Friday, 19 August 2011


“                   … Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”
(W.B. Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion)

This isn’t going to be an easy post, but I feel I need to write it – if only to prove to myself that I can, for reasons which I hope will become clear in the doing of it.

A large part of what we call reality is personally defined by our own perception; the way we see the world and ourselves determines the way we interact with events and our lives and the way we live them take form and direction as a result.

In the past few months it became slowly clear to me that my perception was darkening. More and more things in life seemed to demand a growing investment of energy just to be dealt with. I realised that I was increasingly withdrawing, finding excuses not to do things I normally enjoyed doing, letting things lie. Everything seemed to cost so much effort, effort which it more frequently often didn’t seem to be worth making.

Around three weeks ago, I realised that, apart from work, there was very little else going on in my life. And with that realisation came a further insight; it was because I was finding work so tedious, demanding and frustrating that I had no energy left for anything else.

There was no point in retreating into denial – I’m blessed/cursed with enough self-knowledge, experience and intelligence to be able to recognise clear symptoms, even when I see them in myself. I was exhibiting all the major signs of incipient burnout

The next steps were therefore clear, if difficult. They involved accepting that there was something potentially seriously wrong, making an appointment with the doctor and signalling to the relevant people at work that I had problems and would be dropping out for a while in the near future.

I’m not going to go into the concrete causes of this situation here – they are the usual combination of work conditions, a number of concrete current issues as well as older job-related stories. I believe and hope that some discussion leading to a few particular adjustments in my work situation will be able to defuse a lot of the specific difficulties. But such discussion is something which still lies in the future, in that phase of recovery where getting back up on the horse which has thrown you is the next step. I’m not that far yet.

The other aspect of all this has to do with myself. I am no stranger to depression. In fact, it was my memories of a major battle with it thirteen years ago which allowed me to recognise the symptoms with which I currently have to deal and act appropriately. And, as a result of that experience, I believe and trust that this time I was able to recognise what was going on before those symptoms had developed to a stage where they could begin to do serious damage to my life.

At any rate, I am now on sick leave and getting used to medication. Adaption to selective serotonin uptake inhibitors takes a couple of weeks and involves a number of side-effects which are, while not intolerable, uncomfortable. One aspect of this adaption is that some depression symptoms like apathy and anhedonia (a diminished capacity for feeling joy) can actually temporarily increase until, after two to four weeks, the anti-depressive function of the drug slowly starts to unfold.

While I am usually open enough about myself in this blog, it is not generally my primary aim to use it as an online diary or confessional. But there are two considerations which made me decide to write this very personal post.

The first is the fact that mental illness is still for many a taboo theme in our society. Some of the reasons for this are understandable – there is something very uncomfortable about the idea that there’s something wrong with your head, with your thinking and feeling. Someone asked me the other day how it felt to be taking prescribed substances which affect the way you think and feel and commented honestly that she found something very unsettling about the idea. And it’s not the kind of illness that’s easy to be open about either. If I were sitting at home with my leg in plaster, I’d have no problem talking freely about it. But many kinds of mental illness, particularly depression, are characterised by a pathological sense of guilt on the part of the sufferers themselves; that feeling that you are somehow shamming, that all you need to do is “pull yourself together.” The problem is, of course, that you can’t – if you could, you wouldn’t be ill in the first place.

Moreover, mental health issues are becoming so prevalent that society simply cannot afford to ignore them any more. Statistics released recently in Germany revealed that more working days were lost last year in the country through mental illness than as a result of any other category of sickness. We need to think about this and start asking harder questions about the things in our societies which are making so many people ill – putting it bluntly, driving them mad.

The second reason I’m writing this is as a kind of explanation for my relative absence on-line in all sorts of areas over the past month or so. One of the things I have realised recently is that my tendency to withdraw from all sorts of contacts has also been affecting my “virtual” life. Forums where I would normally have been contributing, blogs I would have been commenting on, mails I would have been reading and answering have all been neglected. My frequency of posting on this blog has decreased and I haven’t been replying regularly to comments. As they say, my dear friends and readers, it’s not you, it’s me! J

Well, now you know. And for me, there’s also something positive about having managed to write this. It relieves quite a lot of that low-level continuous feeling of guilt which I mentioned earlier – one of the nastiest components of my particular brand of depression; that nagging voice which keeps telling me, “you should be doing this, and that, you’re just being lazy, letting things slip is going to make you sorry … etc., etc.”

In 1984, the rock group The Pretenders released an album after a two year hiatus, during which two members of the group had died of drug overdoses. They called that album Learning to Crawl. It’s an excellent description of where I feel myself at the moment. But at least I am crawling, and there are days where it manages to get me to most of the places I want to go to. And you’ve got to (re-)learn how to crawl before you can start walking – and running – again.

Pictures retrieved from:


  1. I'm so glad you shared this, Francis. I thought something was up from your previous posts. I'm so glad you have taken positive steps for your own good and especially glad you have shared so publicly. It seems a proper way to fight back. Warmest wishes!

  2. Oh dear, thanks really for sharing this! I know what depression and/or burn-out feel like, too, and don't ever want to go through it again (and immediately knock on wood, spit over my right shoulder and burn an incense stick to ward off that evil). Good for you to have self-diagnosed what ailed you so efficiently and so quickly, though. I really do hope that you'll get through it as fast as possible; no, I'm sure you will! And a thing I don't say or write often (being quite a shy kind of guy, I guess): you're a wonderful person with lots of precious insight(s) and a real ability to put them into words. Plus, you've read Derrida (and apparently, you've even understood him) - now if anything would make you outstanding amongst my online friends, it would at least be THAT! I wish you all the very very best and hope to see you around soon, recovered, in your old, intelligent, witty shape.

  3. Francis, thank you for sharing your journey through this maze of depression, for sharing ways to navigate through deadend turns, for giving us opportunity to reassure each other that there is an exit route - even if it is only temporary. Keep sending up flags so we can meet and hug at the exits. There are many in the maze with you and your self-awareness brings light to others who may also find themselves stumbling in the darkness. We may ever be humbled by our biology but our creative ability to surmount our biology can be awesome. See you at the exit!

  4. Oh, Francis! It sounds trite to say I know how you feel but I really do.

    My depression is low-level and genetic. Even with the right medication, I struggle with it. As early as elementary school, if the awareness and the drugs had been available, I often wonder if I could have suffered less.

    So many people I know are anti-medication and honestly, it really pisses me off! If they don't choose to take medication, fine for them but I've had conversations with people who condemn it generally, especially with giving it to children. Could be bad, yes but what if you tried a trial and it helped you? Would you throw out your crutch if you wished to hobble with a broken leg?

    I'm glad you've taken steps to treat your depression. I'm sending sincerest and warmest wishes and if you were not virtual, I would want to give you a big hug.

    As for the blog, I enjoy your essays immensely and when you are ready to publish another, I and your other readers will still be here to enjoy it and to thank you for it.

    I thank you especially for this one, which is a step in bringing the subject out of the closet.


    Someone asked me the other day how it felt to be taking prescribed substances which affect the way you think and feel. Chemical reactions in the brain do this, whether or not they are artificially caused. Our “self” is altered by biological activity. That is how self is programmed to work.

    Statistics released recently in Germany revealed that more working days were lost last year in the country through mental illness than as a result of any other category of sickness. If we define depression or anything irrational or unexpectedly emotional, as mental illness, then we are all mentally ill sometimes, and the question is merely one of degrees. My wife has taken anti-depressants many times. She asked me if I thought she was crazy. I honestly told her that everyone is crazy if you know them well enough. I truly believe this.

    I know I sound like I am in some form of denial, but it is really quite the opposite. I believe everyone has symptoms, and the only question is how often and how many.

    And for me, there’s also something positive about having managed to write this. I started a post (never finished it) about this very topic. Maybe I will finish it soon because of your post. One of my favourite quotes is this: “The truth shall set you free.” Truer words were never spoken. Opening up relieves the pressure and to the degree that one withholds something, it is a burden, something that people could find out.

    You are one of the literary greats, my friend. You should worry about what you are doing or not doing. If I were you, I would try to expose myself to new things, whether I wanted to or not. Go somewhere you would not normally go and go there for no particular reason. If you can, expose yourself to new people. If you have time, volunteer somewhere. Helping others helps you. Not sure if that advice is valuable, but it is what I think. Depression is often related to a feeling of pointlessness. Lack of interest is the same. Do something you’re not doing, and the hope that there is a point in some of it may find you.

    One more thing: finding someone you know in person, perhaps someone you know only slightly, to whom you can open up completely about all things in your life, withholding nothing, is probably more important than anything else you can do. If you find this person, go on long exploring walks with them, perhaps, and just talk or don’t talk, it would probably make a huge difference. I am not sure if you can find such a person. Sometimes it is hard. But if you can, it has the same effect as a therapist, only in some ways more, because you can see them more often, go on little adventures with them more often. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am just hoping I can provide something useful.

    As for the article, I am proud of you, sir, and that is praise I don’t give often. Actually, I cannot remember every telling anyone that in my lifetime.

  6. Ah Francis you are not alone. But you know the signs and you are taking steps.

    Like Gina I don't eschew drugs. I have been on Pareoxetine for some time and it has been a blessing.

    I hope you don't disappear for good Francis. I love this blog. I hope you do come back.

  7. Hey Frances, I've had problems with depression too. In fact, I believe I spent the first 28 years of my life in a deep or semi-deep depression. I found help in a book called Celebrate Your Self by Dorothy Briggs. I believed it saved my life. But it still has been a long uphill journey for me, made longer because I have a lot of social anxiety. Anyway it's a learning experience.

    You are certainly not alone.

  8. The important thing, Francis, is not to isolate yourself. You have met a few people through this blog. You have revealed parts of yourself. We have responded quite well. Never forget that we're here, one by one, and together. You need not always write an Essay to speak to us. One word, a quotation, a photo, a video....anything from you will always be much appreciated. Communication is so important. For you and for us. Even more, in painful times.

    It's a tough world. Sometimes, l ache so much. For others, for me. I have so little to offer. Here's what I say to people I love: You are in my heart and prayers, Francis. I deeply care.

  9. Francis, Thank you for sharing your story. It is very courageous of you. I have been where you are and I know the struggle. I take anti depressants too and you should not feel any shame in that. Speaking out is the best way to help end the stigma that surrounds this illness, and what you have done, by speaking out, will help others in the long run. Take your time and get well and we will all still be here for you! Writing is a gift, a gift you have and it is also a great healer!
    Janet :)

  10. Good luck mate - my own sense of whatever I can grasp of these things is that our involvement with the world is like that of catalysts. I know some object to this as being 'mechanistic' but they know little chemistry.
    Catalysts speed up and/or slow down reactions taking an often intimate part and even if chemically unchanged they may well be in other senses or 'poisoned'. I sort of prefer this understanding to sloppy terms like facilitation, partly because I can see the 'cure'as about chemistry.

    My guess is we will link gut bacteria to depression sooner or later - the first steps have been taken. Yet sorrow is around in the water more surely than fluoride! I suspect depression is sometimes the strain of the struggle to retain sanity in a mad world. You've always helped me, so buck up and pull yourself together! I may need you! How dare you be so selfish! LOL - grinning and bearing it may be the only way.
    (Neil - the openid ain't in any better condition than you mate)

  11. It seems to me that saying anything in general about depression to someone who is depressed is a dangerous gambit. I'm depressed much of the time but I've come to see it as a natural byproduct of the unfairness we're expected to swallow without complaint every day. If instead of protesting at government buildings about particular wars, cutbacks, and financial improprieties, millions of people just gathered because they're bummed out, that would be at last a common truth.

    We're forever wrangling over what's right and what's wrong, seething with discontent, on an endless search for something to hold onto that will give our lives meaning, or even make them worth living. We all have personal guilts that find us when we're least able to cope and then we have to do what we can to quiet our hearts.

    Did you ever read the novel "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn? You can check out the link when you're able but here's a quote for now:

    "There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now."

  12. Count me in as one of your supportive friends. I wish you all the best as you find that balance.

  13. If depression is creeping up and must be faced, just pray to GOD to give you strength to persevere not to surrender.
    Horse Deworming

  14. Horse Deworming I wonder how "just praying to GOD" would work in freeing your equine friends from intestinal parasites, particularly given the fact that you advocate a quite different approach on your website. :-) After all, GOD created all those worms too, surely they have a right to a living as well!


Your comments are, of course, welcome. I've had to reinstall captchas recently as - like most other bloggers - I was being plagued by spambots.


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