Part One: A Christmas Special
I was dead for three years. Buried in a deep peat bog, a swamp through which I walked daily, a dark night of the soul from which I never awoke. For three years. They call it: DEPRESSION ANXIETY BIPOLAR DISORDER MENTAL ILLNESS and lots of bad things too.
You cling on, keep going, try not to lose what’s left of your mind. My favourite song was Blue Sky Blues by Ryan Adams, although I listened to very little music. Occasionally birdsong. For some reason I connected with the greatly prolific and perversely capricious Ryan Adams. I’m listening to the song now. It goes:
‘I can take care of you, But only if you want, I’m strong enough to carry you, Across the icy lake, Across the icy lake, But I can’t fight your blues, ‘Cause I know I’ll lose, What’s left of my mind
I can’t win, But for you I will try, My baby blue’.
The Big D
Depression. Easy to get, easier to say (in these enlightened times) Bexit Voters, Trump and St. Teresa The Hard, notwithstanding. But once you’ve got it, not easy at all to get rid of. Very hard in fact, to the point of near impossibility. Or that’s how it can seem when you’re in the middle of a Big D, a really deep D, such that it feels like a swamp has closed over your head, and you’ve forgotten how to swim, or struggle. Or summon up any of the normal human survival instincts to fight back. Ain’t no fighting this Big Black Dog.
To begin at the beginning. Although one of the things with depression is that you never really know where the beginning was. Maybe it was that time after I’d graduated and was living with that girl, and it all got too much. I’d pushed myself too hard to get an upper second. I was editing the student newspaper, and had interviewed Paul Young and the Q Tips. The NME beckoned. London would soon be very much Calling.
Suddenly one cold November morning, you’re standing in an icy park in Preston, in your Bunnyman overcoat, and you just feel so overwhelmingly sad. The Big D has arrived. You can’t shake it off. Best to shake hands and embrace. You’re going to be together for a lifetime. Maybe for me this was the beginning. But maybe something was lurking in my Dad’s genes, and in his Father’s too. They both had their moments. Were inclined to black moods occasionally. It may even have been my grandfather’s black moods or hwyliau du, that sent the first Fosterjohn off from Kenfig Hill, and halfway down the world to Paraguay to make his fortune. But that is another story.
As I write these words I am just emerging from my latest and longest bout of depression, this one accompanied by a side order of acute, paralyzing anxiety for good measure. I am having to gradually rebuild myself, remake my life, a bit like a Six Billion Dollar Man, who also needs brain surgery and five Years’ Therapy!
Happiness depends on number of close friends.
Research suggests that our happiness depends in part on the number of close friends we have, according to University of Nottingham. People lucky enough to have at least 10 good friends are likely to be happier than those with less than five, concluded the study for The National Lottery.
Dr Richard Tunney, of the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, looked at the link between social networks and happiness among lottery winners and a sample group from across the UK. He found we need to look after our friends if we want to be happy, and happier people tend to have more close pals and make new ones regularly.
Lottery winners were happiest with friends they had known a long time, resulting in a smaller but closer social circle. Dr Tunney said: “Having a number of old, close friendships is related to individual happiness. “People who were ‘extremely satisfied’ with their lives had twice the number of friends of people who were ‘extremely dissatisfied’.”
More than 1,760 people were asked about their relationships with friends for the study and how happy and satisfied they felt with life. People with five friends or less have a 40% chance of being happy, the report found. Having between five and 10 gives you a 50% chance of happiness, and people with more than 10 friends are increasingly likely to be happy than not (55%).
But the study had a note of caution for those who spread themselves more thinly. Having many more friends than 10 does not make you a happier person – it is more important to maintain the relationships you have, it concluded. Facebook friends don’t count.
So, what is Bipolar Disorder?
The excellent Bipolar Education Programme in Cardiff reckons there are a number of key messages to get across, in trying to help sufferers and the suffering get a handle on what they are dealing with.
Firstly, it is ‘a complex brain disorder caused by a malfunctioning mood thermostat’, and may affect up to 2% of the population. It’s interesting to note here that BEP Cymru are developing a new form of words to help us understand what’s going on. A crucial fact to get clear straight away is that this is ‘NOT a gift from God’ or some sort of flaw of personality and character, or in some way, as one can feel, ‘all my own fault’.
In general, bipolar disorder is diagnosed if an individual like me has had ‘at least one episode of depression’, and ‘at least one episode of mania (Bipolar I or Hypomania ‘Bipolar II)’. It’s quite precise, but at the same time it can be hard to get a diagnosis, taking up to six years, from a system which is sometimes difficult to navigate, particularly when you are up to your neck in a swamp, and the weather is of the nuclear winter variety. Think The Road. But don’t think about that bit in the book, where there’s a house with people kept in a cellar. For eating. I try never to call that scene to mind. Pop Will Eat Itself, and Humanity, but hopefully we have a way to go before, no I’m going to stop there with that.
I have had two major episodes of depression and several minor ones since the winter of 1980-81, but I had a period from 1981-2000 when I was apparently OK, and functioned relatively normally. Since 2000, I have had a decade of rapid ups and downs, on a roughly two year spin cycle, with extensive churn each time, as more marbles were lost, more toys thrown out of the pram, more fear felt. Then came a 3.5 year period of deep depression, to the point of paralyzing procrastination, and what felt a little like being buried in a coffin. But they couldn’t quite nail down the lid, and here I am to tell the story. I was lucky that breathing was fairly automatic. Although even that tried to kill me twice through blood clots on the lungs. My journey eh?
It’s a good enough backstory to win me X Factor, and therein lies one of the problems/curses/thrills. When I’m slightly better than fine, I can be a bit much. WE will return to this, much like Arnie, or Napoleon. But the dilemma, a bit like Andy’s Choice, is should I enjoy the ride, make hay while the sun shines, and lay golden eggs all around the place. Or not. I have my legacy to think of. I am the Barcelona of South Wales writing. It’s hard to carry your people with you, when you might turn out to be a tortured genius, an undiscovered rough diamond in a seam of black Welsh gold.
A light is in the eastern sky, Christmas is coming over the hill opposite my house. Or, wait, is it a monster coming over the hill? Let’s see what the New Year brings.
Saturday December 24th 2016
Blue Sky Blues – Ryan Adams
Blue sky, when you gonna learn to rain?
And let yourself go blue for once
And let go of that weight you’ve been carrying
In this house, no one goes to sleep for days
It’s like we’re working on a mountainside
Trying not to slide
Into the ocean
I can take care of you
But only if you want
I’m strong enough to carry you
Across the icy lake
Across the icy lake
But I can’t fight your blues
‘Cause I know I’ll lose
What’s left of my mind
I can’t win
But for you I will try
My baby blue
My mountain is hidden in a pile of trees
And she’s the one I’ll have to climb
If I ever wanna see
Over the ocean
When you gonna learn to rain?
And let… Full lyrics on Google Play Music