It went off at 5.45am, this monstrous kind of exhortation. I switched it off and, for the smallest of moments all was well, before, regretfully, the flatness returned. Neither suddenly, nor dramatically, or even with a dull thud. No, it was more as if someone had unfurled a grey regulation army blanket; a woolly, irritating shroud that settled with a quiet insistence, extinguishing and diminishing me beneath.
I tarried in the clamminess of our early autumn sheets as long as possible, until eventually I forced myself up. Forced myself up and out the door, to the gym, where, under the fluorescent lights, surrounded by all the whooping and the high-fiving, I waited for the endorphins to kick in, for the exercise to do what it's supposed to. For it to thwart my low spirits. Stretching out in front of me, though, lay only more burpees, more press-ups, more lateral lunges. And in a fleeting flash of clarity, I saw that the repetitiveness of my clumsy efforts on that foul gym floor were somehow emblematic of what ailed me. That what at other, more robust times might give me purpose, joy even, right now just felt unbearably relentless.
Usually I am drawn to routine; the last bit of a holiday, no matter how much I have looked forward to or enjoyed it, I always start to hanker after a return to that which lends structure to life. Tuesday's swimming lessons, Wednesday's supermarket shop, Thursday's parent reading. I am not someone who buckles under a schedule. But in my current state of melancholia (the humour, which curiously enough, the Ancient Greeks associated with the season of autumn), every task, whether trifling or consequential, hangs over me with a terrible inexorability. Applying sunblock to my children, measuring out the dog's biscuits, shaking out the front doormat, writing this column: instead of allowing myself a sense of satisfaction at a job done, I can only think that in two hours, or tomorrow, in three days, or next week, it'll all need doing once again.
How is it possible only last week I wrote about dancing my arse off to Bruce Springsteen? Jim responded to that column saying he was particularly struck by the sentiment of choosing to see beauty in the ordinary. Jim is 89, has terminal cancer, and says he's "not ready to go yet". And I read this and I felt such a fool, a hypocritical, self-indulgent fool.
Snap out of it, I told myself. Consider today's headlines: Three road deaths, Farewell for Tania Dalton, Drought kills 110 in two days. As I write, families and friends are reeling at the loss of loved ones in cars on State Highways 4 and 7, on a Northcote touch field, in crisis-stricken Somalia. You should be grateful, I tell myself, for your health, for the food and water you have to eat and drink, for being alive. And normally I am. But depression is my old friend anxiety's unfortunate sister. If you are familiar with one, from time to time you can expect a visit from the other, and although you might wish to shut the door in both of their faces, it's seldom that simple.
From past experience I know it will pass, that the trigger of my blueness is usually hormonal. And there is some small sense of relief in knowing why I feel this way, but it sucks, too, knowing that there is a relentlessness, even, to my mood's cause. A cyclicality with no reprieve yet in sight. I imagine, though, Jim would tell me the alternative is infinitely worse. For when all our work is done, what else is left to us?
A reader, who prefers to be known as "Anon", answered last week's open letter about those who unwittingly shape us, with an illustrative anecdote of his own. He tells of his surprise upon dropping in unannounced on his new mother-in-law in the summer of 71, to find her sitting on the floor, drinking wine, jamming to Otis Redding. She shared the bottle of wine with him, and they talked for hours, cementing a lifelong friendship. "The lesson I learnt that day was that, despite appearances, every person has a journey, has hopes, dreams and ambitions - some of which are realised and most, for most of us, which are not, and that is the natural order of things."