Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Janet, behold what thou hast wrought

 Gillian Wearing b. 1963
'Everything is connected in life...' 1992-3

Janet Street-Porter has managed to piss off more than a few people with her ill-conceived Depression? It's Just The New Trendy Illness! (punctuation via the Daily Mail) in her May 14 column in the Mail.  For my American friends who aren't familiar with Ms Street-Porter, she's a feisty red-headed cockney media personality and journalist, born under the Bow bells, with famously horsey teeth and an accent that would send Henry Higgins into anaphylactic shock. Alastair Campbell hits back at Street-Porter here and Andrew Brown, a mental health writer, responds here. Unfortunately the Daily Mail, along with stories on botox and boobs and Kylie Minogue's insistence that Pond's Cold Cream is the reason for her permanently surprised face, tends to publish this sort of thing, and the outrage would have been more justified had it been published in, say, The Independent or The New York Times.

Allison Pearson, journalist, author of I Don't Know How She Does It, and, incidentally wife of my favorite critic, Anthony Lane, devoted her last column in the Daily Mail to her own depression.  Her response to Street Porter's piece? “The good news is depression is a manageable condition and you can get better. Unfortunately there is no treatment for being an unfeeling b***, so Janet Street Porter has no hope of recovery.”

I wish there were no shame in admitting it -- perhaps the British part of me is more influential than I give it credit for -- but I struggle too. The shame transmogrifies into anger, a grey and potent grumpiness where the sun doesn't seem to shine brightly, all motives are questioned, one's body stagnates, and everything seems to become an enormous, treacly effort.  This causes in one a desire to be pumped full of adrenaline a la Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, perhaps a shot to the heart of pure, infectious joy.  The children help enormously.  "I'm so tired" I say (for sleep is the first casualty) and they rally round for hugs and giggles.  There must be studies that show that the physical embraces of ones loved ones, the arms around you, squeezing your blood to flow again, surely changes the chemical make up of the body.

Be kind to yourself.  This is important.

William Styron once said:

“In depression . . . faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come -- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. . . . It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

On a related note, did you see the Dalai Lama on the Today Show? What a coup.  What's next, the Pope? (Gosh, please don't get me started on the Pope.) Poor Ann Curry got a lot of flack for speaking to him in baby talk.  I didn't mind it at all.  She was doing that thing that everyone does when they speak to foreigners who they don't believe have a particularly strong grasp of the language (or old people), they talk particularly loudly and ann-un-ci-ate ev-er-y word.  But how lovely to hear him say that humans have created much of what is wrong with the world and we also have the power to change it.  He believes he 21st century will be a much happier, more peaceful century than the last.  Let's hope he's right.

The Errant Aesthete, who has the most beautiful blog in the world (I should copyright that tagline for her), wrote a great piece yesterday about the oil spill in the Gulf.  If you haven't read it, please do here.  She starts it like this:

The Buddhists have a belief that all of life is intertwined, that all phenomena are intimately connected from the smallest insect hidden in the tall grasses to the metallic gold of a butterfly’s chrysalis. Every living thing, big and small, is united in a kind of universal cohesion, intricately woven like the fine weave of a spider’s web.

The Chaos theory suggests the same interdependence: A butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, a hurricane results thousands of miles away. 

Charles Eames, David Byrne, my husband & Josh on their first acid trip on Zuma Beach, Spike Milligan, Alan Watt, Yoko Ono, John F, Kennedy, John Muir all believed the same thing:
"Everything is connected."

And so, like Richard Mabey, I come back to nature.  It is the ocean, or the trees, the flowers, the apple trees that I hope will help* make us better.

A friend from school, Caroline, with whom I recently reconnected, and who has been struggling with depression for years, responded to Janet Street Porter.  Here is a small part of her letter:
In contrast to JSP, I have, thanks to a succession of fabulous GPs, clinical psychologists, fantastic family & friends, Prozac, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), understanding employers, much self- discipline and many tears, reached the relatively tender age of 47. Not only has my life been regularly disrupted by depression, but I have also experienced the often devastating effect of this wretched phenomenon on my mother and siblings. My personal experience of depression therefore gives me the right to comment appropriately, genuinely and without prejudice. In short, I understand.
...Everyone has their own experience, their own triggers, their own ways of coping, or not coping as the case may be. It is this very diversity that makes this an illness difficult to predict and difficult to treat successfully in the short term... I have been lucky. I was made aware of the value of medication very early on in my treatment for depression. My mantra now being; “Medication may not cure the problem; but it buys you time to find the right solution for you”

*If you are depressed, or think you might be, you can contact the Depression Alliance (or on Facebook) in the UK. In the US, contact the DBSA.


Anonymous said...

This is wonderful... more! more! more!
Could definitely grown into a longer piece, maybe change the world. May I share? SuellenWags

Miss Whistle said...

Suellen, you're a sweetheart! Of course.

Miss W x

Belgravia wife - sort of said...

Hi there, I just came across your blog and read your post - firstly fabulous blog, secondly, as a Brit I feel compelled to apologise vicariously for both Janet Street Porter and The daily Mail. The former has made a not unproductive career out of being prickly and inflammatory and as for the latter - say no more.

I spent a couple of years in LA about a hundred years ago - I remember my 23rd birthday at Magic Mountain and my 24th at Big Sur - I'll be checking back regularly. xx

jdowad said...

I never liked the bitch anyway. (very intelligent remark, I know, but it's how I feel!).

jdowad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shayma said...

She is an utter eedjit. Stress is not depression and vice versa, though, as Alastair pointed out, there is a nexus there. Her article enraged me- your post was so well-written- I loved it. Sending you a big hug, x s

Gillian said...

Hello Miss Whistle,

I loved your blog, and will create my own blogspot identity soon, and will certainly subscribe to your blog.

I live in London's Mayfair with my husband and 3 beautiful children; we currently rent and space really is at a premium (no garden and the children have to share their bedroom) but we have made an offer on a house in Croydon which has just been accepted.

I lived in many countries when I was younger, including a 4 year spell in LA, which I absolutely loved; I will never forgot bumping into Tom Cruise when I was pregnant with Mayfair son 1 who asked to rub my tummy for good luck.

Miss Whistle said...

Gillian, what a wonderful story. I just love that you were brave enough to ask, and seriously who could say no to rubbing a charming pregnant woman's tummy? Thank you so much for reading and welcome!

Miss W x

Anonymous said...

Dearest, Dearest Miss Whistle,

Forgive a long overdue comment to a lovely and eloquent post I am honored to be part of. Your sensitivity and skill in connecting the disparate and unusual are, as always, magical.