I was at a thing. There were just a few of us in the room, gathered round a table.

I had been invited to speak. I waited what felt like a week before words started squirming in my mouth, forced a smile, and began. Quite quickly I realised I was not going to be able to speak for very long. I stumbled. I took a deep breath, my eyes beginning to fill. I forced another smile, even a laugh. I began again. To this day, I have no idea what I said.

‘The thing is,’ somebody said, ‘what you see with Anthony is that he is quite chipper. You don’t see how bad things are.’

‘Chipper,’ I repeated. ‘That’s it, exactly. I am tired of being chipper.’

And that is all I remember. Chipper. At last someone had said it, made it more or less official. I was chipper.

I was suffering from chipper.

The thing with my version of chipper is that I had seen it coming, but had reacted very slowly to the things it was doing to me. I persuaded myself that all of the things the chipper was doing to me and making me feel were ‘normal’. The tearing up. The loss of concentration. The lack of sleep. What I did not know, but now do, is that one of the things chipper does to you is persuade you of the truth of things that are in fact lies.

One of which is the lie that talking about it will not help you get better.

So I walked around looking normal, carrying my chipper, being chipper, for quite a long time, before I realised that I needed help.

Chipper is exhausting, you see. In a way I am grateful to the exhaustion, because without it I might still be walking around trying to carry my chipper.

Some weeks later I met someone whom I would go and see every week or so, just to talk about being chipper. They asked me some very direct questions, and I gave them some very direct answers, some of which scared me but made me feel free at the same time.

We talked a lot about the signs of chipper, and what to do about them, how to get better at seeing them coming rather than waiting to be bulldozed by them before asking for help. They never judged me. I remember thinking how much I valued that.

Inch by inch the chipper began to lose its grip on me.

I still have days when I am chipper. It has not left me completely. But I do have a toolkit which I use all the time to help me, when I need it and even on days when I don’t. I won’t say it is easy, but I will say it is a lot easier than being chipper.


  1. Strikes me as very British, this chipper thing. Our culture admires chipper-ness. Stiff upper chipper, in fact. I’ve always liked the word because of its oddness and faint archaism. Apparent etymological connection with ‘kipper’ which I read means nimble or frisky. But not for a herring!

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  2. We don’t much use that word, chipper, in America, but we do it. in Buddhism it’s seen as working hard to maintain the (idea of) individual self, personality, and it’s a good sign when you’re tired of it.

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  3. God preserve us all from ‘chipper’, Anthony! It is the ego’s default position in all matters social, and sometimes even, domestic. It’s what keeps office-holders shouting the odds, when the known facts belie everything they say. It is the con-man’s weapon of choice. I suspect there’s more to your ‘chipperness’ than you are letting on. Depression will overtake all thinking persons sooner or later. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. It is good to know that the impossible social expectations laid on us by others can occasionally be ignored, especially since nobody is free of the sense of inadequacy they may bring, which can result in the onset of the application of the worse panacea, ‘chipperness’! Having someone, professional or otherwise, to talk to about the problem is a blessing devoutly to be wished, isn’t it? Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Write it!’ is another blessing of course, for writers like yourself. Best Wishes to your personal efforts in the ‘War on Chipperness’!

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