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And finally... Jay Griffiths


© Ruth Lawrence

Who or what inspires you?

The biggest single thing that inspires me is language. Language is a constellation. Language is also a powerful, radical, living organism. It holds wisdom. The greatest public artwork in the world is language.

What are you politically interested in?

I believe in a politics of kindness. What goes with that is an environmental sensibility, ideas of social justice… Right now, it’s a respect for refugees and the importance of considering climate change in every political act. What I’m vehemently opposed to is the politics of cruelty, which was ably demonstrated by David Cameron and George Osbourne.

In your book, Tristimania, you’ve written about your experiences of manic depression. With no symptoms that are obvious to others, do you feel it’s often invisible?

That’s true. Part of the issue is the word is used so broadly. It covers everything from getting a car-parking ticket to feeling suicidal. That’s a problem. It’s like the difference between a headache and a migraine – people say once you’ve experienced a migraine, you know the difference. I think it’s the same with depression. It’s an agony on the inside.

How did it manifest for you?

It’s partly a kind of radical im­mobiliza­tion, the feeling that you’re made of lead, that you can’t do anything. It’s very much to do with connection and under-connection, not being able to communicate. That isolation can be absolutely terrifying.

Do you think there’s something specific in Western civilization that increases the chances of depression?

Yes. Many people live in very isolated ways. It sounds like a cliché, but the disconnect from the natural world has an effect. We’re leaning towards proper scientific evidence to suggest that the natural world is good for the psyche. That’s so obvious! Where I go running every morning, there’s a woodpecker who sometimes pecks at the wood of a telegraph pole and sometimes pecks at the metal, and when I see him doing that, he pops around the other side as if he’s really embarrassed. You can’t look at something like that without being amused. I would also say that the poverty currently experienced by many people in Britain is an issue, and young people facing a future with horrific debt and no chance of affording a home.

Some people might feel in the depths of depression that there’s no way back. What was the way back for you?

A lot of things. I had a good doctor. I had close friends around me. And I took medication. Walking the Camino de Santiago was helpful but incredibly difficult. It was embarrassing: I was just crying, leaking tears all over the place. But there’s something very powerful in that ancient pilgrimage idea. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in praying and I believe in walking. You get up, you eat, you walk, you sleep; you get up, eat and walk again. There’s a nomadic rhythm in that which I think is very healthy. But every person who feels their own depression has to use whatever is right for them.

How did you feel after hiking the Camino de Santiago?

Relief that it was over! It was agonizingly difficult. I felt so isolated, I found it difficult to be with myself or anybody else. To haul yourself across Spain when you’re weighted down with depression is difficult.

Have these feelings – melancholy, restlessness, searching – been at the centre of your books and travels?

I think it’s essential to what all writers do: ask questions. We’re always on a quest. That sense of keeping your mind mobile and maintaining your curiosity is ferociously important to the artistic process.

Where do you feel most at home?

On the one hand, I’d say it’s in my home, sitting by the wood stove. But I’d also say I feel at home outside, almost anywhere – as long as my gear is waterproof.

Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression by Jay Griffiths is out now, published by Hamish Hamilton. jaygriffiths.com

Graeme Green is a journalist, travel writer and photographer for The Sunday Times, Wanderlust and National Geographic. @greengraeme

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