Local Stories #3 | Losing Hope. What Depression Lies Under A Heroin Smile?

I don’t like to tell many people that I go the gym fairly regularly now because I go through phases of completely lacking motivation, in part due to my depression, in part due to motivation being dedicated to other endeavours, such as my writing. I’m still not very fit but have lost considerable weight since the days of being a slave to corporate chicken chain and feel pretty comfortable with myself most of the time, apart from the bursts of confidence and dysphoria occasionally befalling me, apparently symptomatic of my mental health issues, although something I believe we all go through if not, less severely. Perhaps at some point I will write about my relation to my body (and food), not so as to give some male perspective that is lacking online, rather just because it is another part of myself that I have kept secret for years even from some of my closest friends, even myself at times (and confessionalism is popular). Anyway, I felt I would explain this after nearly writing “I was going to the gym, for the first time in years”… Now I can begin this post as intended and you will understand why I procrastinate from this type of post- similarly to how I did not take pleasure in writing the last “Local Stories”.



I was on the way to the gym today and, for the first time in years, as I made my turn past the theatre towards my gym, I deliberately rushed with my head down, pretended I did not see, feigned that my life was busy, all so I did not have to talk to a homeless person. Now if you’ve read my earlier posts or happen to know me personally, you might be wondering why, me being the type of person usually drawn to homeless people. In order to explain, I need to explain another local story from last month.
Last week, while on my way to the gym I spotted a homeless man sitting on the ground- we’ll call him Paulo. Paulo leaned his back against the wall of the corner, seeming content. I approached him, greeted by the realest smile from a stranger I’d seen in months. For nearly half an hour we chatted and a stranger even joined us, although, secretly I wished he hadn’t as I was increasingly struggling to tolerate his “life is what you make of it” spiel. I learned of the man’s intellectual aspirations and he showed me that among his belongings- a bag of, what seemed to me like, rubbish, a walking stick and maybe a couple of clothes changes- a massive old Oxford dictionary and some even more antiquated looking leather-bound books on religion, theology and philosophy. He told me of his desire to go to university and I agreed it seemed like it ought to be his vocation, so I offered him my phone number and email address, promised to email my university and see what, if anything, could be done to make this happen, and I left feeling somewhat hopeful- it was great motivational fuel for my run at the gym. On my way home, I saw him in the same place so bought him some food and repeated for clarity, that I was serious about asking around university for a way to get him into this world, a world which I nearly missed due to circumstances beyond my control which I have come to love (not the university, the world of knowledge that university puts you in contact with).
A few days later, after nearly losing hope, especially after the incident with the socks on the pavement, Paulo called me. I was so happy he called although disappointingly, I had nothing for him as the uni staff I had emailed had yet to respond (fairly though as most staff were on leave at this time) except to offer some old books I thought he might enjoy- “The DK Psychology Book” and “Tragic Sense of Life” by Miguel De Unamuno- books I’d read just before I got into my university. Unfortunately, he wasn’t currently in the city centre so I couldn’t give them to him, but he told me he would call again when he was around.
Last week, I took a walk around Plymouth’s Barbican for a change. I usually avoid it for as much as the sea is beautiful, I can’t turn off hearing the mundane drone of over-priced drinks in fake-traditional pubs being enjoyed- aural manifestations of middle-class white privilege that seem to rub themselves in my face. That stuff is only acceptable in first-person. I walked by a man sat on one of the docks begging to people passing by. I offered him some socks, the last couple of pairs I had on me, probably for some time looking at my future budget. He took them with barely a thanks and didn’t seem friendly so I continued on.
Finally to tonight and my encounter at the gym, one which I avoided. I am beginning to lose hope, finding cynicism everywhere, hoping that hope is something that only actors have, having to believe that I’ll have lost hope when I stop trying. On my way back from the gym, I said hi to the man I’d met before. Funnily enough, the last time I met him was in that place, outside the theatre on the day I saw “Labels”. That time, we had chatted for a few minutes. He was a lot more lucid last time, telling me about his situation, crying when I offered my embrace upon learning that he hadn’t had a hug in some time. In those moments, I am not sure whether I should cry or be Stoic. I am Stoic as long as I am in public. This time, he seemed like nothing could bother him and I didn’t let it bother me then, that I knew why. Most likely, he was off his face on heroin or some opiate. Eyes like pin-pricks, slurring his words like his wobbly walk but with normal gait and even arms- nothing immediate to worry about.
I didn’t know he would be in such a state. I avoided him before because I was feeling so sad with my last few interactions with the homeless people here in my city and didn’t want my affect to become contagion. Instead, now I sit, writing these words, trying not to wonder what sort of depression lies underneath the heroin smile.


Are these more stories better left unsaid? Will they just add to the right-wing rhetoric about these people deserving their places as part of the underclass? Even Paulo’s story could easily be misconstrued by a certain type of “Rationalist” that pervades the university, perhaps reducing his intellectual ambitions in theology to mental illness (and these same people who conflate theism with mental illness are the worst anti-intellectuals of all in my experience).

Maybe I am asking too much of the world, but not doing so might be admitting cynicism.

Let us keep hoping that I have happier local stories to come.

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