Sunday, August 30, 2015

Black Dog Down - August

Life is a rollercoaster. Unfortunately, it’s run by First Great Western so it’s not always as fast as other more traditional rollercoasters, but still manages to feature ups and downs, although not always in equal measure.

August could certainly be characterised that way. Very early in the month, for example, I experienced one of my worst days in a long while. One of those inexplicable cisis days where, for no specific reason you can fathom, you feel like biting down on a magnum. Not double choc or vanilla, but a .44 or .357, depending on your mood.

Horrendous. Luckily, gun laws in the UK rule that out as an option and ice cream is much easier to come by. So that formed one element of my – I won’t call it ‘remedy’, but – coping mechanism that day. Along with vino and a double bill of comfort movies.

These are a few of my favourite things, you see. (Julie Andrews can keep hers. Well, except the whiskers on kittens. I mean, who doesn’t love those, right? But I can tell you now, combining them with brown paper packages tied up with string is a recipe for disaster.) These pleasures are entirely fleeting, so how can they hope to have any impact when you’re struggling with life? Well, they’re a temporary fix for your brain chemistry, at worst a distraction, at best a stimulus. And you have to trust that the bad is going to be as temporary as the good.

You have to get yourself through to the next day when you might feel that bit better and maybe strong enough to take some more proactive measures.

Be Good To Yourself.

It’s stupidly simple. It has to be, because there are times when the heart and head have no energy or inclination for anything beyond that. Sometimes you’ll be so hollow that even your favourite things might not have the effect you’d hope, but you have to fill that hole - and fill the hours – with something.

Weather the storm. Things might not look any brighter in the morning. But on the other hand they might.

In my case, they did. And as with the inexplicable nadir, the following day’s positivity  was founded on nothing special. Spirits were not so high I could call it a zenith, but sometimes life is less rollercoaster and more meringue so you welcome softer peaks.

There was no storm damage to repair, so I could just get straight back to the daily battleplan versus the Black Dog. Applying all those little tactics that have proven reasonably effective so far through this year – e.g. maintaining the household environs. As stupid and obvious and simple as the short-term measures really, but depression makes slow learners of us all so it helps if the therapies aren’t too complicated.

Among the stupider, simplest ploys in this month’s arsenal I’ve found a daily dose of social media activity helpful. There’s distraction and diversion value, I suppose, but more than that there’s a sense of connection. Like any seasoned predator, the Black Dog knows to isolate its prey from the herd or flock. So where any depressive might easily disengage from real-world social activity, it’s easier to just dip in and out of conversations on all manner of topics online. It’s stuff that fires your interest and even fifteen minutes of pissing about can be the virtual equivalent of a fizzy energy drink.

One thing that’s been particularly good is just a daily post about film-related favourite things, under different categories. Borrowed the list of categories from a friend and it provides for a) five-minutes of fun over breakfast – there’s even fun to be had thinking about the non-favourites (those movies you hate, for example) b) discussion and debate with friends and c) in some cases some pointers towards movies I haven’t yet seen. Bonus.

NB: Use of social media should come with a warning, mind you, for those sensitive to difference of opinion. Maybe someone thinks your favourite movies are shit and rarely is anybody on the internet coy about expressing that. I’m sensitive about too many things myself, but not that. If you are, I recommend you think on this: favourites can’t be argued with. They’re your favourites. Someone feels differently? Great. That’s 1) guaranteed and 2) has zero actual impact on your enjoyment of whatever it happens to be.)

Me, I find diverse opinions variously interesting, entertaining, amusing even. One guy has a great talent for telling me I’m broken for some of my personal preferences in music, film, whatever and always makes me laugh. And laughter = medicine. So I’m very fond of the bastard.

Another part of the daily regimen – for two weeks out of this month anyway – was a creative writing exercise. Now, I’ve done a lot of such exercises, but they’re normally solo flights and this was shared between two friends. Which was great, as the morning scribbles would help warm up the old creative muscles for the day’s actual writing sessions (aka ‘work’), with the added benefit of exchange of ideas, critiques and the opportunity to learn from others’ approaches to the same exercise. It wasn’t hugely time-consuming and most days I found it a very welcome focus.

So this month, I suppose has been mostly about routines, spiced up with the occasional treat or day out – a cinema trip or two, a local beer festival, nothing massively special in the scheme of things, but enough to strike that essential balance between the routines and the breaking up of routines.

Individually they amount to fractions, but they add up to a whole that has amounted to some of my most significant improvement all year. It’s not dramatic, it’s only slow and steady. But it’s progress.
It’s been further assisted by two or three external serendipitous factors. Serendipitous implies they were happy accidents, of course, and that’s what they feel like, but I think they all arose out of social media contacts, probably as a result of my heightened activity on Facebook. Minor morale boosts, perhaps, but made greater boosts when I recognise that they’re born from my actions, from something I did.

Now all I have to do is take that life lesson and hammer it into my thick skull and I can hope to be that much stronger for the future. The future which, at this point, can be conveniently summed up with the title of a Counting Crows album.

August And Everything After.

Which happens to be another of my favourite things.

SAF 2015

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