As some of my readers may know (and some now) I have struggled with depression for some time.
Already autumn 2015 it started to get serious, really. I lost my intellectual sharpness in writing my ph d thesis. The texts I submitted to my supervisors was a kind of hit-and-miss, where I never quite could predict if they were good enough. Oftentimes they were not.
Spring 2016 my whole life came crashing down a deep abyss. The mother of my children left me – 3 weeks after we got married, on our 10 year anniversary – via email. I scraped by with a shorter period of sick leave, but with a monumental sense of failure. As scholar. And as a man.
Autumn 2016 I released my long-awaited and long-in-the-making musical debut album under my own name: Jonatan Bäckelie ”Darkness on the Edge of Ecstasy”. The record labels competed to be the one releasing the album. But when it finally arrived, 90% of my existing audience didn’t get it. At all. And the record didn’t reach a different, new audience either.
Around Christmas that year I started trying out anti-depressants. It helped very little. It numbed all feelings, positive as well as negative – and had terrible side-effects. I lost control over my weight. People started commenting on my weight; ”time to hit the gym, maybe?”, ”but Jonatan – you’ve become fat?!”. Yes, but at least I’m alive, I thought. All my life I’ve felt uncomfortable in my body. But now people joined in that choir, and confirmed that there was something wrong with it. Woe those who are fat.
So yes, I was alive. But what kind of life? I didn’t see any kind of purpose or point with being alive.
October last year I finally went on full-time sick leave.
An entire grown-up life I have done things that have become so wrong. An analogy would be to think of the body as a stack of credit cards with hefty credits granted, that had all been used to the max. Now it was time to start repaying that debt. But with what? There was no resources to repay this enormous bodily debt I had amassed.
Existential anxiety has always been pressing for me. A constant companion through life.
At the same time I’ve never had the desire to present myself as a victim. Maybe it’s an attempt to avenge myself. To exact vengeance on those who have bullied me through my upbringing. So I have shown my drive, my artistry, creativity, passion, intellect, my compassion and humor. Built a persona that seems like a strong, never resting engine. But it’s not true. Every night (practically every night) when I’ve tried to live up to that whole complex of positivity and strength, I’ve been drained and had nothing left. No energy. No joy. When that happens I have closed the doors around me. No one gets to see me, when I deafen my pain. No one gets to see my tears. Usually I screen phone calls during those hours, not willing to interact with others, not even wanting to hear the sound of my own voice.
The problem is that I’ve made even my friends believe in that image of ‘strong’ Jonatan. I have been the driving force in most of my friendships; somehow it’s been on me to be the person who calls, propose to meet, find time when it’s maybe not such a perfect time. Never cancel plans. So when my strength is gone, the phone is more quiet than ever.
Some have no idea what I’ve gone through. Because I haven’t done my usual part; picked up the phone to tell them. Others don’t call or don’t make time because they don’t know what to do. Probably because they can’t ‘fix’ me. Make me happy again. And if you can’t fix someone – what can you contribute with then? (Seems to be the logic.) What happens without warmth, inclusion, concern, open questions, a listening ear? Even when one is powerless to do anything about another persons abysmal existential pain.
When Avicii took his life earlier this year I saw a lot of updates on the theme ‘we have to start talking about mental disorder’. But people don’t want to talk about mental disorder. Above all, they don’t want to talk to people who suffer from it. I have seen priests offering some loose reflections about the general hardships of life, but when I reply to these people it’s clear that the human ‘messiness’ that exists in (my) reality doesn’t fit in very well with the facebook-thoughts, and the ordered reflections.
My truth is that I have done such a good job in projecting the persona, that most people have bought into that picture. How could they not, when it’s all I show them? The problem is that they, then, can’t accept or believe in the dark underbelly or the ‘secret Jonatan’ when I let that door open, ever so slightly.
My truth is also that most people – the audience, the listener, the colleague, maybe even the friend – want to have the artist (me in this case) balancing just on that thin line. Because that’s when the art is at its best. Then it’s possible to mirror yourself in it, in a powerful way. But as an artist who is for long periods of time entirely cut off from the reception of what I do, there is no feedback. No human at the other end that tells me what my art means to them. I don’t get to experience how people are touched and use my pain as a mirror. Maybe that is why so many of us fall down on the wrong side of the tightrope, and make the irreversible decision to end ourselves.
My experience is that I inhabit an impossible world. An impossible society. Where no one are self-sufficient, but where everyone desperately tries to be. I am definitely not self-sufficient. At the surface level I am surrounded by a network of people, but feel terribly alone and cut off, but taught the edict of projecting strength. The same thing most likely goes for a lot of other people; they too try to be self-sufficient, or at least project it, and dare not be interdependent. And in the struggle to become self-sufficient and embody that ideal, people put their head down and grind out work (whatever it may entail), but in the process miss out on human connection, in pursuit of the ideal instead.
As a man you’re not allowed to show weakness. Not even in a world-view where masculinity is problematised, there is the option of being weak. And you are not allowed to be seen as vulnerable, which is not the same thing. To be vulnerable is to be open to the emotions that comes with being human. Open to love, empathy, inclusion. But also to pain, anxiety and loneliness.
In this period of intense darkness I have tried to suffer in an acceptable manner.
To suffer in solitude but to share life’s joys and successes. New musical project – yey! Gig here are there – nice! But in my solitude, in my studio, there’s only me, the anxiety and the feeling of utter pointlessness. My art is the life-nerve for me. But it’s also pure survivalism. At the same time I’m held back by the image of the man that cannot show weakness. Because no one wants that man. Other than in mp3-format.
I have many thoughts about this. I feel that I have more to give other fellow humans than just the strong surface I’ve displayed for my whole adult life. A surface that has been put in place so I never again will be bullied, used as a prop, having my head pushed down the toilet, or taken advantage of in a business setting. No one should be able to use my vulnerability against me. But that no one should be able to push me down, has had the result that no one really gets to know me, fully. I constantly think in terms of how I fit in, how to be a version of myself that is palatable to other people. Instead of trying to be a version of myself that is as true as possible.
Henceforth I will lay out some thoughts about what I can contribute with. Analysis that are not just about me, my life, my anxiety, but about what my path through life has helped me to discover. Because of curiosity, an eagerness to learn and grow, but also because of the reasons I have stated above. These contributions comes not despite my vulnerability, but because of it. Because that’s who is on that journey. But then it’s important to lay this foundation. To start from the perspective of being a real person, a complete(-ish) person, not a social-media-adjusted person who is scared of the possibility that he hasn’t nourished his ‘online brand’ in the correct way. To hell with the brand. Instead you’ll get a possibility to see and get to know me.
To be able to express what the whole human being may be about and could possibly contribute with to your life, I will base that on my archetype (in a jungian sense). Which is the shaman/prophet. In my case I call him/the archetype Teologen. For a while now, I’ll be Teologen. To mark that the Jonatan Bäckelie you think you know is someone else. Here, you’ll instead get me, my artistry, my anxiety, my philosophy, my thoughts. This time I’m not going to be a heavily redacted human. I wont be only strong or only victim. Not only correct and not just provoking. Not just someone who is understandable but also give you pieces of mystery.
This time, you’re getting me.