Archive for August, 2014

It still amazes me how many people do not ‘get’ depression.

When my alarm went off at 4:25am I noticed a plethora of night-time notifications atop my mobile home-screen. One was a text message from my mate Stevie, it simply said ‘Robin Williams’. I assumed it had been sent to me by mistake, that it was meant for someone else. But at that time of the morning I’ve got to zoom around, if I’m lucky I might get to make a cuppa, have something to munch, jump in a bath, get dressed and sprint to the bus stop. If I miss my specific bus, I’m pretty screwed for getting into work on time save for calling a taxi.

Just past 5am I was on the bus to work and as I always do, I put on my headphones and dug out my mobile to see what’s been ‘happening’. Opening Facebook I was given an instantaneous explanation for Stevie’s midnight message. I knew Nicholas would be asleep but I decided to let him know:

“Sorry to wake you… Robin Williams is dead.”

We both love “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia”. Although mostly known and remembered for his zany, energetic roles, these two films were his standouts for us. You know, those two films were released in the same year. Both showed Williams playing lonely, creepy, disturbed, intently serious characters, a world, no, universe apart from his days as ‘Mork’ in the late-seventies. But by hell he played those two roles so, so well. Scarily well. I don’t need to pile on the hyperbole, but he was an exceptionally adaptable man. He could play many different roles exceptionally well.

I’d read preliminary news reports and the word ‘suicide’ had come up a few times. I was pretty aware of Robin Williams’ demons, more than once he had publicly acknowledged them, even more often he’d use them as fodder for his stand-up material. Nevertheless, you always assume that those suffering behind the mask will battle through. That’s the trouble with masks, sometimes they can be difficult to separate from the person behind them so much so that others might not ever realise that what they see on the surface is not what’s present behind the façade.

When my therapist recently posed me the question: “Am I seeing ‘the act’, or am I seeing the real you?” I wasn’t entirely sure what the correct answer was. That the ‘act’ had become such an intrinsic part of my behaviour that even I wasn’t sure what was showing on the ‘outside’ is a testament to how difficult it can be for others to ever be aware of what’s going on inside of anyone that can ‘put on a face’.

Later in the day, when I finished my shift at work, I stumbled a into a conversation about that morning’s celebrity death.

“He’s stupid, why would you kill yourself? He had tons of money.”

That there is a line of speech actually said by a real, breathing person. A person living in this day and age, in a developed country where mental health and depression SHOULD be, by now, well known as 1) real and 2) a real fucking problem.

I was livid at such a brazen show of ignorance, but I kept my cool and continued the conversation with the more sensible of the two people present.

“He was bipolar.” Straight away, this other person knew what that meant and how it related to the tragic news that morning.

But this sort of stupid doesn’t just happen at ground level. I’d heard earlier that a news anchor on the Fox network referred to Williams as ‘such a coward’. Suicide is not ‘the easy way out’. It’s not ‘coward’s choice’. Suicide is a horrid event that happens because something in someone’s psyche tells them “There are no other options.” That those you care about will “be better off without you.”

Now, anyone with a reasonably clear frame of mind will know that even at the worst of times, there are options, that your loved ones and those who care about you will not better off without you.

But for someone in the utter depths of a depressive phase (I stress this word ‘phase’ as regardless of length they are phases and in many cases, with the right help, support and/or time, they will pass) their personal ‘logic’ is one of complete bleakness. And believe me, to that person, there IS nothing more. Others’ lives WILL be better. There IS nothing to live for.

THAT is the depths and despair of depression.

For many, depression isn’t something that happens for any given reason that falls into the realms of understandable for many:

Pet dies, you feel upset.
Lose your job, you feel worried and despaired.
Lose a family member, you cry for days.

These are normal reactions and feelings to things that affect all of us.

Go to sleep feeling on top of the world. Wake up and find yourself devoid of energy and motivation with no drive to do the things you simply have to perform to ‘function’ on the most basic of levels (eat, drink, wash, communicate). And worst of all, you’re not sure just why you feel this way.

THAT is depression.

Having so much money in your bank account that you never need to work again will NOT fix that. Being told to ‘man up’ or asked ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ or being told to ponder upon ‘how bad others have it’ will NOT help that.

But some care, understanding, patience and tact is a start.

That is the message anyone reading this should take away with them.


(Almost) Goodbye, Sandra!

As my contributions to the ‘2014’ project near their end, I stumbled a little piece of writing hiding in the depths of my laptop.

In November 2012, I decided to participate in NanoWriMo, but on my terms. No novel, just the aim of a short piece every day, try and give myself some discipline and focus, as well as getting the brain whirring with story ideas. Very quickly things went wrong. I began having terrifying night-time episodes (which may or may not be related to my epilepsy) and with awful post-episode exhaustion and migraines taking over my day, my plans for a daily story idea was well and truly scuppered!

I managed to get a handful of scribbles down when I could and contained within one of them was a character that stored away in the back of my mind. Her name was Sandra.

A few months later (and I’ve said most of this before so excuse the repetition), Matt of Pure Slush put out the feelers for the ‘2014 Project’. The very same day the initial calls for contributors went out, I sat down in the Waterstones bookshop café on Argyle Street, Glasgow and within very little time (very unusual for me) I had rough sketches for ‘January’ and ‘February’. Having just scanned over those very first drafts I’m a little stunned to see that the stories were almost (but not quite) fully-formed. But most importantly, two pre-existing characters from my years of dabbling were there on the page, and in danger of getting an outlet… And now it’s funny how you find yourself almost missing a character when you have to let them go!

(Almost) Goodbye, Sandra! Image sourced here and labelled for non-commercial reuse

So here is that piece of pre-history. Don’t judge it too harshly. This is the raw, stream-of-consciousness draft, just as I wrote it in November 2012, no post-editing. The title was a play on the title of a Kate Bush song… Hope you enjoy!



Swallows of the Night

“Introduce it to your lips”.

This man had a knack for making wine tasting sound perverse.

“Swirl it slowly, let it coat your tongue, and then spit.”

“Personally, I prefer to…”

Sandra stopped herself. I knew where she was going and nearly spat out a large mouthful of sauvignon, but that would be a waste.

The elders of the group, of which there were many, looked on disapprovingly, either disgusted at where her comment was heading, or that the fact that the two of us, did indeed, swallow.

Like I said, I was always told not to waste.

Sandra had won a ‘Winter wine-tasting session for two’ from a radio competition. She was always entering those sorts of things. Prize crosswords, Sudokus and word searches. Her sad, now jobless existence had taken us to a première of a film that we both hated, for a dire meal in a new Italian restaurant that ended up with us being banned for complaining that Sandra’s seafood linguine smelt ‘odd’, and a few other mostly mishaps. She never won the cash prizes, the ones she always said she’d share seeing as I’d have done three-quarters of the work for her. She wasn’t good with words. Or numbers.

But this wine tasting, well, she won it off Saga radio, an old aged pensioner’s radio station, only on digital. There didn’t seem to be any age restrictions and yet there was at least forty years difference between us and the other participants. At the least. One couple were complaining that there was only wine to try, and that they didn’t ‘particularly care’ for wine. The host was trying his best, but couldn’t win them over with reds, whites, desserts, rosé.

“We do have quite a lot of different wines to go through, you’d really be better not to swallow.”

We knew the comment was directed at us, we’d just gulped back a particularly nice red. And I usually hate red.

Sandra whispered, ever so slightly slurring in my ear, “Look at Hyacinth Bouquet over there!” She was trying to whisper, but the overspill was probably heard by everyone in the room. “Look at her big flowery hat!” She burst out laughing as the tall, thin host uncorked another bottle.

We gulped back the rest of the testers, after I’d told her to keep her voice down.

It was nearing the end of the session. Watching Sandra sway, I wondered how she’d got so tipsy on the tiny samples suited man had started pouring for us.

“Excu-excuse me, sorry, you seem to have poured a piss drop in my glass. Sorry, I do believe you are doing me out here.”

“Doing you out, madam?”

“Yes, well, doing, me, out, of, my free samples!”

Over to the side, Hyacinth Bouquet puckered up. “Excuse me, madam, but I do not believe that you need any more than you have already had.”

I noticed the others join together in a sympathetic pensioners nod.

“Well, Mrs. Boo-kaaaay! I won this and I believe I’m entitled to my… my…”

“You have had more than your fair share, quite obviously.” Hyacinth Bouquet’s male partner put his point in. Once again, aged heads bobbed in unison.

“Excuse me, some of us paid for this!” Another voice rose from the crowd. Sandra, was swinging her arms like a scalded child. Surely, she wasn’t drunk on samples.

“Well, all of you bloody…”

“Madam, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” The host looked over at my embarrassed and blushed face. “Will you please help your friend out of the building please, she looks like she needs a coffee.”

“Help? Help?! I don’t need help!” She turned towards the door. Or at least where she thought the door was.

“Wrong way dear!” Hyacinth Bouquet sarcastically alerted her, whilst I picked up Sandra’s handbag. And jacket. And her scarf. And one shoe that she’d left under the table. We all turned to a sudden clatter.

The door was slow closing shut and I couldn’t see Sandra neither inside, nor outside, through the smaller panes of glass.

“I think you might want to go help your friend.” The host said.

“She’s not my friend. She’s my neighbour.”

I walked over and opened the door.

“Oh Sandra!”

She was lying, half sitting, pushing herself up on the icy pavement, only two steps down from the door. One foot bare save for the faux skin-coloured tights. She turned around to cars beeping as they passed the scene on the busy road.

“For goodness sakes Sandra!”

There was a gash, covered in pouring blood, up near her right temple. I carefully walked down the gritted stairs. “How the hell did you get so bloody drunk on samples?!” I didn’t expect an answer as she sat up, murmuring.

“What are you saying?!”

The host turned up at the door with a gust of warm air pouring from inside. Behind his shoulder I could Hyacinth Bouquet, peering over. Noticing the blood he asked “Should I call an ambulance?”

“No, I’ll get her…” She stopped me in my tracks to shake my arm.

“There! That, that, bloody, bl… restaurant!”

She pointed over the road and sure enough, even in her inebriated state she’d noticed the restaurant that barred us after her last competition win.

She screamed across the road, “You… your LANG-U-AGE STINKS!”

There was a gasp from behind the wine-tasting host.

“Sandra, Sandra!” I slapped her arm. “It was bloody linguine. Ling-gwee-nee!”