A few weekends ago, I was watching the BBC series, Junior Bake Off. My heart was stolen when one of the contestants (a freckly, bespectacled young creature with pigtails) described her baking as ‘imaginative’ and ‘a little bit silly’. At one point during their Halloween biscuits challenge, she accidentally poured black food colouring instead of orange into her icing mix. Devastated by the blackened icing mix, the tears began to well up in her eyes. Racing against the clock, she resolved to start again, sniffling all the while. Now I know that the BBC is deliberately playing up on this, but I couldn’t help myself. My boyfriend turned to find me a blubbering mess. Later, a friend joked that I best avoid the food colouring aisle when I go grocery shopping.
This may seem like a small and insignificant thing, but it’s been a very long time since I have been capable of such feelings. I have always been something of a sensitive soul, sobbing whenever a character died in a novel. I once even had to attend a Virginia Wolf lecture absolutely flattened by the film, The Hours, that was inspired by her life. I simply could not pull myself together that day. My fellow classmates offered tissues and were rather sweet about it all.
When I was depressed, I cried of course. But it was a hollow sensation. There was no sense of real emotion behind it. Perhaps others have experienced depression differently. I can only speak for myself. And when I began to function again in the way of getting myself out of bed, making dinner, cleaning my apartment, the numbness was still there. In social situations, I would often stare off blankly, unable to make conversation because I felt nothing, cared for nothing. I began to wonder if I would ever return to myself, if I would ever genuinely feel something again. But the day has arrived for me. I am beginning to care passionately for things again, for books, for people, for causes that had always mattered to me. This has not come without its own challenge, however.
My mother, a few days back, mentioned to a friend of mine who is like family to us, to please ‘keep an eye’ on me while she is out of town. She meant no harm by this. It is the same as someone asking if you have remembered to take your medication. While it may be annoying sometimes, they are only showing that they wish no harm to come to you, that they want your recovery. Yet even though I knew that my mother was speaking from a place of concern, what she had said had triggered some fears of my own and I was in for a sleepless night.
A cancer patient will, for the rest of his life, respond immediately to the smallest lump he finds on his testicle. It is no different for those of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. For the rest of my life, I will wonder if my moods, my actions, my interactions with others are within the realm of ‘normal’, stable. This particular night, I began to run everything I had felt, everything I had done recently, through my mind.
I had visited Preston’s in Walmer the day before for some light wine and soda water, and had greeted the old man who always helps me with my purchases to the car with some conversation and a rub on the shoulder. I had also been far more vocal in conversations about potential creative projects than I would have expected of myself. And not only had I cried during an episode of Junior Bake Off, but I’d also experienced moments of true happiness, moments of ebullience, of feeling that life is a truly spectacular gift. Was this ‘normal’? Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure.
Now I am in no position to afford a psychologist. I get my medication through the clinic and occasionally see a nurse who checks my weight and asks me a series of perfunctory questions. It is not easy to see someone beyond a nurse at these clinics as there are so many more in far dire circumstances than my own. So, instead, I turned to a Catholic priest at my grandmother’s church who studied psychology and had worked at the Elizabeth Donkin Hospital. I was assured that he would not try to convert me. With his help, my mind was put to rest. I did not have grandiose notions of completing a novel in a month. I was not spending money irresponsibly. For the most part, my sleep patterns were extremely regular with a full 8 hours at least most nights.
Since this affirmation of my sanity, I have begun to wonder what made me question it in the first place. Touching and reaching out to people because you feel a sense of connection to them…Is this mad? Getting excitable in a conversation because the subject stimulates you…Is this mad? Loving something so deeply you cannot imagine life without it…Is this mad? If so, then perhaps I would rather not be ‘normal’. Let others think what they wish.
Playing the Pleasantville soundtrack this morning made me think me of the film itself. Two teenagers of the present-day become stuck in a 1950s sitcom. The world they first enter is in black and white. However, as their late twentieth century notions of self-expression and individuality begin to influence this community, colour starts to insert itself into this world. First it is the likes of a bright green apple in a grey palm. Later it is a gleaming red motor vehicle against the backdrop of a grey sidewalk. Some see this emergence of colour as a potential threat to their otherwise ‘pleasant’ way of living. However, over time, colour takes over and things cannot be as they once were.
It is like this if you have suffered a depression. You will laugh at something and find yourself surprised by the sound. You will sing along to a song and be surprised that you still have music inside of you. Before you know it, you will be living a life in full colour. It is a little scary at first, a little overwhelming even. But I can assure you, there is no better place to be.