Tuesday 11 March 2014

More on Depression

The perpetual Sunday of Wallerawang.
I have a friend who is depressed at the moment, he did say he was, and that's a good thing.
However, even as he said it, I remember thinking that he was "lucky", in that he knew he had the problem.
I put "lucky" in inverted commas because no one with depression is lucky, but I couldn't think of a better word to describe it.
Perhaps I'll put in a bit of levity that sort of describes what we're talking abut here.
Wallerawang is one of the most drack, depressing places to live in NSW.
It's a small town outside Lithgow, and brings to mind a welsh coal mining village on a Sunday.
The chamber of commerce once ran a competition and the first prize was a weekend in Wallerawang, all expenses paid.
Second prize was two weekends, and all those who didn't win were offered a lifetime there.
Same with depression, last prize is having it, second best is at least knowing.
And I'll just digress slightly to hark back to my life as a boy growing up in Bathurst in the seventies.
The time I dreaded most was Sunday afternoon at around five pm, particularly in Winter.
All my sport was done for the weekend.
The shops were now shut.
All I had before me was cleaning up the kitchen after my mother made the Sunday evening meal, then homework, and then bed.
And a quick word on my mother's cooking.
Her goal, so it seemed to me, was not so much to produce food as create the most mess she possibly could in the shortest space of time in the area, and spread said mess across the largest possible area.
She seamed hell bent on using every pot, cup, spoon, knife, and utensil that not only existed in our house, but on the entire Earth.
Since my brother's and I had to clean up, she seemed to feel it necessary to make sure we had plenty to do.
She brought no economy to her labour.
In retropsect, this was probably a deliberate policy to ensure that she and my father got the longest period possible watching Sunday night TV, without being asked for attention from those most annoying things, her own kids.
This period of a Sunday, wouldn't be characterised with a name until it was brilliantly labelled by that greatest of writers, Douglas Adams, he called it, "the long, dark, teatime of the soul".
Here is the quote in full:
“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.” 

Some of you reading this still live in Bathurst today, and may resonate with this.
Indeed, in my heavy drinking days, I can remember thinking to myself one Sunday as HG & Roy came on at 2pm, 'Alcohol and marijuana were almost certainly invented to help me deal with Sunday afternoons.'
But back to my friend's depression.
It's an appalling thing to have, but if you can at least recognize, if you can be "lucky" and recognize that you have it, that brings you 0.000001% up.
As my friend spoke that day, I was, as a fellow sufferer of course, immediately seized with the feeling that I should do something.
But you can't "do" anything to solve a friend's depression. (Well, giving them a million dollars would certainly help, but I'm sure you would get the point.)
All you can do, if you don't have a lazy million handy for ready disbursement, is listen.
And I'd like to think I did that.
He sipped his his herbal tea, I drank my coffee, and long silences ensued.
But that's Ok as well.
More often than not someone with depression doesn't want to talk, and I'd like to think that in some microscopic way, just occupying the air nearby can be a small difference to making the sufferer not feel alone.
Last night I added to my help by texting my friend and told him to feel free to call after seven (when his free calls come in on his mobile), if he liked.
He didn't call, but that's Ok as well.
I'd like to think that even the text was a microscopic help for my friend to not feel alone.
Which brings me to a book that I read that is worthwhile reading for anyone with a mental illness, or a friend of someone with mental illness, or, now that I think about it, anyone.
It's called Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick.
This book was the first to point out that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
I truly thought they were one and the same thing, and if I was alone I was ipso facto, lonely.
But Stephanie shows that being alone sometimes is essential for mental health.
Being alone too much is not good, never being alone is equally, not good.
As ever with mental illness it is a deucedly tricky line to draw, and there is no 'recipe' answer for 'how much time should I be alone?'
It brings to mind an episode of Walt Disney I saw as a boy.

Sunday night the Walt Disney show came on with a truly catholic mixture of shows, from Goofy in cartoon, to hopelessly misanthropic 'wildlife' documentaries.
However, there was some good stuff hidden in there, and the episode I am thinking of was about a man who was a lighthouse keeper on an island off the California coast.
He lived there all his adult life and enjoyed walking among the seals, the otters and the birds on the island.
Then one day a government official arrived on the island and told him they were installing an automatic lighthouse and he would have to retire.
He accepted his fate and filled in the paperwork.
he returned to LA and moved into a small unit, and walked among the 11,000,000 people who throng the LA basin.
And, as the narrator said, "For the first time in his life, he was lonely".
It was point well taken, though it would be thirty years or so until I really began to understand it.
Just because yu are with people, doesn't mean you are not alone.
And I think that stems from the company you are in.
If the bulk of the people you associate with are 'energy thieves', those who stress you out just looking at them, then loneliness in their company is sure to follow.
How do you pick an energy thief?
A good sign is if you can see they are not listening when you talk, but are already thinking of what they are going to say next.
Sidebar: the way to tell a real loony is if they start speaking while you're in the middle of a sentence.
So being in company is not in and of itself a solution to feeling lonely, it seems to indicate that the quality of the company is crucial.
This point highlighted to me in the movie Forrest Gump, a great film in my opinion.
Forrest's best friend, Bubba, dies in the Mekong, and afterward Forrest says, "Bubba was my best good friend. And even I know that ain't something you can find just around the corner."
And that is right, not just for a "best friend", but any friend, you don't find one around any corner.
Which then begs the eternal question, 'how do you find a good friend?'
Sadly, there is no easy answer to this.
Most of our associations are formed with whoever you see regularly, in childhood, those at school, as an adult, those at work.
Workplace friendships are often with those you get support from under the despotic regime of some fat, power-tripping boss.
The real test of a friendship is whether it continues after a job change by one or either party involved.
Again, from personal experience I would venture that many men claim that other men that they play sport with are their friends.
Well, maybe.
For me this theory was thrown out when I was playing with a club back in Sydney, one January, that is Summer, it occurred to me that I hadn't spoken with anyone from the soccer club since the last season ended in September the year before.
Thus I thought, 'are these people truly my firends?'
Turns out that some were and some weren't, like any human mix of people.
I might add, two of them particularly showed they were my friends by loaning me money as an adult, when I was deep in the grimpen mire of poverty.
But it was food for thought, some of which I am dispensing in distilled fashion here.
So that brings us back to the question, 'how do I make friends?'
Even the above lack of answer ("No easy way") is even obviated by the essential cussedness of human nature, which seems to predicate that you can only find a relationship, sexual or friend, when you're not looking for one.
And to quote Brian from Life of Brian, "Well what chance does that gives me!"
It seems that we reek of desperation when we are looking.
We exude pheromones that tell the passing world that we are a complete, alone loser.
Thus our only chance is to stop looking, then that which we seek will fall from the clouds.
And that kind of leads me to, once again, highlight the hopelessly paradoxical frustration of depression.
I have tried before in this blog to describe what depression is, and failed utterly, as have so many before me.
So I'll just give this example which shows that it just makes not one whit of damn sense.
You cannot attack this thing logically.
As one character said in the film O Brother Where Art Though?, "It's fool who goes looking for logic in the chambers of the human heart".
He was talking male-female relationships and why people choose the people they do, but the quote could equally apply to depression and its super-complexities.
So the example.
When I was a boy I suffered from homesickness, in retrospect, it was one symptom of full-blown depression.
Whenever I had to spend some time away from my parents I was terribly fearful and anxious.
I would cry myself to sleep, begging for my parents, "I want my mummy", I would squeak in my lonesome bed.
And of course that made no sense at all as I was severely abused, physically and emotionally, by both my parents for a period of about ten years.
If logic applied one would think that periods away from my abusive parents would be little havens of peace, free from the tempestuous fury of my parents raging.
Yet it didn't and it makes no sense to me now.
Perhaps it simply highlights the fact that what humans fear most is something different.
Even a life with abusive parents was familiar, remove me from that and I couldn't cope.
Women commonly report this when trying to escape abusive relationships.
The outsider looking at the situation says, "It's obvious, you have to leave him."
But of course, it is never, ever, as simple as that, and likewise with my homesickness.
Seems that being beaten up and screamed at every second day was familiar and I couldn't cope without it.
Which brings me to something my friend Norman said.
Norman is a wonderful man, he was Men's Health Counsellor for Sydney's Northern Beaches when I met him.
He was/is full of wisdom and he told me this, "All children think their childhood is standard across society".
So I thought all kids spent their childhood hiding under the bed.
A sexually abused child thinks all children suffer the sexual depredations of a near relative.
A lucky child who has a happy and sunlit childhood think that all kids have this same wonderful youth.
Invariably it is only upon adulthood that may children begin to understand that what happened to them as child was not normal.
So to finish on an uplifting note after all this talk of horrendous depression, and a lesson that I hope many, if not all, parents are able to follow.
When I was playing for Sydney Uni soccer, we were gearing up to attend the annual inter-varsity tournament, IV, as it's called.
That year it was being held in Brisbane and we had organised shared cars to drive up there.
I was going with my friend Antony in the car of another player, Andrew.
His, Andrew's, father was lecturer at our Uni, and was very supportive of Andrew's sporting and academic careers.
In the winter he would find the time to watch Andrew play home games for the soccer club, and in the summer he would find time to bowl and throw balls to Andrew in the cricket nets to help with his training.
We drove up on Sunday night, and Antony and I went around to Andrew's home.
When we got there we put our gear in the car, then went inside to make last-minute preparations for the trip.
Andrew had to pop up to his room for soemthing and so Antony and I waited in the kitchen area for him to come down.
Andrew's father wasn't home, but I noticed a note from him to Andrew on the kitchen bench, (please forgive me for reading someone else's correspondence, but that's human nature).
The note said, "Andrew,
Hope it goes well for you in Brisbane.
Have a good time, you deserve to."
Doesn't get more supportive than that.



1 comment:

  1. G'day Lock,

    When I worked in child care the kids with the arsehole parents were the ones who cried the most when the parent left and the ones with cool parents would just run off into the yard without care. It was clear that some of the kids just weren't confident that they would be OK, or even that the parent would return. Other kids were so confident of their love that it wasn't an issue to be away from them.

    It could be that the constant undermining of your confidence made it hard to be away from your folk, even though they did nothing to deserve that. Its a terrible thing, and I am sure is part of ongoing shit. I remember how strangely good it was for my mental health when my father had died. I mean I was sad and all but also I think I finally grew up in some way, because I wasn't defining myself by him, even in the negative.