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.