A stolen moment on the South Bank

The sun is hot. Very hot. There’s the smallest of breezes, but the excitement from the crowd here on the South Bank more than makes up for it.

The Festival Hall is the new must-go-to location in Central London. I’m sitting on concrete benches. Beside me is a lady drawing up her to-do list in her notepad. On my right, two well-spoken thirty-somethings friends sit and chat, meeting for the first time in many months. They share surgery stories. One of them says that a patient at the hospital nearly died today. That was his high point today. Both seem quite happy.

In front of me people lean against the wall, looking out over the river as they knock back the cans of beer they’ve bought at the nearby supermarket. Nobody minds they haven’t gone to the bar. It’s all quite bohemian really what with their long hair, canvas shoes and shades.

It’s lovely to be here. There’s a relaxed vibe about the place. And it’s much needed. The architecture – the concrete – has a surprisingly reassuring effect on me. It’s as though my mother has put her arm around me. “There, there chump. It will all work out.”

Do Mums really know that? Or is that the best they can say? Do they believe in themselves when they say it or are they just offsetting their own insecurities? We believed them when they said it back then. Why does it all seem so unbelievable now?

The South Bank resonates. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used that word ‘resonates’ this week. I’ve worked on the basis that the bigger the word the more successful I’ll be in securing my place in the big scheme of things. I can’t say I think it’s worked especially. I suspect I’ve ended up feeling more and more out of step with everyone else around me and those I come into contact with. I haven’t changed. So what’s happened to them?

Shit. I’ve digressed again. I’m sorry. I’m shit for doing that.

The South Bank. It’s a key place for me. I love it here. It feels like home. London’s version of style. My own personal version of 1960s Carnaby Street. An opportunity to watch people. To tap into conversations. To feel alive.

I came here for the first time in my early twenties, desperate to establish contacts with players in the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra to bolster my own little black book. Later I used to wander around here on weekend walks with The Chap. It was here I wrote about for my first writing assessment for the correspondence course I began nearly ten years ago. And it was here I was planning meeting up with my cousin I haven’t seen for nearly 20 years over the weekend.

It’s a special place. A moment of exquisite serenity. Something to savour.

Commuter Diary #19

The first completed questionnaire completed and submitted to the GP in pursuit of a referral for CBT

I dropped the form the doctor asked me to complete for a referral back to the surgery on my way in. The moment needs recording. It’s a little odd seeing everything in black and white as you hand it over to the receptionist. Almost like I was handing over my own death warrant. A testament to failure as an individual.

Here’s what was on the questionnaire. I had to mark each statement 0-3 with 0 meaning never and 3 representing nearly every day.

1. Little interest or pleasure doing things 3
2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless 3
3. Trouble falling or staying asleep 3
4. Feeling tired or having little energy 3
5. Poor appetite or overeating 3
6. Feeling bad about yourself 3
7. Trouble concentrating on things 3
8. Moving slowly/being fidgety 2
9. Thoughts you would be better off dead 0
10. Feeling nervous or anxious 3
11. Not able to control worries 3
12. Worrying too much 3
13. Trouble relaxing 3
14. Becoming easily annoyed 3
15. Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen 3

It was quite a relief to answer statement 9 with a zero. Things aren’t irretrievable at least. But still, I’m caught between looking at the list wondering whether most people think like this anyway and feeling quite sad reading the reality of the situation.

How on earth did it get to this? And of course – in true journalistic style – who exactly is to blame?

What I had forgotten about all of this – compared to my previous experience when I was in my late teens – was to what extent this ‘thing’ a lot of people find themselves suffering from from time to time is a pernicious kind of thing.

A deceiving kind of illness. Bandy the word depression around and people start assuming they have to tread on eggshells around you. That you are somehow completely and utterly disabled. Unable to perform basic tasks. No good to anyone. And that you need to be completely roped off.

And yet it’s not always like that. Sometimes it can exist just underneath the surface, like a pigment in the skin, or a locked colour correction casting a bias across every shot. Difficult to remove because the operator can’t remember how it got there in the first place.

There’d will be pockets of the day when suddenly the ‘layer’ goes away. When it’s forgotten about. Clouds parting to reveal the deep blue sky. It’s not always on the surface. Sometimes it dissipates. Damn it for being so inconsistent.

And then there’s the shame. Should I be so open about all of this? Is there a danger? A massive risk? Most people will be understanding. Some might engage reading about it. But you know there’ll be someone out of touch with reality who judges and scorns. Maybe that’s why it’s good to document the process.