From puberty, I had been prone to self-pity that could become an extended, debilitating depression. When the condition arose I simply endured it – identified with it, even – sometimes for months. Matters continued even in the face of the joy of fatherhood – except I no longer wished to be passive. I had a job to do, a life to lead, love to give. I began to wish to fight back. I wished to see and understand.
One summer’s day I went into my warm sunny garden to weed a beloved ornamental grass bed. Halfway around the bed I found myself inexplicably crushed by depression. It was so strong I could not stay awake – but on waking I continued to weed. I see-sawed between sleeping on the warm grass and weeding, crawling as I moved, until finally the bed was weeded. This experience still lives so vividly in me I can even now sense how I curled up on the grass, how I crawled and how I lay on my left side to weed. It was a huge effort, the fruit of which was a turning to face the enemy within, no longer entirely identified.
Months later, there was the day I had a strange sense that not all was right with my car. I took it to my usual garage, who were only willing to give it a cursory look over – but I could book it in for the following week …. Despite my concerns, that evening I drove to a group that I regularly attend in London. On the way home, my car broke down catastrophically on a bleak, wet motorway. I wonder why I had been so impervious to my intuition.
A few days later I was back at the house where my group meets. It was my turn to greet people as they came and went to their meetings. For me this was a joyful privilege; and an opportunity to be more present to my inner self. Struggling to be more attentive, and sitting in the corridor outside the office, I saw fear rise in me about paying the car repair bills; then anger, as the situation had been avoidable; then the familiar taste of the up-welling of self-pity. This took a few seconds at most – but was seen and understood. Understood; not as I blandly describe it above, but deep within my being – buried, but active. Nearly 20 years later I can say – of course touching wood so as not to jinx my good fortune – that I have never suffered a protracted period of self-pity since.
The same cannot be said about loneliness, fear and anger or negative moods; but these companions can never entirely be all I am. Perhaps there is more turning on offer? A few days ago, trudging up a hill on a dog walk, I was at some moments resentful of how at present I have to earn my living, and at others, feeling open and positive, being where I was. Two great forces meeting in me, and I did not need to identify with either, just witness – turning to a taste of freedom.