This entry is written as the result of getting an email from a friend who reads this blog regularly. Why, he asked, had there not been any recent entries? Was something wrong? Well, nothing is particularly wrong, I told him. What follows is more or less the email I sent him in reply.
There’s actually a very straightforward reason for not having written anything for a while, quite apart from trying to avoid, and usually failing to avoid, being some kind cut-price, Asda bargain pseudo-commentator dispersing commonplace observations and platitudes on what’s happening in the world. It is this: all my life (I inherited it from my dad) I have suffered from depressive periods, once or twice very badly, usually not too badly, though on each occasion I could have done without it. And this is one of them.
Why it has slowly started again I really don’t know. And the first thing to say is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with feeling ‘fed up’ or ‘unhappy’ or anything like that. It seems to be a physical thing.
Looking back over my life and having gone through it many times, I can now spot the symptoms and know that I am in for another bout. It has gone on since I was young. Certainly, it can be brought on by upsets, problems and difficulties in one’s life – we are, after all, an amalgam of the physical and the spiritual, and I don’t use the word ‘spiritual’ in any religious or metaphysical sense – but to this day we are very unclear about how the one relates to and influences the other, and I’m not about to start here.
For example, various ‘talking’ and psycho therapies, if undertaken over several months, seem to help some people. But the question is: did the talking actually help or was the affliction they were intended to treat self-correcting? That is, would they have cleared up anyway? Similarly, many of us – and the ‘us’ means that obviously includes me – have been prescribed various medications, of which the most up-to-date (as far as I know) are SSRis, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g. Prozac and Zoloft). They seem to work, although they can have unwanted side-effects, yet some researchers claim it is all stuff and nonsense. And many are, anyway, uncomfortable with reducing it all to a physical level, a debate which can lead into the old, and never-ever ending, debate about free-will and determinism (after turning a few more corners, of course, and a debate I make a point of avoiding always as one being perfectly futile and a waste of time.)
I remember from my childhood having periods of being oddly very listless and reluctant to ‘do’ anything. It might have seemed like laziness, but it was nothing of the kind: it was, quite literally, an overarching reluctance to do anything whatsover and then some. I put off everything. I have also suffered extreme bouts of homesickness which is thought to be related to depression. When we moved to Berlin from Britain in June 1959, we first lived in a very large flat in the Olympische Straβe in Berlin-Charlottenburg, then moved to a house in the Heerstraβe few months later. About seven months later, I suddenly, and it was sudden, got very, very homesick. It was odd. I was also very homesick in my first year at the OS and spent the whole time in abject misery.
As I say it has plagued me all my life, but I should stress again that any ‘fed-upness’ has to do with irritating physical symptoms. In my case I have a very persistent and perpetual headache, which is rather like a mild hangover. I also don’t particularly like being with other people or wanting to be in company and would far prefer to be alone (‘I vant to be alone‘). I can’t say anything, of course, and I doubt anyone notices, but on these occasions I would far, far, far prefer to be alone. I also get to be very impatient with what I happen to be doing and want to move on to the next thing as soon as possible, irrespective of what that next thing might be. And, of course, once I have moved on, I immediately want to move on again. I cannot settle.
I find it almost impossible to concentrate on anything, especially reading, which is why I find it quite useful to do a lot of swimming or go to the gym, because it keeps me occupied. And this difficulty in concentration and rush to move on to something else has, unfortunately, in the past and to this day been the reason for certain slapdashness in my work. Now you know.
When I am going through such a period, I also want nothing more than to go to bed and then to sleep, and I look forward to the moment I can put the light out and put my head on the pillow. I have to be careful that I don’t go to sleep to early, as I then wake up during the night and am awake for hours. Thankfully, I dream a great deal and apart for the very occasional anxiety dream – I had one last night which included trying to ring work to tell them I would be late, but failing every time to key in the right number on my mobile phone, which anyway began to crumble away like a biscuit. Oh, and once I had found the train I wanted and jumped on, I discovered I was travelling in the wrong direction.
However, I very rarely have bad dreams and enjoy dreaming. The trouble is that eventually I always wake up and while waking up I am conscious that I am waking up and am supremely pissed off. I try to turn over to go back to sleep again, but I never can.
In the past when I have been going through a severe bout having a drink has temporarily helped, but I am loathe to do that these days and just grin, i.e. grimace, and bear it.
These days we insist on all kinds of enlightened attitudes to everything (though it has to be said that our enlightenment rarely progresses beyond the ‘insisting’ stage), but ‘depression’ – a horribly uselss catch-all word if you think about it - is still regarded with suspicion, despite innumerable Radio 4 programmes and newspaper features suggesting otherwise, as though the sufferer is in some way ‘less’. It is pertinent, for example, that despite what I have just written, I still feel a little shamefaced telling you about it as though I were admitting to stealing from a church poor box.
Perhaps you who are reading this have in the past been afflicted or are now being afflicted and know what I am talking about. Perhaps not (and thank your lucky stars if you haven’t). Perhaps you are one of those who feel that the only true solution is to ‘pull yourself together’. Well, if that’s your view, you know bugger all about it. You wouldn’t, for example, tell someone suffering from sinusitis or from cystitis to ‘pull themselves together’. At the end of the day all you can do is grin, grimace and bear it.
Incidentally, if you know of someone nearby who is living alone, consider giving up and hour or so to visit them. The chances are that they are rather lonely, and loneliness can also lead to depression.