In reverse chronological order,
- Change of seasons
- Happy children
- Donating blood
- Waist coats
- Medical imaging
- Tree canopies
- Climbing trees
- Tall trees
- Formatting dates YYYY-MM-DD
- Crunchy peanut butter
- The day after laundry day
- Sun showers
- Foreign language
- Efficient sleep
- Correct change
- Decent surf
- Lucid dreaming
- Tail wind
- Bare feet
- Being early
- Clean teeth
- Dress pants
- SMS poems
- Soft misty rain
- Double clutching
- Lady Gray tea
- and riding my new bike
- Rain water
- Fresh air
- Clean sheets
- Freshly shaven skin
- and Orang-utans
It has the power to blindside you even when you expect it. That initial shock which sucks all of the oxygen from the room and leaves you feeling weak in the knees. Things slow down as reality starts to fragment; your mind attempts to perform some impossible gymnastics to reconcile the facts. The news is simple; they have died, and yet you can’t make that fit. Instead you flip back-and-forth in disbelief. At times you find yourself cycling through absurd alternative realities; where you’d intervened, where this was a dream, where you can wind back the clock, where things were different. Sometimes you wish it, sometimes you believe it.
This is interspersed with moments of distress. Overwhelmed, there’s little more than pure anguish. Somewhere underneath you may be longing for them or angry at yourself or angry at the injustice of reality. For now this is all drowned out by misery. It will repeat.
Then, perhaps after a day or so things start to feel like they settle back to earth. And just when it feels like you’re regaining your balance it returns and knocks the wind out of you. The warmup is over. While before you felt overwhelmed now there is no rhyme or reason to what is taking place. It often stops as abruptly as it starts. You cry like you’re fitting – a spasm of violent sadness. Exhausted, your body stops and comes up for oxygen. In this scramble of thoughts nothing is coherent, your thrashing body a tiny expression of the anger. I’ve seen it written that “it’s only possible to grieve with 100% of one’s being” and after a bit you need a break. Soon enough there’ll be another bout. Tomorrow you’ll wonder why your ribs feel bruised.
Once your body is exhausted it will yield for a moment. Your mind is stagnant as the same thoughts continue their plague. Maybe you can distract yourself for a period, but you know it’ll return. Eventually these distractions improve in effectiveness. The thoughts recirculate but less regularly or dominantly. Then you wake during the early hours of the morning with them running through your head at full volume. It feels like it’ll be this way forever. It’s possible that those unanswerable questions will not be answered but eventually the intensity driving them will dim.
For now you just roll with the punches. This is how it gets better.
I wrote this a few weeks ago, but now seems as good as any to post it.
I think the film Melancholia does a good job showcasing mental illness from two opposing points of view. It is centred around a woman named Justine who has depression and is unable to achieve much in life. It seems that whenever she makes an effort it results in more sadness. In one of the more extreme examples we see her sit down to enjoy some of her favourite food with her family; she musters up some positivity but before she’s finished her first mouthful she collapses, sobbing that the food tastes like ashes. From her perspective there is little point in investing in anything because she’s only going to feel new misery.
There’s a growing sense of separation between her and the rest of the population who are busy enjoying life. At the best of times Justine is a chore to be around. As her state degenerates she is profoundly debilitated and her melancholia saps the joy out of the room. I feel like the way that she is ostracised for her misery is quite realistic; sympathy only stretches so far and when the tolerance wears out they wish that she would just pull herself together.
Then, half way through the film Earth faces an apocalyptic threat. It’s revealed that a previously undetected planet is set to collide with our planet in a number of days. All of the adults stop investing in life in any meaningful way. The looming annihilation drives everyone into a nihilistic frenzy. They make some futile attempts to desperately revive their happiness, but ultimately they know they’re destined to experience nothing more than an ashy aftertaste.
For me, this is a perfect picture of what it is like to live with depression. From a depressed standpoint the world looks miserable. The only thing keeping people here is their blissful hedonism and all of these efforts are temporary. We suffer and we cause suffering upon others for our short stint on Earth and when we’re done we are soon forgotten. Eventually the sun will cease to nurture the planet before the universe winds down into a perfect chaos of entropy. Whatever the case, our effect in the long term is ultimately futile.
This is the most coherent example of my depressed thinking that I can put to print. Most of it is not that coherent. Actually most of my depressed thinking is absurd. But the solidity of my thinking is of little importance, it still colours the world in greys and turns every flavour to ash. This is my experience with depression, of course everyone is different, YMMV.
On occasion when I’ve been in the midst of this some people have insinuated that I should pull myself together or make a fresh start. This is impractical. From my perspective there might as well be a planet about to collide with earth and this person is suggesting that I should lighten-the-fuck-up and enjoy a glass of wine. Regardless of how I present, there is no enjoyment at times like these. Negative emotions echo every effort. I feel my experiences are limited to a lonely sense of gloom and doom with the occasional suicidal impulse.
I started writing about this because I’d been reading about the recent suicide of Aaron Swartz. I spent a few weeks trying to distil some thoughts regarding his death. I’ve read a lot of opinions, but at best I think we can only have a good guess regarding what happened and his state of mind.
The only conclusions that I can draw are that we need to keep pushing for more effective and easier to access psychiatric services, and we need to look out for those around us. Those at risk need to be nurtured. In a perfect world this would be unconditional. They would never be turned away or assaulted by the justice system as was the case with Aaron.
Instead we’re left with another tragic loss.
Following the publication of beady eyes a valued reader emailed in, complaining that The Soothing Call was not very soothing. Specifically this reader noted that there was a continued focus on death, suicide and dying. Furthermore apparently quoting Radiohead and David Foster Wallace can promote tiresome feelings of depression. In part, we responded; ‘if at any stage during your digestion of The Soothing Call you feel depressed or uneasy our staff would like to remind you of our on-going list of favourite things.’
The response to this suggestion was yet another(!) complaint that the list was too hard to navigate because it’s scattered over several posts and none of the posts are tagged (there’s no pleasing some people). We do not currently have the human resources that would be required to tag all of the posts and generally we find that the less time that we spend playing with WordPress the happier our lives are. However, on reflection, an amalgamation of the list is a great idea. Thank you as always for the critical feedback.
So, in reverse chronological order,
Formatting dates YYYY-MM-DD
crunchy peanut butter
the day after laundry day
soft misty rain
Lady Gray tea
and riding my new bike
freshly shaven skin
(disclosure: I’m an Aussie who only takes an intermittent and fleeting interest in US politics).
I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.”
- Barack Obama, January 28, 2011
I’ve watched the footage of police spraying the student protestors at the University of California, Davis, several times – Andy Baio has put together a nice compilation here.
The peaceful protest carried out by these students is uplifting. The response by the police is tyrannical. There have been dozens of other reports of police assaulting people during these protests. I have a few concerns:
It is also abundantly clear that the system is rigged to look after the rich. The police aren’t protecting the people; the people are still being exploited by the “1%” (who control the police and the politics).
The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”
― Frank Zappa
Last year we saw Bradley Manning arrested and tortured by his government. We’ve also seen the powers-that-be do what they can to destroy wikileaks, Julian Assange and finally Charlie Veitch. They’re a bunch of bullies.
It will be interesting to see what happens. I wonder how the police would behave if these people where exercising their second amendment rights (not that I support that idea, but it does always strike me as bizarre that for a society which largely values peace, we instil it with the barrel of a gun). Speaking of which, I thought this post on veterans today was also worthwhile.
We’re here for such a short time. To operate day-to-day I try to push this fact aside and pretend that it’ll be ok. I will escape. Or at the very least my end will be peaceful. I’ll be ready.
The daunting truth is that we have no idea when our time will come. Will we be ready? What will we leave unfinished and who will we leave behind? Death is the end of all the conversations and meals and hugs that you will ever share. It creates an unfulfilled future without the opportunity to cherish another moment.
As i reflect on this I can’t drop the mental image of an animal in its final moments of struggle. As Radiohead illustrate:
Cracked eggs / dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death / can see its beady eyes
All these things into position
All these things we’ll one day swallow whole
One day I will be the creature staring into death’s beady eyes and choking as I struggle to swallow the truth of the situation. Once it is too late I’ll come to recognise that time is up. I will share the confusion and anguish of that premature bird.
The other “natural” possibility is the fate of my Great-grandmother. After 99 years her life concluded in a nursing home; senile and waiting for Jesus to come and take her. Her last few years didn’t appear to be particularly dignified or happy. Come to think of it, in many ways it was the same fate, only drawn-out.
Perhaps this is one reason why parts of my brain continue to advocate the third option.
I’ll end this piece with a quote from David Foster Wallace:
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flame yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
crunchy peanut butter
the day after laundry day
Yesterday I was watching this. Towards the end the interviewer asks what the meaning of life is. I’d just been mulling over my previous post and felt that I should be able to answer that, but not everybody wants the 2000 word version. In a nutshell…
From the big-bang to the potential heat death, our consciousness is a marvellous aberration in a universe that is typically occupied with nothingness. We should embrace this brief interlude from the void. To the best of our ability we should attempt to appreciate this world and the opportunities around us. We should do our part to preserve life so that the adventure may continue.
So, the other day I was thinking about ‘Mother and Child, Divided’, a piece by Damien Hirst (pictured below). I was thinking how unacceptable it is to take away two lives – to kill two sentient creatures to create some art. I see this piece mainly as a form of entertainment; people enjoy being provoked by it, or there’s some idle curiosity which is being fulfilled, or perhaps it’s trying to communicate a clever idea that I’ve missed. Whatever the case, I question whether any animals needed to be harmed. To me, the suffering and loss caused by this killing is contemptible especially if the motivation is merely some derivation of entertainment. In my mind it’s slightly better than dog/cock/bull fighting only because I assume that these cows were killed “humanely”.
But this got me thinking – if there’s no nutritional requirement for people to eat animals then most people frequently indulge in similar behaviour. The enjoyment of eating meat is just another way to entertain your senses. I think it’s such a poor justification and I feel the same contempt.
Now I’m not sure what to think regarding ‘Mother and Child, Divided’ – if I wasn’t aware of the piece I’d feel less steadfast to this vegetarian thinking. It tastes a little like hypocrisy.
Each year we remember the troops who died serving our country. In the early hours of the morning people gather together and listen to platitudes and prayers. They quote John 15:13 (Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends) – and talk about how these men made the ultimate sacrifice for us. Perhaps though it’s a little disingenuous to say that these men laid down their lives – they went to war intending to murder, not die. It proved to be a foolish decision, they put themselves and others in great danger. These men acted recklessly. Like drink driving or russian roulette, going to war is a really really bad idea.
Our troops arrived in a foreign land with weapons in hand. They offered their opponents an ultimatum: surrender or be killed. Trying to murder another human or brandishing such barbaric coercion is sickening, and it comes at no surprise that someone was going to get hurt. We were far from innocent victims – we voluntarily brought suffering and death upon ourselves and our enemies. We took up this deadly tango.
Even if you support these war efforts, and perhaps they are the lesser of two evils, the tragedies that we focus on during ANZAC day are still events we should regret. These men didn’t do something great, the landing at Gallipoli only demonstrated their self-destructive ability to follow stupid orders. The result was mindless, senseless, pointless carnage.
I find no pride in this behaviour. It’s not something to respect, it’s something to strongly oppose. The men who landed on the beaches don’t deserve to be honoured. Even if their intentions were nobel their actions were preposterously stupid. I understand the military isn’t a democracy – but what is honourable about a soldier who follows orders unquestionably? They are just as dignified as the droids they oppose. I prefer to honour people who think and avoid killing things.
And most of these “men” were young – 20, or 18 or younger still. It’s much easier to get a bunch of boys with their perceived invulnerability to take senseless risks. This is what I think we should really be reflecting on today. Our elected officials – middle-aged men who should know better – are willing to send our youth off to be slaughtered.
They talk at the war memorials about how we need to remember the past to prevent the same atrocities from repeating. If that’s the case, don’t honour the fools involved, honour the brave conscientious objectors who thought for themselves and refused to participate.
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.” - Gandhi
I think this simple act of civil disobedience is less esoteric than many perceive. But it would be far from easy. First, if conscripted you would need to realise you still have a choice, you don’t have to kill just because someone orders you to. Act like an adult, hold yourself accountable for your actions and refuse to support acts of violence. Segregate yourself from the war efforts, protest respectfully and serve your gaol time.
“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.” – Gandhi
As regrettably as they talk about the atrocities of war, ANZAC day is distinctly pro-war. If only we had more heros like Gandhi who showed it was possible to overthrow an oppressive regime with non-violence.