Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Hounds of Hell

This is my last post on depression per se, although tomorrow I'll round off my thoughts by describing the many positive aspects of the illness and why, in the end, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Clinical depression, though, is no joke. You can guess the symptoms easily enough. In my case the main ones I remember were total inability to sleep; my mind was on fire 24/7; endless suicidal thoughts; abject, black despair; total inability to concentrate; weight loss; hair turning grey virtually overnight, etc etc etc. Of course, the real victims were the people around me; my wife and two kids. The physical symptoms persisted for about two years, the mental ones for another three. The aftermath a lifetime.

Once again, the cause of my depression was my business. I did something really stupid in that I took on a load of debt just as the price of oil was going through the floor. The odd thing is I knew I was making a mistake but it seemed easier to go ahead with things than it was to pull out. In a way too I felt I was fated to fail, this was to be my big penance for past sins, the sins of the world. I went ahead with the borrowing. A big mistake.

There was something exquisitely cruel about the British bankruptcy laws at the time. To borrow so much money I gave personal guarantees to the bank and put my house up as security. As the price of oil dropped work in the oilfields dried up and suddenly we were losing money. Big money. Cash flow turned negative with terrifying rapidity. And there was no way out. You can't shift a machine shop. I faced losing the house and paying off my debts for the rest of my life. The bank would also take a large share of my wife's salary for ever after. She never wanted wealth and somehow I had saddled her with debts she would never be able to repay. I felt, quite rightly, a terrible sense of guilt. To find out what it's like to be in that situation go read A Half Life of One which I started during this period.

I spent my days and nights endlessly constructing scenarios that would enable me to survive. I could concentrate on nothing else. I entered another world, a kind of purgatory in which every terrible day felt like a lifetime. Yet no matter how hard I looked I could find no answers except one. Suicide. That was all I could think about. I'd worn my brain out. I'd become a hollow man. It was like I was sitting in the audience watching a play. I could see myself going through the motions but I wasn't really there. I was watching a living ghost.

But I couldn't commit suicide either. I couldn't bequeath all my unsolved problems to my wife and children. That would be wrong, unspeakably cruel, the ultimate betrayal. And because they blocked my exit I began to blame them inwardly. I had done it all for them, tried to make a better life for them and now they had betrayed me. I was trapped. I didn't tell them any of this of course. Even today I never discuss business with my wife. I'd made my own private hell and I had to live in it.

If I was an idiot to get myself into this situation I was a genius to survive it. I've analysed what happened many times, the way I ducked and dived, the tactics I employed to keep the business afloat, the ruthless way I put survival above everything else. Because the business did survive. I don't know how. I did the impossible. Even today I don't understand how I managed it. That phase of my life lasted about two years. I couldn't do it again, my body wouldn't stand it, my mind certainly wouldn't.

Mentally I remained a basket case for another three years or so. That was a dangerous time. The temptation to tidy up the loose ends and take the easy way out was always there. Today, the mental scars remain but the business is in rude good health. Every time the price of oil goes up our profits rise.

As far as my mental state was concerned I was lucky, of course. The reasons for my attack of severe depression were obvious and understandable. And soluble. As the price of oil rose and the business revived my depression gradually lifted. I survived. Other people are not so lucky. My mother suffered from severe depression for most of her life. There was no obvious cause and certainly no apparent cure. Although she made my life a misery, and the lives of all those around her, it wasn't her fault. I hated her but I also pitied her. No one deserves to suffer like that.

Anyway. That's enough depression for one day. Tomorrow, all the good things depression can bring. Honestly, for once I'm not joking.


  1. Have you read Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down? It's about 4 people who all go separately up to the roof of a tower block on New Year's Eve with the intention of jumping.

    It's v compassionate and wise - and also v funny. A lot of what you have said is reflected there in a different way ...

  2. I haven't, but I will. I loved How to be Good. Thanks.

  3. That last comment you make about your mother really hits home, Pundy. I feel that I make the life of my partner and children pretty miserable. I know I am doing it even when I am doing it, but I can't "not be depressed".

    Debi, I've got that book you mention on my birthday list -- waiting for it to be in pbk which it now is, so I expect I'll get it from one of my girls. I liked How to be Good as well, Pundy, and About a Boy which was better than the film I thought. Also liked the one about when he decided to look up all his ex-girlfriends, starting with his first one, aged 10 or something, whom he started to go out with at playtime at primary school but they broke up by the time the bell rang to go back in for class (or something like that).

  4. Maxine, I'm not into sympathy and offering false hope and all that stuff but my heart really bleeds for you. The odd thing is, before you came out, so to speak, I would never have guessed from your writing that you were troubled this way.

    You know from everything I've written how troubled I am but...but even so I remain an optimist. Things do get better. I promise. Being depressed doesn't make you a bad person. Rather, the opposite.

  5. Hope strives....

    Btw - 'The Gin Co-operative' (me closest girls) used to be called 'The Miserable Bitch Club' - we changed the name because it was too depressing!

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