Tuesday 17 December 2013

A shadow rises in the East, and darkness falls upon the land.

Mount Doom and the unwinking red eye of Sauron, staring lidlessly from the
dark tower, Barad Dur.
I am having a difficult time at the moment and as the darkness fell around me I was reminded of the shadow of Mordor falling across Middle Earth.
As one of the characters said, "A shadow rises in the east, and darkness falls across the land".
And this I felt was a perfect literary metaphor for depression.
Sometimes you know why you're down, sometimes you don't, but this mysterious dark miasma, rising to blot out your world was a perfect literary rendition of depression.
As usual I ask for you to bear with me as I talk of depression.
I don't want this blog to be self-indulgent, but then I also feel that any more writing done about depression can only help improve treatment of this dread malady.
Perhaps someone reading this will realise that they have more going on than just feeling down, of having the blues.
Or, perhaps more importantly, you the reader will be able to recognise that someone close to you has depression, and may then be able to help.
This is of course the ultimate frustration for a parent, if they feel their child has depression, and are desperate to help, but of course the first thing any child does is hide everything away from their parent.
So the first thing I did was read about J.R.R. Tolkein, who wrote Lord of the Rings, to see if he had depression.
Baboon Spider.
It doesn't say anywhere that he did, but as you're about to see, if anyone deserved to have depression, it was him.
He was born in South Africa in 1892 and had a fairly standard childhood for those such as him whose father was serving in the far flung corners of the British Empire.
He was bitten by a Baboon Spider when young, and although as an adult he said point blank he didn't actually recall the incident, one can't help wondering if it didn't have overtones of Shelob, the giant spider in Lord of the Rings.
Then again, I, for one, am scared of spiders, and so a giant spider that eats humans has every right to be among the most frightening creations in fiction.
Frodo in the grip of Shelob.
I can remember reading Lord of the Rings as an adolescent and when I got to that section I spent that night, and many nights thereafter, pulling the blankets back from the bed to make sure there were no spiders in it.
Aged three, Tolkein returned to England with his mother and siblings for an extended visit, but while they were waiting, his father died in Africa of Rheumatic fever.
His mother, Mabel, a powerful woman, taught him from an early age, and he could read and write, including Latin, fluently from the age of four.
Then when Tolkein was aged eight, his mother converted to catholicism, this in an age when religious bigotry was all-powerful, and so her vehemently protestant family cut off all financial assistance to her.
Then his mother died, aged 34, when Tolkien was twelve, and the guardianship of her sons was assigned to a catholic priest.
He did seem to bring them up well enough and he came to adolescence bearing up against the tribulations of childhood and the loss of both parents.
At 16 he met the love of his life, Edith, but his guardian, the catholic priest, saw her as a distraction from his studies, and so forbade the young Tolkien from seeing, or corresponding with her, till he was 21.
No doubt hoping he would have forgotten her by this time.
A common mistake for adults to make, thinking that teenage loves are not the real thing.
Tolkein however kept this injunction, as the priest warned that if he saw her even once, that his education at the prestigious King Edward's school would be terminated.
But Tolkein was a man with some guts and the ability to plan for the future, so he denied his throbbing loins and stayed away from Edith to get his education, but the day he turned 21 he wrote to Edith and proposed.
She was currently affianced to another man, thinking, like the guardian priest that he would have forgotten about her by now, but he hadn't, and she dissolved her engagement, and married Tolkein.
So we're all set for a happy ending?
Not so, Tolkein and Edith were married in 1916 and barely had the ink dried on the register when he was sent to France to serve in the blood soaked Hell that was the first world war.
He served as a signals officer, and then "luckily" came down with trench fever.
"Luckily", because he was repatriated to England and while recuperating learned almost his entire battalion had been wiped out, his closest friends among them.
He spent the rest of the war shuttling between hospital and light garrison duties and emerged in 1918 alive, but never fully whole as trench fever never really goes away.
His wife Edith of course spent the entire time he was serving in France in a lather of stress, wondering if any knock on the door could be an officer there to tell her her husband had been killed.
So Tolkien had survived spider bite, being orphaned, forcibly removed from the love of his life, then war and most of his friends not returning from the front.
He then finally got to enjoy some time with Edith and the children and was able to begin his writing career and we are all richer for it.
Nowhere does it say he had depression, but that was a different age, and the condition was of course completely unknown.
So it puts my problems into some sort of perspective, but then all our problems loom large to us.
However, this is a point I want to raise, often, particularly here in Australia, we are told we can't complain.
As you know I have constantly referred here in this blog to my own complaining, in a jocular fashion, but there is an undercurrent of appeal there.
Really, I would like to complain a lot more.
So often for many of us, we have something going on and we mention it, and get the "There's thousands of starving children in Africa", or the "Well, in the end, we don't appreciate how lucky we are", response.
Ever had a problem bursting out of your chest like this?
This is shorthand for 'shut up and stop complaining', so we do, and it sets up an awfully, painful, shut-in feeling inside all of us.
So what's the solution?
Well, I have finally learned that you can't just dump all over your friends when you have a problem.
They have issues as well, and often have something bursting out of their chest like the monster in Alien.
So then it is difficult to have a two-way discussion, as both parties are not sure if and when to speak, and if and what to say.
So in the end the only solution, in my opinion, is counselling.
Counselling is great, you get to share your deepest issues with a detached person who won't tell anyone.
BTW: Detached does not mean they don't care, it means roughly that they won't judge you, or, perhaps more importantly, tell anyone.
To illustrate this, I would like to refer to one of my favourite authors Terry Pratchett.
One of his characters, Rincewind, arrives in Pseudopolis, the Discworld's analogue of ancient Greece.
He goes out to dinner and there at the restaurant are the great philosophers of the age, Plato, Socrates, Copernicus, the lot.
He sits at the table for some minutes and takes it all in.
Rincewind learned the value
of someone listening.
The philosophers are shouting non-stop at the tops of their voices, and Rincewind eventually spots a little man sitting opposite him saying nothing.
So he leans across and says, "Can you tell me what's going on? Why are these guys all yelling and shouting over each other?"
The little man nods and says, "That's most interesting."
Rincewind, non-plussed, thinks the little man hasn't heard and repeats his question, "Who are these guys, and why don't they ever shut up?"
The little man nods again, and says, "Really, that's even more interesting, do go on."
So Rincewind gives it up as a bad job, and retires to his seat to wait for a gap in the conversation.
Then as he is sitting there, the little man opposite him starts writing on a piece of paper, then hands it across the table to Rincewind.
It's a bill for listening.
Turns out that the little man has figured out the ultimate niche in the market, everyone in Pseudopolis likes to talk, but no one wants to listen.
And that little piece of thought on the part of the little man shows the need for counsellors in our society.
If I was in charge of the world, and I expect your vote when that election comes along, I would see that there was a counselling station on the corner of every block, in every city on Earth, staffed by people like Paula my therapist.
Then if you are feeling an Alien-like pressure inside your chest, you could pop down to the counselling station and have your boil lanced by your friendly neighbourhood counsellor.
So then the perennial question is do I need counselling?
Well, almost certainly, yes.
I feel that everyone on this Earth could use an extra listening ear, and encourage you to try it.
However, stress is insidious, it creeps up on you, and you invariably don't know how much you are suffering.
I for instance, am in a bad way because of a concatenation of events.
First my dear friend Chris died, then the property on which my tent is got sold, and underlying that is the two years of stress that my business partner has put me through.
We went into business to sell surfboards together, and then after a few months he (This I conjecture), suddenly realised there was a lot of work for not much profit in selling these things, so he abandoned ship and left me with thirty unsaleable surfboards and twenty grand of debt.
The case is coming to court now, and is an almost unbearable stress load on its own, and that overlaying the death of Chris and the uncertainty of my living space.
And this is common to all of us, slowly, insidiously, the little bits of stress build up like the drops of water in the mountains of the Andes that eventually become the Amazon, the largest river on Earth.
When you can't answer a question because you find it difficult to focus, when you have to struggle to attend a crying child, when you find yourself at the wheel of your car and can't immediately recall where you are going, then I strongly suspect that stress has built up in your life and you need to dial 000 and get the Counselling truck on its way to your place with the siren blaring.
So until I get voted in as King of the world and Counselling stations are commonplace, you can access counselling several ways, Lifeline is the best and can be reached on 131114, or you can access counselling with a psychologist through your GP.
This service allows you up to ten sessions through medicare.
Also there is the mental health access line on 1800-011-511.
And so to finish with some humour (I hope).
When I went into rehab I was in bad way.
I was drinking in the morning, sometimes as early as seven a.m, and I looked like a scarecrow, with haunted eyes that would not have been out of place in a schlock horror film.
And the reason I was in this condition was I couldn't access help for my mental illness, I was living on the central coast and I went to see a GP to get help, and he heard my story then said "Well, I'll take you on as a patient, but (Here he changed to a loud yelling voice) ONLY IF YOU WANT TO GET BETTER".
I recoiled as if I had been bitten by a snake, and much later when I was stronger mentally, I wanted to go back to him and say, "do you get anyone who comes in here and asks if you can make them worse?"
Anyway, I went away and through hard searching found the mental health access line mentioned above.
I rang up and was answered by a very nice, and thankfully, very professional nurse, I began the conversation, "Excuse me, do men in white suits still come and take you away? If so, here's my address."
Thankfully, that turned out to be unnecessary, and later that day my brother drove me down to Wyong Hospital and rehab, and then the long journey up through the valley of darkness to being able to write this.

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