Every 24 hours, we experience darkness. Every morning sunshine fills the day once more and the world keeps turning. We accept darkness as a part of everyday life and it is. We party in it, we watch films in it and we dine in it (at least we do in Shoreditch where any establishment that serves food is unnecessarily dimly lit).
But what if that darkness never lifts? What if, even during the day with the sun blazing, all we see is darkness? I was born and raised in Croydon, and yes, it is technically a part of London. I have worked across London for a decent chunk of that and I’ve been socialising in the capital for decades now. But I also suffer from anxiety and depression. Admittedly today it’s significantly easier to manage but there was a time when anxiety and depression took over me and darkness became the only thing I saw.
Now I know that sounds like a line out of an emo song from the mid 2000’s but trying to experience such an exciting, vibrant city when you’re at rock bottom with your mental health is near impossible. For me at my worst, London became a sprawling beast out to consume my body and my mind. During the day, it was a constant stream of commuters, rushing to get to and from work. At night, it was parties, pissed people in the street, fights, arguments, loud music and even louder smells. In my head was the perpetual thought that strangers were angry at me for walking too slowly, that I was in the way. The thought that I perhaps wasn’t a true Londoner. The thought that I was not even a worthy human being. That my family and friends hated me. That I should just let the darkness consume me. Why don’t I enjoy partying like a normal person? Why do I not fit in with the rest? Why am I weird?
Physically, the city became tough to bear. The red on the buses went from iconic to far, far too vivid, sickeningly bright. The sound of the tube hurtling through tunnels became more than just a little irritating, it became deafeningly painful. Every step became painful. Breathing became erratic, smells became repulsive, food became tasteless and energy was drained faster than my phone when I leave data, Bluetooth and GPS on at the same time.
Dark thoughts filled my head leaving little room for light. Love, excitement and passion dwindled. No matter what the time of day was, all I could see was a huge, grey, steel and glass void. This was a new kind of darkness and one that made the city an absolute ball-ache to handle. To a normal person, the city after dark is an exciting place. For a person with mental ill-health, the city after a dark time is hell on earth.
But with patience, hard work, professional help and supportive people around you, those of us with mental illness can learn to enjoy the kind of darkness that comes once every day and learn to banish the type of darkness that haunts us constantly. We can learn to love the city again. Even the piss drenched streets on a Saturday night, the angry rush hour commuters, the passive-aggressive baristas, the overpriced beer will be enjoyable again.
The city after dark can be a scary place when the darkness never seems to end, but it always does, eventually.