11. On coming up
Buckle up, friends – this might be a long one...
Last night I dreamt in chapters. My night’s sleep was split into snatches (of dreams that I won’t bore you with the details of) because yesterday was a Very Bad Day.
I knew it was coming. A few weeks ago, after a writing gathering, I took part in some a long and philosopical-ish discussions about belief and agreement and proof. I love this kind of chat, full of silly, large questions like do you believe in somehow necessary things like money, and other, more necessary things, like the Sí, but something was off. I wasn’t really able to articulate myself. I couldn’t find the words I needed. I wanted to counter the argument that money is fundamentally based on agreement and not belief by saying that any agreement requires some kind of shared belief (not least a belief in the sanctity of the agreement), and then see what happened next. But I couldn’t. I (usually) find great joy in this kind of disagreement and pointless discussion. I feel like my brain is getting a workout or I’m learning something new and I (usually) get a good laugh out of it. But not this time. I felt a bit empty. The argument wasn’t going my way, and my beliefs were not being challenged. I felt more and more hollowed-out as the conversation went on, and on the way home I felt really low. Low-mood low.
The thing is (you might find this familiar), I’d had a really good day that day. A really good day. Work was good, the sun was out, I’d had a great writing session, and I was in very good company. And I was feeling really good.
Here’s a badly-drawn illustration of what I’m trying to talk about:
Does it make any sense? This is the way things go, for me, with depression. I haven’t, thankfully, had too much experience with it. A long-ish spell in my teens that I treated with with alcohol (more on that later), another reasonably brutal round when I was a post-graduate student, a couple of bumps in my thirties and then now.
The first ding-ding on the graph (?) is I’m not sure what. A while back I noticed that I wasn’t in the most sparkling form on Mondays, especially after a social kind of weekend. I was feeling a bit low. A bit paranoid. A bit lonely. Alone. Isolated. That second ding-ding-ding is the day and night I described above. The big one (and it’s a big one) is Friday and yesterday. What goes up, must come down and all that. You get the picture.
Somewhere between the second and third dings (this description is ridiculous), a little while after the big party for The Muse, I stopped drinking. I say stopped – I had a single beer two weeks ago, and a shot of rum some other day. So stopped-ish. I stopped (ish) because I had the feeling that the booze was responsible for the dips. The feeling-low-on-a-Monday pattern could be tied to the drinking-on-a-Friday-and-a-Saturday routine, right? Yeah, maybe. It didn’t make a difference. To my mental health, I mean. To my physical health, yes.
And then, in the last two or three weeks, it wasn’t just Mondays. Tuesdays, sometimes Thursdays, sometimes Wednesdays. Whenever. The thing is like a dirty snowball, you know? When you have it (or it has you) it gathers stuff. Little gritty thoughts. Misinterpretations of the things people say. Sharp hard shards of paranoia. And the dirty snowball rolls away and you follow it. It rolls away from the people you know and love – the exact people who you can talk with about these difficult things – and you follow it.
So on Friday night I wasn’t drinking. I was at a sort-of party and I was in rare old form. Chatty. Attentive. Funny-ish. Animated. Loud. Hyper. As the even wore on I spoke faster and faster and more enthusiastically and probably more annoyingly. That’s not really me. If I’m performing in front of a crowd of kids, yes. But not in company. Wee-uuu, wee-uuu.
And on Saturday morning I got up early (yay, not drinking!) fed the kitty-cats, chatted a bit with The Muse and in about a minute I was back in bed with my clothes on, curled up in a tight ball of Very Bad Vibes and crying and shaking uncontrollably. What goes up, must come down.
Do we know how it works? Do the patterns of thinking cause the thing or does the thing cause the patterns of thinking? Does it matter?
This whole situation is a good example of knowing what to do and not doing it. There’s everything wrong with how I’m looking after myself, as The Muse brilliantly pointed out. Going to bed too late. Getting up too early. Not getting any exercise. Not finding time to relax. Working too much. Living too little. It’s all, to use the word of the recent moment, a bit of a shit-show.
So yesterday was the bottom of the dip or slump or whatever and I am coming up. I’ve given myself an optimistic position on the wave. I’ll stick with the not-drinking, because I think the booze was helping to stop me fidgeting and keeping things even and without it the stuff I need to deal with might get a chance to surface.
I might be a while, and there will be more bumps on my journey. The thing usually lasts a couple of months a least. One day at a time, right?
In other news, I sat down yesterday to try to write a press release for my book that comes out next week. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to make the mundanity of a book release newsworthy, and so I was trying to think of something notable or newsy to lead with. There isn’t anything of course (other than it’s the BEST BOOK EVER GO BUY IT) but it was good to get thinking about it again, almost a year after I finished writing it.
When I do workshops with kids (they really are the future) they pretty much always ask if Stick’s character is based on me as an eleven-year-old. The grown-ups ask the same thing but kind of stroke their chins and nod sympathetically when they do it. The truth is that there’s a bit of me in all of the characters I write, plus a big dollop of made-up stuff. But I wonder if there’s a lot of me as a grown-up in Stick’s new story. At the beginning he has it all, but then things happen and he finds himself alone. Isolated. And then (don’t worry, no spoilers) he has to kind of figure things out again from the beginning.
And that’s where I am now. Somewhere near the beginning. If you’re still here, thank you for reading.