Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The word is my shepherd…

Please note…
…that this post is not intended as a way of generating or seeking sympathy – not for myself, anyway. My plight – such as it is – is much less awful than that of many others. This is simply a statement of fact; as well as an apology to those who I may have let down through lack of availability or response. And if it provokes any emotion, I hope that you will focus that emotion on helping those poor souls for whom there is no light – yet – at the end of their tunnel. It is, I hope, though, a salutary lesson – especially to other men – that you should not believe it is a sign of weakness to seek help; and that the sooner you do so, the earlier your likely recovery. Thank you for reading.


At around 10:30, on Friday, 12 February 2016, I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression – and, perhaps surprisingly, for the first time. As my lovely doctor (who, already running ten minutes late, saw me for nearly thirty…) said: “Anyone with a chronic condition – even asthma – is at risk; and it’s amazing that you’ve managed this long.” The key word there, I suppose, is “managed”. During my almost twenty years of constant pain, and its associated neurological deficits – including continual migraines: now increasing in frequency, length and intensity… – I’ve probably come close, quite a few times, mentally, to seeking external help; but, always, somehow, managed to drag myself from out of whatever dark pit I was stumbling into.

This time, though, it feels different. It is different. I am plummetting, Alice-like, down an infinite rabbit hole; and with very little to grab onto. And I know I have been falling for months – stupidly (and not because I was ashamed, or I would not be writing this…) because I thought that, yet again, no matter how deep and dark things got, I could still yet pull myself out of it, as I have so many times before – or at least work my way, on my own, to the other end of whatever it was I was going through.

But, you may say, you’ve been so active – walks, concerts, the theatre! And I would agree. But then I tend not to write about the prolonged ‘inbetween’ times: when I have simply lain in bed, immersed in the physical and mental pain unquenched by medication, unvanquished by effort. I too had thought, simplistically, that dragging myself away from the comfort of my quilt, achieving such repeated, short-term escapes (or, more properly, ‘coping mechanisms’), would finally achieve something long-term in the way of success (however that may be defined). But the moment each review, each short tale of my adventures, was published, the joy that they had provoked would rapidly fade. Only the darkness would remain: hence, perhaps, the addiction to Doctor Faustus – an unremitting nightmare way beyond hope: and which, to me, currently feels all too real. And why, five days later, the despair of the central Adagio – “representing a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments” – of Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuéz, is what sticks with me; rather than the outrageous joy of its outer movements, or that of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony.

This heartbreaking concerto movement has been linked, amongst other things, to the outbreak of war – written, as it was, in 1939 – also, more specifically, to the horrific bombing of Guernica; as well as the devastating miscarriage of Rodrigo and his wife’s first pregnancy. Whatever its origins, the soul-rending scream – to me – of the molto appassionato string and woodwind re-entry, after the guitar’s climactic cadenza – keeps repeating over and over in my head: speaking, singing to me in a way that great music often does. (It caught my mood, you could say….) As Miles Davis once pronounced: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.” And I would probably have agreed. Until last Wednesday night.


I am aware – having thought so, cruelly, myself – that writing about one’s depression could be be seen as somehow ‘trendy’. But, now that I am in such a position, I can see that most, if not all, such writers are aiming for catharsis (if not redemption). It feels somehow ironic to be so vitally aware of one’s predicament that you are able to (attempt to) describe it (almost dispassionately) in words – and yet are not able to resolve it.

Knowing how averse I am to medication (as is she), I know it took a lot of gumption (as well as persuasion) for my doctor to suggest “a very small dose” of antidepressants. She (and I) had hoped that simply by helping me sleep – my insomnia has increased with the depth and darkness of my mood – these tiny tablets would help. But my nights have been disturbed by vivid dreams; and the medication has yet to conquer the physical pain that is at the root of all this. The first night I took that little orange pill, I slept fourteen hours straight through: but my body quickly accommodates to all sorts of drugs, and this has not been repeated. I also seem to be experiencing increased tinnitus, and the return of musical hallucinations (which, in some ways, can – sometimes – be comforting) – as with many such medications, there can be a strong ototoxic effect (one which I know, from sad experience, I am prone to).


Just over a fortnight in, therefore, I had hoped to experience some sort of change for the better: but suspect that, aided and abetted by drugs (or not), I am in for the long haul. Anyone who knows me well – and will therefore have seen this coming better than I – or who has read my last poem: and has seen where I’m at… – will know that I shall, eventually (through a combination of analytical thought, sheer perseverance, being able to talk/write about it, plus – possibly – increasing doses of medication) deal with it (and, as always, with the strong assistance of strong words…). This may – as with the physiological and neurological aspects – not necessarily mean recovery, nor victory. It may mean reaching a compromise, or signing a truce, with the black dog which stalks me (…although I see more of a tall, barefoot figure in a white suit; shirtless; and with a dour Scots accent …when giving presence to my demon – …which may be no bad thing: as it is, therefore, less obviously malevolent).

But it is early, yet. This is just the beginning. That I have moments where I can apply logic – or evenings where I can slowly metamorphose from the daylight-fearing wreck that I feel myself to be into something that is both presentable, and, more importantly, has the facility for enjoyment (and for reflection on that enjoyment) – gives me (and, I hope, others) optimism: the odd stepping-stone in a morass of self-doubt and disappointment. It is these I cling to: hoping that more will appear – even if I have to pressgang them into a forced future existence by filling my calendar with them; and then not cancelling, at the last moment (which is an easy habit to fall into).


I may not appear to be quite myself (whatever such a construct may be), therefore, for a wee while. But I believe that this is as much who/what I am as the eccentric Bard of yore. It is just an undiscovered part of me that would – possibly – have better lain permanently hidden (under a bloody big rock). And yet, having glimpsed it many times before, askance, and rapidly looked away from the depths beyond the mirror’s surface reflections, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… I will be better (ahem) for acknowledging it, in the long run.

I hope that it will give me a clearer perspective on life, on others’ lives; may render colours brighter, music and drama even more effective. Who knows? It will be a long journey, I suppose – but one that I intend to finish. I am therefore setting off into the unknown regions with thought and trust (and a loving, understanding partner) as my true companions: knowing, as I do, that, in many ways, I will never be alone.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

1 comment:

  1. As ever. Such evocative prose. I know all too well the journey you are on. I hear you.

    Admire your honesty and integrity in writing so openly about it.

    Thoughts with you and yours. Stay strong and as Churchill and I say, keep buggering on X

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