When you’re in it you think you’ll NEVER get out of it. But I’ve had four major year-long depressions in my life and got out of all of them. The last one was 2008–2009. I’ve learned a lot but I would never ever EVER go there voluntarily.
PART 1 … You never really recover from depression.
Or maybe I should say you recover, yes, but you never really forget it. How could you? It’s like being out on ‘day release’ knowing you’re being executed later that evening when everyone else goes home for supper.
It’s like being able to hear the rumble of bombers overhead, knowing they’ve come to destroy everything. And everyone else is queuing for lattes.
You’re electronically tagged, so you can’t run, you’re being monitored so you can’t speak, you’re free but you’re more banged up than the most High Security prisoner at Broadmoor. At least s/he doesn’t have this terror. It’s not a terror of anything in particular, it’s just a terror of taking the next breath knowing it will make things worse.
Imagine being released from such a place, such a way of being, into a world where you feel confident that you’ve not only returned to a neutral ‘idling’ state, which is blissful enough, but you’re sometimes doing the right thing. You look around and see dispassionately that the world is getting better as a result of your actions.
That’s where I live, in a state of grateful vigilance. Healthy diet, conscious action, loving connections.
If you meet someone who’s depressed this Christmas please, please, please don’t ask them, “Is there something that brought this on?” as if by knowing you could fix it together. The situation is way beyond that.
Think of a time your child nearly died in an accident, or you watched a lover walk away forever knowing it was all your fault.
Every breath a depressed person takes is ten times worse than that.
Just be with them, sit alongside them and think to yourself, “You’re safe for the next ten minutes, I’ll stay with you for the next ten minutes. And while we sit here I’m going to think of all the things I’m grateful for in my life.”
This sets up a safety zone. They will get it, I assure you. It will help to stabilise their inner purgatory and stop it spinning quite so fast, which will allow their system to rest.
And one day, maybe years later, you’ll be standing in a queue together and they’ll say, “I might just have a cake with my latte”.
PART 2 … Burning down the house
I said earlier, ‘you never really recover from depression’. I couldn’t have written about it so openly if I thought it was coming back, it would almost have been an invitation. A foolish focus.
My pal Briony commented that self-care, when you’ve experienced depression, is no longer optional. I agree, I don’t plan on being depressed again. Ever.
I’ve said that before though, I was very disciplined and it DID come back. As one of my mentors said, “Sometimes, Tom, life will just insist on having its way with you”.
Many Eastern teachers talk about ‘the dark night of the soul’ and, though I would never wish such an experience on myself, I can see it just MIGHT have been an essential part of my life.
I didn’t recognise them as ‘dark nights of the soul’ of course — I wasn’t worthy of such a poetic description. I was just an idiot who had made a lot of bad decisions and behaved stupidly. Again. Consequently I was getting what I deserved.
But later on, when I found those who gently sat beside me saying, “this too shall pass” were right, I recognised it as a rite of passage. I would hate to think I needed it to do the work I do now, but it HAS helped.
Here’s just one example.
During one depression, in my 40s, I became an insomniac too. Insomnia and depression mixed are incredibly boring — I had so much time! My mind craved distraction from the incessant self-critical voice in my head.
So, not thinking it would work, but just so I had somewhere to go, I took a friend’s advice and signed up to a 5-day personal development seminar in London.
It was my first use of a microphone to tell my story. I heard from the support team later that, in a black comedy sort of way, they had a vote on who was the saddest person in the room and the vote for me was unanimous! So things were pretty bad.
I’d been taking prozac for two weeks, without effect, and it kicked in on the second day.
Consequently I transformed in front of people’s eyes. I slept on the third night, I became more vibrant, and on the 5th day one of the support team pressed a phone number into my hand saying “Given what you’ve been saying on the mic, I’d highly recommend this”. I thought it was going to be a number for The Samaritans, so I could keep up the good work, but it turned out to be the number of a stand-up-comedy course.
It’s true, by the fourth day I’d learned to tell my story in an amusing way and by the fifth day I was ripping the roof off.
I did the three month course, got my five minute act together, and was invited by the advanced group to do some gigs with them around London. They went well, I had a casual, almost ‘not-caring’ style audiences liked.
Then we were invited as a troupe to perform in Whitstable at their monthly Comedy Night at a seaside bar. We arrived in Metropolitan high spirits to find we were competing with the yearly ‘Best In Europe’ firework display. To cut a long story short, while I was dying for the first time on stage, we could ALL hear the sounds of the fireworks lighting up the beach outside, accompanied by the delighted “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” of the crowd.
The thing every comedian is surely amazed by is the first time you die onstage you are allowed to live afterwards. I expected either the earth to open up and swallow me or everyone to shun me at the bar. Neither thing happened, in fact we were invited to a private party where we were celebrated and became the life and soul.
Each time I survive depression I care about what others think of me less and less. Life itself loves me, I accept that now, it took a long time.
All those judgements, those frowns, those disapproving comments… I see them for what they are too. And they’re nothing to do with me.
So I’ve become wild, attuned to nature, sensing every disturbance AND every opportunity for joy and connection. This helps with my stage presence when running events, I can feel it. It’s like there are two of us up there, the sensible one who’s sticking to the programme and the completely disruptive one who is pushing the envelope as far as it will go.
Not everyone survives depression, some get stuck and some kill themselves, just wanting it to end.
I’m one of the lucky ones, there were always people around to give me a sofa to sleep on if I couldn’t bear being at home. And if I was alone in my flat I’d sometimes call a friend and ask if we could watch TV together, in silence on different sides of town, with the occasional laugh if it was a comedy show.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. I grew up with that as a lyric when I was a teenager. It was in Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”.
Metaphorically I burned the whole house down to gain my freedom, rather than re-arranging the furniture, which would have given me freedom on their terms. The one I built in its place had only what I needed, on my terms.
Then I burned that one down. And the next one.
Funnily enough, I’ve been wondering why, in this nation of home-owners, I’m so comfortable with renting. Ha ha ha, now I know.
PART 3 … Eat gravel, drink piss
Nothing triggers my depressions. I just start sliding into the black pit. And, as anyone would, I start clawing at the edges of the soft sticky sides to save myself. That’s what it feels like from the inside. From the outside though you’ll see a man sliding down a marble surface, frantically polishing it as he descends.
Depression is very unfair in that regard. It doesn’t play by the rules.
Actually I can’t speak for anyone else because it’s a bit like saying “I went to London”. Between Shoreditch, Peckham and Chelsea there are undoubtedly different experiences of depression. And the worst may well be in Chelsea.
After the slide I soon find myself at the bottom of a dark well. I can see a small light above me which is my old life. Or rather, it’s a reminder of my old life, because I have no idea of what my old life was like or how I managed to live it so successfully.
The weird thing is I can still hear people inviting me to parties, and suggesting maybe we do a project together in the Spring, but their words have the echo of that dark well. It’s a strange mix of tinniness filtered through dense cotton wool.
And then the people speaking are suddenly standing next to me, looking at me with kind eyes. Why?
I think one thing depressed people probably DO have in common is being completely gobsmacked that it doesn’t show. Sure, you may look a bit anxious or a bit tired but that’s normal. If anything, you now fit in more.
But you guiltily find yourself longing for something simple like a broken arm or broken leg so you can have a good excuse for taking so long to get on the bus. Or get off the bus. Or deciding whether buses are safe to travel on.
Your friends are more than happy to help you if they can, but you believe wholeheartedly that you are wasting their time. After all, you KNOW nothing is going to change your condition, they’ll just be with you till you die and then they’ll have to arrange the funeral. Better to leave you at the Bus Stop and let the local council handle it.
But they insist on looking after you so you get into this kind of ‘pleasing drama’ where you really want to be useful to them too. It’s quite ridiculous because you can’t really do anything properly, but you have to try, and they have to let you. So you become embroiled in this dark farce of muddled decisions, patient kindness and tedious apologies.
The best is yet to come though.
You’ll get all sorts of advice about which healers to go and see. Heartfelt personal recommendations. This generous information will become a millstone around your neck. To please your friends you will go and see them all. They will all be expensive and they will all be useless.
One spiritual healer I was assured would put me right confidently said I could be cured by drinking my own urine. I did this religiously for two weeks before my next appointment.
Surprisingly, to him, my condition was unchanged so he suggested I do the advanced version and purify my gut by eating sand he’d collected himself from a particular beach on the south coast. It was more like a fine gravel which he was convinced would do the job. He gave me a jar of it insisting that I put it under the grill first to disinfect it.
The following scene should really appear in a movie.
It’s 8am and I’m in my eighth floor flat in Bloomsbury, just around the corner from where Virginia Woolf lived. The sky is ‘city grey’ and I’m looking out at the drab windows of the County Hotel opposite, having not had a wink of sleep all night.
I pull something from under the grill and scoop up a generous spoonful. It’s gravel from the beach at the bottom of Beachy Head. I place the warm spoon in my mouth towards the back of my tongue and raise a fresh glass of urine to my lips. “Might as well kill two birds with one stone”, I say to myself calmly.
There are times in your life when you just know things can only get better.
PART 4 … Climbing Everest
One of my agents is advising me to be careful re: my recent openness about depression. In his opinion some clients may not trust me if they think I’m ‘damaged’. This was my immediate response.
“If you were about to climb Everest, and for some people singing in public is about as scary as climbing Everest, would you want to be led by someone who spends their weekends walking the South Downs Way? Or would you prefer a leader who knows every nook and cranny of Everest,who has left more comfort zones than most people have ever dreamed of, and even enjoys challenging himself on the way up now, finding new ways to the summit he knows so well?
“I have great respect for Myers-Briggs and Belbin team building events where delegates tick boxes and remain seated, they’ve earned their place in the world of team development.
“If new clients are troubled get them to do that, and maybe put $1K behind the bar. There is very little risk and everyone will be happy.
“If, however, they’re seriously interested in their bottom line, and want to double their company’s income get them to call me.
“As you know I’ll inspire and energise their people, not in a way that works individuals harder against their will, but in a way that connects them to their purpose, to their heart. So their discretionary effort is released and they feel proud of what they do. They’ll love going to work on Monday because they’ll fall in love with the people they work with.
“I don’t need to remind you that being open about the dark side while promoting the light is my way of filtering our client list. The timid ones can go paint-balling or something, just book me up with the courageous ones, the ones who genuinely want to change.”
To which my agent said, “It’s just that we’ve got a slightly nervous client who has two £15K gigs in Barcelona in February and March 2018 and it’s between you and Vocal Zone, who have printed song sheets, branded T-shirts and everything”.
As you’d expect, my uncompromising response was, “Let me see if Tom can speak to you direct, I think I just heard him come into the building. He’s been in a really good mood lately and I think he’ll jump at this”.
PART 5 … Reaching rock bottom
Is there a pattern to my depression? Something we can get hold of? Yes, it comes around every 10 years. Early 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s…
I’m 63 and it hasn’t turned up yet. I did dream about it last week though. I felt it throughout my body. I was REALLY relieved when I woke up and it wasn’t real. A shot across the bows? Maybe.
I suspect I’m writing about depression now to neutralise it, to head it off at the pass, to expose the gate-crasher at the party and say, “OK, let’s see what you’ve got this time. We’re all watching!”.
To be honest I think it won’t be back though. I’ve done SO much work to stay clear, not ‘stay positive’ in some bonkers “I must keep the balloon in the air at all costs” way, but authentically clear.
Looking back, the only thing that gave me any relief at all from depression when I was IN IT was swimming 30 lengths. Any pool would do, in fact any stretch of water would do, but a pool was better because it’s a more controlled environment and I needed to keep going for the whole of those 30 lengths to experience the relief. Yoga people tell me it’s because of the change in breathing, but I just know it works for about 30 minutes afterwards. Then the anxiety returns to its normal level, though the relief can be extended by standing in a power-shower and being pounded by water while continuing to breathe deeply and rhythmically for a while.
On seeing this, and knowing that traffic noise really exacerbated my nervous state, my wife booked us a holiday on the island of Lamu, off the Kenyan coast. This was during my last bout in 2008.
There are no roads on Lamu, so there are no cars, you walk everywhere and its by the beach.
My first memory is of getting out of the tiny plane and being hit by that “someone’s opened the oven door” heat. I watched our luggage being fought over by young men eager to take us to our Palace hotel. “I can’t stay here, it’s unbearable”, was my only thought as I smiled weakly at my wife saying, “It looks lovely, well done for finding it”.
We had the top room, the honeymoon suite, where the power-shower trickled water like a dog having a pee.
The beach looked good but no-one was swimming because a village up the coast was dumping raw sewage into the sea, so you had to schedule your swims with the incoming tide.
At least it would be peaceful at night, yes? No. The lack of cars meant everything was transported by donkeys and donkeys seem to be very keen on talking to each other between midnight and 7am.
But it was good to be anonymous, away from it all. Except the local youth, amazed by seeing a white man with dreadlocks, followed us around crying. “Yes dread! Positive vibrations! Go Natty!” Given how dark and broken I was feeling you could not have designed a more ironic cosmic joke.
Lamu is a tiny place, populated mainly by locals with a sprinkling of ‘in the know’ Westerners. We were soon spotted by a local millionairess who has a Palace there. She stopped us on the beach one day and insisted we join her for supper. I blurted out, “But you should know I’m depressed”. She replied elegantly, like a 50’s film star, “I should be able to help you then. I’ve got EVERY medication a person will ever need. I’ve been depressed for twenty years darling”.
With a Maasai warrior guarding her palace gate it was like walking into a soft-focus Chanel photo-shoot. Her languid 20s-something children were draped over the silk sofas, chatting softly with an array of girlfriends and boyfriends. The only thing anyone was drinking was champagne, though the boys seemed to have a private stash of single malt which they invited me to share.
Our hostess was fascinated by our work and wished she’d known us when she was head of a corporation, “I was SO bored” she said, and insisted that anytime I wanted to swim I come and use her pool. So it was that I became the sole swimmer in a Lamu palace till the end of our time there, guarded by a Maasai warrior.
We moved a couple of blocks to a wonderful yoga retreat with better plumbing. Here I plumbed the very depths, the lowest I’ve ever been. My wife went into town leaving me safely lying on a daybed and I let my mind do its worst, breathing and falling, breathing and falling into a deeper and deeper hell. There seemed to be no end to it. Then I hit the bottom. It sounds weird but I did. I felt the bump. There was NO further to fall. Except…
A pulse. A rhythm. A memory, or actually something bigger than a memory, an intuition of the groove. I felt something living that was mine, and mine only. It was a murmur of an identity.
A couple of days later I surfaced for about an hour, I was suddenly back to normal. Tentatively I told my wife, “I’m back”… I tip-toed around the place photographing the shadows on the steps, the light green stripes on the dark green leaves, everything was SO beautiful on Lamu I didn’t know where to look next.
It was the beginning of a gradual recovery that took about two months. Sometimes I’d only surface for 5 minutes a day but they were 5 minutes of hope.
Eventually the ‘surfacing’ moments started to join up. Like a dry delta becoming flooded, and then I was permanently back saying, “What the f*** was all that about?”
I should look into it really.
But have you ever had the worst journey home from work, dumped your bag in the hallway, run a bath, poured yourself a glass of wine and thought, “Enough!”.
That’s probably why a lot of people don’t write about depression.
PART 6 … Zombie consumer lemmings
A doctor used a metaphor when describing seratonin to me 25 years ago, “Serotonin is produced naturally in the body, it affects mood, social appetite, sleep and sexual desire. Imagine a serotonin factory. Yours has closed down and the workers have gone home. The factory gates are chained shut.
We need to unchain those gates and get the workers back on the production line. Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, an SSRI, an antidepressant that can do this. In your case I’d recommend it, because you’ll never get that factory up and running on your own.”
I found this argument quite compelling. I took Prozac and it worked. However, ten years later in another depression, it didn’t work at all. The same drug, at the same dose, given the same time to kick in just made me suicidal. So we tried another brand at a higher dose. Suicidal. And another brand at an even higher dose. Suicidal.
So the jury is out with me on SSRIs.
The following set of exercises I would recommend to anybody though. I learned them from a woman called Donna Eden when I went to a workshop of hers in Bristol.
YouTube link > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gffKhttrRw4
I’ll let Donna describe the exercises in the five minute YouTube link above. The most important part, and I believe we should all learn this at school, is ‘the crossover’. According to Donna and Energy Medicine, with our stress the use of mobile phones, we’ve rewired ourselves to run down our energy rather than boost it with physical exercise. Some of you I know will dispute this because you feel great after jogging or going to the gym but Donna has a compelling argument. Take it up with her not with me, I’ve just found the exercises beneficial.
There is, of course, a downside.
When I’m depressed I long, I absolutely long, for an instant cure. Anything that says ‘wait till next week’ or ‘come to my residential workshop in three months time’ has no currency with me at all. Every second is hell so I’m only interested in opportunities to change in the next 10 seconds.
So I had to do these energy exercises just trusting they were going to work. Luckily, having been introduced to Donna by some good friends who I didn’t want to let down, I developed the discipline to slog through them every day with no immediate benefit.
There is though an upside, of sorts.
You can do nearly the whole 5-minute routine, and certainly the crossovers, in a swimming pool without looking too weird. I combined them with doing my 30 lengths I mentioned earlier.
I still do them. In parks. On aeroplanes. On train platforms. Do I care that I look weird?
To me people who DON’T do them look weird. Standing there, passively depleting their energy like a zombie crowd of consumer lemmings. I want to stay well, and I don’t want to slide into that black pit again. The five minute routine is part of my personal insurance policy.
It occurrs to me that I could do a whole day on this, a seminar that would deliver a survival kit for those living with depression AND a separate kit for friends and partners to know what they can do to help.
I’ve avoided putting any energy into it in the past because I really just want to forget about it once I’m out, but maybe it’s part of what I’m here to do. After all, I’m not only a survivor, I’m a success story.
I’ve seen my videos
PART 7 … Weekend f***ing analysts
Imagine this. You’ve invented a new pack of cards. 52 of them, all different, all illustrated with a fine wood-cut design that you’ve been working on for decades. Each card has a behaviour that changes when put together with another ‘character’ in the pack. There are seven suits rather than the standard four. They swirl around each other.
They used to help you play fascinating games with your mates but recently your games have been solo. And dark, always dark. And you can’t get away from them, they turn into nightmares that you can’t wake up from. They’ve become constant … and real.
In normal life the adventures you have with this magical deck are more complex than anyone has ever seen. There’s a grace, a beauty that you feel with all your senses when you interact with other players. The card families fascinate children and the longer games have the potential to transform troubled communities.
But now all the characters you’ve invented, that you lovingly brought to life in your artist’s studio, are conspiring against you. You try to question them, to genuinely find out what changed, what you did wrong. They look away and murmur to each other in corners. Occasionally you hear raucous laughter, a lost camaraderie you long for, and one or two of them look over in your direction.
Then they look away and huddle closer, drawing their cloaks around them. The laughter is more conspiratorial now. The aroma of the mead they’re drinking reminds you of the parties of your youth.
An onlooker says, “Oh, I get it. Cards. A bit like rolling dice. You’re always after double six, right? I blow on them for luck. You should try it, it always works for me.”
This is what it sounds like when well-meaning people try to analyse your depression. They just don’t have the tools, or the vision.
They have absolutely no idea what a fine weave, what subtlety, is going on. That’s part of the problem. The depressed person ‘feels’ the world. They feel the pain of the world acutely. They feel the madness of the National Rifle Association having influence on politicians while another school massacre goes down on TV. They feel powerless seeing the folly of world affairs. The ineptitude of the United Nations. The disgrace of inequality. They see men continuing to be in power when women obviously have the answers.
Someone comes along and says, “I get a bit down on Mondays too, but cheer up we’ve got an away-day on Wednesday” and thinks they are helping.
I’ve even had doctors, GPs, say things like this to me.
Please don’t analyse your depressed friends. You’re trying to help but you’re probably making them feel worse. Don’t let your friends question them either, protect them from weekend analysts, especially the, “Why do you think you invited this into your life?” types. They are lethal. Tell them to f*** the f*** off, seriously.
Your depressed friends are feeling the pain of the world for everyone who either is too busy or too scared to feel it themselves. It’s a privilege for others to sit with them in silence.
PART 8 … Chrimbo vs Limbo
People talk about time as if it’s linear but depressed people know better. It’s the 12 days of Christmas (Chrimbo) versus ALL the days of Depression (Limbo). Over in this corner…the build-up, the shopping, the wrapping, the Christmas dinner and the exchange of presents, the checking if you kept the receipt, the hangover, the New Year’s Eve Party, the fireworks, the overweight Resolutions. And in the other corner… dread and bewilderment at the wasteful meaninglessness of it all. Watching people troop around bashing their credit cards buying acres of tat. Dutifully digging gin-soaked graves of debt.
Chrimbo: It’s been quite a good year really, I haven’t done as much as I’d like but I’m looking forward to the New Year.
Limbo: Everything’s been sort of on hold for me for a while.
Chrimbo: My agent says I shouldn’t wait, I should just crowd fund it myself, after all I have so many supportive friends.
Limbo: I’ve got a few ideas but I haven’t done anything for a while. It all seems so complicated these days.
Chrimbo: I know this great island where you can get away from it all and just create. They have guesthouses specially set up for artists like you so everything’s on tap.
Limbo: I’m not really earning at the moment. I’ve been trying to sell a few things online. People can get so angry if it’s not exactly what they were expecting.
Chrimbo: Next year is going to be MY year I think. I can feel it. Yeah, bring it on. Let’s drink to MY year!
To the depressed person there is no “MY year” no past, no future, just a longing to feel OK now. That would be bliss. But instead they have the everlasting horrific present and it’s where s/he lives all the time. No need to do a workshop about it, s/he lives in a state of permanent joyless enlightenment, feeling everything, sensing everything, doing nothing.
It’s preferable to do nothing, there’s a stability there, but also it’s unbearable to do nothing. I’ve had whole hours where I’ve thought, “I’ll lie down and relax” but it’s been so excruciating lying down because my critical mind seems to get a better hold of me there, so I’ve stood up immediately. Here I am standing up, thinking, “God, I’m so deperately tired, I must lie down”. Only to shoot straight back up again.
Duracell could make a toy of me to test the longevity of their batteries. Up, down, up, down — I’m sure I’d beat their Duracell drumming bunny. It would make a great YouTube ad too.
With this knowledge of the elasticity of time the whole past life thing, even if you’re a Marxist, makes complete sense. Because everything is going on all the time at the same time. OF COURSE there are past lives — it’s no big deal. This is a universal experience of all drug users, soft or hard. One-time or regular.
That’s the main reason drugs are illegal, the economy would collapse. You can’t sell methodically to consumers who know this. All their aspirations are about a linear experience of this ONE lifetime lived inside a government-prescribed matchbox.
The point is, you know when someone says, “Cheer up, it’s Jackie’s wedding, it’s a happy day” and you think, “But actually, I don’t really feel like cheering up”. A depressed person is feeling an exponential version of that all the time and it gets magnified to the max at Christmas. I don’t think there could be a worse time of year than Christmas to be depressed.
It’s dark, you’re probably financially challenged, you see a crazy consumerism going on when you’re acutely aware of global social injustice, you’re expected to ‘make an effort’ so you let people put paper hats on you and you dutifully stammer out Christmas cracker jokes.
And while the champagne corks pop you’re spinning in the inner ring of purgatory, in a black pit of sticky tinsel. And no, we’re not leaving yet, we only just got here.
PART 9 … The £14,000 past life cure
When you’re depressed and looking for answers you’ll begin to hear a lot about ‘past lives’. And you may well listen. Why?
Because, rather than grey NHS solutions they’ll concentrate on your unique story, and it’s often a gratifyingly colourful one.
Be careful though, past life therapists are obviously tuned into something special, but in my experience many of them aren’t very bright. What do I mean by that?
They might tell you a complex story how you were a trader who travelled a lot by sea, deserted his family, and are now making up for it by feeling the depression they felt. Fair enough, it’s an afternoon out and better than being at home staring at the wall.
The problems occur when they say one of your past life children is now your wife in this life, and she needs to come in to have her karma cleared in order for your karma to be cleared. Your wife may well come in for one session but don’t expect her to sign up for the six week package that’s recommended.
You might be chuckling at this stage, or reading with your mouth agape that someone who appears to be intelligent would fall for this. But I can assure you I have fallen for it and I was convinced it would help.
It caused a nervous division between myself and my wife.
The case that follows is the worst.
I’m undecided whether I should “out” this organisation as they are still practising and charging people a lot of money.
Based in Belgravia with very beautiful offices, stylish changing rooms, and beautiful chanting areas you could not help feeling nurtured in the place they’ve built for themselves. Or, rather, the place their volunteers have built lovingly for them for nothing.
Most past life therapists will tell you we live many lives, often travelling with the same people in different relationships, and each time building up some sort of karma that needs to be resolved in the next life.
The mathematics of it I find mind-boggling. It’s bad enough sorting out the tensions between a bunch of friends who basically love each other in this life without having to multiply that by hundreds and somehow sort it all out while you’re depressed and sent into a spin at the thought of filling out a self-assessment tax return.
However, this particular organisation said, as I was a complex case, I’d be well advised to chant with them for five weeks and it would cost me £7000. They made a compelling case for doing it because they assured me there was no other way I could possibly be healed. I was ‘lucky to have found them’. Fair enough, I could take it or leave it, it’s a commercial offer in a consumer society.
The difficult part came when they ‘had a second look’ and assured me it was no use doing any of this work personally unless my wife did it too, because, having travelled in many lives together we were inter-weaved, so it would cost £14,000 and five weeks of her life too.
I was desperate enough to pay the seven grand and do a personal semi-fix but my wife spoke with them alone and came back saying I wasn’t going to do it. This created a huge turmoil in my mind.
While I recognised she was trying to protect me I also knew she wanted to visit her family in Australia later in the year. I remember thinking, “She wants me to spend my money on a banal family holiday instead of healing my depression forever”.
Consequently, the one person, the ONE person I could rely on was now against me.
At this time I did have a sense of why cults are so successful, I considered the option of leaving my wife, being healed by them, and going to live at the Centre as a volunteer healing others.
I can’t express the depth of despair I felt. I obviously got through it because my wife and I are very close now but I just cannot remember the process.
Other than surrender.
Maybe that’s what the ‘dark night of the soul’ is all about. I’ve never really thought about it like this.
During that time you’re not allowed to hold on to anything, and that ONE secret thing you have concealed in your robes while meditating serenely at 5am and pretending to hold on to nothing, is the one thing that Dark Knight is coming for.
“Two riders were approaching, and the wind begins to howl”
Jimi Hendrix via Bob Dylan
All Along The Watchtower
PART 10 … Ending it
Depression is an appropriate response to our ignorant and brutal politics.
Suicide is an appropriate response to that feeling of depression.
Depressed citizens are the acceptable collateral damage of economies based on massive profits for a few rather than measured care for all.
Suicide, then, is an everyday option for wise, sensitive people.
Consequently, please don’t say things like, “Oh, don’t be morbid”, or “Don’t talk like that” if suicide comes up. They are responding to triggers most of us have become numb to.
Imagine someone is sawing your leg off at the knee with a blunt saw while someone else is smashing you in the balls with a hammer, and you know they are NEVER going to stop. It would be comforting to know you could end it wouldn’t it?
Most depressed people have planned how to do it. It will help for you to know about it. If you don’t want to ask them, at least listen calmly if they mention it.
A couple of years ago I wrote this ‘spoken word’ piece www.vimeo.com/188577958 about that very thing. Some friends decided to take me for a walk in the country. I went… but privately I got into a mental panic because all my instant suicide routes (taking pills, jumping from tall buildings, stabbing myself through the heart by positioning myself carefully and lowering myself onto an upright kitchen knife, letting my body weight provide the final thrust) were taken away.
I kid you not, I was hoping the place we went to had a village pond so I could slip away and drown myself if necessary.
It didn’t. I survived to tell the tale…
PART 11 … The show must go on
Depressed musicians can still perform. Depressed facilitators can still facilitate. I did one of my best gigs in the depths of depression. I needed other people to get me there, unload the equipment, get a soundman to fix me up with a headset mic and push me onstage. Then…
Here I am looking into the faces of a hundred bankers in the City of London. “Let’s go”, I hear a voice say. It’s my voice. They drum, they sing, they laugh and they dance their socks off. They raise the roof good an’ proper and I’m hailed as the hero of the hour.
“We’ve pencilled an American facilitator to run the session in New York but we want them to experience THIS. Would you be prepared to do it? If you’re available we’ll fly you over business class in a couple of weeks”.
NO! I can’t possibly travel on my own and the logistics would be a nightmare. No way.
“Sure, I’d love to. They need to have the same experience, I get it. Different teams working to the same pulse, the same groove…” I hear a voice say. It’s my voice.
The adrenaline wears off as we drive out of the car park. How the f*** am I going to get to New York on my own? My wife has to come with me to the corner shop, and that’s on a good day.
“Hi, this is Tom. I just want to enquire about the hotel. You know I said I need a pool? Yeah, I know the Midtown Hilton has a pool but I’ve been looking it up online and the spa is being upgraded so the pool will be unavailable during my visit. Can you move me to a hotel with a WORKING pool please?
Yes, I got the flight details thanks.”
My voice again. I lay down for about an hour afterwards devising ways to get out of it.
But I don’t get out of it. I hire the drums, I swim my calming 30 lengths before the gig, the delegates turn up, we raise a New York roof and 50 bankers are crazily fired up. Two of them insist I go clubbing with them and we charge around Manhattan till the early hours.
The next day my cab driver to JFK, a lovely guy, tells me how much money he’s saved during 30 years of driving and how he’s about to move into a BIG house in the suburbs, where his grandkids can come and stay. He’s so happy.
I feel my confidence draining away. I wish, I wish, I wish I’d driven a cab for 30 years and had some sort of plan. I’ve hopped from one burning platform to another, half-finished albums, abandoned shows. As Manhattan gets smaller and smaller behind us I just know I’ll die broke and alone in the gutter. And I’ll deserve it, I’m convinced.
I give this cabbie ALL my American money as a tip. It’s a lot but I just love him. Rather than embrace me as a brother he quickly jumps into his cab and shoots off before I can change my mind.
“I had this real nut job in the cab today, he gave me over a hundred bucks tip. What an idiot!” That’s my voice again, but this time it’s my inner dialogue as I go through security, imagining what he’ll be saying later as takes his shoes off and his wife opens him a heroic, well-earned beer.
PART 12 … “This will cheer us all up”
Imagine you’re knee deep in an oil slick on a sandy coastline you once loved. You’ve pulled a flapping bird out of the water but you have no way of cleaning it so you drop it back in. It jerks and squawks and spatters you with oil, which gets in your eyes and on your lips.
From a distance you hear the chimes of an ice cream van, it’s playing a familiar tune. The driver is creaking slowly along the boardwalk towards you and he drives it carefully onto a wooden jetty just yards away. You’re all alone but voices in the air from your friends and family are saying, “This will cheer us all up a bit”.
The wooden struts at the front of the jetty begin to creak and fracture creating a lop-sided ramp into the water. The ice cream van slowly slips down it into the sticky blackness. No cries, no objections, just a lurching inevitability.
The pink roof is still visible as a few chimes escape from the jingle machine inside: a reminder of the tune that was playing moments ago, though it seems like years have passed.
Your boots are full of oil as you turn around, looking for hope on the distant horizon, scanning that perfect line for some relief. A distant ship maybe, or a glimmer of light bouncing off a sacred patch of water that’s still wild and free.
But all you see is blackness stretching to the horizon and beyond. And look, there must be a hundred rusting vehicles poking out of the slick at different angles. Similarly hopeless, each reminding you of a time when your family and friends said, “Ah, here we are, this will cheer us all up a bit.”
This was my experience of depression. I don’t blame my friends at all for thinking that outside events might change my inner state. That’s what their experience of life was, why shouldn’t it be mine? And who wouldn’t be excited at the sound of the ice cream van? A reminder of care-free summer days.
From inside depression outside events often made it worse though, especially if I was expected to respond favourably in some way. I can’t emphasise enough the refined intelligence of depression. It’s like having all the James Bond masterminds, the clever evil-doers, in league against you. Any intervention the normal world tries to make will be laughed at and swatted away like a child’s toy.
There is no escape from this coastline. The birds will continue to flap. The suction of the blackness will get stronger. The days and nights will come and go forever.
PART 13 … No turning back now
Peppermint tea for indigestion, doc leaves for stinging nettles, iboga for mental health. This ‘plant medicine’ gives you tailor-made visions that will heal everything. Depression will take you on quite a journey if you let it.
I thought I’d dealt with all that stuff about my Mum and Dad but looking in the rear view mirror they’re still there. “Turn the corner”, I hear a voice say. It’s an African woman’s voice and this isn’t a suggestion it’s an order. That’s Iboga Mama’s style.
Any manners, any sense of etiquette you brought to this session is of no use to you now. You’ll spend the next two days lying on a mattress, hardly sleeping, throwing up and being tended to by helpers, all initiates. And you’ll have the time of your life.
I hang a left and sure enough my Mum and Dad and my whole family history is gone. I look in the rear view mirror again and all I see is green.
I’m driving down a sunny country lane, it’s fresh. I cross a rumbling wooden bridge which leads me in to courtyard, a beautiful place built of sandy coloured stone. I step out the car and approach a doorway which has one golden step. It’s the first step, the beginning of a spiral stone staircase which I begin to climb. It’s narrow like the ascent to a bell tower in a church. After climbing for some time I start to feel hemmed in. Having taken a fair amount of LSD in my time I’ve learned that my hallucinations can be ‘directed’ so I decide to invent myself a door out on to a sunny roof terrace.
“Pay attention and don’t underestimate me!” booms an African voice. “And don’t think that in any way you are in charge of this vision” she says with a chuckle, then goes quiet.
Suitably chastised I continue to climb, getting faster and faster till I have a sense this is not a staircase at all. It’s morphing into something else and something other than my feet and lungs are providing the acceleration. I’m like a twisting rocket now, pushing my way through dark earth. I can smell its richness and soft roots are caressing my arms. I’ve become a seed, deep underground and I’m charging towards the surface, eager to see the light.
I break the Earth’s crust and I keep going up and up, like in a dream. I’m flying above a rich, wooded mountainside now, surrounded by huge green redwood trees, up and up until I stop as if someone put the brakes on and suddenly I’m ‘home’, swaying in the breeze.
I look around, above and below. I myself am a Canadian redwood tree. I can see for miles up here. The air is clean and I have a soft tingling sense of being alive through my whole system roots an’ all. I can’t move anywhere and yet I can move everywhere. It soon becomes clear, I’m spirit and this is my home base. Mama Iboga informs me that this episode of the vision is now complete. There’s almost a ‘well done’ in her tone, but not quite.
I remember describing this to one of the initiates later and he interpreted it for me. Somewhere I have a note of what he said and if I ever collate these thoughts on depression into a book l’ll find that note and add it to the story.
Suffice to say that now I still experience myself as spirit and that tree on that Canadian mountain is still my base. Yes, I pay rent on a house in Isleworth and I buy my shirts at TKMaxx up the road where I once got a ticket for parking at an angle across two designated parking spaces. My enlightenment doesn’t protect me from the follies of the world, though given that I can earn £5000 an hour it took me 20 seconds to earn the money to pay that stupid fine.
There is no going back, there can be no going back, nor do I have any desire to go back. In my mind I’m parking across every f***king line that every f***ing fool has painted on our beautiful planet.
It’s the only job I’m qualified to do now, and I will do it to the max till the day I die.
PART 14 … The Lover’s Tale
You don’t get a medal for looking after a depressed person. It would seem disloyal to talk about, especially if they are a spouse or a family member. You keep it a secret.
So it’s not like looking after an old person in a wheelchair where you might have trouble getting through a restaurant door and people rush to help you. Your lover looks exactly the same as when they weren’t depressed. In my case I actually looked better than I did before because I swam at least thirty lengths a day. It’s the only time I’ve ever developed a six pack, I looked great.
And I’d hear people on the towpath passing our beautifully lit riverside apartment in Fulham, decorated with drapes from India and Sri Lanka, saying, “I’d love to live there. Such lucky people, it must be one of the best views in London too”.
To me it was a prison and every exotic ornament was a taunting memory of happy foreign adventures that would never come again. Our business was broken, ruined, and I was taking my wife down with me. Not that I wanted to, but I could see the stress taking its toll on her too. I begged her to leave me sometimes, to save herself.
She stayed and ran our business solo, shielding me from any event cancellations or client disputes about fees. We actually had more money in our accounts than many other times but I was convinced we were on the edge of bankruptcy. I would try to persuade how bad things were every morning and she would have to listen to my carefully calculated litany of doom for hours.
I mean really, the lovers of depressives are complete heroes. From running a successful team building business, based in one of the vibiest cities in the world, I remember my wife saying one evening, “If you really think this maybe we should give notice here and move to my flat in Devon. I’ll explain to the tenant I need it to look after my husband and I’ll become your professional carer. We’ll make it work somehow, everything will be alright”.
Another time, when we’d been on a dazzling morning march along the towpath and my litany of doom had been particularly relentless she said wistfully, “I wonder if we’ll ever laugh again. I don’t think we’ve laughed together for a year.”
We DID try to watch a vintage St Trinian’s movie one night but when it got to having to re-mortgage the school because of debts I nearly had a panic attack. I’m not kidding, I could hardly watch or listen to any media at all. I managed to make everything bad news.
Here’s a ray of hope though. Phew!
In Lamu we read a book together called ‘The Ode Less Travelled, Unlocking The Poet Within’ by Stephen Fry. Why this worked I cannot tell you. Maybe it’s because we honoured his written rule at the front that we were forbidden from reading chapter two until we’d completed the exercises set at the end of chapter one. The same for chapters three and four. Consequently we read, wrote, and recited to each other some great hand crafted poems in iambic pentameter and other meters we learned about on that Equatorial holiday.
In his song ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ Bob Dylan sings,
“You say you’re looking for someone who’s never weak but always strong,
To defend you and protect you whether you are right or wrong”.
I’m sorry to say that, for as long as it takes, that becomes the lover’s job description, a human shield and 24 hour embodiment of unconditional love, their own darker feelings and moods subsumed or hidden.
The loyalty required from the ‘carer’ is so complex, and every interaction has to be so carefully worded so as not to sound critical in any way, I can only say that medals really SHOULD be awarded. Lots of them.
The bond between my wife and myself became so strong in that time, eight years ago now, that I would happily go to the ends of the earth to defend her and protect her now, whether I thought she was right OR wrong. I’ve noticed that whenever I think she’s being dishonoured in any way, especially by people who should know better, I become the man Bob Dylan wasn’t prepared to be.
After travelling through that dark night of the soul together, side by side, I can say without a shadow of a doubt when it comes to loyalty, “It IS Me Babe”.
PART 15 … RECORD, REWIND, REMIX, RELEASE
Depression. Here’s a hint at some ways out that I found useful.
You have to be with it on all fronts. Notice I don’t say ‘attack it’ or ‘confront it’ or ‘treat it’. Be with it.
Respect it. Walk with it and you’ll end up walking with god. I don’t mean a religious version of ‘God’. I’m using god as a verb here, not a noun. Depression, walking with spirit, has been my biggest teacher. You could say it was the only teacher worth listening to because it was the only teacher that brought me to my knees. I didn’t go willingly. Nobody would.
But to move forward in my life maybe I needed to be stripped of everything till I wasn’t even sure about how to tie my own shoelaces. I needed to recognise the fatigue and the desperation behind my lover’s smile until I saw I had to take some sort of radical action to save HER even if I’d given up on my own unholy, broken, useless f***ing life.
I needed to get so bored with the twenty four hour terror that was trashing my nervous system that I signed up for evening classes doing ANYTHING to relieve the tedium. I needed to become the problem student, the one who dropped things and didn’t seem to have any natural feel for the subject.
I signed up for an anatomy and physiology course where I was given a colouring book to help me learn the parts of the body. I’d spent four years at art school with a government grant and I couldn’t even colour between the lines. This is how low I had to go.
I’d been a successful musician, made records, done interviews, been praised for my political views and my rebel style. I ended up in a basement classroom being taught to sing from scratch with a nervous City Literary Institute vocal teacher. At one point she asked me to drop out while she got the song going ‘properly’ with the rest of the group.
I’m not a Christian in any way but I like this thing Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven”.
Metaphorically you’ve got to ditch your riches. Why?
The big city gates of Jerusalem were closed at night for safety. Merchants who arrived with their camels laden with goods would have to come through the smaller ‘night gate’. They’d be ordered to take everything off the camel’s back because the city only allowed one person or animal entry at a time. A bit like going through security at a modern airport.
You couldn’t ride through in splendour, this gate was actually shaped like the eye of a needle. If the camel got down on its knees the merchant could lead it through slowly on foot, then go back and get his goods himself.
The significant thing about this story is the camel has to be stripped of everything and get on its knees to enter the city. The rich man had to bow his head and walk through with nothing.
Looking at the work I do now and the work I want to do in the future, I would have to say I needed to get down on my knees first to do it. I wouldn’t have done that willingly.
I would never have knelt in the music business. It doesn’t allow it. Very few professions would encourage it either, because your value is in your complexity, your glorified difference, your elevation above others both in expertise and style. That’s what you get paid for, being centre stage and standing tall.
To go anywhere new I had to hit rock bottom and recognise I’d hit rock bottom. I’ve since concluded it’s actually a good thing to do it physically, to get down on my knees. The important thing is that life, and my subconscious, knows I’ve arrived at that final desperate ‘surrender’ point.
I found the writings of Raymond Carver particularly comforting during one episode because they were so dark and so grim. I felt a sense of being understood by him when others had no idea of the territory. The desperate suburban situations he described made me feel less alone. I found ONE book on depression to be helpful and that was Dorothy Rowe’s ‘Depression: The Way Out Of Your Prison’.
Later on I discovered Donna Eden’s five-minute Energy Medicine routine. I mentioned it before and it’s online here and essential to my daily life now.
I tried various versions of cognitive behavioural therapy then designed my own. When I react to something and feel my energy drop I now…
RECORD the song I start singing in my head.
REWIND it and listen back.
REMIX the track, filtering out the lies and boosting the truth.
RELEASE the new version of the song to my whole system so I can start dancing with life again.
Once I began to surface from depression via relentless physical activity, even if was just travelling every day to see crazier and crazier healers, I found this to be an extremely useful exercise. Here’s an example.
RECORD, REWIND, REMIX, RELEASE
This is a demo from 18 YEARS AGO — January 2000.
I’m walking down the High Street, it’s a sunny day, I’m feeling fragile but somehow still grateful to be alive. I’m responding, responding and responding to life but then I react. How do I know? My mood changes, the tentative spring in my step disappears, I’m not enjoying the day any more. It stinks, I start thinking that spring in my step was just false hope. Life always stinks.
What did I react to? Why did my mood suddenly change? Let’s look around. It’s a normal High Street, generic shops…
I just walked passed a harmless looking newsagent’s shop and I glanced at… the magazine covers. That triggered the reaction. I now need to RECORD, by writing down, the words of the song that started playing in my head. Here goes…
Part 1 — RECORD.
“I used to be on front covers like that, I never will be again.
I used to be someone people liked.
That time has gone now and I blew it.
All my old mates are rich and successful.
I can’t even tie my own shoelaces.
If I’d been smarter I’d still be there on those covers.
I’ve blown every chance that’s ever come my way.
Others would have made the most of it.
Even if something new was to come along I’d fuck it up somehow.
That’s what I’m like with everything.
People don’t want to know me any more.
They turn away in embarrassment when I walk into a room.
The world would be better off without losers like me messing it up for everyone else.
I’ve become one of those depressed whingers I hate.
I’ll die broke and alone.
I’ll die in the gutter.”
Part 2 — REWIND
I go back to the beginning and look at what I wrote.
Part 3 — REMIX
In order to REMIX this song, I’ve got to filter out what to KEEP, what to DITCH, and what to PARK. So I’m going to go through each line, like any songwriter, and re-write it, looking for the essence.
I’ll mark it as I go.
“I used to be on front covers like that, I never will be again”.
Remix: I ended up on those covers by pure chance — I didn’t aspire to it, I was going to be an artist, not a musician.
I did it while I was young, which is the best time. I’m glad I did, I was lucky to have met Green who had a plan. Who knows what will happen or who I’ll meet in the future? Not me.
“I used to be someone people liked”.
Remix: And people still like me. I’m not famous like I used to be but I have a bunch of loyal close friends who love me. That’s undeniable, and that’s what I’ve always wanted most.
“That time has gone now and I blew it”.
Remix: The time has passed yes, but I didn’t really blow it. I did what at least 95% of young people who are elevated to fame too early do and believed the hype. I stopped paying attention to the quality of my work and partied too hard instead. It was a choice. I hate to admit it but I was ‘normal’ in my approach to fame.
“All my old mates are rich and successful”.
Remix: A small percentage of my old mates are rich and successful, some are dead from excess, most are re-adjusting to the normal commercial world like me and learning we may be unique but we’re not ‘special’. We’re not blessed, it’s time to look after ourselves like everyone else.
“I can’t even tie my own shoelaces”.
Remix: My co-ordination DID go for a while but gradually it’s coming back. I’m making progress and I seem to be developing a commitment to doing something new to help myself every day.
“If I’d been smarter I’d still be there on those covers”.
Remix: I miss being famous yes, but only a tiny percentage of people get on ONE cover in their lifetime. Staying there is hard work and I wasn’t ready for it. I’d have had to be a different person, and I wasn’t.
“I’ve blown every chance that’s ever come my way”.
Remix: The fact I was there at all shows I’m good at maximising chances. All successful people rise and fall, rise and fall. All the interesting ones do anyway.
“Others would have made the most of it”.
Remix: I made the most of it. Really. Because of Scritti Politti’s D.I.Y. approach I learned about record production, artwork design and packaging, distribution, recording, how to stand my ground in an interview and how to deliver what I wanted to say in a way that provided the content they wanted. I REALLY made the most of it, skills-wise it set me up for the rest of my life.
“Even if something new was to come along I’d f*** it up somehow”.
Remix: I’ve made the most of every opportunity that’s ever come my way. I’m known for it.
“That’s what I’m like with everything”.
Remix: That’s just nonsense. People invite me to get involved with their projects because they know I’ll go for it 100%. I can’t stop myself.
People don’t want to know me any more.
Remix: I have a good heart and I’m committed, because of my childhood experiences, to being authentic. I’m hard-wired that way. My values include Honesty, Justice and Imagination. People generally like me if they get to know me, and often pick up a vibe they like within a few minutes of us meeting. I’m glad some people don’t like me, for real.
“They turn away in embarrassment when I walk into a room”.
Remix: This is nonsense. I’m generally welcomed warmly, even when I DON’T have a drum under my arm.
“The world would be better off without losers like me messing it up for everyone else”.
Remix: I’m not messing it up, I’m committed to healing it wherever and whenever I can.
“I’ve become one of those depressed whingers I hate”.
Remix: I became someone who needed help for a while. However, as my wife said, I was easy to look after because I never gave up, even in the very depths I had the determination of a crocus impossibly trying to break through the tarmac to reach the light.
“I’ll die broke and alone.
In the gutter.”
Remix: Because it’s in the future I don’t know how I’m going to die. But I imagine I’ll die in a loving community somewhere, maybe abroad, and I’ll have spoken with a number of trusted facilitator friends beforehand to ensure my funeral is a celebratory affair with much singing, drumming and dancing.
Lovers will get together at my funeral.
Part 4 — RELEASE
With the release of this remixed, and somewhat more ‘upbeat’ song, I need to give the press a quote regarding my plans for the future, supplying them with easy content to publish worldwide, so the song becomes real by being out there.
In this instance I’m going to say…
“I’ve been diving deep recently and though I’ve been through some hard times I’m using all those experiences as a firm foundation for creating something new. When I was younger I used to occasionally see these eccentric older guys at parties, still in the groove, showing me that you don’t HAVE to give it all up when society tells you to. They inspired me with their Mad Hatter looks and their “I’ve been to hell and back and I’m still dancing” vibes.
I’m looking forward to being one of those older guys. A proper Elder. Hopefully you’ll hear in this latest release a groove that’s been designed to span the generations, honouring ALL of our journeys”.
So look, this is just a postage stamp on the parcel of DEPRESSION. The beginning of a conversation. There’s a van full of different shaped packages outside. Some rattle when you pick them up and shake them, some need two people to even move them.
I’ll be offloading and unwrapping some more in 2018.