Archive | November, 2013

Self-medication for the depressed

2 Nov

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I am severely depressed today. This is nothing new; it’s a demon I’ve battled since the age of 9 when I had my first major episode. As I’ve rationalised the risks in my life – eliminating relationships, jobs and money, I’ve focused on one thing, and one thing alone as a source of meaning: the work I do. When that fails, everything falls apart, and no amount of prescribed medication can fix it.

(And yes, to answer the question I’ve never fully acknowledged before, at least not in public: I am on medication for clinical depression, and have been for the past two decades.) When it is worse than usual,  I also self-medicate in various ways. As Erik du Plessis said in the Neuromarketing (or, as he termed it, Neuro-decision making) talk I watched on Wednesday, our entire quest in life is the pursuit of dopamine. So how do I trigger dopamine?

1. Alcohol, mostly in the form of low alcohol dooswyn.

2.  Chuckles from Woolworths.

3.  Gym, when I’m feeling virtuous.

4.  Carbs, when I’m not. (What would Tim Noakes say?)

5.  Art and, finally,

6.  Trying to make others happy. Sometimes this involves Chuckles, sometimes not.

Today, I tried options 2 and 6 (and now, 1).

For weeks, I’ve noticed a woman standing at the corner of 12th Avenue and Wessels Road in Rivonia. She sells things I have no use for, and do not particularly want: tablecloths. And yet, it struck me when I saw her after leaving the gym today, that here is someone who has real reason to be depressed. There she stands at the side of the road, waving her wares in the breeze for an indifferent public while they drive off.

I drove off today.  I wanted to get to Herbert Evans at Fourways Crossing to get more art material to paint more work that nobody wants. But instead of going home afterwards, I drove back to Rivonia, hoping I’d find her. Because if there’s nothing else I can do, I can make someone else’s day just a little bit better  – even if I am a fake and a failure, and there’s no escaping the truth of that.

I found her sitting on the side of the road. I had R185 cash on me, not quite enough for the Christmas-themed placemats going for R200, but she was willing to part with them at that price.  I asked her where she lives; she explained that she is a widow from Zimbabwe. (Virtually all the street entrepreneurs I encounter in Sandton are from the north.) The placemats are not my taste at all, and not the sort of thing that I would ever buy for myself. But I hope that in buying them, I brought a little happiness to her day. You can see her posing with her placemats in the photo above.

This is the thing. If we can’t make ourselves happy, if life seems relentlessly, tiresomely  pointless (even for those of us who are privileged and single and childless and have savings we can live off so not being paid isn’t the end of the world), we can at least try to improve the lives of others. In small ways, perhaps; in ways that aren’t necessarily sustainable, and will take away the pain for a day or two – but better than nothing.

BTN. Always be better than nothing.

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