[Trigger warning: mental illness; self-injurious stimming (as well as the good stims that are hard exercise and dancing).]
The Saturday just gone:
So it’s happened. I’ve finally realised that I am definitely properly depressed at the moment.
I’ve thought I was, then thought I wasn’t; thought I was, thought I wasn’t. For a while now. I kept thinking my quick bouts of misery were a symptom of autistic burnout, or simply an acute pang of painful response to the occasional sudden rise in the immediacy of The Problems I Am Dealing With Right Now; something unexpectedly looming large on the horizon that sees my legs crumpling beneath me as I tumble to the ground.
But actually, these acutely painful moments have been mere spikes in overall negative emotional noise level. The low-level hum of depression, sometimes infrasonic, has been gently oscillating along in a line beneath the crashing noise of all of my day-to-day experiences for a fair while, without me properly registering it. But now I have. The pitch and the volume have risen, and it’s too loud to ignore. Is it a moan, a whine, a whistle, a hiss, or a wail? I’m not quite sure. But it’s sustained, and it’s loud.
Saturday morning. My daughter is watching a film in the living room downstairs. My husband is sleeping in. My son and I are in the big bedroom, playing with Lego. I watch him, I interact with him, and all the while I feel simultaneously both utterly nothing and utter despair.
I’m not quite fully there.
Later, my daughter joins us. The two of them both at work with the Lego; absorbed, building; each doing so in their own age-specific, personality-specific way. I interact with these two beings whom I love more than anything in the world, but I am removed. I am exhausted.
Then the wooden train set comes out.
Somehow, most of it ends up not on the floor of the bedroom, but outside the bedroom door, on the landing. Right where it’s a large, jumbled collection of small wooden trip hazards at the top of a very steep staircase.
I repeatedly ask my children to tidy the pieces up, or at least to carry them through the doorway and into the room, away from the stairs. They can be pretty good at tidying up. Sometimes. And I need them to understand why leaving toys on the stairs isn’t the best of ideas.
But they’re too intent on what they are doing. They don’t even hear me.
My requests get louder and more urgent.
(I still remember to use the word “please”, however.)
Still they are oblivious.
Eventually I lose it.
I scream and shout. I disappear into another room to smack my own head repeatedly for 30 seconds or so, before returning.
Afterwards, my husband finds me sitting at the top of the stairs, glum, despondent, detached. I burst into tears, and struggle to stop.
We agree that although I’ve promised our daughter I’d take her to the school Christmas Fayre (and it has to be me who takes her), afterwards I can go off and do my own thing for a few hours. I plan a trip to the gym.
Husband takes our son with him on an extended shopping trip. The girl and I do the Christmas Fayre thing.
She does a few messy crafts, a find-the-word treasure hunt, and eats too much sugary stuff. I try not to get too exasperated with the busyness and loudness of it all, but she loves it. And I love that she loves it. She has fun, and comes home with me, happy.
And I disappear off to the gym. I exercise with sweet abandon.
60 minutes of “Around the World”: a random-generated programme of hard hills and sprint intervals on the stationary bike. I sweat. My heart thumps. I breathe. I focus. And although I never exercise wearing headphones or earbuds, the hi-NRG dance music on the gym stereo this afternoon works well to keep my legs pounding. On the hills, I push down the pedals in time to the beat. During the sprints, I do my best to beat the beat, spinning my legs faster and faster. I lose myself in movement, beats, vocal samples, distance log, timer, calorie counter, and revolutions-per-minute.
Core work, stretches, home. Food on the table.
And then, the thing that I need perhaps even more than the gym.
It’s Saturday night, and my daughter wants to dance.
I’m glad that we’ve resurrected our living room discos. When I was pregnant with her brother and got too big, too much in pain, and too uncomfortable, we stopped. And for a long while afterwards we didn’t do it. But over the past few months, we’ve started dancing again.
And tonight, I dance with sweet abandon.
We always start with the same sequence of four tracks: ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ (Lemon Jelly); ‘Treachery’ (Kirsty McColl); ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Cornershop – Norman Cook Extended Remix); ‘Squance’ (Plaid).
Whatever else we play in the middle (eclectic, but still very much the playlist of a ’90s indie kid), we always slow down and end with ‘Cole’s Corner’ (Richard Hawley). My daughter likes it that way.
For a while this unvarying start and end to our playlist used to grate (and I’m sure it still does with our neighbours). I have so much music. There’s so much of it my children haven’t yet heard. So much more variety than they’re ever willing to hear. I want them to enjoy it all.
But really, I don’t mind the repetition. It’s comforting to my daughter, and after all, I was the one who introduced these songs to her.
Tonight, I’m relieved to hear them, in the specific order we always play them. And whatever else is lurking in my collection, the songs we tend to play are the types of song that make my kids happy.
My “style” is a flailing mix of mangled Street Dance, distorted Twist, skewed Salsa, and a whole lot of jumping, hopping, twirling and swaying.
Sometimes I pogo. Sometimes I waltz. Sometimes I bring in body-weight training moves from the gym. Sometimes my daughter and I join hands. She grins. My little boy weaves between our legs, spins around, stomps his feet, and giggles. During ‘One Step Beyond’ we all run repeatedly around the room in a big circle. My children laugh and smile.
The physicality is all. My very being craves it.
I was already sweaty from my gym exertions. And now I sweat again. I don’t stop. There’s no point, until all of us are ready for it to stop.
Sometimes, I let my body fall from side to side, catching myself by engaging my core or gripping a piece of furniture before I land. Everything moves. Everything must move.
My body loses itself in sweet abandon to the music.
Even as my children slow and tire, I carry on (for a while, at least – I’m not so divorced from their needs that I can’t tell when it’s time to bring things to an end).
My little boy watches, content but approaching sleepiness. My girl intently examines the Pete Fowler designs on some Super Furry Animals CD single cases, still listening to what’s on the stereo, still requesting more songs.
And eventually, it is time to stop. We slow things down. ‘Cole’s Corner’ has its spin, and I, the sweating, panting, dishevelled beast that I am, cuddle my children close. They smile again – at each other, at me, to themselves.
It’s story time. And soon it’ll be bedtime. I’ll cuddle them close again before they go to sleep. Later, I’ll shower and crawl into bed myself.
And no matter how desperately sad I was that morning, when I finally lay my own head down later that same night, I go to sleep replenished, nourished, and filled with love.
Last Saturday’s playlist
- Lemon Jelly, ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’
- Kirsty McColl, ‘Treachery’
- Cornershop, ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Norman Cook extended remix)
- Plaid, ‘Squance’
- The Bees, ‘Chicken Payback’
- Beck, ‘The New Pollution’
- Belle and Sebastian, ‘I’m a Cuckoo’
- Bassment Jaxx, ‘Good Luck’
- Madness, ‘One Step Beyond’
- Madness, ‘Baggy Trousers’
- Super Furry Animals, ‘Golden Retriever’
- Super Furry Animals, ‘Northern Lites’
- Eels, ‘Last Stop: This Town’
- Richard Hawley, ‘Cole’s Corner’
[Featured image description: Three silhouette figures, one adult and two children, dancing, surrounded by swirling colours and musical notation.]