Sunday 28 March 2010

Look out - Depression is the new Swine Flu!

After the last colyoom about how fluffy life is in Galway, what with us not knowing what day it is and everything, I started to feel uneasy.

As the votes continue to fly in for an excerpt of the ‘Getting Galwayed’ chapter of my new book, ‘Do I Love Ireland’, I realised that were I to post a 'funny guffaw ha ha' clip from that chapter, it would simply perpetuate the image of Galway that this colyoom has been indulging in for many years.

Yes, Galway is a great place where you can make friends easily. You can find company to get drunk with any day of the year if that is what you want, and even, as in the colyoom below, end up collectively unsure which day of the week it is, and not caring.

Oh ha ha.

Truth is, I rarely if ever drink any more, and on that very afternoon I wrote about in the previous colyoom, I completed three lengthy talks with very different and most excellent friends of mine, all of whom were under the cosh of depression. By the end of the week I had listened to and tried to support 4 depressed friends in total, and another two who didn’t have depression but were suffering terminal cases of the blues.

It’s facile to think that this recession causes depression simply by making people broke. There are an infinite number of recession-induced pressures that contribute to either a spell of depression or feeling down.

Couples where both people earned suddenly become relationships where one earns and the other is lost in status, role and self-esteem. People become lonely because they cannot afford to go out, especially in rural Ireland, where going out invariably means going to the pub.

Point is, I felt fraudulent by making light of the dark and heavy loads presently being carried by my fellow Galwegians, and myself. We are living in depressed times and it is hard to shake a tail feather of joy and exuberance without attracting a begrudging or bemused stare.

So in solidarity with those friends and all you strangers who are living with depression right now, I’m going to break my own rules. That’s the great thing about making up rules; you can break them and nobody can say ‘pooey!’.

Tomorrow, as promised, an excerpt will appear from the chapter most-voted for in the poll 2 colyooms below (get your votes in today - last chance!). But now, as if in defiance of all your votes, my beloved colyoomistas, I am going to print a clip from a chapter that not one single person voted for -

Chapter 10 - My body, blue bag and black dog’, they being topics that each in turn relate to my lardy belly, my hitching spirit of adventure and my depressions, as they appear to me.

So, rather like depression, in that you didn’t ask for it, almost certainly can live without it, but are getting it anyway, and in support of all of you out there living with the burden of your own black dogs, this colyoom offers something that ain’t funny, ain’t light but is truly real and relevant. Thankfully, Irish attitudes to mental illness have moved on since this colyoom was written.

November 2000.
I’m possessed buy an invisible malevolent twin!

Rather than accepting it as an illness like the ‘flu, Irish people are terrified of talking about depression. I feel no stigma whatsoever in saying I live with depression, (preferable to admitting I suffer from depression), but whenever I mention the illness, my Irish friends seek to console me by saying that they’ve been down in the dumps too.
Despite their best intentions, all they are doing is showing that they don’t understand what I’m talking about. Depression has nothing whatsoever to do with being down in the dumps.
We all have rough periods, when personal and professional trauma hit, and we stumble on our journey through life, taking shelter in sadness and grief.
But depression, or at least my own depression, arrives as an uninvited guest, out of the blue.
It can visit when absolutely everything in my life is rosy. I can be sitting on a cliff top, looking out over all the Arcadian splendour that the west of Ireland has to offer, thinking how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends, such a loving family, and the next instant I’m gripped by an all-encompassing empty melancholy that negates the meaning and purpose of life.
Many years back, I was walking up Lenaboy Avenue in Salthill when a supremely fierce depression hit me as a punch in the guts, actually forcing me to physically double up, as if to retch. There was nothing going on in my life to feel down about, but – Bam! - the darkness was upon me.
Over the years I’ve learned to live with these bouts. Indeed, as with many other creative genius types over the course of history, I’ve even come to understand that the relative loss of sanity is an intrinsic part of the artistic process. Periods of depression appear to me as a mental chicanes, times when everything seems exaggerated, distorted, squeezed into the wrong holes.
I know that on the other side of the depression there exists some kind of catharsis that will reveal to me the hidden process that my mind has been undergoing.
It’s like being possessed by an invisible malevolent twin, a persona that robs you of all your energy and self-confidence.
That’s the worst part of depression for me, the way it sucks my energy levels. Instead of powering up the Prom to Black Rock several times a week, I find a gentle stroll to town absolutely exhausting, and whoah, how I long to have that spring back in my step.
Of course this depression will pass, as have all the others, but my short patience is tested by the inability of my fellow Galwegians to understand that the illness even exists; that it is neither a self-indulgence, nor a reaction to things going wrong.
As I explained to my good friend The Body this week, normally I like my life and I like myself, but right now I have neither the positive thought nor the physical energy with which to trade as a human being in the outside world.
He dug deep into his humour bag, searching for appropriate wit and pathos.
“Sure, why would you feel self confident? What do you have to feel self-confident about?”
Of course, many of you reading this will live with depression too, so hey, you’re not weird ... well, even if you are, you’re in good company!


Miles O Tool said...

Hey Chas, yes depression and anxiety are afflicting a large proportion of the population home and abroad. They are non racist, non sexist and sectarian and affect everybody equally.

And how do we respond? Most of us, self included, suffer in silence. To admit to such frailty would be unthinkable. The tragic, tragic outcome is that in many cases people end up taking their lives rather than talk about it. Suicide has become a solution that affects so many families.

Some people do it because of deep depression, inability to cope. Recession has caused many suicides because of money problems and often esteem problems.

I'm still not ready to share it in public. I get panic attacks for no reason, walking down Shop St on a fine day, thinking "Where were all these babes all Winter?" or other such nonsense.

My old pal, panic, says hello. Except he shouts HELLO!!!!!!!!!!

Doubled up, wondering if I am going to have a heart attack, Jesus does anybody notice? What if I faint? I know it's nonsense but Mr Panic won't allow me to overcome this.

What's the answer? Valium, lithium, xanax, seroxat? They help but don't cure. Alcohol helps but probably will cause more problems than it cures.

Can we dwell on this? No. Just have to shake off Mr Panic, wipe away the sweats and carry on. Don't make a fuss.

Thanks Charlie for opening an avenue towards discussion and best of luck with the book.

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks Miles, and oh boy, I know how you feel. If you drop down a few colyooms on the blog, you'll find my own experience of a panic attack, which shows only too clearly that I know how you feel.

As I said on the blog, thankfully awareness of depression in Ireland is growing, and understanding of mental illness is on the up.

As far as suicide in Ireland goes, I agree that depression plays a large role, but there is another factor that I believe plays a massive part.

When I look at the demographics and see such a huge number of young male suicides in this country, I can only assume that a lot are down to sexuality. Although Irish attitudes have changed towards homosexuality,they are still far behind the rest of the modern world, and having lived in rural Ireland I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to come out in the village.

... Cue Matt Lucas and Little Britain’s ‘Only Gay in the village!’ ...

... but it’s no laughing matter. I used to sit on a suicide prevention committee in Galway, and even those fellow professionals were incredibly resistant to the notion that some of these now-dead young lads might have been Gay, and feeling unsafe about coming out.

Anyway, thanks for your input, and yes, the sap is rising, and yes, they will be out there on Shop Street, so remember the deep breathing for those panic attacks!

L . Wiw said...

Seriously, the problem of depression has become so common. It is spreading like flood.

Charlie Adley said...

Absolutely L, but thankfully, here in Ireland we are now finally talking about it, rathe than hiding away and keeping it a secret.