Good days, bad days

daily living, Life, wellbeing

 

yeats

From W.B.Yeats poem

 

It’s always been like this. And hard to accept that the challenge is to get up every day and face what is ahead. Easier for some than others, and that in itself is a difficult consideration to process – that my life has always had the comfort and ease of being born in this century in a first world country – there is guilt in feeling any dismay when there are problems of hunger and terrorism affecting millions every  day.  First world guilt paralyses me. I end up chasing my own tail and trying to find some meaning in life through my relationships with the family I love and through the creative endeavour I call work but which is really play.

I cannot stop weeping – the tears are inside, I could cry that river if I ever dare to open that floodgate.  Recently I made a small decision which affects everyone around me, and has brought me to realisations of my own. For the past couple of decades (almost) I have taken prescribed medication to control the symptoms of a neurological disorder – the meds help to control disrupted pain signals, but they are in the anti depressant family.

It’s complicated – of course – what’s me, what’s my stage of life (menopause), what’s the condition, what’s the meds?  So I am simplifying things a little, now I have less familial duties to fulfil. The meds are gone – first a euphoria, a feeling of connection with the world that has been dulled somewhat – but accompanying that lightness of being are emotions that rattle around like a toy railway train out of control – is this me?

Who knows? This is a territory I haven’t explored for some time and I think there’s some rocky roads ahead, but walking boots on – I mean to try.

 

When love is not enough

blogging, depression, Derek Walcott, health, Life, Thoughts, wellbeing

..

d walcott

but it helps.

I received a message from someone in my family today which has shaken me.  As a lovely young woman , she has been dealing with the challenges of depression and anxiety , and recently has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  And I don’t know how to help.  So I will tell her my story.

You see, when I was her age I was exhibiting symptoms of depression too, working in a pressured environment and wanting to perform like Adele on a good day ( albeit in the print packaging arena ). I set my standards high and I worked to reach them.  A few years of having my foot hard on the pedal resulted in what my G.P.  diagnosed as a ‘breakdown’. The world was different then and because my boss didn’t want me stigmatised at work by that diagnosis, he could only give me a week off.  I needed more, but I needed the job too. I saw a counsellor weekly and worked on my thought processes.  Eventually I caved in to the work pressure and resigned. I was lucky as I was newly married and ready to throw myself into raising a young family.  It nearly broke me.

I wanted to be happy, and knew I had everything I could have asked for – a home, a loving family, two beautiful sons – and yet I could not function at a level I felt comfortable about. I was tired , not just mildly sleep deprived, but absolutely buggered. Every day was a huge effort to continue the daily requirements . Shopping and cooking were chores that felt like Sisyphus carrying the rock up the mountain.

I was prescribed Prozac for depression – I felt depressed but not worthy of having depression because what could I possibly be depressed about?  Prozac didn’t suit me, or rather it suited me too well, but everyone else thought I had disappeared. Which I had, I felt like a lumbering cow, just grazing on life. Nothing touched me. I came off it.

A further visit to a new doctor and a new prescription – this time Venlafaxine. This suited me better, the symptoms of depression were alleviated, but this led to me discovering a deep well of unfulfilled need within my life.  I ended up making a huge life change – leaving my then husband and making a new life with a new partner.  ( It happened like a thunderbolt and shocked the family, but ultimately it was a necessary change – and everyone worked hard at making the family unit stay strong. I continued to co parent with their dad, and managed not to disrupt their schooling, staying half the week with their dad, and the other with me. My mum and my brother were brilliant at being there too. The boys flourished and are now 24 and 21 and I couldn’t be prouder)

A diagnosis of fibromyalgia by my G.P.  helped me to understand that my coping strategies needed tweaking. I had for years battled a diagnosis of depression – now I understood I had a reactive depression to a condition which had been masked by the very medication I was taking. When I came off the drugs, my symptoms flared, and it was during a flare that the correct diagnosis was made. So knowing I had something which I could investigate, acknowledge and understand was part of me helped me to put into place the conditions by which I could most easily manage the condition.

It is becoming more accepted now in the same way that depression is less stigmatised, but unless it is experienced, or someone close to you has it the full impact is not easily acknowledged by others. My experience of having it was dealing with the knowledge of diagnosis itself – it sent me to investigate books written on it, blogs, forums – anywhere where I felt vindicated. I wanted to make sure everyone knew I was not imagining it – it was real. That didn’t happen really. People don’t want a relationship with a bag of symptoms, they just want to relate to you.  And I had to learn that some people got it , whilst others didn’t. Close people don’t always get it. I tried to shield my bad days from my sons – I wanted them to see me strong, and capable. In the end, as they got older I had to share with them that sometimes I couldn’t do what I wanted to for them, or with them.  They were brilliant and loved me anyway.  They didn’t understand, they just accepted me for who I was, and didn’t make me feel useless. Although I was pretty useless. They still say I am weird but that’s a different story. I found things to occupy myself with, that I could cope with, or put down and come back to. I managed to set my standards lower in certain aspects – housework suffered, decorating was off the menu, the garden became a self supporting area of interest.

One of the hardest aspects is still there – committing to social activities is difficult, because when it comes around, it may be impossible. Now I have managed to find a balance of not turning everything down, and knowing it will take me a couple of days to recover. I have limited my social life probably more than I have needed to, but part of that comes from having had a life spread over two counties for the past decade or so.

The reality is I cannot help my family member – I can’t take away her symptoms as much as I would want to. I only want her to know that it isn’t the thing that defines her. I came away from looking at the internet about Fibro, avoided the forums, refused the group sessions offered at the doctors, because I didn’t want my focus to be on my condition. I wanted to understand what it meant for me and then re focus my energies on the activities that meant something to me and to my family.  I have learnt those things over years, and it is hard learnt sometimes. I have suffered in silence more times than I can remember, and sometimes not so silently!  I constantly have to remind myself not to resent others for not being more considerate sometimes. I have to remember to tell them how I feel in the moment , that no matter how much I may want to so something, it is sadly unachievable for me. And sometimes I have to remember to challenge myself and test my limits. I have surprised myself on occasion.

I still feel a fraud. That is my problem. I feel a fraud at life. I challenge that thought because when I look at the reality, it isn’t true. I still have to have that conversation though. On a regular basis.

 

Everything is interesting.

Life, philosophy, stoicism, wellbeing

marcus Aurelius.jpg“What education should be about is endless curiosity about the nature of the world. I’d make Philosophy and Human Behaviour a compulsory subject. I wouldn’t bother to teach History; I think it’s pointless. History is just the record of human crime. It’s battles and murders and pogroms, but there’s a secret history and that’s the record of human goodness. The little acts of kindness aren’t recorded anywhere. Little deeds of altruism: The lady in the baker’s shop who runs after you saying, ‘Here you left a fiver on the counter.’ That sort of thing is never recorded, but that’s what actually keeps the world going.”  John Lloyd  ( writer of Q.I fame)

Fact : John Lloyd has more baftas than Judi Dench  !!!!!!!!!

Now I will let you know that I don’t agree with him about the pointlessness of History simply because it creates so much enquiry in me, but about everything else I have read about this man, I have a new hero.  A colleague John Mitchinson  on Q.I wrote “He has a proper philosophy, and he thinks about things in an astonishing amount of depth.’

And his philosophy? – a self confessed Stoic ( another reason to adore the man) he has summed up the necessities of life in three phrases, the first being ‘Be Kind’ , the second being, ‘Be Kind’ and the third being ‘ Be Kind’. Got to love that man.

And this is not a man who has not known unhappiness, hard work, or depression. Much like the rest of us. But this is a man who has worked tirelessly at the BBC to bring us laughter to lighten the load, and worked through his own demons by using his brain to stay curious. That was his way out of depression if I am reading it right.

“I feel really sorry for people who have no working philosophy. People don’t know what to do when they get depressed, or unhappy, when they feel they are belittled at work, when they feel their life is pointless. Where do they go? Unless you’re a happyclappy Alpha course person . . . That’s why it’s so easy to get mullah’ed into fundamentalism: because of the certainty.”

And if you want some more reasons to consider Mr Lloyds brilliant take on life – to remain as curious a creature as it is possible to be, then I recommend you fly across to this link which tells you more about the man than I can, inasmuch as it is a testament to his philosophy, his intelligence, his humour and his humanity. And I don’t even know the man.

Just brilliant stuff

Learn even more about him via a great article in the New Statesman by Helen Lewis, Article on John Lloyd by Helen Lewis

And finally – in the spirit of John LLoyd and with a nod to the illustration here is a thought from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations that is worth a moment or two of reflection in a busy day, a busy world.

One type of person, whenever he does someone else a good turn, is quick in calculating the favour done to him. Another is not so quick to do this; but in himself he thinks about the other person as owing him something and is conscious of what he has done. A third is in a sense not even conscious of what he has done, but is like a vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing more once it has produced its own fruit, like a horse which has run a race, a dog which has followed the scent, or a bee which has made its honey. A person who has done something good does not make a big fuss about it, but goes on to the next action, as a vine goes on to produce grapes again in season. So you should be one of those who do this without in a sense being aware of doing so. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.6)

 

The moon is no door.

daily living, depression, photography, poetry, wellbeing

IMG_1085IMG_1128

To introduce you to somewhere I go to renew my spirit – and I am off there within a few weeks.  It is definitely overdue – I am strung out and my reserves are all run dry.  I surprised myself by having a mini melt down on Friday.  It was a scary reminder of the landscape of breakdown, and I am keeping myself as safe as I can by reminding myself of all the positives in my life.  The greatest being the family relationships I have, but even these are unable sometimes to stave off the harsh reality of living with a fragility of mind that can be threatened by the stresses of everyday life. I know that to want to remain in the land of the living I need to renew my connections with people – the cruel paradox being that the feelings are strong drivers in the opposite direction. I want to run to the hills.

Actually, in the midst of it, I don’t want the hills. I want oblivion.

That’s the scariest part.  I grieve for all those like Sylvia Plath that were unable to access the help modern drugs can give – I know I am frightened to contemplate a reality without mine – perhaps one day.

The Moon and the Yew tree

“This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs at my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy spiritious mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky –
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness –
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.”

Sylvia Plath

Everybody cries -everybody hurts sometimes.

meditation, wellbeing

Untitl56

 “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” Camus

Default settings: avoid and reset with David Foster Wallace.

blogging, culture, philosophy, Thoughts

know thyself‘In the second machine age, the challenge to the human world is mental rather than physical. As the gadgets become more intimate and the scanners more powerful, it is our inner worlds that are being transformed. Perhaps they are even being destroyed. The perpetual connection and distraction of our lives now are the opposite of Stevens’ solitary thinking time or Dickinson’s isolation in her room. Connectivity is replacing creativity on Facebook and Twitter.’

Bryan Appleyard confronts the new reality facing our species. David Foster Wallace, the highly rated American author who was overwhelmed by his depression also tried to confront the more negative consequences of modern connection with technology. He accepts the more desirable aspects that accompany it,

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.”

And goes on to say

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Wallace was determined to stay as close to his vision of being human as he could, and this involved a deal of confronting the difficult complexities that perplex all of us. How to steer our way through the world and retain a view of humanity that is compassionate left him bereft. It is that willingness to engage with an imperfect world that is the challenge of everyone. What Wallace saw was that a vast portion of mankind refuses to do that, and turns against any view or practise that does not reflect their own. Worse than that, a huge portion of them exploit the greed, ignorance or poverty of others. That view of mankind becomes untenable, and more so when there is recognition of faults within oneself. He was frightened by the default settings that he perceived amongst American culture, and warned against them,

“The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

The counter practices to these default settings have been recognised by seers and philosophers across ages and cultures, and include mindfulness and acceptance. They occupy the same emotional and spiritual spaces in our psyches as religion once addressed, and still does. It is a tragedy that he died so young, since he had messages of deep import and was a voice to a generation. Those messages have been handed down by Tolstoy, Einstein, Thoreau, Tagore, but he had the authority of living in the age of now. That is always a powerful hand.

“That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Further reading  http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

The Sanctuary of Trees

Art, blogging, books, Life, philosophy, Thoughts

trees book Anne Corr Trees book by Anne

I have spent the morning trying to engage with the trees opposite in an attempt to lift the mood.  An encroaching blackness threatens, and a roam with the dogs listening to the birds seemed the most likely candidate to help.  Hesse speaks volumes to me,  and his reflections on trees perfectly encapsulate my feelings about them.  Wondrous entities offer solace, peace , mystery, who wouldn’t be moved by the serenity of trees?

Herman Hesse wrote too about the mind set that is my companion through life, a propensity for melancholia and self annihilation   He wrote best about it to my mind, in Steppenwolf, in which his protagonist reveals the reality about the  ‘suicides.’  These are people not necessarily prepared to commit the physical act, but those with a psychological bent of mind that sees no difference between the states of being and non-being, and therefore search for meaning while in a state of being.  The futility of life is a constant melody that plays throughout the mortal existence. I wrote a more thorough piece about Steppenwolf here,

https://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/magic-theater-entrance-not-for-everybody/

This seems to be a post about depression, but it isn’t. It is about realism, about being able to accept the flow of mood, and to live within that flow . It’s about my learning how to handle that river of human beingness without being overwhelmed by my natural propensity to depression. It’s about living well, and not just surviving.

Trees have helped to show me how.

Have a weekend of good things, go find them, whatever they are for you.

Breathe.

Art, illustration, music, United Kingdom
Original map of Kneesall 1635 with illustration of butterfly by alexander marsal 1600's/

Original map of Kneesall 1635 with illustration of butterfly by alexander marsal 1600’s

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

 

From Pink Floyd ‘ Breathe’

Take up your pen, it is indeed mightier than the sword.

Life

tumblr_lonx3sKHFw1qji737o1_1280Reading is a vital element of the person I have become.  I have no imagination yon see, no innate ability to create a reality other than the one I am in.  I rely on others to do it for me, and have had the good fortune to meet in print authors who have taken me by the hand and led me to places I would never see, and experience lives I will never live. As a young teen I read a biographic account of a young woman’s experience of working abroad amongst torturers and the victims of war. She was tortured herself, and her graphic description has never left me.  She showed me how her life looked, how it feeled, how her faith empowered her.  ( The book was Audacity to Believe, and Sheila Cassidy the writer, she was practising medicine in Chile while Pinochet was in power and was caught up in the horror, for a time she became a nun whilst in recovery from her ordeal,)  My point is this, that her wriiting created an opportunity for me to comprehend something I would know nothing about, but which would change my view of the world. That is powerful. That is how writing works.  One of the consequences of a sensibility lacking in imaginative power is that the present moment is the focus.  I am not a planner, nor a traveller, I do not know how to fast forward myself imaginatively into a different context, which has far reaching consequences.  Because I am a poor planner , I have developed a reactive personality, I fall into the next moment carelessly, and move across situations with less anxiety than a planner would.  That is possibly the advantage of a lack of imagination.  It is possibly the only one.  To connect, a person has to have empathy, an ability to look at a possibility only imagined, not experienced, and it is through the extraordinary power of novelists and journalists that I have understood this.  I know empathy can be learnt, because I had to learn it from the pages of books and the leaves of journals, the text of poets and philosophers writing throughout the ages and across cultures.  Not everyone has the cultural background or family circumstances that provides the potential for growth; or the extent of growth that is desired.  The hope for them is in the connections made for them by writers of all genres, released into the world and allowed to be absorbed into the core of themselves. Every writer who writes authentically from their own life is giving away the substance of life.  Thats why writing is hard, and why good writing is handed on generation to generation. Writing not only records our heritage, writing IS our heritage.

David Foster Wallace lived with the realism, possibly the super realism of the depressive. He was aware of the nuances of his own and others thinking, and this is a difficult landscape in which to build a life.  The depressive is not sad, he is dead. That is why Wallace explained that suicide is not a cry for help. It is the rational outcome of a depressives state of mind, the nihilistic understanding that the body continues to function after death of the mind has been experienced, and that is called Hell.  What the depressive forgets in the midst of an episode, is that states of mind are generally temporary.  They function like weather, and like weather, can only be ameliorated and not annihilated.  His was a heroic life, a life where he wanted words to connect, to explain, to give himself some sense of who he was , who he could become, in a world that made no sense.  All our lives are heroic in one sense, that we strive to make sense of an insensible, nonsensical world.  We try, and keep trying because the alternative is one step too far for most of us. David Foster Wallace chose to die.  I respect his choice. I respect his life, his endeavour to communicate. This post began celebrating my early delight in finding a world beyond my immediate experience, and it ends in celebration of all writers who bravely tell us their stories, and reflect our own humanity to us, the flaws, the hopes, the falls and the triumphs.

“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.”
― David Foster Wallace

We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.”
― David Foster Wallace

The world is words……How to stay alive in it.

books, culture, philosophy

 

HH-UK-coverPerhaps, and it is a big perhaps, the American writer David Foster Wallace would have lived if he had read the book I am reading . Titled ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, and written by a man from my generation, Jonathan Haidt, this book states in simple terms how human beings can live their lives more satisfactorily.

David Foster Wallace hung himself at 46. He had wanted to live generously but in an interlude where he was not taking drugs to help with his clinical depression, life became unendurable. He is acclaimed in America as the writer of his generation that will endure, reflecting life in America with acuity and humour. The joke was not taht funny for David. He did not find much sense in America’s modern fantastic interpretation of the world in the 21st century. He wanted to think, and did think about life in thoughtful, considered, educated ways. He wanted to live in a world where he shared the planet where the majority used their brains to think and acted on their resultant discoveries. He found that all of us are deeply flawed, we may want one thing but we do another. We have conflicting desires, our rational brains are sometimes unable to drive our emotional brains. The result leaves human societies everywhere having to encounter poor decision making at domestic and national levels. As a result marriages become domestic hells, and countries go to war or economies fail.

You see, I think David was right about some of the things that he said. He wanted to share his insight about the damage that a society travelling at speed, unable to stop and smell the coffee, was one hell bent on destruction of what it means to be human. David needed medication in able to write. He needed it in able to live. He is no different from me on that one. He saw the world through a lens that burnt the impression too brightly, too painfully . Had he read Haidts book, he would have been instructed from the various disciplines of philosophy , social sciences and neuroscience, and that collaboration helps any reader to build up a store of reserves to fall back on when strength fails.

I have a personal interest in this subject of finding the happiness hypothesis. I have wanted to be unalive on various occasions. I have felt so numb and bereft of the feelings associated with being human that I have felt less than human, and the pain of that leads the will to want to stop breathing. I suspect most people have toyed with the idea of suicide at some time, possibly most during teenage years when the emotional temperature is higher, and the impetus to act is more urgent. Most people who are well mainly drive away those difficult feelings by recalling family bonds, or friendship commitments, or the need to complete a worthwhile venture. Most people may ignore those potentially threatening feelings because they are too difficult to confront, which benefits the person as they stay alive another day.

If you want to know some important ways of staying strong, of building your reserves I implore you to read Jonothan Haidts book. It just might save your life. It just might improve it. At the very least, it will introduce ideas that are interesting, diverting and intelligent.

David Foster Wallace left a valuable legacy of fiction and non-fiction writing that you may want to explore. Many Americans will be acquainted with his Kenyon College commencement address,and I quote from it here, for the full address go to http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.