It hits sometimes. Snuffling like an old dog in grass. Nothing will shake it, not even brand new lustrous lipstick called Plum Kiss. When it comes, it comes, and you have to accept it.
When I was fifteen the doctor said I was depressed. Clinically. He recommended a facility because he was concerned about my neatness. Hair pulled back in a ponytail so tight my eyebrows were raised in a constant expression of surprise. School uniforms ironed four times in a row before being worn. Schoolwork so precise I drew rigid holes of concentration in the page.
I was surprised by the diagnosis. I didn’t think I was depressed. Just angry. My mother panicked. She thought depression meant talking to yourself and spitting at strangers. She put me in therapy where the psychologist and I did 101 things with Rorschach tests. Apparently there are no incorrect responses when looking at an ink blot except for : ‘Someone spilled ink on the page. Again.’ I made stories up about my childhood, like how I’d been raised for four years by a band of gypsies or how I believed I was related to the Russian Tsars; a direct descendant of Anastasia. My therapist never commented but scribbled furiously on her notepad, her brow furrowed.
I was put on antidepressants but ended up being hospitalised for two weeks with a severe allergic reaction to them. So I continued therapy without them until my childhood as told to my therapist, was as colourful as a Hans Christian Anderson story.
In my final year of University my best friend died and I descended into the abyss again. They tried antidepressants again. Same reaction. I wanted to drop out of University, backpack around the world, but my mother insisted I finish my degree, submitting me to a bi-weekly regime of therapy and support groups. Everyone in the support group cried, drinking endless cups of black coffee. I noticed how all of them wore a piece of black clothing and wondered if their choice of outfit contributed to their mood. One girl told me she was depressed because she was a child prodigy (violin) and the pressure on her was enormous. I told her I was depressed because I was a direct descendant of Vlad the Impaler and was afraid of sunlight.
The counsellor told me being facetious would not help me cope with my condition. I argued that being facetious was what helped me get up in the mornings. She labelled me as uncooperative and a smart-ass. I dreamed of her waking up in the morning with a zit so huge on her nose she wouldn’t be able to leave the house.
I have had several situations in recent years where I have had antidepressants prescribed for me and have taken them with the vain hope I could keep them down for longer than an hour. An allergy specialist has discovered I am allergic to most of the active ingredients in antidepressants, as well as penicillin and pseudoephedrine. Which means I am either going to die a very nasty death from an incurable infection or I will always be the boring one at parties.
Apparently, this reaction to antidepressants and other pharmaceutical drugs isn’t all that uncommon. A young girl died in Sydney a couple of years ago from taking an anti-acne drug. Her throat closed up. I think there should be some kind of test before these drugs are administered; because let me tell you, when you are depressed and you have a severe allergic reaction to antidepressants, your mood ain’t too pretty afterwards.
I see a therapist occasionally when the blackness hits, but mostly, I deal with it myself. Acknowledging it’s there is important, as is not trying to rage against it.
I go for long walks. Counting colours in the street. I always begin with black when I feel like this. It was raining today. It was cold. I counted twenty four umbrellas. All of them were black or navy blue. As if rain isn’t depressing enough. I think it should be mandatory to have umbrellas in jolly colours or with uplifting or humorous slogans like : Smile, and the world smiles with you or It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah!
I counted 50 pairs of shoes. They were black or brown. I saw two black cats, three black dogs and twenty five people with cranky expressions. A man in the Burger Bar was reading a book with a black cover. He had a black cotton scarf tied round his throat. A teenage boy had a Black Sabbath T-shirt on. Another wore AC/DC’s Back In Black.
A twentysomething girl wore black jeans that were too long for her and dragged on the ground. Their hems were wet. Three crows huddled in a maple tree, black as ground-up coffee.
You would think it would have the opposite effect but noticing how much our daily world is coloured with black, actually lifts your mood. You plunge into the day fully-clothed instead of half-naked with apprehension.
The rain plummets down the stormwater drain, churning like rapids. Leaves tumble and drown. A woman in high heels (black) runs for cover, throwing her arms up like a child on a rollercoaster. An old man has trouble lighting his cigarette, mumbles :’Bloody rain’ and heads for the nearest shop awning. A little boy splashes in new shoes, sitting in a puddle.
The blackness taps me on the shoulder but it is a touch more akin to that of an old friend than an old adversary. I know it well by now. I know its ways. Its threats don’t scare me as they used to.
I let the mist from the rain drizzle my face and head for home. The blackness is not as bad as it seems. It pursues me but cannot stop me from seeing a word written by the rain, a word I knew was there all along – HOPE.