Every morning as I wake, I give myself a number. From one to 10. My depression scale. So much of the day ahead will depend on that first feeling, and the mark I give to my mood.
One is pure, unadulterated happiness. Ten is actively suicidal. I never hit, or even acknowledge, either of those deliberately. One, for me at least, is unattainable. No matter how good I feel there is always something to make me restless or anxious. So, no matter how loved and lucky I may be – I am both – no matter how motivated I might be to face the day, two out of 10 is as good as I allow it to get. Just as one is a no-go zone, so is 10.
I don’t like even to acknowledge that 10 might arise, because in my rating system it is the number you reach when you decide not only that the pain inside is so unbearable that death would be preferable, but you also act upon it. Ten is where my cousin Lachie was when he ended his life in 2000. My highest ever has been nine.
So if one and 10 are out of bounds, how does the rest of my scale work? Two feels great. I wake, having slept well; Fiona [Millar, a journalist and education campaigner] is alongside me and I feel blessed that she has stayed with me for four decades of considerable ups and downs; I have a day ahead that will keep me busy, motivated, doing something vaguely important. Three and four are slightly downscale variations on the same themes.
If any of the children are unhappy, that can knock the rating upwards. We are, after all, never happier than our least-happy child. Tiredness and bad dreams can add a point to the rating. Politics can do it, too: Covid-19, Brexit, climate change, Labour, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, all occasionally provoke an upward tick. Five is when I start to worry. It is when I am in the middle of the scale that it most helps to have it. Five is the beginning of the danger zone. Seven is basically the signal to cancel meetings, stay indoors, avoid people; and when that slips to eight and nine, to get into bed and sleep as much as possible.