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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Other

As the days trickle by, distancing me in time from my darkest moments, the windows through which I view the collision of events around me change, their shape morphing and undulating, alternately obscuring and drawing into focus my reality. I have made many changes in my life since the awful day when my wife revealed she wanted a divorce. Mostly changes for the better, some movement toward light, away from the shadowed alleys and byways of the hunkered depression of just a few months ago.

But all is not always as it seems in the mind. Not every step is in the right direction, not every rock overturned reveals a treasure. Depression is a tenacious opponent. Its machinations are subtle, its goals oblique and often unfathomable. There are setbacks, traps and blind alleys, along the path away from this demon. The way is rocky and slick and dark; a seeker could easily lose his way.

I was so very proud of myself, so confident of my progress, that I all but abandoned this journal. Instead I tried to brush away the stabs of thought of my wife's indiscretions, of my failings as a husband, of the pain of my children. I knew the thoughts would eventually evaporate, sublimating and rerouting, leaving me with only the memory of the pain they inflict. And so, these thoughts decreased over time - but they never have vanished.

The truth is that I dealt with only one of the matters that my depression had fed upon, destroyed only one of the demons. Now, as I stare, panting, down at the corpse of this hideous beast, I sense a presence, hot and putrid breath on my neck, a barely audible scrape of a razor-claw. I turn and see this other, this new beast, just for a moment, a glimpse of his tattered clothes as he scurries into shadow.

BUT I HAD WON! I scream, the hoarse, animal sound echoing in my mind. I BEAT YOU. THIS IS NOT...FAIR. THIS IS...EVIL.

Why would a disease seek to destroy it's host? Why would my mind seek to defeat me? To destroy me? Why should this be?

But I have only a very brief time for these contemplations, I know. This other, he hunts, circling and measuring. I have to pick up this now somewhat dulled axe again and pursue this new demon, to crush him, end him, bring myself to an easy, restful state in my own mind.

This demon must die. This demon will die. Do you hear me, you Count of Corrosion, you Baron of Bellicosity? I WILL DESTROY YOU AS WELL. Your twin underestimated me, as you have, and paid the price. Never question my strength or my resolve.

NEVER!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

An open letter to the Unbelievers

It has come to my attention that there are those people in this world to whom mental illnesses are a sham, a cop out, a convenient excuse to escape reality, to absolve oneself of responsibility. This letter is a response to that notion.

Reality is subjective. Ask two people to relate  the events after an accident and they will often have very different tales to tell. Give a group of people blue cheese and some will say it is delicious while others will gag. To some, a barking dog is happy to see them; to others, it is a reason for terror. What we perceive, the output from our mind's computer, every firing synapse and its resulting signal, is unique to our mind.

So how do we have any common experience at all? How is it that we can communicate with one another and understand the meaning, come to the same sum at the end of the column of figures? It is through learned patterns, recognition of arbitrary language given to us by our family, friends and community, that our minds can accept a consensus of perception. It is in this way that we accept that thunder doesn't mean the gods are angry or that it is unnecessary to sacrifice a goat when the volcano erupts, while just a few hundred years ago these things were commonplace and generally accepted as part of the human lexicon of knowledge.

But sometimes there is a ghost in the system. Sometimes the machine gives a sum that nobody else can understand. The internal logic of some people's computer is different (different, not "wrong"). In the rhetorical tradition of logic, the Mind Projection Fallacy states that just because we perceive a given phenomenon does not, in fact, mean that it exists. Conversely, how can we then state emphatically that a given phenomenon does not exist? How can we presume to tell anyone that their interpretation of reality is false, or that our own is correct?  [It is important to note that this argument was developed to explain a concept that followed an internal logic which was in direct contrast to the accepted understanding of the fabric of reality. See information related to The Copenhagen Interpretation - Bohr/Heisenberg for more information. It is a fascinating concept. I recommend  H. Margeneau, The Nature of Physical Reality, McGraw-Hill 1950 for a mind-opening primer.]

Because of the subjective nature of our minds, judging any person's understanding of the data their mind collects as wrong or flawed is patently ridiculous. Yes, it often requires a sharp mind to fully understand the intricacies of mental illness; however, that does not give license to dismiss it as psychobabble or "an excuse".

Moreover, ignoring it does not provide any assistance to those who suffer from its often cruel grasp, be they a "diagnosed" person, or the people who love that person. The propensity for people to say "just snap out of it" is a childish and, frankly, stupid practice, designed to absolve those who use that phrase from having to deal with a problem they do not understand.

Unfortunately, too few people are actually willing to lace up the shoes of mental illness and walk a mile in the footprints of those who have trod before them. I implore everyone to try for understanding and empathy, rather than pretend that it doesn't exist.

G. Boccia, June 16, 2012     



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Madness

 "I will go mad!", he announced.

"Good idea," said Ford Prefect, clambering down from the rock on which he had been sitting.

Arthur's brain somersaulted. His jaw did press-ups.

"I went mad for a while," said Ford, "did me no end of good."
                               
                                                                                               Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Trilogy



 

 
 Two hours of sleep. Fantastic. The last couple of days have been pretty low. I have attempted to write in
 this blog three or four times but all I really wanted to write was "fuck it". Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I know
 I need to be more positive, to be more engaged in life, to get back on the horse as it were, but there are
 days when nothing seems to go well, when problems mount, and fuck it is the mantra. I try to redirect
 those thoughts, to find a positive outlet, but sometimes I just can't.


That's ok, though. It really is. One cannot win every battle in a war. Small victories are sometimes the only thing you get. Hey, I managed to get out of bed today and go to work. The rest of the day sucked. Some mistake is made, thoughts lean to black, the whole thing wants to come unraveled. Fall back, regroup, the enemy is still out there, we'll get 'em next time, soldier. I have to view it this way. Otherwise, I really shall go mad like the hapless Arthur Dent.

Medication and therapy, both useful tools for recovery, cannot substitute for effort and resolve. They are there to help facilitate things, to make it easier to continue the fight. Sometimes, it is necessary to at least let the negative thoughts come to the surface, identify them, bring them into the light, so as to realize what things need dealing with. As long as I am still fighting, still have my boots on, it's ok to feel bad. There are situations and circumstances that will come along, some consequences of the disease, that will be unpleasant and negative. Some may be beyond my control. It is ok to look to the sky and say "Oh, come on. What the hell did I do to deserve this?". But I have to know, really know, in the back of my mind, that I will persevere. Until I can look at my reflection and see that resolve, the steel, I will use the medications and therapy.

I will likely have another day, sometime in the near future, like yesterday. It will suck the wind out of me for a little while, knock me down. But I am determined to climb to my feet and keep going. I will win this war. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Manual Transmission

 How many times do I have to say it? How many times do I repeat the words, the mantra of recovery, this fight song? Is there that moment, that singular fiery moment, epiphany, a supernova of healing? The moment when I stand up, facing the future, eyes alive, and say, "I am free of this blackness. I have won!". It seems there must be and if I look hard enough, hold my head just right, I can see the flicker in the distance.

I deserve to be happy. It is the birthright of the free, the refuge of we who deny fate its due, who take control of our lives and our minds. It belongs to me, this happiness, it is mine and mine alone, I have only to find it, to pick it up where I left it, to sling it on my back and walk on. There are setbacks, the lies I still tell myself, the pictures in the hall, their color fading, yellowing, fraying at the edges. I still feel them, hear their whispers, see the flashes, but I will not let them stab quite as deeply. I am the curator here, I run this place, not them. I will not take them down, they will hang there always, reminders of the past, facts now, simple reflections of what was, not some power I cannot control.

Last night, I slept fitfully again. I flopped in my bed like a landed fish, listening to the night sounds, my mind like a DVD on fast-forward, disjointed visions out of sequence. I worried, I planned, I wrestled the damn pictures. I got out of bed, knowing I had a busy hour ahead readying the children for school, showering, shaving, little rituals, and my mind downshifted, allowed me to focus. It allowed me to forget, temporarily, the hallway, the fast-forward. There is a lesson there. I know I can adjust the lens, change the focus of my thoughts. This is something I think many people suffering from depression do not immediately realize, that they have a choice. The tricky part is actually allowing yourself to do it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Echoes and footprints

Feeling a little out of sorts today. Not sure if it is the medication or what. I didn't sleep well which I am sure couldn't help. My mind raced as I tried to ease into sleep, disjointed thoughts careening through my head, snippets of memory, vague scenes. I could not focus on any one particular thing before it was replaced by some other thought, kaleidoscopic and vague segues, making finding the rest stop in my mind difficult. However, none of the thoughts ricocheting about my skull were negative or disturbing, just a jumble of sensory information, as though I was turning a radio dial quickly through the frequencies, hoping to settle on some serene station that would accompany me into the silken void of sleep.

Fitful as my sleep was, I still awoke at six o'clock, my newly acquired routine. I haven't made any conscious decision that I should wake up earlier, my brain has just selected this for me. I have awoken most days before my alarm sounds and on those rare occasions when I do not and have tried to hit the snooze button, my mind drives me from the bed, slightly anxious, with a vague sense of purpose. This, in and of itself is not too bad a thing, but it is accompanied by a sensation of being late for something, though at that hour there is no pressing appointment. I have to merely get up and get the kids their breakfast and get them ready for school and six o'clock gives me plenty of time to do that.

It may, on reflection, be related to the memory test the psychiatrist administered just a couple of days ago. Since I could not remember a simple sequence of three nouns, I have been unsettled by the notion that I may be forgetting all kinds of things. Little things, things that taken each by each are not of extreme importance but when summed up result in a lot of wasted time scrambling to take care of them. I forget to grab an item for work from the kitchen table, or to get gas before I leave for my commute, or realize I have forgotten to brush my teeth. So I turn around, go back to that small task, complete it and then shift into high gear to make up for the lost time. From time to time, I will also forget some big, necessary task, or, to be more accurate, I forget to plan for them, so that when the time arrives to do it I am harried and flustered.

This is one of the minute and, in comparison to other symptoms of depression, seemingly inconsequential effects of this disease. It is not the Demon himself, more his footprints, the evidence of his passing through. It is a source of frustration, however, more tiny failings to warrant another round of self-flagellation, and so an oblique and subtle attack of that monster, an echo of his efforts.

Well, back to it. The day must go on, things need doing. These musings must wait.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rhythm to my Madness

A little while ago, I received a very nice note from a friend. It is always gratifying to encounter the selflessness and empathy friends are capable of. I decided to post my reply to her as it contains my method by which I am dealing with depression spelled out as well as I can muster. I will not print her original note and I have changed the name as her privacy need not be shared in this place.

The note:

Thanks, M. Actually, another good friend suggested meditation as well. I may try some of the techniques at some point. For now, however, writing is my meditation, my exploration of my psyche, the method I use to digest the world. I write all kinds of things, some direct examinations, others oblique, reflected thoughts. Writing is more than a manipulation of words to make a coherent sentence. It is truth and clarity and reason, it is music and poetry and painting, a world within a world. It is impossible for me to lie to myself when I write: the words are there, all perfect and drawn, a snapshot of truth. When I pause and read what I write, I read with a rhythm, a pulse of synapse, ticking away, a metronome of thought. And when that rhythm is interrupted, a hitch in the truth or a false mirror, I feel it, as when a drummer is dragging the beat. That is the same rhythm, I suspect, of meditation, the same internal tick, the Godhead, the only absolute. I am a translator, interpreting my mind for my mind, acknowledging always the rhythm of my conscience.
Thank you for your interest in my thoughts. It really means a lot that you take the time to send me such suggestions. Camus was a charlatan and a nihilist: the world has within it many good people, like you, who have genuine feelings of empathy and concern and it is a better place for it.

Yours in hope ,

G

Candy Jar

Really bad day yesterday. I went to a psychiatrist to determine what type of medication I should take. Fun. Let's see, Mr. Boccia, seeing as you are incapable of controlling your own mind, let's see what we have in this sad little candy jar, the one shaped like a badly rendered clown head, the Jar of Weakness. I know it is likely to help me, and that it is not my fault that I feel this way, but there you are. It feels like an admission of lack of control.

I blew up on a loved one last night. That was great. I spoke truthfully, got some things off my chest, but I was bitter and angry, and it was wholly unproductive. I should have been more tactful, less emotional, in what I said. But I suppose anger is a real emotion and beats empty resignation hands down. The defeatist acceptance of fate has gone on long enough.

The really sad part is that I beat myself up this morning for not saying these things a long time ago, granted with less vitriol. And there is that Demon, the self-doubt, easing out from behind a shadow, prodding, stabbing, just when I am a little weakened, subtle, manipulative, skillful.

Before I went to bed, I just sat there reading the warnings, side effects, and counter-indications on the brochure that accompanies the medication, a disgusted grimace, I am sure, set on my face. The medication itself is contained in a complex container, I suppose designed to foil children's attempts to get it out. It is a rectangular piece of plastic, about 3" x 6", and approximately 3/8" thick. It is open on one end where the bubble card the medicine is on is exposed, a small button on the other end which "unlocks" the card, allowing it to be pulled out and exposes the pill bubbles.  It is blue and purple, doubtless the work of some designer who selected the colors for the calming tones (I have always thought "meanings" for colors to be such bullshit. What, this red shirt is going to make me angry if I stare at it too long?).

The psychiatrist also did some tests on me, I assume to determine what other effects the depression was having on me. Most disturbing was the little memory test he gave me. He asked me to listen while he listed three words, then repeat them to him. I did so. He then proceeded to ask me a number of cognitive thinking questions, what is 6 x 9, or how are a banana and an orange alike. After a dozen or so of these questions, he asked that I repeat the words he gave me at the beginning. I could not, not even when he gave me hints.That really bothered me. What else I am I forgetting, what things am I overlooking that might be important, vital to my job or important to the kids? He told me that depression can have a profound and detrimental effect on memory and that it sometimes is the most difficult symptom to relieve.

So, yesterday sucked. It was a bad 24 hours, though, nothing more. I am trying to digest that, to comprehend that I will have good days and bad ones. But I am doing something, taking steps toward the doorway, preparing for the sunlight and the air, I have to stay focused on the goal and not get bogged down by a tiny defeat.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Big Game

So I am sitting here fighting the self-doubt thing. Yeah, the demon is trying. I worked today, hard, kept myself busy, distracted from all the thinking. But I drive a lot for work, so my mind has plenty of time to batter me around a bit. So what is it today? What are you going to relive and agonize over, Mr. Boccia? The old ones or something new, some new perceived failure?

There. Right there. The language, the syntax, it's perfect. It comes out through my fingers, a rapid release, unwitting, flowing through the valley in my head, a steady current. I think I am diverting the attack, but it is a feint, subterfuge, keep him busy, now STRIKE, end this hope, crush him. Why wont she love me, why doesn't he call me back, why are they so distant, why, why, why? Enough.

See, I am beginning to understand this thing, beginning to make out it's features, learning it's habits. Where it likes to lurk, quiet, diligent, unblinking, when it likes to feed. This game is the most elusive, it is the predator, the top of the food chain in the wasteland of self-loathing, the unseen enemy in the thicket, the eyes you can feel but never see. It is wounded, deadlier, more desperate, but more visible, more prone to the steel of my logic. I will not slash wildly anymore at the hiding places, I will time my strikes, wait for the opening, draw it out by being hopeful, by loving without expecting anything in return, by living.

He didn't call you back? Probably busy, has a life, not avoiding. You can't jump to that first, people deserve their own reasoning, not that which you project on them. They are distant? Why do you say that? What evidence do you have? Is that their own way of dealing with the discomfort of seeing a man bare his fears, his faults? Then so be it. Let them choose to do as they will. You have no say. She doesn't love you? You have given all you could, all you were capable of giving in that blackness. If she doesn't see that, see your love for her, it may be some mechanism within her, not you, that is broken. Perhaps you could not give her enough, perhaps her needs are too selfish. You cannot control these other people, can't walk their hallways, can't fight their demons. You have your own.

For the moment, I have routed him, pushed him back. The smell of spring from the open door, the sound of a single chime on the front porch. The light is playing on the headstock of my guitar, little glimmers, as it reclines against the sofa. I can sense my environment, feel the outside creeping in, or, perhaps, I am creeping out, meeting it halfway, opening the door a little wider.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

First Law of Thermodynamics

Back from my first therapy session. I don't know how I feel. I feel as though I am doing something, I suppose, but it just hit me after I left how fucking long I have been wasting away in that room, that self-pitying, comfortable room. It was kind of an overwhelming sensation, this acknowledgement that I just folded up and hid in there for at least four years, maybe more, and I am struggling with that knowledge. What the hell happened? How did it go on for that long?

If I think about that lost time, the silence, any more I will run right back into that filthy lair and die there. But I am thinking there might be something I am missing, something I am not really grasping about that time, now gone and never to be retrieved. There is something simple there, I know it, the kind of simple revelation you stumble into when you are learning something new, as when you encounter a puzzle box for the first time. Pull here, push this, pivot that, couldn't be easier once you know the trick, but utterly elusive until you do.

The lost years can't just be wasted. The only thing I can do, I can hope for, is that I get some meaning out of them, something that helps me be a better person, a wiser person. If I see them as just gone my mind will collapse, disintegrate, it's right there a few paces away, the abyss, nothingness. That just can't be. There is meaning, there has to be, it can't be just empty. Mind is like matter, it can be altered but never lessened, it all turns into something, becomes different matter, like when you burn carbon and it breaks into gasses. For every thing that is destroyed, something is created. Maybe it is this blog. Maybe it is the wave of creativity I have recently been experiencing. Whatever it is, there is something to be gained.

There just has to be.

Defense System

Today I go to the counselor for my first session. I am nervous. The prospect of letting a stranger see inside my mess, my miasma of unspoken shame, is frightening. I am sure that she has heard it all, seen it all, but I guess I have a nagging voice whispering they are going to think you are pathetic, you will be a joke, they will be repelled by your mind, your oozing, infected, pustule of a mind. But that is the disease, the demon, protecting itself, telling me lies, seeding me with doubt, holding the door shut. I keep yelling at it, I WANT TO FEEL BETTER, FUCK YOU, you evil insect, you disease, you will not be my rotting lover anymore, you have to GO. If only it was that easy...

What happens when the flashlight of my logic, my will, shines on its face is the reason it is so fucking insidious. It turns away, it hides, it finds the darkest corner, cowering, waiting for my strength to fade, for a cloud to obscure things just a little bit; and then it takes a different tack, the slimy fucker, finding a nearly insignificant thing, one wallet-sized picture from the hall, and it waits. It will hold that picture up when I'm shaving, when I'm driving, when I piss, sometime when I am distracted by little rituals, quiet times, and just let it hang there for a brief moment, barely perceived. And then it waits, smiling I am sure, waits for the picture to take hold, for the wire to be strung and the nail driven, for the frame to be painted, lurking, patient. When I open the door a tiny crack, just to see if it's safe, the evil bastard flicks the switch, the light paints the spot, bigger than life, bigger than I can focus on, and that's enough, no fucking thank you, just slam the door, just fucking STOP, no more, I can't do that, I can't...

And there it is. A tiny, seemingly insignificant thing, a subliminal flash, an echo of something, a thin needle prodding my mind, and I just slam the door.  Then it does its best work: I now start to think how pathetic, how useless you are, that little thing, that spec, and you hide, you are not a man, you are a coward. You subtle, devious, foul fucker. I hate this shit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Room

What the hell am I doing here, writing this, what do I think I will be able to accomplish? Is this a journal where I will jot down every thing that bothers me, that crushes me little by little, a great, murky fucking repository of black thoughts and garbage? I don't know what this is. But I guess if you want to know what depression is, what it does to a mind, how it destroys, this will be a pretty telling read. I suppose I hope it will help one person, or a million, realize something about depression they didn't know or see some way around it or just to hope they never see this putrid, hideous beast.

Here is what I did for a lot of the time I was in the velvet void: nothing. I thought of nothing, I created nothing. I sat at the computer and played a game that gave me nothing in exchange for nothing, hoping nobody would notice me there, in the next room, and just pass me by. I did not cry, I did not rage, I did not howl in pain. I just did nothing.

But there was this one little thing, this tiny marble rolling around in the mushy confines: I hated myself. I hated who I was, how I looked, how I failed, how I just plain was. I didn't say that or even really think it. To think about it in those exact words, in those terms, stark and black and white, would have caused me to relive all those failings, to examine my face, my mind in the light of day, out from that tiny, dark, quiet room where I did nothing and where nothing affected me.

And that is what I experienced before the nothing: I walked up and down the hallways of my mind and saw all the mortifying pictures hanging on the wall, every last failure, every last girlfriend leaving, every tiny foible, every picture of pants-wetting, every premature ejaculation, every awful and callous and embarrassing thing I have ever done, all of my shame, there, framed and well lit, while my victories and my good deeds and my excellence lay on the floor, shattered and trampled, dust clinging to my sweaty feet. And it was...beyond painful, it cut at my soul, it burned my eyes, it stabbed my ego. By halfway it knocked me down and I crawled while the broken fragments of my hope pierced my hands and knees, and the lights shifted and illuminated a lower part of the walls, where the truly degrading humiliations were hung, where my Father leaving my Mom hung in its tattered frame, wet with tears, where the first criticisms of my appearance by my Mother stood out brightly in the blackhead-covered frames, and I collapsed some more. Flat on my stomach, pulling myself along with my elbows in a broken military crawl, breathing in the dust and debris of my wasted potential, choking and bleeding and moaning, I reached out blindly, my eyes now caked shut with the blood from the thorn wounds in my head made by the heavy crown I made from the shards of glass that littered this hell, and I felt something, something cool against the broken blisters on my hands.

A door. A simple door made of something soft and cool and quiet, a cool, soft breeze blowing out from its cracks, and from the other side I heard whispers, soothing voices, calling me, offering a salve, a potion, some respite from my tortured crawl, rest for my weariness. It opened as if on its own, beckoning. I dragged myself into the darkness there, pressed my battered face against the cool floor and sighed, a long and rattling sound that came from my soul rather than my lungs.

And I felt...nothing. And I heard nothing. And I thought nothing. And I wanted nothing. The sounds of things that never happened, vague strings played with ghost bows, a velvet and lilting chorus, the white noise of emptiness enveloped my ears. It was beautiful.