A Dark And Ill-Lit Place
This isn’t a very happy post, and it’s not about the bike … at least not much. I’m putting it behind a cut, admittedly as much because I’m not very comfortable writing about this stuff as because I’m not sure everyone out there is comfortable reading about it.
I won’t be offended if you don’t read it, and I won’t be offended if you do. I suppose I’m writing it as part of an effort to exorcise my own demons — an effort, if you will, to survive.
It would seem that I am wrestling with what a superstitious person might call a family curse.
My father was an alcoholic. So were most of his brothers. I didn’t know them well, but I knew him well. He was a man of intense, even wild emotions. I suspect he suffered from depression, at least, and possibly bipolar illness. My sister, too, suffers from depression. I don’t know if she experiences the soaring highs that I do.
At the moment, I am in the jaws of a crippling depression of my own.
It is difficult for me to put name to my own depressions. I don’t experience depression as sadness or as plummeting self-worth, but rather as a black and empty restlessness. Boredom. Anger. My already-lean resources in the area of impulse control evaporate. My motivation evaporates. I feel like a caged tiger, distrustful, cramped, ready to lash out even at those who feed me.
I suppose I am fortunate, in a way, that my life went completely off the rails while I was still very young. When I was thirteen I met a man — himself only twenty-three at the time — who promised me friendship and granted it to me at the high price of eleven months of near-daily rape and physical and emotional torture. I am still, to an extent, sorting those threads. It is easier to disentangle the physical reality of it than the emotional reality.
Needless to say, I emerged from that experience somewhat damaged. Paranoid, but not without reason: I had survived eleven months of frank hell, and though the chief persecutor had fled, I still received anonymous calls — when I picked up the phone, no one spoke. It was just silence, breathing. That was it. No one was home to watch this happening; to the credit of those around me, I never breathed a word about it.
I “rapidly decompensated,” as it were, and found myself in and out of psychiatric hospitals for a couple of years. In total, I spent about six months as an inpatient; the surrounding two years were spent in outpatient day treatment. I didn’t return to semi-normal life until the beginning of my junior year.
By then, I already knew that I was hard-wired for addiction and haunted by the kind of past that tends to beget addicts.
In some ways, I got the best and the worst of my parents’ genes — my father’s brilliant creativity and facility for languages coupled with his fundamental restlessness and propensity for wild mood swings and black anger; my mother’s Vulcan analytical mind coupled with her shortcomings in the kind of empathy that most people enjoy without even knowing it.
It is possible, given this combination, that being utterly shattered as a child of thirteen years was the best thing that could have happened to me (not, mind, that my life was exactly a cake walk up to that point — but in the “before” and “after” of my childhood, that was the defining moment).
I learned that I was not invulnerable; that there were monsters in the world bigger and badder than me. I learned what it meant to be afraid. I learned that I was not, in fact, capable of standing against every single tide.
What I failed to learn, apparently, was that I am as incapable as everyone else of handling my life completely alone. I am still learning that lesson. It is still hard.
I suppose it doesn’t help that one of the symptoms of my depression is a sort of creeping paranoia. It is subtle. It’s not like I wake up one day thinking that people are out to get me. Rather, I slowly withdraw from my own already-narrow circle of confidence. My trust in others erodes.
I suppose I’m too much a constitutional narcissist to assume people are hatching nefarious plots behind my back. I don’t expect to be intentionally betrayed or anything like that. I simply cease to trust. My mind creates no reason, which I suppose is a small mercy.
This time, even Denis fell under the shadow of this darkness. I stopped talking to him about anything meaningful. I didn’t realize it was happening; as is almost always the case when this occurs, I instead felt as if he wasn’t talking to me.
I managed to keep a pretty face on things, while slowly my will and my mind eroded. Often I thought I was just tired. I look back at my blogs from throughout the summer and I now see that I was fighting the tide; trying to keep my head above the water.
Last night I spent an hour or so poring over this blog. I discovered that, unwittingly, I’ve managed to draft a consistent record of my highs and lows.
There are entries where I’m clearly way up there somewhere — writing checks, so to speak, which probably aren’t actually delusional (I don’t know if I ever achieve true mania; I suspect that I tend to crest on the high side of hypomania) but which my mind and body definitely can’t cash once the wave evaporates and I spiral down into the trough.
There are entries, almost like clockwork, about the insomnia that I’ve spent the past year delusionally thinking I’d conquered. Ha!
I suppose the nefarious thing about mental illness is that it protects itself. For most, depression whispers messages of personal inadequacy — for a few, like me, it whispers messages of boredom or anger. It feel justified.
Mania, likewise: when I wrote my post about my decision to go to medical school, I was undoubtedly riding the beautiful crest of a brief, fierce wave of mania. At the time, it felt like I had finally come up for air: it wasn’t until a day or two later that I realized that there was a cliff ahead, and that I hadn’t a snowball’s chance of stopping myself from pitching over it.
The best of my racing aspirations, like the best of my rides, tend to take place when I’m “up — way, way up!” I recognize now that, to an extent, cycling feeds the mania — not directly, I suspect, but rather by means of exposure to a ton of sunlight. My moods are definitely most responsive to the sun.
Last night I hit the low point of the trough. I felt furiously angry, angry to the point of tears (which remains a new thing for me, and feels like some kind of progress). I felt frustrated. I felt — dare I admit it? — a bit fearful.
I know I have not been easy to live with for the past few months; maybe longer — and part of me feels that Denis would, at this point, be justified in walking away. I was afraid of losing Denis, afraid of losing my home. Afraid, I suppose, of discovering that the thing inside me that insists that I should be lone, restless, and hard would turn out to be right.
Curiously, Denis appears to love with the love of G-d, which welcomes all who lay down their rebellion and return, no matter how long they have rebelled. So it seems I am not to be driven from my home just yet.
I realize it’s probably hard, if you have been reading my blog, to quite see how this all fits in. I have done my best to put a pretty face on it for a long time. Earlier in this post, I wrote about addiction: for me, the bike is a bit of an addiction; something I use to smooth things out when the going is rough. It felt for a long time like it was kind of working.
I can’t tell you what it was that made me pause and look back at the wreckage of the past few months and realize that it isn’t, that it hasn’t been working at all. Something did. I have realized that I am not as on top of things as I thought. The first step is admitting you have a problem, a problem that is beyond your control. I am starting to realize that, yes, this is all quite beyond my control … and also that, apparently, I do care whether or not I make a total bollix of my life.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t changed my mind about medical school: but I do think maybe I should try to get all this under control, first. Curiously, I feel like it’s an either/or proposition: either I will find the right treatment to get my life back on the rails, and I will be very capable of achieving the goals I’ve laid out for myself; or I won’t, and I won’t be capable of achieving much in whatever time remains to me.
I know that I can’t keep living like this. I don’t know for certain what the next step is. Last night, while I was busy falling apart, Denis told me that I should talk to Dottie about all this. He’s right, but it’s still difficult through the lens of my depression, which tells me that no help will come, that there is no point in carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom, because I will only fail on my journey.
I have to admit that I am not sure what to do right now. I don’t know what the next step is. I feel besieged from all sides by devices of my own creation, and I’m not sure which one to address first. Uncertainty is an uncomfortable feeling. I am not sure which knot to untie first. I don’t even know whether this is a crisis, the kind in which I should call Dottie even though it’s Saturday and we have an appointment already made for next Thursday.
I guess this is my first step. Admitting that things are not so hunky-dory out here in Beautiful Machineland. Admitting that I am uncertain about everything right now, including the future. Admitting that I can’t see my way forward, and am having trouble feeling the hand of G-d.
This is a dark place. It is one I don’t know how to get out of. I am hoping that somewhere down here I will meet a man with a shovel and a lantern, or however that modern parable goes. I suppose one must begin by realizing that the folks with the lanterns and shovels are the ones who know the way out.
That’s it for now.
Keep the rubber side down.