I am meant to be editing my chapter. After almost 7 months of depression I’m thinking I might be about to make a turn for the better. But then I sit at my computer.
For the past three weeks I have sat at my computer. Twice weekly for a couple of hours I try to edit. I keep a progress report to remind myself what I’ve edited, that I’ve edited. Before this emotional dip I was working steadily. I had gone through the chapter working out what themes and historians needed highlighting. But the lack of concentration, the tiredness, the inability to move, the anxiety tore through my thoughts, leaving my routine in paper trails.
Everytime I sit at my desk, if feels like I’m beginning again. It is habitual discontinuation. Today I opened the document, tried to read my notes and progress-report in preparation and then? Then nothing. I physically couldn’t look at the words I’d written, the words which back in December were passed with minor corrections, the words that revealed I had a ‘marvelous eye for the physical detail’, that were celebrated for showing another side to a well-trodden path, the words that got me this far. I can’t do it, as I type my heart thumps, my stomach flips. My hands shake, my feet wriggle, my breath rises and my eyes flit. I try to focus on yogic breathing, but for all the smell of a Neil’s Yard Relaxing Remedy, my adrenalin sterilises the sensation. I look around for words of encouragement that my partner and friends have given me:
‘Keep on going, keep on going, you are lovely and a great writer’
‘Keep going you fantabulous woman you!!!’
‘History: it’s just one fucking thing after another.’
These words I have no trouble reading, but to concentrate on more than love and informality remains tiring in the extreme. It demands that I shun the paradox within that says I can’t do this, that says my fear is laziness, that it’s been long enough, snap out of it! It is a paradox that exists both within me and in society.
At my meeting with my psychiatrist this week we talked about feeling better, how while the depression wanes my anxiety is palpable. I explained how tiring I was finding it to keep justifying to myself the importance of a recuperation period in the face of society’s silent disregard. There is an unspoken sense that depression is time-limited that once six months has passed, you could pull yourself together if you just tried. But I am a ramshackled garden, it’s not as simple as just mowing the lawn and a bit of pruning, it takes dedicated, knowledgeable, tender loving care.
My psychiatrist explained to me that one of the most common reasons people fail to recover from mental distress is because they have to operate within a society which has such a limited view of health and well-being. The balancing act of proving you are well enough to be a reliable, effective member of society and at the same time having to justify or prove the impact of a condition, especially a seemingly invisible one, limits the capacity to feel and be better. Forced to respond to other people’s perceptions, it undermines any trust you have in yourself. There is no room to be when you are constantly asked what not to be.
The irony is long-term conditions, such as diabetes and depression provide skills that as a society we would all benefit from. My diabetes, for example, means I can think on my feet in adverse situations, that I can multitask, that I work independently on a daily basis and as part of a team when I visit my clinic, that I practice fractions, percentages and long divisions daily, that I know the physical and mental impact of the food we eat, the exercise we undertake, the stress we suffer. All excellent academic and social qualities. My depressions have further shown the value of slow thought. My PhD has taken almost six years, I received funding for 4. In my case it would have been a lesser PhD without that additional time. It would have been half formed both in words and theory. Depression focused my arguments, brought them to life. It was my own isolation from academia that made me want to find the voice of the unheard, understand why certain school children were thought to be more ‘special’ than others. Without my own conditions I wouldn’t have had the same emotional resonance with the ‘special’ child that is at the heart of my thesis. A child whose story reveals a more complicated position than the traditional Foucauldian models of power put forward by social and educational historians thus far. It is a story about how children’s segregation was used, however misguidedly, as a way to integrate. To practice equality with inequality. It is a story that centres on the impact of perception.
But if only editing needed such literary flourish. If only I could focus on what I can write rather than what I can not.