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Depression and me – Tony
I was first made aware that I had depression in 2001. I was 29 years of age and had recently completed a PhD in Australian cultural history. I had won a post-doctoral fellowship to research Australian literature at the University of Sydney and from most points of view appeared to be leading the picture of a successful life.
I was in a long-term relationship and had loving parents, sisters and a brother. They all thought I was a swell guy. Yet in the mornings I would stare at the kitchen window of my third-floor apartment on Glebe Point Road and think that it would be a nice thing to open it and fall quietly to my death. Or, to calmly slice the arteries in my wrists and lie under the shower until I disappeared.
This did not alarm me. Suicide presented itself as an increasingly logical solution to problems I could not even quite formulate. Much more troubling was that I was beginning to find it difficult to think – a problem for an academic. I suppose I had always found it difficult to think; in fact, I had consistently placed myself into positions where difficult thinking was necessary. But in 2001, the very basis of thinking – concentration, equanimity, memory – started to break apart, along with confidence in any kind of future and the belief that what I said could be of the slightest interest to anyone. It became so that even those tiny, seemingly simple bridges that join one moment to another faltered. The only thing that felt real was a creeping sense of utter hollowness.
That I am not like this today. That I am writing at all. That my thoughts are no longer edged with razors whose edges were only allowed to cut me. This is my story. It is a story I will share with anyone who wants to listen, but it will take some time. It will not be the story of anyone else but me.
Depression was the word that doctors gave to the state in which my will to live had been exhausted. It is as good as any word can be in describing a condition which, like many other mental illnesses, exists mainly in the terrain between and beyond the reach of words.
There is no word to describe what it means to become un-depressed. Undoing depression is no less simple than doing it. It took me several years. Depression is not itself a condition which needs to be cured. Depression is nothing other than the psyche announcing on behalf of the organism that it is unwilling to put up with any further violation of its right to exist. It has most in common, I believe, with the pains of childbirth. Pain which is borne by both mother and child and which places each in genuine danger, but which accompanies and is the truest registration of the miracle of life.
That I did not kill myself is a miracle of life too. It would not have happened had I not met the most wonderful therapist. Anti-depressant medication helped too, providing the space for the slow, arduous work of reconstructing a self from the ruins of a statue. I have no advice for anyone. I have only my own example, which continues to reveal itself to me with all the awkwardness that would accompany someone who, after half a lifetime of paralysis, attempted one day to learn to walk.
Tony is a Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia, where he teaches courses on comparative media and cultural theory. He researches in the area of Australian literary and cultural history. His book Paper Nation: The Story of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, 1886-1888 (Melbourne University Press, 2001) won the Ernest Scott and Keith Hancock prizes for history. Currently, he is writing a literary history of the Western Australian wheatbelt.