I’ve spent a lot of this weekend feeling sad. I was drinking cocktails with two close friends on Friday night, one of whom had been my flatmate for two years at university. We also spent a year in Syria together. We spent a lot of time together and she became like a sister to me.
I wanted to ask for her help. Syria is obviously on my mind these days. Fighting has reached Damascus. The sellers in the central market of the old city recently went on strike. That’s round the corner from where I used to live. I was friends with some of them. They don’t have much money. Here, look at this:
That’s where I lived and now look what’s happening just around the corner.
But I’ve forgotten so much. What I wanted to ask was that we get together and she helps to jog my memory. I ended up feeling worse. She told me about the family of five we saw on a motorbike in Jordan, waving merrily at us. She told me about when we were in one of Syria’s tiny, hot mini buses, dusty and sweaty, and we saw a mercedes drive past us, full of men in clean white dresses, looking at us through their sunglasses, air-conditioned to perfection. A friend rolled his eyes and just said with a sigh, “Saudis”. The entire bus, Syrians and English, fell about laughing.
You must remember that, right?
But I don’t. I had to go outside and drive my tears back. How could I forget that? It’s so Syrian. How could I forget? I’ve forgotten so much of my life, but those memories should be precious. Look what’s happening there. I want to write here, to show you what Syria is really like. When I went there nobody even knew where Syria was on a map. Now all they know of it is bombing and fighting and crying. No no no, that’s not all Syria is.
When I went out there I took a diary with me, full of different coloured paper. I wanted to record everything, to make sure I never forgot. But you see, I was actually very lonely there. I spent a lot of time on my own. My mental health deteriorated significantly and within a few months of coming home I started taking antidepressants. So my exciting experiences were snapshots surrounded by depression, loneliness and volatility. I couldn’t bear to look at it and I burnt it. I emailed my family once a week with my experiences and apparently made them laugh hysterically with my bizarre accounts of life but they’ve gone now because people have changed email accounts so much. They’re gone, my stories are gone, my memories are gone.
So how can I tell you what Syria is really like? This is a legacy of mental illness. I will have to live with the erosion of my memories for the rest of my life and that has hit me hard this weekend.
I did the best thing I could have done. I called my Dad. He told me that the loss of memory does not diminish my experience of that wonderful country, the country with the most welcoming, most eccentric people in the world. He told me to soak up what I can of my friend’s memories and hope for something to jog my own. He told me not to be sad, but to write about my Syria through the lens of mental illness, loneliness, sadness, fear. No rose-tinted glasses. The real impact of my life there, what has happened since and how my life has been forever changed.
I do feel sad, it’s hard not to resent what Bipolar has done to me, not to grieve for what I’ve lost. But I’m going to do as he suggests. So if you sometimes see some fragmented blogposts, some snapshot memories, that’s just me trying to remember and trying to show you what Syria really is.