I love, love, love books: once I could easily get lost in a book to the exclusion of all else.
I remember when, at times, I would sequester books like a squirrel in a pile beside my bed, waiting for the end of semester or the Christmas holidays. Then I would spend hours at the kitchen table, on the couch, beside the pool, under the tree, or in bed, immersed in some other world.
Sometimes I would put down a book once I had reached the beginning of the last chapter in the knowledge that I would soon be leaving this world, to grieve a little before I had to say my final goodbyes.
More often than not I would shed a tear or two at the end, regardless of the happy or sad ending.
But today, books are my lost love. Since being diagnosed with depression and now taking the appropriate medication, I just don’t have the attention span needed to read a book.
I’ve tried, many times, in both dead-tree and digital form, to align my heart’s passion for books with the diminished capacity of my chemically-constrained brain. Sadly, my mind wanders within 30 minutes and I must move on to something else.
That’s not to say I regret having to sacrifice books for sanity. Without medication I’m not sure I would be here at all. I also have a loving, respectful and supportive relationship with my daughter that I may have otherwise destroyed in my depressive state. And I manage to find meaningful, if sometimes frustrating, employment, which helps to pay the bills.
So I relegate books to the drawer that holds the other lost loves of my life – to be treasured and occasionally unearthed with smiles and fond reminiscences.
For the record, here are my favourite books:
- American Gods – Neil Gaiman
- London Fields – Martin Amis
- Secret History – Donna Tart
- Oryx and Crake – Margaret Attwood
- 1984 – George Orwell
- True Game – Sherri S Tepper
- The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
- Gormenghast series – Mervyn Peake
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Stephen R Donaldson
- The Torturer series – Gene Wolff
Twitter is such a great place to explore the boundaries of one’s understanding, argue about footy, mock other people harmlessly (although sometimes harmfully, to our chagrin) and to share cute photos. Never in a thousand years would the originators of Twitter (@jack, @biz and @ev) have realised what their micro messaging/blogging platform would do to provide the glue which binds together so many different elements of society.
Nor would they have have realised what an oasis of humanity they would create for people who are either purposefully or inadvertently isolated from the rest of the world. Parents of children with autism, people in the far reaches of their continents, people with mobility impairment, and people with depression – all are isolated in some way but many are able to reach out and connect with warm, caring, considerate and helpful people somewhere else on the interwebs.
I’ve written about this before and I shan’t do so again tonight. But it is Capril, and I know some of my fellow depressives have endured setbacks over the past 12 months. I know I have. So in recognition of Capril (@Capril_April), I thought I would place in one spot the pieces I’ve written about depression. I’ve also included my piece on fearlessness which, while only tangentially related, is important to this discussion.
Depression is still a dirty word. We still have a long way to go in creating an understanding that it can be no worse than diabetes in the workplace.
Reach out if you think you have depression or if you think someone you know might be struggling with putting the black dog back on the leash.
I don’t remember exactly when I first realised I was fearless.
Perhaps it was that time ten years ago when I became aware that two dishevelled teenage girls were waiting to roll me for cash outside a public toilet. Instead of cowering in the cubicle, I thought “well, this should be interesting” and boldly stepped out of the stall. Perhaps luckily for me, the girls had already fled because a young mother with a pram had entered the room.
The event was not a turning point, but an indication that something in me had changed.
I certainly haven’t always been this way. The list of fears I’ve grappled with over the years is quite lengthy. Many were imagined inadequacies: not measuring up when it came to being smart, pretty, thin, sexy, experienced, cool, quirky, assertive, articulate, patient or affectionate.
Other fears were more substantial and nurtured by the emotional blackmailers and bullies in my life. It was through them that I learned to fear inadequacy, powerlessness and invisibility. And my fear of being selfish kept me involved with those people much longer than I should have been.
It was not the act of leaving those relationships which made me fearless, though. I left only after accepting that it did not make me a bad person to put my own well being first; particularly my mental health, which was unknowingly under pressure at the time.
I believe my refusal to feel guilty for these acts of self-preservation engendered the fearlessness that I feel today.
What does it mean to be fearless? Well, it is more than striding confidently into battle. Being fearless can also mean being ruthless and dispassionate.
For me it means always putting my mental health first, and simply avoiding those stressful situations and people that cause my depression to surface.
It means not feeling guilty to decline invitations, instead of feeling obliged to accept and then stressing and lying about why I cancelled or didn’t show. It means happily refusing the assistance of well-meaning match-makers or dates with men where there is no chemistry, even though the alternative is to be alone.
It also means reducing my social circle to those with whom I really care to spend time, and limiting my exposure to my extended family and its dramas.
Being fearless has brought innumerable positives to my life. Foremost, it has nurtured within me a confident self-acceptance: I’m comfortable with my own company, being in my own skin, my age, my economic circumstances, and my abilities and preferences, while genuinely not giving a toss about what other people might think.
Fearlessness also helps me to resist emotional blackmail and stand up to bullies. It entitles me to refuse to be defined or constrained by others’ value systems and currencies for measuring self-worth. It equips me to speak my mind. And it helps me to accept when I am not liked – or loved – and to understand that solitude does not mean loneliness.
Perhaps most importantly of all, fearlessness enables me to be totally unapologetic about putting my own well being first.
Yes, my fearlessness makes me uncompromising but I write about it in the hope that I can encourage other people to be fearless too. Particularly women, who I believe are not well served by this society which even now encourages them to put themselves second after partners, families and their employers.
Fear makes us small and erodes our self-worth. Fearlessness gives us the right to be, and to protect, ourselves. Be fearless, be yourself, and protect your well being.
Apparently I joined Twitter on 25 December 2008. I don’t remember doing it.
It’s fair to say that this time two years ago I was counting down my final days. I’d decided the circumstances under which I would end my life. It’s not that I had nothing to live for. I had a very successful career, a beautiful daughter, and a family who loved me despite my intermittent contact with them.
Nevertheless I’d come to accept that I’d grow old alone and that there was a point in time that I would become a burden on my only child. I didn’t want to be the bitter old woman that my own mother had become. So I decided I would head overseas in my late 50s (I’m currently in my 40s) and if I was still alone at 60 then I would call it a day.
I’m a loner by nature, and only begrudgingly engage with people when I’m not at work. My professional obligation to be an extravert was incredibly draining on both the mind and the soul. I love to be alone, but understand only too well how solitude can turn in upon itself, transforming a positive life force into a destructively negative one.
It’s perhaps ironic that, having sought help and become accustomed to the meds, these past two years of my depression have also been my professional best. I achieved a level of clear thinking and creativity that was fulfilling and productive. Only the very few closest to me saw the flip side of this success, where I withdrew further and further from the world once the working day was over.
It is a mere coincidence that I joined Twitter on Christmas Day two years ago. I did not really engage with the medium until earlier this year and it was an experience which literally changed my life. But I will get to that in a moment.
My first foray into the online world was a forum for NRL fans. My daughter’s boyfriend at the time played in the lower grades and I’d rediscovered my love of the game. Debate on the forum was robust, particularly for someone like me who questioned the “boys will be boys” and “win at any cost” cultures which pervaded. It was my first experience as the member of a community where you survived entirely on your wits and words.
Then I started an eBay business, mainly to sell the embarrassingly huge amount of clothes I had purchased to bolster my faltering self esteem. What struck me about this online world was the joy of making a small but positive contribution to someone else’s life. I was overwhelmed by messages of thanks from customers whose day had been made by a new dress or fabulous shoes. This outpouring of thanks caused me to question my professional life where I constantly had to be tough and uncompromising and to win, win, win. Without realising it, my secret plan for the final trip to Europe had been replaced by a life affirming plan to remove all the stress factors from my life and to do more of what I love and enjoy – with no end point in sight.
Then came Twitter. Well, I’m not the first to say it was a revelation. I only became involved to see how the medium was being used by my professional adversaries, who I knew were much more linked into new media approaches. It was indeed like falling down the rabbit hole.
Several others have recently written to express their love for Twitter and the communities which have sprung like mushrooms around issues, causes or people. For someone like me who doesn’t even really like to leave the house, I have never before loved meeting so many different people. Unlike real life, I don’t fear walking into the many virtual rooms which make up the Twitterverse and are crowded with people that I don’t know. Nor am I afraid to join a group of unknowns and engage in their conversation.
That’s not to say the discussions aren’t robust, for indeed they are, but more respectful than on the football forum. In fact one of the distinctive features of Twitter for me is that so many people with clearly differing views can congregate and respectfully argue on a daily basis.
That is the first reason why I love Twitter. The second is the seemingly endless reserves of support and goodwill that are exhibited there. Never before have I witnessed so many people reach out to others that they do or do not know, to celebrate in times of success, express solidarity in times of duress and offer solace in times of grief. Perhaps most importantly for me, I’ve been particularly heartened by the compassionate way that each declaration of depression has been acknowledged.
Since deciding to de-stress my life, having joined Twitter, and having rediscovered the love of writing, I have consequently quit my high-powered job. Right now I’m a Jill of Some Trades until I can get my new business idea up and running. I love going to work each day in a much less stressful environment and making a positive contribution whenever I can. And I love coming home each day to talk with my tweeps.
Which brings me to the reason for this post. At this time of remembrance and of drawing together loved ones, I want to acknowledge and thank a few people who have helped me get to this point:
- @thewetmale, @comicjester, @zombieham and @garthgodsman for being the first tweeps to talk to me on a regular basis
- @superopinion for his friendship and being the first to publish me
- @greenj for being the second to publish me, and for resisting pressure to drop me because of the pseudonym
- @mfarnsworth for his friendship and fabulous feats of political analysis
- @awelder, @timdunlop and @benpobjie for showing me that the world of words is fiercely beautiful
- @cjjosh for her camaraderie, compassion and friendship
- @juliusflywheel for his wackiness, friendship and for just being there
- and @mrdoman for bravely sharing his darkest times with us and for never stepping away from the things that daunt him.
I have learned from you all and am in a happier and healthier place for it. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.
This post also appeared on the Capril website. Participants of Capril are encouraged to wear capes during everyday activities to raise awareness and encourage the general public to make donations in support of beyondblue: the national depression initiative.