"All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until these last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this?"
I have always found a huge comfort in the prose of Virginia Woolf and especially her diaries; when reading them I feel as though a best friend is talking to me across the years. Even though I know where the diaries end, each time I get there I am overwhelmed by heaving sobs for a life lost, for all the words she didn't go on to say, and for all the stories that stopped with her life. She, a stranger and yet she holds my hand, and although I know her life ended when it shouldn't, the fact that she survived her illness at other times, put her pen to paper and clawed out her thoughts has always given me strength.
But Virginia Woolf couldn't write when she was in a depressive state; her diaries go silent for months at a time. Her depression is almost completely invisible, in fact, reading her diaries it is hard to find any evidence of it at all. Here instead is a woman who is lively, opinionated, deeply intelligent and well loved.
Where we do get a glimpse of the voice behind her depression is in the two suicide notes she wrote, one to her husband Leonard, the other to her sister Vanessa. The letter to Leonard has been widely published; it is in fact a beautiful and even romantic letter of love to the man who tried so hard to save her. Less known are the words she wrote to Vanessa (as written above), imploring that Leonard be made aware of what he meant to her and how much he had helped her.
This for me is the hardest part of depression, knowing that the illness directly impacts those around you. I am happy to write my experiences for strangers to read but always when I publish anything I have my Mum and my sister in the back of my head, will this provoke them to worry?
Silence is depressions weapon, depression does not want you to talk about it, or even challenge it because it knows that we are always better together than we are alone. It is when we are alone that it gains access to our thoughts; in the silence it can hear our fears, our doubts, and in the silence it can whisper them back at us.
"I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know." - Virginia to Leonard Woolf
My depression has been a little loud this week; in truth I am just feeling normal emotions about something that has made me a bit lonely and sad but sensing a weakness the voice that was whispering around the corner started to shout: you are not good enough, you will never be happy, you will never be successful, you will never be truly loved, there is no point. Give up Hannah give up now. If you tell anyone, you will upset them, you will worry them, you will make them angry.
Only a bully wants to keep you isolated.
Only a bully wants to take what makes you 'you' and turn it against you.
Only a bully wants to lead you to the river with stones in your pockets.
Only a bully will watch as you drown all the while crying out how worthless you are.
Only a bully…
"I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer, Virginia" - to Vanessa Bell
On Monday as I sat alone with the tears that simply wouldn't stop, there was a knock on my door. It was my sister and with one look at my face (which try as I might would not stop leaking water) she enveloped me with her love. Quietly, calmly and gently she sat with me until my tears had dried up, until my eyes had brightened, until a smile appeared. She stayed with me until I had spoken a bit about how I was feeling, until I had calmed, until the voice had been silenced. I know that if you asked her, she wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else but beside me as I cried. My depression knew this too so it had to shut up shouting that no one cared, that no one wanted to hear me talk, that everyone would be better off without me. By being together, we silenced the voice, even if only for a few hours.
"I know that V. will not come across the garden from the Lodge, and yet I look in that direction for her. I know that she is drowned and yet I listen for her to come in at the door. I know that this is the last page and yet I turn it over." - Leonard Woolf
History is made up of men who have loved women as full heartedly as Leonard loved Virginia and as my family and friends love me. With Leonard by her side she had recovered from her illness before; it was only in the silence of solitude that she was able to write her note to him and walk to her death. Here, on her own, she chose to turn her back on him, on her sister, on all those who loved her; she chose to turn her back on life.
On her own she was helpless to the voices that marched her towards her death.
On her own...
“All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides,' and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot.” - Virginia Woolf, A Room of ones own
When we leave people alone, when we leave them outside, when we stay silent, we are all contributing to the depression of the World. We are watching as someone drowns, we are turning our backs as someone cries, we are putting the stones in our own pockets and allowing the current of the river to pull us under. We are better together: men and women, black and white, East and West. It is when we pull each other apart that we flounder.
“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. ... Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” - Virginia Woolf, A Room of ones own