x depression

Time out of Mind

Inbetween days

This is going to sound a bit wacky but I wanted to say it.

A few months ago, I started getting some bad feelings, Paulo Coelho Alchemist-style, that the universe was somehow telling me I was on the wrong path. Or rather, that I was ignoring the signs to the right path. I think I wrote about it at the time but maybe didn’t publish it. No matter. I tried to start paying attention and I guess I changed some things. Not major, earthshattering changes but those small incremental shifts that happen almost subconsciously and kind of simultaneously. The changes where it almost feels as though, by the time you’ve formed the thought, the deed is done, things have been set in motion…

I did the poetry month, which was pretty major for me. I made some decisions about work and life that have led to me feeling a little less restless than usual. Maybe I even grew up a smidge.

I sort of hate when people talk about this stuff in a self-helpish way because they never give you any REAL information, or practical steps to follow. Listen to yourself, pay attention to the signs, it’s all so ephemeral. I’m sorry because I don’t think I can offer practical advice either, beyond a cod-version of my patented “hands-off parenting” advice (maybe it’s my general life advice) which is: You do know what’s right. And even if you don’t think you know, you do. Trust yourself. Then go on and do it and meanwhile, butt out of bossing other people! (Unless they ask for your advice, I love giving sought-advice IRL). So why am I even saying this here? Sigh… I don’t know. I’m not trying to help anyone else out particularly, just understand myself a bit better.

I’ve been trying to allow myself some time to think as well. I find it almost impossible to sit around and contemplate stuff though. I am a do-er, but that’s OK – with doing comes thought. I can think while I do. That said, one of the few ways I can give myself a break from “doing” is by reading. I read novels. A lot. I’ve recently finished the Earthsea quartet by Ursula K. LeGuin and some of the words really struck a chord… surely a level up from Coelho at least 😉  Anyway, one of the ideas I always come back to when I consider my life here in Switzerland is that it is a unique time. A time-inbetween-times where I am almost inexplicably free of the burdens of what I’d call “normal life”.

“each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.’” (from “The Farthest Shore: The Third Book of Earthsea (The Earthsea Quartet 3)” by Ursula K. LeGuin)

I’ve also been allowing myself to feel my emotions more and maybe that’s helped? I find it hard to value emotion over rational thought and planning. Considered along with the gender bias stuff I inexpertly wrote about recently, I guess this can be directly correlated to a lot of what’s seen as important, valuable and success-making in our society – traditionally “male” traits of rationality, consistency or unwavering-ness, disregarding emotion. (I say “male” in inverted commas because I don’t think men and women are really that different, but we’re conditioned in so many ways to believe we are.) And I wonder if, in this world gone mad with all the focus on negativity, where commercial enterprise wins out almost every damn time against caring for the natural world or human decency; where we’d rather catch a longhaul flight to holiday in another country than let a starving refugee take up residence in our own, if this denying of emotion, of love, of trying to push away fear with hatred and never allowing ourselves to feel compassion because we’re so afraid that it will in some way diminish us, open a door through which all that we value can be taken away from us; where appearing strong, virile, invulnerable and unbending is paramount, while showing you care, or admitting you don’t understand, or are afraid, saying you’ve changed your mind and you feel different now, even saying sorry, let alone that you made a mistake, is seen as weak and therefore bad… I wonder if that’s actually a big part of what’s wrong with the world right now.

Anyway, while I still shy away from too much touchy-feely stuff, allowing my emotions to be felt more often is probably a good thing. They say only the truly strong can show their vulnerability, or something. And, like anything, the more you practice, the less out of control you feel with it all. Emotions are not just the light, frippery, insubstantial butterfly girl-things we should ignore because they’re so silly (although why you’d want to disregard something so delicate and beautiful I don’t know). They’re also the deep, dark, bloody and important things that make us human, that touch our roots, our history, our compassion, our tenacity and our integrity. I’m not free of my demons by any stretch, but maybe I’m starting to balance the burden towards freedom a little better. I hope.

“She did feel it. A dark hand had let go its lifelong hold upon her heart. But she did not feel joy, as she had in the mountains. She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free. What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveller may never reach the end of it.” (from “The Tombs of Atuan: The Second Book of Earthsea (The Earthsea Quartet 2)” by Ursula K. LeGuin)


In Deep

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition "ABYSSES". http://www.museum-neuchatel.ch/index.php/presse

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition “ABYSSES”. http://www.museum-neuchatel.ch/index.php/presse

I just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I feel compelled to write about it for several reasons. One is that I’m reading novels all the time and it’s one of my single greatest pleasures in life, yet I rarely mention it here. Two is that the book rather moved me. And three is that I saw this exhibition that resonated with the book. I’m sure there’s other reasons but let’s get moving.

A Little Life is a devastating, epic chronicle of one man’s life and that of his friends (Plotspoiler warning). The main character is an orphan who suffers horrific abuse at the hands of various tormentors throughout his childhood, then spends the rest of his life wrestling with the demons — both mental and physical — that the abuse leaves behind. This is juxtaposed with the fact that, in his adulthood, he forms some of the most beautiful relationships with friends, parental figures, mentors, caregivers and romantically.

I think I’d be almost wholehartedly endorsing this book as one of the best I’d read recently, except for the fact that a person whose opinion I respect in these matters was not a big fan, calling it “teen angst for grown ups” and “pain porn”. And, you know what? He’s kind of right.

The main character in A Little Life is addicted to cutting himself and is a mass of injuries and scars — internal and external — due to his self-abuse and that inflicted upon him by others. It’s a visceral depiction of the way, as human beings, we’re all to some extent concealed and revealed by our scars and neuroses. And about how we’re all works-in-progress throughout our little, petty lives. I thought of my own addictions (however minor), my rituals, my patterns of thought and behaviour — some well worn, other forged anew. These behaviours trap us and yet anchor us to our lives, to the people that we are.

Coincidentally, I went to a fascinating exhibition called Abysses at the Natural History Museum in Neuchâtel. The exhibition showed rare photos and taxidermy models of the creatures of the Deep Sea: angler fish, dumbo octopus, lantern sharks, etc. Due to my inadvertent consumption of Octonauts cartoons, I actually knew of the existence of many of these beings (as did my delighted nearly-5yo son, who could identify most of them without referring to the guidebook). But it was incredible to see real photos and, particularly, the physical forms in taxidermy (is it called that when it’s fish?).

I was struck by how the creatures of the deep sea look unfinished. Scarred. Darkness is their final layer of skin. They are a mass of unpigmented flesh and they are not pretty. After all, what need have they of looks? Down there where it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s quiet and it’s hungry… (a quote from the exhibition). Seeing this while reading A Little Life, it seemed poignant as a reference to the way in which everyone hovers on the edge of their own madness, the edge of their own personal abyss; flirting with the danger, sometimes diving further down, other times swimming out into the light…

The book depicted friendship — the love, trust and deep knowledge you get with people you’ve known a long time — heartbreakingly well, while also showing the way we cover ourselves and lie to each other and self-deceive and self-harm and try and try as we might, how we never truly know one another. Unanswerable questions were asked about where the line lies in helping someone who does not want to be helped (or do they?): at what point do you become an enabler? A source of further harm?

I guess, in the end, we’re all just snatching at fragments of luminescence and scraps of food that float down from above. Most of it apparently already digested and shat out several times by those who dwell further up in the light. Of course the creatures of the Deep Sea are also beautiful in an otherworldly way – some are inky-clear to avoid being seen in the dark, others exist in shades of darkroom red, and there’s the flashes of bright to lure prey and/or repel predators as they float in the dark. In this respect, our strangeness is often our beauty. Our ugly parts what make us stong.

The final thing I will say about the book was the conspicuous absence of any mother character. In fact every female in the novel was peripheral. The book discussed parenting and indeed nurturing from a father’s perspective but this lack of The Mother was a bit perplexing. Maybe I’m taking it too personally. And maybe this absence was yet another abuse heaped upon the main character to show a person who truly had been fucked around by fate. It didn’t pass the Bechdel test (if that can be applied to novels) but, to me, the depictions of love and friendship rang true as universal. However, I still have to pull up and question that use of men as the ‘control’ – the neutral ground on which to lay all those other Big Topics.

Of course, in the dark of the Deep Sea, there’s not much nurturing either. Not for those alien-creatures the happy parenting of the whales or the dugongs, oh no. Starve, freeze and sink or swim.

Next week – something fun, I promise.  😛


Mountains: I think I finally get it

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New year ahoy! I approached the start of 2016 full of plans for the new year. I figured now that my baby is nearly a toddler and we’ve been in Switzerland for two years, I could get stuck into a few projects as well as getting out and about a bit more with friends and such. However 2016 has also heralded an unwelcome return of those black and yellow dogs – depression and anxiety. Not quite sure why – something about overhyped expectations maybe? Or the fact I still seem to feel lonely no matter how much socialising I do (OK so it’s not THAT much but still…) But let’s stop right here, that was just a little segue in case you wondered why I’d been quiet of late (oh, you didn’t? Oh… okay…). And I don’t really want to talk about that.  I would prefer to talk about mountains.

I may have mentioned in the past that Switzerland is quite an outdoorsy country that’s full of outdoorsy people and and since I’m not, I do wonder if I’ll ever truly gel with this place. Himself loves The Nature and in the past year has started doing regular mountain hikes, which he finds is an enjoyable “me time” break from the everyday. Oh wait, I had some “me time” right before Christmas, do you know how I spent it? Catching a train for 1 hour to meet another parent to buy 5kg of secondhand Duplo off them. Then I caught a train for an hour back home. I also had Burger King. Wooh. Rock and roll!

But I digress – mountain climbing – as well as getting away from it all, you’re seeing stunning scenery, plus a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise etc, what’s not to like? Well… I’ve recently realised that for me, who spends way too much time alone already due to working from home, or with only young children for company, the ideal “me time” – actually, can we ban this term now – the ultimate Good Time is preferably spent with other adults – it’s just the way I am: an extrovert who needs to bounce off people. I’m OK on my own but my best times are with people I love, and/or who make me laugh and/or who I can have an interesting conversation with and/or who are champion drinkers. A combination of all these is the ultimate, obvs.

Anyway – so we had our niece and nephew staying and we went up this mountain (Mount Titlis) and I was blown away. It was a bit of a faff to get to, involving three trains, a walk and two cable cars but… wow. I think now I see how this can be addictive. It was funny because to get on the cable cars, there’s a bit of a crowd, right? Most people clomping along in their ski boots (to this non-skier, they looked very uncomfortable to walk in, but I guess it’s worth it). Anyway, I felt a bit guilty, as I always do, being in the way of civilians with our giant buggy and travelling up to the ski fields as mere “pedestrians” (as we overheard some guy in the queue grumpily calling us – he was Australian of course!)

But as we crowded onto the second cable car to begin the final descent, everyone’s faces suddenly got happy. We were looking out over this incredible vista of mountain peaks and the sun was shining off the sparkling snow, the sky was blue and everyone was grinning from ear to ear – like we were lovers who shared a secret: How good is this?

We had such a wonderful day up there above 3,000m (or 3 kilometres, as my nephew was tickled to note) where the sun always shines (I guess – it’s above the clouds, right?). I think I finally get why people are so fanatical about mountains. Maybe Himself is onto something. He’s usually right about these things, damn him. So, while I may be dogged by loneliness even when I’m among friends; clawed by anxiety over my “hands-off” 1970s parenting style (it’s all cocktails and swingers’ parties… yeah right) and beset by depression over where the f*ck my life is going, maybe it’s not so bad after all. I’m here, you’re here, there be mountains… Happy New Year.


This sux, baby

Grumpy mum/to-be

After my recent moan about motherhood, I thought I may as well have a pop at pregnancy too – go for broke.

I’m totally bummed this whole second baby has got off to such a horrible start. I’ve been unwell, unhappy and uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy. I had all these rosy tinted dreams about having baby no. 2. I don’t know why I assumed it would be so wonderful but I guess I felt like the first time around, while it was all new and (relatively) exciting, it was more about getting through, moving to the next stage, wondering and worrying about what would happen next. And I think I was a bit thrown by it. Maybe even slightly… embarrassed? So, this second and final time, I was keen to embrace it, and even enjoy the pregnancy.

The first fly in the ointment of this plan came with trimester one’s fairly ick morning sickness. I wasn’t spewing but just felt rotten most of the time, physically and mentally. Unfortunately this also created a perfect storm/vicious cycle of not wanting to go out much, which meant my feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of friends/support here were compounded. I did, however, have the slight comfort of assuming the baby would be a girl, purely by dint of the fact that I was so unwell. But I was wrong about that too.

The second trimester was all right. I felt a bit physically uncomfortable but I was mostly in Australia, so I was enjoying myself and managing to block out a lot of the negative feelings I’d been having. Also I had friends and family to talk through stuff with. Plus all the grandparental support made it easy to take it easy.

Since being back in Zurich, I’m pretty depressed again. It’s cold and dark and – surprise – since I’ve done nothing about it, nothing has magically changed about my life here to suddenly make it great! I’m feeling achey, tired and heavy and my 3.5-year-old son is annoying me just by being a 3.5-year-old (I read this article about how Time-Outs are damaging your child, oh how I laughed… don’t the authors realise that time-outs are so the parents can calm down and regain their composure?!)

I’ve read up a bit on antenatal depression. Unfortunately there’s not that much info – there’s more on PND (postnatal depression). I don’t know if this is because AND is less common, less talked about or purely the fact that there’s a time limit to it. So, for what it’s worth here’s what antenatal depression feels like to me:

It feels like: a big ball of regret and failure – physically and mentally.

It feels like: I can’t have this baby.

It feels like: I wish I wasn’t pregnant.

It feels like: is it too late for an abortion?

It feels like: knowing things are going to get worse before they get better – because how could this situation possibly be improved by adding a squalling, boob-sucking, sleep-deprivation machine?

It feels like: hating my body. I look disgusting.

It feels like: no one has touched me for months except my little boy. No one’s felt the baby move except me.

It feels like: drinking an extra glass or two of wine because you’re unhappy and alcohol has been your crutch for the past 20-odd years and it’s really hard to break that habit now, even though you know it’s doing untold damage to the unborn baby. (However, the stuff I’ve read on AND says it’s advisable to keep taking your anti-depressants. I am not on any SSRIs.)

It feels like: over-eating because I’m depressed. Then feeling sick and overfull – oof!

It feels like: I haven’t talked to the baby or “bonded” with it like I did with my first pregnancy. I can hardly bear thinking about this one.

It feels like: being angry a lot of the time with my beautiful, wonderful 3.5 year old because he won’t walk, or won’t come and get ready NOW, and insists on wearing a nappy even though he’s fine to use the potty.

It feels like: being terrified of PND – and not knowing how to prevent that.

It feels like: being scared of completely cracking up and/or doing something really dangerous to myself and/or others.

It feels like: being trapped. I really don’t know how to get out of this.

It feels like: there’s a sort of primal need to find a “safe” place to give birth and a part of me is frantic that I don’t have it.

It feels like: I should have stayed in Australia but I let convention and la-la-la-not-thinking-about-it guide me back here.

It feels like: I should just shut up with my #firstworldproblems because women are giving birth in refugee camps and other horrible places all the time.

It feels like: I’m afraid of the pain of giving birth. If I don’t even want the child, how can I endure labour? Should I be planning for an epidural? C-section? Would that make it worse?

It feels like: what if I don’t love the kid once he arrives? Everyone says “oh you will” but what if they’re wrong?

It feels like: not being sure if my marriage can survive this.

It feels like: smiling awkwardly when people say – you must be so excited about the baby!! Being envious but slightly appalled that other mums-to-be are thrilled to bits.

It feels like: wincing when people say: wow you’re getting big/ looking really pregnant / walking like a pregnant lady.

It feels like: No one wants to hear it. I should just get over it.

It feels like: when bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t put it all into perspective. I just feel worse, like the world is a bad place.

It feels like: I’m wasting all these amazing opportunities but I just can’t seem to find contentment, let alone happiness.

It feels like: I must just be a cold, nasty, unfeeling person.

It feels like: I’ve made a huge mistake.

It feels like: I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

It feels like: a life sentence (ok: bad pun). But if motherhood is not really doing it for me already, how’s it going to be in six months, 3 years, 10 years… 😦

It feels like: being really, really tired.

It feels like: being bored.

It feels like: I hate myself and baby, you suck too.

Dark thoughts

Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Source: http://blackburnmuseum.org.uk

Depression is like dark water seeping into the crevices of my brain. It drips into the small cracks and faultlines, widening and deepening them through a process of erosion. I shake it out and think I’m free for a moment, an hour, a day, but the liquid is just taking its time to settle elsewhere, sometimes almost without my noticing. It always finds the lowest point. Oh you’re here now?

It can be an evil sea, a cruelly happy tide rushing into a familiar harbour, finding those same rocks and outcrops to smash against like welcoming arms. Wearing them a little lower, a little smoother, offering less resistance.

The waves crash and buffet old and new defences. Some sea walls have crumbled with age and a lack of use, thinking they were no longer required. The viscous, vicious tide smacks into them, immediately finding holes, flowing right through to whet old fears and replenish ancient anxieties.

There are some barriers more recently constructed that I thought were strong. But the dark water finds chinks or merely surges up and over. I should have made them higher, better, stronger. I was an arrogant fool to build them at all.

Some shores it hits are bad habits. It almost feels like a relief to bathe in them once again, to have the bubbling tide race over and across them, caressing them, reinvigorating. The comfort of familiarity, even if in its wrongness. I know this, I have experienced it before, let me just enjoy it for a while before I have to stop again…

A king tide comes, deceitful in its slow buildup. Those gentle waves, at first almost a reassurance – I expected this – suddenly become overwhelming. I’m trapped by the water, I can barely see back to land. My boat is so old, it’s an effort to even think about sailing it. And I’m sure it leaks. I consider swimming but the water: I’m afraid of it. Afraid of its violence, its killing cold, the unfathomable menacing power (which also fascinates). I’m afraid of the effort. I’m scared of drowning. I don’t want to start swimming unless I can be sure I’ll succeed. And what if the tide is still rising?

It’s a trickster, a manipulator, an arch procrastinator. Endless distractions, a monkey splashing in the shallows. It doesn’t want me to sit still, it doesn’t want to be solved. Moments of beauty, boredom, terror, interest, never the main game. Or is it? What is that sunny green field so far yonder but a Fool’s Paradise? Surely the Real World lies in the intelligent complexities, the excitement and the drama of my dark waves? See the truth! The water of life! The drowning stuff! It erodes while it builds, weeping the rocks away to form the stalactites and stalagmites of new structures. Oh it’s clever.

Then when it has gone: how absurd! There was no oily liquid darkness here. What pretty rocks the receding tide exposes, the few small, inky pools left behind just provide important contrast… no lessons? Just a new stretch of terrain to explore.