Theatre is about telling stories; it's a window into other people's lives, a way of living vicariously. I will never climb a particularly tall mountain, but soon I'll be able to see Touching the Void in the theatre that tells of a near-fatal climb of the Andes when the Bristol Old Vic production transfers to the Duke of York's in November.
But I've regularly touched another void: that empty ache of depression that can permeate every fibre of your being. A couple of months ago I wrote about it here during Mental Health Awareness Week, and at that point I'd been depression-free for four and a half years - the longest period of sustained good mental health I've ever had in my life. I wrote: "That's not to say that bad stuff doesn't happen to me still, or worse feelings engulf me; in the last six months, I've had to deal with the loss of my beloved mother and a professional situation. But I've also been able to not allow it to send me spiralling towards hopelessness."
Well, I may have been tempting providence, but I definitely spoke too soon: at the end of May, my depression returned with a vengeance, and is still sitting with me now as I write this. (In that earlier column, I also wrote presciently: "Just as addicts are always in recovery, not recovered, and need to remember that recovery is one day at a time, I don't want to tempt fate by saying I've conquered my depressions, but my addictions - which are a way of numbing the pain and trying to escape it - have in fact helped me to understand myself better than ever before.")
But writing about it now is another way of trying to understand what is going on and to share it. It's not just that a problem shared is famously a problem halved, it's also a way of reaching out to fellow, more silent sufferers, and to let them know they are not alone.
I've also been publicly sharing my day-to-day struggles (and sometimes achievements, particularly around the weight loss I am currently achieving) on Twitter, with a hashtag #ShentonStageMentalHealthDiary; yes, I'm putting myself at the centre of this story, but it is at least a story I can own, from direct and personal experience.
It has turned out to be unexpectedly powerful. I may not be able to help myself right now, but the feedback I'm getting is that I'm helping others. And it's that sense of community and kindness that will help us all recover.
For me, theatre is a key part of that. I still get enormous amounts of pleasure from the theatre, and comfort, too. For one thing, I'm not alone in my thoughts - but having my mind stimulated by stories outside of my own head. But sometimes, I find parts of my own story being told, and there's the thrill - but also chill - of direct recognition.
Seeing the new production of Tennessee Williams's 1961 play The Night of the Iguana, that opened at the Noel Coward Theatre last night - and I reviewed here - brought this home to me very powerfully. As I wrote, "In the play's best scene, a second act heartbreaker played out between Clive Owen and Lia Williams alone, they find a kinship in their shared experience of depression, and what she dubs 'the blue devil.' It is Chekhovian in its impact and sense of resignation but acceptance, too."
Depression isn't a nice place to be; but you can't fight it, so you have to accept it. And in this play, two afflicted souls are able to help each other find that acceptance. I, in turn, was reminded not to give up - but also not to beat myself up, either. As the old BT ads used to say: "It's good to talk."
And I hope that by talking openly here and on Twitter, I can lead myself to a better place - and help others to get there, too.