Methought I read a blog cry, “Sleep no more!”

insomnia

Hello and good day!  It’s Thursday again, as you no doubt know, and time for me to write another weekly blog entry.

I’ve had a rather intense exacerbation of my chronic insomnia over the last several days, so I’m worried that my writing might be incoherent and disjointed.  Of course, it’s possible that my writing is always that way, and I simply haven’t noticed.  How would I know for sure?  Still, I might be mistaken, but when I reread my writing, it doesn’t seem terribly incoherent to me.  Until and unless I receive specific feedback from others, there’s no way to fact-check the matter except through my general agreement with other readers about the quality of other writers.

Such are the vagaries of epistemology.

Insomnia has been a longstanding problem for me, certainly ever since I’ve been an “adult.”  One part of that problem is that, unlike what seems to be the case for most people, sleep is not in an especially pleasant experience for me.  If anything, it’s rather dysphoric.  I don’t tend to remember any dreams—which is disappointing, given legends of such writers as Coleridge, who are reputed to have been led to some of their greatest works by slumberous visions.

For me, sleep is at best a bland phenomenon; I have trouble getting to sleep and I have trouble staying asleep.  I don’t resist sleep knowingly, and I certainly don’t fear it in the sense that inspired the apocryphal Edgar Allen Poe quip, “Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them!”  Though Poe never wrote those words, as far as I know, he does seem to have been afraid of and resistant to sleep as a harbinger or precursor of death; he clearly feared premature burial (that dread features prominently in more than one of his stories).

This is not the nature of my problem.  I have no intellectual fear of death at all, though it’s hard to eliminate the purely biological drive to keep living.  I simply find sleep, if not actively unpleasant, somewhere between uninteresting and dreary.  The only time I’ve ever experienced real pleasure both at anticipating sleep and at experiencing it was when I was taking Paxil to treat depression.  That was certainly remarkable, but the medicine had more than enough detriment to counter that one benefit*, and it never did a very good job on my depression.

There’s little doubt that my chronic insomnia and my dysthymia/depression are related, and that the tendency for sleep to be thoroughly anhedonic to me is part and parcel of my dysthymia, though it long predates the latter problem.  I don’t remember any time in my life when sleep held real allure for me.  This tendency has been useful in many situations; I’ve never had trouble being an early riser, and when on call—either in hospital during residency, or from home later on in my practice—I never had much trouble quickly coming awake and being able to focus on whatever problem might need my attention.  And, of course, indifference to sleep was a very useful trait when my children were babies, allowing my then-wife to rest through the night far more often than many new mothers can.

Feeding and rocking my infant children in the silence of the night, now…that was a truly hedonic experience par excellence.

Nevertheless, like every organism with a nervous system, I do require sleep, though the nature of that need is far from fully understood by science.  When I go without enough of it, for long enough, it wears me out, and I know that it affects my cognitive functions, as well as my moods (though there’s a real chicken and egg problem involved in this latter issue).  So, I try—sometimes only halfheartedly, I’ll admit—to avoid succumbing to my insomnia.  But it can be hard just to lay in bed doing nothing and waiting to see if sleep arrives…or if it returns, as the case may be, when I awaken far too early in the morning.  I don’t tend to feel anxious or particularly stressed at such times, because again, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep, but I sometimes get angry at myself, knowing that I’m going to regret my sleeplessness later.

Oh well.  Whataya gonna do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:  keep chugging along, I suppose.  The editing of Unanimity continues to go well, despite a few computer issues; I’m still enjoying the story and the characters.  And, of course, my footnote reminded me that I have a substantially begun novella waiting in the wings, which I may even complete someday.  And, however much I tend to begin my blog posts with no clear idea where I’m going in any given week, it’s still a rewarding process.  If nothing else, I amuse myself, and that’s got to be worth something.

Hopefully, at least occasionally, some of you enjoy it, too.

TTFN


*When coming off it, I did have two experiences of sleep paralysis, which I’ve not experienced before or since, but which were astoundingly vivid and thoroughly terrifying.  The first centered on the comparatively benign illusion of a lion resting on my body and holding me in place, and the second—far worse—involved an indescribable, extradimensional monstrosity pinning me to my bed.  I’m somewhat proud to say that, on that second occasion, rather than try to scream or anything of the sort, I was able with great effort to force my head into motion—or to imagine that I did—and I bit the effing thing.  This woke me up fully at last.  I immediately recognized the well-described phenomenon for what it was, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling truly frightened for several long minutes afterward.  A version of that second experience has appeared in a current work in progress, the novella tentatively titled Safety Valve.  So, I guess I have used “dream” experiences to inspire my writing upon occasion.

This blog of darkness I acknowledge mine

Hello and good morning!  It’s yet another Thursday and, as will come as no surprise, it’s time for me to write my weekly blog post.

I must say that I’m deeply gratified by reader response to last week’s extemporaneous reflections on  how the ideal of perfection can often be the enemy of the good, analogous to falling into the mathematical trap of saying that, since every finite number is equally (and infinitely) far from infinity, there’s no point in trying to reach a greater number than where one is.

Something like that; I put it better last week.

The many “likes” received by last Thursday’s entry stand in stark contrast to my blog post from the previous week.  This is hardly surprising.  I was riding a downturn in my ongoing waveform of dysthymia and depression on the day in question, so I’m afraid it must have been grim reading.  There’s a semi-serious saying in the medical and mental health community that depression is contagious.  Though this is not literally true—one cannot become clinically depressed simply by contact with a sufferer unless one is predisposed—it is certainly the case that spending time with, or receiving communication from, a person with depression can make one feel seriously blue and gloomy.

Depression can be surprisingly convincing in the hands of one who knows it well, particularly if that person is someone whose strengths include the communication of ideas and emotions.  Most people, struggling mightily to hold onto as good an outlook as they can, tend not to rubberneck much at these sorts of mental roadside crashes, at least until they reach the level of true catastrophe.

This is a shame, though, because one of the worst parts of suffering from depression, at least from my point of view, is that it engenders a self-reinforcing cycle of alienation.  One hates oneself; one feels intellectually justified in this attitude; and one feels therefore quite clearly that others would be justified in sharing that hatred, if they were to get too close.  Indeed, one feels positively rude and uncomfortable, even guilty, about even the possibility of subjecting others to one’s presence in any way beyond the absolutely necessary.  Isolating oneself can become a matter of conscience, analogous to what one might do if one had a particularly deadly and highly contagious illness.  It feels natural to think that those who do want to spend time in one’s presence—this number tends to diminish with the passing years, ceteris paribus—are thoroughly misguided, and must be discouraged from their goal.

And of course, other people do tend to avert their eyes from depression and the depressed—even when those eyes otherwise seem irresistibly drawn to every roadside fender-bender and horrible news story.  At least, they avert them unless and until the problem reaches fully catastrophic levels, at which point it can be ignored no longer…and at which point, ironically, there is usually little that can be done.

Some artistic reflections of depression are more palatable than others, of course.  Songs are—in my experience—one of the most tolerable.  Indeed, many of the most beautiful songs are sad, a curious fact noted by minds as widely diverse as Elton John and J.R.R. Tolkien.  My own song, Breaking Me Down, of which I released my “rebuild” on  this site, on Iterations of Zero, and on YouTube last weekend, is about depression.  The fact that it was originally composed, almost in current form, thirty years ago, shows that depression is a gift that keeps on giving, and which can contribute to the spoilage and ruination of a promising life.  It’s not something to be taken lightly; it has a mortality rate as high as many cancers, and its morbidities are vaster and deeper and more insidious than we can readily enumerate.  When seriously contemplated, it is terrifying…not least because it often makes its sufferers literally envy the dead.

If I had the choice of submitting some evildoer to the horrors of the Inquisition or of enacting upon them a chronic, fairly severe depression, it’s hard for me to say which I think would be the worse crime against humanity.

And yet, Hamlet’s soliloquy, Kansas’s Dust in the Wind, Radiohead’s No Surprises, many of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems, among innumerable other works, can be enjoyed thoroughly, their beauty embraced, even by those who don’t know the experience of major depression.  Visual depictions seem more problematic, at least in my experience.  Maybe, being primarily visual creatures as we are, the imagery that effectively represents depression strikes just too close to the bone.  It can be technically remarkable and sometimes quite powerful…but it’s hard to call it beautiful.  And it’s hard to look at for very long.

Horror

I drew this picture around the same time that I wrote Breaking Me Down

Maybe words and music are abstract enough and have enough of an “eye of the beholder” effect that they soften the blow, letting people avoid the deep implications of the work by not paying too close attention.  Depressed non-fiction prose on the other hand, like visual artwork, can be too stark and on the nose to be taken in with any enthusiasm.

This is a shame because, as I said before, when someone is suffering from depression, they can feel very much condemned to solitary confinement…and to feel that such is where they belong, by nature and by guilt.  On those rare occasions when they’re able to express themselves—to cry for help, as is said, though the depressed often feel they deserve no assistance—the very nature of their suffering can make them existentially threatening to others’ moods and even their worldviews.  Again, one of the problems with depression, and a source of quips about its contagiousness, is that it can be so horribly convincing.

It’s easy enough to sympathize with those who don’t want to deal with the depressed too directly, or too often.  No one, I think, would willingly, with foreknowledge, choose to endure serious depression for long…not even if the alternative was death.

But we at least have the poetry and the songs, and I encourage you to enjoy them at whatever level you can.  At the very least, it’s wonderful occasionally to “suffer just enough to sing the blues.”  And, of course, it can also be good fun to enjoy a good horror story in a similar vein.  Hopefully, Unanimity will be such a story when it’s finally done.

Darkness can be beautiful, in its own way, as long as one knows that one can turn on the light at any time.  If one cannot, and if no one else can offer, or is offering, illumination, then even an otherwise enticing darkness can become a true horror.

TTFN

O true apothecary, thy blogs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

O true apothecary, thy blogs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

Just John

Hello again, good morning again, and welcome to next Thursday.  I promised last week that this week I would discuss the thoughts that popped into my head while listening to the second of the two songs I named last time, so without further ado, let’s jump right into Girl…so to speak.

The notion that this song relates to the experience of addiction is probably pretty obvious, and hopefully I won’t get too ham-fisted about it.  Also, I doubt that John Lennon was thinking about addiction when he wrote it, though he was to become personally all too familiar with the subject in later years.  The type of pining, obsessive love expressed in this song as very much a mixed blessing and curse, is frequent in music* and in poetry, and probably highlights a similar psychology—and even neurology—involved in the two subjects of addiction and “love”.

Of course, the opening lines of the song are nonspecific and literally introductory.  But the second couplet already has sinister undertones: “She’s the kind of girl you want so much, it makes you sorry; still, you don’t regret a single day.”  This is definitely an expression of mixed feelings; the first line frankly contradicts the second.  He wants her so much that it makes him sorry, but he doesn’t regret a single day?  How does that work?  Maybe he’s saying that, while he’s with her, he doesn’t regret it, but when he’s away he wants her so much that it distracts him and gets in his way—it interrupts his focus on other things?  We’ve probably all had something of this experience with a lover or a crush, and of course, some have this experience with other things entirely.  But I suspect that the process is similar in all of them, with the mind’s dopaminergic and serotoninergic, motivational/reward systems being keyed into a particular target, giving us the urge to seek it when we don’t have it, and an increasingly transient satisfaction when we achieve it.

Romantic, no?

Of course, the next verse becomes more sinister, with its solemn and mournful reflections:  “When I think of all the times I tried so hard to leave her…she will turn to me and start to cry.  And she promises the earth to me, and I believe her.  After all this time, I don’t know why.”

This certainly doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship, either with a person or with a substance, but it’s surely familiar to anyone who’s been in “that” kind of relationship, and to anyone who’s been addicted to anything.  You try to leave, but either literally or figuratively, that object of obsession cries out, if only in your head, and in its crying makes implicit or explicit promises that, if only you come back, you will be joyful, you will be complete, you will surely never be unhappy again.  And of course, this isn’t true.  Maybe just the very first time, a person can be excused—by others and themselves—for falling for the siren song, but after that, even they themselves, some part of them, must know that such promises are broken even in the act of succumbing to them.  But we do so want to believe those promises, don’t we?

Then, of course, we come to the song’s interlude, which is a little vaguer.  But if we’re pushing (and why not?), we can certainly say that an addiction does tend to “put you down when friends are there,” and there are surely many times when, if you can bear to look at yourself, “you feel a fool.”  The next line is perhaps straining the metaphor even further (and again, why not?), but almost all objects of obsessive affection, whether human or chemical or even purely behavioral**, surely do seem to “look good” from the outside to anyone who’s involved with them.  And, of course, they seem quite assured of their beauty, their coolness, their power, if you will.  From the outside.

And, of course, the song’s last verse more obliquely points out the contradictory notions that the pain inevitably caused by abusive/manipulative/codependent people or by the substance of addiction can seem almost as if it/they think that the pain is a favor in and of itself.  In any case, it’s all they really, finally have to offer…evanescent pleasure that’s inextricably tied up with (far more enduring) pain.  And, of course, there’s the hopeless final bit, the notion that by breaking his back—by suffering in any or all of countless ways—a person might somehow come through to the other side and achieve a “day of leisure.”

Maybe this should be likened to the treacherous notion that a person has to “hit rock bottom” before they can ever truly climb out of an addiction.  I say “treacherous” because, first, I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but thinking that it is might discourage some people from otherwise cutting their losses as early as they could, so to speak; and second, because for a large (and growing) number of people, hitting rock bottom (in addiction and even in love) means dying.  There’s no leisure after that, unless you count “resting in peace” as leisure, and I don’t think most people do, enticing though it can sometimes be.  Thus, the final line, “Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Anyway, again, I’m not saying that John had any comparison between love and addiction in mind when he wrote the song, but it’s pretty clear that he saw how powerful and dangerous even love itself can be, especially when the object of one’s affections is less than stable and kind.  And it’s just this kind of love that is both celebrated and lamented in so many popular songs and in poetry and in romantic stories throughout the ages.  Thankfully, it’s not the only kind of love.

It’s surely good to be “obsessed” with one’s beloved in a certain sense, to hold them as a centrally important part of one’s life, and to be devoted to them (assuming the feeling is mutual).  But, of course, if one gives one’s devotion to a person who doesn’t share or return it, and who might even hold one in contempt, then pain is likely to far outweigh any pleasure, at least when integrated over time.

Okay, enough sexy talk.

In other news, Unanimity is coming along, and I’m within distant sight of the end of my first rewrite of my half-a-million-word novel.  Cheese and crackers!  I’ve got a long way to go.  At least I’m finding the story enjoyable, especially as it gets nearer the end.  The earlier bits need a bit more tweaking than the later, but that’s the job, after all.

I still haven’t come to a final decision about consolidating my blogs.  I’m torn; I love the title “Iterations of Zero,” and I really like the image symbol I made for the site, but that may not be reason enough to keep it around.  It costs me at least a bit of money to maintain it in full function, and I’m certainly not making any money from it.  We’ll see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed, at least a little, my rather heavy-handed reaction/thoughts about Girl, and last week’s discursion on one line from People Are Strange.  Such explorations probably won’t happen too often, but for me, at least, it’s nice to have a change of pace.

I wish you all a Happy Solstice tomorrow, and in the northern hemisphere, a happy summer to follow.

TTFN


*For instance, You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me, which the Beatles covered.

**Such as gambling addiction, for instance.