It was National Coming Out Day yesterday when I posted about Mental Health Day ahaha
What the fuck, is it National Leo Themes Month or some shit? I can only type so fast!
And believe it or not, I’ve been reading loads about gay shame lately. And again, this is the kind of thing you mention and I know anyone reading this would be like, “That’s terrible! There should be no such thing”, but it might even be the natural outcome of living life in a society not set up to benefit you—or one in which the majority without even noticing imply that the way they live life is the best way simply because most people do it that way. Even without the epic weights of gay-targeting pandemics, criminalisation and stigma.
But anyway, before I get into it, I once saw in a review of a James Baldwin book, “Imagine what amazing things he could have written if he hadn’t had to dedicate so much time to the analysis of racism.” So that’s really what I struggle with: adequately voicing my dissent against homophobia while at the same time wanting to spend my time and energy on stuff that isn’t bullshit. I just can’t spend too much time on other people’s hatred. And a little wariness at sounding militant and putting people off spending any time with me at all—I don’t know if this is a real concern, but if it is, it certainly wouldn’t indicate that I live in an equal society if I was being judged on separate criteria from straight people, right? Maybe you’ve hardly thought about it. I know I try not to.
So anyway, quick-fire round (no pun intended): I should never have been in sex education classes where the teacher mentions that some pupils think all gay people should be shot. I should not have had that said to my face by someone else: “You know I used to think all gay people should just get shot. But I see now you can still have fun!” I mean, what the fuck? Would you like a list of types of people I would like to see shot? That list is empty. And I hardly like anyone!!
I should not have had people use the word “gay” to mean “broken” or “lame” used around me. When I came out, I shouldn’t have had it questioned? It was difficult enough bringing it up, and I hadn’t gotten it wrong, but what would it have mattered if I had? You think I would have been like, “Are you telling me I kissed all those boys for NOTHING?!” Hahaha… Except I didn’t even kiss any boys until I was like 17!! All that shame about my nature combined with stupid homophobia probably keeping others around me from coming out. Do you realise how much kissing I could have done otherwise? Shame on YOU!!
It’s easy to feel grateful to those who historically have fought for my rights, but nobody could feel thankful that they had to. Adults loving one another is beautiful and should only ever be promoted and celebrated in all its forms. As far as I can be bothered working out, I think it was okay for huge swathes of history before crusaders decided Christianity was the answer for everyone. Jesus is a major cock block, just sayin’…
Kiss men, women, non-binary and trans people—and just focus on the kissing while you’re doing it, right? Don’t be all like, “What does this mean about me? What shall I now call myself? What will others think?” Nobody should fucking care. From my experience, most people talk about the stakes of their life as if they’re much higher than they are. Nobody is watching, and if they are, they shouldn’t be. There has been far too little kissing going on. Worry about that!!
Oh and for all the time it took those around me to grow and accept gay people, I’d just like to point out that from the moment I met my cat, she didn’t care. She likes to sleep on Juan because he’s cosier. That’s her only observation. I don’t know what to make of this but it seemed relevant
I see it was World Mental Health Day yesterday! (A Sunday in October? Yes, good time to be aware of it!)
I have some thoughts
I take an anti-depressant every morning! I started early 2020, I think? It was after Xmas 2019 where my full-blown Dad grief came back and I thought, gladly, that it was no longer “productive” or “meaningful” to go through that much pain again. See, I had to go through it for the first six months or so after losing my dad because that was a normal or healthy response to what had happened, I suppose. I don’t think anyone would have prescribed me anti-depressants then, nor do I think they would have been a good idea. But I “resurfaced as myself” at some point after that, so when all that pain came back again full force it was like, “Alright, enough of this.” I truly don’t think I would’ve survived another round of it.
I’ve also had pretty bad seasonal affective disorder my whole life too, and at the very least I never want to go through another winter without anti-depressants. (Given that you need to take them months after you feel better, and start taking them pre-emptively again before the winter starts, I might as well just take them my whole life. Who cares if I have to?) I even told my family I wanted to switch my birthday, December 13th, to my half-birthday, June 13th, because I never had anything to celebrate in winter. They managed once but Mum took it as a personal insult that she didn’t get to celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday. Mum disclaimer, she was great etcetera, but I didn’t know about boundaries, growing up.
Side note: I knew advanced calculus but I didn’t know about boundaries? What the fuck were they teaching us? And why were so many of them such dicks? No wonder it took me so long to realise that what I was feeling WASN’T NORMAL when school life was so boring, petty, alienating and often run by people who have let the teeny tiniest amount of power go to their stupid heads. But I don’t let adults off the hook for not realising that life is what we make it, not what it appears to be. Experiencing bad behaviour is no indication of “how things have to be done.” It’s not an excuse for its perpetuation.
I mean, what could be more mine than my birthday, right? Still today I celebrate it on my actual birthday out of not wanting to cause a fuss, on a day to me that has more often than not felt like “The lights are out, the world is over, ALL IS LOST, DEATH DEATH DEATH” because I’d hate to be impolite. (Doesn’t feel like that anymore though: anti-depressants!)
Maybe all this does surprise you. It’s scary to me how little people notice the difference between my medicated and unmedicated versions. It’s more of a reassurance to them, not me, when they say I “have never been that bad.” Trust me: I have. It’s my depression, so I guess I can say I am glad to have spared others the pain that was in my own head (thus far, here’s hoping the pills keep working), though it probably came at my own further expense. It also makes me feel I really am alone in my vigilance against my own depression, because most people either don’t want to see it or they can’t. If this is new to some, I’m sure they’re very sorry I ever had to feel that way now, but they weren’t at the wedding/birthday/dinner/party when I was ever so quiet or mopey or legitimately-unable-to-attend-leave-me-the-fuck-alone-not-everything-is-about-you.
You’re so quiet, Leo!
You’re welcome! You did not want to know what was going on in my head.
Why did you stop drinking? Was it as a personal challenge to my own alcohol consumption?
What a weird way to have thought about it! Actually I stopped because PAAAAIIIINNN and DEEEAAAAAATH and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHSTUPIDSTUPIDSHAMESHAME.
Some people around me know all this. Some might be surprised to hear that I still take anti-depressants, because I tapered off them during the summer. It didn’t last! The depression came back, and in a way that was different enough from how it had previously presented for me to not immediately notice. It’s a sneaky one, I tell you. Luckily I still had anti-depressants left so I started taking them again on the off chance that what I was feeling was a new expression of depression—a leap of faith as big as having taken the pills in the first place. Before the pills started to work again, I was fully convinced that they wouldn’t and nothing would ever be the same again and I was trash and all that. Everything I thought I had “learned”, I hadn’t. It was what the medication gave me. Anyway, the only success is my own healthy mental wellbeing, not how it is achieved. If I had stopped taking medication for good, it would have been no kind of victory.
In telling you all this, I don’t feel like I’m “confessing” anything. FINALLY! Depression has had me in a shame-bind for too long! “Confession” assumes I had something to be ashamed of. Should you be ashamed of having to wear glasses? No, your eyes just need a bit of help to see clearly. My brain has an aversion to its own serotonin for some reason. Unfortunately the symptom, unlike poor eyesight, is not that everything looks a bit blurry, but that the world is drained of hope and possibility, the past and the future disappear and all there is is the ever-painful present, OH LORD WHAT A CURSE IS CONSCIOUSNESS, EXISTENCE IS A MISTAKE!
I was reading this non-fiction book by a therapist recently where he was like, “Anti-depressants might keep you in a life that is non-ideal by making you numb to signals that your body is giving you that something is up and you need to fix it.” I think you can agree that’s not the case for me. I’d wake up in my own bed, in a flat I own, beside my husband and cat, about to go to my stable job and think “PAIIIINNN!! ENDLESS PAINNN!!” I’m not really sure what that signal was supposed to mean, do you? I think it’s best to get that out the way so I can go about my day, frankly!
I don’t know who invented anti-depressants but they are all absolute geniuses. It’s like self-worth in a pill. Some of us can’t affirm ourselves happy in the mirror. Going for a walk is a nice idea but to do it you have to get out of bed. Some of us can’t. And when we can’t, you can’t argue against our perfectly legitimate reasons for not bothering our arses.
In my writing, where possible I’ve tried to create sympathetic mentally ill characters. I was particularly pleased about my own character in TrutherNet when audience members said, “No, I don’t want to sympathise with him, he’s so toxic!” Yeah, cause he needs it most!
It’s a toughie! Our horrible behaviour is protection against the love and support we feel we don’t deserve. In earlier parts of this post I might have given voice to my frustrated depressed self who wasn’t receiving the help he needed, but the truth is, we are crafty at avoiding it.
So no, I don’t know the answer, and overall really I am saddened that all of us, either experiencing mental illness or being around those who experience it—everyone, then—are burdened with this thing we have to deal with, without which life would be so much more… joyous, I guess. I don’t know about you but there is this oddly idealising wee guy inside me who can’t stop wishing life wasn’t so damn unfair.
If you’re able to read this, I love you (in some way) and I know you’re doing your best. Keep it up. The world is so much better with you here
This time we’re talking about storyboards 🙂 We recently made “Face Boy”, our third feature film, and I storyboarded it completely before we shot it. How did I do that? And how did I get away with NOT doing it for two whole films before that??
Three years ago yesterday, my wee dad, Charlie Robertson, passed away. It was sudden and (relatively) unexpected, but given that we all survived the heaviest grief, not the worst way to go out: having a lovely dinner with a friend in London, officially the most internationally convenient place for his three kids to fly from around the world, convene and sort out the funeral arrangements. So I guess my stance in retrospect is—could have been worse.
What followed the news of Dad’s passing was maybe a weird month of peace—shock, probably. I even tried to go into work the next day but they made me go home. I said, “I just want things to be normal.” They said, “Leo, this is not normal.”
Which didn’t make any sense to me. What’s more normal than a person dying? And what was I supposed to do at home anyway: feel really bad without distraction?
But I had no energy to debate, as you can imagine. I couldn’t be at work but I couldn’t be at home. I didn’t want to be anywhere at all, but there was no solace to be had. I get that. I was familiar with it, in fact, having already lost Mum. When I got the news about dad I thought, “Well, say goodbye to a year at least.”
After the month of peace came minutes upon hours upon days upon weeks upon months of excruciating pain, with the occasional eye-of-storm peace again—if only to ensure I stayed alive so the pain could keep feeding off me the next day. “When grief starts, it’s so big,” someone told me once, and I saw her looking up at it, the grief, as I once had. A big boulder of it crushing me into the ground. I’d get off the couch or bed and lie on the floor, where I found it comfiest. The place of least resistance.
You become the worst version of yourself: instantly embittered and blind to almost all good. People will kindly tell you, “No, you weren’t like that.” To which I think, “Oh yeah I was. But it seems like I managed to spare you from it, thankfully.” And at what cost? Perhaps I should’ve raged more, for what good it might have done.
You might do things while bereaved that scare you, that are unexpected or out of character. But this is emergency mode: the point is not, currently, to build a good life but to get to tomorrow. You would have to do something pretty bad for me to judge you.
I’m aware I’m not holding anything back, here. But this is par for the course of any standard grieving experience, and the bereaved don’t have energy to care how hard it is to hear. The least we can do for the grieving is listen without judgment. That it’s scary to others is far from the point. Besides, it shouldn’t be. This experience might have been unbearable—seemed unbearable, since it evidently wasn’t—but I don’t think there was anything special about me for having survived it. You could do it too.
When I lost my mum, I started writing, because she was an English teacher and loved books. My dad loved films, so I started a filmmaking club. I didn’t have any skills, but that hadn’t stopped me writing. I had a smartphone and nothing to lose. Success was being alive. Anything else was a bonus.
Eventually, once I was far enough away from being in so much pain I thought it would drive me mad, I wrote about it. This became Burnt Portraits, which I made over last Christmas with a newly developed skillset and, more importantly, new friends. (And it recently premiered at the Dead Northern Film Festival!)
Dad would be so proud. But if Burnt Portraits was written because of losing my Dad, then he and that work cannot by definition coexist, just as there’s no coexistence of my mum with the books of mine she would be proud of. But it’s nice to think you’re doing positive, rewarding things for yourself and others that you wouldn’t otherwise have done if something tragic hadn’t happened. It means you have managed what once you probably thought impossible: forging meaning out of apparent meaninglessness.
There is still a rawness close to my surface that has not yet dissipated. Like falling accidentally into cold water, that first gasp, and then you stay like that for years. If you want it to go, you just have to wait. And the way out is not back to how things once were but forward into something new, whatever that might be and no matter how tiresome it is to find.
I remember this from losing my mum, and I remember that it fades. But that takes time, and then some more time on top of that.So much of life is spent grieving and mourning. For paths that didn’t pan out, lost relationships, people you used to be that you liked being but can’t be again.
But because I know this to be a fact, I no longer find it sad. Most people have ten fingers, two eyes and spend a lot of time grieving. These are facts about humans. Why get mad that the sky is blue? It just is. Do you really like blue, or have you learned to like it because you had to? If you’ll never know, have no choice in the matter and have found a way for it to please you—what’s the difference?
When I die, in my honour I want you to go create all those things you kept talking about doing one day. Write that novel, start that company, call that loved one. Or whatever. You know what to do, you just pictured it. Then again, now would be the time to do it. All of us have limited time, but given the above, I have none at all for excuses!
Much to my surprise, two free previews of my work have appeared at the same time!
First was an extract from my short story, “Bar Hopping for Astronauts“, published in Pulp Literature‘s Spring 2021 edition. It’s about a lonely astronaut trapped in his achievements of yesteryear who, after a sudden trauma, is forced to reinvent himself once more. I’m very proud of this story: I put a lot of work into building its world, and it’s a pretty optimistic and sweet story (which from me are unfortunately rare, I’ll work on that :D)
Then there’s “Echo“, an upcoming novel of mine published by Stori. Echo is about a British ex-pat in Norway who starts a whirlwind romance with a guy she meets at a party. The sudden influx of drama in her life as a result is far from coincidental…
The first THREE chapters are available on the site for free!!
This is more typical of me—acerbic, blunt, and I imagine quite a shocker too! (It’s hard to shock me with it—I wrote it!)
Stori is a brand new outlet and app that’s launching soon and “Echo” is one of the launch titles! Isn’t that awesome? Here’s a sign-up sheet if you’re interested in joining. I’ll definitely check out the other titles!
As of today, Juan and I have been married for 10 YEARS!!
Here is a photo of us in our same flat in Stavanger, taken in October 2014. I must have signed the mortgage papers some months earlier. I did not really understand them. I didn’t know how to calculate how much I had to pay per month or if I could. I was probably scared I couldn’t make the payments, so I chose—not to investigate further! I’m sure they explained all this to me at the time, but I was still in “fake it til you make it” mode and was probably too afraid to show that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Or thinking, “I’m supposed to pay for twenty five years? I AM twenty five! How am I supposed to bind myself to a decision like that?”
These last ten years have been, at times, TERRIFYING! Anyway, I guess I followed my intuition on that decision and that it was the right one. I don’t feel like I have a very strong intuition, but there are a few times when it has been correct and I have known it enough to make big decisions I did not fully understand that later proved themselves to pay off.
At age 13 it told me, “You’re gay.” I thought, “Fuck. Okay. Ugh.*” Sometimes people have asked me how I knew—was it someone I was attracted to? No, it was my brain saying “You’re gay you’re gay you’re gay” over and over. If I hadn’t taken it to be a fact I might have thought it was bullying me. But it was right!
Just a few weeks after I had met Juan, my intuition told me, “This guy has to stay in your life forever. Best case as your partner, but you could also settle for friend.” I was like, “Bit of a practical way of telling me I’ve found my soulmate but okay, noted**.”
And hey, it was right about that too.
I don’t know how we got through the last ten years alive, let alone together. Jesus, I lost both my parents, which I could choose to ruminate on until I never stopped screaming about how unfair it is—but unfortunately I have to park that thought forever if I want to, say, enjoy a morning coffee or play videogames. I hope loss provides others with some resilience, but I don’t think it does, given that each loss is unique. For me, the second loss was even worse. I think because I’d erroneously lured myself into feeling like we were done with the whole “losing a parent” thing for a few decades at least. We’d already punched that hole in the family suffering score card. But apparently not. What the fuck, universe?! Maybe the universe provideth me such a lovely partner before either of these losses so I could better get through them, but it feels unfair to test a young marriage with hurdles so enormous that even one of them can outright break a person.
But there was Juan by my side, just being Juan. A bundle of social energy and joy. An embodiment of gratitude. A personal champion. A big kid. Even in the worst times, never a day without laughter. A collector of objets that he imbues with favourite memories and meanings with which he fills our home. He didn’t need to do anything differently, anything more. Never does. I know who I married. That’s who I want.
And here we still are. Which gives me confidence we can weather anything together in future***.
There is surely a growing trend of people reconsidering marriage based on the fact that, no, you can’t know for sure that you and this other person will want the same things forever. This undoubted fact is often spouted, carelessly, by young men in their twenties who don’t read enough. They act like they’re the first people to have ever realised this. As opposed to only just realising what everyone has always known about marriage. What the kind partner who listens to them probably knows as they, nevertheless, collect wedding inspiration photos on a secret Pinterest board. It’s a leap of faith. One that I know was worth making.
It really helped me to remember at times that one day someone had signed a certificate to be with me forever when I felt, in the midst of hideous grief, that nobody wanted me around. You can’t know you’re doing it for that, can you? You’d hope you weren’t!
Ugh, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on, or why, or what to say about it. I know that I know way less than I thought I did ten years ago. Then again, enough has happened by now for me to forever be glad I civil partnershipped Juan, then upgraded to ruining the sanctity of marriage at a later date. Or would’ve ruined it if only I knew where our certificate was, it’s in a box somewhere…
Ten years ago, we didn’t need to know what the next ten years would hold for us. We just needed to know, and remember, that we really wanted to go through them together. In a best case scenario. But also settle for friend if needed
*I hope to be part of one of the last generations who react that way about the news.
**In Alain de Botton’s brilliant book Essays in Love, he evaluates the statistical improbability of anyone finding their soulmate, disproving the concept from a mathematical perspective. Which I actually find pretty cool. I don’t think anyone sensible believes in the soulmate destiny thing—but I know that when you meet someone you can spend the rest of your life with, THAT’S HOW IT FEELS. And, my God, that’s good enough for me.
***But I already had that, so can I have my parents back? No? Right then.