the CN tower at night

There's something surreal about the CN Tower. No matter where you are in Toronto you can see it, and if you can see it then you know where you are relative to Lake Ontario. It's a landmark that more than any other anchors you in space, the people you meet in Toronto all navigate by cardinal direction because the tower by virtue of its mere presence shapes how you relate to the environment. Like a lighthouse at sea, but whereas the latter bridges the ocean to the land, linking two distinct worlds, the CN Tower serves more as a monument to a world encroaching upon another.

Derealisation is one of those unique, personal hells that I really struggle to describe. Like yeah sure, all mental illness is kind of experiential and you're fundamentally articulating alien concepts to people who have working brains - but there's something material about hallucinations or extremes of emotion that most people can relate to in one form or another. Trying to communicate a sense of unreality is a lot harder, its just too "Out there" for most people to grasp and if they do there's often a degree of personal offence taken at the insinuation you're struggling to position them within reality. To stand among shapes removed from context and look at your own life from a third person perspective is a profoundly lonely experience, even the people that do try to listen are abstracted from you. Especially when they exist on the other side of literal abstraction.

Ever since getting back from Toronto I've been struck by a half formed thought I've only in the past few days (by virtue of of rodent related circumstance - long story!) fleshed out and begun to understand. Sometimes you can't fully appreciate where you're situated until you can actually see it from the outside, and it took crossing the Atlantic twice to recognize just how damaging where I've situated has been for me. It wasn't until, after spending three months on the other side of the ocean, I realized I hadn't deralised once while abroad. It was only after coming back, after I started deralising again it became immediately apparent that sometimes unreality is material and you're quite literally trapped in it.

Now I realize, it is a bit twee to sit here and say "hey did you know, spaces can be traumatic? Sometimes mental illness is triggered by, well, triggers!" but so often we talk about these things as institutions of the mind, mental illness is a mark on your soul - the demon living in your brain tempted by those external elements. But all properties of the mind are imagined, real as anything can be to the person experiencing them, and entirely formless to others until externalized in one form or another. We recognize the material nature of action - your mental illness isn't an excuse for actions produced as a result - but excuse the material nature of cause, that place is just a "trigger" there's no moral connotation to its existence, whatever scars it creates. But places are seldom just places, from liminality to sentimentality: they're defined by their relation to the emotions we paint upon them. Sometimes a house really is haunted by ghosts, spectres carved onto reality by angry men in the afterimage of their own broken image. Those shadows can follow us outside the walls in which they're birthed, but they never stop haunting them.

Is it too much to suggest that maybe an entire city could be a trigger? We recognize the traumatic potential of place on a personal scale, your childhood bedroom, a school bathroom, maybe your parent's garage. What truly is the difference when the walls are defined less by immediate physicality than by vibe? By a boundary point not articulated in brick or mortar, but in spirit? Returning to the old mining towns I spent my life growing up in has convinced me the difference is imagined, there's a real malaise that permeates the air and the soil, a lingering malaise that creeps out from the holes left in the hollows of old industry. We write so poetically of the magic present in the British countryside, in the fairytales of olde, but perhaps that magic didn't wane with modernity, rather we invoked something much worse. When Thatcher put the final bullet in the mines that sustained the North what she sealed in one set of holes she wrenched open in another, creating voids where those places one had souls. Trading the spirit of whole communities to bargain for her political rampart. Whatever she let out in that bargain still haunts those places today, each and every one, forever emanating a spiritual poison that eats at the people still rotting in them.

When I say mental illness is a property of space this is what I mean, my experience of unreality has never been distinct from existing in these equally unreal spaces. It is telling to me that where therapy failed, simply... going across the ocean for a few months didn't. Whether you describe this as a trauma response or a curse, a property of the mind or a place, the effect is the same. Sometimes the only way to heal is to leave behind what's hurting you.

There's something surreal about the CN Tower. No matter where you are in Toronto you can see it, and if you can see it then you know where you are relative to Lake Ontario. It's a landmark that more than any other anchors you in space, and for someone who has for so long lived only in unreal spaces it's an anchor I find myself strangely attached to. When I first saw it I giggled, until I went to Toronto its associations were all memetic: one too many episodes of Forever Knight. But after spending three months living in my home away from "home" I realize the implication, the separation from that strange lighthouse amid the city. At some point, I don't know when, the CN Tower came to mark that border, between the real and the unreal, between those scorned remnants of economic violence and the city in which I found reality at last.