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Depression: to have or to be?

July 9, 2017

If I was depressed I probably wouldn’t be writing this, right? Yet there are still small moments in my life when I feel nothing, or rather, when I might wish to feel nothing instead of what I am feeling. I was once told not simply that I was depressed, but that “what I see is three generations of depression” and later “you and all your friends are depressed.” If I am being honest, I don’t think this observer was very objective – though they are better qualified than me to speak about depression. Their own needs created a special perspective: yes they may project onto others some of their own (felt or blocked) emotion and experience, but also they are so finely attuned to depression that a cycle of emotion that is normal and healthy in relation to real circumstances may still appear as depression.

But before I declare that I have hereby logically demonstrated that I am not depressed, we can turn this on its head in two ways. Firstly we can ask where real circumstances end and our emotional embodied response to them begins. We can ask whether it is possible or even healthy to be un-depressed in a depressing world; we can ask whether depression is a successful strategy for protecting us from certain horrors, temporarily? We can ask, if this were so, does it follow that for some individuals, there is literally no way out, because the cost of traversing the gap from the safety of depressive self protection to something more like a fluid interaction of the full range of emotions, in real time, in live response to live events, is too great.

I often think back to my twenties as a time when I did not know that I had no emotional understanding of myself, and not even the idea (until about 26) that emotions were a thing that I wasn’t doing. That more or less had to be explained to me by a professional. Was I depressed in my twenties? What about before then? I think back to my thirties as a time when I generated a profusion of emotion and spread it thickly over everyone who managed to tolerate me. This crossing of the death strip from silence to freedom required me to endure almost constant, sometimes overwhelming feelings of being pathetic or unattractive, of being weak, vulnerable and a drain on others. The reinforcements they provided, so that I could continue, led to feelings of being selfish, self obsessed and taking advantage of them. I can hardly recommend this experience. But now in my forties, I am beginning to understand that I can be emotional without showing it all here and now, and that that does not mean I am or will become depressed, or, my ultimate fear, that I will go back into denial or hiding, leading to one day where I suddenly have to feel a huge backlog of emotion in one go and will surely break.

In this process I have seen that emotion never goes away until you feel it. Some of us choose to carry it around for a long, long time rather than feel it. That weight suffocates us and I would call that depression. Nevertheless, when an experience overwhelms us and we are not able or free to respond to it gracefully, we are each entitled to choose how much emotional pain we release at any given time, and clearly there are no escapist drugs to compete with our efficiency at anaesthetising emotion by trapping it in the body, using all these mind tools we have evolved to enable us to just keep going in spite of terrible traumas. Then again, escapist drugs are a very popular choice when that shit inevitably starts to leak out by itself. And maybe when it never does is precisely when the universal mental health problem of a fucked up culture becomes the individual mental health problem of uniquely reconfigured psychological coping strategies that no fucker can get a grip on, not even the self, or especially not the self.

Which reminds me of the second way I must turn on its head my observation that my observer was not very objective in defining me and all my friends and family as depressed. The family comment did lead me to seek help. I had had therapy for a couple of years before that comment was made, after other shorter stints, and I had decided to approach an integrated healer who believes you can communicate with the unconscious and combine this with body work to encourage the release of trapped emotion (or if you prefer, to encourage the relaxation of muscles and tissues that have seized up at the time of a traumatic event). Setting up the first session, I told him about the ‘three generations’ comment, and so we worked first on depression. I don’t get it any more. Whenever I think that what I am approaching is depression, my train gets steered down another track, sometimes leaving me wondering why I can’t just have my anaesthetic when I want it like everyone else. When I feel as if I am depressed, I notice it is just the normal flow of emotion, not a layer of numbness underlying or overlaying everything. I think my observer friend could see that I have the layers of sedimented misery and bullshit that comes with growing up in a segregated community with an indoors culture.

To go back to my thick spreading of emotion… maybe some people liked it. Maybe it gives us permission to feel ourselves, or if that’s not a problem, to express our messy selves, when others get messy. I am glad to hear this said more and more often, and have close mutual friends who have told each other this: When you allow us to see that you are depressed, we love you exactly the same way as when you are cheerful. It feels different to you but not to us. Of course, we want to see you happy and fulfilled, not depressed and anxious. But we do not want to see your cheerful mask because then we are not seeing our friend at all. (Some people manage to see only the cheerful mask of their friend, even when the friend is not actually wearing it, because they can only deal with their own need to share. They’re so annoying.)

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Poem for people

June 5, 2017

people

People

you know I like you a lot
sometimes I miss you when you are not there
sometimes you are not there for far too long
and I weep, although I have no idea why
it’s starting to seem more obvious

I was told I had a weakness
a fear of being alone
I found this to be true
it suddenly seemed less true
when I told it to you

do you feel so normal being alone
that the very idea of loneliness
is empty and meaningless
do you look down on those who succumb
to such experiential trivia
or are you so well adapted to being alone
that you have no idea what else there might be
in that 100% you space

what I want to think
what I dare to suspect
is none of the above
I suspect you of not being lonely

I suspect I find this impossible to imagine
I am suspicious that you have found something
I have been looking for

I suddenly wonder whether it is an either or condition
but it involves being connected to the universe
all by oneself

maybe you did this because you were
forced to
and maybe we all need to do it
before we start making sense
can a wrong and a right be the same thing?
I have wanted it for so long
or maybe it is synchronous with
isolation

only at just the point when you were plunged into
neglect
did I begin to be spoken to
out of free will that is
not by people paid to do so
my loneliness is embedded
in my sense of normality
and I still don’t know whether it is fine

yours was imposed on you
you went from one lifetime of noise
to another
seen and not heard?

people
you know I like you a lot
sometimes I miss you when you are not there

I was told I had a weakness
but really
I am just a common or garden victim
of the rise of individualism
where a family of two
comes to seem pretty big company
compared to big families who fuck each other up
of which there seem to be rather a lot
I can’t leave the house without tripping over them

anything that can possibly be managed alone
is sooner or later annexed
and accounted

if you can’t do every single thing well for yourself
confess your dysfunction now
and you can chant your absolution
I must love myself
I must support myself
I must take care of myself
I must know myself
I must be strong for myself so that I can be strong for others

I was told I had a weakness
for people
so sue me

Poem for today

May 16, 2017

HowWeWorkThis morning I didn’t feel like I had shown up, so I wrote this.

 

Set out to show up with intentions for yourself
Show up for yourself
Don’t pave the way to hell
Set intentions you can fulfil
Wonder aimlessly why you do not

Set out to show up for yourself
Show up

Get a handle on your priorities
Make a to do list
Improve your time management
Put time management and priority setting
on your to do list
Do things

Get a handle on your motivations
Plan your rewards
Don’t reward yourself if you don’t
intend to do your to dos
Celebrate your successes
Don’t call yourself a failure

Aim to be motivated
Intend to be prioritised and time managed
Show up with a to do list
Focus on your intentions and successes
Set aims and objectives you can believe in
Pull your weight

Fake it till you make it
Focus on the goal
Motivate yourself
Plan your successes
Reward your priorities
Intend to do lists

Object to time wasting and loss of productivity
Set out to show up for yourself
If you fail to intend
Be motivated by the stack of paving
you didn’t lay
to Hell
Show up

This one post

May 12, 2017

With this one blog post I want to mark the end of dithering about what and when to write. This kind of dithering is not a harmless kind, characteristic of a kindly parent who wants to get the balance right between libertarian and Victorian parenting, or a hurried pedestrian cautious not to get run over. This kind of dithering is the kind that lays waste to lives.

As if I hadn’t heard it enough times in enough ways already, that one must seize the day, that one cannot expect to write if one does not write, I have had an onslaught of pushes this year. I was shown a book by Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art, which is so good I had to slow down the reading of it to make it last. Every page of it is worth typing out in full for you here which isn’t a particularly sensible use of the blog. Pressfield says Resistance is king and we are the subversives, he says that we can and will never defeat it, so to think that we are wise to wait until we have done so before we embark on the activities that lead us to our goals is only the contorted success of Resistance.

Last night I was fortunate enough to see Kate Tempest with Orchestrate at the Brighton Dome, because a friend was clever enough to know when the tickets went on sale and to get them. Although a friend encouraged me to see her when she played at the Cowley club, I only finally did last year at the All Saints Church in Hove. That venue made the performance more fully what is: divine. Last night was equal in power, fury, love and the divine. She is not only a poet, composer and artist but an impassioned human soul firing on all cylinders. Inspiring is the word, but naturally no one word will do Tempest justice.

In the past three weeks I have become keen to write, determined to write; I have planned to write, I have seen the blessings in the circumstances preventing me, and I have resolved again to write. Interweaving with this process I have known what to write, wavered, forgotten, remembered and doubted. I have started knowing something else to write, hesitated, diminished and given up. I have not given up being determined to write on the day I had planned (today), but I have given up wanting to know what to write. Hence this post.

Tempest doesn’t inspire me to write, she supercharges my mind so I can see without doubt that it will continue to become ever harder to forget to see the world as a whole, to allow the consciousness of the ultimate bad to permeate all efforts to do and feel good as well as the moments where this level of life is effortless. She is alive and she wants to prevent forgetting.

Right this moment I couldn’t tell you why I want to write or what I want to write, and that kind of makes me want to cry; but only because it is without doubt a symptom not just of my own style of resistance and prevarication, but of the conditions which prevent me from having the right conditions to have done more, sooner, or to have felt more often that I am always already doing, and that at the same time I have done enough. I can be kind to myself, and I can celebrate my achievements. I also know that if I were not careful I might use these emotionally essential directives to become lazy and self-satisfied.

All our little memes are good for only one thing: whatever that is. To the arsehole we say: start being nice. To the doormat we say: start being mean. Be kind to yourself, be a hard master to yourself. Celebrate your achievements, never think you are done.

With this one post I am desperately conjuring a shift in my relationship to this little window. So far it has been no more than a page, a game, a room where I dance like no-one can see me, and then panic when I realise someone taped it. But I tricked myself into taping it. I can load it onto YouTube or Soundcloud and still I can be anonymous and secret. My 3 followers (you still rock) probably don’t live within a thousand miles of me.

With this one post I invite myself to stop being afraid that what I do write, when I have remembered what it is that I have to say, will lead to my alienation and ostracism, to my success or to my failure. It doesn’t matter. None of these things really matters.

Tempest showed us last night what I already learnt from Adorno: you have to know the worst. If he saw her with the orchestra I reckon he would cry twice. First because the orchestra is pared down and modern looking and he would think we had gone to the dogs, and then again because its sounds would grab his heart and rip it out and shake it until he understood what we are all feeling today. There is nothing worse than what people had to feel in Adorno’s lifetime, and nothing is worse than what we feel now about the worst. But usually there is room for hope. When there isn’t, this in itself drives us to build new rooms. If Tempest and Adorno don’t endorse hope for its own sake, they still give it to me. They give me hope that I can externalise feelings we all suffer with in the way that they do, because that is a human capacity.

What I hope for myself is that what I have spent so much energy analysing is worth analysing, and that by writing what I think, I can take part in our collective thought as well as our feelings. With this one post I state my intention: the world will not be the same place as it would have been if I did not write.

 

Love letter to an infatuation (in two parts)

November 11, 2016

tattooPart 1. 3rd November 2016
This is the blog post I am too much of a coward even to publish anonymously to an audience of three people [until now]. By the way I love you you three people you are THE BEST.

This is the post about the man I’m currently infatuated with, written because, out of all the many people there are existing in the world, I know I shouldn’t tell him, for goodness’ sake. He won’t see it, because no-one I know sees it, because I hardly tell anyone where it is, and when I do it’s people who are almost certainly too busy to read it just as an exercise in letting me know whether my style is terrible.

He won’t see it, and so I can say that even though I am recently dumped (okay mutually separated), and have formally agreed with everyone who tells me I don’t need and shouldn’t have a boyfriend, I can’t stop thinking about him. He won’t see it, and so I can say that my memories of him have taken on a completely new direction in my mind and body and frankly, a life of their own. I can say that although I don’t know whether he finds me sexually attractive, he’ll certainly have to give it some serious thought if I get him cornered. I can say that one of the things that compels me is the way he can combine seeming to be really into me with being totally unbothered by the fact that now I am in a relationship, or that now I am single. I can say it is intoxicating to remember seeing him and feeling totally respected and cared for, without the slightest hint of enticement or aversion. I can say that his image in my mind is incredibly much like a really close, intimately trusted friend, even though from a textbook perspective we hardly know one another. I can say that I’m getting the most outrageous shots of energy through my body whenever I think about him. I can say that I am working double time to make sure that I take the steps I need to take to go forward with our friendship, knowing that it is one I want and need, without fucking it up by prejudicing its emergence so that it gets channelled by my behaviour to become either something sexual or nothing at all.

Because he won’t see this I can say that when I think about how he is, and what he’s told me, it forces me to rethink my fears and doubts about good connected platonic relationships between men and women being possible, and that in a blatant irony this is a huge turn on. I can say that the way he holds himself in his body makes me think he is fit and well and a good catch, that I want to fuck him. I can say that the way he engages me in conversations about things that I can’t stop talking about, and that strictly speaking I almost never get to talk to anyone else about, makes me think he is either really skilled at manipulating me to open up and jabber jabber jabber because he likes the sound of my voice, or my company, or that he finds my opinions interesting and shares them (or both), both of which are ridiculously attractive features for a human to have. I can say that if his interest in the things I am interested in, that I have barely begun to have decent conversations about, in spite of craving them for many years, is half as strong as mine, then if we did feel sexually attracted to one another, and we were able to act on it, that we would have something to explore that I have never had the chance to explore. I can say that that would potentially blow my mind. Good job he won’t see this because you know, no pressure.

Because he won’t see this I can say that the fact I don’t know where he lives or who with or how he spends his evenings or whether he can cook or whether he is damaged beyond repair or whether his anger management problem is under control or whether he is a recovering alcoholic or someone who just has to treat alcohol with respect or whether he hates all the music and films that I love, doesn’t matter to me, because I know how to find him, he can take care of himself, he has high standards and good taste, he has learnt when and how to protect himself, maybe even in ways that I haven’t, and he knows what is important in life, and he has laboured to heal himself, and he already knows how to be direct and touch my heart without sentimentality.

Even though I am getting tired and cold I have made another hot drink because I still want to say that I don’t want this moment of my mind to be wasted if we don’t become friends or if we do become only friends or if we almost become lovers and then fall out. I want him to know that all these things are true right now, and that most of them are always going to be true. I want him to know that even if I turn out to fuck this up totally it is not because I plan to barge headlong into his life and make assumptions about him being interested in me because he is a man and I am a woman and we are a similar age and we are, possibly, both single at the same time and because he has shown interest in my thoughts and smiled a lot and been there for me. I want him to know moreover that thinking about being truly, holistically, irresistably attractive to him makes me feel more certain than ever that I need to improve myself, in the sense that the abstract idea that one of the reasons that not being in a relationship is a good thing is that it gives me time to create greater trust in myself, to forge a deep sense of emotional independence, of self-love, to improve my physical fitness and explore my sexual body better, so that I can be a better lover in the future, better for myself and for a lover, less complacent sexually and more self-aware emotionally.

But I also want him to know that when I started to become infatuated with him I had to question these goals which I realised are really quite negative. I do want to become fitter, healthier, more productive; not like a pig in a cage; more agentic, more adventurous, more alive, more assertive, more in tune with my need to realise my dreams and my ability to make things happen. But I don’t want to use the idea that I’m not there yet as a screen behind which to hide myself from potential lovers. I don’t want to look for casual lovers so I can have sex and play with connection whilst maturely accepting that I am not really ready to be loved or worth loving by anyone with high enough standards for me to want them. I don’t want to play around with polyamory just so that I can tell myself it is okay however many times I get dumped for being not quite fit enough, a bit too passive, a bit lazy, a bit depressed, a bit smelly, a bit too poor, a bit self-deluded, a bit slow. I don’t want to look for lovers who I can be sure won’t want me for too long, so that they won’t be there to remember years later that the first time we made love I wasn’t as fit and strong and agentic as I aspire to be. When did it become okay to expect myself to be different in order to be loveable and able to love?

And if I’m loveable, if I am still however not supposed to get another boyfriend too soon, what are the criteria for being capable of taking care of myself in a relationship sufficiently, and who will decide when I am that? Am I an object of suspicion because no-one approved of my choices last time: because they understood my lover better than I did, or because they never understood him at all? Or is it a simple maths game: that I have been too long in relationships and too brief between them, and that the energy I have expended trying to sustain and protect those relatiosnhips has not only cost me dear, but has demanded energy from those around me, who I love and who love me enough to have to stay and participate? Or is it more important that I am ‘brilliant in my own company’ and therefore must not do or say anything that could create a situation where my gradually growing independence is reversed by a co-dependent relationship where my time is once again not really my own but a constant subject of negotiation, spoken and unspoken, between me and another who needs more than I am able to give or is present less than I need? Am I really at risk of being subsumed as a result of choosing to give myself over to a person who would not support me totally in doing what I need to do to become as fully alive and engaged with my passions as I can be? Can I hope to fully engage with and explore my passions while holding an arbitrary boundary around myself against passionate love?

And if I am friends with someone who I find attractive, I want to ask him, does that mean that one day I will suddenly know I am there, at the right time, because the boundary will fall away leaving desire clearly visible between us? Or does it mean that I will always fret about whether he is equally interested in me or not, and about whether while I am looking the other way, being brilliant in my own company and working on my goals and my intentions and my independence, he could be falling in love with somebody else?

Part 2. 11th November 2016
He can cook.

About time for another post about sex

November 3, 2016

IMG_0053Having had this blog for several years and never shared it, I begin to wonder, if I really only want to talk to myself why do I distinguish this from a diary kept at home? If I need to talk publicly about sex, why won’t I be public with it? Given that I started the blog with the theme of de-sexualising adult sleep and rarely talk about that now, does the life of this blog say something about my sexual development?

Since I left my job I have written more (here and elsewhere) and feel more and more that I must write, that I can’t not write. Since I separated from my boyfriend I feel more and more that my sexuality is (to me) an incredibly open-ended and big part of my life. Not simply because I enjoy sex and miss it, or because in a certain sense it has held huge sway over me during my adulthood, but because I want to write about it. I have known this for a long time, I have been clear about it in my mind, but it remains near the bottom of a long list of good intentions and rarely gets dusted off and done.

Why do I not think that when I write a blog about sex that it is worth taking the time to share it with readers? Why do I think that two or three readers a year is a good start and all I can handle? Is this how I see myself as a sexual being too? Do I think that there is (was) only one man on the planet who finds (found) me sexually desirable and that therefore there is no reason to draw attention to myself as a sexual being (not that blogging is a way to pull)? Am I so afraid of a real conversation about sex that I can only pretend to write about it?

If I started talking about de-sexualising adult sleep and now I more often just talk about sex, is that a cowardly abandonment of a difficult or fringe subject close to my heart because there is no-one to talk to about it, or does it just mean that I have just grown up and smelt the coffee? That in the end I heard my own protesting-too-much: much as I still believe that it is a potent subject, in the end I accepted that my interest in blogging about it was a suppressed interest in blogging about sex directly? Obvious, or too easy?

And what do I do with my precious anonymity if I want readers to engage with? Does it matter if people I know read my private thoughts – I have put them on the internet after all. Do I still feel I am protecting anyone I speak about by pretending not to be me? Can I balance being candid with being respectful or do I want to bend the truth, offend and be tasteless, is that why they mustn’t be able to find it? Do I hide my writing doubly from view, because deep down I am both afraid of not being sexually desirable, and afraid of being perceived as too interested in sex?

Fantasy without desire?

October 10, 2016

Desire is always for the other, I have been told. I felt like I ought to know this from the amount of interest I have shown in psychoanalysis and Freud, over a time, but I had never noticed it. Now a few years on it suddenly seems to matter a lot.

I separated from my partner of nine years and naturally, for me, I am now passing through phases in my attitude to sex. For a long run up towards the end I thought: ‘No, we can’t possibly break up, the sex is good, worth fighting for, we deserve better and we can achieve better, including in our sex.’ When we broke up: ‘Oh my god, now no sex. It doesn’t matter though, everything else in life added together is surely more important!’ Concurrently with this phase: ‘Hooray! Now I can have sex with anyone in the entire world (ish) whenever I like, including non-serious, casual, once only, even anonymously.’ Still not interested in animals though, sorry.

There was also briefly: ‘I’ll never have sex that good again.’ But now there is more a sense of: ‘When I began to feel more and more the frustrations with our sex why did I still hang on to dreams of our developing together for so long, instead of adding that to the mounting evidence that we were flaking away?’ Recently the fantasy of unlimited fun sex has made way for: ‘What if I never find anyone I am particularly sexually attracted to again?’ But the worst, the real terror, maybe it’s one you know: ‘What happens if I slowly fall head over heels in love with someone and they tick all my boxes (developing checklist for another blog), but then, in the sack, we just don’t do it for each other?’ Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhhhhhh.

I have started remembering previous casual encounters more clearly. One night stands can be fun but I can’t remember many where I had an orgasm. Am I therefore too old for that now? I don’t want to spend ages cruising for hot men, in order to satisfy the idea that I can express free agency, only to find all I have is freedom to choose to be vaguely disappointed. Am I being pessimistic? Probably. I can imagine hooking up and having good sex because I can’t possibly imagine getting into bed with anyone that I don’t really, really like, and that narrows things down a lot. And, if I do remember my one night stands clearly, it’s what makes sex incredibly satisfying whether you come or not: giving pleasure in the hope of simply exchanging it. Giving pleasure to someone you really like is good. It’s obvious that what you share or get back is unknown.

Suddenly a terrible thought occurs: ‘What if I have sex with someone who is critical, or disappointed?’ Oh dear, better go into hibernation for good.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Christ why doesn’t she just buy some toys and have a wank?’ Well, of course that’s a good option. One I was far too distracted by to have been able to write this blog first; although I have resisted making rash purchases. But guess what? I even managed to let my theorising get in the way of that.

I am aware of plenty of times I have enjoyed sex alone without a fully fledged fantasy in my head, in fact it’s rare that I fully fledge a fantasy, being really too lazy for that sort of thing, a bit of visualisation is normally enough. But it got stuck in my head that I would always need to rely on an image of someone real, and someone I desire, to get off. During the last few phases I have drawn in and spat out lots of potential fantasy material, leaving me with the unhappy question: What if every time I masturbate my head fills with images of people I don’t want to masturbate about? What if I betray myself? What if I get off thinking about my ex; will that compromise me in my recovery? What if I get off thinking about that guy who … (this, that or the other)? Will it mean I develop stronger daytime feelings that aren’t any good to me?

Marvelling at my own ability to make things that should be simple, wholesome and fun (and potentially healing and stress-reducing), into things complicated, stressful and serious, I have kept falling asleep unwantedly. Then yesterday, out walking, the penny finally dropped.

My anxiety, with apologies from the heart to all the people in the world with actual problems (I am ashamed), has been that fantasising about people I don’t really fancy will affect me in life, or reveal to me that I do fancy them, and this stems from my belief that fantasising strengthens feeling, and that I will inevitably fantasise, confronting me with things about my desire which I am denying. So I asked myself whether there was actually anything or anyone so important that it would really matter? This involved a run through of potential fantasy objects, and guess what … it turns out that none of them I fancy.

Does it matter? Yes, it’s a total breakthrough for me. In my parallel questioning about future romantic entanglements, I tell myself (if I can get a word in with all the other people telling me, and reminding me), that I need to take a long break from relationships. I believe us all. I worry only slightly that I might slip. These thoughts frequently lead me back to casual sex, but also to its perils.

But my masturbation anxieties, that I need a real object to get off (so to speak!), and that I am probably hiding something from myself, have shown me that for possibly the first time in my life, I don’t care that I’m not attracted to anyone. It’s a total mindblower. I didn’t even realise how essential it has been for so long, to have that mental sexual object. Still eyeing (or lining) people up is the fading reminder of my long term obsession with having another person to be in love with and to desire. And I’m not the only one.