A sobering experience

I DRANK too much on Saturday night. Alcohol. A friend’s 50th, too much beer, not enough to eat, and the result was messy. My wife, who’d left early, told me on Sunday morning that she would not leave me to guzzle again, and, I thought, this must be what happens when you’re older, rooster to feather duster.

Yes, I know, I should know better at my age, father of five and all that.

On Sunday I was as ill as I’ve ever been, and I knew that I had to do something, that I had to keep myself occupied, and so after rising early and going to markets, breakfast and a few little jobs, my wife and I drove to Gloucester, where I showed her a few interesting places I’d come across while staying there on a bike ride earlier this year.

I made a great effort to be perky, hoping I’d recover some of my usual perkiness. Hoping in vain.

The world was a dark place and I felt that I was waiting for death. I felt that way physically, and I knew why, and I felt that way mentally, and I knew why, because I do believe that alcohol is a more powerful depressant than most drinkers realise. In fact, I suspect many drinkers see alcohol as an anti-depressant.

While I am depressed occasionally, I don’t suffer from depression. I might have a mild despondency about my particular circumstances for a day or so but it is always a temporary dip, but here I was on Sunday afternoon and evening of the view not only that I was waiting for death but also that the intervening period between then and death was pointless!

So I distracted myself by flicking through the channels on the teev, something I never do and I was surprised there were so many. And I stayed up two hours later than my usual bedtime so I’d go to sleep quickly.

No, I was not drinking, and I can hear it now, the ‘‘Ha, that was the problem!’’. Others will be shouting at me, ‘‘Give up the grog!’’, but what will I do about the crates of home brew in my brewery, about my Little Creatures Pale Ale copy that is better than the original, about the Belgian saisson beer I am to bottle at the end of this week? And homebrew was not to blame on Sunday.

One thing did interest me. This, I thought, must be how people with depression feel. Mentally, I mean. The hopelessness, the pointlessness. And I could see why depressed people use the word black so often to describe their circumstances.

I have a number of friends who suffer or have suffered sustained depression, and while I have never doubted the seriousness of their illness I’ve never understood it. I’ll admit that I was once of the ‘‘get a grip on yourself!’’ school, ascribing depression to idleness, and the fact that a person with depression was often lethargic, or idle, seemed to support my diagnosis. I knew, too, that doing something, achieving something, always made me feel better.

But most of my friends who suffer depression have been, and are, particularly busy people with significant achievements.

Today, as I write this, I asked one of those friends how she felt when she was in the grip of depression – doh, depressed! – and she talked of non-stop tears, desperation, hopelessness and self-loathing, as she put it, all the fun stuff! It was, she said, a totally dark place, and I had a sense of that on Sunday.

I remember, too, another friend who had suffered depression for years telling me that a week after she started on anti-depressants, or happy pills as they’re known happily, she had a strange sensation while driving. It was something she’d felt years before. She was, she realised, happy, looking forward to the day, to seeing the friends she was driving to see.

I’m well aware of the importance of having something to look forward to, be it an evening meal, a couple of beers after work even, an end-of-year holiday, and I feel for those people who don’t seem to have anything to anticipate. Do they, I sometimes wonder, find the same buzz in anticipating smaller events?

In my woes on Sunday I had a sense that there was nothing to look forward to, and I do think I saw the black dog in the distance. I’m the better, and more sober, for it.

Have you seen the black dog? Tell us about it, and how you keep it at bay.

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