Depression is an awful affliction. For those who suffer from it, or even those who are just ultra-sensitive, the world is a place filled with stumbling blocks.
But for Ian McFarlane, lifelong depression has allowed him to create beautiful things on the page. His novels, poems and essays have constant themes of the natural world, interwoven with his own moods. The black dog may be constantly lurking, but there are still days "brushed with shining gold" to admire.
His self-confessed glass-half-empty approach to life has seen him through several careers - his verse is "the confluence of imagination and empathy" as he reels in horror at the state of the world.
"I'm a tired, old, severely depressed humanist, whose half-empty glass was smashed long ago by mindless conservative politics, environmental neglect, and blatant social and economic injustice," he writes in the afterword of his latest book, Wintersong (Ginninderra Press).
And yet, the link between depression and creativity is undeniable.
Born in the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, McFarlane grew up near the home of Lord Alfred Tennyson, another poet prone to depression. This proximity in an otherwise happy childhood was a harbinger of the kind of life he would go on to lead. But he has always found solace in poetry and music.
"I think there's several things about depression that are sort of misunderstood," he says.
"Probably the most serious one is the fact that people think it's the same for everybody. It's not - it's a very individual thing. It does, in some ways, heighten your awareness. But it sort of impedes your ability to do much about it. So it's a two-edged sword."
McFarlane now lives in a Weston Creek retirement village. He moved here from Bermagui on the South Coast four years ago, when his wife of 66 years, Mary, was diagnosed with cancer. Just last week, they received the news she now has just months to live.
McFarlane sees his book - one he struggled to write, or rather had to be convinced to put together - as a kind of testimonial, to her and their life together. They met as 18-year-olds, and have four children.
His family migrated to Western Australia as Ten Pound Poms in the 1950s when he was 16. Having never quite finished school in the process, he was recruited as a very young spy by the airforce, and did a (secretive but non-glamorous) stint as a cypher clerk near Perth.
From there, he got a job in the Department of Foreign Affairs. His first posting was to Tel Aviv, where he arrived just after the Six Day War in 1967. Today, he has mixed feelings about the current Middle East conflict, and tries hard not to read about it or, crucially, argue with anyone about it.
His second posting was to Hong Kong, a nightmare for an introvert who can't handle crowds. "A diplomatic cocktail party was a torture," he says, so emphatically you'd think he was there yesterday. "The stress just got to me, and I didn't ever recover."
He never made it a much-anticipated third posting to Dublin; his mental state meant he was coaxed into early retirement when he was in his early 40s.
He thought it might solve his anxiety issues, but instead found himself with no sense of identity. He did a mature-age arts degree at what is now the University of Canberra, and found a different kind of torture.
"I don't know how I got through it because I had to go to tutorials and I'd get panic attacks," he says.
"It was bloody awful. I still, I still occasionally get echoes of that."
And yet, he gained a sense of focus, was able to get on with his writing career in earnest. He would eventually have three novels, two books of essays and two volumes of poetry - The Shapes of Light and Wintersong - published.
Words are his constant companion, although he has a full shelf of books about depression (and many about espionage).
Even at 85, he walks around almost skinless, so affected is he by the state of the world. He is hollowed out by the Voice referendum result, in despair about climate change, and don't even get him started on Trump.
But everything is softened, somehow, by the words he's able to arrange, the lyrics of a life filled with family and natural beauty.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.