Just over a year and a half ago, I moved to Berlin in search of a better life. I had dropped out of university back in the UK just a couple of months before the finish line; the pressures of fourth-year study had escalated my depression to the point I could barely leave the house anymore, reducing me to an excuse-making, deadline extension-requesting nervous wreck.
The desire to write was my singular beacon of light, calling me out from the darkness and giving me something to reach for again. I began writing unpaid articles for magazines whilst grinding at a minimum-wage retail job – but a year passed and nothing had changed. The light faltered. I became a weekender, relying on the toxic delirium of Friday and Saturday nights to afford me a few moments of temporary relief before being plunged back into uncomfortable reality. I knew I had to break the chain to save myself, so I took one last-ditch risk, using all my savings to relocate to a city I knew would nurture the faint flame of creativity flickering within me, despite not speaking a word of German.
Initially, it paid off. As if some unknown force was rooting for me, I received an unsolicited job offer and began my copywriting career at a Berlin start-up company. For the first time in a very long time, I woke up feeling excited about each new day – which new places would I discover today? Who would I meet? I felt so lucky to have been afforded the opportunity to write for a living; to start afresh on a bright new course. However, just a few months in, amidst the trepidation of finding a permanent home in an incredibly competitive accommodation market, depression crept in to overcome me once again.
Waking up with daily panic attacks, I couldn't find the strength to make it to the office most days, working remotely instead. My standard of work was unaffected – in fact, the work was a welcome relief. However, frustration began to build when I realised that much of my massive output of work and ideas was being ignored due to structural issues and incompetence within the company. I was made to feel guilty for not coming to the office despite being a freelancer, contractually permitted to choose my locale.
Whenever I won the battle with myself to make it in, I was further demotivated by the negligence of my colleagues who, despite constant complaints about my absence, would never utilise my presence. I was an outsider anyway; I couldn't be the smiling Susan who loved nothing more than cliquey staff lunch breaks and a pat on the back from a patronising old man. I couldn't tune into their normality through the deafening white noise. Ultimately, the company dropped me this June with no prior notice, and at the worst possible time: when my first year's tax return was due.
Leaving was sickly sweet: a release of all the pressure and pent-up frustration of being a neglected work horse, but also gutting indignation, coldly cast off because I failed to be one of them. Being a freelancer in Germany, I am not entitled to state welfare, and since I was working full-time, I had no other contracts to supplement my income. I later learnt that the company should have never been allowed to “employ” me this way; they had taken me on as a freelancer to save money and legal responsibilities.
I had been saving up the money for VAT and income tax payments to the tax office, but when I unexpectedly lost my contract, I had to use all of that money for rent and living costs. I now urgently owe the tax office nearly 3000€, and since I am unable to commit to a repayment plan, I am being threatened with the imminent repossession of the only few things I own. I could also be obliged to repay around 18 months of health insurance payments as I failed to sign up to the system due to my low income. And that's not to mention the icing on the cake of returning to my flat one day to find a smashed bedroom window that I have no money to fix.
But despite being kicked into the stinking brakeless wheelie bin of financial disaster – now not even covering my rent on a part-time minimum wage gig at a start-up magazine – I'm feeling more positive about my future prospects than ever. I'm writing – I'm writing stuff that actually means something. I am beginning to overcome my depression by putting it on paper – I'm even planning to write a book that aims to drag the mental illness beast out from under the bed and poke fun at it in broad daylight. I want to make a change in the world and bring a little bit of light to those who feel as helpless as I used to feel, but right now I desperately need a helping hand.
My current existence is the struggle of having one foot stuck in the depression mud whilst the other is obdurately trying to walk away. I'm stuck in a stasis between two worlds, and I'm worried I won't be able to fight much longer before I, and my ambitions, are sucked into the quicksand whole. I need a helping hand to pull me free from its clutches so that I can finally leave it all behind and walk on to tell the tale with the pride of having survived. Right now, I stand to lose everything. My story is the story of too many others; the story of how mental illness can so quickly snowball out of control and decimate everything in its path; the story of a seemingly never-ending struggle that feels like a cruel curse from some Machiavellian witch.
I am at war with both interior and exterior forces which are slipping further out of control. Ultimately, whether I survive (and thrive), or get chewed up and spat out by both depression and the system, comes down to money. Without an urgent cash injection, I will be defeated by both; instead of progressing in the direction of my dreams, I'll face an extremely uncertain and unstable future. I won't even have a mailbox to unlock fearfully each day. By investing in me, you are also investing in others; you're setting a precedence for what can happen when somebody so beaten down musters the courage to ask for help; you are investing in the potential of mental illness sufferers to turn their pain into a positive means of helping others.
I plan to write regular updates on my progress, documenting every step of my survival journey so that you can witness the transformative effects of your kindness in real time. Together, we can show everyone that there is a way out of the darkness; that despite our crippling self-doubts, there are so many people that care. Let's stoke up a roaring fire to roast that evil witch in.
Thank you for believing in me.
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