Mama said there’d be days like these. Or weeks. Maybe even months. She also said : ‘Don’t say anything negative. It’s Christmas.’
Sometimes the blackness can hit in the middle of a bright, shiny day when the sky is clear. It hit me on Monday afternoon like a battering ram to the chest, knocking the air right out of me.
I discovered my son after school, crying in his room. His shoulders were shaking with sobs. I suspected friends being unkind, disappointment experienced at not getting an award at the final school assembly (actually, it was me who cried over that), maybe even being rejected by a girl he liked. But no, it was his teacher telling him that basically he would never amount to anything, that got to him.
‘She meant it, Mum,’ he said.
As I thought how out of order it is for a teacher to say such a thing to a sixth grader and I felt the rage grab hold of me, I noticed birds singing outside. Their song was so sweet it was as if a little avian choir had come down from the heavens.
The anger left me all of a sudden. It was an odd but fitting switch. But the black dog, that fuzzy little creature I love and hate in equal measure, began barking at the end of the garden path, and he’s been barking ever since.
How can someone say they love the black dog, their depression? It goes without saying that one would hate it, but to love it at the same time….that’s just sick, isn’t it?
When you’re in the depths of depression, when it seizes you, when you capitulate, it has an almost narcotic quality to it. You don’t care about anything. Nothing. The world is grey-washed. You are numb.
For me there is nothing despairing about a depressive episode, rather there is something affirming about it. It confirms my faithlessness, my belief that things go wrong more often than they go right.
A depressive episode indulges my appetite for self-destruction. And there is comfort to be had in that.
So I went to see my doctor. She was concerned at the level of anger I am experiencing. She should be concerned because I am mad at the world for the appalling way we humans behave. It is shocking, shameless. If we’re not careful we’re going to fuck everything up. Completely.
‘You need to alter your world view,’ said my doctor. She thinks I have compassion fatigue. She thinks I worry too much about things I cannot control. ‘Stop watching the news,’ she said. ‘Stop reading the paper.’
Easier said than done. I just need to step out into the street to gain an understanding of the state of the world.
So I did what I have to when the blackness strikes. Retreat, sleep, walk. Walk, sleep, retreat.
In the park I saw a grandfather with his grandson. They were picking clover. They had handfuls of it, inhaling it the way a chef does a handful of parsley to check for freshness. The grandfather pulled faces and the little boy laughed and laughed. A tinkling sound like the high notes on the piano.
I saw a puppy, all floppy-eared and floppy-footed, gambolling like a spring lamb. Happier than any creature I have ever seen, just to be walking. Such joy to be had in simple things. It brought me close to tears.
I did what I always do when am close to weeping. I counted the boats rounding the bay. There was one with pale blue sails, the same colour of the sky I saw once in a painting by Monet. Try as I might, I couldn’t take my eyes from those sails. Or from the name of the boat.
A tiny suggestion of a wind. Soft as whispering. A wind that gently rises from the world of fairy.
As I walked home I caught sight of three birds on a television aerial. Looking as if they were conversing. I wondered what they must think of this world we have built around them. I wondered if they scoffed at the humans they fly above who are capable of so much but deliver so little. I wondered if they would fly away to a better world if given the chance.
The birds twittered and flew off, straight towards black clouds gathering over the gum trees. Without fear they flew, true as arrows. Valiant, sure of wing. Inexplicably, their courage cheered me.
How must it be to be aloft, looking at the world from such a steep height, seeing the black heart of a storm but still flying into it?
Maybe the birds know more about life than we do. Maybe they know that if we trust in ourselves everything will be alright.
Maybe Mama was right. Don’t say anything negative. For the lights are on, guiding, drawing us forward. There will be days like these. Oh, yes. But we plunge and twirl and plummet in the wind, not afraid, for it is only a matter of time until we level out and step once more onto land.