This month has become insanely busy. I’ve known for a while that it was going to. The jury service citation was an unexpected curve ball, I’ll admit. But I knew I would have Beltane, I knew I would have the festival I’d decided to return to, and in between them I accepted a work conference trip that I probably wouldn’t have tried to cram in if it wasn’t my favourite conference being hosted in my favourite country.

I’ve been feeling excited about it all since March or so (well, maybe not the jury service). But I’m also starting to feel like I’m desperately trying to fill a void that can’t be filled, or at least can’t be filled with activities like this, no matter how fun they might be in the moment. I was buzzing in the lead up to Beltane last week. The night went well, I felt more confident in my stewarding duties than I’d expected to, and the atmosphere on the hill was electric as always. But afterwards… I just felt deflated. I wandered around the after party like a zombie, not really taking in what was going on around me, then left.

That post-festival droop is a known phenomenon among Beltane participants. The “Beltane Blues”, it’s called. In fact, my first group organiser warned me about it before I even did my first Beltane ten years ago. It’s understandable to feel a little lost when several weeks of your life has been dominated by the build up to this epic event, working closely together with others in pursuit of a common goal… and then suddenly it’s all over. But I can’t help feeling like it’s connecting with a deeper angst right now. I think the blues is my default state, and has been for a long time.

For years it really was just the blues. Then I discovered (maybe 10-15 years ago now) that if I packed in as many (metaphorical) Beltanes as possible, I could feel that buzz some of the time, and the blues only intermittently in between. It was a huge improvement to not be feeling depressed the entire time, and to date it’s still the only way I’ve found to accomplish that. But it’s also only treating the symptoms and not the cause. Lifting me up, but in the knowledge that what goes up has to come down. Papering over the cracks. Or papering over the insatiable void underneath.

I guess a lot of people who’ve suffered from depression will be familiar with the insatiable void. But I suspect everyone’s void is a bit different, and I’ve never spoken to someone who had exactly the same idea of it as I do. Mine is a void in time. A missing chunk from my past, where there should have been life, but instead there was just blackness and pain. A slice of roughly seven years, excised from what should have been the peak time of having fun, forming bonds, finding my way in the world. It’s heartbreaking now to look back at the life before the void: flawed, yes, but in a normal way. Still a life that felt whole and complete and right, a life where I could feel genuine contentment, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.

Life after the void has never been like that. For a while I didn’t even think there COULD be life after the void, so I suppose the fact that there is is positive. But it’s never felt the same. It feels disjointed now, rootless, adrift on a vast ocean. And don’t get me wrong… some of the people I’m adrift with are amazing, and some of the experiences I’ve drifted through have brought me genuine joy. But… there’s no lasting contentment. No sense that all is fundamentally well with the world. Where everything just felt right before, everything just feels wrong now. I’m not sure how else to describe it.

There’s no thread that leads me back through my past, back through early adulthood and adolescence to childhood. No sense of continuity, that this is all one life and that although there are obviously changes, things are fundamentally the same as they were. The thread is broken. I’ve tried pretending it wasn’t, but although I might have convinced other people, I was never able to convince myself. I thought maybe I could go back to the point at which it broke and make a fresh start from there, continuing as if this hadn’t happened. But you can never really go back. It’s not the same. By the time you get there the world has moved on, and living through the void changes a person.

I can’t change the past. Maybe I’ve finally accepted that now. But surely there has to be a way out of this buzz-and-blues cycle for the present and future. Surely there has to be a way to find genuine contentment again. It seems like the sort of thing people go to therapy for, but although therapy has changed a lot of things for me, this one seems stubbornly immovable.

Maybe I need a different way of looking at all this. Maybe looking at the void as a void is a mistake, because that gives it a lot of power. To be sure it was a difficult few years, but it wasn’t literally a void. I was still going out and doing things. During that time I finished my degree and got my job, and although it felt like frustratingly little progress at the time, I probably laid a lot of the ground work that allowed things to get better later on. Maybe I need to see that the thread never really broke after all. It’s still there, wending its way back and connecting me with happier times. It was and still is my life, the only one I’ve ever had or will ever have. It’s just taken a different path than I expected it would.

“No wrong path”, they say. That was the slogan of a series of adverts that ran in Scotland not too long ago, reassuring young people that it wasn’t the end of the world if they didn’t get the results they wanted at school. It was fine to go to college and try again, or just go straight into work and return to studying later in life, or spend evenings doing an Open University course, or whatever. There was No Wrong Path.

I agree with the sentiment, but I wish it could be applied a bit more broadly. I wish there was No Wrong Path socially either. I wish it was accepted that if you don’t really have friends at university, you can make some later and that’s OK. That it doesn’t matter if you don’t do the whole teenage dating thing because you could meet the love of your life online as an adult, and that’s a perfectly valid way to do it. But no-one’s making adverts about that. I don’t think anyone really believes it. That’s why, despite writers falling over themselves to be as inclusive and representative as possible these days, you don’t see fictional characters with experiences like that. If someone in TV or film doesn’t have the normal social experiences at the normal age, it’s either played for laughs and the joke is that they’re pathetic, or it’s a huge serious deal and their struggles are the main focus of the plot, which will probably end with them triumphing over all their problems. But it’s never just there in the background, an otherwise normal character who (for example) never dated until their mid-20s because that’s just a thing that happens sometimes.

God I’m exhausted.