4 July 2010

A Brief Return

I've been on a lengthy sabbatical.

Invariably, that short statement will conjure up images of long thoughtful walks on windswept cliff-tops; deep contemplation whilst sitting on a stony beach, powerful waves smashing against the shore and flinging spume into the biting air; or silently regarding the comings and goings of passersby, inhaling the steam from instant coffee in a cup so thin you can see your hands through it, as you huddle in some quiet out-of-season seaside cafe, condensation fogging the windows, chipped Formica table cold to the touch.

The reality, however, is somewhat different.

I've actually spent the last few months sitting on my balcony reading, playing Red Dead Redemption on the xbox and whiling away the hours pointlessly clicking my mouse and arrow keys on a varied selection of free webgames in a tragic attempt to gain some sense of achievement or self-worth.

I should explain why this is. You see, for the last ten years I've suffered from depression.

My depression is, fortunately, quite manageable although it does manifest itself in different ways. Every now and then, I will feel a bout of depression descending and I'll immediately do something about it - this usually involves taking the day off work and just laying in bed trying to sleep my way through it. I've found this to be a successful strategy.

Some people assume that when I'm going through a depressed period, I must feel sad or desperately unhappy, but it doesn't quite work like that with me. It's probably best described as 'the absence of emotion'. I'll feel something gradually power down in my mind and all feeling will drain from me, sometimes within minutes, sometimes hours. I'm left an empty husk, completely incapable of emotion.

Henry Rollins once described his depression thus (and I'm paraphrasing here) - "When I'm like this, I don't remember feeling any other way."

I absolutely understand what he's talking about. It's an odd sensation, the absence of emotion and the absence of remembering what emotion is like. Sometimes, you look back on the times you were really happy and it feels like you're observing someone else experiencing something you can never understand. "What is this 'happy' that you speak of? Can you eat it? " you might ask if you weren't laying in bed staring at the ceiling and wishing it was tomorrow so you could get back to normal.

On other occasions, my depression manifests itself in a different and longer lasting way. I'll experience lengthy periods of either 'high' or 'low'. When I'm on a high, I'll be more likely to interact with people socially, happily going to the pub or visiting a friend. I'll be more creative, making notes on a screenplay that I'll never quite get around to writing, or churning out blog posts.

When I'm low, however, I'll withdraw. I won't want to go out or mingle with people. I won't feel compelled to write, being utterly convinced that I simply don't have anything of worth to say.

And that, dear reader, is why I haven't written a blog post in three months - I've simply had nothing to say.

Well, that's not quite true actually. Things that have happened recently include:
  • Becoming involved in a war of silence with my downstairs neighbour after she wrote a snotty note and pushed it through my door at midnight because I had the extraordinary audacity to invite two friends over;
  • Embarking on a lengthy exchange of emails with Odeon Cinemas Ltd on why they don't appear to want my custom, and whether they're ever likely to show a film that 1) isn't animated, or 2) doesn't have "3D" in the title;
  • Buying something in a junk shop that led me on a journey involving a dead circus strongman, a monkey on a bicycle and a man called Khramov from an organisation in Russia;
  • Spending numerous hours in my kitchen emptying buckets of soapy water from beneath the washing machine outflow because I have a blockage in the pipe that cannot be removed by either industrial strength chemicals, the sort of frenzied plunging that would be more associated with birthing an elephant calf, or twenty quids worth of flexible steel drain rod that uncoils itself without warning and thrashes around on the floor like a python trying to digest a hedgehog.
So things have happened, yes, but I just haven't felt that they were worth talking about.

I'm hoping that within the next week or two things will return to normal and I'll resume blogging. But I'm not going to make any rash promises.


Matt Stevens said...

Welcome back man - I like your writing

E F RICE said...

Hey Dan. Listen your depression symptoms I can empathise with and I consider myself extremely lucky my bouts come in days rather than weeks/months. I am pleased you are back in business on the blogging.

As for your downstairs neighbour, isn't this the lady you helped out when you were suffering from a monster migraine ? I seem to remember you practically dismembered yourself in the back garden helping her as she got locked out. If it is the same person then she is (in my best Essex accent) well out of order !

Take it steady.

Dan said...

Matt - Cheers chap. It's good to be back. Always nice to get a comment too - it makes it feel more worthwhile. In fact, this is the first comment response I've made in 3 months and it feels rather good. :o)

Actually, I'm glad you stopped by - it reminded me that I hadn't bought your new album yet. I've just done it now.

"Ghost" by Matt Stevens, available now!


EF Rice - Depression seems to be a very broad condition with lots of different manifestations. Like I say, sometimes mine is very bad and lasts only for a day, or is extremely mild and results in a general feeling of "I simply can't be arsed" for a few months. At some point I may need to go back through my blog posts and look for the gaps to see where I was going through a period of radio silence!

I'd like to be able to say that generally it's only people of higher intelligence who suffer from depression, but I'd be making it up. Sod it, it's my blog, I'll say what I want - geniuses are more likely to get depression. There. Now we're in good company. Win!

As for the neighbour, yes, that's her, the ungrateful old bitch. I'm grinding my teeth even now. In fact, I'm so aggravated that I might make my next post about the whole grisly affair. Growl...

Rebecka Rowan said...

As E F Rice, I can entirely relate to the whole depression thing. I don't mean to sound flippant, but I'm not in that place at the moment, and so I find it very hard to even imagine how I could ever be that way. Just like when you're right in the middle of a bout, it's impossible to see how you ever felt anything else, as you said.

I don't know if people relating to it is very much of a good thing, but it's supposed to be, so there it is. Also Red Dead Redemption is an awesome game. (Whenever I think about how I'm wasting time playing video games, I always try to think about all the effort that went into it so I could be entertained.) I don't own it - I haven't the money right now - but I've played it. Mostly riding around on the horse until it kicks me off and finding bears to fight.

And as far as mindless wastes of time and life go, I heartily recommend towerdefence.net ;)

Ishouldbeworking said...

Well, this post is a good sign in more ways than one, Dan. It's good to see you back in the flow again.

I understand the depression thing very well (bloody should do given my job, but I also have plenty of personal experience to draw on.). Know your own particular brand of Black Dog, and you'll learn how to manage it. Though it looks as though you worked that out already. I'm glad the sun's out again, however hazily, in your world.

Piley said...

hello Sir, good to see you back, yet sorry to read the content... I hope that getting it in a post was at least a little cathartic for you.

As life progresses, more and more chinks in the armour appear. It gets that little bit tougher to brush stuff aside, and I sympathise with your position. But I admire you putting it up there too, a good positive step I think.

Keep up the blogging mate.


Dan said...

Rebecka - Yes, that's the odd thing about it isn't it? When you're NOT going through a depressed period it seems very alien. In fact, I sometimes think to myself "Next time it happens, I'm going to see if I can head it off before it develops fully - maybe go for a walk, get some air, just bullishly refuse to cave in to it". Of course, it's not that simple and before you know it, you're in its grasp again.

And you're right - Red Dead Redemption is awesome. Without a doubt, the best console game I've ever played. As for webgames, I thoroughly recommend the addictive Bloons Tower Defense 4. The hours I've wasted...

Ishouldbeworking - Thanks for your comment. I like your use of the word 'manage' as opposed to 'control'. It's spot on. As you'll be aware, depression is very difficult to control, but it can be managed to some extent. Like I said, I find it best just to entirely remove myself from society for 24 hours. It's almost like the classic "Leave me alone and I'll be OK."

Of course, living on my own helps as I can just batten down the hatches and mope around in my cave without it affecting anyone else. In fact, I consider myself quite fortunate in some respects as the worst episodes usually pass within a day or so, whereas some people can go through it for days or weeks at a time.

Piley - Cheers fella. It did feel sort of cathartic. Originally, I wasn't going to write about my depression for several reasons. 1) I didn't want to be 'that guy' who bleats on about his condition. I have no desire to be part of some special 'depression club' where I describe it regularly and at great length. I've seen some people almost wear their depression as a badge of honour and that seems like a bizarre concept to me. 2) There's still a certain stigma attached to depression. Some people out there genuinely think it's either an excuse for wanting a duvet day, the sign of a weak character/constitution, or one step away from paranoid delusions, schizophrenia or psychopathy (which, of course, all mean that you're constantly on the verge of murdering people according to certain tabloid newspapers). 3) I'd hate for anyone to think less of me because of it.

In the end, however, I just ended up blurting it out. And, in any case, I felt like my absence of three months deserved an honest explanation.

Now what was I just saying about not bleating on about it? ;o)

Cocktails said...

Hello there Dan. You're definitely not coming across as the man who 'bleats' about his condition. As someone who has never known depression, I found it very enlightening to read actually. I would also LOVE to know more about your correspondence with the Odeon. I mean I'm impressed that they can even respond to customer queries...

Dan said...

Cocktails - well hopefully I've shed a little bit of light on depression and how it can affect even the most normal of us... *leaves ironic pause*

The Odeon story will be told at some point, despite their use of a confidentiality disclaimer at the bottom of one email. Confidentiality be damned! I will not be silenced! Now, where's my blue face paint and claymore...?

Anonymous said...

I too have suffred from depression Dan. It got bad and i was signed off work for quite a while , ended up in counselling and that lead me to studying counselling (i'm now qualified). I've come along way but the symptoms you speak of i still get too from time to time. It's so hard for those around me to understand. I feel empty and the only thing i can feel at best at these times is anger or a real coldness. I just want to shut my self away, not answer the phone or the door or see any one. So while i hate to hear of you suffering it also makes me feel less......well less alone i guess. I feel it's about too much stored up stuff that i cant let out and my body simply shuts down because it cant deal with it all, i defense thing that is hard to break down ....i'm working on it though. Like you though i've never lost my sense of humour. Good piece mate , i enjoyed it .


Anonymous said...

P.S. i love Henry Rollins and his quote is spot on isn't it ???


Dan said...

Carl - Thanks for your comments, chap.

It's interesting when you say that, during a depression, you can feel only anger or coldness. At times, I'm either completely bereft of all emotion, or feel a deep, encompassing sadness which is impossible to shake off. It's like a kind of soul-crushing existential angst but without the flamboyant arm across the forehead, lip trembling and majestic sweeping from room to room. Largely, I suspect, because that would all be rather pointless when living on one's own...

I totally agree with your comment about Rollins. For someone who, outwardly, appears to be little more than a thick-necked, tattooed thug, he's actually an extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive man. I've got a lot of time for him.

Anonymous said...

Before my therapy it was just crushing emptiness , nothing at all and this was ofetn permanent , i felt like it day in day out for ages, miserable. As i've gone on and sorted stuff and got closer to the issues it's now more sadness or anger or coldness and it only comes and goes sparodicly , usually wheni'm stressed or struggling. I hope one day to be free of it. Although it's part of me a guess and may always be around.

I've seen Rollins do his spoken word stuff about 4 or 5 times and he is so clever , funny and as you say sensitive. A real amazing talented guy in my book. Seen his band twice too , intense lol.