in my last substantial entry, i discussed different conceptions of the self across cultures and throughout time (in a cursory way), and i'm afraid i got off the topic of mental illness a bit. i'll try to bring it back around in this entry, but no promises.

at the end of that entry, i postulated that, to continue talking about "the self," we need to agree on two propositions: one, that there is a self, and two, that we can talk about it. while these are not necessarily realities by any means, they do constitute the cornerstones of a rational and reciprocal discussion of "selfhood" (whatever the fuck it is). so let's go from there.

warning: dangerous "quotation marks" area. falling logic, next five pages.

if there is a self, what constitutes it? does it have parts? is it a unified whole? is it integrated with the universe, contained within the body, or some combination of both? these are questions that cannot be answered conclusively by existing religions or philosophies. if conclusive answers were forthcoming, certainly most people could agree upon them, just as most people can agree when presented with a rock that it is definitely a rock. (i understand that this is not philosophically tenable; i am instead talking about "consensus reality," which has yet to be either proved valid or disproved.)

if outside systems fail to answer questions about the self to our satisfaction, then we must turn to the ultimate authorities on our selves; ourselves.

try asking yourself what it is. the first answer you might come up with is "that little voice inside my head that tells me what to do; the thinking, perceiving mechanism." on further consideration, this answer is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons.

first, what does one mean "little voice inside my head?" there is no voice, in the strictest sense of the word, as there is no mouth inside the skull that we know of. perhaps we can say that there is something that seems to us to originate from inside the head, something that we can closely equate with a voice, but it is not technically a voice. perhaps it can be formulated as a complex of understanding; we experience sensations, and those sensations are somehow interpreted in the brain. for some reason, we experience this as a voice or a smaller version of oneself inside oneself. but what is this understanding, what is the subject for the verb "to understand"? muddy business all around. with that question in mind, let's move on.

second, many of us conceive of the self as a controlling body, dictating the actions of our bodies. again, at first glance, this may seem true enough. our sense organs (eyes, ears, nerves, etc.) send electrical signals to our brains, wherein some sort of process takes place enabling our brains to send corresponding signals to our muscles. in an often-cited example, let's say you place your hand upon a hot stove-top. the nerves in your hand detect the heat and send correspondent signals to the brain. the brain then "decides" somehow that the "correct" response to this input is to pull the hand away from the stove, lest it be burned further. it sends electrical impulses to the muscles in the arm and hand, and lo and behold, you've jerked your hand away from the hot surface just as fast as you possibly can.

but can this be called the self, this hard-wired process? the human body, including our big brains and our nervous systems, are most likely the products of a long and difficult evolutionary process, and in the time that it took us to evolve, the instinct for survival - for preservation of the attendant tissues and organs that make up the body - was no doubt selected for time after time. while some people (the author included) may also have strong drives in the opposite direction of annihilation of the body, the two drives are not mutually exclusive, and i believe they exist in just about everyone.

moreover, if the self is indeed located in the brain (which can be tentatively said to be the control panel, or the "decider"), what does that mean in consideration of the fact that the brain is not something distinct from the body, but is instead just a component of it, as fleshy and organic as an arm or an eye, if somewhat more complex. (at this point some people might be tempted to discuss inherent properties of systems - and i am one of those people - but let's keep moving.)

finally, we have the concepts of "thinking" and "perceiving." thought may be considered a static object ("a thought") or an ongoing process ("thinking), a noun or a verb. we may venture that thought is somehow "fed" by perception, which can also be a noun (nearly, but not quite, synonymous with "awareness") or a verb ("perceiving," to sort and store sensory data). these, too, are not well-defined or understood.

so we must not be satisfied with this gut reaction as an answer, either. we need to delineate different components within thought and perception. making needless divisions is not something i enjoy doing, but in this case i can see no way around it. understand, too, that all the steps i am about to describe are part of a continual process with no discernible differentiation between them; i mean that you can't pinpoint where one part stops and another begins. so while these divisions may not be inherent in the physical workings of the universe (Einstein said that all matter and energy are continuous anyway), they are conceptual divisions which may help us understand better the process of thought, perception, and understanding.

starting "outside" and working our way "in," we can say that there are stimuli, assuming that there is something outside of ourselves which our sensory organs can pick up. these stimuli are sensed by our bodies. so the first thing is stimulation, or sensation. this is sometimes called a biochemical event.

next, the sensation (meaning the myriad responses of the body to the outside world) is somehow translated into electrical impulses which travel from the sense organs to the brain. this is the first step in what i will call "interpretation," or taking one event and transforming it into something else. however, let's just call this first part translation for now.

the second part of interpretation, which follows immediately upon the heels of translation, occurs when the electrical impulses contained the encoded sensory data reach the brain and travel throughout it. synapses come alive with electricity, and before you know it, the data has been interpreted not once, but twice; once by the nerves, again by the brain. it is at this point that the thing we call "self" becomes aware of the sense data; all of this happens in fractions of a second. this second mode of interpretation can be termed "perception," in that it is only once that impulse reaches the brain that we are conscious of perceiving stimuli such as pain, temperature, hunger, etc.

now we go about taking this perception and channeling it through such filters as rationality, emotion, and language. this is the point at which we formulate thoughts; "i feel cold," "i see red." we'll call this "cognition," from the Latin cognoscere, to know or recognize. whether this is a purely mechanical process or one guided by some "intelligence" (or both) is not something i know.

finally we can say that the self (or perhaps just the body) takes action based upon the feedback the muscles receive from the brain. call this part "reaction" if you like. some people might call it decision, saying the brain makes a choice on how to react based on the initial stimuli. however, i think that passes too close to the free will/determinism issue, which i'm not even going to TOUCH.

to summarize, we have stimuli which create sensations, then an two-part interpretation of those sensations; the nerves translate or code the sensation into electrical impulses, which are received by the brain, which in turn perceives them. the perceptions (which can be understood as electrical impulses in the brain) are then re-translated into thoughts or observations about the outside world. the whole organism then takes action, or does not take action, according to the outcome of this process; it is fair to say, however, that whether the organism acts or not, it has been affected in some way (if only physically) by the whole exchange.

so far, so good. not the best definition of understanding ever put forward, but probably not the worst, either.

is this all to consider when we ask questions of the self? i wish.

other factors, more difficult to quantify, some of them completely intangible, have entered into the common lexicon in the discussion of self. some of them may have existed before the phenomena of speech for all we know, whereas others may have arisen simply to further discourse; which are which, we shall probably never know. still, since they are concepts which most people treat as real, let us also treat them as real, at least at first.

first we have interpretation. what is it to interpret something? it is an explanation, almost a definition, and therefore involves statements of of meaning.

for example, say you see a large man sit down in a small chair. the chair breaks and the man tumbles to the floor. now it is the business of your eyes and brain to interpret what seems to you to be a singular event. after the ocular nerve has interpreted areas of light into recognizable images (or does this happen in the brain?), the brain receives them and shuttles the images into mental categories; man, chair, large, small, breaks, falls. the brain is explaining what was, just a fraction of a second ago, ostensibly just some atoms interacting with some other atoms in human terms. it is, in effect, stating "this collection of matter and energy equals man, while this collection equals chair." since the equals sign may be roughly equated with the word "means," meaning has either already made its grand entrance, or is waiting nervously in the wings for its cue.

next, consciousness. this, unfortunately, seems to me to be an unexplained phenomenon. some electricity hits a certain organ in the body and all of a sudden there's a first person subjective experience. how does that arise from gross matter? i have no fucking clue. let's just take it as synonymous with self and consider it a question as opposed to an answer.

third, the aforementioned "filters" which information passes through on its way to becoming intelligible thought. among these i mentioned emotion, rationality, and language, and i would add value judgments (beliefs, ethics, morals, or simple judgments such as "better" or "worse"), conditioning or habit, the idea of "knowing" (perhaps better classified with the value judgments), and memory.

memory seems to be the odd man out here; whereas the other filters are already in place before the sensory data hits the brain stem, memory cannot occur until afterward. can it?

i think memory and its attendant, narrative, are big, big parts of what makes up the self. for my own part, i would almost venture to say that i know my memories are part of who i am. if i woke up tomorrow with no memories of who i was or what i had done, could i be said to be me any longer? opinion varies, but i don't think so.

and i also think that the statement "memory does not come into play until after perception" is untrue, or at least not necessarily true. i plan to show, in my next entry, why that is.


i swear, i'll post more often from now on, guys! you were all chomping at the bit, right? because you're all horses? or bondage afficionados?

also, i will talk about mental illness more! except i am feeling pretty sane... no! that's wrong! i am feeling functionally, happily nutso and more human than human.

organizing my thoughts into systems, paragraphs, is a way of keeping myself mentally healthy. trying to understand who i am, and why (or at least how), is a healing and fulfilling thing. so BACK OFF cuz it DOES TO have to do with depression, craziness, and suicide. there's a twist, boom-pow ending to all of this and a pretty little bow on top, so just hold yr breaths, kittens.

oh, and check out my spiffy NEW BLOG! it is just as crazy but probably a lot more fun and accessible. in fact, it is patently crazy, like everything i write, ever.




hello, internet.

just a quick update on my mental status. basically, i feel more whole and capable than ever before. every day, i learn or do something new that illuminates a new aspect of my larger self, not necessarily just the ego or the subjective experiencer.

this is not something that taking a mood stabilizer is doing for me; i want to make that clear. however, Lamictal seems to keep me from slipping into inertia, hopelessness, and despair on a regular basis, and that gives me access to the wherewithal and mental capacity to do the above work well and consistently.

i am busy at work and getting paid enough to put some cash away. the work is marginally challenging, and i can goof off about 50% of the time. school is finally interesting - critical thinking and essay writing, the latter of which will probably encourage me to write in here more. i am writing a lot of poems.

what i'm most excited about is my new partner in crime in eric alleman. he's incredibly motivated and just what i need to kick-start my takeover of the cleveland poetry scene. also, we will be making books and stencils together; circle of blood has been so long in coming that i feel as though i need to stop talking about it (this thing i'm going to do, that i should do) and just do something - so more CDs and a few smaller books coming very very soon. writing a lot, poised to do even more.

i really want to do mushrooms soon, and that is all.

king cleveland rebooted



first a short update, for those of you who don't read the notes on each entry (i do, and respond to all of them as best i can). then we get at the meat of this thing. delicious meat.

i went to the doctor's Friday and reported all my symptoms, making sure to let her know that, while some of them may have been purely psychosomatic (the throat-closing thing was, i'm pretty sure, made up), most of them were not (i have definitely been edgy, and my hands were definitely shaking uncontrollably, and she noticed both of those things as soon as i sat down).

we made the decision to drop down to 20mg of Geodon before weaning off that and then added Lamictal, which she said probably will not make me feel fluffy or anxious. it does have a bonus side effect of possible kidney damage, but A) there will be a definite non-psychosomatic side-effect of a rash if that does start to happen, and B) if i haven't killed my kidneys with alcohol by now, there's not a chance in hell that some measly little pill is going to.

ooh! and i get to have suicidal thoughts ("suicidal ideation"), maybe! no, but really, folks. i am psyched about trying Lamictal. i have high hopes.

all right.

today, with the help of research tools provided by the University of Phoenix online, let's all try to wrap our heads around...

"Mental Illness, Religion, and Narrative: Thoughts on the Linear Conception of Self"

Part I. Religion, Philosophy, and Soul

in the last essay, we stumbled upon, and indeed ended on, the idea of a type of person or personality which is more prone to mental illness, and possibly more prone to becoming a poet, a philosopher, or a practitioner some other such gloomy and macabre profession, like black magick or retail. from here forward, we'll call this mythical creature "the gifted melancholic," partially because i think it's apt, and partly because i really like all the permutations of the word "melacholy."

but does such a beast even exist? or, like the chupacabra, is it a weird amalgamation of different critters, quite possibly the stuff of legend and folklore? i don't know if these are questions we can answer, as they appear to be tied in rather closely with the discussion of whether the self as a singular, or at least linear, entity, and the issue is far from being decided one way or another.

let's start, then, with a review of different conceptions of the self throughout history and across cultures, shall we?

in the Tao Te Ching (roughly translated, "The Book of the Way and its Virtue"), Lao Tzu writes that

Knowing others is wisdom.
Knowing the self is enlightenment.
Mastering others requires force.
Mastering the self requires strength.

which is all well and good, but doesn't really offer us much insight as to what the self actually is. it seems to be a statement more about wisdom and enlightenment, strength and force, that about the self. here, the self is not defined, but seems to be presented as against "others." one is enjoindered to know the self (a very common enjoinder), although the reasons why seem rather murky. he then goes on to say:

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

(a different translation has it as "He who stays where he is endures. / To die but not to perish / is to be eternally present.")

here we have a conception of self that seems to stand outside of time; if one can "embrace death" with the every fiber of one's being, the possibility of the eternal endurance of a singular viewpoint open up. whether this is conceived as "you," "he," or even as the whole of all creation, there is something that endures, the subject of the verb "to be." perhaps this is an aspect of what is meant by "the Tao."

Eastern philosophy (including Confucianism and Buddhism) in general tends to downplay the importance of the self or individual, treating the human psyche or personage as nothing more or less than an element within an indescribably complex interplay of being, while still acknowledging its reality in a qualified way. the self is neither separated from the wholeness of the world nor is it a permanent fixture, but, like everything else, constantly shifting and changing. (the I Ching, major text of Confucianism, is usually translated as "The Book of Changes," and is a systemic and sophisticated, if somewhat obscure to this particular reader, document used to find or create order in the random fluctuations of the universe.)

Buddhism is a little different and deserves to be treated in its own section, which i will limit to a very few paragraphs in the interests of space and time (pun not intended).

Zen Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism based upon direct, experiential paths to enlightenment as opposed to scripture, approaches the self in a manner that seems somewhat difficult for students of Western philosophy (or, more broadly speaking, the Westernized worldview) to understand at first. the most concise explanation i have stumbled across is from an aptly-titled article by Jay B. McDaniel called "Zen and the Self." in his introductory paragraph, he writes:

When one attains enlightenment in Zen Buddhism, at least two things are realized. First, one realizes that the deepest level of one's life - what in Zen is called the "true self" - is always here-and-now. And second, one understands that this true self, even though here-and-now, is always changing.

he also posits that "the true self discovered in enlightenment is the ordinary self or 'everyday mind' of each and every human life." afterward, he immediately does a little back-pedalling, claiming that each mind indeed has "unique qualities." Buddhism, or what I have read of it, seems to feature quite a lot of these "turns," subtle qualifications or even contradictions, as defined by the rigors of Western logic. for those with a mindset more attuned to accept paradoxical opposites which are simultaneously true in some sense, this is easier to swallow.

for me, it is a little difficult. is there really a "me," more than the sum of my parts, or not? i always want a clearly-defined, yes-or-no answer. however, it is important for Westerners to keep in mind that this ease of mutually true contradictions is a cultural difference, not proof that Eastern philosophy is somehow flawed.

cultural differences, to be honest, abound. we Westerners, students (directly or indirectly) of Plato and Aristotle, are so familiar with the idea of a "self" in the sense of a self-contained entity that sees and thinks and experiences, as a discrete entity and not something integrated into the fabric of the universe. this habit of thinking is quite difficult to unlearn, as it is a very fundamental precept, bound up in what we consider to be the very center of our being, in fact with the way that we perceive and understand all sensory data.

a final few words on Buddhism before we leave it and begin to move toward the West. Buddhism does contain a doctrine, called anatta, which tells us that the self is illusory, a trick played by our brains, in collaboration with our sense organs, nerves, and so forth. however, Buddhism (and, adds John Horgan, "its parent religion, Hinduism") is a religion with a deep-seeded belief in the immortal soul, which migrates from body to body each time we die. nothing, in my opinion, indicates a propensity for belief in a singular selfhood than a willingness to ascribe souls to bodies. in the case of Buddhism, almost everything has a soul.

now i just want to touch on Plato and Aritstole really quickly.

Plato, in the Republic, puts forth that we have three distinct souls. in Phadreus he compares the self to a charioteer drawn forward by two horses. while few of the thinkers following from Plato will go this far, most of them do divide the self into three distinct faculties - namely the faculty of thought or intellect, the faculty of the will, and the faculty of feeling or desire. these correspond to virtues of wisdom, courage, and moderation. (C. C. W. Wilson illustrates the extent of the influence of this formation of the self by pointing to the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's three friends each representing one aspect of the self.)

for Plato, this is division is applied for the purpose of guiding the conduct of human life by drawing parallels between the individual life and the society at large. here, the individual self is not integrated in a web of being, but instead in human institutions. again, self is juxtaposed with other, but this time in a different way.

Aristotle, influenced (we can only assume) by Plato, said that the soul (which, i think, we can take as synonymous with the self) resides at the center or core of a being but does not have a separate existence. for instance, if a knife had a soul, cutting would be the soul of the knife as cutting constitutes the "essence" of what it is to be a knife. but of course we cannot separate "cutting" from the knife, just as Aristotle believed (in opposition to Plato) that the soul was not really something separate from the body.

a final note: i think that the prevailing view of self or soul in this country today is definitely a Judeo-Christian one. the soul comes from God, enters the body at conception, and goes back unto God upon the death of the body. the soul lives inside the body but is separate from it (in Genesis, God breathes the breath of life into Adam's nostrils, thereby "ensouling" him). each life is special because there is a divine plan for it.

so, what have we learned about the self from this inquiry? unfortunately, next to nothing. the only thing we could have been said to learn was that the conception of self differs from time to place, with Eastern philosophies emphasizing an interconnectedness between self and world while downplaying the significance or even existence of a singular, self-contained "I," and Western philosophies emphasizing the special virtues of the self, even taking it for granted as a truism that there was a self that you could locate and describe through rational discourse. we have also learned that, whatever their differences in the formulation, each of these branches of human thought has acknowledged either a self or a human thought construction which can be called "the self."

so perhaps "what is the self" is the wrong question. maybe the question should be re-formulated to ask "is there a self?" and, if we can agree that there is, then we may try to pinpoint it.

if we could answer "yes" to the previous inquiry (and to talk about something, whether you believe in its reality or not, you must assume that it does indeed exist and we can talk about it), another would immediately arise, namely: "is the thing that people call 'the self' really the same thing at all? are we talking about the same thing or different things?" that is, of course, if we postulate that the self is a thing at all.

now, to continue thinking about the self, or rather to continue to think about it using words, we have to make these two assumptions.

which brings me to narrative.

Part II. Writing, Romance, Linear and Non-Linear Narrrative

(coming soon. i just wanted to get this post out there first and foremost. look for an update around the end of the week, probably Saturday, as this is the only day this week I don't have class.)



i know, i know. you're all ready for the next lengthy diatribe on a topic upon which i have only the most tenuous grasp. but this is not that.

why i'm awake at 4.35 in the morning is this: i feel like i'm having difficulty swallowing. this is listed as one of the more serious side effects of Geodon, and i'm told that i should contact my health care provider immediately. does this mean i need to call a hospital? i don't think my airway is shutting off or anything, but i don't want to sleep in case it starts to close while i'm unconscious.

also my hands are shaking a lot. they shake anyway, but usually just when i'm trying to perform fine motor skills-intensive tasks, such as holding something small. now they shake when i hold anything at all. is it simply my body adjusting to a daily regimen of drugs? or is it the early signs of diabetes? i have a family history.

additionally, i definitely had at least one uncontrollable muscle spasm tonight and that can be a sign of some ugly thing. plus i am having trouble forming sentences, finding myself stumbling and stuttering and licking my lips too often. but maybe now i'm just paying closer attention to my facial and bodily movements.

my question is this: is all this just in my head or should i really be worried? i have a doctor's appointment friday, so we'll find out then.

basically it comes down to this: i am so worried that my decision to try and get better - to not be depressed almost all the time and suicidal more often than most anyone would be comfortable with - is going to kill me. this is paranoia, of course, but i don't think it's completely unfounded. every time i go to do research on Geodon, i find more and more side effects listed.

i almost want to stop reading about it altogether and just plow on ahead, side effects be damned. then again, i think it's important for me (both physically and emotionally) to remain well-informed and make decisions about my treatment based on up-to-date, accurate information.

Phil warned me against seeing side effects where there were none, and of course i've taken his advice to heart, as i always try to do, to the best of my ability. however, i don't think i should ignore what i'm feeling. or what i think i'm feeling.

damnit, this is hard.

what i really need from anyone reading this who's around me with any amount of frequency: keep an eye on me. if you notice me making weird facial expressions or twitching more often than seems normal, please don't hesitate to tell me. then maybe i won't feel so goddamn crazy.

tonight i feel goddamn crazy and burnt-out and sad. what i really need is a good night's sleep, since i just got back from a long, long road trip, but i'm too anxious and paranoid to sleep right now. i've been thinking about death, not in the way that i usually do, which is fantasizing about it or trying to come to terms with it. no, this time i am genuinely afraid of death, afraid that i am going to die and soon, at least once a day. and that sucks.

on the sunnier side, the novel is really starting to take shape in my mind. i had a really fertile period right before starting out on the road trip, in which i had not only a great idea for a play drop fully-formed into my head, but also the operative metaphor for the novel. i also decided on a title, which is "The Never-Open Door." i want to read a lot of fairy tales and mythology books and children's titles, as well as one or two good classics, and then dive right in, or rather read them while writing.

i think that this book is going to basically be a metaphor for a journey (a quest, even) toward a better way of interacting within the world than the one that accompanies mental illness so often; despair, a general sense of hopelessness, and the resultant ennui, fear of success or new endeavors, and learned helplessness. at least that's going to be one level of it. obviously there are more, from the sexual to the historical. that's if i can pull it off. more details or at least some sort of tangible progress soon.

in the next few weeks i'm going to be starting classes online and going to the BVR, so hopefully my circumstances will improve.

but i won't feel better, not really, until i get this medication thing figured out.



please vote in my poll on the right-hand side of the page.

today i met with Dr. Chua from Mental Health Services. she gave me a mood stabilizer called Geodon and a lot of good advice.

the medication is going to be free for up to six months and after that i'll be hooked into another service and i can pay on a sliding scale. the doctor (who was very, very nice) also said that she wouldn't prescribe me something i'd have to pay more than $4 for - so nothing that isn't generic. Geodon isn't generic, but they have "professional samples" there. i am willing to try anything at this point, although i am sort of surprised that she saw me as someone who needed treatment for bipolar rather than depression. i have experienced mood swings in the past, and she told me that antidepressants can often lead to pronounced and sometimes severe mood swings.

she also pointed out that the side-effects of this Geodon are much milder than most antidepressants - drowsiness (you take it before bed, so i don't think that's a problem and it may even help me sleep), nasal congestion (which she called "very tolerable"). the one she said that was the most serious was involuntary snake-like motions - sort of a temporary, serpentine form of parkinson's. so if you notice me slithering any time in the next month, let me know.

if anyone out there has any anecdotal experience with Geodon, i'd be happy to hear it. i'll be doing my own research, of course.

i am apprehensive about starting a regimen of medication, but i figure i'll eat any chemicals i can lay hands upon anyway, so why not try this one? if i don't like it i can always switch or just quit entirely.

now i have to find a free therapist. luckily i have a list of phone numbers.

my mood is about at 7 today, on a scale from 1 - 10, with 10 being "supreme omnipotence, absence of all fear or doubt, and total oneness with all matter and energy in the universe," and 1 being "bottom of a ravine with two broken legs, two slit wrists, a bucket of whisky, an assload of pain pills, and a shotgun." i had a really super-neat couple of days and i'm on the upswing. also i completed my FAFSA today and so am happy about that.

Dr. Chua also recommended that i start waking up early (like REALLY early) and also taking 15-30 minutes of sunlight once a day, as well as finding an exercise regimen. i am hoping that these things combined with therapy will make it possible for me to survive even if medication turns out to not be an option for me.

next appointment is in two weeks.

additionally, i recommend the movie Coraline for anyone who hasn't seen it, especially Phil and all of Teen Girl Squad. it made me gasp with delight more than once.

last but not least, i wrote a good poem about leopard slugs yesterday, have been thinking up new bits and pieces for the novel left and right, and am going to be going to the Bureau of Vocational Resources next week and hopefully they will hook me up with a jorb. i think a little disposable income and my own place to hunker down would make everything about my life a lot easier.

shit. i guess this means i'm going to have to quit drinking for awhile.




it was hard to get out of bed today. that's what i dislike most about depression, i think: the sluggishness. sadness, even inexplicable, crushing sadness, is something that i think can be dealt with, to a degree, since it's just an extension, or maybe it would be better to say a mutation, of a genuine (and even potentially therapeutic) human emotion.

but this tiredness, and the feeling of helplessness, the sick malaise, the tendency of the eyes to close of their own accord - that's the stuff that really chaps my ass.

i've found that on the occasions that i can, in fact, muster the willpower (not the right word) to stand up and get moving, it becomes a little easier, a little better. but the idea of sleeping, shirking my responsibilities, hiding from the world, is so appealing on such a deep level for me when i'm depressed that it's often really, really difficult to make the necessary first step.

this lack of energy and enthusiasm creates the biggest obstacle for the fulfillment of my goals and ideas and dreams. i have a huge, almost demented, lust for life: i want to experience everything i possibly can before i go down into the dust forever, and to do it all with as much gusto as possible. but i'm lacking the energy for so much of it, or to do the basic tasks that allow me to do what i really want: finding a job and holding it down, shopping for groceries, paying bills. brushing my teeth.

there are pills for this, i know there are, but i'm broke and wary and scared and confused as to how you would even go about getting them. i know i could research different medicines and treatments (which i have done) and just generally be an advocate for myself (less successful), but so often i don't have the energy, or the wherewithal, and the thought of going through all the different steps and processes involves puts me into torpor.

a vicious circle, innit?

plus i would feel like a cop-out if i took medicine. i've been raised in a family that subscribes to the bootstraps mentality and, even when presented with the vast body of scientific evidence about the neurochemical and behavioral elements of depression, believe that i should be able to leverage myself out of my "funk" through sheer force of personality. and, of course, to some extent i have internalized that. maybe this is something that therapy might help - to silence the internal voice of the disbelieving father, the disapproving mother.

just had a hard time of it today. it's a little better now. can't wait for the weekend so i can cut loose.

look forward to another long and scholarly article soon soon soon. also, i want to do one on societal effects on the moods and disorders of humans. you'll see what that means before too long.

i close with a list of five things that make me want to go to sleep forever, and five things that make me want to stay awake forever. and when i say forever, i do mean forever.

1. car registration stuff and beauracracy in general
2. bluetooth headsets
3. ovaries
4. fluorescent lighting
5. the fact that you have to work a shit job to survive

1. dance parties
2. stuffed cyclops monsters that smell like patchouli
3. driving around on a sunny day, listening to NPR
4. my friends
5. blogging and generally being irresponsible at work



just a reminder for myself: the next blog entry of any length will be concerning the romanticizing of mental illness, its history and the circumstances that proceed from it. thanks to Susan for suggesting this topic, as i think it has a lot to do with my own personal experience as well as the larger discussion around depression. i also want to do one specifically on how depression has affected my writing and vice versa.

on an unrelated note, i agree with William Styron when he says that depression is a "wimp of a word" to describe such a serious condition.

lastly, Slate.com is a really neat website, and i'm going to try to link to more original sources that are NOT Wikipedia.

goodnight and godspeed.



"One of the most potent brickbats in the depression wars is the notion that depression fuels creativity. In fact, [psychiatrist Peter D.] Kramer says that the impetus for writing Against Depression came in the years after the success of his Listening to Prozac, which examined how antidepressants effect people's sense of self. Whenever he gave a reading or a lecture, someone in the audience would invariably ask, 'What if Van Gogh had taken Prozac?' This question, of course, is shorthand for 'If we medicate depression, will we dampen the creativity that often exists alongside it?' "
from "The Depression Wars" by Field Maloney

if we're going to take a look at depression, we're going to have to choose which facet we look at. there is no standing outside of depression and seeing it whole; it's too big, too complicated to take in all at once. it's the same as describing all the people and events and objects on earth by going out into space and taking a satellite photo. while there's nothing inaccurate about the picture, it does not and cannot capture all the details and nuances that shape life; it doesn't show the subtle rhythms and interrelationships that define what it is to be alive today on planet earth.

same with depression. we can look at it as a public health problem, and certainly it is. according to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. its symptoms are detrimental to the normal functioning of human beings at best, and incredibly crippling or potentially fatal at worst. it affects all aspects of a person's life - work, school, relationships, family, and such basic functions as eating and sleeping.

so, as a society, how can we justify the fact that depression often remains socially taboo and frequently undiagnosed and untreated? after all, the function of any society is essentially defined by the health and well-being of its constituent members, and any society which is beset by a condition that adversely affects the ability millions of its citizens to work and live would do well to speak openly about it, rigorously search for an effective treatment, and go about eradicating it. this has generally been the case in the past, at least in america - there was a "Great Race" for a polio vaccine beginning in the 1930s, and similar efforts effectively eradicated malaria in this country. even such a hot-button and terrifying illness as HIV-AIDS has been candidly discussed by presidents and major news outlets, its research has been amply funded, and effective treatment demanded by the general populace.

why, then, is this not the case with depression?

i think that depression and mental illness in general is a different animal - it behaves differently, its life cycles and breeding habits are different. it is not as easy to pin down. a person is either HIV-positive or -negative, for example; there's no room for subjective interpretation. depression does not reside in a set location in the brain or body, there is no depression virus to pinpoint and study. most of all, unlike many diseases, it does not interact in the same way, or even in similar ways, with each sufferer.

humans are incredibly complex organisms, even discounting the fascinating phenomenon called "consciousness" or "the mind." we have large brains, and their functioning is not wholly understood. even if it were, i think we would still have a difficult time grappling with the constellation of physical ailments, emotional effects, and various states of mind associated with this thing we call "being depressed."

so, in order to fully understand depression, we have to look through a different lens, take a photograph from a different angle and try to understand it that way - namely, through the lens of the subjective human experience unique to each of us.

but if depression is different for everybody, can it really be concretely diagnosed? can we even say to two people, people with different experiences and circumstances and emotions, that they are suffering from the same illness? and what about such specialized forms such as post-partum depression, seasonal affective disorder (which wins the award, by the way, for worst acronym EVER), manic-depression or bipolar disorder, and atypical depression, which has its own set of maladies associated with it? are these the same illness, or something completely different?

these aren't questions i have answers to. i just believe they're questions that need to be asked in order for us to gain a foothold on the mountainous task that is understanding and combating depression.

so let's take off our health-inspector goggles for a minute and look at depression through the naked eyes of people who have been affected by it, either in their own lives or the lives of someone they care about.

there are a few schools of thought about the link between depression and creativity. they can basically be boiled down into three categories:

  1. those who believe a biological link between depression and creativity exists;
  2. those who do not, or who think the evidence is not conclusive; and
  3. those who believe a link exists, but it is not strictly biological or does not exist on a 1-to-1 ratio

i would put myself in this last category, although if further research were submitted that seemed to verify or strongly suggest a biological link, i wouldn't be in the least surprised. i am most skeptical of the second position. from what research i have done so far, it seems that creative people (artists, writers, musicians, film-makers and so forth) have higher incidences of reported depression or depression-like symptoms (often called melancholy or melancholia in the past), as well as higher rates of suicide. according to the excellent book The Noonday Demon, the profession with the highest reported rate of suicide is "writer," and within that the sub-category of "poet," often perceived within the literary community as being the most emotional and personal sort of writer.

my attitude is also indicative of my personal experiences with both depressive and creative types, who for some reason or another are my chosen peers. it seems to me, from the limited cross-segment of humanity that i am personally acquainted with, that a person suffering from one of these maladies is far more likely to suffer from the other as well.

why is this?

hypotheses abound, as with any controversial topic. since any idiot can form an opinion about any topic, there are as many opinions on this, it seems, as there are people on the planet. different philosophies posit different answers, as do disciplines as diverse as evolutionary biology and archetypal psychology. let me summarize one of the theories i find most fascinating.

it is one that is loosely based around concepts of meaning and meaninglessness, as put forward by existential philosophers, absurdist artists, and medical doctors alike (although each, to be sure, puts their own unique signature on the discussion). Eric Maisel, Ph.D., posits that creative people, or "creators" as he calls them, "experience depression simply because they are caught up in a struggle to make life seem meaningful to them. People for whom meaning is no problem are less likely to experience depression. But for creators, losses of meaning and doubt about life's meaningfulness are persistent problems - even the root causes of their depression."

Maisel (who, appropriately, is the author of a book called The Van Gogh Blues) sees the problem, then, as an experiential one, one with its root causes in the common topics of thought and activities of creative people - namely, sustained deep thought about the basic mysteries of the universe, not last among them problems of meaning, often phrased as "why are we here?" or "what are we here to do?" or "what ought we do with our lives?"

while the good doctor here seems a bit "self-helpy" (he is, after all, a clinical psychotherapist), he does raise an interesting point. one need look no further than the basic tenets of existentialism to see parallels which are, thankfully, much more well-developed and substantial. merely call to mind the idea of nausea or existential terror to see what i mean; it basically describes the mental state of a thinking, feeling individual when confronted with a seemingly absurd or meaningless world: one of disorientation, dread, and ennui. this is, of course, a fair summary of what many of us would term "depression."

(wikipedia tells me that existentialism has its roots in buddhist and early christian thought, as well as early secular philosophies. so it's easy to see that depression - and, more than that, depression's effects on living, feeling human subjects - has a long history within scholarly thought.)

i think that probably the most eloquent author on the subject of meaning is Soren Kierkegaard, although i may disagree with his ultimate conclusions on the source of meaning or truth. Kierkegaard basically states that humans have lost meaningfulness in their lives because of the rise of objective thought - the idea that truth can be proved by scientific measurement or logical rigor. but human thought and experience, he believes, cannot be formulated in terms of math or even history. meaning, for Kierkegaard, is something that rises from human choices and interactions. in The Sickness Unto Death, he writes:

"Is despair an excellence or a defect? Purely dialectically, it is both. The possibility of this sickness is man's superiority over the animal, for it indicates infinite sublimity that he is spirit. Consequently, to be able to despair is an infinite advantage, and yet to be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery - no, it is ruination."

according to Kierkegaard, despair is something that is intrinsically tied into consciousness - if you cannot ponder your own existence, you can never experience despair. there has to be what he calls "a spirit" and what i would call "a mind" for despair, or depression, to work upon. without a reflection upon one's mental state, despair is impossible.

(i tend not to agree with thinkers who say that humans have a premium on thought, self-awareness, and reflection. we certainly don't have a premium on emotion. i do think that in the human animal, the awareness of one's "self" or "ego" is more acute, and more acutely painful, maybe just because we have words and concepts that sharply delineate it. but i digress.)

of course, other authors have much to say on the subject, from Dostoevsky and Kafka through Nietzsche and on down the line to thinkers as diverse as Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, and of course Simone de Beauvior and Jean-Paul Sartre. while i'll touch on some of these authors and many others at length in later entries, let me move on for now.

out of existentialism came absurdism, which can be reduced without too many casualties to the statement that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe are condemned to failure because no such meaning exists, and hence these efforts are absurd.

whereas existentialism, whether espoused in its atheistic or theistic form, states that it is essential that humans create meaning for themselves, absurdism posits that it is possible for humans to create meaning, though not essential. (nihilists, who take absurdism to its most extreme conclusions, say that this, too, is impossible.)

i can hear you protesting out there, asking what this all has to do with depression - which is, after all, something fairly well-understood, that can be statistically diagnosed and treated, that can indeed be labelled and categorized, a legitimate sickness for which one can receive federal disability benefits if one is so inclined.

and i'm going to ask you again to step out from behind the lens of the clinician, the pill doctor, the internal therapist or social worker that we've all internalized to at least some degree. really step out from there, even if it isn't easy, and just take a look as a person, someone who has to live and breathe and work and fuck, and ask yourself this:

doesn't it seem probable that on some level - not the chemical level or the evolutionary biology level or the social level - that the way that we see things has something to do with depression?

"see" isn't the best word. "perceive" would be better. how we perceive the events and circumstance of our lives has a huge bearing on the actions we take. it ties into our memories, our internal monologue ("self-talk" i think is the PC, psychologist's-office version), the way we interact with others.

and isn't our philosophy, or our system of belief and understanding comprising both rational thought and emotions, something that determines to a large extent how we perceive the world?

i think it definitely is. and if that's true (if it has any inherent meaning, ha ha ha), then depression isn't the same as AIDS or cancer or polio. it's actually a part of the human condition - but even that's not quite right. it would be better to say that it's a part of the subjective experience of individual humans, something that's different for everyone.

i'm not saying that depression and creativity have a link that you could point at or hold in your hands. all i'm saying is that people who spend a lot of time thinking about and reflecting upon the human condition - whether or not there is truth, for example - and who have even a seed of doubt about the answers to these questions are going to be more prone to doubt everything, even the input of their sensory organs.

to be constantly in doubt is a difficult thing. i'm a confirmed skeptic, so i can attest to that. would it be so odd if people who think like this - always questioning and doubting - were more prone to a condition which, while having an actual physical basis in brain chemistry and electrical interactions within the brain, is basically founded on an abstract yet profound doubt about whether or not anything could ever matter?

that's something that i always get into when i'm depressed. i think nothing matters, i don't matter, it couldn't possibly matter what i do. i feel insignificant and apathetic. and, of course, it has a real social element, too. if you can't really effect tangible, positive change in your situation, you learn to accept your situation, but it has a profound effect upon how you interact with the world in the future. you stop trying to change things because you have learned that it doesn't matter what you do. in laboratory studies of dogs, it's called "learned helplessness" and i think that has something to do with depression, too.

i realize this isn't a perfect argument. there's the obvious chicken-or-the-egg type question: is it my worldview that makes me depressed, or is it depression (or brain chemicals, or physical determinism) that defines my worldview?

i think it's easiest and most accurate to put it like this: depression and creativity are probably both phenomena which occur in a similar type of mind, one which happens to be possessed, not just by artists, but by thinkers of all stripes who admit even an iota of subjectivity into their worldviews. and i think this description could basically be applied, with more or less accuracy, to each and every human on the planet. that's what i think Kierkegaard was getting at: we all, by virtue of being human, have the capacity to doubt, to wonder, to create, and also to become depressed.

whew! thanks for staying with me through all that. it helps me to feel like there's an invisible readership out there, even if it's just a huge lie that i tell myself. i'd love any sort of feedback - first responses are fine, as are more reasoned-out arguments. tell me i'm completely wrong if you'd like, tell me off, just please try to be honest in your criticisms. i promise i won't cut myself over it or anything like that, har har.

i don't know what the next entry will be about. probably more on authors and artists. i think there's a wealth of literature out there about depression and mental illness that i'm really eager to dig into further. or maybe i'll get into a little bit more physical, meat-and-potatoes type research stuff. also, i want to include some resources for people dealing with depression who don't necessarily have the means or the inclination to resort of pharmaceutical treatments - that way, even if this whole blog / book project doesn't amount to anything, it won't be a complete waste of space.

as for the book i want to write, i'm still feeling my way around the idea. roald dahl said writing a book is like taking a walk and looking at a scenic vista - first you see it from this path, then from this valley, and finally you reach a peak where you can see the whole thing clearly, but first you have to take the walk and explore all the different angles and viewpoints. and i think he's right. just like depression: there isn't just one way to look at it. there is as much potential creativity, and potential melancholy, as there is human experience.

and how do you even begin to THINK about quantifying that?

okay. until next time, loyal readers, enjoy-a this Goya. it's called "Saturn Devouring His Son" and i think it is one of the craziest paintings of all time.



i've been having a hard time writing the next entry in this blog, which is going to be about the relation between depression, creativity, and medication. as you might guess, it's a big and unwieldy complex of ideas and emotions. additionally, i have very little privacy here, which makes it more difficult to write - you can hear every footstep and shouting match in this house, and the television is usually on. so it's been challenging and slow-going.

so i thought, in the interval, i might as well post some of the titles of books and materials that i want to consult for this project, for my archives and for your perusal.

if anyone has any suggestions (for research materials or for ways to deal with a stressful, utterly depressing home situation), please feel free to post them.

  • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
  • Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron
  • Unholy Ghost, edited by Nell Casey
  • The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Depression: Out of the Shadows, a PBS documentary
  • The Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard
  • Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison
  • Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk

that's all for right now. i'd also be interested in finding some good blogs about depression and/or writing, as well as any websites, movies, or works of art, not just books and documentary films.


second is the best

i decided to reboot this blog because:

1. it's winter, and i'm spending a lot of time in front of the computer.
2. i'm depressed, and i want to track my progress.
3. there's an idea kicking around in my head for a book, and i'm out of practice at writing and researching. this can be a place to practice my craft and compile notes.

the book is going to be a fable about depression. i hope it will be more than that. i hope it will be anything at all.

wikipedia's article on major depressive disorder was a good jumping-off point. it was surprisingly informative and links to a lot of source material. that's crucial; in my opinion, there's no such thing as too much information or too many opinions on depression. it affects so many people and since everyone has a different experience of it, everyone is an expert in their own way. everyone who's lived inside the monster, anyway.

at the same time, there are plenty of accurate and scholarly articles by medical professionals, advocacy groups, and people with lots of sound data and double-blind placebo studies and all that. it's so easy, with something as subjective as mental illness, to get swept away in the outpouring of emotion and lose sight of the actual research.

that being said, i want to look at depression from a lot of different angles - culturally, socially, economically. i want to scrutinize it and crystallize my own feelings and thoughts on the matter. there are a lot of tricky questions - can it really be called a disease, or is it more like a functional disorder? what is the difference between having depressive moods and being depressed? is it a problem of chemistry, biology, philosophy, or something else entirely? and those are just the easy generalizations.

i would like to find myself, the root of myself, inside the dense tangle of thorns and brambles that comprise the complex flora of my depression - my black moods, self-destructive tendencies, pessimistic worldview. my poetry. my insomnia and somnolence, my rage and bitterness and grief.

more than anything, i am looking to make a pretty simple distinction. either depression is a parasitic plant, choking off my fresh air and sunlight, that i must shake off or die from, or it exists with my self (whatever that is) in a somewhat more symbiotic capacity, and is a burden i have to carry, and actually try to thrive under, because it is a part of me.

so that's what i want to accomplish, or move toward accomplishing, with this book. the very least that will come of my research is that i'll be slightly more knowledgeable about a condition that most clinical physicians would almost certainly diagnose me with.

at the bottom of it all, i believe that depression, and most human hangups, are about our fear of death and dissolution. as death is an intractible problem, i don't think that it's one i'll be solving any time in the near future. but i have to fly in its face anyway. call me crazy.

most people do.

i'll update later with more thoughts and fun factoids on the subject of the smiling skull-head and other hilarious jokes.

(picture - blue nude by picasso)