Home » Agony Uncle » Agony Uncle » Down, but not yet out

Down, but not yet out

(Work in progress. Depression-aware)

Have you noticed how many celebs and actually successful people have been coming out of the closet about their depressive illness, and how they needn’t be ashamed of it, so neither do we?

There have been many such depressionals lately, replacing the fashion for ‘misery memoirs’; the general idea being that it is usual for people with depression to be told by their GP: ‘What have YOU got to be depressed about, with yer big car an’ all? Just pull yer socks up, laddie!’ when in fact they are really ill, honest.

Depression is one of those invisible illnesses beloved of the drugs cartel; a vague systemic disorder, maybe connected to brain-juice, or lack of it; maybe to life in general, who knows? But here’s a pill!

Actually, when I went off a cliff a few years ago, my GP couldn’t have been more sympathetic. ‘Reactive depression’, he wrote, and I threw away the pills and lived on industrial quantities of St John’s Wort until I imagined I felt better. But I had just grown numb and inured to it, Time the healer.

I imagine depression is more like losing a leg than getting a disease. There’s not a lot you can do about it, other than get a marrow transplant.

When our friend and fellow director Graeme drove off and hanged himself in a wood instead of moving to a new job in Belgium, my partner stepped in and bore the brunt of the police enquiry, the inquest and the undeserved recriminations from his family and friends, and was briefly diagnosed with ‘reactive depression’, and afterwards found she couldn’t get insurance.

Luckily, I don’t buy insurance. Insurance company underwriters and actuaries have weird ideas, like you were depressed for a while ten years ago so you’re more likely to set fire to your underpants, burgle your own house, nail your head to a door, and so they double your premiums.

There are real consequences that follow from having the D-word on your record, just as a bad credit score will screw-up your life in ways you didn’t imagine when you signed the direct debit mandate. (Optimism can be bad for your life.)

So, I had a situation at work, that I took to my line manager, who told me to sort it out myself. I went over their head to the director, who told me to sort it out myself. So I did, and there was a complaint, and a disciplinary hearing, and a written warning, despite all the positive testimonials from my other clients, and I thought, what the fuck am I doing this for on a lousy fifteen grand a year, when the people up the food-chain who are paid to take the decisions, won’t?

But I wouldn’t take the two weeks off. There was too much work to do.

Now, that sort of thing probably happens to you at the office every day. Get over it! you scoff. Well, becoming profoundly depressed IS my way of getting over things. That, and running away and hiding behind the sofa. Shouting at people in the street. Sending offensive emails. And putting words into CAPITAL LETTERS. It’s how I preserve that little inner kernel of ME in the face of so much injustice and stupidity.

For, readers of this, muh li’l bogl, know full well that I too am a chronic depressive. This entire oeuvre is one long chronicle of despair. That’s what’s supposed to make it funny, the underlying subtext of hopelessness and humiliation, the life half-lived.

What have I got to be depressed about, with my expensive boarding-school education, fur-clad mother and account at Harrods? you ask.

Okay, but that was all a very long time ago. It’s different now.

Now, I live in a little house my long-dead grandmother has bought for me, that I can’t now sell, on a terrifying main road in the thunderous outskirts of a provincial town in remotest West Britain, and have no job, no love (other than from li’l Hunzi and Scat the Cat), no-one to share experiences with (no experiences to share) or talk to at night, other than the squabbling personalities in my head; little interest in anything except wine, hoping desperately to move on, to stay where I am, to go sideways, anywhere, prove I am brilliant and successful, to crouch in the shadows and be unobserved, ridiculous and unsucessful, but hopefully to be discovered posthumously – to die and yet never grow old.

Depression is like an impostor is out there, living your life while you lie, bound and gagged, in a darkened room.

Depression is setting yourself fabulous goals you can’t achieve, then sitting back and enjoying watching yourself fail.

(The fastest sprinter in my junior school, I used to slow down and let the others win. It seemed important to them.)

Depression is knowing you don’t exist, but finding every day, disappointingly, that you still do.

Whoever can know what the trigger-points might be to set this off, the petty disempowerments, the childhood nightmares, the seen and unseen terrors, the thoughtless criticisms and ludicrous overexpectations, the sense of threat, the feelings of guilt over crimes you haven’t committed, the genetic inheritance of your alcoholic forebears, the casual abuse that even in the most cared-for upbringing might all one day add up to the depressive adult personality, that refuses to care for itself?

Depression is like, when seized upon by raptors, prey animals essentially shut down their life-support systems and even die before they can be ripped apart. It’s precisely the same reflex.

  • I spent last winter, six months, during which I kept the doors locked, fearing to turn the house lights on, going to bed in the dark, never opening the blinds, hoping the neighbours, the police and anyone I owed money to would think no-one was here, keeping a baseball at by the bed. Who was threatening me? I was!
  • I wouldn’t open the mail, because I know I will not deal with whatever it contains in a sensible or positive way, but would end up instead writing long and rambling, self-justifying letters to people in authority, pleading to be set free from the responsibility for managing my life according to their expectations. And then not sending them. Or sending them.
  • I erased myself almost entirely, in case anyone tried to help. I stopped going to choir, ducked out of a theatre production halfway through rehearsals, started obsessively (and with utter futility) trying to sell everything I own; knowing even so that I could run away from my life, but not from myself.
  • At the same time, part of me kept telling the others, it’s not where and how you live, but why, and what you do with your life, that matters. Depression is often marked by a clinging on to sanity in the face of your own irrational actions. It’s self-preservation – not such a bad thing. But where were the opportunities to do anything?
  • And I continue Posting to this, my blog, putting endless messages in the lengthening trail of empty bottles (exactly one a night) to say help, I am trapped in here. Then you look up, and see that the entire surface of the ocean is bobbing with bottles.

I fancy madly that even now at the age of almost 65 I am still capable of living up to everyone’s ludicrous expectations of me. I can still write that best-selling novel, that screenplay; win that 100-metres, star in that show, master that guitar riff. But I cannot penetrate the shroud. And why would I? Nothing can! The shroud protects, the shroud provides. Success is only one kind of survival, the least important kind.

The most important kind of survival is to be forgotten in your own lifetime.

I keep rewriting my CV, imagining I shall one day discover who I was, mailing it out to people who obviously think I am a fraud – prospective employers who will never believe, whatever I write, that I have not invented all those peculiar details, that unlikely body of expertise and experience, those obviously fake qualifications, that I am no longer sure I believe in myself. Did I really do that? Was I really there? Was it that good? Could I ever be again?

In hiding away, I have become someone you would very much want to avoid. Paradox upon paradox.

Do we know anything about ourselves? Do we really remember anything of the past, other than the stories we have repeatedly told ourselves? Does it make a difference, whether it is real or invented?

I keep my house meticulously tidy, in case anyone comes to buy it. I wash-up the dishes every day, take a pink fluffy stick to the cobwebs and touch-in the paint chips. No-one has been to look at how tidy my house is for the last eight months. I don’t really want to sell it anyway. Except I do. Only, I can’t decide.

‘I will stay. I will go.’ *


* Laura Nyro: You Don’t Love Me When I Cry.


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