Not waving but drowning

“I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”
So World Mental Health Day 2017 turns up and I nearly miss it altogether. Except I sit down at Twitter mid-evening and find something my friend Liam has written specially for the day about his own mental health, which is deeply felt and enlightening and well done Liam. And he thanks someone else who encouraged him to write. And I think why didn’t I write something too, maybe it would have helped someone else the way what Liam wrote is helping me?
Then I think, well it’s all of our mental health days every day, so why don’t I start writing something that I can finish in the morning? About my own lifetime of ups and deep downs. Some downs feeling as ‘not waving but drowning’ as Stevie Smith’s poem up there at the top.
So I’ll do that.
I’ll write that in the morning. Thank you for the courage to get started Liam.
Right then, here is the morning.
And if I’ve been, perhaps, ‘too far out all my life’ maybe I’ll need to write about all of my life, maybe. But I want to start with recently, because that’s the bit I remember the best.

It’s a relatively few weeks ago and I’m not sleeping well. Some nights I feel like I’m not sleeping at all. I’ve become familiar with the four and five o’clock sounds in our street. Who knew we still have a milk float doing deliveries before dawn? Before dawn when I’m regularly awake trying to make the figures add up that won’t add up however many times I turn over and go through them again.

In the daytimes I’m slowing right down. Later on, after I’ve cracked, Sarah tells me how worried she was becoming over how long it was taking me to do very simple life-skill things like make a cup of tea. More than once finding myself stood in our kitchen, with tea spoon in hand and no idea what I’m doing there. Completely lost in running through those figures and adding more things to the mounting to do list I can’t seem to do any more.

All of which is happening even before my doctor tells me there’s something wrong with my blood. At which point I crack.

“Is it bad?” asks Sarah, waiting for me in the hall after my slow and feeling very fragile walk back from the surgery. She sits me down and we talk and I worry and cry for the next two hours. About the diagnosis and the danger and the physical stuff and what we might do. But at least as much about the figures and the shame I feel about all this work stuff I’m supposed to be able to do and can’t any more, even if I ever could? I’m ashamed. Ashamed to be sick, ashamed of myself and I want to crawl away and hide until whatever it is is all over, if it will ever be over.

I try to stop everything, so nothing gets any worse than I think it already is while I get well. This hurts people because it does and because I think it’s all about me and I’m sorry. Unable to think beyond myself any more I think it’s all about me. Unable to think.

Weeks pass.

And the letting go is slow. Some nights I sleep, others I still hear the milk float.

But with time and the kindness of friends I stop pushing and stop.

Sarah comes in from working one day, having stopped at the shops, and fills the fridge with vegetables and juice to help with the physical stuff. Which also helps with the mental stuff. Because once I stop I realise I’m in a place where I’ve been before. The place called depression. The place of not waving but drowning. Or that’s how it’s usually been for me anyway.

When I get depressed I get secretive. Somewhere inside I already know I’m not all right but I pretend that I am. So I don’t wave, I don’t ask for help. I drown. Convincing myself a few good kicks will push me up out of the deep water without anybody ever knowing I was down there. It has never once worked, this saving myself from drowning, still I do it every time.

This time I am saved by love and silence. Other times it has been by love and counsellors. Either way I get saved once I start accepting some of the help.

This time some friends get on with the things I was worrying about while others come up to me carefully and bravely in my depression and offer gently to help. Even though I knock them back, or maybe I didn’t respond at all?

Either way the turning point like always for me is when I decide to come out of my hiding and accept some of the help. Accepting that I can’t kick myself out of the deep water all on my own. And then I surface, then I float.

Beginning long August into September weeks of near silence. Walking, reading, sitting and writing my way, not back into where I entered this depression, but out into a clearer and more open space. Depression not being a simple condition I can get over. Not like a cold or a physical injury where I can wait to feel normal again and then carry on as I was. But a condition got into by worry or fear or anger or doubt or shame or all of them together A condition requiring change.

In my past I’ve needed love and counselling to help me change my life, leave the wrong job and generally deal with the complications of living. This time it’s taking the changing of the work thing I was worrying about all those weeks ago. Detailed, practical changes that are being worked on now and are not in themselves the purpose of this writing.

The purpose of this writing being to add to my other writings of recent weeks about life and clearing and add into them this context of depression. It’s a real thing, it doesn’t come badged up, but real things cause it and it can happen to any of us. It happened to my friend Liam and what he wrote yesterday has encouraged me to write this today.

I hope we’ve helped. All we can both say, I suppose, is for us depression is a bit like this and these are some of the things we’ve done about it.

I hope we’ve helped. And me? Well it’s not all about me, not now.

Photographs, obviously, by Sarah Horton. Huge love to you Sarah and to all the other ‘yous’ not mentioned by name here. I hope you know who you are and how much you mean to me x

4 thoughts on “Not waving but drowning

  1. Rhona Simms

    Dearest Ronnie
    What can I say? The raw, naked honesty of this post makes me feel very small. Health, or the health “issues” life throws at us in a very random manner is a constant fear we all live with. You have had your curved balls (understatement of the year) but you deal with them. Meet them head on. Tell them to go screw themselves, and somehow, amazingly, come out the other side bigger, better, more everything people (talking about you and Sarah now). My response to your post is impulsive, not thought through, and probably misses out what I was trying to say. Sending love, love, and more love. Rhona x

    Reply
  2. hirstsj

    Ronnie, I only know you through this wonderful blog. It reminds me so sharply that we need our bodies to be well, and we need to feed our spirits too, and it’s all so complicated, especially nowadays.
    If only I could help too. But I can only ‘comment’. The word doesn’t help does it! So this comment is sending a sort of virtual hug from across the ocean, to show support and appreciation and to say you give me pleasure.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Sue, for your words and your hug. A hug from the other side of the world is still a hug and the words do count. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t want to be read.

      And I am doing much better now than in the weeks I’ve written about here, I’m more than happy to say.

      Reply

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