January: Bleurgh, endless white skies and here, rain, news, it appears, of death upon death, for those suffering from SAD or other depressive tendencies in the Northern Hemisphere, January is perhaps the last slog on a upward climb that hopefully will open up to a plateau of hope when Spring begins. But depression is not weather dependent, it can hit at any time, come from trauma or trial or seemingly from nowhere at all. It may be chemically based, genetically predisposed. It is a combination of temperament and circumstance and how society is set up. There seems to be, at this current time of technological change, dissipating boundaries, an individualistic culture, separation from nature, social media and always on personas, ways in which the vulnerable can be knocked into self-doubt, anxiety, paralysis. There appears to be a surge in the number of young people experiencing mental health difficulties and there are the age old problems of personal and relationship breakdown.
In the challenges I have faced over the past number of years in family life, one thing has made more of a difference than anything else – the discovery that I am not alone in my journey, that others share similar difficulties and that within myself and my band of comrades we find together a sense of resilience, a broadening of the mind and compassion for others through adversity and a huge capacity for kindness and humour which we share with each other.
It is in this vein that I share with you a publication, Depression and the Art of Tightrope walking written by a friend of mine, Vivienne Tuffnell who in her generous blog always shares her experiences and consolations on the subject of depression. She charts a course (a tightrope, she calls it) through the undeniable reality of depression (a study I read as a student asserted that depressed people do not used the same tactics as people without depression, tactics that can sometimes fool us into believing things are better than they really are – thus depressives are more realistic!) while taking solace and sustenance from elements in life such as nature and creativity. This is a journey through experience, there is no cure, no, as she puts it “no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it.”
Depression and the Art of Tightrope walking collates several of her blog posts on depression. This is how she describes the book:
“I’m a writer and poet and a long-term sufferer of depressive illness. I try to keep smiling but sometimes I fail. I love the natural world, and am a great fan of the vagaries of the English weather.” These words were the first attempts to define what my blog was about when I began it in February 2009. From these first tentative steps into blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking has expanded into a wide-ranging and eclectic exploratory journey into what it means to live with depression. There are many posts on the subject now, and I decided to collect together the ones I felt were potentially most helpful to others affected by mental and emotional distress. They’re not intended as classic self-help or as a replacement for treatment but rather as a commentary from one person’s experience. Sometimes it can help simply knowing we are not alone in a journey, even when it feels that way. I’ve enjoyed the whole concept of the Zen koan, a short question that usually has no answer but is intended to provoke more questions and more thinking. Think of the classic one: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Most of my posts are written with this aim in mind; I just lack the compactness of a koan. I try to look at the world from another angle. I like (like? not sure I like it but I am inwardly compelled to do it) to ask questions, sometimes awkward ones. There is no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking contains twenty essays from the original blog and includes a foreword from Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain-The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health and editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety).
It’s available here in both paperback and kindle formats.
Vivienne’s book is realistic, reflective and informative and shares an honest experience of how she lives with depression as part of the fabric of her life but also explores the ways she finds to live more fully alongside it, to find meaning and joy, light alongside darkness. This honest account will make you realise that the human experience may feel a lonely one but there is always someone travelling a similar path, that there is no final answer but that the steps we take in challenging terrain is the true story.