Friday, July 31, 2015

Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface.

I just finished Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning. I'd seen the book on a few mental-illness themed book lists, I read it in under a week, it's a pretty quick read. It's a memoir written by a woman who by day is a psychologist. A woman in her 30's who slowly becomes increasingly depressed, as expressed in her journal. There are a ton of quotes that I highlighted, so I'm going to write them here, and respond to them.

She talks about the initial conversations she had with friends, and how their attempts at encouragement often alienated her even more.
I love them for caring, but I want to run from it. I have lost their language, their facility with words that convey feelings.
I know language, and the ability to really express what I'm feeling, and what how it feels is something I've struggled with. I kept reading, and I became fascinated by language and learning as much as I could vocabulary wise in order to be able to represent my struggle successfully. But when I'm down, when the depression sinks in, that part of me shuts off.
Some struggles are so solitary that they drown in words.
I often try and use the term guttural. It becomes so deeply basic, so harshly, brutally, pre-human. How do you represent it? Manning references physical pain, and a swollen ankle as something that almost relieved those around her:
It is a preference relief to have a "real," visible hurt. A hurt that people can recognize and understand. They wince in sympathy and know just what to do and what not to do. People can deal with this kind of pain. It all makes sense.
I can relate tot his, tremendously. Sometimes I fantasize about physically hurting myself, in order to have a physical, exterior focus to my pain. I remember as a teenager often pushing things too far when it came to pain toleration to the point where it would disturb my friends. But for me, it came with a kind of satisfaction. I relished it.

Manning also describes her relationship to suicidal ideation that sounds very similar to mine:
I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of death. In some moment of emptiness or pain, an image of dying comes to me: a car accident, a heart attack, a vicious and quick-killing disease. In the psychiatric vernacular these are called "passive thoughts of death." But in my mind these thoughts are quite active. Rather than feeling the revulsion and fear that would have resulted from thinking about these things several months ago, now I find them strangely comforting.

I would never kill myself intentionally. I couldn't do that to my family, my friends... But to have fate step in and give me a shove, that's a different matter. Then I have the exit, without the guilt. I am ashamed of myself for thinking like this. But more than anything, I am frightened that it makes me feel so much better to think about it. Somehow it eases the terror, the sense and I am condemned eternally to this hell.
And she describes how an understanding of suicide isn't necessarily hate and anger based`:
I don't want to die because I hate myself. I want to die because, on some level, I love myself enough to have compassion for this suffering and to want to see it end. Like the spy with the cyanide capsule tucked in a secret pocket, I comfort myself with the thought that is this ordeal gets beyond bearing, there is a release from it all.
This is the quote that initially had me googling her name:
Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like caner, it is essentially a solidarity experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door. I realize that every person, at some point, takes up residence in one or another of these rooms. But that realization offers no great comfort now.
Once you start understanding your depression, coming to terms with it remains a struggle. Sometimes, I feel as if my depression is all that I am.
I think about the difference between having something and being something. They are only words, but I'm stuck by how much they convey about the manner in which the short-hand of mental illness reduces the essence of people in ways that labels for other serious illness do not.
How much of this disease is me? How much of it is my character? Are there any redeeming qualities to the disease?
All the romantic nonsense about depression somehow making one into a creature of unique sensibilities is easy to agree with when I feel good. Then I'm sharper, superior for having weathered something terribly difficult, or just plain pleased at having narrowly gotten away with something once again--like the snow day after the night's homework I didn't do. All of it stands up to the light, but it's bullshit in the shadows. I don't care about unique sensibilities. All I care about is surviving. My goal in life is just to get through the days.
Interesting comment on religion and existential dread:
She tells me that in AA they say that religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.
A truth for me:
... my baseline for awful will never be the same.
The value of quiet. Something I was just talking to Ranjana about. How it isn't necessarily only a coping mechanism, but something that I enjoy.
I find myself growing quieter over time. But I'm so unused to it that I still equal it with being overwhelmed or depressed--a default in the continual cycle of inundation and backing off. And yet the quiet is part of who I am. Not just a result of the circuits blowing and the computer shutting down. It has merit all by itself.
The book definitely has interesting passages that spoke to me. Last weekend while staying with my brother, a friend of my sister-in-law's came over. She was discussing the state of her 20 year-old-son, who doctor's say was pushed into some type of psychosis due to extreme drug use. She said after hospitalization and electro-shock therapy, he is now back at home.

What I knew as electro-shock therapy is now referred to as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT. This was a shock to me, since I didn't know this was still in use. I thought it was out-dated and barbaric, since it's often the way it's represented in books and film that discuss mental-illness-related hospitalization. I've never seen One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but I know the seminal electro-shock scene well. Funnily enough, I just saw an article about how much damage was done to the reputation of ECT because of it.

Manning's book also goes into detail about ECT. She was hospitalized (willingly) and underwent five treatments. It seems to be the turning point of her depression. This affected me in a way I didn't expect. It's almost as if it opened a window. Maybe if things continue to be bad, it's an option for me.

It comes with risks. Memory loss. Confusion. But potentially also relief. It has a success rate of about 50%. And it is not a cure, but a treatment.

Historically it also seems to have been a treatment for "hysteria," if you're at all well-versed in feminist literature, you know that hysteria was a catch-all when treating women medically for hundreds of years, and was often used to silence and discredit women, and often hospitalize them against their will.

I'm going to ask my doctor about it when I see him next. It might be a viable option if things get worse.

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