Between 1987 and 1994, I went out with someone who suffered from clinical depression - and yes, before you ask, although I no doubt exacerbated the situation considerably, the illness did actually pre-date our relationship. The bouts of depression were (and, very sadly, still are) lengthy, painful and deeply distressing, not only for poor V., but those closest to her. Without revealing too much of someone else's painful personal life, but, equally, not wishing to avoid discussing the painful charactersistics of the illness as I've observed them, the troughs would involve a quite remarkable withdrawal, acute anxiety and a state of fearfulness and paranoia which could lead to the belief that even the most trivial (and unrelated) item on the television news was a direct attack on the depressed person herself. In happier interludes, we used to find wry amusement in the assertions of our friends, common, I imagine, to most sensitive people in their twenties when things aren't going too well, that they were "really depressed". So, having seen V.'s struggles with "the black dog" at close quarters and lost a good friend to depression-induced suicide, I think I know the difference between my own current low and the full frontal assault that is severe, clinical depression.
That said, I can't help but acknowledge the fact that what once seemed a remote and (possibly due to my being absorbed in my own proximity to it) isolated affliction has, over time, become a fairly common experience. Numerous close friends, family members-in-common-law, work colleagues - even your humble scribe - have all at one time or another suffered from what would come under the broad heading of depressive illness, to the extent that those in my close circle who haven't appear now to be in the minority.
So, what's changed? Or is it a time of life thing? Hard to say, but I know my own lows (and that of those closest to me) are largely grief related. Loss has been a big factor. My own experience was directly related to the loss of my mother. Those dark days, spent hoarding all the pent up anger and supressed pain manifest as rage was finally acknowledged by me about a year after Mum's death for for what it was - grief, sadness, depression disguised. But a sense of loss in the broadest sense, not just of people, can be painful in itself and complicate matters - time of life, and so on. Indeed, there can appear to be a snowballing effect, a heightened awareness of the accumulation of time, opportunities, innocence as well as loved ones one has lost over the course of one's life, to the extent that the days take on a very elegiac quality that's quite conducive to mild melancholy.
I stress, again, that there is a marked difference between that quasi-romantic sense and the awful rigours of acute psychosis. I remember reading some sleeve notes written by Sting in which he commented on the falsity of the widely-held assumption that the heart is the physical seat of the emotions. According to Mr. Sumner, it's actually somewhere in the brain. And, for sure, the kind of illness described in the first paragraph *is* as simple as that - a chemical imbalance in the head. I don't know about Sting or anyone else, but I get mine in the solar plexus, and it feels as if someone's been using it as a punchbag. It's where I think of my heart as being, even if that's not anatomically correct.
But it's not all bleak. V. was well read in the field and there can be no denying that she was right about the link between depression and creativity. Beethoven, Van Gogh, Plath, Milligan, Churchill - the list of eminent suffererers whose talents were fed by their depression is long and distinguished. I'm sure it's no accident that my current prolific writing spree has coincided with being on a bit of a downer. And that, I suppose, is where the difference between the Sunday driver, mildly depressed, not feeling so good today Doc folks like me and the in-for-the-long-haul, pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to read, nothing to say lifers is most pronounced. Given the choice between how I am today and my carefree, pre-anti-depressant* self, I'd stick with what I have. Because ultimately, and at the risk of sounding like a Telegraph reader, the best in one's character is usually forged more though hardship and adversity than through lamb-like frolicking. Suffering may make us more fragile, but it also makes us more human. It deepens our souls. But the real deal is no fun at all, believe me. Poor, poor souls.
L.U.V. on y'all,
*Just to clarify, I mean by this the time before I had cause to take anti-depressants, and not that I still have need of them - please, no flowers, grapes etc...
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