Last week I wrote about the small number of miles I have been cycling lately. Last year I wrote about my bike computer. And over the past week or so my son has been telling me about his statistics now that he has got one.
It’s all about the numbers.
Having written bout the comparatively low number of miles I have been cycling recently, this past week I snatched what extra miles I could – mainly round the local park on my to and from places – and notched up a respectable 39 miles. They were easy miles. No steep hills, really. Just weaving my way past the dog walkers and children on scooters blissfully oblivious of their surroundings.
Back in the Spring of 2001, when I was first diagnosed with depression, I joined an orgnisation called Depression Alliance. As I have mentioned in previous editions I made a round trip of a hundred miles to attend one of its support group in London. There I met people with similar experiences from a wide range of backgrounds. At such gatherings there is no need to explain, to educate, or apologise. While depression is a large country, and sufferers have a great variety of experiences, there is a fundamental acceptance in the group, and a lack of judgement. The same is true of the on-line support group that Depression Alliance runs for its members. More often than not, depression brings with it a sense of isolation and loneliness as well as a strong pull to withdraw from the world, hibernate. The strength of an on-line support group is that you don’t have to leave the house to be part of a community who share similar experiences and who can offer support to one another.
After a few years, as I began to feel better I let my membership lapse and stopped attending the support group. I rejoined when I relapsed for several months in the second half of 2010, and I have been a member ever since. Although I have not really been involved with the on-line support group this time around, I did start to attend my local group.
One of the issues about ‘open’ groups – that is, groups that anyone can attend, and you don’t have to sign up for any number of sessions – is that you can come for a couple of weeks and then don’t come back for six months and no one will think any the less of you. It also means that the facilitator has no way of knowing who, or how many, will attend on any given week. So the dynamic is likely to shift from week to week as new people come, attend for a few weeks before disappearing off the radar without warning.
About 18 months ago the facilitator of the group I was attending asked me if I would like to take over the role. Although I was at a pretty low ebb I figured that I would give it a go. I was coming along every week anyhow, and I thought I had got the hang of how the group worked. I would ask the group to score how they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. And so we opened the group like this.
But how can any of us really know how the other is feeling? Who can really say ‘I know how you are feeling?’ with any hope of accuaracy? What does my 4 out of 10 mean to the person I am sitting next to? And how can anyone admit to scoring, say, 8 out of 10 in a depression support group, anyhow?
One of the strengths of peer – led support groups is that you can learn from and identify with people who you might not otherwise meet. This happened about a year ago when some one new strarted attending regularly. Matthew – not his real name – pointed out that what scoring 4 out of 10 means to one person might very well be different to the person sitting next to him him/her. He offered the group a scale with the familiar 1 to 10 format, but with descriptions of how each number might feel. So, 1 might be described as something along the lines of ‘life couldn’t be worse. The absolute pits’. 5 would be ‘Some good days, but mostly life is a real struggle.’ That way people had a shorthand way of understanding how eachother were feeling on any given week. It is a rough and ready system. Not a chart to pour over and fret about. A sketch of the week’s feelings, more or less.
For months now I have been feeling pretty good. I have been going along to the group, facilitating, as a way of showing others who are struggling that life needn’t always be a cold dark place, that a measure of recovery is possible. But I am also aware that there is a steep slope hidden in the scale of numbers we use. I had blithely been giving my score as 10 out of 10 for some weeks last year when it occured to me that the number 10 is made up of two digits, taken on their own, are – on our feelings scale – the lowest one can be. That was a sobering thought. I like to think that my recovery is pretty solid these days. But I’d do well to remember that depression is the sort of beast that can acost you from behind the most solid oak.
A state you must not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all
the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exsist.
But there is, as promised,
with its perfect bridge above
and its doors forever open.
Stephen Dunn (1939 – )