“Mum and I missed you yesterday,” remarked Shani one drizzling Monday morning.
What of it? thought I. You know how I feel about religion at the moment.
“The sermon was about rejecting all works of Satan,” she continued as if I had replied in the positive. It used to tickle me that she was so innocent of my dilemma and so insensitive to my pain. Then it just riled me. My mind works like black treacle, dark and sticky; hers is nimble and forgetful. And I’m jealous of her. I know I am.
“I see.” I tried to make the two words forbidding, but Shani is never daunted, never scared. Her sunshine is never extinguished. It may be dimmed by cloud, but seldom is it deficient from this falsely shining universe.
“The preacher was saying how vanity is a work of the devil,” she said. “And violence and sharp words and anorexia and depression.”
Depression… My interest was roused from its restless slumber by that single word – that single word which tightens the veins round my throat and pulls me down, down, down…
She shrugged, reaching out with her creamy hands to squeeze my biceps, a quizzical frown forming on her brow.
“Do you go to the gym regularly?” she inquired.
“Uh, no…” I responded with a sigh, struggling to forget that potent word.
“Really? You’ve got quite muscley lately,” she said, “and it’s not unbecoming.” She set my heart a-fluttering with a cheeky smile, but still her allure did not consume me.
She regarded me with an approving gaze that was oddly disconcerting. “Do you want me to buy you some dumb-bells?”
I almost recoiled, but strained to stand my ground. I would not divulge my visceral reactions. I would be stoical, at least in front of Shani. It would be the highest honour to a person to be a spectator to the theatre of my soul, to observe the tumultuous drama that I call my emotions.
“I’m not bothered,” I replied truthfully, but the idea of athletic prowess was strangely fascinating. Once I buried myself in depression, striving to perfect my pose of dejection. It was the darling of my heart to make my desolation mean something to me, to my family, to everyone around me – so that perhaps with it I might mean something. To prove that I had a soul, that I had feelings, I locked those same feelings away from me, and built thick strata above to hide the broken memories of my past joy.
And even when the pressure of vibrating emotion deep below the mounting mass above grew to such fulminant heights, when I was sure the convulsions would unleash themselves like an ebullient earthquake, I was able to check the pulse and banish the feeling. And then everything was quiet and still and sad. I never cried. Why didn’t I cry? It was never worth crying about.
Depression was once inspired by an all-encompassing yearning for attention and acceptance. It was a scream; I screamed and screamed with wordless desperation for my inability to discover how I could gain that which I craved so exclusively and excludingly. The despair was born of a culminant lack of communication and friendly faces. I had no praise, no encouragement, and the flame of my ambition suffocated within the closed fists of my persecutors.
So maybe, I thought, cardiac exercise could be my new depression, my absorption, my indulgence, my desire. Maybe muscles would work for me as blood never did. The satisfaction of aching joints would be no comparison to the pride of masochistic appeasement, but it would be a fresh experience, a non-destructive fascination. Maybe it would immerse me. Maybe it would shut the world out. Maybe it would reconcile me to my faithlessness.
“Yes,” I said to Shani, a tricky grin dancing on my lips. “Please do.”
And still the fight for faith raged within me.