Close by there is a river of depression, swollen following a deluge of sad self-pity. It threatens to flood the home that just happens to stand in its path. Reminds me of my dream – the one where from drone heights I looked down on a beautiful valley nestled between the mountains. Up the valley towards me stood a house. I looked at it and thought, ‘but when the rains come, a river will flow through it’.
I remember the red velvet curtains that hung in front of the screen at the ‘bioscopes’ of my youth, and the excitement I felt when they started lifting away, and the music started up. Well, a similar pair hangs somewhere in amongst my consciousness, and every now and then a corner lifts, and what I see looks like depression, and I feel a familiar turning of my stomach, but not in a good direction.
Odd sights and sayings will bring on these peep shows. But by seeking out anything that qualifies as nature, and even an ant will do, I can quickly get that curtain to drop back down, and hide what I don’t want to see.
Depression, and bi-polar, is so ‘normal’ these days that doctors in the UK have been advised to give out anti-depressive tablets pretty much to anyone who says, “Yes, I think I am depressed.” We are even being told that children as young as four years old are suffering from depression, and receiving medication for it. I can’t help thinking the world has gone crackers, or at least turned inside out, as experts gather on news programmes to discuss this shocking statistic. Their answer seems to be, for the most part, let’s medicate this problem away. Absolutely no in-depth understanding of what they are dealing with at all. No longer are we able to sustain ourselves – it seems like this is now virtually ingrained into our children. We have become what Jung and Nietzsche foretold – cardboard cut-outs – and puff, we all fall over. Try to get one of us to stand up and say, I am Jack, I am strong and I believe in myself. Or, I am Jill, I am powerful like the wind. We are all too busy being bi-polar, or suffering with body dysmorphia (BDD), borderline personality disorder, OCD etc etc etc. If there is nothing we can do about this, and it is more than psychological, then what the dickens have we done to ourselves! In my view, and there are many who think the same, with the disconnect from ancient mythologies virtually complete, and a lack of respect for religious beliefs and the people who hold them, and therefore no contact with, or knowledge of, the all-important archetypes that show us who we are, and how to be better versions of ourselves, we have become two-dimensional beings. As Jordan Peterson would say, the only hope for us Pinocchios, with our uncomfortably long noses and donkey ears, is to swim down into the deepest depths of the darkened and unexplored oceans, and be prepared to die. Then perhaps we may have an opportunity to enter the mouth of the whale (the anima) in order to seek our father (the animus), and once we are connected, individually and communally, again to something a little more real than this virtually virtual world of today, only then and perhaps, there is hope for us, and hopefully for our planet too. A rebirth, the Rebirth perhaps!
I am not qualified to discuss what depression is or how to treat it, and can only comment from a personal point of view. I have experienced it myself during my teenage years, and through my twenties, and I have also witnessed a lot of depression first hand, either through family or close friends. Without a doubt there is such a thing as serious mental illness, but then there is also whining. With the benefit of hindsight, my teenage depression had more to do with feeling alienation from my peer group, and a sense of not conforming to the model of a teenager that I would have preferred to be. I wanted to be something other than who I was – as common today as it was then. I wanted to be more like the girls who were spontaneous and having a lot more fun than me, or so it seemed to me. And there was no social media to blame. How convenient to have something simple to lay the blame at the feet of, instead of having to work a little harder, or look a little deeper inside ourselves, as to what is going on. I was intense, self-conscious, took everything so seriously, and I was afraid to be found lacking. Why would anyone find me interesting enough to want to have around, or to ask out on a date? Would I find something interesting to respond when someone asked me a question? All of it is really normal teenage angst, and along with bullying, nothing much has changed there. What may have changed is that teenagers see they have platforms that can make them noticed, or even famous, and this encourages bad behaviour. I think what has changed though is parenting. We lost our way because we have no Way or Path to guide us. We have not given our children direction, conversations about things that matter (they have all been too busy watching TV and playing with their phones etc so that we could do a bit more of what we want to do), or made them feel safe by giving them ground rules and barriers. We also have not shown that while there are things to fear we cannot let fear take us over, and all the other principled things we could have taught them. What seems particularly lacking is the one that says there will be consequences of any choice you make, so think before you act.
It makes sense to me that depression should serve as a road sign. It tells us there is something we are not dealing with, something perhaps that we are repressing. Get it out of its box, and take a good hard look at it. See what it is ‘covering up’. But would you take the time and trouble to venture into uncomfortable and often painful territory when you don’t believe there is a purpose to life? Why bother trying to find that better version of yourself, with no guarantees on offer, if tomorrow you will be gone, and the next day forgotten?
We need to ask ourselves why Voltaire said something along the lines of, ‘If God didn’t exist Man would have to invent him.’ I have often heard it used as a mantra by atheists, but what is less commonly known is that Voltaire was a believer: “What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason.” That is how it is for me. Most importantly, he believed in the oneness and connectedness of everything, hence his belief in there being one ‘father’ for us all no matter which religion you belonged to. He also firmly believed in the separation of church and state – absolutely vital as humankind has created most of what is religion, and all that is truly religious has little to do with laws, and more to do with truths.
And also what did Nietzsche actually mean by ‘Man has killed God’?
I think I am right in expressing the view that he is claimed as a leading light in the atheist parade. But when I read The Parable of a Madman (contained in The Gay Science, written in the 1880’s, both before and after Thus Spoke Zarathustra), it struck me as profoundly spiritual, even prophetic. It has been said of Nietzsche, behind the destroyer lies the creator. I felt his deep concern for humankind’s future when he wrote: “What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? … Is not the night continually closing in on us?”
The ‘mad man’ is carrying a lit lantern during the day, and he says we will all need to do so now. In killing God we lost our sun, our source of light. My God is a vision of light, and if white light is the sum of only seven distinct colour ranges that we can see, then God’s light is as if there were an infinite number of colours creating the greatest light ever. At the end of the parable ‘the mad man’ bemoans the fact that he has come too soon, and before anyone can understand his concerns. I am grateful to Nietzsche for helping me to identify an unusual, and not welcome, sensation I get when entering churches, which is as the madman predicts – they are as tombs and sepulchres of God. I may even feel more comfortable in churches now that I understand this better. I never really felt the presence of a living light in them. In saying that, it does not mean that they are not Holy places.
It is at this point that I intend to put my money where my mouth is. It is time I opened up the great anger inside myself, and once and for all confront it. It is time to find out if depression is, as I say, more to do with a) disappointment, whether in life, in someone or in one’s own being, b) sadness, either for one self or for the planet or such like events, c) grief over loss.
As I said at the top of this piece, I have been aware for a while, and it has been brought home to me more clearly since Elle died, that there is something that causes an occasional ripple through my chest. Now and again a wind blows through, and lifts the corner of that curtain in my mind. Behind it I can just make out a gremlin or two – the gremlins of depression that curdle everything they touch. Sometimes I manage to look away after a short flash, and the feeling is dissolved as quickly as it appeared. And yes, I do believe that we have choices. To deal with it, or not! It is as simple as that. I haven’t wanted to until now, but it has built up into such an anger that I have no choice but to deal with it. I do not, and never have wanted a sticking plaster, or a muti that anaesthetises. I am both my daughters’ mother in that regard. But now it is time that I wrestle those gremlins to the mat.
My anger is darker than twenty thousand leagues under the sea. It has more spikes than a depth charge that is waiting to blow up the submarine that took me down there. Who am I angry towards? I have no one I can point a finger at really. There are so many of us who could have made a difference to how things turned out for Elle in the last days of her life, but not one of us did, each for our own reasons, most of which are quite innocent. My reason for not rushing home was that I couldn’t bear to humiliate Elle. I knew more than anyone else how important it was that she felt capable of taking care of herself, and in charge of her own adulthood. She feared that her deep ties to us, her immediate family, was an indicator that she couldn’t ‘do’ her life without our help. I am angry because now I know that that was such a misguided reason for not coming back. I would be more than happy to take on her anger if it gave her another chance to have a go at adulthood and a future. My anger is aimed at all of us who failed Elle. I am angry at, but that doesn’t mean not also sad for, the driver. Why wasn’t she watching the road ahead? I hate that car! I try to turn that hate to love. I say to myself I love the pine trees on either side of the road. They would have comforted and accompanied her as she was yanked away from life and us. She was walking amongst them, hoping to find release and solace from the troubling feelings, sights and sounds that were overtaking her being. There were people who saw her walking in the dead of night, who didn’t stop to see if they could help. They thought she was a ‘druggy’. When I heard that I was so angry, but dare I think that I would have stopped to help a young girl in disarray, barefoot and walking along the road in the wee hours of the night. I have never been asked to do so. I believe there is a taxi driver who saw her, and deeply regretted that he didn’t stop to help either.
I am angry that she was torn away from us just thirty-six hours before we were due back home, and we, the whole family, as was her wish, were going to work together to make her feel whole again. I am angry for the pain and anguish that blighted her last days. I am angry that her sister now has to walk this earth without her. I am angry that this is my and Peter’s destiny – to learn the length, breadth and depth of suffering. I am angry that I understand the purpose my anger serves, and that I know that it can and will reveal itself to me if I let it. Why must I be so bloody correct always? And I also have some idea of how to go about a transformation of this anger.
Elle suggested I become spiritually more conscientious through the most gentle of inflections. I wanted to, but never reached for it. It is interesting that I finally admit something to myself – that the people I feel supressed anger towards are those who are spiritually active in their lives. I don’t think this is a co-incidence. Going back to my dream, perhaps the river that could come down the valley and through my home is my anger. Anger is something that I have so rarely experienced. I can count the times I experienced true anger on my hands and toes, and would probably have a few left over, and it is definitely not because I suppressed it. I just do have a very long fuse. On those few occasions, which I pretty much remember the details of, I would shake with anger, but what was also interesting was that I still never totally lost control of my actions, even though there were a couple of occasions where I wished I had let go more of it. It has been cathartic for me to stare into the abyss of my anger. Time will tell whether I have achieved anything by wrestling with it. Or have I just been masturbating?
I believe that what most of us call depression is better described as fitting under the heading of trauma. We no longer have the benefit of some magical entity ‘out there’ to share our loss or culpability with, no one to ask for help in the most private of ways, and no one who will point a finger at us and say “I saw that”, and remind us why it is important and beneficial to be good. We are beginning to believe that there is no need to fear a link between behaviour and consequences. No need to turn away from temptations that could lead you astray. It is OK to stray. It is OK to do what we like, how we like, and when we like. Nobody is counting. Fear ye not retribution. Why bother with redemption. Too hard, man. This is a stone’s throw from losing any sense of the value of human life, never mind the rest of the animal kingdom or the planet. What difference does it make to anything if a few more kids die in Syria, or there is another school shootout somewhere in the US? And oh, chemical weapons are so much better – saves on the rebuilding of infrastructure.
I really never meant to get this dark. Reminds me somewhat of my favourite man, Leonard Cohen. You Want it Darker is the name of his last album and of the title track. There are so many ways of reading that. I expect it to be a question while he presents it as a statement. It works both ways. I had a burning desire to write to him after Elle died, and I did. I managed to get through, via the official website, to his lawyer, Robert Kory, and tried ‘speaking to Leonard’. I wanted the man I admired most, both spiritually and artistically, on the planet to know the extraordinary girl whose light had now departed our world. He seemed the right person to tell. It filled me with joy at the time to just imagine I was talking to him. I didn’t know he was in such physical pain from a fracturing spine condition, but his son, Adam, talks about the great joy he was still capable of feeling as they worked together on bringing the album to completion. It was made in his living room and apparently sent by email to the production team. I don’t know whether he ever saw my emails and photos, and I suspect, and rather hope, his son protected him from me, but there again, maybe he did glimpse them.
I thought I would end on a lighter, more joyous note, but sorry, that is not to be. As to my reticent depression, highlighted by a palpable anger – I have lost confidence in the world of today.
Oh, and the name of this blog? That’s easy – the collective name for almost all the tribes of modern humanity that have only recently emerged from the long grasses of the African plains. We continue to do what we have always done, namely, throw the baby out with the bath water in the name of progress. We chose to turn our backs on all that was good about our more primitive and simple selves, some examples of which still exist in the tribes who have resisted our form of progress. All we know how to do is talk talk talk. The vast majority of us don’t have a clue about who we are, why we are here, or how to deal with the great fat emperors and empresses with no clothes on. How do we deal with their nakedness when we don’t know whether we are clothed or not?! We need to ask the children. I am hoping they can help us. I am struggling to keep my half empty glass half full.
But, at the end of the day, if not today, then perhaps tomorrow, I know my anger will pass and my depression dissolve, and I will not miss those gremlins. So until the next time that they have something to remind me about when I will look to the source of any irritations I feel, I will check myself if found judging others, and finally I will do things that calm and replenish the soul, like meditation and rituals. And I will report back. I am not looking for a miracle end to my grief. I am only looking to alter the course of my depression, and to soothe my anger, so that I can return to being worthy of my own respect.
Finally, I want people to know that I am not pretending to have read Voltaire and Nietzsche. I have learnt about them the easy way.
Article on anti-depressant long-term use and side effects of withdrawal:
A quote from the article:
“We’ve come to a place, at least in the West, where it seems every other person is depressed and on medication,” said Edward Shorter, a historian of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. “You do have to wonder what that says about our culture.”