Category Archives: Romance

Lasciate ogne speranza

In this post, as the Klingons’ Second Rite of Ascension calls for one to say, tIqwIj Sa’angnIS I must show you my heart. I both warn you all and apologise in advance; I’m unloading a lot of stuff here in order to help me push it out of the unhealthy residence it’s been taking up in my head. One of my best friends has suggested I write more #weirdthingsivedone posts, especially since she claims I somehow manage to scale new heights of Peak Nerd in her eyes every time we talk. (I’m not sure I’ve ever been complimented so wonderfully in my entire life.) And I will do that in future posts, I promise. But for now, here, I need to wax maudlin for a short while, so I ask for your indulgence while I do.

I read this small chunk of prose by a poetically-inclined denizen of Facebook a couple of nights ago – the ancient historians call these prose fragments gobbets when set as stimulus fragments for essay exams, and that term I’ve been utterly unable to get out of my head for every single one of the fourteen years since I last did an ancient history essay exam – on the news feed of a friend, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind for a couple of days (a wonderfully pleasant Friday evening notwithstanding, spent picking out new glasses and having dinner with the same dear friend who accused me of perpetual apex geekery – that was a perfect distraction that I desperately needed and am grateful for). I don’t know if it qualifies as prose-poetry as such, but certainly the style isn’t typical of standard prose; far more highly emotive, a cry of empathy with the deeply wounded. Because of the psychological place I was in, reading this piece was like a shout into a vast canyon with perfect acoustic balance, echoing countless times within the vaults of my mind and the power to silence it or call it back utterly out of my control.

I know what it feels like to live on the edge of loneliness
to have every hope crushed and everything you touch die
and to try so damn hard only to realize
nothing is going to change anytime soon
so you deal with the pain the best you can.
Reggie Nulan

I’ve been entrapped by this proselet largely because it feels almost like this Reggie Nulan has looked straight through – perhaps past – my eyes to see directly into the darkest, grimmest walls of my mind, and has unhesitatingly read the spidery scrawled inscriptions of my worst fears, shallow glyphs scratched weakly into prison walls of piled grey stone by the most anguished part of my psyche. My October was exactly like this verse says. It was a period during the start of which which I did feel occasional snatches of something like motivation, a feeling I hadn’t had in some time: motivation to work, to write, to move forward with my life in aspects that had previously been stagnant and beginning to grow heavy on my shoulders. It was a time during which I didn’t just make plans, but also took steps to – as the revolting business jargon would phrase it – action those plans. (As the great philosopher Calvin – no, not that one – puts it, verbing weirds language.)

Eek. I just wandered off searching for that link, got distracted, and fell into the Internet for about half an hour. I can’t even think about this for long enough to get through the writing of a full post on it. I’m sorry. Where was I? October. That’s right. Much as I’d have liked to forget. September came to an end on quite a high, with notifications via email that one of my academic articles had just been published and two further articles had been accepted for publication in the professional journals. This is probably, I’m pretty sure, what gave me the motivation to start building on the momentum I was experiencing: to keep it rolling forward while it was there, and try to avoid falling back into the lethargic inertia I’m prone to. (I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Newton’s first law of motion has relevance to more abstract forms of progress, too – that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and conversely, an object at rest will tend to stay at rest.) I was getting my medication régime back under control with the assistance of a good psychiatrist, some academic success had come my way in the form of these three papers, there was promise of upcoming paid contract work at my alma mater, I’d had an offer from a friend to move out of the living situation I’m in that’s contributing to my worsening health, and I was feeling ready to step back out into the world of romance by asking out someone who in recent months I’d been both getting to know better, and growing to fancy, roughly in lockstep with each other.

None of these things have really worked out, though. It brings clouds to my eyes just to type that, but it remains true nonetheless. The romantic thing didn’t work out, which isn’t a problem in and of itself (particularly since the person I fancied had the immense integrity and wondrous grace to sit down with me and talk honestly and openly about why it would be best if we not date, at least for now) – it just feeds into a long, long history of romantic missed opportunities, missteps, and failures to act (more than forty in all; I counted once, in a particularly deep fit of despondency) that always, always make me criticise and harshly judge every aspect of myself to see in which ways I don’t measure up. In addition, my friend’s offer of moving out of my problematic living situation had to be cancelled entirely at the last minute because of the breakup of her relationship (that week was not a good one for relationships – another couple I know also had their civil partnership come to a screeching halt at that time). And I feel doubly awful for that because I know my friend and her partner were both themselves struggling with serious mental health issues, issues that ultimately contributed to their breakup but that must have caused them extraordinary hurt during that process and that make me feel really guilty for feeling upset about the situation for my own (and utterly selfish) reasons. The offer of work I’d had has also had to be postponed several times for a variety of reasons mostly revolving around people being in the field or caught up with other commitments that couldn’t be broken, taking me past the end of my third full year without full-time employment and making me feel even worse about my prospects for beginning to build a life that I can in any way take joy in. As a consequence of these three situations – romance, habitation, employment – I’ve taken a solid backslide even under the increased dosage of the medication my psychiatrist has been working with me on (no doubt situational rather than fundamentally biochemical, which at least does give me a tiny but mathematically non-zero degree of consolation), which has subsequently impacted upon my ability to focus on the writing of further academic papers, on the writing of job applications, and on the continuing effective conductance of my life on a day-to-day basis.

Ultimately, all this is why I feel so keenly the sting of the wound that propelled Reggie Nulan to write his lovely but heart-wrenching prose-poem. Living on the edge of loneliness feels like my reality at the moment; I feel lonely at virtually every moment, even as I try to push myself to address it, to connect with friends, to remain in contact with people I care about. And all that I hoped would come to fruition during October shrivelled on the vine. Life is as stagnant now – moreso, perhaps – as it was at the end of September. At moments like this, I almost fear that my depression and my anxiety are the correct and true way of experience, slyly and underhandedly suggesting that optimism is abhorrent and hope to be shunned. On one level, I’m used to feeling that in my own head. I suppose it just causes a rather deeper ache to feel that the universe around me should be nodding its head so vigorously in agreement.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
(Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.)
– Dante Alighieri, Inferno III.9

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22 Days of Musing: 10

10. The Big Bad Tale.

Two days ago I noted that often, those who need help most desperately are those least able to see any way out of their own private hell. Sometimes, though, the crash to the bottom of the pit can be so rapid, so deep and severe, that it becomes easier to see the necessity for assistance. So following on from yesterday’s scene-setting, tonight I’d like to – well, not like to, but I will – reflect upon the darkest single time in my entire life: the time when I first realised that I needed psychological help. (I speak this way only in the interest of candour; I apologise in advance for parts of this that will no doubt come across as melodramatic.) Yesterday I talked about first recognising depression in myself in 2008, and that many (though by no means all) of my subsequent experiences with depression would, like this first one, have at least something to do with the emotions surrounding romantic attraction. Let me explain: when I fall for someone romantically, I have a habit of letting those feelings grow more deeply than I should, meaning that when those feelings are removed they don’t slide out neatly like a cork from a bottle; it’s rather more like the uprooting of a tree, tearing away not only the feelings’ roots, but also taking little pieces of my heart with them and leaving raw and gaping wounds behind. It’s happened more times than I care to count, and isn’t helped by the fact that I find it difficult to perceive the subtle cues that most people use to signal romantic interest, so often I think someone might be interested romantically when they’re in fact just very friendly, or have particularly extroverted personalities, or whatever else. Because my dysfunctional romantic sense has sought out those connections and been disappointed so many times, I suppose it’s logical that eventually my subconscious would come to use depression as a means to seal off those psychic wounds: perhaps helping to prevent me from feeling the pain associated with sorrow, loss, grief, rejection.

And so it goes, and so it went also in late 2010, at a conference where I met a fellow archaeologist (I swore an oath to commit her name to damnatio memoriae both for my mental health and for her privacy, an oath I’ve broken only on specific request from previous partners), just finishing her honours. We’d spent the last night of the conference lying on the grass under the stars, talking and holding hands. When we had to leave the next morning, we exchanged contact details, and within a week she was already talking about flying to Brisbane to see me. Over the course of six weeks leading into early January, we exchanged hundreds of messages, chatted or spoke on the phone every single day, and she spoke of her intentions and hopes for us in a manner loud and clear that even my incompetent romantic antennae received. But the day she arrived here, she and I and some mutual friends had a barbeque and an overnight stay at a friend’s place, and after I left the following morning, it was as though extraterrestrials had abducted her, leaving behind a doppelgänger. She stopped responding to messages, she claimed she was feeling ill, she put off us spending one-on-one time, she reneged on coming to stay at my house, she wouldn’t engage with me while we were on a group trip to Dreamworld with our friends, and within a week she finally sent a message with the tired, sickening old saws that turn up on Internet listicles of breakup clichés (and all at once, into the bargain): saying how much I reminded her of her brother (excuse number 3 – bing!), that it was her and not me (excuse number 2 – bing!), that we both needed to focus on uni (excuse number 1 – bing!), and she just wasn’t ready for a relationship at all at that point (excuse number 9 – bing!); she also assured me she’d answer any questions I had about the breakup. Because she subsequently didn’t respond to any of my questions, though, I soon sought advice from a mutual friend to determine whether I’d done something wrong. And suddenly, I did get a response: a page of enraged text lashing out at me about how I’d betrayed her trust and how I’d mistreated her by going behind her back. It was through this period of about a week that I fell headlong into a pit the likes of which I’d never experienced. Cast downwards at first by her sudden cooling towards me and the anxiety, confusion, sadness and disappointment they caused – just before she arrived I had decided to summon the strength to tell her about my feelings of gender variance (at least such as I understood them at the time), something that at that point I had shared with no-one – her angry message ignited a rocket rushing me swiftly down through a blackness into which light shone not at all, the very pit of Apollyon. I had just enough emotional strength left to send a single email to her to respond to her anger, speak in my own defence, and tell her I thought it would be best if we didn’t speak for a while. And for two weeks I lay on a futon, picking myself up only to use the toilet; while awake I stared at the television, not really watching it at all, as all 256 episodes of M*A*S*H (120-odd hours of television) played back-to-back from my hard drive. The only emotion that touched me was utter despair. Except when a family dinner had been prepared, I drank only water and ate nothing. I lost five kilos over those two weeks and by the end of the second week I could clearly see – intellectually, at least – that this was in practice coming close to a depressive catatonia and that I wouldn’t be able to climb out of this pit on my own. That was when I realised I needed help, and I’ll tell you more tomorrow about how I began to act in seeking it.

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.'”
– Charles M. Schulz

22 Days of Musing: 9

9. The scene is set.

In tonight’s reflection I was finally going to tell the story of coming to realise I needed psychological treatment, the one I alluded to previously. But after having attempted to write out a retelling of the story in the fullness it requires, I realise that I’ll need to put that off just one more day and use this post to set the scene first, by talking about my first experience of recognising depression in myself at all. This is necessary to a comprehensive telling mainly because the first experience helped me to understand what depression even was; as I described in the very first of this series of reflections, I’ve felt anxiety to a greater or lesser extent ever since I was very young (at least since I was about eight), but even though depression runs strongly in my family and has had substantive impacts upon it for at least thirty years that I know of, I had no understanding at all of the concept of depression while I was growing up. Indeed, nobody ever really taught me what mental illness was in a more general sense; these were things I had to discover for myself as I grew up. Consequently, I always thought of myself as little more than cowardly or even afraid, rather than having an anxiety disorder, and though I do remember times through all my years of school when I felt isolated and alone and incapable – and cried many tears of pain in those times – I don’t know that I’d have referred to those episodes as depression, not as such. Once older, though, I had a better grasp of what depression truly is, and it was after catching up with an old primary school friend in March of 2008 that I wrote this in my first blog:

I can’t remember the last time I felt something I could truly class as “depression”; whenever it was, it was a long time ago. But I began to feel it yesterday, and can’t yet shake it… Not sad, not angry, not upset; just drained and empty, like there was a black hole inside my head sucking all of the positivity out of me. Perhaps someone who’s had clinically diagnosed depression can say whether this is it, but it sure as hell felt like it. It was a horrific feeling, and I’m still trying to work through it.

For a few years after this I continued to experience phases of this sort; often (though not always by any means) it would happen as a result of a romantic failure. Always the potential of actively approaching someone in the hopes of kindling a romantic relationship has brought on deep and terrible anxiety in me, moreso maybe than all other challenges, though these reflections are not the place for me to go into that issue in great detail (it plays a role in tomorrow’s reflection, though). In any case, this event in 2008 was the first time when I felt the utter emotional deadness and sense of futility that more recently have become almost normalised for me. A most frightening and unsettling aspect of that first phase of depression was not just that it was so foreign to me at that point, but also that it occurred almost as a kind of neurotransmitter crash after an occasion that really was not negative in any identifiable aspect whatsoever. I’d spent a wonderful, pleasant, fun, deep, charming, exciting night catching up with a woman who I’d not seen in twelve years and yet seemed to have a great deal in common with me, from musical tastes to book preferences to hopes for the future to favourite foods and drinks; we were almost the same height (I stand 185 cm, 6’1″ in the old money, and she was shorter than me by less than an inch), and we’d even both undergone exactly the same type of spinal surgery  at almost the same time in late 2007. I felt an extraordinary kinship with her, in addition to all the rich promise that romantic attraction conveys, and to have such an ecstatic emotional state collapse in on itself so devastatingly afterwards – and indeed, so rapidly – felt very strange and unwelcome. But it was only a relatively temporary phase, prolonged though it was by her ungraciously toying with my further attempts to get to know her better, and it passed soon enough without professional assistance. In 2011, however, I was not so fortunate. And this segues neatly into the Big Bad Tale.