Winston Churchill referred to it as ‘Black Dog’. His crushing lows. The depression that was common to him and which is so common to us all. The pillows we have all at one point or other sinked into, eyes and nose-first. The pillow we feel the weight of as we seek its shelter and simultaneously hope for an escape.
I’ve been experiencing “black dog” this past week. It’s been yapping away and pissing puddles so I’m stood ankle-deep. From years of experience, I know the only thing to do is to say, “I can’t allow this to happen, I can’t succumb, I know this can get a hell of a lot worse”. I can’t yield to its prepossessing first song. In the Garden of Eden, it’s a rotting golden delicious, but hardly visible on a low branch. Save a single sugary bruise, it looks perfectly edible. At first, depression presents itself as anger, shock, numbness, even indifference.
Soon enough, you’re rubbing your abdomen or tracing the outline of your belly. It’s filled to the brim: acidic, unforgiving and unsettled.
There are many millions, hundreds of millions in fact, who have it worse than me. I know that and it barely needs repeating. Depression is not a competition; there aren’t Super Mario gold stars on offer every time you acknowledge how much materially better off you are, or how much luckier than others you don’t know. But to be depressed and be aware how decent is “your lot” in life, is a strange taste of a drink. It’s the bitter chill of a Guinness, with unnecessary raspberry added on top.
I can hardly name or describe what I’m writing about. I’m censored, or self-censoring – for now at least. There will come a time when I come to write without any guilt or regret but who knows, of the three people who look at this blog each week, one of them might be the very person I don’t want to read this post. It’s about family –
Today was a better day. I set myself up for a coaching session with a friend. I have completed seven coaching practise sessions to date and to my knowledge, none of them have been too bad. Perhaps, they have even done some good.
Henri Matisse was depressed when, in early 1905, he was reflecting on his career. In May 1905, he settled in nearby Collioure on the recommendation of friend and fellow painter, Signac – that’s Signac who came to fame with his pointillism. Matisse and dandy Andre Derain came to break from Pointillism as they spent a heady and prolific summer painting over eighty works between them. Something in Matisse changed as he lumbered the steps up to Mouré high above Collioure’s Chateau Royale. He took his wife to pose in kimonos for portraits on the rocks in Ouille.
It’s extraordinary what sunshine, the flapping sails on the Boramar beach, and the combined elements of salty air, pink waves and dancing fish did to Matisse’s mood. To say Collioure lifted him would be one of art history’s biggest understatements. He and Derain exhibited their work from the Catalan coastal town at the Salon d’Automne later that year. Art critics ridiculed their tableaux as a “cage aux fauves” (a cage of wild beasts). And so the 20th century’s first major break with art history commenced: Fauvisme.
Exalting the primacy of colour over fussy norms (rules about lines and perspective), Matisse and Derain painted the way they bloody well wanted, shoving paint on to canvasses and saying to hell with the consequences.
Running the 1.5 kilometres between home here in Port Vendres and Collioure, I pass the pines and the first glimpses of the Notre-Dame-des Anges, the 17th century lighthouse. I have started to walk the chemins de fauvisme, where these two beasts – Matisse and Derain – painted side-by-side, put depressive thoughts in their paintbrushes and expunged them in deep azure seas.
A few years ago, I read Edmund White’s Le Flâneur which was a riveting and painful read, every single damn page. What I took from it, though – which is the same joy I have taken from all his work – is the social necessity to follow your own random path. To sometimes not care what anyone thinks.
And this week, I have tried not to care. I turned my phone off at fucking last. I stopped browsing nauseatingly generic photos of topless men on Instagram and endlessly negative threads on Twitter. I tried not to care what my family thought, but I did, because I love them and their opinion matters.
Every now and again, my beasts will return. Depressive intrusions, self-doubt, guilt and all that crap. Until then, I’m going to lose myself in Matisse’s landscapes.