Thursday, January 07, 2010

Photo of the Day 6 - and Marian Keyes

Some days the photo is obvious – others you need to go looking for it. Today was one of the latter, so I looked hard, and found this sparkly window walking home through our neighbourhood. But it’s the stonework lettering underneath that really caught my eye: the fact that a craftsman was paid to engrave ‘Agricultural Insecticides’ on the outside of the building, and did it beautifully. If a job’s worth doing...

But I was also distracted by Marian Keyes’ newsletter, in which she explains that she is currently suffering very badly from depression. There’s been a lot of news coverage about it, which I won’t link to, as some of the comments have been negative and ignorant. I think her openness does her tremendous credit, and may help to increase understanding about mental illness – and what few of the newspaper articles have mentioned is that at the bottom she has added some quotations she’s found helpful (though reading them also gives an insight into how bleak she must be feeling).

I’ve only met her once and she was so charming and lovely that my boyfriend always smiles when he sees me reading one of her books, and he talks about that party and that short conversation. She’s a person who makes a difference to people.

She’s also a very gifted writer, and I wonder if that gift comes, in part, from her sensitivity to the people around her, and to emotions. That hyper-sensitivity brings both pleasure and extreme pain, and I feel for her so much right now. It’s profoundly unhelpful to say to someone who is clinically depressed that you ‘know how they feel’ (and don’t even get me started on ‘buck up’ or ‘pull yourself together’) because the experience is unique to the sufferer. But I do think that many creative people will identify with her experience. I’ve had bouts of depression through my life, sometimes when everything seems – from the outside – to be going swimmingly. What I do know is that depression is terrifying and, as Marian says in her newsletter, the worst part is that you don’t know when, or if, it’s going to end.

I’ve come to realise that I will use any weapon in the armoury to try to stop the Black Dog in its tracks. Exercise helps, but if you’re already falling down the pit, then donning the trainers or doing a hideous step aerobics feels as unattainable as jumping to the moon from a trampette. Eating well is good, too, but if you have no appetite for life, then food seems unimportant. Pills sometimes help bring a little colour back. Talking can be good, up to a point, although you bore yourself (and those around you) very quickly. Counting your blessings - writing them down, for example - can be useful, though again it can also feel a bit like your mum telling you to swallow the one vegetable that makes you gag, because of the starving children in Africa. You know you ought to grateful, you know billions are suffering ‘properly,’ and yet you’re lost in this world of blackness and the guilt makes you feel even worse.

All you can do is to try a bit of everything, whenever you have the energy, and try to remind yourself that you’ve come out of it before, so you will again.

I’ve also accepted that being a sensitive plant is in my nature – and that it’s probably what made me want to be a writer, to observe and process the people and events around me. I feel things at a ridiculously personal level – news items, movies, books, songs – but maybe that has its bonuses too. When I am low, it’s hard to see that. But when I’m more balanced, I can persuade myself that seeing the world as I do is what makes me who I am, for all my strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t know if it’s the same for Marian Keyes, but my hunch says it might be.

I hope that Marian is able to see her own many, many strengths again before too long. And that there’ll come a day soon when she’ll be able to read the many thousands of messages of support and realise that to touch so many people is a gift that comes, in part, from being someone who feels things so deeply.

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Blogger ChrisH said...

I think your post sums it up for many of us. I love Marian's work and admire her for speaking out on a subject that still taboo in some circles. I wish her a speedy recovery.

11:26 am  
Anonymous Jacqui Lofthouse said...

An important post Kate, full of empathy, compassion and understanding. The warmth of your meeting with Marian really comes across. I'm also really enjoying your photo of the day and makes me miss Barcelona too!

11:58 am  
Blogger Rachel Cotterill said...

I think this will speak to a lot of people... and maybe the things that make a good writer are also the things that make life hard sometimes.

1:06 pm  
Blogger JJ Beattie said...

Thanks for posting that Kate. It is important that we talk about it and I think it helps that people with a profile talk about their experiences. She's a brave woman.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree either your a TickleMe Plant which is a very sensitive plant that moves when you Tickle It OR your not. If your house plant doesn't move when you Tickle It. Check this out.

2:41 pm  
Blogger L-Plate Author said...

Yes, great post, Kate. I too have suffered from depression on and off over the years but, fortunately I've managed to snap out of it (or managed to keep it hidden, maybe).

I wish her a speedy recovery and all the best to you too x

7:19 pm  

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