Clinical Depression

On Monday 13th Jan 2003 i got up and began practising. I’d had a good layoff over New Year, and should have been keen to get back to it, but i found it hard to fill only an hour, which was odd. The following day i managed only 40 minutes – it was like a toothpaste tube that has hardly anything in it, and squeezes empty easily. The day after that i took to my bed, sobbing. If you’ve had Depression, you’ll pretty much know what followed, although it’s an individual path for everyone who has to follow it. In my case, for several months i lost the ability to hear music at all; i could hear that it was there, but it was indistinguishable from any other sound. The artform’s ability to short-circuit to emotion had gone entirely. My grandfather was a man without music at all – i never found him listening to it, he owned neither instruments nor recordings, and in fact he seemed nervous and twitchy when it was playing. I imagine his life was something like that. To me, it was life, but less so, although he seemed happy enough.

For most of that year, i just wanted to die. However, i’m the main carer for two young children (11 and 7 at the time), and however low you get, however much you can convince yourself that other people would be better off without you, you can’t state with any degree of conviction that two children that age would be happier without their father. So i had to live, although with a certain degree of resentment about having my choices constricted.

Gradually (much more gradually than i’d been led to believe!) things began to fall back into place. In May i thought i might like to listen to some music again. After a few days of thinking that, without the itch subsiding, i went into town and bought the Carpenters’ greatest hits, and played ‘Goodbye to Love’, which was the first record i ever owned. A few weeks later i added Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ to the list. Piece by piece i gradually reassembled my life.

I’m not rehearsing this for my own benefit, so much as for anyone who might be reading this. If this is happening to you, be strong, be patient. You will live through this, there will be better moments. Victories will be small for the time being: simply take them for what they are, and don’t beat yourself up if you fail to gain them.

If you know someone who’s going through this, don’t give up on them. Depressed people aren’t the greatest company, and there is something contagious about that worldview (i’m toying with the theory that it’s only groundless optimism that keeps us going, and that Depression is merely seeing the world for what it is), but even small gestures help to keep you going. An email, a quick drop in. Letters are good – i revived the lost art of correspondence.

For myself, i put the final piece back in place last summer, when i picked up the sax again. Hopefully i’ve put those pieces back in a better, stronger formation. Certainly i’m having good moments with music this year. But Depression is no respecter of persons, and there’s never the guarantee that it won’t happen.

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