Up the snakes, and down the ladders

This post was written 6 months ago.
Mon, 15 Jul 2019
Things I have been reading: A.A. Gill "Pour Me", David Foster Wallace "The Depressed Person" (short story), and Brian Keenan "An evil cradling". It was not for that reason — not consciously at least! —, but I notice now that all these are by men (and two are memoirs) that had been held captive in one way or other. In Keenan's case in the literal sense, as a hostage in Lebanon. Gill by alcohol, Wallace by depression and I believe addiction, too.

Gill's book had caught my attention over a year ago in Waterstone's and I read it with long breaks inbetween, though it is very readable — just other books got in the way. Keenan's book found me in the Amnesty bookshop in Gloucester Road this weekend. I am half way through now.

I wish I had not read the Wallace short story. It was mentioned in an article in a newsletter. The article says that in the story, a young woman "is depicted as a self-centred monster". I only remembered this remark after I had finished reading the story. While I was reading it, I felt very much for the woman. But the end does in fact make her look bad, as she descends into a meta-meta-guiltiness about the way she is. Seeking reassurance, she keeps phoning a terminally ill friend, seemingly not caring about her friend's condition as much as about receiving some kind of absolution from her.

And this is one of the meanest things about depression. How self-centered and unable to care it makes you, when it really hits you. Hits you? — The other humiliating thing is of course, that in a way, with the exception of depressions that are caused by an illness of physical origin, or bipolar disorder, you are doing it to yourself. I am convinced that in most cases, some part of the brain chooses to go down that route. What the hell? Why to choose something as debilitating as that?! And yet, somewhere our unconscious sees some benefits. Withdrawal. Rest. Not having to be responsible. Not needing to confront that you might not be as good as you wish. Avoiding rejection. But as the owner of a brain like that, you can only watch on with the remainig parts, as a shitfest begins, with mood, physiology and behaviour all going out of whack.

I used to think it is not possible to get off that downward-bound roller-coaster. And in fact, in most cases it's not. And yet. There might be some stretches that are even. In the past, these times of respite made me think, "ah it's not that bad yet", just before going down the next steep descent. So then I became resigned, and when it started I just surrendered. But then it changed again. Sometimes it seemed I could jolt myself off the roller-coaster when it was about to start. And this was mostly with help from other people.

What if we do have some say after all? Of course, there is the cognitive intervention, David Burns' "Feeling good" which apparently is popular in IT. Exercise. Meditation. All have their merits. But there is never a guarantee.

It is a skill. A bit like dancing I guess. Rolling with it. Once I walked home in a really somber mood, because of some incidents that made me feel rejected, or something similar. And then all of a sudden I managed to have these thoughts that let me see everything in a different perspective. And I thought, "maybe I have grown a patronus".

Recently, it has been challenging, as it had already become physical. For days on end, I seemed to have an exorbitant cortisol production going on. The nerves in my lower arms felt as if they were going to burn through, and if we still had hair on the back of our necks, mine would have been all upright a lot of the time. As mentioned above, physiology out of wack, the stress axis in particular. I started taking St John's Wort and also Omega 3 tablets. I still get the high cortisol a lot, but I have somehow got used to it, and it is not as bad as it used to be. Maybe some day soon, it will become obsolete and stop.

There is a whole story behind it, but at the moment I cannot tell it. I cannot even make sense of it, why it affected me so much.

Something that is always a problem: I cannot see myself as competent at anything. It could even be something I fear, strangely enough.

I do not want this to become the main topic on this blog, but it will crop up again and again I guess, the effort to stay out of depression, and how to do that. There is so many layers to it. Not least how our upbringing plus the unspoken assumptions and expectations we all have, can contribute to one's malaise. I want to think outrageous thoughts, and train myself to be accepting, of myself and others, in ways I have not yet been capable of.

And I take heart from the Irishman, and the English ex public school boy, stuck in a cell, life-lines to each other. — I hope to write some more about that book, I find it very impressive.

For now, if people can keep themselves out of madness in conditions like that, it must be possible to keep my, all in all pretty small, demons at bay, hey?