Posted by Colin in November's Magazine
Every. Bloody. Year. Without fail. Like a particularly gloomy salmon returning to spawn. It should win awards for punctuality. But Melville captured the pernicious pervasiveness of this timeous funk better than I ever could; a fact I discovered not in some bookish revelation, but in front of the telly, watching BBC2 on a wet Wednesday, as Ahab did battle with the whale.
Take it away, Ishmael…
“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
‘It is a damp, drizzly November in my soul’. Such bitter poetry; but spot on. That’s the stuff Herman…now away and polish the poop deck or something – your work is done. Well, as far as I’m concerned. Similarly, I’d imagine that anyone else who has endured the mental vicissitudes of seasonal change would also recognise the squalid truths of poor old Ishmael’s lament – if not perhaps the urge to engage in hat-based high jinks. More on hats later though.
Before I proceed, let me please assure you that the genuine horror afflicting multitudes around this feverish orb is not lost on me. In other words, the ‘Aleppo Defence’ need not play a part in this – if you want me to consider the importance of the ills I’m about to articulate set against a bombed out city, blighted by the bloody suffering of innocents, you’re reading the wrong article. The following is not a comparison.
The thing is, relativism doesn’t lessen the struggles of those who slump when the seasons change. For many, “the nights are fair drawin’ in” sounds like “I’m going to screwdriver your psyche for the next 5 months.” Yes, yes I know you can buy one of those lamp things or start eating more oily fish. Yet the truth is, for me, the black dog is more of a fat whale that flops on to my frontal lobe once-ish a year. Pass me the harpoon…
Actually scratch that. For to employ the harpoon is to become Ahab himself and succumb to this legendary fever, convulsed by thoughts of poisonous revenge on myself. I did at one time, but the remedy required to eliminate the relentlessly circuitous thoughts that seemed destined to damn me to hell would have required me to visit violence on myself. And quite frankly while sorely tempted, the outcome would have been obscene in any number of ways.
No, why jump off a bridge when you can thumb your nose from atop the mountain (somewhat ironic given that the French concept of ‘the call of the void’ plays a leading role in my own existential drama). Self-help bollocks? Probably, but that’s of little concern to me. If you find coping mechanisms which enable you to counter the twisted narratives inside your head, they must be employed however silly, however trite and ultimately, however futile.
Yes futile, because I know that in my case the disorder that prowls round my noggin is part of me. Indeed the more you fight it, the worse it tends to get. Pills are deployed like shock troops – and fair play to the little buggers, because they drown it out, like the tea towel over the budgie cage. The mirror still takes a bashing. Yesterday’s Record still lies besmirched at the bottom of the cage. But for the moment, the chirruping is mere background noise.
Talking therapy has also proved useful through the years. Weird as it is to open up so fully to a stranger, it really does help. Kind of like bleeding a radiator I always think. A crude metaphor maybe, but I find it helpful to reduce the on-going psychodrama to the status of the banal – it divests it of any power you falsely attribute to it; kind of like laughing at an especially pompous and cruel priest. Again, this is not advice, there’s no formula for all.
So it is, that I come back to the hats. Ah the hats. What I wouldn’t give to live in more genteel times when marvellous millinery was a prerequisite. Then the ludicrous phantoms that plague me could be vanquished by playfully toppling a top hat, bruising a bowler or flicking a fascinator, like Ishmael all those years ago.
Sadly, no they must be assuaged by other means, be they chemical or otherwise. So to all those who suffer similarly to varying degrees – especially at this time of the year – all I can say is hang on in there, keep taking the tablets (if appropriate of course) and never forget Dorothy Parker’s beautiful verse Resumé if the shadows grow too long as we sink into winter…
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.