I’ve had an especially rough time in recent years, having long suffered from severe depression and what is known as “complicated grief” but having experienced an exacerbation since 2011 whose violence I was completely unprepared for. I haven’t had the psychic or mental energy to rise above it; kind of a negative-feedback situation. I spent a lot of 2012 weeping in a fetal position in bed. I would force myself to get up & use a cheerful voice because the depression was affecting my dogs. But inside I was completely shut down, & of course my dogs could tell my chirpiness was counterfeit & were quite worried. Decades of talk therapy & other unsuccessful treatments led me to try to try to treat it pharmacologically, and although it took time to get the bugs out, I am doing much better. I stopped believing that I could not get better because of my character or because I was too weak to do it on my own. This just made me feel worse, like blaming the victim, but there’s a lot of that mindset in New Age approaches, like giving yourself cancer because you’re angry or whatever (I always wondered how that explained 5-year-old cancer patients). Self-determinism run amok, & I’m more self-deterministic than the next guy; to an unforgiving fault.
I do believe in the kindling effect; being exposed to overwhelming anxiety from a very young age & having one’s system flooded with stress hormones every day for 50 years, & the effect that can have on brain function. It’s just that the emotions that underlie these chemical effects are outside my control, & believe me, I’ve counted to 10 & done the therapeutic & New-Age equivalents an unimaginable number of times, always with the idea that this was something I “should” be able to control on my own. But I’ve come to realize that this is not something that can be addressed by joining a play group for normal neurotics or taping New-Age platitudes onto my bathroom mirror. Maybe in my 20s, when I still thought I was just “eccentric” (& so did everyone else). It changed at some point; changed in a way that scared me: I had come to believe that the Universe had actually let me down, left me in the dust. You just can’t imagine how that feels. This is one case where my self-determinism, the strong belief that the answer could only come from my own brute strength, that the buck stopped here & nowhere else, locked me in a cage for many years & threw away the key.
So I decided to (finally) try out the idea that it was a matter of chemistry rather than character, as a psychiatrist told me many years ago but which I refused to act upon because of a lot of reservations about pharmaceutical face lifts (a la Talking to Prozac) & a general distrust of the pharma industry, but I think I have as much chance of “thinking” myself out of this as I would have thinking myself out of hyperglycemia. I mean, I’m sure there is some yogi somewhere who can probably actually do that, but luckily for yogis, that is what they do for a living. As for me, I have a day job, so I can’t waste any more time in my life trying to regulate my bodily functions (including neurochemistry) mentally. Besides, the whole “mind-over-matter” thing has a decidedly [des]Cartesian feel, in the ugliest & most patriarchal sense. I’ve spent way too much time in my life trying to subjugate my body to my mind, so I’ve developed an aversion to anything that smacks of that kind of control. Quantum physics notwithstanding, when you are in that dark snake pit of depression it is virtually impossible to muster an affirmation. The voice in me that continues to clack that I am not good enough, not strong enough, because in over 50 years of applying my considerable mental faculties to stopping my demons from overtaking me, I have not been able to do it, is turning my life into that bridge, you know, the one you can see on youtube, that was designed in such a way that a small breeze caused it to vibrate more & more wildly until it was an undulating, walloping, flailing structure that just ended up exploding in mid-air. The degree to which this post is me trying to convince myself I’m Doing the Right Thing is just more evidence of that voice. Total projection.
So I have to admit: I just can’t do it. There. So sue me.
I think AA members will probably understand this well. To New Agers, this kind of admission probably seems like the ultimate self-defeat. To me, it’s the first healthy step I’ve taken in a long time. So the drugs. This is the first time in a very long time that I have felt the bell jar lift somewhat. The pills are not magic, but they do open a window, space for me to draw a breath & perhaps (ack) say an affirmation. At the moment I think of myself as “in rehab,” like someone who is gaining strength after being unable to walk for a long time. I am a better mom now, so perfect solution or not, if it makes my dogs happier I am willing to do it.
My community is undergoing a lot of changes. Groups struggling to keep development under control, new residents trying to turn my starry mountain Shangri-La into a tiny Burbank, complete with floodlights. Even the best conditions, like “moderate” development and “only 60 watts” cause me so much distress that I almost cannot function. It is such an affront, I just don’t think I can–or want to–handle it any more, not that I want to give up the good fight. I’ve always thought of myself as rather permeable. Things come in, I breathe in my environment, & some kind of art gets exhaled, and I have not really been interested in filtering. My “personal zone” is quite a bit larger than the norm & easily invaded. Some people can “feel” alone when others are around. I can’t. It’s been this way since I was a little kid. I can feel alone only when I “am” alone, which was bad news for my ex’s and the biggest reason I did not stay married, other than the fact that none of my husbands were dogs.Now I have had to train myself to turn away in order to avoid seeing the ugliness cropping up around me. Me, a photographer, whose mantra for most of my life has been that statement of Kurosawa’s:”To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” That meant ugly as well as beautiful, not that I’m going to work undercover for PETA any time soon. But I no longer have a choice. What I mean is that the situation has turned 180 degrees: Whereas before I could choose to turn away from my overall splendid environment to fix my gaze on something relatively ugly if I thought it was artistically or intellectually or spiritually expedient to do so, now the ugliness is crawling up my ass 24/7 and I have to keep staring at a little spot on the floor to get any relief. I have knots in my stomach every day, every time I either have to look at, or cast my eyes down to avoid, that screaming neon “NO TRESPASSING” sign that the new neighbor nailed into a 200-year-old Jeffrey pine, which makes me feel like I am getting flipped off every time I look out the window. I feel my guts clutch constantly. I can almost feel those nails in my own skin.
I’ve started feeling like my relationship to my house is like a bad marriage. A cushy prison; terrifying to leave because jail may be jail, but it’s home. I need to get a parcel of land & build a tinyhouse somewhere where it is quiet & dark. Yeah, I know. There is some yogi out there who can feel happy & peaceful & sane & enlightened sitting in a subway station at rush hour. I’m sure I could do that too if I spent the rest of my not-so-abundant days trying for it & maybe achieving it on my deathbed. I have to be somewhere where I can look out my windows and see nature only or I will end up chewing on my furniture. I can’t get peace of mind when I have to spend so much of my energy screening out psychic toxicity. I feel like I’m holding my breath all the time, & it’s not healthy. Less comes in, and less gets out. It’s so counter to the way I have lived my life.