I was awfully gloomy as a teenager: I mean, a real Eeyore; I can’t have been much fun to be around. Of course teenage is a time of extreme states of mind, extreme joy can be replaced by cold darkness in a heartbeat, but this was a settled grey fog, without relief or variety. From the age of 11 onwards, for several years, I experienced everything through a thick muffling blanket, took very little pleasure in anything, and felt no connection with the rest of the world. At the time, depression was not recognized in teenagers, and since I never lost time from school, and carried on studying hard, none of the adults around me, with one exception, knew that anything was wrong.
The exception was my mother, who knew just how unhappy I was. For years she patiently chased me down, listened to me, chivied me away from my books. She taught me the gentle pleasures of going for walks, doing crosswords, watching a favourite TV programme. It was years before I finally mastered the art of not being depressed, and fully appreciated what she had given me in those years.
However, although she was sympathetic, I never felt that she understood. I was convinced that she had never experienced depression in her life. It seemed to me that our temperaments were as different as the sun and the moon. Both my father and I suffered depression, but my mother seemed mysteriously immune. Of course, as a teenager, since it seemed obvious to me that the world was just depressing, I secretly thought my mother was a bit lacking in imagination! In fact later on the turning point in my battle against depression was in finally recognizing that happiness was not a failure of imagination.
Now I am the mother and it is my children who are amazed at my apparent impermeability to the utter awfulness of the world around them. I am the one coaxing, listening, modelling a calm and happy life. It’s not a confidence trick: I am not selling them a pup. I am happy, and I could show them how to become happy too. But I know they can’t hear that yet, and that it may take a long time for them to understand. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they think I don’t understand, and that I am a bit lacking in imagination.