Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Best of, cont'd: Post-ECT Musings

It's been a while since a "Best of" post, which I think a good sign. I have gotten these posts to within a year of today, and will hopefully bring them up to date in the near future. Sunday I leave for LA to sue for visitation rights re: my grandson. I'm anxious about the trip but trust my mood will hold for the hearings.

Now for the harrowing aftermath of ECT.

From 3/20/08 Post-ECT:

Having something to do with my hands is a blessing. I recall prior to my ECT that I generally made Kathleen lunches and tried to make dinner, but just like my former exercise regimen, ECT seemed to amputate my past from my future. The threads of things I was doing before the treatments I have had trouble reconnecting with. There was a chapbook contest I intended to enter, for example, and I had the chapbook done, but I no longer know where to send it. And I found myself published in a journal I didn't know was publishing me. I think the entire experience of ECT resembles a major concussive syndrome, with selective anterograde amnesia and a general disconnect with one's former life. If I were to do it over again, and I never plan to given the recent results, I would take the time to write down in a notebook beforehand all my ongoing activities and goals in a detailed fashion, so that I would have a guide for resuming my life. As it is, things crop up--”I was going to do that?” “I had promised to do that?” “There's a deadline for what?” “I owe whom a letter?”

ECT is a great interruption in the flow of one's life. Naturally anyone considering it would not call their life normal. But even depressed, as I have been, there are connections and recollections that seem to have been whited out by ECT.

Of course, underneath the inevitable progression of my bipolar disease lies the grief at the loss of my first-born daughter, Rachel, on July 29, 2007. At the time I welcomed the sad feelings because they were legitimate grief, and grief felt better than depression, but in the emotional economy of the human psyche one wonders if that great loss has not been feeding my depression at some level. Experientially I can't say so; theoretically it makes sense.

I've been worrying a lot about old age lately, where we might live, how we will afford to live and all the attendant worries. But I like what Bob Dylan said: “He who isn't busy being born is busy dying.” Also, T. S. Eliot: “Old men should be explorers.”

Fine quotes to live up to. Fear is the mind-killer. Once faith in yourself is undermined, faith in anything else becomes near impossible.

So, outside myself, I've shopped and cooked two meals. Tonight I will be playing a tune I wrote for a Spring Equinox ceremony. The performance, of course, fills me with fear. But the way around my basic fear of non-being, or global incompetence of my person, is to do the things of which I'm afraid. I know this and have done this many times in my approach to life. I even called the Medical Board about the status of my medical license renewal today. (They told me to call back Monday.)

Oh, I fed the cats and brought Kathleen coffee and provided her with a lunch today. Every little useful thing helps. I don't know how it is for others, but in my advanced mental illness I have so much trouble trying to inhabit my body. My body becomes a thing, not part of my person, and to heal my mind must slow down or speed up to the rhythm of my body, so that in washing dishes, for instance, my hands and mind can work in concert. This idea hearkens back to the “moral treatment” enlightened Christians first used on the mentally ill after saving them from asylums. Farming was a big part of that therapy. My capacity for abstraction puts me at risk of losing contact with the material universe and my necessary role in it.

I have tried to keep today's post from undue solipsism. This does not mean that I am necessarily better, only that I am trying to follow my own prescription for improved health.

From 3/25: Post-ECT: My Failure as an Author

Ignoring my depression doesn't seem to be working, so I'll indulge in writing as therapy, believing it helps objectify my suffering. Suffering can never be compared; each of us has suffered to a degree we would be afraid to exceed, as one can only know greater suffering when the soul is stretched beyond its former capacity for suffering. With enough suffering comes a numbness, as in Holocaust survivors, the mind's defense mechanism against overwhelming grief and terror. Depression differs from grief and trauma in that it comes from the inside out instead of from the outside in. It is self-generating.

As a form of suffering I find depression to be one of the worst varieties, because it darkens everything, it makes one unable to experience pleasure, it robs you of yourself--with all the history and attachments that implies. The past seems meaningless and the future seems a terror, while you spend every spare minute accusing yourself of one failure or another. Today my mind chose to accuse myself of not doing enough to end my depression--this despite exercise, ECT, compliance with psychiatric meds, attempts at gardening and cooking, continuing occasional publication of my poetry, hiking, and yes, a lot of basketball watching.

How do I enjoy basketball while being depressed? First, it generally comes on in the evening, when depression itself improves, as depression is usually worse in the morning and better at night. Second, it is essentially trivial. The fate of the chinook salmon or the arctic ice pack does not hang from a basketball rim. It's just a simple game with one ball and two hoops. When I was younger I could play it, which adds to my appreciation. Still the main reason I can "enjoy" (better "be distracted by") basketball is that it demands nothing of me except that I be a mindless fan, an illogical and irrational position and thus a relief from significance.

I will admit that I don't have enough to do. When my depression was less severe I spent a lot of time writing, but now that I've decided I'll never make it as an author I hardly have the heart to keep generating books that won't be published. My novel, "The Abomination," is so boring I can't finish it ( published one copy of it for my perusal when I entered their first novel contest; I think I mentioned that out of 5,000 entrants, I didn't even make the cut for the top 1000. But I do have the souvenir book!) I had high hopes for the novel to be a thriller, a page-turner, but I realize in reading it that the characters do not demand the kind of interest that makes for an interesting novel. I don't really care about the characters when I read it.

As for my poetry and literary criticism, I still have faith that some of it has merit beyond my lifetime, but I don't expect to be discovered any time soon.

I recently picked up a new collection of Charles Simic, our present poet laureate, and found no brilliance to envy. Why he is lauded above others I can only attribute to the usual East Coast Old Boys' network. His poems are workmanlike but underwhelming.

To be fair, my sense of failure as an author has not been properly earned because I haven't pulled out every stop and made every sacrifice to succeed. But I have become disheartened, and I don't know how to return to writing without confidence--a writer must have the conceit that he has something worth saying--lacking that at present, I don't write about anything, excepting the therapy of this blog.

So, how did I do today? I hit upon one thing that distracts me from depression: Basketball! I passed a small opinion on our poet laureate. And I confessed that my inner critic thinks I haven't done enough to come out of my depression; but what is enough? It doesn't get more serious than ECT, from which I'm still recovering in terms of memory and cognitive functioning. But what if ECT was a way of avoiding some other aspect of depression? The mind won't let up, the hook is set and the brain reels it in over and over again. That's a good metaphor for depression: having set the hook deep in your soul and afterwards trying to reel it in--you are the fish and the fisherman and therefore can never succeed. And the more you yank on the line the worse it gets. One of the best lines I ever heard about depression was, "If your car is stuck in the mud, don't spin your wheels, just wait for the sun to come out and dry the road and you'll be able to drive away." It's the waiting that kills us. I spin my wheels too much.

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