15 February 2012

Further Meditations on a Theme

(A note before I begin: look, I really am essentially okay, in case anyone's worried. I know I keep talking about this; it probably won't be forever. Minds interest me, and mine's the one closest at hand for study. That's most of what's going on here.)

1. Here's another thing mental illness has helped to do to me or for me: it's made me an essential skeptic. I've had to clear my inner closets of things like religion, political ardor, mysticism, and even to some extent self-confidence so that madness can't find them there and turn them toward ill use.

2. I know that setting all the clocks in my house a few minutes ahead would help me get places on time and thus improve my life in measurable ways. But this seems less valuable to me than actually knowing what time it is.

3. I'd forgotten about this other mode of depressive psychosis: decoupled from anxiety, there's a flattening of affect toward the excessive meanings that the world continues to produce regardless. Then this thing turns self-mocking and mean, but it has an okay sense of black humor. As the butt of an insult comic's jokes in the audience might still laugh.

4. Part of how it works is: there's a quasi-physical sense that my "I" is too small for my purposes. I feel it clamping down over me like a clamshell or the underside of a set of knuckles. (It's come to me in milder form on the edge of sleep for some weeks, too, as was often the case in childhood. It is of course ontologically intolerable that our selves should disappear for so long every night. The mystery is that we can think of anything but death.) With this constriction arrives the certainty that a thing so small could easily be guided by some other force that I almost have access to. (In some corner of this hall of mirrors flashes the fact that in one obvious sense this hidden force is the illness itself, not that there's much to be done with that notion. Look it in the eye and move on.) A feeling of insufficient personal reality descends, although it's not clear whether I'm more or less real than the things around me. The cogito gets you just a couple steps from nowhere; after that, you're on your own.

Sensory input doesn't arrive with its usual force. It's coming in from a long way off. I find myself gripping iron railings, running the back of my hand along brick walls, trying to tie tighter knots between me and the world.

5. Historically, voices haven't been the main hallucinations I've experienced, but I can so easily see how they're produced. In such a state, thoughts become words -- even become couplets of medium-poor poetry -- instantaneously, and don't seem to stem from my own powers. The world's speaking to me in sentences rather than in sense data. I don't have to go to the trouble of translating and assembling them myself. It's like the subconscious has just disappeared. Context, subtext: they're all just text scrolling across the wall at once.

6. Hate, like heat, collects in things. Every object wears its most ghoulish mask. There's a dead possum on the sidewalk. But actually a plastic bag. But, upon closer inspection, perhaps a bloated pigeon? (A plastic bag, of course.) Church architecture an assemblage of mausoleums. Everyone on the street is lurching in the throes of some contagious illness. But it affects me almost abstractly. My body goes through the motions of disgust: the shudder, the crossing of streets. Something else is in charge of that, though; I can hear it happening somewhere in the neighborhood, but not where I live. So the mind laughs flatly at itself, for allowing the body to be moved along such senseless routes.

Psychiatry calls this patient insight and it's indisputably better than the alternative. But it makes it hard to maintain much, ah, self-esteem.

7. In depression is the counterargument to one of the values I'd most like to transform into belief. Ipsa scientia non potestas est. Instead of acting on the cold knowledge, the iterative disillusionment, that it's constantly synthesizing, depressed consciousness loops and loops through a bureaucracy of inner courts. They are endlessly in session and endlessly handing down convictions.

I've sometimes harbored a little abstract envy toward other, more florid species of psychotics -- the ones with delusions of grandeur, the ones being called upon to save the world. You could maybe get a few things done in such a state.

8. It's good and terrible that mental illness is incommunicable. Cannot be communicated. Lately it seems more interesting to write anyway than not to.

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