When The Lights Go Out.
Do you know the story of Tantalus? He was a Greek mythological figure, punished for trying to trick the Gods. After being killed by Zeus, he had to stand in a pool of water, with a fruit branch hanging over him. Whenever he was hungry or thirsty, the branch would lift up and the water drained away – each taunting him. Hence the word ‘tantalise’ – to torment with something desired but out of reach. For me, depression and trying to clamber my way out of it, felt like Tantalus’ punishment. It was the inability to touch joy or happiness, despite them being seemingly within reach.
For some time, I’ve struggled with saying the word ‘depression.’ De-pre-shun. I guess it’s not the word so much as the implication. I wasn’t able to even tag it on Instagram or Twitter until I tricked myself into doing it recently.
A euphemism I was therefore fond of using was ‘sick.’ I was pretty casual in explaining my somewhat unconventional move leaving a career to open a cat shop (of course it wasn’t quite as simple as that). ‘I was sick’ I would say. The difficulty arose when every now and then, someone would tentatively ask, ‘in what way were you sick…?’ And then I would stutter and stumble and my autistic reflexes would kick in, as I dismissively threw into the air; ‘Oh, I was, you know, depressed..?’ My voice would peter out. That’s a much harder phrase to churn out.
When I had weekly meetings with my line manager at school, I would tell the story of how I was the Food Lady for MyBoy. I’d read somewhere how cats need their feeders, so I certainly wasn’t going to risk my cat loving my partner more. That was the role I’d carved for myself. I explained how, when my cat needed to be fed, I’d dutifully wake up to feed him and then, as I was up anyway, I’d come to school.
She said, ‘I think you might be depressed…’
I said, ‘Urmmm, I don’t think I am…’
I denied it. I felt insulted by it! Although in hindsight, it was more a case of not articulating it to myself first, more than it was a denial. I’d figured it was a weakness at work. And then I went home and thought about it. You know when someone points something out to you and you feel stupid that you didn’t notice yourself? Like a pun you hadn’t worked out in time, or a joke, or something dead obvious…? That.
And then as soon as I’d acknowledged it, it somehow became stronger; it fought harder. Saying something aloud often gives words their power; their life. You see the words floating in front of you, as clear as Macbeth’s dagger, and no matter how much you claw at them, you can’t quite grab them to draw them back in.
It was like being left alone in an unfamiliar room when the lights go out. I’d scramble around in the darkness – screaming whilst desperately fumbling for the switch. I was still in there, but to my world, I was long gone.
I was in bed a lot too. And like quicksand, it seemed as though I was sinking deeper and deeper without noticing or even caring (apathy was pretty high on my agenda at the time). Occasionally I’d get a glimpse of real life; as if the light had been switched on temporarily. But like Tantalus, it seemed just out of reach.
It was useful knowing at the time that kittens sleep for 20 hours. So me and MyBoy did just that. And that’s how I mainly spent the next three or four months. MyBoy was my companion; my reason to get up. He was my therapy and unwittingly he became a switch to my new life.