Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Swimming and Spinning

The following article was first written for Young Minds, so apologies if you read it back in December. I lightly edited it for re-publishing here. I felt that the photos taken of me by the multi-talented and rather gorgeous Lucy Feng (who I put in front of the lens here) last Autumn were appropriate on two counts - not only in the general energy and joy of the shots, but also in my proximity to a body of water. Everything worn is second hand. 

Dad went swimming recently – a brief, mad dash in and out of the freezing hillside pool. I crouched on the rocks above with my camera in hand trying to frame the moment, to capture him in the green cocoon of running water. I squinted through the eyepiece as he squealed. The winter stream was bitterly chilly, but I forced him to stay until I could focus and click. As he jumped out and reached for the towel I had a brief snatch of elation, of realizing quite how special these small moments still are. 

Little over a year ago my dad wasn’t dipping as much as a toe into cold water. This was unusual for a man who usually celebrated the delights of mountain streams and plunge pools regardless of season or temperature. The other three of us often watched as he slid in and out of lakes or rivers, his long legs kicking up as he laughed with the adrenaline rush. Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ was his guiding text, the outdoors his cathedral. The swimming stopped at the beginning of autumn 2011. Long walks, days out and that fascination with the beating heart of forests and hills gradually disappeared too. 

Depression was the diagnosis – the word he was given to explain why he could no longer function; the word that was offered to my brother and me to justify why our dad would be moving temporarily out of our home and into hospital; the word handed to my mum to help her understand why her husband’s eyes were empty. That word has become misappropriated and misunderstood in every day language. It is a clinical term, describing an illness that debilitates both mind and body. It is not interchangeable with sadness, despondency or any of the other more easily defined emotions. ‘Sadness’ doesn’t hang like fog in the living room for six months. It doesn’t give justice to the man whose head was full of terror, hands trembling as he ate, speech devoted only to paranoia and apologies. ‘Sadness’ wasn’t what created an impassable void between our father and the figure that sat on the sofa all day. This shape looked like dad, but had none of his curiosity or humour. It huddled reading trashy books and filling out sudokos day after day as we tried to coax him out. I imagined the real man outside somewhere, sculling up and down a river or strolling through a field at twilight, as he used to do. The outdoors scared this replacement. When we went away to visit friends he pleaded with us to let him out of the car, to leave him behind, to let him walk back home. Our house was a cave, with everything beyond the walls and windows threatening.

It’s very easy if you're on the outside looking in on depression to use blithe instructions like ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘stop moping’ or ‘use your willpower.’ But this is as impossible and insensitive as suggesting to someone with two broken legs that they should simply pull themselves together, get up, go for a run and then do something useful. The impact is as physical as it is mental and emotional – and it radiates out from the individual to affect all who surround them. 

Severe depression took all that my dad loved and lived for, and warped it. The chemical imbalance in his brain made literature unreadable and the landscape unreachable and terrifying. For him each stretch of water was no longer an embrace, but a place filled with possible dangers: broken glass and barbed wire waiting at the bottom or hidden currents that might pull us under. He didn’t need the adrenaline from jumping in the sea, his system already full of it from the constant horror and panic of ‘fight or flight’ as he sat on the sofa. He tried to fold himself away there, but couldn't curl small enough to pass unseen. We saw, and it hurt.

Depression is a wound of sorts. It can eventually heal – although the process of recovery may be one of complications and setbacks. Getting better is also a different process for everyone. The possibility of my dad’s return became clear on the afternoon he agreed to join me for a walk. Our conversation was stilted, but the steps were progress. Like a tide, the extent of the following revival varied from day to day. He moved from activity to monosyllables as moods shifted. But if the stroll was a first sign, then the revisiting of a favourite river was a decisive signal. It’s not melodramatic to say that when he was so ill, neither my mum nor I could imagine him ever swimming again. The idea was incompatible with the reality we had all coped with for months. Nonetheless, there he was – hollering with as much energy as remembered, lips grinning beneath a striped beanie hat.

His depression officially lifted in late spring of last year, after much trial and error and ongoing combinations of approaches for managing and treating it. It now strikes me that his illness left him stuck at the bottom of a silted lake. We wanted, desperately, to catch him with hooks, suddenly yank him from the depths – dredge him up in an instant. Instead it was an agonizing process of waiting for the dark liquid to drain away, drop by drop.

That liquid is now not dark, but clear. The riverbed is sandy and covered in stones. Dad made up for lost time through cycling, writing and taking me on six-mile walks. Although it is now cold, he still retains this spark – a desire to fill himself up with life and the joy of being here. Whenever he now steps into a mountain plunge-pool, with breeze ruffling leaves, it is an act of celebration. A celebration of swimming; of the human ability to suffer and recover; of the wonder to be found in days out and other activities; of the bonds between family; and of the relationship with the outdoors.
We all push forward, taking it one stroke at a time.


AVY said...

Very pretty and inspirational. Sometimes it feels as if I'll never be happy the way other people seem to be, and sometimes I think it doesn't matter. I'm not unhappy, I'm just afraid of the days when I stop caring.


Sacramento Amate said...

I have seen the dark face of what a true depression must be like, and your words, I am sure, are a true balm for many.
I am so glad you dad is back to the rivers and mountains where he belongs, so you can delight us with your beauty while dancing in blue.
Much love and deep admiration always, my dear Rosalind.

Willow said...

I was just as moved reading this now as I was in December, your stunning writing had me in tears and then smiling. It's so incredibly inspiring when someone pushes through depression. It is incredibly heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle like that. A very close friend of mine has been on suicide watch for a long time and is soon moving to an asylum for 3 months to help her push through. I'm incredibly scared for her, but am hoping this will be a wonderful thing.

I can't get over how stunning you and these images are, the movement in these pictures are perfectly paired with this writing piece. I keep having to come back and look at these glorious photos, you look like an absolute goddess.

Closet Fashionista said...

Wow, what a story. Severe Depression is never a good thing, I'm glad I've never experienced it in my own life. I'm so glad your father is better, that must have been a tough time for everyone.
That last photo reminds me of Ever After when Danielle is swimming in the water instead of picking truffles, haha

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Wow, Roz, I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. This story almost made me cry. I'm so glad to hear that he's doing better!

Have you seen Melancholia? I'm not clinical depressed or have ever been but I had a pretty bad year a year ago and that movie was the closest portrayal of what I felt during that time.

Ireland Casswell-Clarkson said...

ethereal and breathtaking pictures

Pilgrim at Kerjacob said...

Thank you for taking this subject on and facing it full on.
I have know exactly what it is like to be in that awful space however I didn't need to go to hospital.
I think it can be a domino effect for some of us who go to that dark place and sadly there are too few people who understand what it is like.
The pull yourself together brigade only make the pain worse.

Love to you and your family and continued bravery to you all.


Rachel, Cold Knees said...

I always look forward to your well written posts.. this is so beautifully written, and captures what it's like for those closed to someone suffering from depression.. I'm so glad to hear your dad is once again enjoying the outdoors. Much love xx

Vix said...

What a wonderfully written tale, it's good to know your Dad's coming through his dreadful black patch and living life again. xxx

kaarlijnx-x said...

wow, amazing pictures! I really love the color of the skirt. It's so romantic. Looks like a romantic film.

Emalina said...

I was just as moved and delighted to read your piece a second time, dear Roz. You write with great understanding of depression, and such tenderness. What a insightful celebration of your Dad's recovery, which I hope continues well, and a celebration of your strength as a family. There's a similar theme of tenderness and strength in these wonderful ethereal photographs, as you continue to inspire us with your beautiful words and images.

Milex said...

damn girl ♥

GlamorousGirl said...

super cute!

Anonymous said...

very beautifully written. glad your family could make it through.

Jean at said...

Hello dear one! I remember being touched by this article, very poignant for me in that my former husband of 19 years was bi-polar, undiagnosed until after I left. In his case, I remember being grateful when his mania would set in because the depression was so utterly devastating. I know those eyes. Of course in retrospect, it's tragic he wasn't diagnosed sooner. I'm glad your dad was able to get the help he needed.

On a totally different note, I saw a lovely picture of you today on the Nyazi blog, taken during London Fashion Week. I was elated to see my friend in a sea of strangers!! Your embroidered coat was gorgeous and I loved your pensive pose as you wrote in your book.

Sending love!! XXOO

Jean at said...

Make that Nyanzi !

le style child said...

absolutely beautiful. thank you for sharing this with us.

Fashionistable said...

This is truly a beautifully written and heartrending piece about your dad and what it meant for you all. It was good to read it again here. Perfectly illustrated again by his beautiful daughter in blue. Xxxx

Elizabeth Sellers said...

Your words are beautiful and I relate to this so much. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

Simona said...

It´s really great written and also the pictures are wonderful :)

Miss Jojangles said...

Speechless. Beautiful photos. Captivating words. After all these years following your blog, I am still amazed by your incredible talents. XXX

Wengie said...

I love that outfit!!
Much love,

Elena said...

Those photos are so beautiful and soft!

Kisses, The Spotted Cherry Pie

Lauren said...

You have brought the true facts of depression to light. My heart aches for all those in other times, before medication, who suffered so. I heard that my great great grandmother suffered relentlessly with it and nothing could be done in the late 1800s.

Your father is so lucky to have found the right treatment and is taking the necessary steps and determination to alleviate the symptoms of this crippling disease.

Your photos of transparency and wing-like draped materials is a look of truth, hope, and freedom!

Lauren at adorn la femme

allisonzoie said...

This resembles an extremely adorable and agreeable dress! I adore all the distinctive ways you styled it :) I adore your remix posts and I can't hold up until I have enough presents on do remix posts :p

sania maskatiya

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words about a horrible illness. Thank you for sharing and am so pleased to hear your father is now on the road to recovery x

OrigamiGirl said...

I think that bit by bit society is moving forward beyond the 'pull it together' idiom response to depression. The world is more open now, people can talk like this on the internet and spread ideas, encourage and share. I've noticed more people 'coming out the closet' (to appropriate a phrase) about mental illness and even the mainstream media is starting to adjust.

I am glad to hear your Dad is recovering and I think writing about it is a powerful thing.

My best friend has just been hospitalised again with depression and I never have the right words but at least its no longer secretive.

And those photos are stunning. The light on the fabric, it blows me away.


This was touching to read, especially when speaking of depression, something that can be overshadowed by darkness ... I've seen depression consume a couple of people, but I am happy that your father was able to be resplendent and back with enjoying nature. The photos are gorgeous and graceful!

his little lady said...

This post is so inspiring and beautiful! And taking one step at a time is definitely the way to go. Thank you for sharing :)
xo TJ

Emnilda said...

Last photo is beautiful! Greetings from Poland!

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Thank you for sensitively sharing your family's communal experience through the quagmire of depression. And I am truly happy his illness was eventually dredged away and he's found joy in life again.

I have very close loved ones who are still dealing with this day-to-day (and the rest of us are on tenterhooks, trying not trigger a thickening of the bog). Sadly, there seems to be a genetic element to depression. And it seems to manifest itself in the more brilliant and gifted ones too -- which makes the contrast so stark when they have "good days".

I've been reading a book, slowly, by a brilliant man in many dimensions -- David Foster Wallace. I think he should've won a Nobel for his very original, post-modern writing. (Not for the tame. I had to be ready for his work, and couldn't have read it even 5 years ago.) He eventually committed suicide after struggling with depression for years. But his depth of understanding of the human mind (chemical imbalance and all), behavior and search for joy in life are the touching and binding threads in his non-linear narratives. I got attuned to him after reading his very short book, "This is Water", extracted from a commencement speech he made at a college. It's sad and uplifting at the same time, much like real life.

Beautiful images of you by your talented friend. They certainly illustrate the feelings in your post. -- J xx

Izzy DM said...

I just found this piece through a link to your current images on Lucy Feng's blog. First of all, the transcendent expression on your face in these photos perfectly matches the joy and sorrow of life in this beautiful passage. This was incredibly moving and so incredibly personal. Your words created a lens through which I felt as if I was seeing what you were seeing and feeling some of what you were feeling, just as the best writing does. The love and admiration and compassion you feel for your father was the predominant emotion and gave such an especially poignant feeling to these words. Your description of depression was also incredible both in its accuracy and its empathy, and I'm sure has given and will give much comfort to other sufferers. You're a wonderful wordsmith! xx

Ivana Split said...

Beautifully horrible it must had been to experience it- for all of you...People get damaged in life and often those who try the hardest- I've seen this many times. It is infinitely sad when you see good people hurt or traumatized by certain experiences- and so little we can do to help them!

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Depression is such a usual human illness that I star to wonder why we fall so easily in the none desire of life. Are we weak? Or just lazy to confront and accept reality as how it is?
My mother suffered depression when she became a mother of two (and also later when there were three) children. I suffered depression as a child too. I remember that my usual thought was: why should I be happy and thankful to be alive if nobody asked me if I actually want to live?
Somehow, in some undefined point of my teen years, I just brought myself up realizing that life is the only thing that I know for sure it exist and that is given to us for free.
Nowadays I couldn't say that I don't fall in depression anymore; but somehow it is never so dark and intense as how it feels in my childhood. Somehow, now I know that I have the power and the knowledges to go out of the cloud. I know that if I remain there for days and weeks it is because I feel self-pity and not because I don't have the necessary tools to fight with my self. In fact, I'm kind of happy to went trough all this really early in my life, so now I'm ready to fight and never catch by surprise.

I'm glad that your father became better, but most of all, that he was understood and respected by his family. My poor mother was quite alone when she was depressed and we where to young (and to sensible to be depressed too) to support her, even if we tried.

I wonder if the start of the spring was an important factor to the recovery of your father. It is proven that the sun light is necessary for the health of the body and the mind. For sure it is a good therapy.

uufff I always end up talking a lot..... But it is because you make me think, Rosalind. And it is nice :)
I really appreciate your articles.


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