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.

Say thank you and I love you

the_first_thanksgiving_cph-3g04961Day 76 from 100 days of solitude (November 27, 2014)

I slept very well last night, on account of the fact that I forgot to switch my electric blanket off, which meant I didn’t wake up freezing in the early hours as has been the norm in the last few nights, since winter arrived. I forgot to switch the electric blanket off and it did not burst into flame overnight, and I woke up warm and uncharred this morning, for which I am thankful. And thus began my Sifnos Thanksgiving. Waking up, alive, is always a good start to the day.

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Greece. It’s not on our calendar, but we hear rumours of it, of Americans gathering round dinner tables to fill up on turkey and pumpkin pie and be thankful for stuff. I have a very vague understanding of the origins of this holiday, other than that Pilgrims and Indians are involved, so I looked it up. In a tale that seems to be as much myth as it is history, the first Thanksgiving dinner was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, when the Pilgrims invited the Indians to join them in a feast, giving thanks for the Indians’ help and the colony’s first successful harvest. The Pilgrims had arrived in the area the previous year, entirely unprepared, and the local Indian Wampanoag tribe had taken these crazy white people, the “coat men”, under their wing, and shown them the ropes and how to grow things, so they didn’t starve to death. It’s a nice story and I hope it’s true, in part, even though it’s part of a bigger story, and sadly, unarguably true, where the colonists slaughtered the natives all over America, and stole their land and weren’t at all thankful.

I slept well last night, but I had a dream about my friend Ali, a vivid, elaborate dream that went on for what felt like hours, and whose details escape me now. I woke up missing her. I haven’t spoken to her for months. We have drifted apart in the last few years, which is stupid because whenever we get together I can’t think of a single reason why. I had sent her an email a few days ago, when I heard a song that reminded me of her, but she hadn’t replied.
    I went to my desk, still reeling from her presence in my dream, with the intention of sending her another message, urging her to get in touch. I sipped my coffee as I checked my email: all junk. And then, with a discreet ping, a new email dropped into my inbox. I clicked on it, both shocked and completely unsurprised, and read Ali’s message. My second thing to be thankful for, today.

Perhaps I’ll host a fantasy Thanksgiving dinner tonight. I’ll be the Pilgrim and the locals can be the Indians. I have no turkey, but they can share my chicken soup; I took a chicken breast out of the freezer last night, for that purpose. It won’t be much of a feast, but it’s a large chicken breast and if I chop it up really small there should be enough for everyone to get a taste. I’ll add onions and rice and potatoes, and cook it all in a big pot of broth. I’ll also make a salad with lettuce and radishes from the garden, to celebrate the harvest, and flavour the soup with lemons from my tree. The locals can bring offerings, too. Though I hope none of them will bring dead deer, like the Indians reportedly did, or little birds shot out of the trees. But I wouldn’t mind a few eggs, or a bit of cheese.
    Manolis can come, and his mother, and his wife, if she’s not at work. Antonis the plumber and Makis the carpenter. Vangelia and Yorgos and their children, Vasiliki and Simos, if they’re free. Margarita the hairdresser, and Post Office Man No.1, and Loukia from the butcher’s. The entire souvlaki family, mother, father and daughter, and the cashier from Alpha Bank. The girl from the chemist, and the guy at the kiosk who remembers what tobacco I smoke. The two sisters who run the supermarket at the top of the hill. Nikos the farmer and his wife. Polyna, of course, if she’s around. The man who advised me to plant rocket and spinach and sold me the seeds. I am thankful to all of these people, these and many others, and I would like them to come round tonight, and sit down at my table and share my chicken soup, and be the natives to my coat men, the ones who have taken me under their wing and shown me the ropes.

I am the coat men of Sifnos, even though the coat I wear, a blue rainproof jacket with fleece lining, was purchased right here a few weeks ago. I walked into a shop I’d barely even looked at before, a shop I’ve walked past hundreds of times but never deigned to consider entering, where two women were watching a cooking show on a large TV set mounted on the wall. I went fearfully from rail to rail, keeping a safe, aloof distance from the garments on display, convinced that there was nothing there for me, with my high city standards. Until, right at the back and hiding amidst an alarming amount of faux fur, I found exactly what I was looking for, and in my size. Which was, apparently, XXL, and made by the excellent brand MISS PASSION.
    ‘You’re lucky,’ said the lady behind the counter. ‘It’s the last one.’
    It fits me perfectly, my Sifnos jacket, made in China.

I got another email from Ali later this morning, all in capitals and full of exclamation marks. Sit Down by James had just come on her radio, and that’s a song that reminds her of me. Of times long ago, when we saw each other every day, and danced the nights away in shady London nightclubs. Of singing along with plastic cups of lager in our hands, of sitting down on the dirty, sticky floor whenever the chorus demanded it. Sit down next to me.

Life is up to its tricks again, and two songs and a dream bringing Ali and I together today are no coincidence, but today being Thanksgiving is. It means nothing to me. I have the same objection to Thanksgiving as I have to Valentine’s Day. Shouldn’t we be thankful and in love every day, instead of saving it all up for special calendar occasions? We get together, on these holidays, and stuff ourselves with food and exchange our gifts, and we forget what we’re there for, and we forget to be thankful for the fact that we’re there and together at all. We don’t say thank you enough. We don’t write love letters. We wake up every morning and don’t notice we’re alive.
    I am thankful and I am in love. Today, on this day that is just an ordinary Thursday on the Greek calendar, and tomorrow, and the day after, and every day that I wake up, alive. And I’ll have my fantasy dinner, tonight and every other night, and I’ll invite everyone, because it’s a fantasy and everyone will fit, everyone I’m thankful to, everyone I’m grateful for, everyone I love and have loved in the past, the friends I talk to every day and the ones I haven’t spoken to for months, and we will all sit down together and share my chicken soup, Pilgrims and Indians and natives and coat men, crazy white people all of us, regardless of what shade of skin we come in, who would do well to remember that we’re lucky to be alive. And say thank you and I love you, while there are still days.


100 days of solitude is available from Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.