Depression…

Late last night, I read that Chester Bennington had killed himself, aged 41. I feel utterly saddened by this. I’m not a fan of mass outpourings of grief for famous people we never even knew, but Bennington’s death has got to me. I’m a fan of Linkin Park. In fact, only yesterday I was driving home from a meeting listening to Sharp Edges and singing at the top of my lungs, totally understanding the lyrics, feeling them, having them become a part of me in that special way only music can.

Musicians, who write from the heart, the ones who have felt extreme emotional anguish and can translate that for the benefit of the rest of us, have always been my heroes, my only heroes really. I genuinely possess such love for these people, who can stir in me feelings of desire and fighting spirit and joy and deep sorrow, just through their voices and the messages contained in their songs.

Bennington was a big drinker and substance misuser, a depression sufferer. Scroll through Twitter and you’ll see a river of love and appreciation for this man who, during his lifetime, has helped so many to feel validated and less alone, to know they too count as human beings.

As I write this, I’m trying to compute how someone with such vitality is, today, suddenly no more. How depression can blacken the mind so dramatically that all sense of hope is extinguished and it seems as though there are no more open roads to choose. Thoughts, black and desperate, can be sufficient all by themselves to snuff out a life.

I am still given to the odd depressive episode. They creep up out of nowhere and softly drop a dark veil over my world. Temporarily, I feel unable to ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’ and ‘appreciate all the good stuff’. I go under. Lots of people don’t truly get it and it can feel lonely and isolating. But the thing that always gets me through is reminding myself that these periods eventually do come to an end. Life picks up again and I do feel happiness again. This too shall pass.

Self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs is a route lots of us opt for when struggling to cope with depression. I’m better without alcohol as my go-to medicine: I’m not completely depression-free, but without the booze it’s only the periodic dark thoughts and moods I have to manage, and not the merry-go-round of drunken consequences on top of that; the alcohol-induced chemical imbalance in my head, or the overall unsatisfactory lifestyle that came about as a direct result of me always thinking about drinking, and drinking, and recovering from drinking.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do suffer with depression. I’ve started to see it as an illness, just like any other condition, and while it’s not with me constantly I know it’s only somewhere round the corner and I’ll more than likely have to deal with it rearing its head again at some point in the future. This acceptance has helped me enormously, instead of burying my head in the sand and always wondering what the hell was the matter with me whenever I felt that way. I’ve talked about it, and shared how it feels with the people who love me. They know a bit better now what happens when the gloom descends.

So, in memory of Chester Bennington, an amazingly talented man who I sincerely hope has found eternal peace, share how you feel. Open up. Don’t be ashamed of feeling this way. You’re not alone. And it will pass, given time.

The Time Is Now

It’s funny how slowly, gradually, gently, we can slip and slide into a happier life, almost without noticing it happening. When things are not going well and everything seems like an uphill struggle, just existing occupies so much of your mental and physical energy; striving to cope, keeping your head above water, wondering why all this stuff always happens to you, and asking yourself, over and over again, when will I get a break?

It has been my experience that things have increasingly fallen into place the longer I live without alcohol. It’s not that nothing bad happens anymore; of course it does, but I am more resilient, wiser, less impetuous and calmer now that I don’t drink, and therefore I have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with challenges as they spring up from time to time.

The dangerous precipices, the cliff edges on which I used to totter and stumble and frequently fall right over, taking months to recover myself from, those don’t crop up anymore. There are the rocky, scree-covered slopes that are difficult to traverse; I lose my footing occasionally and my feet go from beneath me momentarily, but I can reclaim stability these days – I never fall too far.

bluebell wood

More noticeable is that my entire landscape has altered. It’s no longer a case of intermittent splashes of beauty and fullness scattered sparingly against a barren background of an arid, harsh wilderness. The good is now rich and far-reaching, and it colours my life with a regularity and predictability that I could never have imagined anyone witnessed.

When you feel happy and content, you tend to attract positivity into your world. Happiness breeds happiness. Positive people attract positive people. Life becomes a happy, virtuous circle.

I don’t write this blog wishing to sound smug, because I’m not. I am very grateful and acutely aware of how good life is. You will know from reading my previous posts that my life wasn’t always this way, and I know how easy it is to slip and slide in the opposite direction, away from the good and back towards those cliff edges once more. But I engage in certain things that I know increase my chances of staying over here, where things are coloured in goodness and cast in a clear, bright light: I don’t drink. I exercise a lot. I eat well. I surround myself with lovely people who love me for who I am and who I love for being them. I spend time doing the things that lift my spirits and help me cope with stresses and the odd anxiety. I look after myself. I don’t do things that make me feel bad. I stay away from people who make me feel bad. I listen to music that soothes me and elevates me, and that transports me off to a different place for a while. I lose myself in good books and immerse myself in art and culture to broaden my horizons and challenge my perspective on the world. I focus on what I have, as opposed to what I don’t.

holding-hands6

Earlier on today, I found myself driving home from the supermarket, car boot full of chocolate goodies and Easter eggs, looking forward to the next few days during which I will be with my family and relaxing, building happy memories and valuing one another without the terribly wasteful and pointless addition of alcohol tainting our time together. And I felt very content, and suddenly conscious of how things have seemingly all come together and fallen into place. At long last, I can say that I have a life I am really happy to be living.

And that gift is within everyone’s reach – but sometimes you need to navigate your way across the rocky patches before you get there.

Love Being You

People pleasing. Not wanting to miss out on the fun. Restlessness. Overthinking. Scared to be me in company. Scared to be me alone. Frightened of offending someone. Feeling on the periphery of everything.

For these and many other reasons, I found alcohol to be a convenient and acceptable drug. I used it to soften the abject awkwardness I experienced in certain social situations, and to feel less lonely during evenings at home when I couldn’t face human company but struggled to feel content in my own skin.

There have always been aspects of the world that I don’t understand and that have resulted in me perceiving myself as different, slightly askew from the norm. I have, through trial and error, worked out that I am not what you might call ‘mainstream’. Somebody recently described me as ‘eccentric’ – a label that I would never have used but one that triggered a light bulb moment. It dawned on me that others might see me in this way too, and perhaps the perennial doubt I had always had about fitting in wasn’t just in my head after all. I was silently relieved.

For a very long time, too long a time, I tried desperately to squeeze my metaphorical foot into the glass slipper – a round peg in a square hole, moulding my personality to suit the requirements of others. But I never found it very easy unless I was drinking; booze is a highly effective leveller. And so subsequently, when I stopped drinking four years ago, I discovered that all the characteristics I’d taken for granted as being inherent – social butterfly, chatterbox, party animal – simply vanished like a puff of smoke.

I write this because last night I went to see Future Islands, a band I am madly in love with, at Plug in Sheffield where I live. I sat on the bar, elevated above the heaving crowds because I’m not the tallest person in the world and couldn’t see much from the floor apart from the head of the man in front of me. And I loved it. I loved being with all those people, listening to that music, watching the singer, Samuel T. Herring, who is simultaneously slightly bonkers, incredibly passionate and wonderfully talented. I didn’t need anything else other than just sitting there with my friend, listening and breathing in the atmosphere, soaking up the music.

Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands

Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands

Afterwards, I reflected on all the things I’ve done throughout my life that haven’t really been me, and the many nights out I have endured with people I had nothing in common with and who I didn’t, truth be known, actually want to spend time with. I thought of what I really love to do, the stuff that makes me feel like me and fills me up with excitement and reassurance that I fit in somewhere – stuff that I need to seek out instead of just waiting for it to land on my doorstep.

It dawned on me that there is a way to experience contentment and happiness on a fairly constant basis; it requires having one’s ‘shit filter’ turned up to the maximum setting. Don’t subject yourself to rubbish that annoys you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Do subject yourself to stuff that you love, that makes you feel amazing, that draws you close to like-minded people who reflect your own values. Be selective: the world has far too much to offer for any one person to experience it all, so don’t try to. Just pick out the best bits – for you.

Focus On The Important Stuff Instead

Never underestimate the human ability to adjust to new situations – what you may imagine is impossible will one day become easy, if you open your mind.

 Find time every day to get your rock n roll kicks from listening to loud music; lose yourself in it.

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Do exercise a few times a week – it makes your weight easier to manage, kills stress and releases an endorphin rush so you’ll feel happier too.

Refuse to be influenced by your past failures or your imagined future limitations – the person you are today is the only one who can affect change in your life.

Learn from mistakes and then leave them where they belong – in your history. Getting it wrong enough should always lead to getting it right, so don’t beat yourself up for the things you did when you were younger and not so wise; use your experiences to foster growth instead.

 The people you love should be the recipients of your kindest, most generous self. When they’re gone, you will find it hard to shed deep regrets; try not to have any.

Drink plenty of water; it helps your body and mind work effectively. Avoid fizzy drinks – they are of no value.

Only you know when a habit has become destructive – that little voice in your head is there for a reason; listen to it before you have reason to regret not doing so. It’s there to protect you from yourself.

Eat when you are hungry; forget about food when you’re not. Over-thinking anything will only lead to negating good intentions.

Trivialities aren’t the makers or breakers of your happiness – whether you buy those new shoes or not won’t fundamentally alter your life. Focus on the important stuff instead.

Having a change of scene and breaking your routine does you a world of good.

Never hold your looks in too high regard – one day they will fade and you need to make sure you’ve got back up. You’ll be much better off if you put the effort into developing your character.

birthday-cake

Ironing, cooking, gardening and knitting are so much more than practical chores. Losing yourself in one of these tasks acts a little like meditation; it demands enough concentration to stop you sweating over the small stuff, but not so much that it feels like effort. Try immersing yourself in baking a cake next time your anxieties are getting the better of you.

joyful child

Be nice to someone you’ve never met before – you’ll feel better and their faith in humankind will get a major boost.

Make an effort to look nice, but avoid obsessing over your outward appearance. Vanity makes even the most beautiful person appear ugly.

Adopt a cat or dog from your local shelter – having a pet reduces stress, and you’ll be giving an animal who has felt the cold hand of hurt and abandonment the chance to feel at peace. Don’t buy one from a breeder when you could help so much more by taking a stray.

Find an art form that helps you escape from reality for a while; whether it’s a film, book, seeing a live band or visiting an art gallery, get your hits from someone else’s creativity; avoid searching for highs in mind-altering substances. The former will help you grow; the latter will stop you dead in your tracks.

Make the effort to empathise. You never know what life will fling at you next – good or bad, you will always want to share things with people who understand.

Remember how fleeting your time on Earth is; use your sense of mortality to put life’s minutiae into perspective, as well as to focus your mind on doing your best where it counts.

Always keep your ego in check – when things are on the up, remind yourself that you are just human; when you’re down, tell yourself you are unique and amazing.

Let go of hatred; it prevents you from being a free spirit.

Under the Bridge

My beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers

This morning as I drove my eldest daughter to school, we had our usual spat over which radio station to put on (she likes Capital (urrghh) and I favour Radio 2). We’ve been having the same semi-serious argument on the school run for approximately a year now, ever since she grew old enough to stop listening solely to the music that I, so devotedly, brought her up on. I think back fondly to the halcyon days when she had the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Blondie on her iPod, whereas now she is all over Ne-Yo, Rita Ora and Nicki Minaj and has developed an irritating habit of dissing my music choices (should I ever be lucky enough to get something of my choice played).

As we drove along, her singing merrily to some R&B drivel, me gritting my teeth and telling myself that in just another few minutes I would be able to switch over to Chris Evans and the interminable noise I was being subjected to would stop, I caught a hold of myself and had a quick reconfiguration of my thoughts. Isn’t it the law that all parents hate their teenage children’s music? And that when those teenage children are parents, they still think that the music they listened to as a kid is brilliant?

Example; Haddaway, What is Love? I love that song; when I hear it I am instantly transported to a nightclub in Greece, me aged 19, dancing on top of a podium (hhm, yes, really) wearing a very small top, tight hipster shorts and boots. Even at 8:30 am returning home from the school run, if that song comes on the radio, the volume gets cranked up and I am a happy bunny. It changes my mindset for the better and makes me feel younger.

In my darkest drinking days, I was ridiculously obsessed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I still love them, but back then I was annoyingly infatuated with them; I have lost track of the number of times I watched ‘Live at Slane Castle,’ bottle of Pinot to hand (or three), losing myself in Anthony Kiedis and his wonderful, bizarre dancing. I fell in love exceptionally hard with RHCP owing to their lyrics about addiction (albeit their demon was heroin, mine was a nice Chablis or Pinot Grigio from Waitrose). Under the Bridge was, for me, not so much about shooting up in downtown LA with a bunch of Mexican rude boys, as lying on the settee with a cut crystal glass full to the brim with wine, Sex and the City on the TV and a copy of OK! on the coffee table. Otherside meant finding a way to get over the self-hatred I used to feel the morning after excessive amounts of booze the night before, the sense of desperation in the song being utterly relevant to where I found myself mentally, most weekends.

I have always loved many different types of music, but pretty much all of it is from when I was growing up. There is the odd current song that I hear on the radio that becomes a new favourite, but it’s rare. I am emotionally attached to the music of my youth, and from later on in my life, from the days I spent struggling with depression and the abuse of alcohol.

I gave myself a silent smack on the wrist this morning and bit my lip when I felt the urge to shout “What’s this rubbish? Who the hell is Nicki Minaj anyway??” Instead, I drove along in silence, focussing on the thoughts I have written about above. It is my darling daughter’s God-given right to love music that I hate. It’s what she should be doing. And when she is in her 30’s and 40’s, her kids will be telling her that Rita Ora is rubbish, and that she should get with it and start listening to whatever claptrap they are fixated on. At least, I hope they will.