Good day bad day terrible day good day. This is the strangest depression I’ve ever had. The good day comes along and I allow myself to believe that at last the dark shroud is gone from me, only to be followed by a night of either emotional or physical nightmares filled with pure terror.
Waking the next morning I feel shredded. Intellectually I know that they (these particular nightmares tend to travel in threes) are only dreams. I know that my father is not going to collapse into my arms having a stroke. I know that Martin is alive and preposterously well. I know that the woman being hurled along the pavement on her back by an entity unseen does not even exist. She is a figment of my addled old brainbox.
But it makes no difference. Unlike yer average nightmares, these babies affect me for the rest of the day. My mate Angel, himself PTSD, reckons I’ve got a touch of his affliction.
I don’t. That’s for sure.
The bad days come in various tastes and colours. Sometimes I get those familiar senses of detachment and alienation. Driving along the Headford Road, I am suddenly unsure of the reality I inhabit. Am I really driving? Does any of it really matter? Am I coming or going?
Sometimes I feel a little better and wander into town, intent on trying to behave as I normally do. A coffee in Neactain’s, a Jamie in The Quays and then back home to work some more.
But I’m not up to chatting, shooting the shit, however wonderful the people that I bump into might be.
It’s all very familiar. Each weary evening that has me dozing helpless at 9.30pm; each early dawn morning that is greeted by the thought that I don’t want to get out of bed; but then, I find I do, and oh look, it’s a good day.
No, I’ve never plucked this particular peculiar variety from the Depression Jamboree Pick‘n’Mix bag before. But then, I’ve never had this set of problems before.
If you go along with the idea that depression is split into two types - endogenous and reactive - then I’m a member of the former group. My dark shroud was woven from the cloth of my DNA. My depression is not concerned whether I’m happy or sad. I can be feeling joyous as a mackerel chasing a sprat, swimming through the ocean of life with narry a care about me, when BAM, turns out the sprat had a hook on it, and the darkness starts to reel me in.
Nothing in nature is set fast and perfect. Nobody, I suspect, is purely either reactive or endogenous. So given the amount of pretty shitty things that have been happening to me recently, there’s a good chance that I’ve been affected by outside circumstances and events.
Self pity is anathema to me. If I hear myself whinging three times about the same thing, I either shut up or do something about it. I’m not looking to be a victim or feel sorry for myself, yet sometimes the chaos of the universe delivers a series of heavy blows that I just didn’t see coming.
I wasn’t expecting the financiers of my book to move the goal posts and I wasn't expecting to upset and fall out with a good friend and colleague. Most of all, when the pain in my knee warranted a visit to the doctor, I didn’t expect to hear that there was nothing he could do. For the first time in my life I was told by my doctor that this was me getting old, so tough luck. Osteo-arthritis, which is going to get worse and soon include the other knee. The pain seemed to come on very quickly and is almost ever-present, sometimes gripping the whole lower leg and foot.
To be honest, in itself, no biggie. I can deal with pain, but it’s pretty hard coming to terms with the idea of being in pain for the rest of my life. There’s physiotherapy and Cortisone injections and all manner of ways to manage the condition, but that’s the word: manage. It ain’t going away.
As I said, being a resilient bugger, the idea of pain itself would not have tipped me over the edge. But there was a final blow; one which I am still struggling to get my head around.
For nearly 20 years I’ve cured my head and heart by stomping up the Salthill Prom. When I lived in Yorkshire I hiked the moors and the dales. When I lived in Connemara I strolled the fuschia-clad bohreens. When I lived in Killala I walked the magnificent empty beaches. When I lived in San Francisco I walked through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean.
Now not only does walking hurt, but unless the surface gives underfoot, it’s actually doing me harm. I’m allowed to cycle or swim, but the Prom is out.
In no small way my walking makes life worth living. I clear my head, absorb the beauty of the universe, sweat buckets of crap out of me and come home feeling vibrant and ready for anything. Some days now I can barely wobble up Quay Street without pain and a limp. Even if others might not see it, I feel the effort of trying to walk as I used to.
The journey I have to make is to acceptance, coupled with doing my physio exercises and taking the injections when it gets too bad to bear. I haven't lost all sense of perspective, and am well aware that there are many wonderful things to live for. I’ve got the best people any human could hope for, offering me love and support in as many differing ways as our species can construct. I’m living in the right place and there are an unknown horde of fellow humans who are suffering much worse than I am.
Yeh, hmm, that last one never really hits me hard enough. The relativism of pain and suffering just doesn’t appeal as a concept. But giving thanks is important and so I do, even when I’m lost to the others, listening to them but feeling distanced, as if they’re on DVD and I’ve lost the remote control.
The one thing I do know for sure is that it will pass. I’m trying to come up with an answer to a question that has none, so as well as seeking counselling I’ll work on acceptance. Therein lies strength and hope for the future.
In the meantime I’m just getting through each day. Today is a good day. Thankfully last Friday was a good day too. Had it been a bad day I’m not sure I’d have been able to cope with the scene at the hospital.
As the kind older nurse taking some of my blood turned around to talk to her colleague, I felt the needle twist inside my arm. My yelp of pain procured a ticking off from the nurse.
“Ah now, come on widja. It’s not that bad, sure it isn’t. You’ve got terrible jiggly veins, so you have.”
I said nothing, but today as I sit here my arm sports a thundercloud-and-jaundice bruise four inches long, two inches wide, six days after my jiggly veins got in the way of her needle.
A little later, after inspecting the form I’d passed on to her from the Snapper’s doctor, she declared it hadn’t been correctly filled out.
“What’s you wife’s name again?”
I told her.
She rattled a few keys on her computer keyboard.
“Well I’ll just go and have a word with her and check a few details.”
“You will? How?”
“Well, I’ll pop down the ward and see her.”
“But she isn’t on any ward. She came in two days ago for a procedure, waited around all day and then was sent home without it being done. She’s at home.”
And then a wonderful depression-defying, reality-altering question came forth from her indignant wrinkled lips.
“Are you sure?”
As you know, it’s quite incredible how much can go through your brain in a couple of seconds. Given that I had on previous recent days lost touch with reality, I mentally trembled for a trice, wondering if I’d got it all wrong and - but no.
No no no no no.
However bad my depression may be, the Irish Health Service as run by the HSE, is worse. Most of the people who work in it are fabulous, but whether it’s the heinous financial cuts or the brainless bureaucratic system, the service itself runs like a derailed train on treacle. You never know where it’s going, yet inevitably it takes an enormous effort to get there.
Was I sure? I was not sure who the person in that bed was, nor how they might feel about being on hospital records as being the Snapper. I was not sure even if there was a person in that bed. But was I sure, absolutely sure, that the Snapper was not in hospital.
Yes, of that at least I was sure.
Thank you thank you thank you for asking me such an absurd question. At last I am sure of something.
“Yes, I am sure. I am sure that my wife is not in hospital. I am sure that my wife is at home, asleep, in bed.”
“Well, there’s no need to be like that about it.”
“Sorry. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather.”