on Art, not Apathy

There’s a sticker on my desk which I found recently, while sorting through some old books. It used to live on the door of my wardrobe in my teenage bedroom. ART NOT APATHY, it says, like that, in stark white capitals on a black background. There is no punctuation, no forgiving comma lending the sentence kindness. It’s not an entreaty or a question. It’s a command.

It used to be something of a motto of mine. I found the sticker in a short-lived leftie bookshop in Dublin that my schooldays best friend and I used to frequent. It had a brother, a similarly-sized READ BANNED BOOKS. That one was stuck on the outside of my bedroom door (a move that, in retrospect, I don’t particularly understand, as the only person in the house who had any interest in the emancipation or reading of banned books lived behind that door).

I should throw it out. It’s been sitting on my desk for weeks, and I have no intention of doing anything else with it. At 23 I am certainly no artist, and not a particularly great advertisement for the redemptive powers of Belief in Art, either. At 16 I believed that if I wrote hard enough and sang loud enough and loved a dozen hairy indie bands with a fervent enough love, I could keep the nascent depression at bay inside my head – that it just wouldn’t have enough space to work its claws into my brain.

Seven-almost-eight years of therapists and breakdowns and meds and sputtering brain outages later, I think I can declare that strategy a failure.

I’m not sure where to go from here.

Most days I feel like a cloud of apathy in the rough shape of a woman. I am currently what I believe is referred to as a ‘functional depressive,’ or, as I was recently told by a mental health professional, ‘well, you’re eating and sleeping, so you should be fine’. It might be more accurate to say that the depression is the only thing functioning. The rest of my brain has grown somewhat dormant (as it will, if the only neural pathways one is exercising are those that relate to pain: experience and avoidance thereof).

I could do – couldn’t we all? – with regaining some of my bulletproof teenage exterior, where the only reasons that people didn’t believe in the same Very Important Causes/Media/Figures that I did were that a) they hadn’t been converted zealously enough, or b) they were just incontrovertibly stupid. I want to go back to that sixteen-year-old and tell her to bottle some of that idealism while she still has it. I wonder what she’d think of her slightly heavier, infinitely more under-eye-bagged self from almost a decade on. I get the feeling she’d be awfully disappointed.

So there’s the reason I haven’t thrown out that sticker yet: it’s a goad, a self-inserted thorn in my side refusing to allow me to fall complacently into this greyscale rut I’ve had built for me. I’m not aspiring to anything as grand as Art, for right now. For now, I just want to try and shake off this apathy.


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