So Was Red



If somebody invited you to something you weren't going to be around for, it would make sense to decline the invitation. A bit ridiculous to make plans you won't be there to partake in. A good definition of depression is the idea of there being no future. Mental health is thankfully something being taken more seriously now than ever before, and with a keen eye on the pulse you could say dropthebeatonit is in vogue as per by addressing the topic of the day. But i'm doing it for another reason. Depression has been a topic of the last twelve years of my life, and i suppose aggressively the topic of the last 29 days of it.






It had been on the agenda to write something about depression for a while. I didn't think i'd be in its grips when i did. Being my own case study will hopefully help make this piece as honest as it can be, and in the end honesty is all we're really after. No irony, no hiding behind humour. Not a collection of memories of a mood, but a real time description of an experience. Writing this now it seems clear this is the only state in which i could do what i'm feeling justice, but the horse's mouth also pulls hard on the reigns of the pointlessness of the whole thing. This has made me bail on the exercise five times in the last three days. Quacks call it a depressive episode. For me, it's like pressing mute on joy.



I'm not sure what being suicidal really means. If it means not wanting to be alive then sign me up. If it means fantasising about ways in which to die, or making no plans because you have a strong conviction you're not going to be around for any of them, or wishing the people who love you didn't exist because you checking out would cleave their world in two, sign me up. 



But i don't think it does. 



I think there's a chasm between not wanting to live and wanting to die. The absence of one thing doesn't always mean the other. When you're depressed, the idea of not existing for a while is a comfy place, to get the popcorn out and distract yourself from the pain of living. Same as drowning yourself in booze or fucking yourself up on drugs. But like i said it's a fantasy, a distraction. The trouble with humans is that impulse can bridge that chasm very quickly. Not wanting to live can become dying in no time at all. Practically speaking, it's not difficult. The tragedy of suicide is that nothing is more final and irreversible, you don't get a take-back. If leaving the pain for a while was the objective, not existing forever is what you're left with. What the people who love you are left with. Camus said it's braver to live than it is to kill yourself, but i'm not so sure.






My depression began proper in my early twenties. But i think it had been there in some form all along. My father recalls a sadness in my eyes as a child, i lived a lot inside my head, kept everything cooped up, i was melancholic on my birthdays. Things got quite bad at university, but it was aged 22 i remember the blinds came down hard. One February morning i got into bed and didn't get out again until early summer. A doctor prescribed me anti-depressants, which seemed to help, and which i've been on some form of ever since. 


From then on going forward, on average a couple of times a year, i seem to go under. A friend of mine came up with a name for it. He called it the quagmire. It's a disappearing act. Until the worst of it is over, domingo goes awol on the world. Those who don't know me that well might be surprised, since i only really show my face when i'm feeling good. But the idea of going to the pub in the middle of an episode is as appealing as strapping a sandwich board to my chest John McClane style and going for a walk through Harlem.






Depression is complex. It's an each to his own thing. Mine is different to yours is different to hers. But it's important to point out to those who might not be aware, there is no logic to it. It is not a causal thing. It's not tripping over and stubbing your toe. It's your toe beginning to throb for no reason while you're sat on the sofa. It's not an unhappiness provoked by hard luck or a string of unfortunate events. It's a land mine that goes off under your foot on a beautiful summer's day. 


To accept i'm not responsible for my depression is something i find pretty hard. People with a healthy degree of self-loathing don't need to search far and wide for who to pin the blame on. Personally, it takes those closest to me to remind me the quagmire is not my fault. The first person i'd spoken to in a week was my brother, when he called me three days ago. When i told him how i was feeling he listened, paused, and seeming distinctly unfazed said to me mate that's okay, that's what happens to you sometimes. It's been happening to you for fucking ages.






Depression can get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Not unlike a tumour, it can grow if left unchecked. Because the outside world becomes so scary, isolationism is a coping mechanism. But the less you check in, the more stilted your truth becomes. You tumble further and further down the rabbit hole, further and further away from the light. Like a domino effect, things you wouldn't think twice about become progressively more difficult. Normal shit can become terrifying. That terror you felt in the hush of the examination hall at prep school, walking down the rows between the desks scanning for your name, is the same terror i felt yesterday walking along the milk aisle at Tesco's. 


As reality drifts out of focus, tiny little actions take on a crazed importance. Little rituals are flotation devices in 50 year storms. For me it is making myself a coffee in my Supreme espresso cup. As stupid as that sounds, that action is often a last ditch attempt to save myself. Last week i could not for the life of me rationalise any point in the act of making a coffee to then drink it. Since i've been writing this, over the last two days, the coffee machine's gone on again. It's like a symbol of fighting back up towards the light. 






Disclaimer


There is no self-pity in depression. There is confusion, anxiety, inertia, self-loathing, panic, hopelessness, flat-lining, hours of staring into the middle-distance, but there is no self-pity. Self-pity in depression is like volunteering to down a pint of water while drowning.



*


You know that nervous excitement you get before a first date. The feeling you used to get before Sports Day at primary school. A kind of strangulating adrenaline in your gut, almost a nausea. Imagine you couldn't switch that off. For some reason these are the physical symptoms of my quagmire. It's what i feel right now, what i've felt day in and day out for 29 days. When i close my eyes at night, and in the morning, and when half asleep i grope through the dark to take a pee. People think a mental illness is only felt in the mind. This isn't true. It's also physical.


The misunderstanding of mental illness arises from the strength of its disguise. People find it difficult to believe what they can't see. There is no leg in a cast. No loss of hair from chemotherapy. Just someone to the untrained eye doing an on-point impression of a wet blanket. Sitting here right now, hand on heart i can say i don't think anyone would choose to feel like this. Last week i remember thinking this was never going to end. This was not a perception. It was my reality. The idea it might not be, is as difficult to get my head around as convincing the man in the street his entire reality and everything he knows to be true, is itself make-believe.






*


I read a parable once about a man who envisions a glittering future for himself. He works his way inch by inch towards this glittering future, and one day it presents itself to him at last at the top of a long staircase. He packs up the contents of his old life, puts on his best garms, and starts climbing. As he reaches the top of the staircase, he sees his path blocked by a huge security guard, who holding his massive arm out, point blank refuses to let him pass. 


Despite lengthy protestations the guard stands firm. He tries again the next day, and the next month, and the next year, and the security guard is always there, blocking the top of the staircase, the only path to the man's idealised future, pinning him to the shackles of his old life.






The point of the parable is this. There is only one character in this story. The security guard and the man are the same person. The security guard is the glitch, the fog inside the man's own head that is barring his own path and stopping him moving forwards. He is the only thing getting in the way of his glittering future. The reason i mention the parable is because i want to make it clear that this thing stopping the man in his tracks, whatever it is, it's not depression. Depression is not the security guard. 


Depression can make the staircase five times longer, or make the man especially heavy-legged on the climb. It can serve to stall or delay the glittering future, but is does not bar you entry from it. One of the most important and difficult things to remember is that the depressive still has the power to affect his life, even in the deepest darkest grips of it.


As cold as it gets in Russia, the Russians don't believe in the idea of it being too cold. They believe you're just not wearing enough clothes. They can't change the weather in Siberia just because they feel like it. I've learnt that i can't halt the onset of my quagmire. But we can both do things that protect us against the full force of the gale. I can keep active. I can distract my mind with work. I can choose not to self-medicate with shit that in the long run will only make me feel worse. I can try to eat healthily and do my best to take exercise. When i'm at my worst the futility of these things seem insurmountable, and to lead myself almost blindly into them is all i can do. And yet fail repeatedly.



*



Columbo would be into this next bit. 



There is... one more thing.







Over the past few weeks i've realised the most important thing we can do, is talk about it. To share the weight of whatever is going on inside our heads, with others. We can get together and lend each other our ears, and just listen. Actually listen. People don't want advice. All they want is an ear. And if you do get the opportunity to chew someone's ear off, make sure you offer yours in return. If this piece is anything, it's an encouragement to communicate. To look into the eyes of the person next to you and ask them how they are. And once they've muffled a reply, slowly repeat the question again. I think you'll get a different answer the second time you ask.


There isn't a person on this planet that doesn't have something worrying them. We all got beef. Everyone has a humungous sirloin steak slapping them across the face always. And it makes us feel very alone. But the antidote to loneliness is meaningful connection. Asking for help is an action of self-respect. It means you mean something to yourself. Admitting you're ill means you think you're worth saving. 



The pretending we're okay is what really fucks us.



This last month has been horrible. As i said it's been like pressing mute on joy. Happiness doesn't reign here. Neither have i felt incredibly sad. Just one long unmoving flat-line. An interior voice shitting on all my plans. Bulldozing my future and pouring cement over its rubble. Pushing away the people i love and the people who love me. In the end, depression is like some inconsistent stick of 90s chewing gum. Horrible to chew alone on, day after day. But for some reason much more bearable when shared.






The reason it has taken me three days to write this, is because i keep telling myself this is ridiculous. It's pretty far from the normal currency of dropthebeatonit. It feels like one long overshare that i've talked myself out of continually. But this is the reason i need to publish it. Depression is twice as common in women as it is in men, and yet men are three times more likely to kill themselves because of it. I wonder why that is. Could it be because we're so bad at talking about it. 


What i've just written is the most i've told anyone about my depression. Which makes me feel a little bit sick. I don't know if people will look at me differently if they read this. I don't know if writing this in retrospect will feel like i've lost something. That i've let something out the bag. I'll no longer be able to go awol and pretend i'm fine. But then again, most of the people who know me already know about my quagmire. Just perhaps not the extent of it. One thing i know is i'll have got closer to running out of things to hide. Which is a good thing, i think. No secret is as bad as the hell you construct inside your own head.



*


A guy called Matt Haig wrote a book on depression called 'Reasons to Stay Alive'. I'd recommend it to everyone, you can find it if you click here. This guy suffered from depression for most of his adult life, and came very close to throwing himself off a cliff when he was 24. Below he writes his suicidal-self at the time a list of ten reasons not to jump, ten reasons to keep on trucking. This is the tenth.





He also wrote the words:



Depression lies. Depression makes you think things that are wrong.



For me that was one of the best things i could've read. To remember that this thing inside my head can often be found speaking out of its arse. W H Auden once said If you take away my demons, you'll take away my angels too. This might sound hypocritical, but i don't hate my depression. And i wouldn't necessarily live my life over without it, given the choice. We are the product of all the moments of our lives. If you took away my depression i wonder how much of the good stuff would be deleted along with it.


Depression isn't all bad. The flip-side of it is can be pretty fucking incredible. The benefit of seeing through a glass darkly is that when finally the light comes in, shit gets colourful very quickly. Speak to anyone who suffers from it and ask them about the extent to which they can make themselves happy.



*


As bad as things have gotten in the last few weeks, maybe the storm clouds are parting. I don't think i could have written this two weeks ago. I would've sat in front of my computer for two hours without even realising it was out of battery. To go back to where i started, on the question of not wanting to be alive. As helpful as this reverie might've been when things were very bad, what i've realised in the last month is that i'm really not going to kill myself. Don't worry mummy. Not this minute. You might not want to be here very much right now, but let's not go overboard.


It is passing, it seems. There's an out. Somewhere up there is the crack of light inside the snow drift. The house fly knocking all morning against the window is moving ever closer to the open latch. And out into the spring air. Life is waiting for you. Camus was right. It is braver to live. But it's also a lot better. I said before that the absence of one thing doesn't always mean the other. But in some cases the absence of one thing can only ever mean the other. When you remove death from the equation, the only thing you're left with is...


 Life.



I can feel now there's some living to be done.



Why not get busy doing that.







*







Running For Love & P'z



Who be these cats.












They're three friends of mine who have masterminded and are taking on - no shitting you - the world's hardest duathlon, running and cycling 2,000 miles from Sarajevo to London, as we speak. In the company of around 50 other fool-hardy souls. All in the name of raising money in the fight against human trafficking. So far they've raised 91,000 sheets and counting. 



*



We've been following them every step of the way making films about it all.



Check out the first two.









If this doesn't inspire you to get up off your butts and walk to the shop that split-second faster than you might normally, then you need a snickers to the forehead. If it does then right aown. If it does nothing, then at least make yourselves feel better by donating even the smallest amount to this cause, one that affects 21 million people globally as we speak.



Here's the page to donate.




*



Check it... 3rd film just dropped.






A Song For The Elderly



At the end of 21 Grams there's a Sean Penn monologue about the weight of the human soul.



Which starts with the line.



How many lives do we live. How many times do we die.






Watch it, it's beautiful.







With the exception of light at the end of the tunnel experiences spoken from hospital beds, or coffins with scratched ceilings, or reincarnation, i think we must only die once. In terms of the heart stopping and the soul escaping and the flesh rotting. The dust to dust idea. I've always been drawn to things that we can't understand or explain, maybe for the reason that we can't understand or explain them, and up until recently when it came to the idea of the Next Chapter i was happy to sit on the fence with the sun on my face dangling my legs in the late-afternoon breeze. But strangely, these days i find it hard to believe in an after-life.



I subscribe to what Bertrand Russell said.







When i die i shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive.



Bertrand Russell 1872-1970 philosopher, aristocrat, pipe-smoker



But why should we have the arrogance to assume that only logic and science within the spectrum of human understanding is what is actually out there. There is an argument for the existence of God based on ants. It runs that if ants can walk the earth in their billions completely unaware of the existence of us, the self-styled omnipotent species on earth, then equally why should it not be possible that something greater than us should exist outside the spectrum of our own understanding.







It's a question that has polarised humanity's best minds. One of my most relentlessly rational homeys and father of three months GKeezie believes that we must hang around in some form or other after the landlord finally kicks us out into the cold. Einstein was a huge fan of mystery too. This coming from a man the sum-total of whose credibility rested on nothing less than absolute conclusive proof.



I do know one thing. That at some point in the future, certainly bedecked in boxfresh AF1s...






I will wax from the pulpit about the certainty of an after-life.



*


You see, this after-life quandary is just one example of how our opinions on things change in relation to the different stages we are at in our lives. Anyone who has reread old diary entries and looked perplexed as they see a page written in their own hand-writing, spewing forth thoughts that could never possibly have come from their mind, will acknowledge how much our brain can change. Not just a particular opinion. But a complete outlook.


Just as spring eventually loosens winter's grip and autumn pulls down the blinds on long heady summers, so to over the course of our life we will encounter change, not just from the outside but more specifically from within. Right now, despite its insistence on remaining tediously butt-cold, spring is changing everything in our natural environment. There is a continent-wide shift in play.



Check out these same trees, over the course of the four seasons.






The trees themselves, their whole entity, they don't change. But over the years their trunks will morph and fatten, their branches will grow out in different patterns shaped by the wind, they might be felled in storms or pruned by zealous park-keepers, and every year their leaves will spring and bask and die and fall.



The trees are always changing, yet somehow they aren't.



I think it works as a metaphor for how we as people change. The naysayers who maintain that people never fundamentally change are both right and wrong. Just like the trees, we are somehow capable of change and simultaneously incapable of it. We are the tree, but we are also its morphing trunk and falling leaves. And just like the tree, our lives too are made up of seasons






The Wonder Years was great because it pitched the idea of simultaneous time. The mature narrator, speaking to us from inside the mind of a teenage Kevin, was a reminder that time doesn't have to be linear, that the different stages of our life are all interconnected and playing out simultaneously.







I'm reminded almost every day how connected i am to the six year old inside me. I'm looking out for him all the time, i'm still fighting his battles, i still feel his pain. If i stretch my imagination i am also connected to the 75yr old in me. He's studying me quizzically right now by the fire in his carpet slippers, watching as my actions and today's life choices form the tapestry of the life he has to look back on.






Old age is staring me in the face in a more real way too. In the form of two of the people closest to me in the world. As my parents grow older, as they move towards the music and take the floor in a slow-dance with their mortality, i realise they haven't changed. They're still the same children whose blurred photographs stare back at me from old photo albums, the same expressions of joy or boredom or surprise spread across their faces.


They mean the world to me because i love them. But to the outside world they're anonymous people in the autumn of their lives. There's an old lady in my local Tesco's who regularly holds up the supermarket queue to talk to the cashier, much to the ire of the impatient groaning under the weight of their laden shopping-baskets. But it could be the only conversation this lady has all day. She might have lost a few braincells, but she was also once probably the matriarch of a large family. I guarantee in her prime she had guys queueing round the block just to speak to her. She has seen all of life. She demands our respect.



Same as Alf, regardless of where he posts his letters.






Old people are us. 



Because one day, we'll be them.



If we lack respect for them, we disrespect ourselves. We disrespect the cycle of life that we ourselves are involved in. I wonder if this trigger-happiness to dehumanise the old is something we need to start checking ourselves for. Why should it take a leap of imagination to think of old people as young once? Is it not all part of the same grand arc of life. Just as the leaf grows hesitantly out of the branch, dances for a while in the summer breeze before turning brown and falling to the ground. That's life. 



Alf could tell you that.






Funnily enough Alf is the lead character in all of this. I'd send him a letter about it, but i'm not sure he'd know how to return it. Oscar Wilde said the tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is youngAlf is connected to all of us, by reminding us that one day we will be just like him. By reminding us that we are all connected. Young and old are all the same. This doesn't change because we sprout nose hairs or start to feel the force of gravity weigh more heavily on us. It doesn't change because the distance to our feet can feel unbreachable when the time comes to put our socks on. And it doesn't change because we post all our letters in the dog poo box. We'll still feel the same inside as we did when our bodies worked without a second thought. Our parents would be the first to tell us that.



*


I'll leave you with the ending of Prufrock, where a 22 year old T S Eliot somehow manages to write from the perspective of a man both looking back on his life, whilst wondering what old age might bring.







I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottom of my trouser's rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.



*



We can start singing, even if the mermaids won't.



We can at least remind ourselves to from time to time.



Real Cold Shit




For some reason this dude has been circulating on many peoples' radar of late.






Wim Hof is his name. 



Chilling in sub-zero temperatures is his game.



They call him the Ice Man, and he's basically trying to get everyone to follow his sub-zero lead and alter their early morning shower and bath rituals in keeping with his philosophy; that prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures has a vast wealth of health benefits. Asides from shrivelling your nuts to pre-pubescent levels and halving your heating bill, apparently it's supposed to make you feel great, something to do with oxygen to all parts of your body and dopamine and stuff.



Plus you get to look like a gee.






I then watched this video.



Which was really interesting, about the merits of cold showers, and the importance of sleep.






At first i wondered if this stuff only applied to people with one syllable first names and surnames.



Fuck it i thought, only one way to find out.



So i took the plunge. 






That was one week ago.



I've been having ice cold showers for one week. Do i feel better? I don't fucking know. 



Am i confused? Yes i fucking am



I'll tell you why. An ice cold shower is fundamentally a very unpleasant experience. Not even when you're past the stage of hyper-ventilation and you've semi-gotten used to it, is it even vaguely enjoyable. I'm not going to lie, the immediate aftermath is other-worldly. The feeling as you dry yourself off and begin to warm up whilst still feeling all tingly is incredibly invigorating. Kind of like the feeling you get when you use that mint shower-gel, but with the bonus of not looking about twelve.







But the shower itself is i repeat not enjoyable. 



Which throws up an important philosophical question. Should we do things that are fundamentally torturous because we know we're going to feel better after having done them? That seems a little like focusing too much on the destination whilst letting the journey go to shit. Like living a life of pain and martyrdom only to earn eternal salvation once we move onto the next life. Sounds familiar.


Surely life is in the doing. And showers are one of life's great motherfucking pleasures. The last time i enjoyed a shower was over 8 days ago. At the moment they are sources of incredible discomfort for me. Just thinking about them at my desk makes me go all Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.






Stop taking cold showers then dickhead. 



I CAN'T.



Because these one-syllabled punks Wim Hof and Paul Chek have got me thinking that if i continue to prostrate myself at the hands of their cultish teachings, then my life is going to be better in a myriad of different ways. One of them says it'll even improve my sex-life, which is interesting, seeing as i literally can't remember the last time i had sex. I can't go back to the joys of hot showers because as much as i might enjoy being in them, i won't enjoy the sadistic feeling of coming out of them. And now, if i even think of cranking the dial towards hot as i lie there in the foetal position convulsing in the corner of my shower crying out for it to stop, i keep imagining the Ice Man looking down on me and shaking his head sternly like the terrifying dude in the painting in Ghostbusters 2.






This sub-zero Catch 22 is ruining my life.



Fuck you Wim... i'm into it.


Pool Fulla Liquor Pt 2


Last year i started writing an account of my decision to give up drinking. I described it as one of the most confusing things i'd ever done. The reason it left me so confused was because i didn't learn anything from it. Well i kind of did and i kind of didn't. But strangely the lessons i did learn seemed to vanish into the ether pretty quickly. The whole exercise had some point to it, whilst simultaneously proving in the end somehow pointless.



Like the punchline of a joke you get, but just don't find funny. 






You can read the first part here.



Having said this, it was one of the most important things i've done in recent memory. Me saying i didn't learn anything springs from the fact that now, five months later, i've resumed a pattern of drinking none too dissimilar from the one i was in before i stopped. But the aim was never to stop drinking completely. The aim was to take a peek behind the curtain. And to mull over whatever it was that peek might reveal to me, over an ice-cold pint of pilsner







To say i didn't learn much isn't true.



We always learn. Even when we don't, we somehow do.



*



I'd say my experience could be split up into 3 key states of being, appearing to me one after the other.



1. S M U G



The most immediate and obvious effect of stopping drinking is clear. 






With not a milligram of hangover, the magic of the wake-up lies in beginning the day on the right side of normal. From here a smooth transition into Total Geedom is by no means out of the question. Have a big night however and you don't get out of normal until most probably late afternoon - the state in which you begin when you don't drink. On a big night with the wrong type of hangover, you might not even by the day's end reach the oasis from which your teetotal self has been calmly sipping all day.






Another option is to go nitro and have an absolute blinder. At least you wake up feeling marvellous, because you're still drunk. But from then it's a headlong freefall into the abyss. Which depending on how philosophical your mindset is, or more importantly how much work you have on, can be quite funny but more often than not an absolute living death. 


In this new hungover-less state, the greatest difference i found from the off was that i woke up winning. I didn't have any hazy memories of candle-lit heart to hearts or Campo Viejo-fuelled rants, but what i did have was no headache. The rocky road from fuzzy-headedness had had an upgrade, and now more resembled an Autobahn to world domination






This mental clarity also served to dampen the voice of my self-doubt. With no hangover gnawing at me, everything had hope, everything had potential, things were worth trying. There was less fear, less non-engagement. The glass wasn't just half-full, it was over-flowing with San Pellegrino. 






The decision to stop drinking took on a force all of its own. As i said a 28-stone bouncer manning the door of my willpower had moved into permanent residency in my brain. The expression on his face of unflinching brutishness could be seen mirrored in my own, whenever the possibility of a drink presented itself. It was self-perpetuating. The greater i felt, the smugger i was, the more i wanted to sustain it, the less i wanted to drink. 


The first couple of weeks were characterised by an unbearable smugness. I felt fucking great, and just as any state of prolonged smugness should rightly bring with it, i soon became unbearable to myself. I'd see groups staggering out of pubs at 10pm on a Sunday and think how they were throwing their lives away. I'd see baskets in supermarkets loaded with tinnies and feel my eyes roll to the back of my perfectly sober head. My U-turn was shocking. I was turning into a sanctimonious dick. 



And i was loving it.






But all good things must come to an end. 



Towards the end of my fourth week sober, i friend of mine suggested a pub visit on a Thursday afternoon. My smugness had been gradually waning, the novelty of my new lifestyle was becoming no longer novel. I'd had a shitty day, and i wanted nothing more than a release. The kind of release not many things in the world can give you quite like the first few sips of an ice cold lager. I went up top, and there was my 28-stone bouncer friend, looking especially lairy this time, gravely shaking his bald head. So i went to the pub and sat there monosyllabically for half an hour with a soda and lime. I got to the bottom of the glass, made my excuses, went home, and fell into a deep depression. 








That’s why i insist that my psychic deterioration was down to a lack of drink and drugs, rather than anything else. As bad as those things might be for your longterm health, they’re still down-time. Which for someone who gets as caught up in his own head as i do, desperately needs.



Mike Skinner 1978-present rap bard


*


After my depression came something else, almost more worrying than its predecessor. Part three will cover my teetotal-induced rock bottom and my attempt to claw my way back out of it with the help of some aggressive self-questioning and a motherfucking SodaStream