Walking around London yesterday, the city seemed almost exotic. It shouldn’t;
I grew up here. Admittedly in the suburban outskirts, but I’m no stranger to the city. Yesterday however, with my stilettos safely stowed in my borrowed handbag, I wandered the streets after an interview in Holborn. I met a friend for a celebratory debrief of the alcoholic variety, and then had the afternoon to myself. Claire Balding would have been proud of me as I rambled from Bank to Covent Garden and eventually, hours later, to Victoria, seeing the city entirely through the rose tinted glasses of a child or a lens of a tourist’s camera. I wandered past the Gin Palace (“Gin doesn’t ask silly questions… Gin understands.”) and through the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral. I saw mounted police (turns our horses exist in central London – who’d have thunk it?) and ate cake in the base of Gherkin. Despite only last week complaining about the crowded, dirty streets in the capital, yesterday I was captivated. The juxtaposition of shiny new Shards and Walkie Talkies of glass with history illustrated in aged stone; suits with creases ironed in by dry cleaners strutting past me, and the dirty back alleys and filthy, graffiti-emblazoned abandoned shop fronts; and people upon people upon people.
Not literally – though I did walk past Coco de Mer on my travels – but as you walk along, everyone you pass is different, a person in their own right, and they have a story of their own, are fighting battles of their own. And some still have the energy to grin back at me when I dare to break the unwritten rule of Commuters, and smile.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve said in the past few months and years,
“I’m not strong enough.”
Strong enough for what I’m not even sure. Opening up to friends and colleagues about my Depression[i] recently has shown me very clearly that I’m not alone. And I’ve been amazed and honoured just how many people have confided in me about the experiences and battles that they and their loved ones have fought, and are often still fighting, with Depression. I capitalise it because as much as I dislike, hate, loathe it, I have come to respect it. Someone very dear to me once said to me that he knew that there were powers far greater than he out there, simply because things can influence and control him against his will. For me, Depression is one of those things. It saps my identity from inside me and replaces it with a bitter fog. It managed this for weeks on end earlier this year, binding me to my room and my bed with closed curtains, darkness and too many tears. In the past, I have cried literal puddles on bathroom floors, and been unable to leave the house or even my bedroom. While I have thankfully never actually been suicidal, I remember many years ago wishing I had never been born. I have felt overwhelmed by the entire world, getting up in the morning seeming as daunting as climbing Everest. Through all of this, I have come to respect Depression.
Giving it a little room to breathe helps, not least to prevent it getting out of control. Respecting its power over me makes me appreciate and be grateful for every win I manage to achieve, no matter how small. The ability to smile at strangers in the street, amid the cacophony of smells, sounds and stresses London has to offer, is one of those little triumphs. And the person who returns my smile may have just won a battle of their own, as significant or more so even than mine.
While burdened by my Depression, both pre- and post-diagnosis, I have travelled to the other side of the world, trekked through Costa Rican rainforests, dirt-biked around volcanoes and snorkelled with sharks. I have bungee-jumped and learned to safely use a machete. I have achieved a first class degree in a complex subject. I have crossed the spectrum of employment from the Oxfordshire gun trade to dealing with the country’s largest grocery accounts, giving insight on a product that two years ago I knew next to nothing about. Now I have a merit in my advanced Wines & Spirits qualification.
Yet all the while I have continued to say,
“I’m not strong enough.”
I have learned to shoot both clays and game, and bought my first gun. I’ve baked countless cakes, some rosette-winning, and learned the best secret ever about improving any and all pasta dishes ten-fold. I have learned a little bit of Krav Maga and intend to learn more. I argued last year for a promotion and pay rise, and was given more than I asked for and got to choose my own job title. I have written – this blog for starters – and I have read. I have co-founded a literary society to share my love of books with others and widen my literary horizons – and maybe theirs too.
“I’m not strong enough.”
I have toured Burgundy, visiting countless wineries, from one functioning almost entirely by gravity to one built underground, in caves beneath the vineyards. I tasted hundreds of wines, and learned even more than I ate (if you’ve ever been to Burgundy you’ll know what a feat that is. If you haven’t, you like wine and cheese and are not a vegetarian or on a diet then I highly recommend it.) I have run, for more than five minutes at a time. In fact, I have run 5k. I also have run 10k (and a hilly one at that.) And I have run 10miles, with the horse brass on my bedroom wall to prove it.
“I’m not strong enough.”
I have started doing more resistance at the gym, have actually managed a press up (on my fists to boot) and can now pull up over three times what I could when I started. I have lost over a stone over all, including putting on 2kg of muscle. I am quite literally physically stronger than I was this time last year, achieved as much through will-power as physical exertion.
And still; “I’m not strong enough.”
It is only since facing looming redundancy that I have realised my mistake. It’s amazing what writing CVs, cover letters and completing endless job applications reminds you of. Suddenly you are forced it list not your failures, but your successes. I am not weak. I am strong. And the fact that I have achieved everything listed above while facing dramas, demons and traumas with my family; while coming to terms with own genetic medical diagnosis and the accompanying pain and haunting spectre of a degenerative but otherwise unknown future; and while all the time shackled to Depression; well, that just makes me all the stronger.
Sometimes he takes charge and pulls me back down into the gloom. But not for long. However heavy my bitter fog, the sun will rise tomorrow whether I like it or not. A day will always be twenty-four hours and the minutes will always tick past sixty seconds at a time. The fog will pass. I will continue to fight, and I will continue to achieve, to win, to conquer, to succeed. I Am Strong Enough. I will count my wins and learn from my failures, and I will give myself and my Depression the recognition we deserve, being lenient and forgiving and all the while determined. In doing this, I will hold my Depression by the hand and we’ll walk side by side, rather than dragging him by the chain around my ankle, or him dragging me. It makes for a much easier journey.
So if I, or anyone for that matter, smiles at you on the streets of London, or any city, town, hamlet, anywhere, please try to achieve a small triumph of your own and smile back. You never know what smile has cost them.
[i] In my head, my Depression has an identity: a Glum. A Glum is a creature made up by a friend who wrote a good old fashioned letter to me years and years ago. In fact, he wrote a few letters, and they were generally illustrated. Really rather lovely. While the letter is, I think, in a dusty box, in a cardboard box, in my parents’ attic, I still remember his illustration, and will never forget that “a Glum is small and round and fat and carries a small glumming bat.” This is now how I personify my Depression, as a Glum, and when I’m having a bad time it’s because he’s threatening or worse, beating me with his glumming bat. But on good days, he just sits there on a rock quietly, not getting up to any mischief.
I’m not mad, I promise.