It’s World Mental Health Day. So I’d like to talk about it.
I’m a writer and I have been depressed. I can’t say this would surprise anyone, because we creative types, we’re prone to this sort of thing. The problems I have aren’t unique, other people have them and other people manage fine. Or, at least, they APPEAR to manage fine.
It wasn’t until I finally admitted I needed help and saw a counselor that I realised that ‘other people manage’ didn’t mean that I could. That ‘getting through the day’ wasn’t how I’d always lived my life. That it was okay to admit to being ‘weak’.
When I told work, my line manager said, ‘but I had no idea. You seemed so normal’. It was then that I realised that I too had seemed like one of those people who managed. Even though I really wasn’t managing very well at all.
I’ve talked before about how Please Release Me was inspired by a single image. The other basis for it was my counselor’s suggestion that I use my writing as catharsis. Underneath the story runs a theme of depression. Peter, the hero, is depressed. Depression is a many headed beastie. It’s not, as some people seem to think, all about bursting into tears a lot and forgetting to wash (apart from when it is).
Sometimes it feels like this:
He felt like a selfish wanker, but he’d done the right thing. He was walking such a tightrope between coping and going mad with worry that he had to be careful. Too much stress and things could go very wrong. Sally was an orphan. She had no one else to depend on. He had to be there and be fit to look after her when she came round. He couldn’t make commitments he couldn’t keep.
He watched Grace walk, her plait swinging, across the car park. Yes. He had done the right thing. He sighed and went to his own car. So why did he feel like such a git?
Other times like this:
Peter forced a smile. ‘Yes. I’m doing okay. Just, you know, tired.’ He knew better than to say how he really felt. The last time he’d done that various people had pestered him until he agreed to see a counsellor. It was nice that they cared, but really, the only thing that would help was Sally coming out of her coma. Unless they could do that for him, they were just wasting his time.
But most of the time, it was like this:
Peter frowned. Was that what he had been doing over the past year? Snatching emotions from the dead weight of weariness? Anger, denial, fear, despair. But not acceptance. Never acceptance. How could you accept something when you didn’t know what it was?
It’s only when you come out the other side that you realise how bad things had been. You brain is the thing that tells you how to look after yourself. But depression hits that very thing that is supposed to protect you. The worst part is knowing that if it happened once, it’s more likely to happen again.
It was hard writing a book that was so close to the bone. Writing is my escape and I made it more of the same. I don’t think I’ll be trying creative writing as catharsis again again. One reviewer said that Please Release Me was an almost perfect depiction of grief. It made me really happy when I read that. If just one person reads my book and feels that they aren’t alone, then it will have been worthwhile.