Posts Tagged ‘depression’

I had a slightly odd experience a few weeks ago. One of my students approached me – one of the pleasant, engaged ones, but a guy who always looked slightly fragile, somehow – and asked if he could ask me a personal question.

I have a stock answer for this situation (along with most others). ‘You can always ask,’ I said pleasantly.

‘What advice can you give about coping with depression?’ he said.

Well, for what it’s worth, I told him that the most important thing is to try not to just sit and wallow in it, but keep yourself busy as far as you can – but more importantly, to remember that depression isn’t you any more than flu is you or athlete’s foot is you when you’re suffering from one of those: just because your brain chemistry gets messed up, that’s not your fault any more than you’re to blame for copping a virus or (spirits forbid) a cancer. He seemed to take it on board, but I felt compelled to ask him something in return.

‘Why are you asking me, this, in particular?’ There are over a dozen teaching staff members where I work, after all, some of who knew him better than me, to say nothing of a top-notch student welfare team.

‘I recognise the look on your face sometimes,’ he said. This came as a shock, as I hadn’t really felt I’d had a particular incident so far this year. Still, it only goes to show. I just wish he’d paid that much attention to consonant clusters.

black dog

I was, I suppose, about 15 when I really became aware of the fact that every now and then I just felt… low. Flat. ‘Sad’ never really feels like the right word, which is one of the reasons why I shied away from the D-word for a long time. I suppose I first started to notice little interludes where I just felt hollowed-out and listless much earlier than that, but it was a few years before it started to dawn on me that, perhaps, there was perhaps a little bit more to it than just feeling down at the end of bad days.

I don’t know, though. I’m always reluctant to make a fuss about this stuff, as I’m aware I suffer from this much, much less than other people. I mean, it’s not nice, and it’s to some extent debilitating in terms of my being able to, you know, do productive stuff in my free time, but actually getting up and going to work has never been difficult. I am perhaps somewhat lucky in that the OCD-tendency which is also an element of my personality to some extent counteracts the blues and keeps me active.

I’m not even completely sure why I’m writing this, other than because I find writing about the world helps me to make sense of it, and, as I said in an interview many years ago, writing regularly makes me happy. I’m not posting this as a cry for help or in the expectation of a groundswell of support, because, to be honest, neither is required – managing this condition is something I’ve got used to. This is only out in public because I have come to the conclusion that writing something that no-one is ever going to read is a foolish waste of time and energy (this, by the way, is why I’ve more or less given up writing fiction).

Perhaps it is also the case that my shadowy companion has been visiting me more regularly in recent years than has sometimes been the case. Possibly there are sound real-world reasons for this: after having firm short- and medium-term goals for many years, in 2012 I found myself having achieved them all and at a bit of a loss for anything to do. Inactivity doesn’t suit me well – I need to keep the engines of my mind revved up – and there are possibly also personal issues to consider (but, hey, there’s a limit to how confessional I’m prepared to get).

This is how it feels. I was going to say it feels like being behind a sheet of glass, not quite able to properly engage with the world. But it’s more like being made entirely of glass: thick, cloudy, heavy glass. You don’t feel sad all the time. You don’t actually feel anything at all. You feel, as I said, flat, hollowed-out. You don’t really want to talk or interact with other people on anything other than a professional level. You find it very hard to settle down and focus on anything other than the most passive and undemanding pursuits. Work days are usually okay until you get home. Weekends are more awkward: you spend the day idly going back and forth between different computer games and websites, occasionally toying with doing something more productive but finding no enthusiasm for it, no value in it, whatsoever. And you wonder: is there something genuinely wrong with me, or am I just being appallingly lazy?

But you remember the upside to this as well, for all that it seems much rarer than the bad days: the times when your passions consume you and the work itself, whatever it may be, is reward enough in itself. At these times my productivity is phenomenal: once upon a time it was writing of various kinds, these days it’s more likely to be painting or model-making. When you’re up the danger is that you think it’s going to last forever – it won’t, of course. But the two modes of this are alien to each other, mutually exclusive in a very real sense. You can’t think yourself into the up headspace when you’re down, nor vice versa. You just have to negotiate your path between the two states and remember that nothing lasts forever.

I am down at the moment, as you may be able to tell. No, hush, it’s not necessary. It’s too early to say how long this particular bout will last, but I think I am dealing with it pretty well. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve written this, as I said, but this year has – so far – largely been about getting a more honest sense of myself as a person, and there’s not much point to that unless you share that with the wider world one way or another. Relax, there’ll be another cynical film review along in a minute.


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