It's been... six months? I was beginning to think I live here, and that I should probably decorate. Impulse buy some throw cushions to offset the grey walls. Build a patio in the middle of the night, and bury 11,000 unread emails under it. Take down the smiling photos on the walls, because the expressions look insincere, and replace them with motivational posters of kittens, clinging to branches, or wearing office attire, with encouraging phrases anchoring to them page. Not those big, bold, size 48 font messages, that beckon you to greatness or seizing various days, but something in a nice understated serif font, telling me I should probably do some laundry, or at least get changed out of my pyjamas.
It's depression awareness week, and it coincides with the first time in months that I'm starting to feel my energy returning. It's like being on a sail boat in calm waters, and the relief when the wind picks up – finally, I can gain momentum. Finally, I can leave.
I've had depression, on and off, my whole life. It's mostly off. It's my version of that knee that plays up when the weather is bad. The scar that occasionally aches.
I don't know why I've been trying to keep it secret. My husband knows. The other day, I built a fort out of cushions, told him I was learning to meditate, and crawled inside it to have a secret cry. It was, apparently, wholly unconvincing. My parents know. My brother and my sister know. My brother in law knows – last time it was really bad, he turned up to take me for a therapeutic (hypothermic) swim in Dover sea which involved me, a non swimmer, screeching as I lowered individual limbs into murky waters, and then flailing around a bit in waist deep brine. My friends know, and affectionately understand what they call my “hermit” phases, where text messages go unanswered, and events go unattended, and hair goes unbrushed. So, who exactly am I hiding it from? I suppose I've always been a little bit scared that talking about it might limit my opportunities – a blot on my CV. I have come to realise that when your CV features stints as a stand up comedienne, the woman that sticks jam in jam doughnuts, international children's author, toilet saleswoman, and the world's leading supplier of teddy bears with artificial human teeth, it can probably endure a few tea rings of depression left on the page. I guess I was also wary of people seeing it as a defining trait; a parasitic adjective that would latch on to the way people describe me, shouldering more dominant aspects out the way.
I discovered a wonderful new phrase the other day: Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. With that in mind, I can't tell you what depression is like for anyone else, but I can tell you what it's like for me.
As far as I can remember, it's always been a part of me.
When I was four, I realised that everyone dies. I don't remember the exact moment this epiphany occurred, but I do recall the aftermath. The earth shattering unfairness. No matter how good you were, no matter how well behaved, how loved, how careful, one day you will die. One day, everyone you love will die. Your pets. Your family. Your friends. It felt like someone had dropped a black hole at the end of time, consuming days and people as it dragged everything towards it. It was colossal. Terrifying. Inescapable. I looked at everyone around me, functioning, smiling, eating dinner, walking dogs, and I couldn't understand why they were able to be happy, knowing what I knew.
And then it was obvious:
Nobody had broke the news to them.
Four years old, sturdy legged, serious eyed, I gently informed my relatives the nature of their own mortality. When we sung in class about how the “Clock stopped, still, never to go again, when the old man died”, I wept huge gulping tears for the old man, wondering who loved him, who missed him, whether he'd been afraid... and then felt obliged to tell my oblivious class mates that they, and their families, were equally doomed. When the health visitor came to visit my sister, smiling down at her in her cot, I solemnly informed her of her impending demise, and even provided a helpful diagram of her in the ground, roughly hewn in crayon.
If you think four is a little young for an existential crisis, so did the health visitor. The next stop was The Room, where the psychologist with the bed time story voice crouched next to me, handing me different coloured pencils, encouraging art. Every surface dripped with toys, smiling benevolent faces clustered on shelves, in boxes, perched on the edge of a desk. A world built of primary colours and soothing sounds.
So that's where I begin.
In truth though, I've never been very good with chronology. My memories lie in a tangled mess, arranged loosely by clarity or colour or shape: the mental equivalent of That Drawer in the Kitchen.
It's hard to find the beginning.
There's another memory then that might be my first. The rainbow. It starts with me running into my parents bedroom, propelled forward with excitement, soft landing on a bed of seventies fabrics and sleeping shapes. There's a skip in continuity here, time roughly stitched together, and now I'm outside with Dad, his strong hands lifting me onto his shoulders to see the arc of colours dividing the world. I'm so high up, skyscraper tall with my fingers looped round his neck, that there's nothing around me but sky, and I'm breathing blue air and grey clouds and colours and the smell of rain, and grass, and damp concrete. The memory doesn't end. There's no edge to it. I can crawl into that moment, and be amongst the sky, and the rainbow hangs forever.
The dichotomy of these two moments is a pretty accurate insight into what life with depression is like. It's not ink poured into a glass of water, changing everything within, It's a paint palette of different colours. There are black moments, certainly. There are grey times, like gaps in the paving where you are neither here nor there. I remember sitting once at a festival in the woods, huddled around a fire with people I love, listening to beautiful music, the sun setting through branches like fingers held up to the light, and I felt absolutely nothing. It was as if I'd sat down at a banquet of plastic food. It was a short period, where someone had stolen my colours from me, and I was so grateful when I found the edges of it.
However, sometimes I think, not despite, but because of my brushes with depression I have a tremendous amount of light in my life. That maybe, like a pendulum, the heights you can reach can only be matched by how far back you swing. Perhaps people that experience sadness are best placed to fully appreciate the currency of joy.
I hoard happy. It fascinates me. I laze on it, like a dragon stretching out on a bed of gold. I laugh. A lot. Even in my sleep. My house is filled with items that bring me glee: kitsch ornaments of surfing polar bears looking pensive yet majestic, fairy lights (so many fairy lights), toys monkeys with delightfully threadbare limbs and sinister smiles, photos of my husband posing with the cats. My computer desktop is a mess of photos that make me grin – I even have a whole folder dedicated to “People modelling terrible fancy dress outfits, and looking slightly ashamed about it". I'm growing lavender outside my home because the smell of it after rain is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The reason I created Fugglers was because the idea made me giggle, and making them feels like manifesting strange little lumps of happiness before sending them out into the world, talismans of laughter for other people to use.
So, it's depression awareness week: I'm thirty seven years old, I've experienced depression since I was an age where the floor frequently becomes lava, sofas become islands, bunk beds become pirate ships, and where storing lego pieces in your nostrils seems like a good idea, and yet this is my first time talking about it online. There's something quite odd about that. Probably about time that changed.