Friday, 9 January 2015

How Calamity Jane helped me through depression. (Minus sasparilly.)

I can’t remember the last time I wrote about being depressed. But at the moment there’s a lot that I can’t remember.

I have spent hours, lately, walking around my house looking for things I have forgotten or lost. Normally, I don’t lose things. When I do, it makes me very anxious. It also tends to happen when I’m not well.

Things that I have lost lately include keys, books, phones, letters, various items of food. Information I have forgotten: how to drive to my husband’s office, whether I washed my hair this morning, what the name of this blog was.

Amid the fog, however, there are a small number of things I have not forgotten. Among them are all the words to The Deadwood Stage.

In the evenings I sit down in front of the television. My husband builds me huge leaping fires of coal and wood and I scorch my skin trying to sit close enough to get warm. My youngest daughter turns around and around on my lap like a little dog marking her bed before settling.

Then the screen lights up, with a blast of golden trumpets and technicolour, and we stop fidgeting.

Calamity Jane. It’s such a ridiculous film, so silly and out of date that I am smiling by the first minute and the first line of the first song - which is of course about The Deadwood Stage, careering into town in clouds of dust and flapping curtains, and bearing a bright-faced, curly-haired heroine. 

I love Calamity Jane. I love her for her name – patron saint of those of us who can’t remember anything and keep banging their heads and bruising their elbows in the process of looking – but I also love her because she’s only been on screen for three minutes now and she is literally – literally -- slapping her buckskin-clad thigh while rhyming ‘heading over the hills’ with ‘Injun arrows thicker than porcupine quills’.

Encircled in my arms, five-year-old Betty gives a great shout of delight.

For the next hour and a bit we watch Calamity Jane gallop like mad, shoot anything that moves and sling back "sasparilly". We watch her tell tall stories, make mistakes, fall in love with the wrong man, and match him up with the wrong woman. We watch her try to pretty herself up only to fall in a muddy creek and get laughed at. And we watch her come up smiling – and usually singing -- time after time.

Yes, it’s terribly cheesy. But it’s also funny, mostly on purpose, and it’s a tonic to see this young woman clowning and capering and not caring what people think of her.

When the film has finished and the fire has crumbled to embers and my daughter is asleep in my arms with her cheeks flushed, I think to myself that I must try to care less and laugh more.

The next morning it’s raining and the sky is dark and my first thought on waking is “Oh no” quickly followed by “I can’t.”

But Betty needs to go to school so I get up and get her ready and we leave the house. I have managed to find my keys, which is a good thing, but I am also struggling not to cry, which most definitely is a problem, particularly as we are still only at the garden gate.

Then I hear something. Beside me, Betty is singing a faint tune. As I make out what it is I start to smile. I look over, and my daughter tilts her head back into the rain to see me from underneath the curve of her bee-embroidered umbrella. She reaches out her spare hand.

“Whip crack-away!” she urges, grinning. "Whip crack-away, Mummy!"


  1. Got to love Doris Day. Anything that helps you had got to be good. Be brave!

  2. I love this post, I think we all find our ways of coping. I'm a member of Post 40 Bloggers online and I've included this in this week's autism submission. Much love Jeannette @autismmumma

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