Thursday, 28 March 2013

How to Grow a Depression Beard

There are many ways to deal with the cloying symptoms of depression. You might talk about it with friends or family; take your mind off it by going for a nice walk or punching a goose; moan about it incessantly on Twitter/Facebook/your personal blog. 

Here is a (totally serious) guide to an alternative form of therapy: growing a depression beard. There is no better way to inform the world of your depression than by growing an unsightly, pungent bush of hair. Ladies, do not feel left out. Remember - a beard doesn't have to be on your face.

Stage 1: Escape Puberty

The infancy of a beard is shrouded in uncertainty. Will it grow in ginger? Will you be mistaken for the Yorkshire Ripper? Legitimate concerns, all. The pubescent phase of the beard is commonly reached within weeks of launch, and this is your only chance to turn back. If you look like a serial killer who should be dressed exclusively in animal semen, I encourage you to persist. If it grows in ginger, I insist that you shave.

Stage 2: No Going Back

By this stage the headlong descent into being a dishevelled outcast is as undeniable as the whirlpool of treacled despair sucking you into its fathomless maw. Now is the time to dress only in black and practice frowning, weeping, and stamping on kittens. Just like Queen Victoria. That picture right there? That's me smiling.

Stage 3: Delusions of Masculinity

This is a perilous stage in the genesis of a depression beard. When it blossoms into full-bodied, glossy adulthood, you might begin to feel kinship with your facial atrocity. You might even start to like yourself. This simply won't do. Take a few minutes of every hour to remind yourself of your shortcomings - your underdeveloped triceps, your unevenly haired buttocks, your incapacity to love - until the onset of Stage 4. No one feels good about Stage 4.

Stage 4: Pube Face

Here, weary journeyman, your quest is at an end. You have reached the zenith of the depression beard. In fact, you are now more beard than man. Children flee from you in the street. Baby possums attempt to suckle your face. Your jaw is indistinguishable from your groin. You are now wearing depression upon your face. Never again need you explain your affliction - not just because people will guess with a single glance, but because all humankind will shun you from its dwellings. You deserve it. Freak.

This was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek take on depression. I should take this opportunity to thank all of my friends and family who, be it with bafflement, kind offers of help, or by simply ripping the piss out of me, have taken news of my depression with aplomb. In the past it has caused me to upset people, let people down, and sometimes kept me from being the good person I strive to be. It also led me to grow a horrific beard. To all those people, I apologise. The beard might now be gone, but to all my friends and family who are still with me, I thank you, from the very bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Fading of Friendships

This is not a treatise on the well-worn sitcom Friends, a program I can no longer watch without inexplicably vomiting bile from my eyes. It is instead, in keeping with this blog, something of a moan. Any long time readers will have gathered by now that I’m something of a malcontent.

It's still better than watching Friends.

While I’m loath to become one of those still-relatively-young people who whine about becoming old, with a quarter of a century behind me I do find myself stumbling into some of the social pitfalls of age. My chief concern is the gradual fading of friendships. 

Immediately after university friendships are shed like a malting cat rolling on a crisp white bed sheet, but the strongest connections remain intact. Far more troubling is how these connections are slowly rubbed out in the following years.

I’m somewhat socially awkward, not terribly amusing, and unfairly scathing of pretty much anything that other people like. Shockingly, I don’t make friends easily. This has made me all the more desperate to cling to the few that I already have. But, as friends relocate overseas, enter into serious relationships, and have children, it’s only natural that I become less important in their lives.

The problem is that not everyone can be successful in such endeavours. If we could all retreat into our marital microcosms, occasionally offloading our offspring onto irresponsible teenagers so that we could meet up and complain about how tired we are, everything would work out fine. But in any circle of friends, there’s the one person who can’t quite manage this, and as a result refuses to stop texting the others, inviting himself to their children’s bar mitzvahs, sleeping unnoticed in their sheds. They even make movies about that person.

Terrible, terrible movies.

You can tell where this is going – do I keep being the one to text friends suggesting we meet up, when really all I’m doing is holding them hostage? Or do I accept that they’ve moved on and back off?

One of my very best friends has recently been back in the country for three months. Despite his arrival in the midst of one of the deepest bouts of depression I’ve ever experienced, regular meetings with him for this short period have made me feel better, at least temporarily, on every single occasion. When he flies back to the other side of the world for at least the next 18 months, it’s truly going to come as quite a blow.

The only other thing that cheers me up is Grumpy Cat

I suppose all I’m trying to say is that my friends mean a lot to me, and, from a purely selfish perspective, I don’t want to let them slip away. I’m deeply lonely. But perhaps it’s time to accept that if I really care for them as friends, I should respectfully leave them to get on with their lives.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Caught Short in Shanghai

The subway carriage begins to stop, the momentum sending the puddle of yellow liquid streaming up the carriage. I jump out of the way but there isn’t time to reach my bag. The urine breaks around it, halting the flow so it soaks into the bottom. After a number of close encounters with bodily fluid in China, I suppose such an incident was inevitable.

It’s a faux-pas in travel writing to draw attention to Chinese toilets, those macabre pits of curious stains and dizzying odours. This great nation’s rapid industrialisation has yet to effect a change in public facilities. In many areas, including the capital Beijing, the street is good enough. Nappies are expensive, so Mother’s let their children resolve their business where they stand.

Not so in Shanghai, easily the most westernised city of mainland China. There’s even a Marks & Spencer. I had spent a few days here, and had all but forgotten the Chinese propensity to think of street as sewer. Crowding onto the subway I was quite prepared to forgive their idiosyncrasies, the elbows in the ribs as you board, the staring, the disapproving tuts as I set my oversized backpack on the floor and took position opposite the sliding doors for the long journey across the city.

The Shanghai subway is a marvel; clean, efficient, and navigable by tourists with minimum hair-pulling.

One or two stops later a family boarded, ranging in age from a toddler to grandparents, and spread themselves around the carriage. One passenger’s boxes of crab were shifted to give the child and his mother a seat.

The commotion began as we cleared the city. The mother started shouting, and the grandfather lunged across the carriage to thrust a restaurant menu into her hands. The toddler had left his seat and was having his trousers hastily removed. The Englishman in me insisted that I not stare, but this was China; staring is the national sport.

The restaurant menu was deposited beneath the boy’s posterior. It caught the primary transaction, but nothing could be done about the accompanying stream that puddled on the carriage floor.

Passengers scurried to clear their possessions; suitcases, laptops, boxes of crab. Positioned by the doors I thought myself safe. Until the train began to brake.

The urine surged for me like fire along a trail of gunpowder. My backpack could not be saved, the urine pooling around it like a yellow moat. As the train stopped and the doors opened to let in some welcome fresh air, I picked up my bag and stared pointedly at the family as their child’s effluence dripped from it.

They didn’t even look at me. They hurriedly gathered their things, and, leaving behind the pungent contents of the restaurant menu, ran for the doors. A teenager at the other end of the carriage let out a guffaw at my expense. And then the train moved off, the acceleration sending the urine hurtling in his direction.