Bring it on

ohi day

Depression came. She came to tell me to go my bed. She came with the storm but, like the storm, I had felt her rumbling approach long before that. She likes to give warning, build up the anticipation, set you up for the plunge into her horrible anticlimax, the flatness she brings that neutralises everything into nothing.
    The day before, the Tuesday, was symbolic, and there were signs of her already. It was a national holiday, ohi day, the day of no, and it completely passed me by. On the 28th of October 1940, Benito Mussolini delivered an ultimatum to the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas: allow the Italian forces free passage into Greece, to occupy certain strategic locations, or there will be war. Metaxas refused but, contrary to popular misconception, he did not just say “no”; he responded in French, the diplomatic language of the day, and said: ‘Alors, c’est la guerre’. Then, it is war. But the Greeks love slogans and battle cries and, in contrast to their everyday conversation, they like them punchy and to the point. And they couldn’t very well take to the streets shouting stuff in French; they had their national pride to consider, especially on a day like this. So Alors, c’est la guerre became a resounding Greek No!, ohi, a short, two syllable word of pure defiance, and that’s the word they chanted, in their thousands, when they spilled out on the streets of Athens, until their throats were raw. And then, there was war.
    There are parades on ohi day, and marching bands, and bunting, and the Greek flag flies everywhere. The children gather in the village square, dressed in white shirts and navy blue skirts and trousers, and march proudly through town, and the officials make moving speeches about the courage and integrity of the noble race of the Greeks. All this took place on Tuesday, and I missed it, cooped up in my house on top of the hill, typing away on my computer. When I passed through town in the evening, all that remained was the bunting, a long row of blue and white flags flapping about in the breeze over the empty benches in the square.
    I felt her approach in the late afternoon, after the celebration that had gone ahead without me. Nothing too obvious, but there was a restlessness that often preludes her arrival. I dressed myself in several layers and stepped out into the final vestiges of the gloomy day. I would walk, I decided, down to the ring road and follow it round in a big circle, all the way to the supermarket, past the playground and back home; it would take about an hour. This was not a road I’d walked before. You wouldn’t do it in the summer: it’s too busy with cars using it to bypass the traffic at the centre of town and, like most of these island roads, it makes no provision for pedestrians.
    I should have known better than to expose myself to all that nothingness; I should have known I was making it too easy for her to find me. I had counted on quiet roads, a peaceful, contemplative walk to settle me down, but I’d forgotten about ohi day, and I got more than I bargained for. There was nobody around, only stillness and, every now and then, the parked up vehicles of everyday labour, abandoned only for this one short day of celebration that seemed to stretch, infinite, into the future and the past. This is a small island, but the emptiness made it seem vast, and it was exciting at first, like a child suddenly free to explore all the secret places that adults usually guard, but then I became acutely aware of my own smallness in comparison, and the feeling turned to awe.
    It wasn’t loneliness, but the actual, physical fact of being completely alone. I let myself think about it and it frightened me. A donkey stuck his head over the fence as I was passing by, and I jumped so far that I found myself on the opposite side of the road before I realised what had happened, felt immensely silly and crossed over again to pat his muzzle and apologise. I walked on, and I could hear my footsteps on the tarmac, a dog barking, echoey, in the distance, a birdcall, the dry rustle of creatures low in the grass. Nothing else, no other sounds: nothing mechanical, nothing human. An eagle circled overhead. The shadows grew deeper. A single motorbike drove past, and the noise it made seemed completely absurd in the ever-expanding stillness.
    It was a good walk, despite the fear; it made me feel alert and alive. But I should have known better than to walk alone, when she had warned me she was coming; I was too easy to find. And she came to me, like a bad fairy, and sprinkled me with her flattening dust. I took the emptiness home with me, and into town, later that evening, when I met Christina on one of her flying working trips, for a bite and a glass of wine. The process had been set in motion, and all the warmth and the unexpected company could do was stave off its inevitable conclusion for a time. I had exposed myself, and I was infected.
    And so the day of ohi passed me by, and then came Wednesday, and depression. She came with the storm, and I surrendered without a word. As the rain began to fall, I felt her twisting me up inside, turning me inside out, and then she was there, with her soothing, hypnotic voice. ‘Just lie down,’ she said. ‘Just give in, and lie down. There is nothing else to do.’ I surrendered and took to my bed, and she came to tuck me in, full of tenderness and gentle words, like a nurse for the terminally ill. Palliative care, with no hope for recovery. Just give in to it. There is nothing else. I closed my eyes, and went to sleep.
    When I woke up, the storm had been and gone but depression lingered, her heavy flatness making it hard for me to move, like a stiff old blanket that she’d laid over me while I slept. I kicked it off, and shook some life back into my limbs, enough to carry me listlessly around the house, pretending activity by making tea. Depression lingered, and whispered desolation.

The Greeks are always being defiant; we’re always looking for things to be defiant about. And when it comes to inventing battle cries, we are truly undefeated, the most notable of all being the immortal two words uttered by Leonidas of Sparta in response to the Persian King Xerxes’ demand that they lay down their arms and surrender: molon labe. Come and get them. The man had balls.
    I had mislaid mine for a day, the day of defiance: I’d been a bad Greek, and let it pass me by. But then I found them again, a day late. I found my defiance, but not as I expected. I found the saddest, most embarrassing, most heartbreaking Greek songs I could think of, and played them loudly, standing up in the middle of the room, and cried, for no reason whatsoever: for nothing. And I surrendered in defiance, and I said no, a day late, but just on time. It wasn’t war, it was guerrilla warfare; dirty tactics and sad Greek songs and Leonidas’ words, paraphrased for the 21st century: bring it. Bring it the fuck on.
    There were no flags and no fanfare, but it was a celebration, nonetheless, because as I cried over nothing, I realised I had nothing to cry about, and that made me laugh. Depression slunk off, taking her blanket with her, and I turned the music off and drank my tea, and painted my toenails red. Leonidas winked, and the Greek Prime Minister said some stuff in French that I didn’t understand. And the day ended, and Thursday came.


This is Day 51 from 100 days of solitude, written on October 29, 2014.

Your soul is always where it needs to be

I’ve said it before, that you can’t be depressed in a place like this. I’ve said it many times, but it’s a lie. It’s a line I feed myself when I feel it coming on and I’m hungry for nothing; deplete of everything and wanting nothing. It’s a line for when I sense it circling and I’m frozen on the spot because there’s nowhere to run. It’s a line that I throw at other people when they ask about my life, when I show them the set I live it on: the fields of thirsty silver and gold, the perfect line between mountain and sky, toy churches glowing in the sunshine and smudges of pink bougainvillea, the horizons made up of Cycladic blue sea. It’s an exorcism, for when my soul is in the right place. How can you be depressed in a place like this?

With the sunshine picking out highlights in your hair and warming up your skin, how? How, when you have to lift your hand to shade against so much beauty, when there is more and more to love everywhere you look? When everything is so light, so weightless that you can imagine it just floating away on a jasmine-scented breeze, how can you possibly conceive of any kind of weight? But depression is the chill inside, where the sun cannot reach. Depression is the filter that turns everything flat and grey. It’s a desolate landscape. It’s the mathematical formula that multiplies everything by zero. Depression only understands love as lost, as unrequited; as regret. And it always tips the scales in its favour; there is no counterweight when your soul is in the wrong place.

At times like this, that sunshine, those endless, generous skies are like a personal affront. They hurt. Beauty hurts, lightness hurts when you feel ugly and weighed down by things you cannot see. Things you cannot hold or handle, cannot pick up and examine and toss aside, cannot show anyone and say look, see? Here is the thing that hurts me, so you can take it apart together and scare it away. Depression cannot be shared and when you’re standing in the sunshine against a sky of endless blue, that’s all anyone can see. A girl framed by light, and how can you be depressed in a place like this?

I’ve said it before, to guilt-trip myself into recovery, when depression has already taken hold. How self-indulgent, how ungrateful. How shameful, when other people would give anything to have a little of what you’ve got; how wasteful. But that’s depression talking, when it tells you you have the best of everything and yet you’re empty and poor. When it shows you all the love in the world, tantalisingly out of reach. When it says your soul is in the wrong place. Pinned down by grief, an inarticulated sadness, too heavy to flutter in the breeze.

It helps, to be in a place like this. It can help. You can take yourself for a walk to the top of a hill and gaze out to sea and place the magnitude of everything in context. You can force yourself to look at the spaces of sky between trees, all the entry points for light to filter through and heal you. It can help, to see depression contrasted with beauty, but it isn’t beauty that we forget about when depression takes hold; it isn’t beauty that we need reminding of. What we forget is that our soul is always in the right place. No matter how uncomfortable it feels, our soul is exactly where it needs to be.

I’d forgotten this yesterday, when depression took hold. It was with me when I woke in the morning and by late afternoon I could barely move for its syrupy embrace. I tried to summon gratitude as the antidote, but it is hard to be grateful for anything when there is nothing that you want. I tried to not be wasteful of the beauty all around me, but I sat in the sunshine and it just wore me down. I took my coffee outside and smoked a cigarette and gazed at mountains and sky, and there was only pain. Emptiness. A mockery of everything I could feel; everything I should, by rights, be feeling if my soul was in the right place. Pinned down by grief for all the love that was out of reach – but some instinct told me to reach. Only a little, only as much as I could. Only as far as sending my friend a message. Everything is shit, I said. I’m tired of everything. I don’t want anything at all. Will you come round?

And he came. And we sat on my terrace, on the sun-warmed stones as the sun began to set upon the fields of silver and gold. He didn’t ask to see the sadness, the intangible weight I was asking him to lift; he didn’t ask how, in a place like this, with the sunshine in my hair. We didn’t look at the sky changing colours in the west or the mountains turning to shadows behind us. Steeped in this beauty, we looked at each other, because all of it is background, the set we live our lives on, but the place is where our souls are at, and the people are what make it a living. Looking at the sea stretching out beyond your horizon can help you remember how small you are, how inconsequential your sorrows, but inconsequential talk between two people on a Wednesday afternoon is what will put you back in your place, right where your soul is at. A friend turning up to sit with you when you have nothing to offer, a friend bringing nothing but the fact that he came: that’s where it’s at. No matter what’s happening around you, in the background, on the set, this is the only place that matters. No matter how uncomfortable it feels, this is the place where you can never be depressed. How, when your soul is exactly where it needs to be, and love is never out of reach?


I am not making light of depression here; there is nothing light about it. But reaching out can help. It won’t be shared and it won’t be halved, but it might loosen its grip on you, to remember that you are loved.

Coincidentally, my friend Keith wrote about his own struggle with depression a few days ago. Read his post here.