It is Mental Health Awareness Week, in tutor time in school today there was a short animated video encouraging students to talk about the issues they face. (Two protracted periods of school closure will have far more devastating impact on their lives than the virus which brought so much disruption). Perhaps it was the case that for those who understood no explanation was necessary, and for those who did not understand, no explanation was possible. There was little I could add to the video they had watched.
My experiences of depression have been ones where the darkness is not like a sudden acute moment that can be isolated and identified, but is more like clouds across the sun: light and shadow. There are moments of brilliant light that are suddenly obscured and dark times that are suddenly illuminated by a piercing light.
In the dark moments, I have to persuade myself that this is not the world as it is. But, if the dark moments are unreal, is there also an air of unreality about the light? Is the cost of dismissing sorrow the loss of the counterbalance of joy? Is the price for saying that the pain does not exist, the dismissal of delight as no more than imaginary? One can seek clinical help, but what the medical world seems often to offer is a uniform greyness; no dark moments, but no light moments either.
The Great War poet Edward Thomas, he of Adlestrop, was a writer who possessed the power to evoke the painful extraordinary experiences of the war. He believed his capacity to create profound contrasts in his writing arose from from his own personality, where in the space of a few moments his mood could shift from darkness to light, or, more ominously, it could move in the other direction, from light to darkness.
Suffering depression so deep that he was at the point of suicide on one occasion, Edward Thomas, nevertheless, feared that the loss of the darkness might bring a loss of the light; the absence of the depression that so afflicted him might bring an absence of creativity. In a letter to his friend Gordon Bottomley, he wrote,
“I wonder whether for a person like myself whose most intense moments were those of depression a cure that destroys the depression may not destroy the intensity – a desperate remedy?”
Perhaps Edward Thomas was right and that a removal of the dark moods would mean also the loss of his power to assemble words in a way that moved the hearts of his readers. But what of ordinary human beings without the skills of a great poet, is the world of greyness and equilibrium the only real world?
Yes, Stephen Fry’s TV programme on the subject described lithium (?) as seeing through a letterbox, no highs or lows.
Given the high points achieved by Stephen Fry, the corresponding low points must be very deep.