A strange thing happened last week.
I went on a whistle stop tour of Dante’s 7th circle. Never has a man fallen so far so fast and been spat back out in time for the second week of Wimbledon. What was strange wasn’t the mood, but the downright speed of it all. It was like depression on meth. Before I knew it I’d dusted myself off, patted myself down and gone in search of a toothbrush for the first time in a week.
When you don’t get out of bed for 52 hours things get stinky. What made the stinkiness worse came down to a plethora of intergers, lack of air flow, an influx of natural gas, and of course the midst of a long hot humid summer. On the upside July is quite an OG time of year to get deeply depressed, at least I was keeping it fresh.
Perhaps not fresh exactly.
Imperceptibly it arrived, this mood of mine, and never abated. A slow Sunday morphed into an abject Monday and then into a soup of hours and changes of light outside the window and ceiling fixation. For five days I barely moved.
All the characteristics of past episodes were there. Loss of track of time, loss of perspective, a barrage of unkind thoughts, intense fatigue at all the wrong hours, and no trigger. Not really. I’d been bed-ridden and confined to my flat since a bike accident a month before, but this was a total base jump.
These days I find myself in such a temper, that were I underwater I should scarcely kick to come to the surface.
The old wet-blanket card, I heard the mean part of my brain cry. I’d been superb for ages. I almost couldn’t recall what a bad mood felt like. For months I’d been straying dangerously into the territory of what one might call reliable.
This was some much needed self-sabotage.
The wet-blanket card never did it for me. I wasn’t one for complaining much. Self-pity never came that easily but perhaps I should’ve tried harder. Ex-girlfriends, friends, they all concurred. I wish you were less hard on yourself.
There is a purpose to self-pity. To dilute the critical voice, the one that drives the mood downward. Perhaps the mercy of telling oneself it’s not all your fault, can serve to steady the ship a little.
The case for my defence was also aided by the fact I really do not like being in bed. I find lying horizontal on a mattress beneath a certain tog-count beyond the allotted time close to torturous. Any protracted time spent in bed, even on weekends, came down to one of two reasons only.
Or the company of…
Neither of which had happened in recent memory.
Lying there swilling in my own filth, I had a thought. There must always be a method in the maelstrom.
Nature does not hurry, and yet everything is accomplished.
I flipped the narrative.
Some of the greats had lived in bed. Florence Nightingale, Marcel Proust, Churchill. Perhaps unbeknownst to me, something more mysterious was at play. Perhaps this was progress.
What people don’t understand, said Alain de Botton, is that writers are hard at work even staring out of the window. Maybe I was too hard on myself, maybe I wasn’t depressed at all, maybe I was working my arse off. In our modern age of relentless busybodyness, who else was going to have the imagination to spend a week in bed. To report back from the coalface. This was valuable fieldwork. I didn’t see anyone else writing this kind of stuff.
This was a scoop.
Hemingway said the real work of writing goes on in your subconscious, while you’re asleep. Perhaps the longer I slept the more fully formed my prose would be, maybe a week of solid shuteye later, I’d wake up with a headache and a fully formed novel in the mixer.
Questions poured down like falling rain.
What did Gen Z have to say about all this, I wondered.
Seconds of a finite life ticked by.
I’ll say something. Uber Eats is resoundingly not depression’s friend. The gig economy makes it perfectly possible to not see a soul for weeks, whilst simultaneously not succumbing to starvation, whilst perfecting a smile devoid of all life but enough to foil the unsuspecting delivery guy into thinking you’ve got your shit together.
Rubbish started collecting at my door. Was this the first step to becoming a hoarder. I’d stare at patterns on the bedpost, go through past memories with an unforgiving siv. They say in AA you can’t think your way into better action, but you can act your way into better thinking. I honestly did try to stir myself into action. And yet even applying deodorant was an existential crisis.
Part of me hoped I’d get to that point where you don’t need soap, where your body starts cleansing itself. I lay there waiting for the sweet smell of pheromones to cascade from my nether regions and override the BO.
This never happened.
I stopped answering messages, stopped even registering them, eventually I stopped looking at my phone altogether. I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t want to be depressed. Nobody would will this on themselves. But I was underwater. One night some over-compensation from my shoulder put my back out. This was getting bad. Like I’d aged sixty years over night.
As the days, and I can’t remember which ones they were, morphed into one another, and I wondered what was going on in the world outside my window, worrying I might have to fumigate my T-shirt, growing paranoid the Uber Eats guys might start suffering Groundhog Day syndrome, I did get worried this might be the fist chapter of something more serious. Something was both familiar and predictable, like going for a haircut and watching it go wrong, knowing all the while there wasn’t a thing you could do to stop it getting worse.
And as soon as it teetered on the edge of becoming something more noteworthy, it vanished into the ether.
Just like that.
Life is just a series of peaks and troughs, and you don’t know when you’re in a trough until you’re climbing out, or you’re on a peak until you’re coming down. You never know what’s around the corner. But it’s all good.
In the manner of a lairy-looking fairweather cloud, the mood passed on by. As Brent had said, I suppose until I was climbing out I couldn’t realise the extent of it all. I came to, in a state of odour no Dove Bright Bouquet could assuage, clawing my way back to a normality I could vaguely recall. What music did I like. Was I married with kids. What was my name.
Let’s be clear about this.
Nobody likes a good times guy. I’d been in a fine mood for far too long, it was getting repetitive. Life is a spectrum of all shades, the only constant is change. Chicks dig mystery. Plus if I’m gonna play the tortured artist card, I should remember to be a bit tortured now and again. Otherwise I’m just unemployed.
The five days were bleak but somehow edifying.
A gentle tap on the shoulder, a reminder that life isn’t all blue skies and banter, a warning sign to be mindful. A little like the flu jab, give yourself a tiny bit of virus so your body can man up and learn how to fight.
Twelve years of episodes and medication can keep a score somehow. So now I see, the needle finds its groove seamlessly, which is kind of scary. A mood had taken me. This explained the unbelievable speed of it all, but also how well I am.
That it should all be so surprising.
I walked to the window, stared out across the midsummer city. To my right, a succulent chilled. I looked again. The cactus in question had done nothing for two years, and now out of nowhere, it was having a hernia. This was fantastic. Who knew when things might get going again. Nature does not hurry.
And yet everything is accomplished.
Out of this trough I climb on out. Bit vulney. Bit shook up. I’ve been great for ages. Sounds silly but sometimes you don’t want to be happy. You don’t want to be miserable of course. But you just want to be okay. There’s something in that. Maybe you just want to be less obsessed with your feelings.
There was one unexpected aspect to all this.
Watching messages come in from people, lying there having no interest in responding, once I’d returned to the land of the living, felt somewhat parasitic. As if, if I wasn’t involved in mankind, what the hell was I even doing here. Like there was no purpose. This was never a feature of past episodes. In times gone by I’d gone awol and not even noticed how out of touch I was.
This time round left a feeling of having a role to play, and missing my cue. Once I was back I realised how the world had not had me for a week. It might sound self-centered but I felt it strongly. Like I was part of a bigger whole, a fundamental part of some network, the Universe needed me.
Past episodes, bacchanalian feasts of depression, had left their mark. None as unique or brief as this past week. The palet-cleansing sorbet of depressive episodes. An express trip to the underworld. A whistle-stop tour of joy interrupted.
I’m back I reckon.
Shoot I forgot to pick up a flaming fridge magnet.