Having started the year 2016 feeling poorly – coughing non-stop, lacking in energy and bordering on clinical depression – I should prefer to delay the onset of the next year until a later date. However, being a good little soldier, I shall rise to the occasion, update my face-book page and write a blog. Forgive me, however, if I return to the subject of depression…it is not very festive, or uplifting, but this time of year is particularly hard for all of us who battle with this pernicious, vicious foe.
I was diagnosed with manic depression – bipolar as it is now called – many years ago. I know the condition well. I have learned how to recognise the symptoms. I know the best tactics to employ to halt, suppress and alleviate them, but, as fellow sufferers will know only too well, the shadow can sneak through most barriers and overcome even the strongest of wills. I confess that for several days I gave in to this latest bout. Exhausted by a hectic Christmas, a hacking viral cough, and overwhelmed by life in general, I found myself enclosed in my ‘paper-bag’ for a few miserable days. During a paper-bag day I do not answer the phone, see people or emerge from my duvet. I can’t. It is as though a wall surrounds me and to step beyond it would incur some dreadful, irreversible happening. I’m sure this sounds totally indulgent, but it is almost involuntary, and the only way I know to find time to repair – time to turn around and ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet’.
It was Wednesday before I dared to peep out from my bag. I then came face to face with the second phase of depression – which is a hideous feeling of guilt. What right have I, a spoiled, over indulged over privileged woman, to throw such a wobbly, etc, etc, etc? There is no answer to this question – depression id not rational – hence the guilt. Nevertheless, I am convinced that this is what many people think of those who they perceive as weak , for failing to put on a brave face and continue to take an active part in life. This is when I give thanks to my erstwhile piano teacher and friend, and assuage my guilt by recalling her words, spoken to me over forty years ago.
I had sunk into a fierce depression and forgotten she was coming to give me a lesson. When she arrived I hid behind the door, terrified at being discovered unkempt, distraught and -for want of a better word – mad. My car was outside, the dog was barking, she knew I was at home. So, being a good friend, she came round to the back door and let herself in, to find me cowering behind the sofa. After a lengthy several coffees and a great deal of weeping, I asked her “What do you do when you have a paper-bag day?”
She looked at me blankly, and I had to explain what a paper-bag day was. Her answer came as a total revelation.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had one.” she said.
It turned out that she woke up feeling pretty much the same everyday. Her life was certainly not a bowl of cherries, but she coped with what life threw at her without life itself ever constituting a threat. Life was not something to be wished away. The she said something I cling on to when I feel totally useless. “I’ve never had to cope with such feelings. But you are still here, so you are coping very well. Coping means to survive, to battle on…it is a process not an aim. “
So now, when the shadows darken, when the paper-bag beckons, I tell myself that I am coping and I have been coping all my life. I reminded myself that retreat is a coping mechanism, a temporary sanctuary. Now,I know that some readers will not know what on earth I am talking about. If you are one then I apologise, this post is not really aimed at you. This is for those millions of people who like me, spend much of their lives trying to keep their heads above water, coping, in whatever way they can, with a debilitating and misunderstood condition. So, here’s to survivors, whatever battle they fight. And here’s to those wonderful friends who support, succour, and sustain, even if they may not fully understand. May we all have a PEACEFUL. FULFILLING, NEW YEAR.