Alluded briefly to the black dog in my post 365 reasons to take prozac and also in this post some time ago. In a good humoured, well-intended (and welcome) reply to the second piece, someone remarked "And you are depressed about something"? (my question mark).
Well, belatedly, the answer is: No. I'm not depressed about something. I'm just depressed. Depression isn't "Oh well. I wish I hadn't painted the room that colour." Or, "I'm feeling glum today."It's something that lives inside the head and trundles around and around without any triggers, without any reason and apparently without any magic-bullet cure. (Hey! No pun intended! LOL!)
This week and last I was watching the television programme hosted by Stephen Fry on BBC2 entitled "Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive" and I recognised many of the traits of the illness as described by the various sufferers, including our host. Stephen, a comic actor whose work includes the TV adaptations of "Jeeves & Wooster", and earlier in the "Black Adder" series was the subject of inexplicable mood swings in his early teens which saw him slap the school nurse for suggesting he tie his shoelaces a particular way, climb about on school roofs, engage in credit card fraud and ultimately get locked up in jail. It wasn't until he walked out of a play in which he was appearing in 1995 in the West End and disappeared that a diagnosis of bipolar depression was made.
In "The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive" Stephen Fry explores his own history in a frank and revealing way. Along the journey we are introduced to fellow sufferers, and, sadly, the families of sufferers who have taken their lives. Stephen himself sat in his garage for two hours contemplating suicide, his hand on the ignition key of the car and a duvet stuffed into the gap of the garage door before deciding that he couldn't go through with it.
In the show, we learned that he once owned more than 10 cars at one time and he now owns 13 or 14 iPods. His mania, or euphoric mood swing often manifests itself in compulsive shopping. When he is down, which can happen for about seven to ten days a month, he experiences feelings of self-worthlessness and he spends the time lying in bed looking at the ceiling in his home until the humour passes.
Since his diagnosis, Stephen has avoided the use of medication. The programme explored the pros and cons of various treatments but did not resolve whether or not he would choose to take pills upon which he would have to depend for the rest of his life.
An interesting phenonemon among even those who have suffered horribly with the disease is that given a hypotethical button to press which would mean that they would never have had the condition but would instead have lived an "ordinary" life, the majority of those interviewed said they wouldn't have chosen to press that button.
My own levels of mood swings were at their height (and depths) in my 20s, which co-incides with my most productive time as a writer. It makes me wonder what level of manic mood swing I was in when I wrote my earlier pieces for the roleplaying industry, a time when I had many manic episodes and lived the dreaded peaks and valleys I ascribed to creativity.
Funnily enough, I don't seem to have those wilder swings I experienced in my 20s any more. When I'm happy, I am reasonably happy, not wildly charging off about the place. Not, either, laughing out loud at something I've written that strikes me as uproariously funny. When I'm down, it lasts for maybe a few weeks at a time. I'm in one of those down periods at the moment, and it's reflected in a lack of any creativity. There is no work being added to the blog. No thoughts of writing anything of interest even to myself alone. No push on to get more flat-packed stuff for assembly and fitting in the kitchen.
Someone on the programme (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss, but it could have been Stephen Fry himself) mentioned how they don't think they'd like to commit suicide; they just sometimes would like not to be alive. I know exactly how that feels. There is no active wish to go fetch the bottle of pills or hang off the Dodder Bridge, but instead there is a well of negative energy that sits there in the background. I sometimes think that I'm waiting to get through this life so I can get a better shot in another. It is a strangely comforting feeling and no doubt alarming to non-sufferers to hear.
It was interesting to find the stigma of depression is breaking down a little. Certainly programmes like this one will help non-sufferers to understand things a little better. We ain't moping around, sulking, being stubborn spoilsports. You wouldn't ask a diabetes sufferer why he was making a fuss about that jam doughnut. So why ask me to cheer up? I will when I'm able, okay?
Interesting television programme. I shall now stop trying the pulling of oneself up by imaginary bootstraps and just get on with things. This includes feeling depressed, for which, no doubt, the Lord will one day make me truely thankful.