I am at that age now. A time of my life when I take pleasure in the simple – and some would say boring – things. The early nights – I rarely go to bed after 10:15 unless I watch the first half of the ITV News at Ten if I’m feel in an especially rock n roll mood; the staying in at the weekends watching TV; reading books in bed; listening to Radio 4; rewatching the West Wing over and over again; enjoying tidying the garden; finding ironing relaxing; cooking for pleasure; hardly ever wearing jeans and finding clothes I like in Marks and Spencer. Overall, the balance in my life is good; especially between home and work.
Of course, I don’t find these things boring. I love them. I choose to do them. They reflect who I am. They are me.
In so many ways I was always old before my time; from the days of reading a newspaper that was bigger than me on the school bus; going to political meetings aged 13 and talking to the grown ups at school more than to my peers. I have always subconsciously longed for middle-aged life. I can now at last claim I am near the right age tick-box on the form to justify my actions. I have arrived. I am settled. That is my word at the moment. Settled.
There is no doubt that there had been something missing until recently; a barrier to feeling fully at ease and at peace; a restlessness; a shadow hanging over me. As I have written before, there is no cure for my depression and anxiety; no secret weapon, no magic bullet. But the last eight weeks or so have been the most at ease I can remember. The most calm. The most even keel. The most me I have felt. The most settled.
This follows my formal diagnosis and the start of taking an anti-depressant to help me along with my many self care interventions of exercise, rest, kindness to myself, the right work-life balance and good, healthy habits. I know that I will live with depression and anxiety for the rest of my life but until I had experienced the last few weeks, I didn’t know that I could live with it as comfortably.
Many people have asked me, after reading my blog or tweets, how has the medication made me feel; has it changed me; have I felt numb; have I felt different; can I put my finger on the difference. The reality is hard to describe, beyond that word again. Settled.
It is important for me to reflect that being settled and calm is not a euphoric state; it’s not boundless happiness and delirium but is a lot better than I am used to feeling. There is something important about acknowledging that such an improvement is fantastic but it is not like being “normal”; it is not a state of overjoyness; it is just better than it was before. For me, significantly so. Like all of the other things I do to stay well – from screen time bans after 9pm and no alcohol – they all provide me with a small, incremental improvement; ‘fine margins’ to borrow a lazy sports cliche. The medication has added a further percentage or two of improvement and the combination is working. So far.
I am not naive. I know this newly-found settled status may not last eight more hours let alone eight more weeks, months or years, and that when I stop taking the pills or falter in my good routines it may all go pear-shaped. I know that there are no guarantees. I know that because I have been very low, very down, very sad, very pained, very broken, very empty, very unsettled before. I’ve curled up in a ball in tears; I’ve suddenly lost my way out of nowhere and felt half of myself; I have just wanted to hide away from everyone but my wife and daughter – and even with them have felt that shame of inadequacy and despair, praying that the shadow would leave me and make me feel like me again.
I know those feelings didn’t last forever either and recent times has taught me to enjoy living in the moment of feeling good; of being settled. I’ve had one or two wobbles over the last few weeks but they have been fleeting and not hung around for long; much shorter times than before. Another small but important improvement.
As the impending doom of Brexit (sorry had to mention it) comes closer on the horizon, I follow with horror the stories of people who have lived, worked, paid taxes, built and sustained communities here (some for over 70 years) now having to prove their right to be here; to stay here; to be awarded “settled status” by the Home Office. My heart goes out to them and it sinks for the moral bankruptcy that led us to this point where they have to apply to stay in the country they have made their home.
For me, my recently-awarded settled status is not like living in a different country but a familiar place that just seems a little kinder and a little gentler; a place in which I want to stay, just like my fellow EU nationals with the UK. I am determined to keep enjoying each day that I reside in this happier place, hoping nothing and no-one comes knocking on my door to send me back.