While at home for Christmas, we were talking about cold exposure and how cold baths, cold dips and cold showers are so good for you. Then someone said that they had seen on the bbc that someone with depression had been helped more by cold exposure than by drugs.
Oh no the ‘d’ word.
I once turned up at my sister’s house in the worst throws of mild break down. I had already screamed and sobbed at college (I was at art school at the time), sat in a hedge for an hour in Onslow Square sobbing and immobilised. I managed to get myself to my Radlett on the train by crying on the train journey, then I hid in another hedge – this time one in her front garden – for maybe half an hour, trying to find the courage to knock on the door and go inside.
My mother was staying there, and once I got inside I tried to pretend nothing was happening. I thought I had got away with it. But I did tell my sister I had been feeling suicidal. It must have been blindingly obvious that I had completely lost the plot, I was shaking, mostly monosyllabic and angry with eyes like thistles.
This episode was never mentioned again. I can’t say I am unhappy about that.
I had three years of group therapy. Twice a week, 1.5 hours. It was quite good. I learned about scapegoating i.e. how one member of the group often has to take all the shit that the others don’t want and won’t look at. This happens in families.
As I released this morning, a thought appeared: I was the scapegoat and I am still doing it, I am still playing the role. At first I tried to reject the idea as self indulgent, but it was too late and it felt too true.
It goes something like this:
My family was a typical 70’s family. Not especially awful and not wonderful; it would be true to say that there was a pervasive undercurrent of despair and frustration and a longing for what might have been. My father was depressive, my sister was loud and my mother was counting the days until she could escape and restart and her life. My father is dead. My sister seemed to sail through reasonably unscathed whereas I always felt a bit dysfunctional: not very popular at school, eating disorders, plastic surgery, love of alcohol in excess, depression, dodgy sexual behaviour, absence of professional success despite good brains and some talent and on it went. Nothing that terrible, just chaotic, wasteful and frustrating.
All this reached its zenith when from 2009 to 2016 I dismantled my financial security and in so doing killed off the opportunity to do what I thought I really wanted to do.
Even though I know better, I still make shit financial decisions, break trading rules and sometimes behave as if I don’t give a shit and other times I get a guilty pleasure from losing and fucking things up. If this is a role I have taken on it looks like this: damaged, disorderly, emotional, rebellious, self-destructive, creative, law-unto-themselves, mildly delusional and out of control. In other words, all the things that were silently simmering under the surface back in the 70’s, through all those grumpy meal times and foul tempered family gatherings.
When this role is active in me, I feel at home when I am losing, wasting time, missing out, being left out. I almost enjoy it and it feels inevitable and somehow right. I have even got quite high on losing money, on things being against me. And I enjoy fantasising about having everything taken away.
It could be thought of as wearing jogging pants at home: you know they aren’t doing you any favours but they are just so comfortable that you can’t resist pulling them on.