Detour: Depression

Two weeks ago, I thought I was old and tired. Thankfully, I’ve still got that to look forward to — I was unknowingly carrying chronic depression, and it came to light only by chance and the selfless intervention of someone special.

I was doubly lucky, because my depression was tied to clear external triggers, around which I had wrapped a bundle of secret, illogical, shames and fears. A couple of those were unwoven at a fundamental level, causing a contextual reframing that destroyed my depression’s habitat — literally overnight.

After a week of extreme oversharing with a few patient individuals, I wanted to post something publicly because we need to continue to normalise these topics beyond the meme level, and the conversations kept coming back to a few key points which seemed worth sharing:

It can be easy to dismiss or suppress our own struggles in the face of objectively harder ones, but life is not a competition, and self-care makes it possible to be there for our part in the “bigger” battles. Shame is often misplaced, and rarely constructive — especially the shame that arises when we measure our issues against others, and decide they don’t matter.

It isn’t enough to know you are surrounded by loving and supportive people if you don’t turn to them when you actually need them. Not asking for help is something I’ve always struggled with, and in the local context, at least, I know I’m not alone in that (which is why I’m posting this).

Checking up on yourself is vital. Use more than one set of tools. I didn’t feel “bad” when I was depressed. Nor did I feel the numbness I’ve experienced in the past: I just felt worn, heavy, and quietly worthless, and loosely blamed existentialism and age. But when it was suddenly lifted I felt (feel) at least a decade younger. I have energy I thought was gone forever — which is energy I can now apply to the “insurmountable” external things I had thought I couldn’t affect.

Depression is insidious precisely because it’s a personal and holistic affliction. It can hide in plain sight because it’s tied up with all of our other individual neuropathies and can be easily justified. In hindsight, it’s usually painfully evident, but that doesn’t make it easy to see when it’s inhabiting our bodies. Because of this, it’s also nuanced and subjective, so it’s worth scheduling time to ask yourself hard questions and have difficult conversations with those you love. Whether or not depression is in residence, these moments can help us be better.

A certain Lisa just reminded me that even in our own conversations we’ve (I’ve) had a tendency to minimise suggestions of depression — because while we’ve made great strides towards normalising depression as “a bad thing”, it’s therefore something we’d prefer not to acknowledge or recognise if there’s a more palatable explanation.

I have no pithy take-home message: this is my experience, and yours operates in your own unique context. But depression is an ill that takes so much so easily, and if my story might offer a second of self-reflection or a spark of recognition, then I felt an obligation to share it.

Please don’t diminish your own experiences. The following page has some useful resources in Aotearoa, and your GP will often be a good place to start to get help.

A home for my words

“I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees.” Louis L’Amour once said. “Temperamental I am not.”

I grew up seeing those words as the terrifying mark of a great storyteller: someone so engrossed in the flow of the art that their surroundings became something lesser. And this transcendent state too often eluded me.

Later, advice from Stephen King, Jim Butcher and other greats provided a different way to parse L’Amour’s words: as a challenge. A quiet prompt to let go of all preciousness and pretension. To write, because you write, irrespective of where you are or how you’re feeling.

This distinction matters, because otherwise environment too easily becomes justification for procrastination and defeatism.

Those writers are simply better, that’s why they can write anywhere/are so prolific/are so inspiring, yet eternally beyond my reach. When my internal monologue offers such helpful input, I now edit it. Because they choose to write anywhere, those writers are prolific and have grown great, and if I let their example inspire me, my writing might grow in kind.

My favourite place to write, then, is beside my sleeping wife at 2amsuffocating under the sheets to shield her from the light — tapping a sudden turn of phrase into my phone before it’s snatched away by slumber.

It’s sitting on the beach where I first encountered heartbreak, scribbling in a notebook and letting those long-ago stirrings play with the pen.

It’s at my desk, internet blocked, and a list of chapter outlines on the screen.

Desk, dark, couch, mountain, café: there are places that colour my writing, and places that facilitate the craft, but any environment can provide both context and constraint, which is the space in which writing feels truly at home.

This article was first published in The Writing Cooperative on, and won the 2016 Autumn Writing Challenge.

Rest in peace, Terry Pratchett

I remember swiping The Colour of Magic from my father’s library pile, at age 8 or 9. That was my first encounter with Sir Terry’s words, followed by the Witches books, Moving Pictures and Eric. Even my mother (never a fantasy reader) streamed with tears of laughter as we read choice passages to her. I was hooked long before I reached the City Watch and Death novels, where Vimes, Susan and Death himself became immediate favourites. Pratchett’s work only improved with time, despite his health struggles, leading to my personal favourite, Thud, and the well-loved Moist von Lipwig series.

While I never had the chance to meet the man himself, Pratchett’s characters, his satirical eye and his prolific and consistent output have been inspirational. More importantly, his work was always, and primarily, entertaining. And that work will live on. It doesn’t dull the edge of loss, but it matters. Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The last post

Vimes could feel the cobblestones beneath his boots. And then he couldn’t. He opened his eyes. The street was indeed gone, as were the various targets of his protection and ire. A swirling fog filled his vision instead. The dwarves must have pierced a steam line again, although that didn’t explain the cobbles. Maybe… A figure strode through the mist, its joints clicking loudly.
“Oh,” he said. “Bugger.”
Vimes was rarely at a loss for words, but he hadn’t been expecting this. He had been expecting death, that is, for most of his life, but it had always been a little less personal. Or personable. He nodded.
“Child.” Vimes corrected. “I only have the one.”
Vimes did. It was probably best that little Sam learned about death early on. Lady Sybil would have disagreed, he was certain, but this was one argument she wouldn’t win. He smiled at the thought.
“AHEM.” Said Death, after a minute. “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MORE SUGGESTIONS?”
“No thank you, I think I’m ready.” Vimes replied.
“Are you.” Vimes corrected again. A sloppy Death, after all. And he’d had such high hopes. He sighed.
“Don’t be sorry, let’s just get on with it.”
Death blinked. There had been others, pushy individuals with little to lose, mostly. But this was a human with it all. A job. A house. A family. He even had a pair of boots.
“I hadn’t realised that was on the table.” Vimes said.
Vimes waited in silence.
“Oh, for…” Vimes stopped talking, because it’s hard to talk while grappling with an over-active skeleton for an over-sized scythe. He had intended to go peacefully, but intent doesn’t matter when a maniac swings an obsolete farming implement at a copper.
There was an OOMPH. And a THUD. Followed by a very subdued rattle as dozens of bones fell to the nonexistent ground and faded away.
“BUGGER.” Vimes said again.

The witnesses speak

There is an art to choosing a phone,
or any gadget, really.
It starts with the marketing, of course –
there’s something out there for you,
something new and remarkable –
you can check the specifications,
can read the reviews,
but the moment of desire really starts
when you first catch sight of it,
and soon becomes a need, driving you
to make it your own.

Marriage is a little less creepy than that.

Marriage is not an art. It doesn’t have a regular upgrade cycle, or come in the shiniest packaging.

But it starts with the same moment of need and desire, the same irresistible impulse.

It won’t fix what is broken. It isn’t about a sudden change, or revelation.

But it is about the essence of love and generosity of spirit, a commitment to share your life with another, and it matters, to you and to us.

You get married today, but we
we watch,
we witness,
and we share in your vow.

We may not always be there in times of sickness – especially if it’s contagious.
Our paths may diverge, may take us from you for weeks or years at a time.
But we stand with you today, and in doing so
we offer our love, our support and our every intention
to help you both as you continue the path you walk.
To encourage and support and listen in the hard times
to laugh and share in the good times,
and we stand witnesses, this day and into the future, to the love you share,
and the meaning it brings to our own and to your lives.