I think I am lucky that my mum suffered from Depression.
No. Really, I do.
This isn’t a new realization.
I minded that Mum got sick. Certainly. I still do. But the minding (how ironic, how appropriate that I should find fit to use the prefix mind here) was for her. Not for me.
And now, at an age my mother was when she had already endured numerous crippling episodes and a couple of hospital admissions accompanied by several thousand volts of electricity (though even that failed to shift a monster which was clearly wearing rubber soled shoes) I am struck again by my fortune.
Mum says Depression is the result of Loss. She says Depression is not the opposite of Happiness. It is, instead, the antithesis of vitality. I am inert, she once told me, as the spiraling vortex which thrust her downwards lost its impetus and she was left floundering about in the gloom at the bottom of a familiar hole. That’s what Depression does: drags her down, where it is so dark she cannot see which way is up, and holds her there where oxygen is so scarce she can hardly breathe and scarcely function. And then suddenly, and it’s always suddenly, lets her go so that she pops, cork-like, back to bright surfaces.
Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, warned Be Not Solitary; Be Not Idle.
Too late: I am. Solitary. Like it or not (and I don’t – in case you had not gathered – like it. Much).
But the idle (imposing, rattling around redundancy born of Loss of definition, erosion of a role, not couch potato slothfulness; my mum has never been lazy) – that is where my luck lies. I know the dangers that lurk behind an apparently benign little four lettered word, one that rolls benevolently and easily and kindly off the tongue – like a purr – giving no hint as to its acidic hazards, and so it is a state I labour to avoid.
If I remain busy, I reason, the Solitary will feel less overwhelming. If I am occupied, I will notice less the swallowing silence.
My mother had a kitchen soap dish once; it read ‘Happiness is Busyness’.
Trite. But true. I wonder, now, who gave it to her?
I tick the long, lonely hours of my days off in tiny, tiny achievements. Like stepping stones across a quagmire in which I might drown without a trace, not even a single bubble, were I to slip and fall in. I tread carefully upon each one from the time I get up in the morning to the time when the sun begins to sink and I can crack open a cold beer in brief self-congratulatory praise at having got from one end of my day to the other.
So I gather 18 baby tomatoes from the vines which have flourished in the rains. I drop them into a white dish as I count them … one, two, three … and I note their plum rose full cheeked redness against the pallor of pale china. And I hear them fall, one by one: small, slow applause. Clever old you, they murmur. I harvest five maize cobs. I will, I tell myself, strip the kernels and serve them in a cheese sauce, bubbling brown, for Hat and I for lunch. I will tell Hat, ‘My mum used to make this for me, when I was little’. And it will taste good for the memory and the comfort that comes with warm, salty, nursery foods.
I trail about the garden with a bored Sylvester in my rather uncertain wake. We establish what needs weeding and where we should plant parsley and rocket. I make a batch of muesli, tipping floury oats into a basin and stirring in softsage green pumpkin seeds and glossy ivory sunflower pips with my hands and I add molasses-black raisins, like fat little ladies who have spent too much time in the sun. Tomorrow – at breakfast – my husband will say, as he helps himself to a bowlful, ‘Oh great, muesli’. Later I will make the telephone call I have been avoiding, I will load the washing machine, I will sort out the ironing. I will think about what to feed everybody for supper.
Mundane, banal, some of it smacks of 1950s stereotypes in white pinnies (note to reader: I never wear an apron). And most of it could wait.
But I, you see, cannot.
Despite all the time in the world, I cannot wait to fold fresh linen into piles: Hat’s, Husband’s, Mine.
For it is in the waiting, in the hiatus between being occupied and being idle, that Depression is wont to slink in. If I keep my bodyweight pressed firmly against my front door shouting, loudly and rudely and determinedly, ‘Go Away! I’m busy! Can’t you see?’ perhaps I shall be safe. It is no guarantee, of course; I am sufficiently well acquainted with Depression to know that there is no surefirequickfixcure just as there is no warranty any one of us will never succumb. For therein lie’s Depression’s greatest skill: its cunning.
And that is why. That is why I am lucky. Because I know the nooks and crannies and tiny gaps through which chilly Depression can squeeze.
And I know how important it is to try to fit draught excluders into every single one.