Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Machine gunning gnats

These shallots seemed happy, they started flowering.
Henry David Thoreau's famous quote is "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation".
Thoreau wrote these words in 1854, and the sentiment is still relevant today.
Together we can paraphrase it to "the mass of people" to include everyone, but again the essence is there.
When, as I am constantly told to, we compare our lot with those in the third world, we certainly would seem to have the fixings for happiness, yet we in the overfed and apparently overpaid first world are constantly unhappy and perennially running to our therapist moaning about our lot.
This seems to be mostly to do with money, and is best put by Doug Adams.
“This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
I as you know am perpetually crying poor, yet on a world scale I am well off.
My friend Lloyd, now sadly dead, gave it his spin by saying "whatever you earn, you spend".
And it was certainly true that even when I was living in the corporate world of Sydney and earning six figures, I still had to go through the pockets of my pants on Sunday night, scrabbling up gold coins, to pay for pizza.
To counterpoint this, P.J.O'Rourke points out that by having money and using it to make our lives more comfortable, we are living longer.
So is money, or our perceived lack thereof,  the cause of our general society-wide, unhappiness?
Well it's unquestionably a factor, it certainly stresses me out when I hear a new noise from the car and immediately jump to the conclusion that the head gasket is going and how god damn much is this gonna cost me?
But then a friend of Lloyd's and myself, Mark, has this philosophy, "Are you gonna die today? No, then things aren't that bad".
So what's the point of all this?
Well this morning I am very depressed, and I am not sure why.
Previously I reported being unhappy because I was working too hard.
Well today I have a day off.
Sometimes I am anxious and can't park the car on a hill in case it rolls away and gets damaged, well I can see my car from where I type this and it is completely intact.
I didn't drink heavily, or indeed at all, last night, or smoke any pot, so there is no chemical cause for a Monday depression.
What then is going on?
Some of the greatest minds have tried to describe depression and failed miserably, not because they were bad writers or ignorant of the problem, but simply because..., well already we are in the hopeless mire of trying to talk about depression.
I once asked Paula, my wonderfully knowledgeable therapist if she knew what depression was, and she replied, "the whole mind itself is still a mystery".
Thus a small component of a malfunctioning mind is enigmatic to say the least.
However JFK once said of the space race, "we don't do this because it is easy, but because it is hard."
So now I am going to add my name to the list of those who have tried and failed to describe depression.
It helps me to write about it, and it may help someone out there who has always wondered if they are "down" or are indeed, "depressed".
I'll start with something I heard on QI, which was studies have shown that we all have a "resting" state of happiness.
The example was of two people, one wins the lottery and has more money than they know what to do with
and the other is involved in a car accident and is paralyzed.
To my considerable surprise, the studies showed that after some time, both these people move back to the approximate level of happiness they inhabited before these events.
Thus the lottery winner, after some months of partying, paying off the mortgage and buying Ferraris, went back to having the same worries as before, and likewise the other, now wheelchair-bound, subject of the study, began to once again concern themself with going grocery shopping and finding a park and whether their children's school was preparing their offspring adequately for the adult world.
Which I found fascinating as my immediate thought would be that both these events would change their lives forever, but, apparently not.
Thus it seems our resting levels of happiness are set in our adolescence, and therefore god help us all, as we all know of the turbulent hormone-fuelled chaos this period of our lives can be.
My primary thought about how to tell if you have depression is if it's mysterious.
That is, if something happens, e.g the death of a loved one, you will be unhappy, and justifiably so.
Bad as this is, you can hang your low feelings on a readily discernible cause.
But even then it hardly clarifies things because we all know of people who "never get over it".
So although a particular event led to someone being down, if said event happened twenty years ago, is the person still justified in being down, or are they, to quote one of the zarking arseholes who parades around under the title of mental health worker, "just wallowing in it?"
Again, we can't know.
Stephanie Dowrick wrote that "depression doesn't cause suicide".
She clarifies by saying that, "when a person despairs that their depression is eternal, then they commit suicide."
To illustrate that she writes: "If at some point in your young life a psychological arbiter of some kind visits you and says that you will suffer 800 hours of loneliness in your life, that wouldn't be great, but the upside is that like a prison sentence, you know when it will end."
The problem we all face with loneliness, depression and despair, is that when you are in it, your immediate thought is that this is how I will feel for the rest of my life.
One of the factors in teen suicide I have no doubt, with many a teenager starting to think that they faced sixty more years of this, and couldn't take the pain.
And my main feeling of depression is of a paradoxical world, where nothing, just nothing made sense, and every single thought was diametrically conflicted by the thought immediately after it.
When I was in bed, I didn't want to get up, once awake I never wanted to go to bed.
When at home I never wanted to go out, when out I never wanted to go home.
If I was smoking a cigarette, I often, like a Martin Amiss character, wanted another cigarette.
If I was eating, I never wanted to stop, if I wasn't I never wanted to start.
I constantly thought if only I had a relationship I wouldn't be lonely, but recalled that some of the bleakest periods of my life were being alone and bereft as half a couple.
Once drunk I clearly never wanted to feel anyone than other than the joy of joie-de-vivre brought on by my Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, but, paradoxically, even as I approached the summit of alcoholic joy, knew that the crash and roll down the other side was coming, with first the depressive effects during, and the hangover after, to come.
When my car was in for repairs I would think if only I had my car back my life would be more manageable, but the moment it was back on the forecourt I would use it to buy booze then not go out in it for days.
I would say "if only there was some good surf I would be happy", but then I would check the surf and even if the surf was good, make that little speech, "it's not so good, think I'll just sit on my porch and drink".
Even sitting still was blown apart by the conflicted mindset of depression.
On the one hand everyone told me I should meditate, but then when I did, my parent's voices would crash through the reverie and scream "you can't sit down, you must work hard constantly."
NB: This was rich, particularly from my mother, who never did a moment's hard work in her damn life.
When working hard I would feel my mental state collapsing and knew I should sit down and read a book, but knew that as soon as I did I'd feel guilty about not working.
I was too tired to sleep and too exhausted to stay awake.
Often I was so angry I would punch whatever was handy, the walls of my tent were common, at other times I would start crying when I saw a developmentally delayed person playing happily with a balloon, I still do not understand why this was, perhaps a grief at how sad the world can be, though even this was a paradox as well as developmentally delayed persons often find happiness in the simplest things, a pretty balloon for example.
Once I scaled the mental Everest of driving to the coast and putting on my wetsuit I would go surfing and once out there never want to come in.
However sometimes a crowd would form, or a big wave would smash me backwards and I would retreat and never want to go in the ocean again.
I could go on but won't.
If you are down and there is no readily discernible reason, this could be depression.
If you are riven with paradoxes, this is another.
A common example is a person married with two wonderful kids, a mortgage, a "good" job, a nice car and to all appearances having got it made, yet they burst into tears once a week or more as soon as they are alone.
This person may have a mental illness and indeed depression, and are now finding that the goals set out by society aren't making them happy.
If you are troubled by thoughts that are unwelcome and general "low" feeling, think of seeing someone about it.
Anyone here in Australia can see a mental health professional through their GP.
I started this blog as therapy, and it has definitely helped.
If one day I learn that someone reading this didn't kill themselves, or even got it together to seek mental health treatment, that's good enough for me.
So I'll leave you with something that helped me, and indeed is why I am a gardener today.
One of the things that used to fascinate me as a child was the way plants would emerge every year in the still freezing Bathurst spring.
As I hid under the bed and waited out the next of my parents' cyclonic rages I would think of those plants and it helped me endure.
I began to check, like Thomas Jefferson of an earlier age, for the first blossoms and flowers of the spring, often pushing through the frost or snow.
I would stare at those plants and marvel to myself 'how tough are these things!', it is barely liveable out here, and these plants aren't just living, but bursting into flower.
All my life I have heard conversations and discussions about who is the toughest footy player, who is the hardest man.
Well, for me the toughest of the lot, and the greatest role model of them all is daffodils growing through the snow.



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