Episode 38: A giant pain in the behind, or just a normal human?
In which our protagonist fights the fog that skews perception
Dearest reader, do you know what it’s like when you wake up at this time of year and a general mist covers the world? Where the land outside isn’t quite sure yet if it’s hot or cold so instead it just… is both at the same time?
That’s what I feel like right now.
It’s a recognised thing, y’know, this mist. This dark cloud that descends over the brain and makes everything just way too hard to bother. It’s known as depression fog, and it’s a real bugger.
And given I’ve been in a bit of a pit lately, the fog is clouding every little thing.
The depression fog manifests in many ways: it strikes at the heart of routine, making time-keeping and deadlines difficult. It means you can’t think straight or concentrate on anything; a lot of staring at a screen or the wall and not realising how much time has gone by. (I call that bit “trance mode”.) It’s like you’re living on autopilot, just existing and not actually making conscious decisions about any aspect of your life.
Oh - and the memory issues. I always thought I just had a terrible memory until I started researching depression after my diagnosis. Depression fog actually impacts your ability to remember things - names, faces, what you’ve done, what you’ve committed to, your childhood… My brother is always saying “do you remember that time…” and my answer is usually “what? That actually happened?”
So that’s the impact of depression on the past and the present - but it’s perhaps hardest on the future. When in the grips of the fog, I can’t picture the future. I can’t make plans. I can’t make decisions. I can’t picture what I want to achieve or how I can get there - whether we’re talking about 5 years’ time or 5 days’ time.
The thing is, that particular joy of the fog is always there to some degree: one of the underlying thrums of my depression is my inability to make decisions, my inability to commit, my inability to deal with normal life in the modern world.
Case in point: Earlier this week, I annoyed the living daylights out of a dear friend (I assume, at least, I was a giant PITA) because there was a social occasion and I just wasn’t sure if I was up to it. I strung her along all day, playing a will-she-or-won’t-she game of social Russian roulette. I had led her to believe I wasn’t going to bother, until at the last minute, in a small fit of motivation, I ran out of the door before I could think again - and surprised this friend, because that meant she then had to do similar with little warning and join me at the social occasion.
The fog is why this happened - the fog, and my general inability to force myself to do even the slightest thing. And also my depression’s love of drama, which is a whole other story.
In my mind, I thought the social occasion would be a total disaster for me. I was sure I would come away having made a fool of myself in front of people I really wanted to impress but who I’m totally intimidated by. I’m not great in social situations at the best of times - I can add strong social anxiety to my list of awesome qualities - and that makes me nervous.
The more nervous I am, the more I talk.
The more I talk shit.
About myself, a lot.
And don’t give anyone a chance to change the conversation. It’s all about me. And I will talk over you to make sure that happens.
Or I’ll be on the other end of the spectrum, unsure how to start or carry on conversations. I will answer questions, but don’t know what the next step is in getting to an acceptable state of conversing. I make dumb jokes too much - I make dumb jokes as a defence mechanism, to hide the fact I’m an idiot who doesn’t know how to socialise.
At any rate, I ended up at the social occasion. I spoke to nice people, I spoke about myself too much, I didn’t mingle nor circulate. I didn’t know when to call it quits, and stayed til the end and suffered for it the next day, gripped by the low-level ache of regret and rumination.
But, reader, the truth is it’s probably all in my head. Maybe, on the other side of the fog, I was actually just a normal human being having an evening among friends.
And maybe I should just bloody well commit to the socialising next time.
The week ahead 🗓
Writing: Still spinning up ideas for some anthology submissions, and also pursuing a bit of homework around channelling my fear of writing into a story itself.
Work: I spent the week talking to prospects and possibilities; exciting news to come, hopefully!
Health: Best we don’t go there - especially given I’ve got my GP reviews coming up 😳
Routine: Rebuilding my habits is the key. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and Melbourne.
On the stereo 🎧
Day/Night, by Parcels
I discovered this Australian-born, Berlin-based outfit one very late night at the Latitude festival a few years back; its infectious disco-soul was the perfect way to end a very big few days with a smiling heart. Parcels’ self-titled debut album was a firm favourite of mine in 2018, and now I get a brand new “two-disc set”, as they used to say. Listen both when you want to chill and when you want to gently groove.
Off the shelf 📚
The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman
It was the subtitle of this one that caught my eye: “Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking”. That’s it, I thought, that’s the one for me. The cure to my ills. The antidote, if you will. In this year of being self(ish), I’ve read a lot of “self-help” books, books that claim to have the answer, to have a blueprint, a guide, a way out of here. They’ve been interesting for the most part, but more often than not I’ve gone ‘oh yes, that was good’ and promptly forgotten everything I read. (See earlier re: fog.) In this book, Burkeman looks to the other side, away from the push for affirmations and goals and 5-year plans. He speaks to my fear of being boxed in by talking about the anti-goal-setting movement; he speaks to my chattering monkey mind by looking at why Buddhists swear by meditation; he looks to the end through the eyes of the Stoics; he writes of why uncertainty can be good for us. If you’re sick of toxic positivity, or if you’re just interested in different takes on what happiness really means, I highly recommend this one.
“The optimism-focused, goal-fixated, positive-thinking approach to happiness is exactly the kind of thing the ego loves. Positive thinking is all about identifying with your thoughts, rather than disidentifying with them. And the ‘cult of optimism’ is all about looking forward to a happy or successful future, thereby reinforcing the message that happiness belongs to some other time than now. Schemes and plans for making things better fuel our dissatisfaction with the only place where happiness can be found - the present. ‘The important thing,’ [Eckhart] Tolle told me, ‘is not to be continuously lost in this mental projection away from now. Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.’ Another staccato chuckle. ‘And that’s a revelation for some people. To realise that you whole life is only ever now. Many people suddenly realise that they have lived most of their life as if this were not true - as if the opposite were true.’ Without noticing we’re doing it, we treat the future as intrinsically more valuable than the present. And yet the future never seems to arrive.”
Get an eyeful 👀
Last Night in Soho (in cinemas)
I actually went to the cinema last weekend. I braved the plague and a closed-in room and it was this movie that finally lured me back to one of my favourite pastimes - I have been craving it since I first saw the teaser trailer what seems like years ago. Yes, I am somewhat biased as I think Edgar Wright can do no wrong, but Last Night in Soho lived up to my expectations. It’s one of those films that it’s difficult to talk about without risking spoilers, so I’ll just say that Mark Kermode’s spoiler-free review pretty much encapsulates my thoughts. It looks amazing, it feels real-world despite the supernatural tones, and it has an amazing soundtrack. One warning, though: I blame this film for me being unable to sleep on Saturday night because I thought someone was in my bedroom…
Visual confirmation 📷
We may have gotten a bit carried away when hosting writers hour on Halloween.
BTW, clock changes mean we’re back in the Australian time zone for the fourth daily session. Come and join me at 8am Melbourne time every weekday for an hour of creative focus, whatever you’re working on: writershour.com