Once there was a girl. She was a lonely only, long on imagination but short of friends. She lived in between the pages of books, finding company in tales of talking toads, moles, Snowy Queens and elves and Hobbits, reading and drawing and waiting till she was fully-grown.
Unfortunately, before this could happen, after years of lesser skirmishes and fallings out, her mother and father had an enormous battle and decided to live in separate houses. There passed several miserable years ; the girl missed her father, ( she only saw him on Saturday nights) her mother appeared to be desperately unhappy and her father seemed oddly distracted. This proved to be due to his having created a whole new family, complete with newborn baby which would make any recently-separated father feel a bit preoccupied. The girl discovered the existence of this new family by accident, but didn’t feel she could tell her mother without making her even more miserable. And she certainly couldn’t tell her father either because he’d’ve been furious that she’d found out. Time passed in a kind of grey fog until the girl hit puberty. At which point, she decided that she might be better able to take care of herself and she left home to do so.
The girl moved into a hovel with a much Older Man, and her life began to rapidly unravel. The Older Man vanished for a while, leaving the girl at the mercy of several predatory younger men. They predated. The girl didn’t know how to defend herself. She didn’t know how to claim benefits and lived off a sack of out-of-date muesli made semi-palatable with tapwater for a period of six weeks until someone explained that such austerity wasn’t necessary or advisable. One morning, she woke up with several police officers breaking down her door. They turned over her room in a hunt for illicit substances. Since housework wasn’t high on her agenda, the girl had the ends of two soggy spliffs floating in a beer can and as such, was charged with possession. At no point did she ever contemplate going back home to either parent.
Some months later, she was the subject of a short, sharp shock via the legal system and found herself locked in a woman’s prison to teach her the error of her spliff-smoking ways. Or something. Not entirely sure what lesson was learned ( throw out your beer cans ashtrays, perhaps?), but upon release from prison, the girl ran as far away from her home town as she could afford. This wasn’t far, but relocating to a different county proved to be more than enough. Shortly afterwards, reunited with the Older Man, the girl found out that she was pregnant.
Four months after the birth of her little baby boy, the Older Man rearranged the girl’s face. Shortly after that, due to an unrelated matter, he went to prison for a long time. At which point, finally, the girl grew some sense. She loved her little boy dearly and wanted to make a good life for both of them. A life free from prison, free from fear and one in which there would be books, and music and home-grown vegetables. Her only transferable skill at this point was an ability to draw and write, so she applied and got in to Art College.
Things began to improve. A student grant seemed like unbelievable amounts of money compared to what was ( back then) called Social Security. Pause while those of us old enough to do so, nostalgically recall a less punitive benefits system… The student grant paid her rent, her food, her heating and there was a little bit left over to buy a wreck of a car. Times continued to improve. The little boy was a sunny child, consumed with boyish things ; fishing, talking non-stop and playing with a model railway. The girl loved her work ; she was happily building the beginning of a career for herself as an illustrator. She even planted some vegetables. Until…
Three months after the girl had finished her post-grad, she began to feel a constant anxiety as if something, some nameless horror was about to happen. An series of anonymous phone calls while she was at home alone didn’t help, just hearing someone breathing on the end of the line was distinctly un-nerving. This was back in the days before you could dial a number to tell you who’d just called. The girl’s anxiety ramped up a notch. Soon, sleep deserted her and she rapidly descended into a confused and terrified state. She began to suffer vivid aural hallucinations and finally, fearing that she was losing her sanity, she sought professional help.
Which is more or less where my new book ‘Night Shift’ begins. It’s publication day is tomorrow ( 12th January) and it’s the most personal and soul-baring book I’ve ever written. I’m hoping to help raise awareness and empathy and understanding about the nature of depressive illness by drawing what it felt like ( and still feels like) to suffer from this invisible disease. By using drawings, I’m hoping to transcend the misinterpretations that words are subject to. I’m hoping that fellow-sufferers might find ‘Night Shift’ useful as a point-it book ( it is very short) and might be able to say – here, this, this is what I feel like today, but tomorrow, I may feel like this. I’m hoping that it might give an insight into what to feels like to suffer from this illness for those caring and loving friends and relatives who wish to help but feel disempowered by their inability to do so. And last of all, I’m hoping it might throw a little light into the darkness for anyone who still thinks that people with depressive illness need to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘stop whining’. Fiat lux. Let there be light. Shed some light, make a crack in the darkness because, as the late, great Leonard Cohen said,
‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’
A small thing to do to help yourself today. Try and get some daylight shining on your head. Preferably during the lightest part of the day. Take your hat or hood or scarf off and let the light in. Tucked inside your skull is your pineal gland , a tiny thing no bigger than a grain of rice,yet it’s in charge of controlling the production of melatonin which regulates your sleep patterns. Buried equally deep in your head is your hypothalamus, which despite its dense wrapping of grey matter is also sensitive to light and is in charge of the regulation of circadian rhythms.I apologise for the sketchy nature of this information -my medical knowledge can be summarised on the head of a drawing pin, but I know that we need daylight, especially when we’re feeling low. Half an hour. Even if it’s cloudy. Hell, even if it’s raining. Get out there. Even if only by contrast, when you come back inside, it’s a lot less wet.
One more sleep till publication day! I’m heading out to get some light. In the howling wind…