Shapes Are Everywhere
Marvellous moments fill and shape my childhood. Highlights include travelling with my granda to his work on a Sunday to turn on the boilers. I knew how to operate that machinery before I was four. I’d come home with a poke of sweets in one hand and a poke of motors in the other. Moments like these shape us.
I had more moments. My granda taught me to read before I started school. My mum used flashcards to teach me math. She also taught me to cook. I went to football matches, played football, and played street hockey with friends. There was play and laughter and love, a great deal of each.
But there were also moments of tears and hardship. This post is about some of these life events. They too shape us, shape me.
The First Shape: A Dark Mood
In my teens, if not earlier, there were days when I’d awaken and feel a different mood within me. It wasn’t anger or sadness, rather a profound sense of darkness, a Black presence. On these days I’d prefer to stay in my room with a pillow over my eyes lying in complete stillness. The Blackness would grow and then fade.
Since it came unbidden and naturally, I didn’t give it any thought or talk about it. I didn’t see it as being a sign of something more. I’d just allow the dark mood to grow and then fade.
This didn’t always work. Sometimes to shift the mood I’d listen to music. The choice of music would vary with the depth of the Black presence. If it seemed more fleeting, less substantial, I’d listen to ambient music. A deeper, more pervasive mood, meant the music would be louder and angrier.
Sometimes I didn’t have music that worked. Then I’d buy music, often binge-buying, spending complete paycheques on a raft of albums.
All of this seemed completely normal to me. But looking back I see these days and the mood that dominated them as early incarnations of The Black, my depression. I didn’t know it was depression. I just knew it as a Black mood, and it was a frequent visitor that helped shape me.
The Second Shape: Buoyancy
Less frequent were periods of excessive buoyancy. On some days I’d awaken to a feeling of invincibility, a feeling that this day belonged to me, that I could do no wrong. I felt myself walk more erect, felt lighter on my feet. The music I’d choose to play in these moods would be as expansive as my confidence.
Again, if I lacked something that fit the mood, I’d binge-buy albums for a very different reason, buying as a celebration of the joy of living.
And once again, it helped to shape me.
The Black or the Buoyancy
Initially, these moods – the Black or the buoyancy – weren’t long-lasting, but they imprinted a pattern, a shape, upon me. It became normal for me to shift a low mood or celebrate a joyous mood by shopping, principally for music.
The moods produced another pattern. When low, I’d take on a more serious demeanour and brood. While filled with buoyancy, I’d become more lively and productive.
Please understand that this discovery of the things that shape me is the result of hindsight. At the time, I never thought of these moods as the early signs of a mood disorder. To me, they were nothing more than a teenager’s typical mood fluctuations.
The Third Shape: Mental Illness
Did genetics play a role in these mood swings? Perhaps.
My first exposure to mental illness happened when I was nine, although I admit to not understanding it. A family member was severely depressed, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy to treat the depression. Eventually, the depression led to a suicide attempt.
No-one discussed what happened, in part because my siblings and I were so young. But the lack of discussion infused more than this event. We were taught not to inquire – little ears should be seen and not heard – and not to share our business. Both of these lessons would shape me.
The Fourth Shape: Family Dynamics
That was one family dynamic that left it’s mark. Another was felt as deeply. I was the sole child of my mum’s first marriage while my three brothers and one sister were the children of her second. My step-father didn’t want me. No child wants to learn that. I continue to feel unwanted to this day.
The family divided in two when our parents separated. Two or more children resided with each parent. The repercussions of this would be felt years down the line and shape us as adults. For now, spending time with my siblings was infrequent. No custody order meant no cross-visitation. Nonetheless, no-one explained to us how this informal arrangement was right, or how to cope with the loss, or even encouraged us to spend time with each other. We felt divided, that spending time with our siblings was an act of disloyalty. Later events served to strengthen this feeling.
The Fifth Shape: 18
When I was eighteen I experienced a difficult year. It began with my having a hard time adjusting to university. That’s difficult in itself, but added to this were the death of my granda and the abduction of two of my brothers by my step-father.
My granda and I were close. He was the real father figure in my life. He and my gran were on vacation in Scotland visiting with my extended family, my aunts, and uncles. While there, he died. I never said goodbye, or I love you. I never attended his funeral. What I had was an empty space in my heart and a sense of loss I didn’t know how to fill.
Another loss I didn’t know how to fill was that of my brothers. Remember my mentioning the informal division of custody? Well, it resulted in my step-father leaving the country and abducting two of my brothers, the children that informally were in his care. We found out when the school called my mum to ask about their extended absence. It was a blow to all of us, my mum, me, my sister, and my brother. How does anyone prepare for that? I wouldn’t see my brothers again for many, many years and when I did, they were strangers. To this day, we struggle to create a brotherly bond, especially as loyalties had become so ingrained.
My response to these events was to retreat within myself. Countless days were spent avoiding university and everyone else because it was just too much. I remained silent, the silence I was taught so many years before. Each day I left to go to university, but I didn’t attend classes. Instead, I would find a quiet space and curl up there and be silent. Not the silence I now enjoy, that of meditation, but the silence I was taught, the silence of hiding my pain. I didn’t know then, as I do now, that I was in a severe depressive episode.
Not too long after these events, mental illness once again visited my family in the guise of another suicide attempt. This time I understood the event all too well, though I didn’t understand the cause. I do know that it was sudden, completely unexpected and it nearly ripped the family apart.
It wasn’t talked about. The lesson of silence was reinforced, telling me that my silence during that first year of university was the correct approach.
Certainly, it was the approach I adopted as the Black moods became more frequent, their mood darker and more ominous. You didn’t tell anyone your business, and I didn’t tell anyone mine. I’d almost pay the ultimate price for this.
A Shape Evolves: A New Threat
Of interest is this observation: even though I now see The Black in a new light, I didn’t have a similar epiphany with the buoyant times. They seemed to be more a lack of depression than a mood in their own right. It wasn’t until July 2018 that I began to understand how wrong this was. Then I started to wonder, wonder if there wasn’t more to me than mere depression.
“Mere depression.” Funny. That mood took me to the brink of death. There’s nothing “mere” about it. Yet in 2018 it was the buoyant mood that threatened me. A series of trips each created periods of buoyancy. This buoyancy took me to a new brink, one where control was in question.
I discussed this with my psychiatrist, part of the more open me, and my diagnosis changed. Once depressive, I was now bipolar. The pattern of my teens finally gained an explanation, finally made sense.
The new threat came to a head while I was in Sydney. While there, sleep was non-existent. My ego was inflated. I was alive. And I grew afraid. The mood was too much, overwhelming me. I could feel control slipping from my grasp. I edged ever closer to the abyss. What saved me was the short duration of the visit.
That’s what I shared, how the buoyant mood had become a threat. That’s when I understood a new fear.
On Shapes: Final Thoughts
Without a doubt, everyone experiences hardships in life. How we respond to these hardships varies from individual to individual. Whether due to genetics or due to environment, my response typically involved depressive episodes. Initially short in duration, they grew to become totally debilitating, culminating in my own suicide attempt.
These depressive episodes were interspersed with periods of excessive buoyancy, a buoyancy that grew to threaten. Initially, I thought of the buoyancy as the anti-Black. Now I saw it is something more, something that had grown to be as sinister.
My survival has forced me to reconsider the lessons of my past. Silence was deadly to me. I now saw the periods of Black and buoyancy in a new light. I needed help and treatment. Both required that I surrender my privacy to better my health. And surrender it I did. My health improved as a result.
Image by Sambeet D from Pixabay