Depression: A Personal View?

Last week was Mental Health Week, and there has been a focus in the Australian media on mental health issues in the entertainment industry. Yesterday, I found a pile of old manuscripts in a filing cabinet in my shed, and discovered among them this essay that I wrote in the early 1980s, when I was working contracts as an editing assistant in film and television. Like most of my writing from that time, it was never published, and I have no memory of writing it. I am therefore grateful to my younger self for leaving me this memoir, and as a gift to her, and interested readers, I present it here in a lightly edited version. As the title indicates, it is a personal rather than a clinical view of what was commonly called ‘depression’. I was in my mid-twenties, belatedly embracing ‘grownup responsibilities’ after leaving university, and losing the close connection with my magical dreaming self.

‘Whatever the physical and psychological causes of premenstrual and other forms of female depression they are obviously related to the stresses and contradictions involved in being a woman in a sexist industrialized society. Such afflictions are to the best of my knowledge, unknown amongst women in non-industrialized societies, societies which while still being organized around a sex division of labour and which often discriminate very harshly against women, nevertheless do not seem to involve them in the kinds of anxieties and uncertainties about their ‘selves’ which are so common in countries like Australia.’ —Anne Summers, Damned Whores and God’s Police

‘Traditionally, depression has been conceived of as the response to loss, either of another, of the ‘ideal’ self, or of ‘meaning’ in one’s life. The hostility that should or could be directed outward in response to loss is turned inward towards the self. ‘Depression’ rather than ‘aggression’ is the female response to disappointment or loss. We may note that most women have lost—or have never really had—their mothers; nor is the maternal object replaced for them by husbands or lovers. Few women ever developed strong socially-approved ‘ideal’ selves. Few women are … encouraged to concern themselves with life’s ‘meaning’. Women are in a continual state of mourning, for what they never had, or had too briefly.’ —Phyllis Chessler, Women and Madness

‘Her wings are clipped and it is found deplorable that she cannot fly.’
—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

The above quotations and the following selection of writings from my notebooks are presented as discussion starters for my topic Depression: A Personal View? and not as statements of general truth. Depression is something that we don’t share much objective knowledge about. Who wants to talk about depression when they’re not depressed? And who, when they were depressed, ever thought that anyone else ever felt the same way? The feeling of depression is a personal one that you have to learn to cope with on your own, but the phenomenon of depression is a common one that may be discussed—and that may help us cope with it.

I asked someone why he thought women got depressed. I wanted to see how his answer compared with the feminist theory of ambivalence, which is basically that our desires and our conditioning pull us in different directions. He said ‘They don’t know what to do with their lives’. While this, as a bald statement, does not apply to all women, it is fairly comparable to the feminist thesis, and it certainly applies to me. I think I know what I want to do with my life, but something prevents me from actually doing it! Similarly, even when I am engaged in some project or working on a job, I have doubts and fears that stop me from putting all my energy into it. Some part of me is always preoccupied and worried about what I am doing, and why, and where it is leading me. I lead a very unstructured life with irregular periods of ‘work’ and I think this also contributes to my uncertain self-image in relation to ‘the world’. But I am not the only one!

‘Don’t you go thinking that women are the only ones who get depressed’, he reminded me.

‘When do you get depressed?’ I asked (conducting my clinical survey on a lone man for comparative purposes).

‘When everything gets a bit much’ was the answer. What more can I say?


July 8, Port Willunga (2 days after my birthday).

I tell myself these depressions and clinging terrible fears are due to the time of the month, and generally they do pass away within a few days.

Or is it the time of my life?
I’m so tense and fearful.
I feel lost in a storm, with no bearings.

When I was younger, I almost revelled
in these depressions; I was convinced
they were for a reason—that clarity would come
through my suffering.

Now I have no such romantic notions;
I just hang on till it passes.
I am no fit company.
I hate myself.
I have to be alone.
I fear to be alone.

August 14, Adelaide.

My mother’s birthday.
My house is quiet.
I wear soft old clothes in bed.
To comfort me.
I listen.
I want to understand what goes on around me.
Hush. Listen.
Listen, can’t you?
I spend too much time with these men.
They argue, protest, challenge.
They turn everything into an argument.
They always want to win.
They make me fight.
I don’t want to fight so much.
They upset my rhythm.
I forget what I am about.
They can’t understand.
They don’t even want to.
They can’t understand wanting to understand.
It’s foreign to them.
They want facts and action.
They launch themselves on the world.
But we are the launching-pads.
We understand.

April 18, Sydney.

Want to
empty out my head.
It’s aching.
Before it was clear;
now it’s all full again.
Stuck on a bus
on the Bridge
in a traffic jam.

I spoke to JD on the telephone.
He sounds trapped.
Burdened with responsibilities.
I thought he was free.
Maybe it was just a dream I had for myself.
To be free.

This job at the film school is like a nightmare.
Everything keeps going wrong.
I keep on winding film & winding film
& never getting anywhere.

My head aches.

June 22nd, Port Willunga.

She wakes up
& always now forgets her dreams.
They seep back
into the pillow
like tears,
wasted emotion—

She goes on as before, wooden,
& the pain stays.

You know you gotta
smash thru something:
it’s as easy as your fist
going thru a cardboard wall
but you can’t do it
won’t do it
afraid to do it—
hate your fear
your fear of emptiness
on the other side.

May 7, Adelaide.

I’m a sad song now,
I sit huddled in one place
Won’t move, can’t move
‘cos I’m hurt and it’s cold
It’s so cold

I hate being chained to this heater.
I wanted to move the furniture,
Dance & paint the walls,
Buy wood for a fire
& fill the rooms with
leaping flame-shadows
& music

But the house is cold
All its paint is peeling
And I’m so numb.

September, Adelaide.

I’m sick
I’m bored
I’m lonely
& I didn’t want that
to ever happen again
but it did
it always does.

I feel like an old me that I thought I’d banished forever,
come back to haunt me. Mock me.
I want—nothing.
It settles on me like a fog
and I have to just wait
until it goes away.

I keep away from people
because it’s no good for them—
they don’t need it.
I hate it
I don’t want it
I suffer it.

They say that depression
is inward-turning anger.
If so, it does a jolly good job.
I don’t feel the slightest bit angry.

But before I said ‘SHIT!”
But before I felt like smashing things.
But what am I angry at?
Angry at myself.
Yes, but I know it isn’t all my fault.
Just the way things are.
The way things are.
Angry at the way things are.

Be patient. Be patient
is the counsel.
Just Keep On Plugging Away.

The answer lies in action.
The answer sits & crawls & runs & weeps
& flies in action.

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