Wynyard bus station. Sydney, Australia. The financial centre of the southern hemisphere. The queue to get on the buses which will take hundreds of corporate slaves like me to remote suburbs, stretches for almost a mile. A chilly June day. Gray, windy and utterly forgettable. In no way different from the endless hectic commutes on which I have wasted my life while working for this international airline that pays peanuts.
I look at my belt that barely holds back the tummy I’ve been building up by eating junk food on short lunch breaks. It is spilling over like dough filled with baking soda that has been left to sit for too long.
By now, you can tell what my favourite hobby is: self-loathing. I’ve been perfecting self-loathing since year 10 in high school. In the beginning, it was all about being gay and feminine. And not having a girlfriend. Today it’s all about being gay and looking average. And not having a boyfriend.
Around me another kind of pastime. Chatter about properties, pay rises and new diet regimes. Bankers, financial advisers, and zombies of all kinds nibbling their healthy snacks, salads and protein drinks from overused plastic containers and shakers. Getting ready for long evening gym sessions that should make this life on repeat at least a little more surprising.
Unlike mine, their shirts are not used to squashing multiple layers of fat, but to revealing the contours of perfectly carved abs, something I wasn’t able to accomplish even with hours of tutorials in photoshopping. I hate my body, but I can neither perfect it nor accept it. My body is like my life, messy, stuck, under construction, left for a better time to be dealt with by someone else … not me. I’m just tired of everything. Quite frankly, I am tired of being alive.
Finally, it is my turn to board the bus 246 to Mosman Bay. I scan my faded public transport pass and sit in the front row to storm out of the bus first. As usual, I put on noise cancelling headphones that help me … well … to cancel everyone out.
Initially, I bounce aimlessly from one news portal to another, knowing that I will inevitably end up on the Instagram feed of my ex-boyfriend Roman. A Fulbright scholar in bioengineering from Argentina who turned into an Instagram celebrity upon his move to Sydney. Roman has a new boyfriend, a bodybuilder named Scott, whom he met during a vacation in Spain. They seem happy posing at one of the local nude beaches. Just five months ago, Roman said he loved me as he had never loved anyone before, until one day he stopped replying to my messages for no reason. “
Scott is much better looking than you, I think for a moment, Roman did very well.
Tears drop down my face while my jaw trembles noticeably.
Stalking Roman’s Instagram feed has become one of the most thrilling stages of self-loathing. It burns everything inside me and leaves no prisoners. It tells me something I can’t get enough of – you are just an absolute failure. You failed at having a meaningful career, at having a boyfriend, you are renting at the age of 37 and you live in a city you absolutely hate but have no courage to leave.
I wasn’t always like this. People are not born depressed or lost. They are not weaklings who are not made of materials solid enough to sustain the ordeal of life. I am actually a war survivor. I’ve spent much of my life running for shelters while my hometown was carpeted by airstrikes. But Sydney, this beating heart of consumerism and its shallow gay community sucked the last droplets of self-esteem out of me. I am proudly defeated.
I don’t remember what happened next. It was so sudden that it sent my cognitive processing in overdrive. First, the deafening sound of our bus colliding with the wall followed by a brief silence. And then, screams of confusion of people in pain fighting to get out a wracked vehicle. I remember seeing a younger woman lying motionless on the bus floor coated in shattered glass like a Christian martyr deposed for worship in an altar in a small local church somewhere in Italy. I remember frantically trying to find my noise cancelling headphones that the impact of the collision shook off my head and sent a couple of meters away swirling. Suddenly, a passenger next to me nudged me gentle pointing to my bleeding shoulder. I got hurt and I didn’t notice a thing.
An hour later, me and a handful of passengers are waiting on a busy highway for an ambulance to take us to the nearest hospital for further examination. The lady coated in glass was airlifted a few minutes earlier as she is suspected to have broken her neck. I’m thumbing nervously through my phone book looking for a friend I can call and talk about what just happened. After all, everyone is calling someone. My shoulder is burning like hell and I’m barely able to raise my arm, but I’m more concerned about what I will tell my parents in Bosnia. As if this was all my fault.
The cat scan soon revealed a severe injury of my rotator cuff that would require surgery and months of expensive treatment.
Fine, I think, that’s exactly what I needed. A good excuse to cancel my gym membership that I’ve rarely used anyway.
But even more importantly, a legitimate reason to feel miserable. I no longer have to explain to people why I’m depressed despite my good fortune. It’s all there, written all over my left shoulder.
As my housemate drives me back to our apartment long after midnight that day, the streetlights begin to spin and blur, creating the most amazing spectacle of green halos. Are these the odd side effects of the ton of painkillers I’ve been given, or have I finally started losing my mind. If this is what nervous breakdown looks like, then a journey into madness is the most exciting thrill of one’s life.
But I was not going mad. I was on the verge of experiencing something even more life changing. The moment when everything comes together in a perfectly harmonious pattern and suddenly makes perfect sense. When you’re tired of all the bulshit you finally find the strength inside you to take that sudden U-turn and drive away in the opposite direction. Instead of doing what everyone else expected of you, you are prepared to say, no – thank you – go fuck yourself. I am doing it my way.
Mom, I don’t fucking care if you think I turned gay because of my dad’s “bad genetics”!
Roman, stick your weights up your ass! I’m not spending a minute longer pretending that I’m impressed with your boring meal plans.
Boss, your bonuses will not make up for the humiliation you’ve put me through every time you make me apologise to customers, I’ve done nothing wrong to.
It’s enough, people!
That night, I hardly slept a wink. Not because of that shoulder injury. I was busy planning what I would do as soon as the sun comes out. In the morning, I made myself a cup of soy milk cappuccino – I rarely drink coffee, but it was time to do it – I sat down and started working on my application for PhD studies in theatre. I was hoping to do my PhD in Melbourne, a city I had barely ever visited. It meant relinquishing a nearly 10-year corporate career, saying goodbye to exotic holidays and surprising year-end bonuses. It meant living on a miniscule student budget, sharing a room with a stranger, and seeing my family overseas on rare occasions.
But it also meant going to bed at night knowing that I did everything in my power to live this life as meaningfully as possible. I’ve seen many of my gay brothers take that same risk at some point in their lives. Unlike straight people, many of us don’t end up having families and have a life journey mapped out clearly for them at the moment they were born. Many will say that it is wonderful, that it is such a privilege. I don’t necessarily disagree. But I’m getting to the point in my life where I wish I had a house outside my two suitcases, I wish I’d know that’s it, it’s not great but it’s ok and I love it. I wish I’d finally find some peace.
And next time you dare to write on a gay dating app that you are looking for someone sorted, without baggage, please take a moment and think twice. We are all survivors. Growing up gay and coming out at such a young age is tantamount to child abuse. Spending the rest of your life trying to build a happy life with other survivors like yourself is often fraught with another type of trauma.
Let us take a moment to recognise that today. Let us embrace the broken and vulnerable within us and others.