Out for a birthday dinner with my family, we are celebrating the end of my son’s teenage years. Talk turns to the recent documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse and a discussion about whether the most despicable crimes render art worthless, and I wonder how much art is borne from some sort of dysfunction anyway.
When you don’t see the world like other people maybe you are more often able to create something which the rest of the world is interested in.
We get to dessert and I order Affogato which prompts a conversation about caffeine. Sometimes I feel like I am on a drug, even though I will do my damnedest to avoid even an aspirin. But something stops me from slipping into the darkness. I think it’s contentment and I’m not convinced I always like it.
Starting to wonder if I miss feeling depressed, drawn inexplicably towards pain, my son makes comment on a hydrangea I gave him earlier in the day. “When I smell one it makes me think of my birthday”, he says. As if offering a witty anecdote I respond with, “They always remind me of the day my dad died. It was Mother’s Day and there was a pink one in the room when they zipped him into the body bag”. Everyone stops and looks at me. Oh God.
Alarmingly it seems as if I am not alone. If you type “why do I feel” into Google it will helpfully offer to finish your search with the word “depressed”, presumably for those of us who have a history of losing interest in things long before they are finished.
The thing is, as ridiculous as it sounds, I often got more done when I was unhappy. When I felt as if there was no point to anything I made herculean effort to engage in activities which would rid me of the feeling. I planted vegetables, wrote songs and blog posts, anything to avoid the risk of feeling empty.
It’s true that I often didn’t have the energy to harvest my vegetables once they’d grown and so left them to rot in the ground, and that I ignored my songs for so long that I can’t remember how to play them anymore, but at least wondering if there was any point to staying alive made me feel alive.
No wonder so many people state consciously that they want to get better when unconsciously something stops them from making any progress. It can be quite boring being happy.
I only got better when I really acknowledged that I wanted to be OK. Just not too OK. It’s clear to me now that I always need a way to let the darker side of me through but not so much that I consider walking, fully clothed, into the river.
Earlier in the day, we drove up a steep hill and the clouds parted for a while as if we were travelling straight through them to the peak of something. Walking the dog across the downs and marvelling at the beautiful expansive view we were all taking pictures on our phones. Capturing the moment by momentarily stepping out of it.
Later, back at dinner, we finish the conversation about Michael Jackson via a short detour to Woody Allen, Caravaggio, and Sade. During a lull in the conversation, I look at the photos my daughter took on the walk. She had literally a hundred of the family and the dog happily playing ball in the sunshine. As I scroll through mine I notice that I have taken pictures of people against the sun making them look like shadows, and of the part of the sky which is dark and full of foreboding grey, right up until the last one which is a photo of beautiful spring blossom.