Something strange happened to me this weekend.
Annie and I have been living together for a week or two. She moved out of her flat a while back when her contract ended and has been crashing at mine while she finds somewhere new. Annie and I have quickly become best mates; I love her to bits.
On Saturday morning we woke up together and lazed around for a few hours watching cartoons and finishing last night’s red wine, until eventually our rumbling stomachs compelled us outside into the crisp autumn air. We mooched to Hasenheide and sat in the park beneath a golden leafed tree and watched the people going to and fro, and then something very strange happened. Though I had woken up that morning elated and giddy, as I do most mornings (to night owl Annie’s perpetual annoyance), I was suddenly grasped by a powerful tendril of despair, sprung up from nowhere, now coiled tight around my poor old heart.
We bought some weed and smoked it we sat on the grass, and after a while I told Annie how I felt. We tell each other absolutely everything. I told her I suddenly felt full of self loathing and sadness, and I wasn’t sure why. It was very unpleasant and quite scary. I began to self-analyse out loud, theorising on the source of this strange bad feeling, probing around in my head and heart to figure out why the hell my mood had switched track so abruptly. It seems that over-tiredness and under-fedness and that nauseating millennial drip-feed of awful regressive social media news updates had conspired against me, and before I knew it I felt panicked and anxious and dark, like my soul had been shattered and glued back together with molten cobwebs.
I told Annie this as we sat under the beautiful old tree watching the quiet leaves fall. I suddenly felt very unsafe, and had no idea why. Annie rested her head on my shoulder and I held her hand, and I told her I felt empty. I told her I felt like I was wasting myself – I had so much to give to the world, so much I wanted to see and do, and through booze and parties and general debauchery, I’d lost sight of those goals. Everyone in Berlin experiences this sooner or later – the fear, the realisation, the turn-back-or-plunge-over-the-edge flirtation with mania and depression.
The thing is, all the lost souls move here. All the artists and musicians and writers and poets and DJs, all the ravers and hippies and punks, all the runaways and tearaways flock here, this strange Mecca for the clueless and beautiful and damned, and they move here for the energy of the place – I did it too; I moved here to find people who thought like me, who wanted something inarticulate, a strange, indescribable ‘more’. And everyone moves here, and you leap into the party, this giant sea of possibility and creativity – and after a few months, maybe six, maybe a year, though the fastest I ever saw it happen to one poor girl was four weeks – you realise that the sea is a whirlpool. You go round and around, and if you’re not careful, you drift into the centre of the whirlpool, and there lies the void.
The void is apathy. It’s burnout. It’s nothing. It’s when you’ve partied so much that nothing matters anymore, because your routine has dissolved and you’re not sober enough to care. It’s that dead-eyed stare you catch on the U Bahn from the souls that took it too far; they gave up everything and lost whatever they were in search of – they lost sight of the ‘more’ they moved here for. And they’re so far gone that they think what they’ve found is their ‘more’. Sex and drugs and techno, black clothes and a face like a slapped arse, and nothing to say that isn’t ironic. You can lose yourself in it, and that day in the park, under the golden tree, it dawned on me that I was dissolving.
You have to self-regulate here; nobody is going to do it for you. And like a headlong subway carriage the realisation hit me and broke me, and sadness flooded in unwelcomed. I felt like a stain on the gorgeous park, leaning against the ancient tree, a wasted jangle of bones and nerve endings and stupid know-it-all privileged ego. I held Annie’s hand and told her all of this, and she listened quietly and told me I am a good person. She was talking to me gently and I was trying to listen but I was so lost in my own head I couldn’t properly articulate ideas, and so for a while we just sat. And we watched the falling leaves.
We eventually stood up and headed for food, and we hugged for a long time before we left the park. Sometimes it’s as simple as a squeeze of the hand to remind you who you are, and that everything is not out of control. I told her I was going to write more often, and work harder, and look after my body better, and be a better person. Annie told me I already am a good person, but I don’t think anybody should ever believe that about themselves. I read somewhere that the moment you earnestly believe you are wise, then you cease to be. The same goes, I think, for kindness.
My heart settled down again as we ate fresh noodles and vegetables and chicken in a Vietnamese restaurant over the road. My darkness had reached the point of the absurd, and I couldn’t help but giggle at how morose I was being. I glanced over at the fish tank atop the counter next to the cash register, hoping they might cheer me up, and instead I saw there a very stiff goldfish, bobbing upside down. I nodded at the tank over Annie’s left shoulder.
“That fish is dead,” I said, interrupting a story she was telling.
She glanced over at it, then back at me, sitting there gloomy-eyed and haloed by thunderclouds. Then we burst out laughing. The food was delicious, and as my clouds parted we shared the kind of conversation that only two stoned best friends could possibly decipher.
“Annie, you know what I realised about you? You’re a jelly.”
“Okay. Why am I a jelly?”
“How you talk to people. I’ve been observing it, and you’re a jelly.”
“That door… it’s very mysterious.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
“What? But I haven’t even told you why it’s mysterious.”
“No, but I agree. It’s mysterious.”
“No it isn’t, I was being silly. It’s the most plain door ever. But the hinges are interesting. Look – it swings both ways.”
“Oh yeah. That’s weird.”
Then later still, on the train home, upon seeing a happy dog with its tongue lolling out:
“You know earlier, when I talked about the void at the centre of Berlin?”
“I think you can fill it.”
“Yeah, you can clog it up. With dogs. Fill the void with dogs.”
And so on throughout the day. Everyone has their strange days and their gloomy blips, and that afternoon was mine, and I’m sharing it because Berlin is not all roses, and to portray it that way would be a lie. It’s maddening living here; it’s appalling and obscene and agonisingly gorgeous, all at once, every day. But no matter how grey some days seem, I try not to worry too much. Because, as is fast becoming the refrain of my life, a lot can change in a day.