Dodging the Dark Pit
This picture shows where I run or power-walk to nowhere, six days a week. My back faces the TV that Love Chunks had installed on the other side of the shed because the treadmill will absolutely not tolerate having an extension cord attached in order to turn it around before it shorts and refuses to start.
Despite this lack of visual entertainment, I do approximately 30km running and 24km walking per week, which is a fair old chunk of time to be spent running at a shed wall with an abandoned dolls' house in between my feet and the iron. My sweat stains are all over the floor and there's only a hazy view outside through the bamboo blinds.
This humble set up has been a vital part of my recovery from The Big D - Depression. It may seem like a boring and rather reclusive way to exercise but it's been one of the things that has helped save my life.
On the morning of Saturday 24th November 2007, a somewhat normal conversation with LC about whether Sapphire was going to tennis lessons or not turned into me yelling in rage, tearing the wet washing off the line, and storming out of our house. Everything had slipped out of my control. I didn't have any car keys, money or clothing, but I kept on walking down the avenue and along Magill Road. It was a hot sunny day and the road was chockers with cars, trucks, tinselled-up floats, horses and clowns getting ready for the Annual Norwood Christmas Pageant.As I finally acknowledged how suicidal I was feeling inside, on the outside I waved and greeted friends and acquaintances I passed, still moving, looking busy; appearing happy and interested in the events around me but having places to go, people to see, jobs to do. Buses rumbled by and I seriously imagined what it might be like to do a mad dash in front of one and end it all. I had enough sense to realise the utter selfishness of such an act - not only for the driver but for any passengers, passersby, my husband, my child, my family and the added stress and work it would entail for many others. And yet it was tempting. A quick way out for me; a person who was always 'good' at school, study, work, friendships, relationships, parenting, being interested in others. How had things come to this, to me?
A short time later I entered the Accident and Emergency Department and asked to be admitted. I needed someone to help me before anything terrible happened and wanted someone to take away the exhaustion and despair that was devouring me, my future and my spirit. The Big D had started to pull me into its black pit and the sides were starting to cave in. But how on earth do I describe an event that happened last year without reverting to worn out descriptions and cliches?
LC was called by the hospital and arrived immediately with Sapphire; breathless, anxious and utterly powerless to do much other than rub my back whilst I curled up on the bare bed. My father was on his way to pick up Sapphire, who was just as concerned. I knew that she was, but didn't have the capacity to reassure her or LC; not when I couldn't even reassure myself.
The A&E ward, on a Saturday morning, was filled with screaming, incoherent strangers as I lay there silently with tears rolling down my face, neck, chest and plopping onto my arms. Why was this happening to me? Why couldn't I cope? What would happen if this feeling didn't ever go away? Whatever chaos was happening in the hospital around me had completely faded inside. All I hoped was that Sapphire would soon be taken away from it and that my own far louder and more destructive internal noise would end.
The nurses took pity on Sapphire and invited her to come and sit with them at their station with a colouring-in book that one of them had on hand. A minute later she tore open the curtain and tugged at her father's hand. "I read the screen, Dad. Mum said she wants to die." FUCK fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck what kind of low, degraded, selfish, terrible, scumsucking parent was I to allow my child to read, comprehend and know such a thing about her own mother; the person who is supposed to be strong, nurturing, loving, supportive, encouraging, spirited, leading the way, providing her with a safe and secure home and upbringing?
I spent three days in a locked ward, silent. I observed the shuffles of my fellow patients, heard their requests for phone calls, more sleeping pills, when was their doctor coming, but I didn't join in or respond to conversation. The staff and doctors were kind and patient to all of us in there and I knew that it was the right place for me to be in at that time.
We were all so far away from everything that troubled us - many stories up, all the windows sealed shut and overlooking the beauty of the Botanic Gardens. There were no pot plants or pictures on the walls and we were in a very old ward that still had the old medical powerpoints and bedside tables, with scrappy grey office partitions separating the beds. No privacy available anywhere except for the shower, where I'd strip off, get wet and cry, silently, until I was tired enough to dry off and go back to bed to sleep. I slept and slept; grateful that I didn't have to be anywhere or be anything but could just rest. It was nice to just be.
When LC took me home, we sat together in the living room, looking out at our sun-drenched garden. He didn't let me go. I didn't want him to let me go. I was learning, however, to let other things go, such as injustice, unfairness and futility. Still am, in fact.
Since then, when I run, it is as close as I come, I think, to finding a God, or religion of sorts. It is the sheer basics of hearing my heart pound, my feet thud, my arms swing, my breath puffing its way throughout my body and feeling each hard-won drop of sweat fly off that I realise what effort it takes to be truly alive.
Through the bamboo blind I often see a pigeon perched on a powerline connected to the neighbour's house. During the winter he has been blown about mercilessly on that loose line but still he holds on. Buffeted by breezes, rain and sleet he perches there in my line of vision and I look at him as I run on, feeling grateful that my body can take me such distances and give me time to think about things: what I'd do differently and what I want to do from today.
I'm still a work in progress, but 'progress' is the key word here. I'm moving forward and looking forward and to say that I appreciate it is the understatement of the century.