It was entirely natural that I’d be low, that I’d have several days at a time that I could barely cope – a casual word was enough to take me into a state of misery and I hid it as well as I could. I became relentlessly efficient and I was a bit scary, I think and my family didn’t quite dare try to stop me, though I know they were concerned. Ronan wrote to me a very sweet letter from university, suggesting I listen to music as he thought I would find it helpful.
This all was an entirely natural reaction to a stressful situation and that was all I thought until I read that interview with Hugh Laurie – you know, the one when he described how he was at some event, I think it was a demolition derby or something like that and there was quite a scary crash and, rather than being either thrilled or scared, he was bored. He also realised he dreaded the future, self-diagnosed depression (being a doctor) and booked himself in for counselling. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’d certainly be bored at the thought of a demolition derby, I’m scared to look ahead, can’t bear to look back and I’m not depressed … oh, wait.’ And I gave that entirely new idea some thought – and decided that it was a label, nothing more, and it didn’t matter one way or the other. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to talk about or get advice on and the thought of explaining myself was too exhausting to contemplate.
I did what I could when I could and retreated into myself at other times. I didn’t look forward or back, I couldn’t cope with either and made no plans that weren’t absolutely necessary. I expected the worst, because I couldn’t bear disappointment and it meant that I often had a pleasant surprise when things didn’t go wrong. I learned to gain great pleasure at every little thing that I could and enjoyed every moment of happiness. I listened to music constantly, but I had a very limited range that I could bear. For a while, I listed to two CDs over and over, one of Bix Beiderbecke and one of music by Prokofiev, particularly the Lieutenant Kijé suite. I don’t know why it was those two – I liked them but they were undemanding and caused no stress, I suppose, was a lot of it. And I was used to it and the periods of misery became less and I felt safe in my surprisingly cheering realistic pessimism.
Weeza phoned one evening to tell me that her friend Kavitha was getting married and was travelling back to India for the wedding and had invited her. I felt a flash of envy – until she asked me if I’d go with her. “Yes!” I said instantly – and that trip did me so much good. The wedding itself was marvellous of course, but the second week we travelled to Kerala and had the most wonderful, relaxing time. We did nothing that wasn’t enjoyable and spent money like water, relatively speaking (the first hotel had cost £60 for the week, the hotels for the second week cost £60 per night – though I should point out that this was for two). I would love to go back there – I’d adore another trip on the backwaters and we didn’t have time to visit the Cardamon Hills. That visit, ten months after my mother died, did a lot to heal me.
All the same, it was in July 2006 that I suddenly realised I wasn’t afraid any more. And it was only then that I understood what a cloud I’d lived under, and I told Eloise about it. For years, I’d wished I could die, not by my own hand but inexorably (if I’d become ill I’d probably have changed my mind pretty smartly, but that is how I felt at the time). But I was over it, I was happy, I could contemplate the future and felt cautiously hopeful.
I had, by then, also learned to lean on friends, to ask for help and admit when I was struggling. I also gave some thought to my adamant rejection of medication and recognised my need for self-control. I am not a control freak, I love and accept people just as they are and was genuinely upset once when a friend said (not at all in a critical spirit) that he thought I wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. “I love fools,” I said, “I’m such a complete idiot myself, it’s very comforting not to be the only one.” But (not that I remember her, she died when I was a small child) my grandmother was an alcoholic so the danger of addiction is something I’ve always been aware of. I’m terrified at the thought of a chemical addiction, one that willpower cannot overcome. I’ve had a general anaesthetic once and woke complaining of cold feet. I could hear myself but not control what I was saying and was so embarrassed when I woke again, found a stack of blankets on my feet and realised that it wasn’t a dream, I really had been dreary enough to whinge (I never yelled in childbirth, obvs, I was entirely stoical). That’s much of the reason I chose not to be sedated when I had my replacement hip operation. I didn’t want to risk that happen again.