Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words 'for ever.' But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don't like doing it.
The last time I’d been unwell, suicidally depressed, whatever you want to call it, the reactions of my friends and family had fallen into several different camps:The Let’s Laugh It Off merchants: Claire was the leading light. They hoped that joking about my state of mind would reduce it to a manageable size. Most likely to say, ‘Feeling any mad urges to fling yourself into the sea?’The Depression Deniers: they were the ones who took the position that since there was no such thing as depression, nothing could be wrong with me. Once upon a time I’d have belonged in that category myself. A subset of the Deniers was The Tough Love people. Most likely to say, ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’The It’s All About Me bunch: they were the ones who wailed that I couldn’t kill myself because they’d miss me so much. More often than not, I’d end up comforting them. My sister Anna and her boyfriend, Angelo, flew three thousand miles from New York just so I could dry their tears. Most likely to say, ‘Have you any idea how many people love you?’The Runaways: lots and lots of people just stopped ringing me. Most of them I didn’t care about, but one or two were important to me. Their absence was down to fear; they were terrified that whatever I had, it was catching. Most likely to say, ‘I feel so helpless … God, is that the time?’ Bronagh – though it hurt me too much at the time to really acknowledge it – was the number one offender.The Woo-Woo crew: i.e. those purveying alternative cures. And actually there were hundreds of them – urging me to do reiki, yoga, homeopathy, bible study, sufi dance, cold showers, meditation, EFT, hypnotherapy, hydrotherapy, silent retreats, sweat lodges, felting, fasting, angel channelling or eating only blue food. Everyone had a story about something that had cured their auntie/boss/boyfriend/next-door neighbour. But my sister Rachel was the worst – she had me plagued. Not a day passed that she didn’t send me a link to some swizzer. Followed by a phone call ten minutes later to make sure I’d made an appointment. (And I was so desperate that I even gave plenty of them a go.) Most likely to say, ‘This man’s a miracle worker.’ Followed by: ‘That’s why he’s so expensive. Miracles don’t come cheap.’There was often cross-pollination between the different groupings. Sometimes the Let’s Laugh It Off merchants teamed up with the Tough Love people to tell me that recovering from depression is ‘simply mind over matter’. You just decide you’re better. (The way you would if you had emphysema.)Or an All About Me would ring a member of the Woo-Woo crew and sob and sob about how selfish I was being and the Woo-Woo crew person would agree because I had refused to cough up two grand for a sweat lodge in Wicklow.Or one of the Runaways would tiptoe back for a sneaky look at me, then commandeer a Denier into launching a two-pronged attack, telling me how well I seemed. And actually that was the worst thing anyone could have done to me, because you can only sound like a self-pitying malingerer if you protest, ‘But I don’t feel well. I feel wretched beyond description.’Not one person who loved me understood how I’d felt. They hadn’t a clue and I didn’t blame them, because, until it had happened to me, I hadn’t a clue either.
I should have learned mindfulness, and it’s too late now because it’s no good learning it when you’re already in crisis: you have to start when things are good. But only the very, very oddest would think, Hey, my life is perfect. I know! I’ll sit and waste twenty minutes Observing My Thoughts without Judgement.