On my bathroom wall there’s a page torn from the back of my favourite magazine, Psychologies. It’s a column by Sally Brampton, who killed herself last month, after a long and much-documented struggle with terrible, colour-sapping, joy-slaughtering depression.
As I never knew her personally, Brampton’s death came as a shock. I discovered it, as I do most things, by faffing around on Twitter, and it took only a cursory Google to confirm it was true.
That Brampton apparently walked into the sea seems a heartbreaking yet curiously apt method for a woman who had often written of her love of the seaside, the happiness of meeting friends on the beach, and finding meaning in the tranquil ‘boredom’ of her life since moving from London.
Although she was much heralded as a brilliant editor, razor-sharp yet kind commissioner, and the architect of a new style of women’s magazine, I only discovered Brampton through her writing on depression and life in Psychologies.
Hidden at the back of the magazine on the near-final page, her invariably measured, honest, realistic and calm words were like a treasured goodbye hug from an old friend during bad times. “I can’t solve all the problems,” her words seemed to say, “But I can empathise with them, and let you know you’re not alone. Because I feel like that, too.”
Aged 60 when she died, Brampton surely had years ahead of her if she had lived – but her legacy, if nothing else, will be her eloquent unearthing of the dank, hidden pain – or even, total absence of feeling – that depression can bring. Talking about it somehow makes it feel less unusual, less isolating.
As someone who suffers from stints of drab, dark, depressive, painful, despondent episodes, I can say it’s still utterly horrific when you’re in whatever dark place you go to, but it can be slightly more manageable to know that others have been in the same tunnel, and found light at the other side.
And yet, her column on my wall isn’t directly about depression.
It’s about savouring the ordinary.
And that for me, is a saviour indeed.
Much of my ‘depression’ – I even hesitate to call it that because I’ve never taken medication for it, or been genuinely, genuinely moved to try and take my own life – is speared on by the sense that my life is utterly meaningless and dull, and that I am so ordinary as to not really merit living.
That I, as someone with every opportunity, education, chance and prospect as one could wish for, should be – as I see myself in those dark moments – so mundanely boring, and apparently unproductive.
I am always striving for more – better writing, more accomplished painting, tighter abs, thinner thighs, a more proactive brain, a more productive mindset. A more colourful life, a freer life, a life without the 9 to 5 or the endless grey British skies or train delays or self-loathing or lack of media profile or any other constraints I might jostle against at my lowest points.
In my dreams, I strive to be creatively fulfilled – a colourful, joyful, productive and financially-solvent author of a book or five, artist, fantastically successful journalist, able to travel and live and create anywhere, anytime, with abs to match – and yet, most of the time, I am acutely aware of falling short of these things. The spiral downwards is dark.
Mostly, another face on the train platform, I am ordinary. I do not climb mountains or save children dying of Ebola or find time to write bestselling books or articles of genre-defying wisdom.
Many people I know (and even more I don’t) are achieving great things every day – incredible books, fabulous blogs, beautiful weddings, gorgeous tiny children, jaw-dropping creative art and piercing literature.
And yet, while I try to be creative when I can, some days I barely find time to hoover my own flat. Sometimes, this feels normal. Other days, it means I can hardly breathe in my own skin.
In a time when aspirations and dreams are matched only by the internet’s apparent endless possibility (and, therefore, endless pressure and paradoxes of choice), accepting your ordinariness can feel like a failure. At times like that, anything remotely normal or mundane can feel like a gilded cage.
I know I’m not alone to feel this, but when you’re feeling it, that’s small consolation.
But, Sally Brampton, whose column focuses on small pleasures and taking “joy in the ordinary” cut through all that. “My life has been dull of late,” she wrote, in this column, “and I mean that in the best possible way.”
I don’t know why Sally decided that enough was enough that final day. I can’t begin to imagine what drew her to her end.
But I do know that her strength lay in her eloquence, her ability to articulate the deep pain that can come from a depression that sucks away any positivity or appreciation of your own talents or brilliance.
Until – in my case, as I can only advocate for that – you are left with your utter, unbearably boring, mundane, infuriating and joy-sapping ordinariness.
In times like that, the thing to do is to quietly sit next to the feeling, not wish it away.
Appreciate the simple ordinariness of a coffee, a train, the wind on your face, the smell of your lunch, the feel of your hand on someone else’s.
All these are things to be noted, and seen, and respected. Paradoxically, to be bored in today’s world, to feel mundane when all about you seem in sparkling colour, to accept these things for the everyday joys that they are, can hold the key to that door out of darkness.
That’s not to say we should not strive to do difficult things; that we should not appreciate ourselves for the great things we do and are, or that we should resign ourselves to any situations that dull us beyond despair.
But to revel in the boring, the less-than-spectacular, in the ordinary – and see it for the ritual pleasure it is – is a skill that Sally exhorted in her column, and the quiet, triumphant message that sings, posthumously but no less powerfully, from that column on my wall.
RIP Sally Brampton, my most favourite columnist; wise, wonderful and awesome lady, and offerer – despite everything – of endless hope.
And please, if you’re ever feeling so bad you don’t know where to turn, try here, here or Sally’s own utterly truthful article here. Please. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, you’re not alone. There is always light after darkness.