Words fail me. Some words on nature, depression, music – and things that we really must try to put into words, no matter how hard it might be.
When did words last fail you? Is there something in your life that you just cannot put into words? How much better would your life be if you could put it into words?
You can do almost anything with words. But you can’t do everything with words.
That is no excuse not to try. It is of vital importance to use words as best you can, so that you can communicate what needs to be said to other souls.
Words fail me when I am out in nature. The beauty of the moment, the feeling that everything is alive around me and singing the song of its life in that moment – in every moment – is something that mere words can never capture.
Two months ago, I wrote in Renewal about a visit to the Ashdown Forest. At that moment, I was in the earliest stages of dealing with the mental health issues that have coloured so much of this year for me. At the end of February 2022, my mental health felt as if it had all but collapsed. I would describe what I experienced as something akin to a nervous breakdown. I wrote about this horrible experience in Into the infinity of thoughts.
Out on the Ashdown Forest on Friday 18 March 2022, I felt a possible path through and out of my mental health issues begin to open up. Just as the world around me appeared to be renewing itself as winter receded, so I felt some kind of renewal in myself. I wrote at the time:
“Taking in those first breaths of the clear forest air and delighting in the sunshine, I felt renewed. All appeared right with the world. Life felt almost back to normal. Yet within minutes of embarking on this walk, I was overcome with exhaustion. Things might be starting to look and feel better. But this feeling of renewal is not to be confused with recovery. I am still working my way through the profound toll of mental and physical exhaustion that my stress and anxiety took on me. I have a long way yet to go on this path to recovery.”
On Wednesday 18 May 2022, two months to the day after the walk described in Renewal – almost to the minute – my wife and I returned to that selfsame spot on the Ashdown Forest. We dropped in on the selfsame tree whose picture I had included in that post. The Ashdown Forest in its vast, expansive and ever-changing beauty was and always is overwhelming. I cannot put into words how it felt to see it in the full flush of spring.
Two months on, that lone tree on the hillside stood renewed, splendid in its near-full growth of leaves. At first sight, you might think it fully recovered from the ravages of winter. Yet on closer inspection, the tree is in a far from perfect state. Many of its branches remain broken from the battering it took in Storm Eunice. The path to recovery is ongoing.
The nature of depression
Words fail me when I am in the depths of depression.
I am finding that the path through my mental health issues does not go in just one direction. There are stallings and setbacks. It feels at times as if I am stuck in a loop of unpleasant events, of moments I would dearly love to see the back of.
Last Saturday (21 May 2022), following what felt like a few good days, I had a bad day.
When I feel depressed, I feel numbness, isolation, cut off from everything. These words hardly begin to describe how depression feels.* I cannot put into words how depression feels. And when I feel depressed, I can’t put anything into words. I go silent and withdraw from the world. Last Saturday I found myself doing this, unable even to form words when my wife asked me what was wrong. Words failed me completely.
I have been diagnosed as suffering from mixed anxiety and depressive disorder. I previously had no idea that you can double up conditions in this way. But you can.
It is the strangest thing, but I almost find it easier to admit to the anxiety part than the depression part. When I wrote about my mental health issues in Into the infinity of thoughts, I only wrote about anxiety. I find it hard to put into words why I couldn’t bring myself to put my full condition into words.
I mentioned this to a good friend a few weeks back, in a conversation we were having about burnout. I said that I did not understand why I felt it so difficult to “come out” about depression. There seems to be a stigma about depression.
My friend had been through a similar experience to me a few years back, and suggested that – with the way our culture operates – stress and anxiety almost feel like more “macho” conditions, badges of honour. They suggested that perhaps we feel that we have “earnt” stress and anxiety through struggle and (over)work. By contrast, depression might feel like a defeat (as spurious an idea as this actually is, of course). I am about as far from macho as it is possible to get. But I do wonder if there is something in this. Why do words seem to fail us when we try to speak about depression?
The nature of music
Words fail me when I try to describe the feelings that music can open up in me.
Portishead’s Roads is a song that has always made time stand still for me, ever since I first heard it, way back in 1994.** The purity and beauty and depthless sadness of Beth Gibbons’s voice always feels to me as if it is coming from a place of desolation, loneliness and perhaps even trauma. I have always sincerely hoped that there is some level of performance to her performance. But I’m not sure there is.
Last Saturday, I chanced upon a stunning live performance of Roads, from Portishead’s appearance at a War Child*** benefit concert for Ukraine, which took place in Bristol earlier this month. Hearing Beth Gibbons sing Roads in May 2022, it feels as if time has once again stood still. She looks and sounds exactly as she did in 1994. I wish it were otherwise, but when she sings, she looks as heartbreakingly lost in depthless anguish as she always did. The opening lyrics of this song feel all too apt amidst the horrors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (“Oh, can’t anybody see/ We’ve got a war to fight.”). The May 2022 rendition of this song moved me to tears, just as it always has, and just as I hope that it always will. The voice and words of Beth Gibbons are as relevant today as they ever were.****
Music can convey, express and induce feelings that can be hard to put into words.
Words hold immense power
We have to try to put our feelings into words, even when it feels impossible.
Words are all that we have. Even if they sometimes feel as if they fall short of what we want to say, words are the most powerful tool that we have. Words help us communicate with other souls and help transform thought into action.
Words hold immense power.
Last Saturday, I made a promise to my wife that when I feel depressed and want to withdraw from the world, I will make an effort to find the words to tell her that I am having a bad day, rather than disappear into silence. I need to remind myself of the power that even such simple words have.
I am writing this post in the hope that by being open and honest about what I am going through, I might be of the smallest help to even one other soul.
Whether and how you use the words at your disposal can make all the difference. To your day, to your life. To another soul’s day, another soul’s life.
Always remember what words can do. Some things might feel hard – or even impossible – to put into words. But we really must always try use words as best we can, to help others, and to help ourselves. It is only when one soul speaks that another soul will be able to hear them.
May you be kind to yourself and to everyone you encounter today.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* If you think that you or someone you know might be experiencing depression, I would recommend visiting the website of mental health charity Mind. It will help you or them to find help. They have a wealth of invaluable resources, including an excellent guide to recognising the symptoms of depression. This guide proves that these feelings can be put into words, and that help is always available, no matter how helpless you might feel in the moment.
** Here is the original version of Portishead’s Roads, from their immortal album Dummy.
*** You can make a donation to the excellent War Child charity here.
**** After what feels like years of silence, we have been blessed with a fair bit of Beth Gibbons over recent weeks. Besides Portishead’s beautiful and emotionally raw performance at the War Child benefit concert for Ukraine, Gibbons can also be heard on the album of the moment, Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, on the powerful track Mother I Sober.
- Ashdown Forest photograph by MJCarty, 18 May 2022.
- Mist on the Highlands, MON 1909 via Wikimedia Commons.
- Beth Gibbons 2008 via Wikimedia Commons.
- Whispers by John Singer Sargent via Wikimedia Commons.