One of Marian Keyes lovely books made me laugh harder than any other book I have ever had the joy to read. Both me and my Mum, who read This Charming Man first, credit it as being the funniest book ever. Though it was also one of the saddest. And that there in a nutshell is its author: funny and sad. An indication of literary genius if ever there was one.
We don’t talk about depression do we? We brush it under the fake Aubusson and pretend our lives are sprinkled with fairy dust. Blessed all day every day with good feeling. But some of us are suffering daily. Walking around underneath our own cloud of black and on some days forcing our heads thorough the parapet to beam at the sun and on others shuffling along quietly and barely acknowledging the rest of the universe for fear that they will see through us and lean in to touch our terror, or try (oh please, please don’t) to stroke our sorrow away.
And sometimes this depression is circumstantial and sometimes it isn’t and sometimes it is both innate and circumstantial and that seems terribly unfair so we take ourselves to the Doctors and sob a little bit and she looks back through our medical history and marks the prescriptions for tablets and counselling and writes out another and sends us on our way because she cannot get inside our head and tighten the screws that seem to be coming loose and she cannot tell us how to run our lives, nor how to manage the kind of nightmare none of us could have predicted. She can’t do it for us and if we can’t do it for ourselves, then the only hope is to learn to manage this brooding, growling black dog and hope that one day you will turn around to find that it has turned into a yappy, affectionate chiwawa.
And so we do. I do and Marian Keyes does. We learn to manage it. Some of us better than others only because we would be there but for the grace of god, who blesses us with more good days than bad and only allows us to be truly nuts when hormones go tango-ing with depression and all kinds of hell temporarily breaks loose.
In my case, depression is a constant quiet companion sent raging by a terrible combination of unspeakable ugly circumstance and PMT and revealing itself in lethargy, sadness and creative chaos, and in Marian’s case, though she seems to beating herself around the head with the notion that her life is so blessed that the very presence of the black dog speaks of ingratitude, depression in this lovely, talented, funny woman, reveals itself in suicidal thought, grief and anxiety.
Managing it defeated her doctors and Marian herself, and then she found baking. And she wrote a book about cake. And it was funny and baking turned out to be the cathartic parallel universe she needed to escape her own head and though the depression merely took a back seat, it wasn’t centre stage of her days any more and she could something other than watch Come Dine with Me and endure imaginary, choking black smoke suffocating everything she’d done and everything she was.
And so Saved By Cake was born and it is funny and pretty and contains recipes for slightly bonkers things like a Coca Cola cake but no-one cares because this is a book that pays testimony to what it is to go into battle with your own mind: to say this might be a living hell, but it is my living hell and I will get through it with sprinkles and glitter and vanilla frosting if I have to and I don’t care whether that seems unspeakably trivial to you, it is a mechanism for my survival and from this beautiful hope for a better tomorrow might just rise.
Because this is the truth of it: little, daily, hourly, maybe even moment by moment joys are the best kind of anathema for depression. Prozak might help if it will let you sleep and counselling might make all the difference if you are in the business of spilling out your head to a stranger, but I know and Marion now knows that it is only when we work out just which of life’s little pleasures will get us through the night and give us the strength to get up in the morning, that we can both blow away the fog and commit to a life full of fog blowing rituals that will long sustain us.
For me there has always been old-fashioned words, a comfort drawer, lavender and lace and for Marian there is a drawer full of dreams, and the respect and love of a million women who cannot help but recognise themselves within the pages of her wonderful books.
It’s ok to suffer isn’t it? Thank heavens Marion Keyes is proof that we do not have to do it alone.