The glitter troubled me. Guilt smashed me like a hammer. I took another sleeping pill and then my afternoon dose of diazepam and we went to the airport. The party was over. I stayed exactly as ill as ever. The most pills could do, I supposed, was place a distance there. The sleeping pills forced my brain to slow down a bit, but I knew nothing had really changed. Just as, years later, when I was back to drinking alcohol again, I would often cope with lower-level anxiety by getting drunk, all the time knowing that it would be there waiting for me with a hangover on top.
I am reluctant to come out and be anti all pills because I know for some people some pills work.
In some cases they seem to numb the pain enough for the good, real work of getting better to happen. In others, they provide a partial long-term solution. In my case, after my disorientating diazepam panic attacks I had been so scared to take pills that I never actually took anything directly for my depression as opposed to panic and anxiety. It was such relentless, continuous pain that just to think about it now affects my breathing, and my heart can go.
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I think of being in the passenger seat of a car, as leaden terror swamped me. I had to rise in my seat, my head touching the roof of the car, my body trying to climb out of itself, skin crawling, mind whirring faster than the dark landscape. It would have been good not to have known that kind of terror, and if a pill could have helped, then I should have taken it. But by not taking it, I became very in tune with myself. This helped me know what exactly made me feel better exercise, sunshine, sleep, intense conversation, etc.
If I had been dulled or felt that otherness meds can make you feel, things might have been harder. Here is Professor Jonathan Rottenberg, an evolutionary psychologist and author of The Depths, writing in words that are strangely comforting: How will we better contain depression? Expect no magic pill. One lesson learned from treating chronic pain is that it is tough to override responses that are hardwired into the body and mind.
Instead, we must follow the economy of mood where it leads, attending to the sources that bring so many into low mood states — think routines that feature too much work and too little sleep. We need broader mood literacy and an awareness of tools that interrupt low mood states before they morph into longer and more severe ones. These tools include altering how we think, the events around us, our relationships, and conditions in our bodies by exercise, medication, or diet. She had a long solemn face, like a sculpture on Easter Island.
I was mildly hungover. We were living next to a pub. Three pints of lager and a Black Russian or two was my nightly routine. Not graduate season. So we should be able to find you something. After a series of disastrous interviews, I got a job selling advertising space for journalist trade paper the Press Gazette in Croydon. I was placed under the supervision of an Australian called Iain, who explained to me the fundamentals of selling.
The four stages of a sales call. You get their attention, then their interest, then their desire to do something, before they want to commit to an action. It was an example. I hated it. But one lunch break I felt this intense bleakness inside me as if a cloud had passed over my soul. So I left the job.
Just walked out. I was a failure. A quitter. I had nothing at all on the horizon. I was sliding down, becoming vulnerable to an illness that was waiting in the wings. I was just thinking of escape. Advances in science and technology have shown that, really, a physical body is a universe in itself. Each of us is made up of roughly a hundred trillion cells.
In each of those cells is roughly that same number again of atoms. That is a lot of separate components. Our brains alone have a hundred billion brain cells, give or take a few billion. Yet most of the time we do not feel the near-infinite nature of our physical selves. We simplify by thinking about ourselves in terms of our larger pieces.
Arms, legs, feet, hands, torso, head.
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Flesh, bones. A similar thing happens with our minds. In order to cope with living they simplify themselves. They concentrate on one thing at a time. But depression is a kind of quantum physics of thought and emotion. It reveals what is normally hidden.
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It unravels you, and everything you have known. The evolutionary psychologists might be right. We humans might have evolved too far. They stood there looking tired and happy and worried all at once. We hugged. We drove back. I was better. I had left my demons behind in the Mediterranean and now I was fine. I just needed home.
I just needed Mum and Dad. I was still a little bit edgy, but I was better. Mum turned around in the passenger seat and looked at me and smiled and the smile had a slightly crumpled quality, her eyes glazed with tears. I felt it. The weight of Mum.
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The weight of being a son that had gone wrong. The weight of being loved.
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The weight of being a disappointment. A little bit frayed. But that was understandable. I was better, essentially. I could still be the hope. I might end up living until I am ninety- seven.
I could be a lawyer or a brain surgeon or a mountaineer or a theatre director yet. It was early days.