During my adolescence at high school, I was incredibly bored in class. I enjoyed school for the social relationships I engaged in, but kept switching friends and who I hung out with at lunch times, often feeling bored yet again, with some of the girl friends I met and talked to. My home life was in chaotic disarray as my mother and father were involved, I wrote in my diary, in some kind of war that I didn’t at all understand. There was no physical violence, just blasts of anger and rage from my father while my mother withdrew in cold and emotional depression. Throughout my teens, she was taking sodium amytals; a tranquilliser I learned years later. She had left school at 14 years old, but was an avid reader of everything and anything from Greek myths to Dickens and Bernard Shaw, a devotee of classical music, opera and many of the arts. She also loved football, cricket and tennis. My father had an engineering diploma from the former RMIT (then called Melbourne Technical College) and was also a great reader, mostly history and war books, but also magazines such as National Geographic among others. He was also into sport in a big way and I went to the football with him and others every week as I’ve penned before. Mostly, the books were borrowed from our local library because we didn’t have the money to buy books and magazines. I used to pick up my parent’s books and magazines and read them after school. I was often depressed at home for a myriad of reasons; not that I clearly understood all the reasons I jotted down in my diary. Adolescence I still believe is, if not the hardest and most difficult time of a person’s life, then certainly for me, it felt like it in retrospect.
Despite writing I felt depressed, I went to school, had friends, some kind of social life but as I got older in my mid teens, typical female hang-ups riddled my life as it does today for most young girls. Boys, sex, body image and dating were big issues – compounded by my family’s angst behind closed doors in lower middle class Melburbia. My school marks are interesting too – in Year 7, at the age of 11, and quite a bit younger than most of the other students, I had come dux of the year. I think there were about 150 or so kids at the school, and while I did well again in Year 8, by Year 9 I was beginning to abandon the diligence I had previously and started talking a lot in class. During my DipED study year at the age of 40, I found this no surprise; Year 9 is supposedly one of the most fraught to teach, I was 13 and all sorts of hormones et al were coursing through my body and I found the class room simply boring, the teachers too often just reiterating what I read in the text books, making us take copious notes off the blackboard. There was never much lively discussion about what we were reading; we weren’t encouraged to think and perhaps surprisingly, I did look forward to our evening meal at home sometimes when we talked about politics, the world and some of the books etc my parents and I had read. We did watch the news every night and had newspapers delivered; morning and afternoons. Too often however, my father would burst into a rage because the steak was too tough and he couldn’t eat it.
While I had something of an inferiority complex about my looks, I knew one thing – I was very bright, and while my marks were no longer top of the class, I passed quite well. My report book was full of teacher’s remarks about how I needed to apply myself to the work more; the simple truth was just that most of it bored me. In Year 12, my mother, aware that I wasn’t doing any study at night or on weekends, (I chose to read my other books, watch TV ad nauseum, and generally, do anything else to avoid studying,) told me that it didn’t matter so much if I failed because as I was much younger than the other kids, I could repeat. No, I told her, I’ll pass. Due to a complex family situation I won’t bother writing about, my mother sent me to live with my aunt and uncle for about two months towards the end of that school year. Life at home was intolerable, and my aunt and uncle’s three sons were all married and had left home. For those two months, I studied furiously, often till 1.30am but ensuring I slept for at least six or seven hours a nite. It paid off; I passed my exams, won a Commonwealth scholarship and got into Melbourne University to do Arts/Law if I wanted to. My mother didn’t say much; or I don’t even remember if she did and that in itself is interesting. My father was pleased and very happy.
I didn’t want to return home, but was forced to by my mother, feeling depressed again back at a house I felt was ugly and full of range and hostility. But the word depressed is a word I oft used- what did I mean, when I went to uni, made new friends, (my friends from school didn’t win scholarships and didn’t get into Melb Uni) and worked as a waitress which I enjoyed to pay for my books for uni, to go the movies etc. I mostly wanted OUT of my family home, away from the madness I felt creeping up inside me because of what I was experiencing in those environs. My oldest sister was married, and my other older sister was working and out most of the time with her boyfriend and other friends. I felt alone to deal with my parents, whose arguing and fighting had only become more intense and explosive. But disappointingly, I also found university lectures dull and uninspiring. We just sat there like passive receptacles ingesting information and taking notes, with much of it repetitive of what I’d already studied and read in Year 12 at school, particularly politics. I found reading the text books on my own far more stimulating and mentally challenging than sitting in a stuffy lecture theatre. I stopped attending many lectures and tutorials, and although I did read a lot, I wasn’t a good student, though managed a couple of lower grade second class honours. I also left home and lived in a university residential college for about 10 weeks, determined to get a cadetship in journalism which I’d failed at the end of school.
Was I still depressed? At times, yes, over boys, sex and how I looked; I was 17 and longed to just have some man sweep me up into his arms and fuck me madly. Lust played havoc with my body. Unfulfilled that is. I also wrote that I longed for torment and insanity after reading Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina- they were the stupidest choice of words but the women in the novels were just SO in love and that’s how I wanted to feel, or so it appealed at the time, tragic as both these books are. Not really sure what I was meaning but both the women felt so deeply for a man and I had never experienced that and that’s what I think I wanted to feel. Abandon all, take me out of myself, stop the self-reflection that in retrospect, was tearing me apart in an altogether different way.
At 18, I achieved my cadetship. I defied both my mother and father who didn’t want me to take it for very different reasons (of course as they saw everything so differently I realised as I got older) and I was a great success (certainly on the outside). And yet, depression tugged on inside me; I had lots of boys to date but none of them really madly attracted me, I was popular at the newspaper, and while my mother never said much about my stories, my father was really happy to see his name in the paper. I was also still enrolled at university in my own time, doing two subjects as I did want to complete my degree. I dropped the Law and just continued with Arts. I was back living at home, too. Why? I was earning my own money and could have afforded to rent a room somewhere but I wanted to save money to go overseas. It was a very cold and calculated decision as I worked in the afternoons and night on the paper and hardly ever saw my parents during the week as I wasn’t home till late at night and/or still asleep when they went to work in the morning. An arrangement of convenience that worked for me. But I still felt depressed some of the time. The newspaper stories were in some ways easy for me; I enjoyed the people I talked to but I didn’t feel really mentally and intellectually challenged to think; I often sat and read my uni books at work in between story time and then the following year at 19, I went to Parliament as I’d argued and harassed my boss about wanting to do politics. Then the rot set in. I started drinking a lot, smoking for the first time in my life and felt increasing disillusionment with the whole damn political thing (I’ll call it that!) I fell madly in love with a guy I worked with, asked him to have sex with me, he wouldn’t, and then started thinking suicidal thoughts. Wanting to reform, I’ve worded it in my diary, believing I was too weak for that, and too weak to commit suicide. It’s incredible reading for me but amongst it all, the job success, the popularity with so many other boys, the fact I looked sexy now, and all the rest of it, I was depressed. I knew I had to get away from it all; my family first and foremost, and the whole journo thing. It was not what I had expected though I hadn’t really known what to expect when I look back on it now.
I never had suicidal thoughts again until 1984 which I’ve written about in WHOSE MENTAL MADNESS – Staying Alive! Never since then either! I did go overseas and it was the best thing I did for myself at 19 and a half. Why I have written all this now? Because I used to think people didn’t understand when I said I was depressed; it IS a dirty word for so many people in our society as if pills will work wonders. The reality is it just doesn’t change your reality. And there were strong valid reasons for feeling depressed; but it wasn’t crippling or debilitating depression, rather a sense of sadness about what life was really all about; boys, love, sex, and work. And I also realised that in many ways, I was bored; bored with the boys who wanted to fuck me, bored with the job, bored and sick and tired of my crazy family. Understanding that boredom, as I called it, was another thing entirely at that time of my life. So often, it seemed the boredom developed into depression, a sadness that made me wonder why when so much of what I had was ‘supposedly’ designed to make me happy. So what was missing? What was wrong? Of course, I turned it towards myself; not so much blaming myself exactly, but questioning myself and at times, berating myself for how I was.
Three days ago, I read a really pertinent article in the newspaper about a new depression treatment that could replace pills. One in 6 people the article claimed, will experience depression at some point in their lifetime, and of those, about 30 per cent will not respond to standard treatment such as medication, counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy. The new treatment uses electric currents for brain stimulation for a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefontal cortex, which in patients with depression, is UNDER-ACTIVE- and fails to regulate emotions and disengage the negative thoughts swirling thru their mind. I rang and spoke to the neuro- psychologist researcher today, albeit briefly, asking her if other kinds of mental and intellectual stimulation such as thinking for example and challenging yourself by confronting new thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, could maybe help depression in the same way. Or something like that I asked her. Would thinking and challenging yourself make that cortex more active? In a word, she said, yes! She added there was research currently underway in this area, too. I asked her to ring me and hope she does as it’s been another theory of mine for 40 years that so often I felt depressed out of intellectual boredom, working in intellectually humiliating and unchallenging jobs that left my mind wanting for something else; too often feeling miserable and sad.
I always knew I was bright, and had the innate self-belief to direct myself to use my mind as much as I could, and even though I’ve used the word depressed at times, I never felt overwhelming depression until what happened to me in Adelaide in 1980 as I’ve penned in WHOSE MENTAL MADNESS! There are obviously, a myriad of complex and inter-linking reasons for that overwhelming depression, but even in 1980, suicide never crossed my mind. Confusion yes, pain yes, but no desire to end it all. And even in 1984, I never tried to commit suicide. Somehow, I never lost my deep sense of self-belief, knowing I was bright and trying to get jobs where I could exercise my mind as best I could given the circumstances. What I don’t know about the people engaged in this new research is if there are real and tangible reasons to help explain their depression; such as unemployment, family violence, homelessness, no money etc. I know for me as I got older these were the real reasons for my overwhelming depression. But as more than 12 million prescriptions are written for anti-depressants in this country, how many people are depressed for apparently no tangible reason such as unemployment or little money or homelessness? I know some women and men who take anti-depressants who have enough money to live quite well, a decent abode to live in, a job, and friends. Which brings me to my theory that I developed for myself decades ago – that these people’s minds are under active and unengaged in intellectually stimulating, challenging and thought provoking jobs? How many people actually really use their minds to their fullest capacity and I’m not talking about being a genius or an Einstein, but just using our minds in ways that enliven our brain? It’s worked for me so many times in the past; and even now, with little money and no employment, I talk to people and come away and think about what’s been talked about. I read the newspaper and think about what I’m reading, I write this blog to make myself think which I actually love doing and I try and do as much as I can to enrich my mind and stop it from being under-active. Even people in so-called top jobs with top money and all the so-called trappings of success, experience depression, but I ask myself, how much individual thinking do they really do? How much reading outside their own jobs? Talking to people outside their comfort zones? And furthermore, where exactly do they really ‘live’; through the outside with all their trappings, status and prestige, or on the inside, feeling good and positive about themselves? You can have lots of the former as I’ve experienced when I was younger but if you’re still left wanting on the inside, you’re in trouble. How much are these people really interested in others? Of course, finding people who really engage you in thinking is difficult; people sadly I’ve found, don’t think except what they’ve thought most of their lives, staying in their comfortable worlds and just not interested in stepping outside it. It’s not just about creative thoughts or brilliant thoughts but just confronting yourself with new thoughts, new ideas, and likewise, new feelings. I’ve read many times that boredom can be a much greater stress than being busy (of course, it’s relative) and that depression is anger turned inwards; but how many people allow you to express your anger? Too often it’s bottled up in people, out of sight and disguised by all the social trappings of success so that they then project their unconscious anger, even contempt, onto others who cannot work out that it’s their problem not their own. They blame themselves then because they can’t understand their own anger either; bottled up to fester and explode or remain dormant and manifesting as depression.
I also remember writing at 26 that I was depressed and that usually I had had reasons, and at that time, the reasons were shrouded by some of the social trappings particularly about my job. I was working for this major TV company in London as a researcher; many people were impressed, but it only took me about 12 months to work it all out for myself; I had every reason to be depressed as once again, I felt intellectually humiliated and unchallenged in my role as a researcher. As a newspaper reporter, I had been used to doing all the research to report and write the story as well; but as a researcher only I found myself belittled and demeaned by my job. Also, the company was a madhouse; some of my colleagues were jealous of me and I couldn’t understand it all at first. I compensated by eating too much, smoking too much and occasionally only, drinking too much. I was very unhappy about my looks again too – fat and frumpy, tired too, as I was also something of a workaholic. I was fuckin’ angry – partly at myself for letting it all get to me but at many men and women so-called bosses that I soon realised I was better than. For that self belief, I was told I had delusions of grandeur by a so-called girl friend. Enough of that but I worked out all the unconscious reasons I was feeling depressed; then, when I changed it all for myself, I’m manic!
I’ve written about some of these issues before in blogs, but suffice to say that although I’m sad at times and worried and stressed about money now, I am not bored or really depressed as such. It’s not that I try to keep myself stimulated and challenged so much as that’s how I am; I do miss people to discuss some of my thoughts and ideas with as I have scarce friends; but I write these blogs and occasionally meet people I can engage with in real conversation. I don’t feel bored, just tired too as the years worrying about money stretch even further. But thankfully, I have a good man who helps keep me in cigarettes, enough milk and bread and the pension for food and the bills. I can only hope that the neuropsychologist does indeed call me and that I can see her to discuss the research on depression. I believe so many of people’s inner negative thoughts come from negative projections from others; internalised over the years, albeit unconsciously, so you can feel so negative towards and about yourself. I know my mother was negative towards me about so many things for years as well as my sisters, but it was my father who was positive about me as well as my own achievements and success that saved my life. Clarifying where these negative and self-destructive thoughts and feelings come from is indeed difficult; even the shrinks etc had only negative attitudes towards me too, but realising and acknowledging what I thought about myself against their ‘supposed’ expertise, made me walk out on them all and save my own life, too. Doubts and uncertainty are part of life, but if you have the strength to challenge and confront yourself and ultimately believe in yourself, others’ negative thoughts and projections go amiss. I have also walked away from many negative so-called friends who have put me down over the years, and it’s really inspiring to have positive and enriching thoughts and ideas swirling in your mind, despite the difficult circumstances you might find yourself in. I hope to be able to discuss these ideas with the neuro-psychologist but I’m not holding my breath about her ringing me back. It’s good for me and works and I don’t know about anybody else!