22 Days of Musing: 4 and 5

Day 4. Quick as lightning in its tracks.

As much as depression and the anxiety that accompanies it are a part of me, the way in which I perceive my mental illness is often as a sort of entity apart, almost (though not quite) a spiritual companion – albeit an entirely less than pleasant one. It helps me, sometimes, to conceptualise my illness this way in order to obtain a degree of psychological distance from it, which in its turn allows me to view it through a lens of greater objectivity while seeking to find ways to treat and ameliorate it effectively. It also seems as though it does actually have a kind of mind of its own on occasion; certainly it’s often the case that its ebb and flow seem to have not much in the way of pattern, and while there are events that can trigger a phase of depression, or an attack of anxiety, there are also many instances where I have no idea why I feel more poorly than I do at other times. It seems almost like the wendigo of Algonquin and other folklore, and latterly Algernon Blackwood’s classic supernatural story: a strange malevolent being of great “height and fiery speed”, and always at my back no matter how rapidly I turn around to face it. Sometimes it can be little more than a particular thought that spirits it into existence for its eldritch fingers to begin enlacing themselves into the convolutions of my brain. Then at other times, it’s as though its whispered chant – a silent siren call to a dangerous, isolating state in which the normal ability to emote disintegrates – has lowered a veil of tiredness and desolation over me, a magical mist out of which excitement, optimism and determination can’t filter.

“…for the Wendigo is simply the Call of the Wild personified, which some natures hear to their own destruction.”
– Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo (1910): IV

There are times that this helps, the metaphorical construction of my illness as an intangible but distinct being – not really an evil as such, but more an omnipresent irritation I’m constantly trying to learn how to deal with. There are times also when this conception is considerably less helpful, but it at least brings me a means by which I can maintain a clean separation between the depression and myself; it helps me to avoid being overtaken by it completely.


Day 5. In a mirror, lightly.

The reason why no separate reflection appeared on this blog yesterday was that I was out of range of wireless Interwebs, attending the 40th birthday party of my best friend in Armidale, some six hours’ drive from my home city of Brisbane. And upon my return, I feel that this is an excellent opportunity for me to turn these reflections on their head in a sense, and speak on one of those times during which the coin I spoke about in an earlier reflection has been successfully flipped in the air, overturning the void-swallowed obverse of the coin and revealing the reverse face, rich with the spectrum of emotion. With the exception of a hard lightning-strike of anxiety associated with a sudden change in plans today that I took very badly for a short while, the past 48 hours have been wonderful. Filled with excitement, joy, intrigue, awe, gladness, fascination, intellectual debate, and perhaps a little hilarity under the influence of a little cider and sangría, it was a night and a day of gorgeous emotional positivity that I’ve not experienced much of in the last little while. Few of the people at my friend’s birthday shindig were people I knew personally, but I knew several from either direct or indirect interactions on Facebook, some I’d met previously although briefly, and some were complete strangers. But after some initial uncertainty and anxiety on my part, the night progressed with all the celebration a good party requires, and much more besides. An exceedingly intelligent, well-informed group of partygoers interested in a wide variety of topics of conversation – gender politics, potty humour, quantum physics, gothic country music, natural and constructed linguistics – brought me pleasure of a rare magnitude, and every conversation I engaged in was a genuine treat. The reason I speak of all this in such glowing terms is that this, too, is depression. Or at least, it’s part of the broader phenomenon of depression, which need not be continuous and inexorable; if depressed people have good days, or feel happy or pleased or excited temporarily, that is not to say that they are suddenly “no longer depressed”. Depression is a descriptor for a condition moreso than a specific disease, and can be symptomatic of a wide array of underlying disorders. What this means is that a person may experience depression in a manner that might be constant, or periodic, or seasonal, or largely aperiodic. Some types of depression may even show temporary improvement in the presence of positive stimuli. In my previous reflection I spoke about the aperiodicity of my own depression, and the fact that even if I’m not suffering from a phase of that depression, a specific event (whether it be by words or by actions) can sometimes shove me into the zone in which my emotions shut down for the sake of self-preservation. The opposite is rarely true – it’s hard to move out of that zone once I’m there – but certainly I’m still capable of feeling, of emoting, and of enjoying, while I’m psychologically not in that zone. Depression may be a crippling disability, but sufferers still may have occasional bouts of relief; for my part, I usually try to take advantage of my rare such periods whenever I’m gifted with them, as I managed this weekend (although having to push through much anxiety to make myself go in the first place). And for the fact that such relief does come to me at all, I’m infinitely grateful.

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