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Off the beat

Mug of Imad Pasha, who just graduated from college

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Since starting as a staff writer at The Daily Californian almost exactly two years ago, I’ve written around 50 articles. The pieces themselves are nothing special — primarily a mix of film and concert reviews, interviews and the occasional culture short or longform. But what I’ve realized is that, when I try to look back at my last two years, I do it through the context of those pieces.

Depression is a funny beast. It has this tendency to put you on autopilot, even while you make attempts to engage. That translates over to memory — or a lack thereof. I honestly cannot remember most of my freshman or sophomore years of college. Stuff just doesn’t stick. It’s both frustrating and deeply upsetting, to feel that hole where happy — or at least interesting — memories are supposed to be.

There’s plenty of reasons why it happens, most of which have to do with neuroplasticity and pattern separation in the hippocampus, and other variably complicated chemical and neural processes that numerous discussions with my mother (who’s a doctor) and my therapist haven’t quite illuminated. It kinda sucks, though, the way things so clinically, anatomically and logically quantifiable can make us feel so awful and empty.

My therapist always recommended writing in a journal, every day if I could. I never did it, not out of rebellion but because most days I couldn’t think of what to write and spilling my “feelings” felt both cheesy and difficult given that I generally felt like I was feeling nothing. But looking back, a wiser me can see at least one kernel of helpfulness in that advice.

The fact that I’ve written 50 pieces for the Daily Cal in two years is more than just a signpost. Captured within each article is a snapshot of feelings I never noticed in the moment. The concreteness of knowing that I — me, my real, human self — was at a Guster concert on February 2, 2016, is a stability of memory I’m not used to.

When I reread my articles, memories start to reemerge. I can recall walking around an empty classroom in Campbell Hall, on the phone with a band member of Guster for our phone interview, trying to think of questions. I can remember being driven back to Berkeley from San Francisco after the band’s ridiculously long set, and the half-eaten pizza sitting on the car’s dashboard. Ultimately, the mundanity of those moments doesn’t matter; what matters is that remembering anything at all makes me feel, in that moment, so much less broken.

My friends have learned to prompt my memories via those moments. They might say, “Oh, you were working on this article at the time,” or “Oh, this is when that ‘Moonlight’ longform published.” And just like that, I’ll remember sitting in whatever coffee shop or campus building writing it. The foggy haze of the autopilot lifts. And slowly, I’ll build out from that moment and construct something resembling a life not devoid of all meaning or engagement, and remember more than I’d have thought possible.

I suppose, in retrospect, what I’ve done here is actually write about my feelings. It’s a scary thought, given this isn’t one of those “private journals” my therapist kept pushing. But I tell myself that I wouldn’t hide or be ashamed of a broken leg or collapsed lung. Some fucked up neurons and unbalanced chemicals are no different.

So maybe, if you find yourself relating to any of this, try writing a review. To hell with writing about your feelings — it’s too hard and too frustrating. But write about a new movie you enjoyed, or a new album by an artist you like or hate. Share it with your friends, not to show off the quality of your writing, but to cement that writing’s existence in the real world. Give yourself the roadmap to find yourself later, because as empty as things feel now, our words have the power to convey that we are far from empty, even if only a future, more removed version of us will be able to see it.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.