The fantasy of my life before I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder was a fusion of primal curiosity and creative fizz, but the private sadness was always there from an early age.
When I was a child, my solitude was comforting because it provided space and context for me to create art and stretch my imaginative sinew, but all of that changed as soon as I hit puberty. My supple interiority suddenly became leached of vividity. I developed a bottomless thirst for cheap booze and cigarettes and partying with the kind of deeply unimaginative, privileged kids whose finest hour will always remain rooted in their high school years.
When I became sick and was hospitalised, the silence and solitude turned prismatic. I simply couldn't speak for a spell because the trauma had hollowed me out. After I was released from the hospital, I was encouraged to not spend time alone—not because I was prone to self-harm, but because solitude had morphed into a synonym for loneliness, and loneliness was simply a fast-track train ride back to the psych ward.
This sacred and transformative part of my life, which was the ability to daydream and make art and lose myself in contemplative splendour, became perceived as a potentially dangerous pursuit. So my desperation grew wings. I found myself seeking companionship at every turn in a futile attempt to ward off the symptoms of psychosis.
I transmuted into a spectre, spooked by my own shadow.
When my book, 'Fairytales for Lost Children' was published, I couldn't enjoy its success because I was working triple-time to disguise my debilitating anxiety disorder. I refused to do face-to-face interviews or most events for fear of saying the wrong thing, opting instead for highly choreographed email correspondences.
Readers tell me again and again about how much the book has changed their lives, but all I remember about that period was how depressed I was.
After the promotional cycle of 'Fairytales for Lost Children' ended, I began keeping a journal. It was a simple endeavour. I wrote small encouragements to myself every day and it bloomed into a gently effective therapeutic ritual. It took some time, but I began to slowly decode decades of co-dependency and find freedom in my solitude once again. The time I spend on my own now has assumed this regenerative, almost alchemical tincture. My priorities have shifted radically and I now take care of myself simply because I can think clearly. I exercise vigorously, I eat well and I have built the most meaningful, healthy bonds. My life is a joyful one, but it took two decades of spirit-detonating labour to get here.
As I now move into middle age, something wonderful has happened. I feel the same sense of exhilaration I used to experience as a small child when I was left alone to draw. Forget canvases and primer, my current life, with its satisfying idiosyncrasies and quirks, is an exercise in creative fulfillment, which is a real reminder that living well and tending to the soil of our respective imaginations is the most tender, seductive spell we'll ever weave as human beings.
May you live long, beloved reader.
ARTWORK: The image illustrating this piece was created by Diriye Osman using a combination of artificial intelligence, digital paint and collage.
SONG OF THE MOMENT: 'Both Sides Now' by JONI MITCHELL.