“There was a sadness and a terrible loneliness as I contemplated what was lost.” (Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon)

I felt helpless and terribly upset at myself in April 2016 when I fell down and had bandages on my legs for two weeks, and also after I made the decision to not continue with my career plans in December 2016. This week, March 2017- I spent three out of five days having this low-grade anxiety over something or nothing. Something being job interviews and careers, and nothing being just…nothing. I have nothing to be anxious about and yet I can’t function properly. Maybe I should stop reading The Noonday Demon, but it is such an interesting book, it is about the life of Andrew Solomon who has chronic and rather severe depression.

 

(when it first started, his first breakdown)

I told him not to feed me, that I wasn’t five, but when I was defeated by the difficulty of getting a piece of lamb chop onto my fork, he would do it for me. All the while, he would remember feeding me when I was a tiny child, and he would make me promise, jesting, to cut up his lamb chops when he was old and had lost his teeth.

(when it happened again)

Out of the terror, I heard my voice holding on tight to irony when friends called. “I’m sorry, I’ll have to cancel Tuesday,” I said. “I’m afraid of lamb chops again.” The symptoms came fast and ominously. In about a month, I lost a fifth of my body weight, some thirty-five pounds.

(when he was pondering death)

I could not bring myself to believe in any love enough to imagine that the loss of me would be noticed, but I knew how sad it would be for him to have worked so hard at saving me and not to have succeeded. And I kept thinking about cutting up lamb chops for him someday, and I knew I had promised to do that, and I had always taken pride in breaking no promises, and my father had never broken a promise to me, and that, finally, was what led me downstairs.

I chose these excerpts because it is so simple, and yet it contains all the turbulent emotions that people rarely express well. Lamb chops, who can possibly be afraid of lamb chops? What can cause a grown man, well-recognized author and contributor to the New York Times to regress to being as helpless as a five-year-old child? Diabetes and cancer are obvious conditions, and major depression is unseen yet no less debilitating. It is completely possible, and yet hard to imagine, from the viewpoint of someone who has never felt that way.

It is difficult to read books as descriptive as this and not feel that old strangling sense of fear coming back- my system is broken, I need to take things slowly, and just take it day by day. And another part of me goes “no, you are FINE, do not use it as an excuse.” I sit in between the two moods- trying to discipline myself into doing some work and realizing that I cannot. People without anxiety will not understand how incapacitating it is, especially when I have been described as “you always seem so calm”, “I can tell that you are an achiever”, “why are you so productive”. It is not despite what I have, but it is just me trying to work with it. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that sometimes I live in fear of everything disappearing again.

The perception and kind intentions of other people can be a burden. Because it is neither a false front nor the true me, it is just who I am occasionally, if I am allowed to be that way. Externally nothing has changed- I will still deliver a presentation tomorrow, and then finish a project. I will still have that glass wall between me and my classmates. Work is due tomorrow, I have to meet friends tomorrow evening and have coffee again with two people on Saturday evening, and then on Sunday I have to get shit done that I have been delaying for two days because I did not feel capable.

The sense of having escaped yet another miserable day, the idea of being “allowed to be that way” might seem ridiculous, but, understand that anxiety comes from a place that isn’t controllable or understood by the self easily. There is my self-control fighting against the ebbing and swirling of the tide. There is so much “doing” and “life” going on that it is unthinkable that I might once again enter the phase where I only eat vegetable stalks and not leaves, and crying tantrums over nothing were frequent. At what? Absolutely nothing. Hormones, disrupted.

Yesterday a new friend (I think about 10 weeks now) texted me and said that he was making a list of what he was grateful for, and I was on that list, because I am an insightful person. I wanted to tell him that wisdom comes from experience, and experience is often a lack of wisdom. Being able to empathize and have self-control comes from a period where I had no feelings and no self-control, only after understanding what was lost did I understand what I had gained. It reminds of a book that I’m reading in tandem, by 刘同。Title is <<谁的青春不迷茫>>。

任何发生过的都是财富,就是看你是否在意了。

蜕去的是恐惧,是对生活和平的接纳,我们总是说时间是最好的见证者,它知道我们最终会变成谁,最终的归宿在哪里。其实现在看来,时间确实能改变我们,但文字才能记住一切。

I can only do my best, and take it day by day. “Those were my last feelings for a long time.”

因为你干的每一件事情都拼了命,不要脸,尽了心,好不好就不重要。没有人会无故获得常识,也没有人会无故失去一切。重要的是,你尽力了,尽力而为,则万事无憾。

One thing about being on medication, for any sort of mental or physical illness. Perhaps it is my previous experiences that makes me so against taking anti-histamines for my food allergies (now cured, after a year of constant pain on TCM). “And it is toxic to know that without these perpetual interventions you are not yourself as you have understood yourself.

It is something that I don’t quite know how to explain. Everyone has this secure sense of self- their hobbies, their friends, their personality, what they are capable of and interested in. When you have to constantly rely on an external source of help- pills and therapy- to try and find your way back to who you once were, there is this fear: Can you find your way back? Or is it just a temporary fix, it is not the real thing, like space satellites being one degree out of orbit?

But you are never the same once you have acquired the knowledge that there is no self that will not crumble. We are told to learn self-reliance, but it’s tricky if you have no self on which to rely.” It seems ok, but you know it isn’t, and no one can understand that exact shade of unhappiness.

And on losing friends:

She never really spoke to me again. I would describe her as someone who cherished normality, and I had become much too peculiar. You make what by the standards of the world are unreasonable demands on them, and often they don’t have the resilience or the flexibility or the knowledge or the inclination to cope.

You communicate what you can and hope. Slowly, I’ve learned to take people for who they are.

But I also really enjoyed this paragraph:

“Welcome this pain,” Ovid once wrote, “for you will learn from it.” It is possible (though for the time being unlikely) that, through chemical manipulation, we might locate, control, and eliminate the brain’s circuitry of suffering. I hope we will never do it. To take it away would be to flatten out experience, to impinge on a complexity more valuable than any of its component parts are agonizing. If I could see the world in nine dimensions, I’d pay a high price to do it. I would live forever in the haze of sorrow rather than give up the capacity for pain. But pain is not acute depression; one loves and is loved in great pain, and one is alive in the experience of it. It is the walking-death quality of depression that I have tried to eliminate from my life; it is as artillery against that extinction that this book is written.

And the last sentence before I stopped reading and turned in for the night.

I think those experiences accurately reflected the difficulty of this writing and a certain petrifying uncertainty about the rest of my life, but I do not feel free; I am not free.