Saturday, November 11, 2006


Less therapy today. One of the therapists is off sick, and the other has yet to arrive. This can be good – I don’t know if I mentioned before the fact that sitting in an armchair talking about yourself is oddly exhausting.

There is a Greek word for that thing that boxers do, I think the word is skiamachia -
shadow boxing. That's what the therapy is. And I've been keeping my hands up and my chin low and trying to be light on my feet, but me and the shadow, we're both heavy hitters.

Anyway, so far today it’s been me and the medications.

There is a sign, by the way, on one of the big rooms here most mornings, saying “Do not enter – therapeutic session in progress”. The sign suggests Bach flower remedies and a woman in a sarong gently massaging your temples, but what is on the other side is actually ECT. That’s electro-convulsive therapy, the old school shock treatment, kick-starting your brain.

By the way, if I am ever in a position where the three choices are stay really sick for a long time, go on massive doses of psych medications for a long time, or have ECT, it’s the ECT every time. As far as I know it’s the least horrible solution to a horrible problem.

Anyway. I was reading that Anatomy of Melancholy – and it’s a remarkable book, a truly unique book written by a bipolar man of almost supernatural erudition in the sixteenth century – one thing that he says is dies dolorem minuit: “the day diminishes sorrow”.

Time goes on, you forget. Oblivion, he says, is a common medicine for all losses, injuries, griefs and detriments.

I have seen this myself, both in myself and in others. We forget even when we try to remember. We overwrite what was written in our own hand, we learn, over time, to endure losses that at first seem unbearably painful, things too heavy to bear become bearable.

When I was fourteen my best friend fell from a moving truck and was killed, driven by his frantic father to a hospital but dead on arrival. Three hours after midnight.

In the first few months after he died I thought and spoke and even dreamed about him, what he had said, what he would have done. I remember sitting in science class and being asked to pick partners for an experiment and turning to where he would have sat, and him not being there.

Now weeks go past without me thinking of him. The truth (and I think it’s both horrible and merciful) is we heal, we rebuild, we are built to go on.

There are exceptions, of course. What I reckon happens is we take the event, the loss, and like everything else we experience, we turn it into part of a story that we tell ourselves. Like an oyster forming a pearl from a wound – the initial irritation is transformed.

I think that as far as our minds are concerned, a fact in isolation is useless, worse than useless, like a free radical or a loose cannon on a ship. A story, on the other hand, is powerful, can explain or justify, or teach.

Nocumentum documentum, Burton tells us. Hurting is teaching.

Having said that, sometimes the story we come up with is powerful, but harmful. Sometimes the story heals us and sometimes it seals up the hurt so it is still there, and sometimes it makes the hurt worse.

I don’t know the vocabulary here, I don’t know if I’m getting across what I want to get across. I think the olanzapine is effecting my ability to find the right words.

I remember seeing a woman when I was in the community psych team, a hundred kays from the city, up near the river. She was a farmer’s wife, twenty three or twenty four. She was one of those agrarian looking women, square-built and strong, dusting of freckles, blonde hair and blue eyes, looked like Proserpine. She had married her childhood sweetheart three years ago, and three months later his tractor had rolled over and he had been killed.

Three years. Her friends and family had become concerned and called us out, and I sat in the small atrium of the hospital and spoke with her. She had all the signs – poor sleep, poor appetite, ongoing morbid thoughts – and by my “first year out of med school” standards she was grieving.

But the thing that had caused her relatives to call me out, and the thing I was powerless against, the thing that made me recommend an admission and a senior consultant referral was that she was not getting better. If anything she was worse now than a year ago. Whatever some part of her mind was doing with the fact that he was gone was not making her better. It had more the appearance of something that was making her worse, pushing her closer to death, so that the tractor rollover in the wheat-field, December three years ago, was going to kill someone who had been five kilometers away when it happened.

Anyway. Close to midnight. The olanzapine is doubtless wearing off, I have to go off and get my top-up. Have I mentioned lately how I hate the stuff? My brain feels like it is running on a mix of herbicide and seven dollar rum, I have to stop in the middle of sentences because I have forgotten what I was trying to say or what words I was going to use to say it, and my body shape is going from spherical to superellipsoid.

The guy who invented the super-ellipsoid, by the way, wrote an excellent essay on the subject that begins with the line

"Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over."

Can't beat that.

Hear me moan, as they say. But when I get out of here I’m going to write to the people who sell the competitors to olanzapine and offer them free advertising space on my page. “Olanzapine – rated crappiest anti-psychotic by one out of one mental patients”.

Anyway, thanks for listening,



Blogger Niamh Sage said...

It's weird. Sometimes I come here, and you have written just exactly the thing I needed to hear. This is one of those times, so thank you *hogs*

As for superellipses, I was amused to see that the other name is "Lamé Curve", which sparks mental images of buxom women in glittering evening dress.

Hope you are doing all right *more hogs*


ps word verification today is "wangx", and I am feeling bitter that I have such a great one and no where to use it.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Juanita J. Sanchez said...

So many things you said today ring true for me, also. You put it so well, better than I could hope to do. Anyway, I agree with you about ECT, it isn't the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next" scenario at all. Too bad more people don't realize that.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Sorry JJS but I just cannot cope with the idea that, no matter how burdensome, some part of my memory, my brain, me would be taken away forever... to me it seems to be some sort of gestaltic rape. I admit my fear of ECT is irrational but it just freaks me out.


9:55 PM  

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