Only half a dozen people knew where I was during those five days, my husband, my twin sister, one of my cousins, my best friend, my therapist and my boss. Only another half a dozen or so knew I was depressed, let alone that I had been fighting an epic, hidden battle with myself for my own survival. When I look back at my photography, poetry, art and notebooks from that decade and beyond it's glaringly obvious that I was depressed but even when I finally saw my GP and was prescribed anti-depressants, at the end of last year, I still found it hard to accept that I was ill.
"Most [people] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them" ~ Mis-quotation of a line from Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden' [source]The first part of that line is from Thoreau and comes from Walden which was a manifesto for living simply. The full quote reads:
"The mass of [people] lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things." Henry David Thoreau [source]For most of my adult life I tried, and failed, to either fix myself, find myself or flee from myself but, to paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn, wherever I went, there I was and in the end I ran out of energy, stopped running from the insatiable hungry ghosts haunting my mind and I did the only thing left to do - I faced myself. With the last sliver of hope left inside me I hoped that a small shift would take place while I was at the Maytree - a shift that would keep me safe for a little longer while I continued the battle against my own thoughts. I have no way of explaining the total transformation that took place on my last day at the Maytree and I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand it but it was like waking up from a nightmare just as I was about to hit the ground. In February this year I wrote in my notebook: "my feet and eyes feel heavy as I drag my despair through the snow." However fast I ran, I couldn't get away from the darkness that had descended and the dark void felt like it was starting to surround me on all sides. All I wanted to do was lie down and sleep until the snow covered my tracks and any sign that I had ever existed. I held tightly to any music and poetry that soothed my soul, if only for a second. I tried to memorise one of John O'Donohue's poems in the hope that it would come true if I recited it often enough: "I would love to live / Like a river flows / Carried by the surprise / Of its own unfolding." During my train journey home from London to York last Saturday I scribbled these words down in my notebook: "There's a river of kindness following me home." The next day I added these words on the same page: "it feels so amazing to be alive today."
I will never be able to fully repay the Maytree Respite Centre or those of you who held me in your thoughts while I was there but I will spend the rest of my life breaking my own (and society's) silence around depression and suicide. My new goal in life is to be the poster-child for suicidal recovery and be a voice in the darkness for anyone who is fighting their own battle. At an existential level it's true that we are alone in life and death because we are the only ones who know what it is like to experience the weight of our thoughts and feelings but there are people out there who will walk beside you while you fight to save your own life - keep looking for those people and never give up hope that you'll find them ... they are probably already much closer than you can possibly believe.
This blogpost is just the first of what I'm hoping to share about the bewildering journey I've been on. Last week I did a BettaKultcha talk about how the Maytree had helped me save my own life and I'll post the video of that talk (eeek!) as soon as it's available, then later this month I'll be hosting Eric Maisel on my blog as part of his virtual book tour for Rethinking Depression. In the meantime though, here are the slides (including the script that I used as the basis for my 5 minute talk):