Broken People

Wow! ‘Manchester By The Sea’.


sad-505857_1920It’s unlike me to enthuse about movies on this site. Truth be told, it’s getting much harder to walk away from a movie and feel truly motivated these days, (Hidden Figures is an exception), so exhausted am I by the blatant ageism, objectification and sexism that Hollywood continues to get away with.


But then a little film like this comes along.


Admittedly, it had my name all over it. Grief, depression and dysfunctional relationships are the sort of dark ingredients that get my blood pumping, although hardly the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, even when they are blended so beautifully together that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Even the visual is bleak, as the storyline is set up in a backdrop of snow, sleet and the sort of bitter cold weather that makes the characters appear even more vulnerable and our heart ache even more viscerally for them, before anything awful has actually happened.


You might not go and see this movie because of the controversy surrounding the lead actor, Casey Affleck – sexual harassment allegations from some years back which have tarnished the production because they were settled out of court, leaving inevitable question marks. NC refused to come with me, and I had to overcome the sour taste in my mouth because the theme of the movie is so important to awareness about depression and, well frankly, personal.


I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the storyline. Suffice it to say that this is a ‘real’ film about broken lives, shattered relationships and fragmented families, hence no solution and no happy ending where you walk away with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart. I commend the filmmakers for that, because when it comes to depression, it’s a falsity to think that anyone fully recovers or that they wake up one morning and are miraculously fixed.


Below are some thoughts I wrote about on a bad day:


Do you ever think about doing something easier? Until you realize all over again that nothing is easy.


Do you ever think that everything is too hard? That no matter how many times you re-invent yourself, you’ll never be truly happy?


Do you often feel so tired that even your most reliable friends, coffee and wine, can’t get you through the day, can’t lift your mood any more, and your only solace is buried beneath the bedclothes with your anger and self-pity for company?


Does that voice of self-pity become so loud sometimes that the only way to keep it in check is through thoughts of escape?


Does that grinding ache of impending panic in your belly take over every waking thought some days, and do you hate yourself for being such a loser, for being so pathetic, so spoilt, when you have more than most people would ever want?


Do your relationships and interactions with close ones feel two-dimensional? Do you feel like they ask too much of you one day and not enough the next? Do you feel that you can’t give back what they need from you and that what you have to give, isn’t enough?


Is the visual of happiness in your head completely different to what you thought it would be? Is it closer to a small room, these days, by yourself, where you can do what you want, eat what you want, the only place where you feel in control of your destiny?


Friends, don’t worry because I’m fine, and reading this back today I realised that it is the voice of the typical creative who has a platform where she can explore, through words, all dimensions of self-pity.


Sometimes, I think I suffer from ‘perfectly hidden depression,’ a word made up by Dr Margaret Rutherford, which she explains in her piece When People With Depression Function Too Well. Most of us suffer from this some of the time, I suspect, mainly because it turns out that life is not the fairy tale stories we were brought up on.


I function well, but as Dr Rutherford so cleverly describes, sometimes I feel as though I don’t have the vitality for life that I should have, and the closest I get to it is via pills and self-medication, aka wine.


It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are ‘broken’. Some by trauma; some by inherited mental illness.


And some will handle it better than others.


What I love about ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is the rawness of Lee, the main character, and the honesty of his depiction of ‘the black dog’, which is a real dedication to nothingness, because the trigger to his illness has left him barely functioning. He continues to work in a non-challenging environment, but the only way he can function outside of this distraction is to isolate himself, self-medicate and not have to explain why. Trauma has changed his life irreparably, in spite of society and his family’s expectation that everything will be okay in the end.


Casey Affleck deserves an Oscar for playing a ‘dead’ character who will never go back to the person he was before, no matter how much others want or try to coerce him to. Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away and I don’t think that Lee really wants it to. He sees it as his punishment.


Most of us find a way to move forward after trauma; to appear normal on the outside, at least. It is assumed (or hoped) that we will get through whatever triggered the depression because no-one wants to talk to the sad person at the dinner table when they’re hellbent on having fun.


Sadly, many don’t get through.



Do You Ever Feel Really Alone?

I’ve been sleeping better recently, in spite of the dastardly Sydney humidity at this time of the year – I suppose it’s one small positive to be had out of the daily bleakness associated with giving up caffeine. person-338317_1280

But the other night something woke me up at 3.30am. You know that feeling, when your eyes suddenly open and you are instantly alert and worried about something you can’t put your finger on?


And I suddenly felt really lonely and scared about what lies ahead for me. It was the first time I had become aware of the old man’s mortality.


Don’t worry, I’m not about to spout some existentialist crap about my place in the world, but there’s no doubt that the older you get, the fear of loneliness begins to set in.


My mother-in-law suffered from anxiety like me, and I remember how much living alone scared her after my father-in-law passed. Even now, with the comforting sound of the old man’s heavy breathing by my side at night, the slightest sound can send me in a spin, triggering my mind to play tricks on me, concocting all the worst possibilities that the noise could be.


It’s usually just some drunk or wildlife in the street, and living in an apartment, four floors above danger has assuaged many of the fears I used to experience living in our old, thin weatherboard house, that didn’t cope well with the sea breezes. But I have already begun to worry about going after the old man – a ridiculous concept with my tragic familial medical history – but one that can keep me awake in the middle of the night.


And I don’t like that feeling of dependence on him. I’m a strong woman.


One of my oldest friends is a GP in the UK and I remember when I saw her a few years ago her saying to me, ‘watch out, because we’ll all start dropping off now,’ and how I laughed in mock horror with her, still blissfully ignorant then about my own mortality.


It’s not like I think about dying all of the time…just a lot of the time… although there’s been no conclusive medical proof yet. I don’t even think I’m afraid of death as much as I am of being left alone; particularly here, in a country that I love and have made my home in, yet which is geographically so far away from the blanket of security of my extended family.


Even more strange is that I love my own company, and often fantasise about escaping to some hotel by myself for a few days, away from the traumas caused by family and responsibility.


Or I catch myself looking wistfully at tiny, one bed apartments online.


I assume that if Kurt ever forgives me for being the worst parent in the world, I will still have my children in my life in some capacity, if the natural order goes to plan. But who knows if they will live close by or even want me in their new lives.


And supposing the old man does put NC in charge of our nest egg, (as he has threatened so many times, out of frustration at my lack of interest/ineptitude with our money), and she shoves me in some awful home and throws away the key? I can’t see Kurt wanting me to tag along to his prison cell.


I shall just have to make sure I go first.