It all started again a few weeks back when the Archbishop of Canterburys daughter, Katherine Welby bravely blogged about her ongoing battle with depression. I was really moved by her honesty but felt that familiar and annoying little niggle in the back of my throat – the long repressed scream that I know so well was back.
The first time I became fully aware of the long repressed scream was when the Time to Change campaign first launched. My Husband, a sufferer from depression, and a local councillor, was inspired and wanted to go public with his own experiences in the hope that someone in his position could have an impact on the wider community. I completely supported him and was so proud of his courage for speaking openly about his battles and the lack of understanding he has faced. But at the same time I could see, even at a time of healthiness and freedom from depression that the condition is always there, lurking. And while that is ok, in fact it’s essential for us both to be aware that it is something to be alert and on the lookout for, it was yet another reminder that one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe two years from now I would, yet again, be living with Depression.
And then, a few months after the Welby piece I heard about Stephen Fry (another person I admire deeply for his honesty) and then read a tweet from Alistair Campbell. And the scream began to take form.
This blog has been bubbling around now for a week or two because I sympathise, I understand, I feel so very angry when I hear about the misconceptions around depression, I really do. But I also feel there’s a voice missing. Depression sufferers are writing, honestly and openly about their experiences and that is nothing but good news. The campaign is asking everyone to educate themselves, to talk and is busting misconceptions, and that is nothing but good news. But the voice which I feel is absent from all of this is the voice of those who experience depression from the other side. The voice of those who suffer from it in a different way.
You see, I don’t feel helped by comparing Depression to cancer or by being given helpful advice about ‘what not to say to someone who is depressed’. I know what not to say, I’ve learnt from long and painful experience what not to say. But do you know what, just because I know not to say it, just because I know it won’t help and could harm, doesn’t stop me from thinking it. And whilst it might be ok to frown upon the employer or the stranger on the street for saying these things, if you don’t mind, just for once, as someone who knows only too well what depression is (and it isn’t cancer) I’d like to say something. Not to my Husband, or Stephen, or Alistair or Katherine or any of the 20% of the population who have depression – but to the disease itself.
You are a selfish, self indulgent, self righteous, self pitying, insensitive, uncaring, unthinking arsehole. You sap the Joy out of an otherwise joyful kind and loving human being. You make him look upon his beautiful wife, and gorgeous children and see nothing. You convince him that it is ok to say to those people closest to him, that they bring nothing to his life and add no meaning to his apparently meaningless existence.
You sap all meaning from the most meaningful relationships in my life; you make me feel lonely, abandoned, frustrated, trapped, cheated and angry. You don’t allow me to express myself for fear of hurting someone I love and you rob me of what should be the primary source and outlet for my emotional, spiritual and human development.
Your pills reduce a living, thriving, flourishing, capable and inspiring human being to a body. It takes in fuel, it walks around the house and it goes to work (most of the time), it provides for the material needs of its family (most of the time) but it doesn’t feel. It doesn’t laugh (despite its wonderfully hilarious children) it doesn’t cry (no matter how much its wife does) it doesn’t get angry and it neither offers nor requires any affection.
Sometimes I wish I could have you myself – I wish that when I am ready to scream at the top of my lungs at how awful you are that I could ask the doctor for some pills to numb the pain of living with you. But I know that despite it all I am actually well enough to keep going, I can get through this and tomorrow will be better – all I need to do take a bit of time out and I’ll be fine, fit and healthy and able to fight another day – whether I want to or not.
You aren’t like cancer or diabetes or a broken leg. Those sufferers need other human beings to love and support them, they are soothed and sometimes healed by relationship – you reject love, you ignore, or worse, reject support and turn your victim in on themselves and drag them away from everything that they are, and everyone that could help them – cancer might kill its victims (and you are a murderer too) but at your worst you just eat human souls and leave their bodies to be cared for.
And then you leave. Your cruellest trick of all. You give me back my husband, you remind me that he is a wonderful human being, a great father, a loving kind and gentle man. And then you just lurk – leering at me from a blog post or a worthwhile and essential public health campaign – waiting to pounce, waiting until my guard is down and always, always threatening that next time you’ll defeat me.
Well you may have been wondering where I’d gone after my week of living on £1 per day.
Bank holiday weekend got somewhat in the way of finalising my blog diary (and yes, that did include rather a lot of ‘catching up’ on lost calories).
But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the past week and now I’ve had time to reflect on the experience here are some of the things I’ve learned:
- Fatty, sugary, salty – all the ‘good stuff’ you think you’d miss if they were taken away are nothing compared to fresh fruit and veg. Really, if you want to change your diet – try living on basic dried ingredients for a week – believe me, by the time you get to the end of that week your mind and body will be screaming out for something fresh and healthy. On Saturday morning the first thing I craved (ok, after the coffee – see below) was something, anything fresh – so I had a triumphant blow out on strawberries, blueberries, fresh yogurt and orange juice. Shopping for my ‘celebration’ breakfast was an interesting exercise too – when I realised I’d spent as much on that one meal as I would on 4 weeks of my below the line diet I realised (again) just what a priviledged life I lead – and one of the long term effects of this week has been a review of our household food budget and a growing awareness of what else we could be doing with the money we spend every week.
- Chickpeas are a middle class affectation. I genuinely started this week full of confidence that this basic eating lark would be a breeze for a seasoned gourmet such as myself – after all I love chick pea curry so what could possibly be wrong with that for a week ? The thing is – chick peas are very versatile if you have lots of things to add to them – garlic, olive oil and lemon ? lovely hummus; cumin and fresh coriander (with more olive oil) – tasty falafel, curry? well it was fine for 2 days. But on their own they are a right faff to prepare (all that overnight soaking) and, frankly, agonising to digest on a daily basis. Next year I’ll stick to more rice and frozen veg (see point one above) and leave the chick peas for those times when I feel like wearing my Birkenstocks and pretending I still live near Hebden Bridge😉.
- Water is a miracle drug. Seriously – all that advice about getting your 2 litres a day? take it! Every time I was flagging, lacking energy, suffering from yet another caffeine withdrawal headache – a glass of water kept me going and astoundingly managed to dredge up a little more energy from my depleting reserves. Which makes the fact that many of those living below the line globally are also struggling for clean water, all the more pressing.
- Caffeine is a drug. Ok so I knew this already – but I hadn’t realised just how powerful an addiction it is. By far the hardest trial of this week was caffeine withdrawal.
- People are devious and sneaky – I was amazed at the number of russes my fellow Church Housers could come up with: “If I accidentally drop this chocolate biscuit on the floor then you can eat it because that counts as foraging” was my favourite – but the number of times people offered to make me a coffee (because then it’s a gift) was heart warming in the extreme – thanks guys, your good humor has really kept me going (I didn’t succumb – ok, I admit I did – but only once).
- People are incredibly generous – as well as making me smile and supporting me lots of people have been kind enough to sponsor me, and my grand total currently stands at £277 – thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far – your generosity will support Christian Aid projects, working with the 1.4 billion people worldwide for whom; crushing hunger, loss of co-ordination, lack of concentration and mental accuity, exhaustion and desperation are not just a 5 day experiment but a daily reality.
Here’s a reminder of why this challenge was worth the little bit of effort https://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk-what-is-extreme-poverty
Thanks again for all your support.
Not much else to add today really. Eggy bread (dry fried – I’ve run out of fry light rations) was a welcome change to boiled egg this morning and felt like a bit of a treat.
Yesterday evening giving a workshop for a parish I really really felt I was fit to drop. Got home late and rapidly realised that human interaction just wasn’t an option. Another workshop tonight so I’m apologising in advance to my colleagues who have to keep snapping their fingers to make sure I’m still awake in between presentations.
At least I’m catching up on my sleep this week !
It’s not that I feel hungry as such – in fact lots of rice and potato has left me feeling rather like an over stuffed cushion. But I have almost no energy – ‘5 a day’ just seems like a middle class affectation on this budget – my 150g of frozen veg is such a treat to the tastebuds but it certainly isn’t enough to keep a body running all day.
I feel incredibly sluggish and wonder how anyone on this level of nutrition could even begin to work themselves out of poverty.
I’m certainly noticing I’m more cranky too and I’ve started counting down the hours to my promised Saturday morning breakfast.
Please please support Christian Aid – for me this is an interesting and not terribly enjoyable experiment – for 1.4 billion people worldwide it is daily reality.
So, a few people have commented on Facebook that my stir fry rice and veg actually looks rather tasty.
And they aren’t wrong – in fact it’s going to be a regular firm favourite round our house judging by the families reaction last night.
But I think I may not eat it for a month or so after this week.
Similarly, I rather like a boiled egg for breakfast and I’m also very fond of chick pea and potato curry.
However – today will be day 3. The third egg and a slice of dry toast for breakfast. The third portion of chick peas and potatos and the 1,2,3,4 5th portion of rice. And I’m only half way there.
The planning of a menu for friends, the shopping, the preparing and, of course, the eating. I grew up in a catering family; food is one of the greatest joys of my life. The variety, the smell, taste, texture and colour – in our country we are surrounded by it every day, it’s in our supermarkets, in our bookshops, on our televisions. It is plentiful, it can (for most of us – see Mondays blog) be reasonably cheap, but it’s the variety that we probably take most for granted. If I have the money I can walk 10 minutes from home and buy ingredients for a meal from any cuisine in the world (ok I’m exagerating a bit).
But on £1 a day I have no choice – I can afford 2 or possibly 3 basic meals – food is reduced from one of Gods greatest blessings to simple fuel for my engine.
And a little of lifes joy is taken away – for 1.4 billion people around the globe – the variety of tastes, textures, colours and aromas that food provides, the opportunities for sharing, for savouring, for celebrating life in all its abundance- are simply not an option.
So – if you are enjoying this blog and find my challenge in any way interesting or inspiring – please remember why I’m doing it. Please sponsor me to support Christian Aid in alleviating some of this needless (and it is needless) suffering.
Well that was day one – and the good news is I came in under budget – which means I can afford a cup of coffee here at CH towers – great news for my colleagues – even better news for my poor aching head.
Yesterdays meals consisted of boiled egg and toast (9p) Chickpea Dahl and baked potato (50p) and stirfried rice with mixed frozen veg and a tbl spoon of soy sauce (13p) – and lots and lots of water.
I’m not nearly as hungry as I thought I would be (give me time) in fact all these heavy duty carbs are rather making me want to curl up in a ball and snooze.
But oh boy is the Caffeine detox a killer – by the time I got home last night my head was banging and I felt like I was taking part in some awful sleep deprivation experiment.
So, today I will be using up some of my spare underspend and allowing myself a return to the bean. A salutory lesson in itself – but I’m not willing to let my obvious addiction to get in the way of completing the challenge – maybe I’ll address the coffee dependency another time.
This whole exercise is certainly giving me a chance to think about how much I take for granted. Being conscious of every mouthful of food makes me really think about the nutritional value as well as the cost – if food is short the amount of nutrition and energy supplied by every mouthful counts – a biscuit suddenly looks like a ridiculously costly luxury – a quick hit for little return.
How often do we take for granted those small luxuries and how can we remember to savour even the smallest treat in our every day lives ? For 1.4billion people around the world that isn’t an option.
Please support me to support them www.livebelowtheline.com/me/twurchsteward
Well, here it is – my entire storecupboard for the week – and all for the grand total of £4.97 (I’m going to cheat I’m afraid – 5 sprays of ‘frylight’ oil is 1p so will be using the bottle I already have in to stir fry some rice or soften some onions for a chickpea dahl).
Shopping was certainly a thought provoking exercise. I hadn’t realised just how unconsciously I shop. OK we have a budget and I’m not one for Fillet steak and caviar – but basically our household budget means we can afford to buy everything we need without really thinking about what each individual item of our shopping list costs.
The other thing that struck me is the power of bulk buying – I usually buy huge bags of dried staples like chickpeas and rice (and boy am I glad we live in an area with a large Asian population so I can get spices at a fraction of the cost of those ridiculous piddly little jars from Schwartz). But modern packaging causes a dilemma when you are on a tiny fixed budget – I could afford 500g of chickpeas – but the smallest available bag is 1kg and that is over budget. So again, I must admit I cheated – I worked out how much 500g would cost and weighed out what we already had at home.
Now this challenge is really about reflecting on the 1.4 billion people around the world subsisting on £1 per day – where supermarkets and their packaging policies would be very far from the top of the list of concerns, but it did make me think about how our convenience shopping culture affects our own poor communities.
I remember when I was at Uni there was a shop in Newcastle called the Weigh House – where you could by just about anything (including washing powder) by weight – a Godsend for we poor students, but not something I’ve seen in years. So, in a consumer culture where everything is pre packaged and priced how do we expect anyone on a low income to go for the healthy ‘cook it yourself’ option when basic ingredients are only available in large packages which cost twice as much as the ready made, high fat, low nutrient alternative.
It’s going to be a thought provoking week, to support me and raise funds for Christian Aid go to www.livebelowtheline.com/me/twurchsteward
So as of next Monday I’m challenging myself to eat and drink on a budget of no more than £1 per day – why ? well here’s a very short introduction.
You can sponsor me by going to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/twurchsteward and all that I raise will go to Christian Aid.
I’ll be blogging next week on how I’m getting on.
Oh, and if you notice me being a little more cranky than usual you can always send emergency chocolate (for after the challenge) care of Church House Towers.