Winter, this year more than any other, felt like it would never end. But all things end, begin again, develop and eventually cease. People die of old age, illnesses we wish were a person we could track down and beg for forgiveness, tragic accidents that leave us asking, “why me?”, after we always expected that ‘we’ were somehow exempt from the bad deal’s of the universe, or in war-zones where the possibility of death is accepted, and the sanctity of life is a sideshow to political greed and a thirst for power.
Running in parallel, women around the world are breathing new life into the atmosphere, giving birth to these tiny humans, uncorrupted and unburdened by the reality that they inhabit; the reality they will learn to know perhaps all too well as they grow up. What about those in between the polarities of life and death? Well, there’s the sick and the dying: people with one foot planted here on earth, and the other pitched in the direction of a murkier future. If you are religious, the prospect of death is likely to undermine your certainty of an afterlife; if you are not religious, sensing your death approach will make you turn our mind to God, in a sceptical embrace of desperation.
The bottom line: everywhere you look, there are beginnings, middles and ends. It is this universal structure that preserves our sanity, feeds our desires, and stands to reassure us that we will prevail whenever something truly terrible occurs.
Depression, in my experience, reaches a fore whenever I forget that the moment I am in is not infinite, not even close to infinite in fact. This Winter gone, I forgot. I forgot that, in just a few months, skeleton trees will accumulate leaves. I forgot that homeless people, now shivering themselves to sleep, will see the sun rise, feel the heat on their skin, and rejoice that they have survived another cruel Winter. I forgot that my hollow body will be filled with light. I forgot that the terrors presented by certain Presidents and Prime Ministers have an expiry date. Even if their departure will be met by the arrival of an equal and opposite force of destruction, having no proof of this means that we must remain hopeful. Hope is the birthplace of change; hope is the ability to freeze and picture yourself hot and dry.
Three weeks in Portugal and when I return to England I’m slightly heartbroken, completely exhausted and starving, shuffling through Gatwick airport on the accelerated pathway. HSBC is running a global clean water campaign, brought to my attention by the BOSE speakers lining the walls that simulate the varied sounds of the 6300km long Yangtze river in China. Heavy rainfall, buzzing wildlife, water flowing, snippets of conversation, and other lively sounds, all confronting my tired mind in a stormy wave of vivid imagery. I am there, in every place, for a matter of seconds. I feel the humidity, the periods of immense solitude, and the raw beauty; beauty we haven’t viciously intervened with, yet. My body is hot and sweaty and my mind is caught in the rapture of it all, then I am violently pushed back into the present by the runway that propels me forwards, out of the airport and out of the dream.
But I am new. I am alive with confidence, charm and enthusiasm. The threat of failure that haunted me for months is now a foggy nightmare. There’s nothing to hate about myself, or the universe: for all of the agony contained within the world, it can never truly taint the wonder of existence: of being able to breath, smile, laugh and cry. Of being able to satisfy my basic needs, and knowing that I have a support system comprised of people who love me, and who I love, with a force that cannot be broken.
We can so easily get lost in the news – in the thralls of empathy that it provokes – and drift away from the frequent miracles of our immediate environment. It’s a fundamental part of being human to have compassion for the victims of unfair circumstances or unjust actions, and to try to use your influence to relieve some of their suffering. However, it’s deeply unhealthy to live through the lens of another person’s misery, or the misery of many people; it is an outlook sought out by an inclination towards depression, which creates and sustains depression, until the facts of your life feel secondary to the information about the world around you.
In Portugal I lived. I shed my anxiety through the process of discovery and connection, approaching every opportunity with the curiosity and passion of a child.
One day in Lagos, I had this simple revelation, while lying on the beach and watching three young girls playing together by the shoreline. Their parents, grandparents and even older siblings were comparatively sedate, plonking themselves in one spot and remaining there without any apparent interest in doing anything. Meanwhile the girls were digging in the sand, testing the temperature of the water – tentatively employing their feet like thermometers -, skimming stones across the sea, and running: running up and down without rhyme or reason. I felt a sudden pang of sadness, as I recognized so much of myself in the behaviour of the parents, and so little of myself in the free attitude of the children. I could see, with such poignancy, a time when I would lose myself completely to the apathy of adulthood. Greater than the fear of living in poverty, I think, is the thought of living in paradise and continuing to be unjoyful.
This moment, like the climax of a heavily dramatized play, magnified my fears until they had to be confronted. I jumped up, strolled over to a quieter part of the beach and waded into the water. It was freezing, and the sensible, restrained adult voice rose up and told me to leave the water. Instead I dived into the sea, feeling my body shriek against the icy waves, and then swam back to the shore, where I sat up against a great rock face and let the heat wash over me.