Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Below the radar

In many ways Low Level Depression is the most corrosive mental state of all. Because it is there all the time you learn to live with it. You accommodate it. You accept it. You come to believe that this is the way the world is. You give up the fight.

I often justify my submission to the condition by quoting the old story that anyone who can see the world for what it is really like is bound to be depressed. I have a morbid interest in famine and floods, massacres in Darfur, petty crime and vandalism, terrorism, oh, you name it and I'll claim its iniquity to myself. It's all part of my original sin. The bloody history of the world is the monkey on my back, the price I have to pay for being a human being.

But when I think about it, maybe I've got this the wrong way round. Maybe it's because I am depressed that I'm interested in these things, forever seeking stark confirmation that this world is not a place I want to inhabit.

There are things I can do to alleviate the condition. Writing for sure. Writing anything. This blog, for example, has been a Godsend. Although, as ever, it is a double-edged sword. If I'm in low spirits virtually any task appears impossible. Writing a post that people will find interesting can be a terrifying challenge. On days like that nothing seems worthwhile. What is the point of it all? is the recurring, unanswerable question that raises its ugly head when I'm presented with even the most trivial task. And writing a blog isn't trivial. Fortunately, that's when the Comments section often comes to my rescue. Visitors to this blog are generally nice, warm human beings. They say nice things. Sometimes it feels safe to reply. Visiting other blogs too can help a lot. You realise you're not alone. You find the courage to write again.

Other things help. Exercise for sure. Walking, almost obsessively, over the hills, walking miles, many miles, writing novels in my head, an incessant dialogue with myself, trying to figure it all out. Music too, yes that has its place.

Oh, and then there's the humour. It is undoubtedly a defence mechanism. Not just my protective carapace but a shield I present to people around me, to arm them against my desolation. The humour can get a bit manic for sure. And repetitive. Tiresome too I expect. But making people laugh - in small doses, I can't perform for long before I'm exhausted - gives me real pleasure. Fleeting pleasure maybe - everything is fleeting - but deep and worthwhile pleasure nonetheless. Getting a joke down on the page is a source of genuine satisfaction, something worth doing. As I've said in another post, there will be lots of humour in my next book whatever my mood while I'm writing it.

Unfortunately, as well as being corrosive, Low Level Depression is clever too. It causes me to shun anything that might give me pleasure or happiness. You may have noticed that I don't always reply to Comments. There's a devil inside me stopping me. Too much humanity isn't good for me. Don't get too close. Don't seek the comfort of strangers. So forgive my silence on these occasions. Something is biting my tongue. On other occasions I'll deliberately stop writing even when I have something interesting to say. It's a sort of psychological self-harm.

Other examples of self-denial include, at various times, giving up coffee, fishing, sailing, reading, and golf. A newly-retired friend of mine recently said to me at a party that he and I would now have plenty of time to play golf together. My wife looked at him askance. "If it will give Bill pleasure, don't expect him to do it," she responded. Her reply really shook me. She was right. I hadn't realised it but I wear an invisible hair shirt. It's like I'm doing penance for something but I don't know what it is.

When I'm feeling a bit lower than normal I sometimes sit back and ask myself what do I really want in life. And sometimes the answer is nothing. That's when I know I've moved on to the next level of depression, which I'll talk about tomorrow.


  1. I feel embarrassed at rattling on last night so self-indulgently so I won't do the same again.
    But the "psychological self-harm" is something I do too - I don't let myself enjoy things, won't go on holiday, won't share the joy of my children or partner -- all kinds of stuff like that. It is some inner voice almost exulting in the misery of it all.

    Very weird this whole depression thing. People always tell me that I should not give up work becuase it keeps me going. I have developed my work habits into a compulsive displacement activity that always keeps me busy, as if I didn't do it then I'd just sit on the floor incapable of doing anything (that's my fear). Maybe that's why I like blogging.

    Now look at me I have rabbited on even though I promised I wouldn't. No self-discipline.

    What I really wanted to say was none of the above but just;

    "Good post, Pundy, identify with it all. Bye, Max."

  2. Maxine, you can rattle around this blog just as long as you like. Reading what you say, and sharing your problems, helps me too. I am not going to be so crass as to offer you any kind of advice, other than to say that I could sit here and listen to you all night.

  3. annony12:45 am

    I can relate to some of this, Pundy. Not sure about your reasoning, though. I will keep awatch and come back as annony, if I may, (peviously anonymous),so you can recognise my thoughts.

  4. Anonymous4:58 am

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  5. Anonymous6:13 pm

    i do the incessant dialogue with myself too when im feeling down, i was wondering if anyone else did that, kinda comforting to see that im not alone

  6. anonymous, you're not alone. it may feel like it, but it isn't true. there's millions of us like this. hang on in there.