Sunday, June 20, 2010

Medications and Mozart

I have essentially ceased updating my blog for two reasons: 1) I fear I have nothing more to say on manic-depression; and 2) I'm not so sure I want to go on exposing my guts to virtual strangers.

My reluctance may also have something to do with my current emotional lability.  After nearly five months of depression from January through May, I've made a start in recovery but still feel fragile.  My shrink and I agreed on a washout of all medications as none were working; now we have slowly resumed two, and I'm better, but the ground still feels treacherous beneath my feet.  Consequently on Friday I finallly persuaded him to add an antidepressant to my regimen.  Thus I am now on a mood stabilizer, a mild stimulant, and an antidepressant.  Given the time it takes an antidepressant to work, I should know within two or three weeks if its addition is going to help.

Meanwhile what do I do?  Write about it?  What more is there to tell?  Here are the best books I know on the subject: "Darkness Visible" by William Styron; "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Jamison; and "Noonday Demon" whose author escapes me.  The last one is the most meandering of the three and goes to great lengths to try various treatments, including witchdoctor rituals in Africa.  In the end the author ends up taking medications.  I could have told him that, but then his journey would not have been nearly as interesting.

As for art, I posted a couple of new songs at my Soundclick site, "Angel" and "To the West."  The link is on this page.  I wrote the latter for a solstice ceremony we held last night at my friend's lodge called Spirit House.  I used the song to call in the direction of the west on the medicine wheel.  The lyrics are available on the Soundclick page if you click on "song info" before (or after) listening.  (All the songs on my page are available for free downloading.) 

My friend told me that the west, in Indian lore, was associated with introspection, looking inside.  Another friend told me that the gatekeeper of the west is the bear, another symbol for going inside, given the pattern of hibernation.  Yet introspection I find dangerous for a depressive; one is too easily stuck on one's shortcomings if chemically impaired; best not to go there, better to keep it light.  A sense of humor is indispensible in surviving the black dog.

I'm especially proud of "Angel," a simple Elizabethan love song,  somewhat out of character for me as my songs usually have a more complex structure than three chords.  But three chords often sufficed for Mozart, so who am I to gainsay simplicity?  In a recent post I included one of the better poems I've written in recent memory, "Foxgloves," in which I make some observations on Mozart.  I find his music supportive of mental health; the recurrent structure and resolutions tie up reality into a neat digestible package, or appear to do so in my mind.  It avoids the early Romantic power of Beethoven and the late Romantic questioning of Brahms, in its Classical power of conundrums resolved from  The Age of Enlightenment, the age of proportion and balance.  Listening can prove therapeutic.  I don't have houseplants but in experiments it is said that Mozart aids their growth whereas heavy metal does not.  Heavy metal poisoning--you gotta love that.  Of course everyone ought to know where the term "heavy metal" comes from; it's from Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" and references the "heavy metal thunder" of a motorcycle.  I am, however, over motorcycles, especially since my accident of July 2008.  I'm extremely grateful that I can still play the guitar in light of the permanent nerve injuries to my left hand, which include numbness and weakness I have been able to compensate for the impediment for the most part so that it cannot be easily observed by others, save in my inability (though improving) to really sustain a clean bar chord.

And how about those Lakers!  What a gritty win in game 7.  We outhustled and outlasted Boston.  They led in every shooting category: from the field, from three-point land and from the free throw line, but by sheer determination we outrebounded them by 15 and had a number of second chance points.  Kobe got 15 rebounds himself on a night when in Chick Hearn's words, "He couldn't throw a pea in the ocean."  Nor could anyone else on the team; team shooting from the field was a pitiful 32%.  Boston's percentage was nearly ten points higher.  But we wanted it more, else fatigue had done them in.   Even Kobe said, after the game, that he "had been drained" from the outset, that his fuel gage was on empty before the game started.  I was proud of the whole team, and especially Ron Artest, who not only won his first ring but was instrumental in the two clinching victories.  In game 7 he had 20 pts., five rebounds and five steals.  The steals meant much.  He had more steals than the rest of the team.  His post-game interview was predictably bizarre, but he did directly credit his psychiatrist with helping him calm down for the game.  I hope this starts a trend and that more crazy athletes will give credit where credit is due.

For a Father's Day gift my middle daughter, Keturah, offered to fly me down for the Lakers' parade tomorrow, but by the time we found out it was tomorrow, I had less than twenty-four hours to get down to LA and of course the price of the flight increased because of short notice, so I declined, also because in my present state travel can accentuate my vulnerability to a depressive relapse, the very thing I'm trying to prevent.  Before everything else I must get well and stay well.  Besides, I wanted Kathleen to come.  I can only hope we have another one next year.  You never know.  Most of the team will come back intact, and if Andrew Bynum can have an injury-free season we could be hard to beat.

 An acquaintance recently purchased a copy of "Unexpected Light" then came back two days later to purchase another for his aunt's birthday.  And this is a guy who doesn't read poetry.  If I can just get my book, "Unexpected Light," into a person's hands they will usually buy it. At readings, too, when people hear the work, there's a much better chance that they will purchase it.  It's hard to market a book of poetry without a personal connection, unless you are a "major" poet with a dedicated following. 

I haven't been posting much at poetry boards of late, not only because of the paucity of my output but because of its deficient quality.  And that's not just because I've been seeing my work through the lens of depression; it is a dispassionate analysis of my current state of inspiration.  The recent poem, "Foxgloves," was a welcome exception.

Today I visited the local Catholic church and was pleasantly surprised to find it low key and accessible, not quite high church though the liturgy was naturally used in the mass.  I don't know exactly when they reformed the practice, but now in communion parishioners are also allowed to drink the wine.  Long ago (or not so long ago?) only the priest was allowed.  That simple ritual of wine and bread grounds me like no other.  It proclaims that Christ is real, that the incarnation really happened, as real as the bread in your mouth.  Interesting that a religion's chief ceremony should involve food and drink.  I think that's pretty smart marketing.  We need something to hold onto what with an abstract, invisible God and all the things competing for our attention in the material world.  Good to have a solid ritual of material ingestion.

I'm enjoying this prattling.  It's been a while since I wrote an extended letter to anyone.  Perhaps I will return to blogging for its therapeutic benefit; it has helped me to hang on before.  Whether anyone reads it or not is secondary; the act itself helps the brain into a semblance of order, along with medications and Mozart.

2 Kilorats and fragile,

Dr. Chaffin

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