Tuesday 8th March 2011
Just over a week ago, on a gloomy Monday, I felt as fragile as a glass bauble hanging too close to the end of a Christmas tree branch. My heart felt swollen and about to explode and every aspect of my life was overwhelming me. My spirit and will to go on was as low as in the worst days of my depression and the only constructive thing I could do was sob uncontrollably. Today could not be more different. It is a stunning day outside: the sun is out, the garden filled with light and shadow and the air is alive with birdsong. Three chickens, two pheasants and a squirrel are going about their business on the lawn. The atmosphere is one of hope and joy. I have just come off the phone to my parents and learnt the glad news that my father does not apparently have the myeloma that a recent blood test and prolonged lower back problems had possibly suggested and there was a whole new lightness in his voice after weeks of introspection. He is 83 this year. I realise all over again the comfort that my parents bring. We do not see eachother often, they being down the southern end of the country - a fact that bothers me greatly now they are in their later years and given we have the only grandchildren; but when I learned that my mother is going to a meeting about doing the Easter flowers in church this afternoon and that she has been out weeding the rockery, and when my father signed off saying they were about to have their cup of coffee, I was infused with a sense of wellbeing. They were continuing their lives, busying themselves with inconsequential domestic and community tasks. Is this not really what it is all about?
Last Monday, a grey damp lifeless day, that sense of wellbeing was utterly absent. It is the surest sign of depression when you feel like that - not fleetingly, no, but when the feeling simply will not go away, whatever the weather is doing, whatever you are doing and when you can find nothing that will bring even small crumbs of comfort. When you are well, you can find comfort in a cup of tea and a biscuit, a chat with a friend, in cooking supper or sometimes, gasp, in doing the laundry. It is about feeling on top of things, feeling there is a point and a purpose to it all; feeling you have a future and there are things in it to look forward to.
State of mind is a curious thing. Is it a subtle set of chemical balances in the human brain or is it the state of your soul? The truth has to be a mixture of the two as, surely, they are inextricably linked. I know that when I was so severely depressed over so many years, it was due to exhaustion and defeat: the seratonin (the 'feel good' chemical) in my brain had reached such low levels that my own body was no longer able to reproduce it. The way I always describe this is to use the petrol tank analogy from a motor bike: you have the main tank and a reserve tank. If the main tank is dry, you switch to reserve. But if you let that run dry then the machine stops functioning. Your body cannot then reproduce seratonin by itself - and that is when you have to have it artificially replenished with drugs. There should be no shame in this. It is a simple fact.
But I will not go on with this today as we will begin to wade through dark waters and it is too beautiful a day to do that, and my mood is too good for me to want to destroy it. I will go out into my garden and join with the forces of nature. I will listen to the birdsong and see the new shoots of life emerging. I will smell the soil and the air and revel in the continuing cycle of life in all its emerging beauty.