It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it.
It is like explaining life on Earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there. You just have to resort to metaphors. You are at the bottom of the ocean. You are on fire. The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t step outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things which an everyday normal person wouldn’t even hardly notice, have overwhelming effects. The sun sinks behind a cloud, and you feel that slight change in weather as if a friend has died. You feel the difference between inside and outside as a baby feels the difference between womb and world. You swallow an ibuprofen and your neurotic brain acts like it has taken an overdose of methamphetamine.
Depression, for me, wasn’t a dulling but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn’t there. It was total exposure. A red-raw naked mind. A skinned personality. A brain in a jar full of the acid that is experience. What I didn’t realise, at the time, what would have seemed incomprehensible to me, was that this state of mind would end up having positive effects as well as negative effects.
I’m not talking about all that What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger mythology. No. That’s simply not true. What doesn’t kill you very often makes you weaker. What doesn’t kill you can leave you limping for the rest of your days. What doesn’t kill you can make you scared to leave your house, or even your bedroom, and have you trembling, or mumbling incoherently, or leaning with your head on a window-pane, wishing you could return to the time before the thing that didn’t kill you.
What I’m talking about isn’t strength. Not the stoic, get-on-with-stuff-without-thinking-too-much kind of strength anyway. It’s more about the reverse of what I was saying about that intensity. That sharpening. That switch from the prosaic to the poetic. You know, before the age of 24 I hadn’t known how bad things could feel, but I hadn’t realised how good they could feel either. That shell might be protecting you, but it’s also stopping you feel the full force of that good stuff.
From, I suppose, April 2000, that good stuff started to become availiable. The bad stuff was still there. At the start, the bad stuff was there most of the time. The good stuff probably amounted to about 0.0001 per cent of that April. The good stuff was just warm sunshine on my face as me and Andrea walked from our flat in the suburbs to the city centre. It lasted as long as the sunshine was there and then it disappeared. But from that point on I knew it could be accessed. I knew life was available to me again. And so in May 0.0001 per cent became about 0.1 per cent.
Then, at the start of June, we moved to a flat in the city centre. It was one of those soulless modern flats that were becoming an increasing feature of cities in the North. At eight hundred pounds a month it was too expensive for two people who were in debt and getting more in debt, though it was financially better than the previous situation. (The previous situation had been renting an office for £800 and a flat in the Hyde Park area of Leeds for £400 when our ‘company’ was earning £1000 a month.)
But the thing I liked about it was the light. I liked that the walls were white and that the unnatural laminated floor mimicked the blondest wood and that the square modern windows made up most of the walls and that the low-grade sofa the landlord had put in was turquoise. Of course, it was still England. It was still Yorkshire. Light was severely rationed. But this was as good as it got on our budget, or just above our budget, and it was certainly better than the Hyde Park student flat with its burgundy carpets and its brown kitchen. Turquoise sofa beat turquoise mould.