Growing up, Sunday lunch was a cacophony of cutlery, chat, and calls from my Mother to one of our guests to be quiet. A guest that could only be heard, but who regularly commanded the atmosphere. Any one of the commentators, columnists, and politicians squabbling over who interrupted the other. That’s the beauty of radio – the power to convert ordinary dining tables into live studio audiences with everyone brave enough to release their inner heckler.
A love of radio is a habit I inherited from home along with checking out other people’s plates in restaurants to see who got the biggest portion, and rapidly flicking over from sex scenes on TV when my Da walks into the room.
There’s welcome relief in reaching middle age when you can freely discuss age-appropriate activities such as talk radio without fear of ridicule. It’s the background to Saturday morning pottering around until the pottering becomes the background to an eavesdrop on an engaging guest, or exploration of a subject that lassoes the listener with the presenter’s incredulous tone.
Last Saturday’s Marian Finucane Show discussion on empathy with philosopher, Roman Krznaricon, zigzagged through the Dublin traffic I was poorly negotiating. He shared personal accounts on his relationship with his Dad growing up before meandering down the role of philosophy in brokering world and personal peace.
The hunt for a parking space was suddenly overtaken by his quietly posed question: In what ways would you like to be more courageous? A classic radio moment when the listener’s thoughts are halted by hearing something put in a way they’ve never thought about before. I drew a blank.
Until yesterday morning after coming off the phone from my boss who granted my last-minute request for a day’s annual leave. I had my answer: I would like to be able to tell the truth about myself a little more.
There will be at least one, possibly two, more such calls made before the end of the year. Yesterday’s was the second so far. Those who arrive straight to the point would call it anxiety or depression or some other shorthand. Some of us take a verbal detour through descriptions of paralysis and glue-wading, combining it with a social form of agoraphobia when the confines of the bathroom take on an irresistible appeal. That’s if we ever managed to get our coherent speech into gear, or had the inclination to do so. Annual Leave is my shorthand for occasionally being unable to make it past my front door.
I can’t decide how much of my reluctance to tell the truth in that moment waiting for the boss to pick-up relates to a fear of stigma, my naturally neurotic privacy, my resistance to over-sharing, or the fact that I’m so casually matter-of-fact about it in umpteen other ways that seems plain to see. Like the way I see it in the demeanour of others, in the same way I know they hear it in my self-deprecating humour dripping with more clues than a psychiatrist’s filing cabinet.
It’s an aspect of living that’s not quite ‘on’ top of me; it’s just ‘of’ me. A legacy from a more distressed period of clinical depression; preceded by uncharted emotional kaleidoscopes that fused together leaving undetonated landmines I risk treading on. Not a diagnosis that can be neatly packaged, nor one that needs curing.
Not a condition from which award-winning articles are written, or that fuels reactionary anger to a myopic commentator’s insensitive remarks, or something that could potentially contribute to the prevailing, and often limiting, public discourse on depression as being exclusively episodic in nature.
Not something comprised of episodes of such debilitating intensity that form the basis of personal accounts, which form the foundation of awareness campaigns, that in turn are beginning to fulfil a public service function that never fully resonates, and at times feels uncomfortably uniform in terms of sources and outcomes.
It’s just an aspect of my moderately functioning, modern life. Not particularly temporary, not particularly curable. An occasional tap on the shoulder that forces me to turn around to have an encounter with the more unsteady part of me.
That’s about the length of the truth of it, and I suspect of a great many people.
My boss only had a few seconds.