out a joke in an adorable mother-daughter comedy.
And it’s weirdly relaxing to reflect on that day - how despite being 200% convinced that this was how I would have to spend the rest of my life, that eventually I felt normal and - wait for it - even good and giggly again. Nowadays, I try and focus on weird weed birthday when depression comes knocking. This is it, depression whispers in my ear, cuddling up to me on a grey Sunday afternoon. Why try and outrun me? This is your default state. You’re never going to be happy again. But then I remember the breeze in my hair as I walked home from my friend’s flat and my flatmate making me the best sandwich of my life when I get home and that Rosemary’s Baby reference landing with such precision, exactly eleven hours after watching it, that I sat up in my bed in the darkness at 4am to emit a low honking laugh. And I think everything’s going to be okay.
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