Friday 8 February 2008

Why books should carry health warnings

14st 9lb (unfortunately not a misprint); one lousy unit of alcohol; 1,457; Heligoland.

I take just one day off writing and put on two pounds: how fair is that? Clearly moving my fingers across a keyboard consumes vastly more calories than sitting slumped in a chair, turning the pages of a book. Maybe this is the real reason why dieticians recommend that persistent fatties keep a “food diary” of precisely what they have stuffed down their over-active throats. (And I’m not writing that last sentence from personal experience; I’m merely quoting press reports.)

This adds another important element to the established therapeutic value of writing this. There was another cartoon in this week’s Private Eye about the pointless self-absorption of bloggers (so no need to clip it out and post it to me anonymously; I’ve already seen it) but the potential annoyance to others (which can always be avoided by not looking at the thing) must surely be weighed against the good it may be doing to the writer.

Depression seems to be a hereditary condition. My father certainly suffered from it by the time he reached the age I am now, when I would have been seven. (I was an afterthought, if that’s the word I want; it’s certainly one beginning with an “a” and ending with “t”.) Maybe five years later, he was sitting with his head in his hands saying “I wish I was dead” and I piped up “So do I!” He was utterly horrified, and began explaining to me that he was an old man who had known many disappointments (I now know exactly how he felt), but I was just a young lad with my whole life in front of me: how could I possibly wish that I was dead? “Oh”, I replied cheekily, “I don’t wish I was dead; I wish you were.” I don’t think I really meant it, and at least it stopped him moaning for a bit.

Anyway, for some 35 years now I have been subject to periodic bouts of what Churchill called Black Dog, but I haven’t had so much as the hint of one since I started writing this thing. True, there may be suicide victims all over the planet who have been tipped over the edge by reading it, but I’m all right, Jack. Long may the therapy continue. Because, you see, it’s “saving the NHS money”. Can there be any higher moral purpose in the Britain of 2008?

In an attempt to cheer myself up over the whole weight thing, I spent some time this morning going through my wardrobe. Around the turn of the century, I had a number of suits made with a spare pair of trousers, which I told the tailor to make with a waist some two inches smaller than my regular pair, to allow for the huge amount of weight that I was just about to lose. I am happy to report that these finally fit me perfectly. So if you spot a Bloke walking through Newcastle in absolutely pristine, smart, snugly fitting suit trousers, paired with a knackered old jacket that is clearly far too big for him, that will be me.

1 comment:

Ross Eldridge said...

Hi Keith:

Now I do know something about depression, having been treated for it for 36 years (medication and therapy). I suffered from it before then, in my teenage years, but who could tell? ... All teenage years are crap.

My two sisters also suffer from depression, as did my mother. My sisters have "long term depression". I had that diagnosis until about 2003-2004, when I suddenly seemed to be bouncing between extreme highs and lows and my behavior changed considerably. The highs were rather wonderful. The lows, not so. I was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Illness, Bipolar Disorder is the "in" name for it.

I may have had it, rather than "long term depression", most of my adult life, it is just that the cycling has become rapid and, untreated, severe.

It is Manic Depression that, I believe, you are referring to with Churchill's "Black Dog" ... NOT ordinary depression.

We look back, now, on the likes of Virginia Woolf, Van Gogh, William Blake, a number of poets, writers, painters, musicians and ... suddenly ... it seems obvious. They were Manic Depressive. And there are some fascinating studies on the links between creativity and Manic Depressive Illness.

Ah! That we all could create in that manner. At best, I have been "driven" to produce a 2,500 to 3,500 word weekend newspaper column "on anything" ... But (don't let me depress you!) the drive can slow.

Your excellent blog is a pension fund, of sorts. There are things to take out and polish off and publish for many years to come, on the days you didn't feel much like writing something shiny and new for the Journal. It all seems fresh to me.

Medication? I self-medicated. Drugs (many of them quite illegal, many nicked, borrowed and overdosed) ... but never got into drinking. Alcohol is a depressant. So what? I just didn't much like the taste.

Old-fashioned tricyclic anti-depressants kept me somewhat operational. Prozac made me ill. Now, mood stabilizers. Thumbs up on those!

And on small dogs, of course. There is no better talk therapy!