This is not a post about photography as such, although photography does come into it indirectly, but if you’re only here for the pictures you might want to skip this one and come back when normal service is resumed. For those of you who’re up for reading on, this is a long post so you may want to pour a cup of tea and make yourself comfy.
Over the last few years, I’ve discovered that most women I know are either on anti-depressants now, or have been at some time in the past – I include myself in this number. This may be true of the men in my life as well, but I don’t have the evidence to confirm that. I think men would be less likely to admit to it, even to a doctor, and male sadness is more often – though not always – expressed outwardly as aggression. Women are more likely to turn the sadness and hurt inwards and then it manifests as depression – I read something once that said depression is just ‘anger without the enthusiasm’. I rather like that. Anger, uncomfortable as it is, is actually a step up from depression in the emotional health scale. There’s energy in anger, while depression drains energy away and keeps you frozen and stuck.
One persistent question I have in my mind is: ‘what sort of world have we created that lots of us can only manage to deal with it by using mind-altering drugs?’ This bothers me, and I wonder about it. People have always suffered from depression, but not in such huge numbers. At any one time in the UK, one in ten people are suffering from depression, with one in twenty experiencing a major depressive episode. That’s a lot of people, and there are doubtless more who never tell anyone or get any kind of help. (Statistics from www.mind.org)
I would never knock anyone who decides to go down the drug route – it can quite literally be a lifesaver and even when not that dramatic, it gives you back enough energy to dig yourself out of the depressive hole you’ve fallen into. I did it myself for a short while, and have been sorely tempted recently to go back for more, but I don’t deal well with drugs in my system. I get bad side-effects. More than that, I know it isn’t a long-term answer and it’s not really going to solve anything. If I broke my leg, it would help to use crutches till it mended and using the crutches might make it easier to do other things to help get it back in working order, but the crutches themselves aren’t going to do anything to heal my leg. Sometimes a leg is so badly damaged that it’s never going to mend, and you might have to use crutches all your life and it’s a damn good thing that they exist because they help you function and lead the kind of life that would otherwise be impossible. There might be times when depression is like this, but I feel that mine – thank god – is of the mending variety.
I took the photograph of the broken tree quite recently, when my friend Eileen came to stay and we were walking in Hawarden park. The minute I saw it, I identified with it. This is how I feel right now – battered by circumstances, isolated and set apart from the other trees, lots of branches missing, some broken and hanging, bits of it dead, but still standing, still alive. Over the last year or so depression has got me in its grips again and has been clinging on with talon-like strength. I’ve managed to dislodge it now and again, but since the beginning of the year it has clung with renewed force. It’s made it very hard to write blog posts – I don’t want to whinge about my life and my problems, but it’s difficult to pick out the better bits and pretend they represent the whole, so I tend to keep quiet at those times. I’m coming clean now, because it’s clear to me just how many of us secretly suffer and depression is a very isolating thing. When we hide parts of ourselves, it’s hard to feel connected to others and that feeling of disconnection feeds back in to our sadness.
In the past, it’s got a hold on me for different reasons than it has now. These days, I think it’s more of a reactive kind of thing. Like the tree, life has beaten me up a bit – I feel broken and I’m missing parts of myself. I’ve lost a fairish number of branches – when we moved here I lost regular contact with my friends, the work I was doing, a place that I loved and felt at home in, and a feeling of purpose and usefulness. This last one, I think, is the most important.
I could – and need to – make more efforts to change this, and I’ve taken some small steps to doing that. I feel much better when I do. However, Geoff is the only one of us who’s capable of earning the bulk of the household income and so the shape of our lives depends on where and when he can find work. One week it looks as if we might be going back to Kent where there’s some temporary work, another week there might be an interview for a job in Nottingham, or Yorkshire, or Ireland. My head spins as I try to visualise my future in one place after another, and my motivation to make something of my life where we are right now drains away. For one thing, if I create something here that gives me joy, I’m going to have to lose that too. In some ways it’s easier to have nothing here that I’ll be upset about leaving behind. The flip side of this is that I’m not happy this way, and of course it’s just possible that Geoff might find work locally in the end and we won’t have to leave, and I’ll have wasted all this time. I have to act as if this is how it will be, because there is no alternative other than giving up.
The main problem, I think, is the lack of control I feel over my own life. I’ve been in unhappy situations in the past, but it was always up to me to do something about them and to decide what that something was. Now, it feels as if it’s out of my hands and I’m sure it’s the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that that entails which is messing me up. But this can’t go on – I’m tired of feeling this way, I’m tired of feeling like that broken-down old pine tree. It may be impossible to regain my original shape again, and some of those branches are gone for good, but a bit of pruning, a bit of feeding and nurturing, and some sunshine could at least do something to help turn me into a happier, if still somewhat battered, tree.
To that end, I’ve made some improvements to my diet (particularly the chocolate and wine part of it) and I’ve started on a regime of supplements and daily yoga sessions, all of which should feed the soil my tree grows in and help it recover. It seems to be working – I’ve got a bit more energy and some of the depression and lack of motivation has lifted. The thing that would help the most, of course, would be to grow some nice strong roots somewhere, and until that happens this tree’s always going to feel somewhat in danger of being felled when the winds of life batter it. But – stretching my tree analogy to rather ridiculous lengths – since my roots have been dislodged anyway, I need to pick them up like long skirts and go find some other trees who’ll welcome me in. I need to find a way to fruit, even if my roots aren’t sustaining me too well.
I hesitated to write this. There’s a thin line between being open about the ups and downs that our lives consist of, and telling too much. Two things made me go with my impulse – the first is that, if I disappear for a little while now and again, you’ll know that this is why. And the second? The tree made me do it……blame the tree.