After my last post, which was read by less people than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands, I thought I’d really mine the depressing angle by writing about my depression. In the usual course of events, I wouldn’t write about my depression not out of feeling guilty about it or some other nonsense, but more that writing about it potentially exacerbates it. But as the events of last Sunday night did a fine job of doing that, I needn’t worry too much on that score.
So then to Sunday night which proved that yes, whilst it may well be good to talk, the outcome resulting from it depends on to quite a large degree on whom one is talking to. Ideally they are not only an active listener – by which I mean one who not only pays attention, but also indicates they are doing so by referencing things one said earlier on – but also possess an intuitive emotional intelligence – knowing the difference between a long pause to collect one’s thoughts and silence, etc. My mother has many fine qualities, but being encumbered by emotional intelligence isn’t one of them.
And it sometimes happens that when I’m about to set off to visit my mother, the ‘black dog’ might start barking; the ‘black dog’ being what Winston Churchill called his depression. The former doesn’t induce the latter I hasten to add. Anything can set me off. And because my mother doesn’t – for reasons known only to her – wear her hearing aids, my partner has to ‘phone up and cancel the visit with a vague excuse about me not being up to it.
Last Sunday was different. I know well that my mother views such excuses with disdain and thinly veiled contempt, not least because of her sudden and inexplicable interest in wholly irrelevant things when I do arrive following a cancelled visit. Discussing people I don’t know doing things I have no interest in. Not turning the television off. Or worse still, turning the volume off on the television but blatantly watching it with the subtitles on. So even though the ‘black dog’ was barking loudly, I decided to go, in order that she could see for herself what a good thing it is for all concerned that I don’t visit on such occasions.
After perfunctory greetings, it was down to business as usual; her talking about things that interest only her, at length and with mind numbing detail. If one were cynical, one might almost suppose this was deliberate; a ploy to prevent one from perpetrating a conversational hijack. On and on it went. Finally I said that when my partner ‘phones and says I’m depressed. It doesn’t mean I’m a bit grumpy. It’s quite serious. I was in the middle of giving a watered down version of how bad it can get – because she is my Mother – when she said, “Oh, I had no idea you were depressed.”
After a few seconds spent digesting the sheer idiocy of this statement I asked her in what possible universe would one not be depressed in my situation? How could someone wake up after a month in coma only to discover that the person they were exists only in the past tense, as a fading memory and not be depressed? To discover that ones life was now an existence, something to be endured not enjoyed? (Granted, yes, there have been good times, but they are massively disproportionate to the time spent accruing them.) To find that one couldn’t walk, had a speech impediment and now had fine motor skills that were as much use as a lead squash ball? How does one begin to explain the enormity of regret I have about waking up from the coma in the first place? The regret I have the dreadful and ongoing impact of the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ has had on others? There is so much regret and anger – at me for being in this situation – that one might have thought that possibly, just possibly, someone who’d known me all off my life might consider that such a turn of events wasn’t exactly what I’d planned. But then I remembered who I was talking to. This, after all is the person who when she was a nurse would always want to be there when patients who’d attempted suicide by taking a overdose would wake up after a stomach pump. Not to offer them counsel and a warm smile. But rather to see the look of disappointed frustration on their faces because she found it amusing.
I’m not making that up. I wish I was. She boasts of it. She admits that she’s emotionally detached. She is one of those women who, for whatever reason, isn’t maternal. Don’t get me wrong, I love her to bits, but she makes Leonard’s mum seem touchy feely.
So in retrospect, expecting her to have anything approaching a humane reaction to what is a human reaction to an inhuman circumstance was perhaps overly ambitious. Mind you, I’ve learnt that saying ‘Keeping sanity at bay’ is a sound bite that satisfies most enquiries as to how I’m doing. Hardly anyone asks why.
Perhaps it’s because they know they should ask, because it’s the right thing to do now, isn’t it and people just love being well thought of? Perhaps they think asking with a concerned face makes them appear a better person? Or perhaps because they don’t have the requisite amount of time that the answer warrants?
Or perhaps they fear that if I start, I won’t stop.